White Heart Black Bones [PG-14]
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February 10th, 2012 (4:40 PM).
The Will of One
Scars and Marks
The first thing to greet me as I awoke in the cold throat of our refuge cave was a headache. A throbbing pain coursed through my skull with such intensity it felt like my head was being bludgeoned. I tried to move around but the jagged walls that encompassed me resisted even the slightest shudder. It was unfortunate, considering I was shaking like a leaf in the breeze out of the utter cold that filled the air. I struggled with great effort to peel open my crusty eyes as I tried to figure out where I was. The morning sun of autumn beat down outside the cave lips beyond; some rays strayed through the gash in the rock and lighted the gloomy confines of our hideout. But the sun was already too high up in the sky to shine its way to where I was hidden in the dark maw.
I shuffled against the uneven floor, trying to pull myself out of the stupor of sleep, but I was stopped by a faint groan coming from my legs. I looked down to find none other than N resting soundly in my lap. I stared at his sleeping figure in confusion, analyzing the wispy hair that curled around his shoulders and wound around my legs. I made note of every smudge of dirt that spotted his face, and with a sluggish brain still recovering from sleep, I couldn’t figure out why he looked so haggard. When my eyes fell down to his scarred chest I remembered. Our dire escape from the castle, the heated battle with Ghetsis; N sacrificing himself to save me and almost dying a short time later; every single memory flooded through my mind. I could hardly believe it. We had escaped.
I couldn’t seem take my eyes off of N while I underwent this recollection. The steady rise and fall of his chest signified that he was still in a deep sleep, and I did everything I could to remain silent and hope that I wouldn’t disturb him. But as my eyes seemed locked with the horrid scar that still crawled through the grooves in his chest, my emotions threatened to spill. I could already feel the sting of salty tears as they gathered in my eyes. The boy who slept beneath me, the one who had risked everything to save me… he had nearly died… I was just about to lose grip on my composure, when a sudden movement jolted me right out of my skin. Some large, hairy creature was shuffling around on the cave floor right beside me!
I scrambled, torn between putting up and offense or making a move to cover N. Though I didn’t have enough time to do either thankfully, until I realized Laika was the hairy monster that I had seen.
The Zoroark pulled herself off the ground and turned towards me, greeting me with a groggy set of aqua eyes. I could understand her reasons for looking so disgruntled, since the back of a cave isn’t the most comfortable place to spend the night. Laika locked her eyes with mine, before they settled over her trainer, who still remained comatose despite my sudden movements. The Zoroark radiated an air of relief, and once she found that everything was okay she began stretching her body out.
“Laika…?” I had to clear my throat; my voice was rough as sandpaper, “Can you take N? I need to go outside…” Laika halted and scanned me once over as I tried to moisten my parched throat. She obliged.
The Zoroark lifted N’s head off of my legs and settled him down on the flattest area of the floor she could find. I figured N must have really passed out, or was a really deep sleeper, since he hardly gave more than a muffle as he was moved about. But that worked out for the better since I wanted to give him as much time as he need to rest. Especially after what had happened yesterday… and all he had done for me. I owed him that much at least.
After my legs had been freed, I latched onto the cave wall and struggled to pull myself up. Laika threw me some confused glances as I floundered about on my numb limbs.
I frowned at the looks she was giving me, “My legs feel like slabs of concrete, okay?” I managed to shift my weight onto my feet as my joints screamed their protest.
Once I had achieved the simple goal of standing, I set towards the mouth of the cave with arms outstretched like a tightrope walker. Even with my ridiculous stance I was still having trouble proceeding forward. Thanks to the uneven ground, that I swear was put in place with the sole purpose of tripping me up, I fell on my face a few times before reaching the mouth of the grotto. At least Laika was having a good time relishing in my stilted walking. I could almost see the wolfish grin plastered on her face as she watched my constant stumbling.
I reached the mouth of the cave after a fair bit of hobbling and cautiously peeked out the entrance. Before I could make an attempt at analyzing every inch of the area in search of an enemy presence, something occurred to me.
“Laika?” I turned back to the depths of the cave where Laika hovered over her trainer, “Where did that Audino go?” I had just realized that the very Pokémon who had saved N’s life was nowhere to be found.
Laika shrugged absently, without bothering to turn around from where she seated, indicating that she was just as clueless as I was. I let out a long sigh, figuring that the Audino must have taken off in the early hours of the morning, back to its friends and family or whatever else.
I skid down the cliff face, which wasn’t a violent decline by any means, and hit the browning grass below which was blanketed in a blotchy quilt of fire-like leaves. I watched the leaflets crumple under my weight with a permanent frown on my lips. I was melancholy because I had really wanted that Audino to stay around. I wanted to thank the Pokémon for all it had done in one simple night, but now it seemed I would never have that chance.
I sucked back my thoughts as the morning light rained down. I craned my neck up towards the vastness of the sky to see it empty of any cloud or patrolling soldier. The only mark dotting the blue expanse was that of the sun itself, whose warmth seeped into my skin and soothed down my aches just a little bit. An icy breeze blew by, fondling the strands of my brown hair and rustling the leaves in bushes squatting under naked trees. As the playful breeze stirred through the foliage, my paranoia began to set in and I quickly brought up my guard. My mind went into the process of imagining hundreds of Plasma Soldiers lying in wait behind those shuddering bushes, though it didn’t take me long to realize that my imagination was blowing things way out of proportion. The woods around me were empty, and my active imagination couldn’t change that fact.
After calming my uppity nerves, I tried to loosen out my stiff muscles in the heat of the sun. I couldn’t get far when I realized, upon stretching my out arms and seeing my hands, that I was covered in dried blood. Streams of crimson caked onto my palms, blotches of black stained my jeans; I was coated with the blood of the man who had saved me, and somehow I couldn’t help but feel repulsed. I quickly made it a priority to locate a river or pond so I could make an attempt at scrubbing the fluid off. I could only hope that it wouldn’t hold too tight to my clothes and skin. I didn’t delight in the thought of wearing this blood, and as long as I was stained I could never truly feel free from Ghetsis’s grip.
I regarded myself lucky when I found a small creek located at the far left of the area, almost out of sight. It wound its way out from behind the cliff and slunk down into the forest beyond. The sun was kissing my cheeks as I submerged my hands into the current. The water seemed much colder than the weather permitted, and I was a bit startled by the initial coldness that pierced into my skin. By force of will I kept my hands beneath the water and attempted to scrub off the blood with my equally dirty nails.
My heart sank a little when I wasn’t granted with immediate results. The cold temperatures of the water made it difficult to rid the blood from my skin, but eventually with a little digging I began to see some leeway. Every stain of crimson that wound around my fingers slowly peeled off in brittle flakes, washing away down the stream like dust—forgotten. I sighed with a small shudder. With every streak of blood slowly vanishing from my hands, I kept returning to the horrific sight of N’s body as I had seen it last night. Every image from that time seemed branded into my head, and every time the thoughts bubbled to the surface of my already swirling mind, a tremor of fear erupted from within me. I couldn’t believe N had almost died.
I threw a wave of water into my face hoping that would banish those thoughts, or maybe even shake the last vestiges of sleep from my mind. The blood had nearly been cleaned from my hands and I was just about to work on my jeans, but I found myself frozen. I zoned out, staring unblinkingly at the stream which caught the sunlight and shimmered and soon blurred as my eyes unfocused.
N wasn’t dead. Neither was I. The two of us… together… had escaped from Team Plasma’s castle. Even now I was still having a hard time believing it. After so many years I spent looking out at the burning world through those windows, I was bound no longer. In a sick way I almost expected myself to awake screaming back inside of N’s chambers. A crooked smile appeared on my face as droplets of water ran from my chin. Wouldn’t that just be the biggest irony?
I imagine I would have continued to sit there sneering like insanity, if not for a sudden squeak which jolted me right out of my thoughts. I started, nearly losing my footing and toppling into the creek, as I noticed a small Audino standing beside me. Being completely startled by its appearance all I was able to do was stare at it like a Deerling in the headlights. How long had it even been standing there? Had it seen me snickering to myself like a weirdo? Just how much did this little Pokémon know?
My eyes narrowed as I stared the Audino down. Despite my haggard look, and my resemblance to one who has lost their mind, the Audino simply smiled at me apologetically. It seemed to have been saying sorry for surprising me, but I couldn’t be sure.
I eventually found my voice. “Are you…?” I pointed with a shaking finger, still startled. “You’re the Audino from last night…”
Before I could finish forging those thoughts, the Audino interrupted me by pulling a hat out from behind its back. I blinked absently at the black-billed, white fronted hat it held before my jaw hit the ground in realization.
“This is N’s hat! How on earth did you find this?!” I gawked, taking it from the Audino’s outstretched paws. I held the slightly battered hat up into the sunlight just to be sure. There was no mistaking it, in authenticity it was N’s hat and it was in pretty good condition!
I looked from the hat right back down to the smiling Audino before throwing my arms around it in a huge hug. “Thank you…” I murmured, on the verge of tears. It patted my back humbly.
“Without you… my friend would have…” The Audino interrupted what was about to become a long, teary-eyed thank you by tugging sharply on my sweater. I pulled it from my embrace questioningly, “Something the matter little guy?” The Audino answered by pointing towards something approaching from behind and I felt a lump emerge in my throat. I gently set the little Pokémon on the ground before hauling myself up and turning around to find N walking over from the cliff face.
N proceeded over dew moistened grass, swishing the fallen leaves beneath his feet with each stride. A current of icy wind tousled his hair about, winding the strands like vines around his shirtless body. His head swiveled, turning from side to side as he took in our environment until his eyes finally fell on me. He didn’t break his forward approach and the two of us were soon standing face to face in a canopy of autumn sunlight.
“Touko.” N began, staring at me with those wide, analytic eyes of his, “It looks like you want to punch me.” That set me off.
I stomped forth menacingly and he brought up an automatic defense, throwing his hands over his face so his observation wouldn’t become a reality. Instead of slugging him in the teeth, which I honestly wanted to do but didn’t have the heart; I threw his black hat back over his messy green hair and pulled the bill right down over his eyes. I crossed my arms in a huff and turned my back.
“Here…” I grumbled, “You don’t look the same without it…”
N burst out in laughter. I felt a flush of colour come to my cheeks as I spun around, “What’s so funny!?” I bleated angrily.
N’s hand flew over his mouth as he tried to stifle his chuckles. “I-I’m sorry, hehe,” he plucked a tear from his eye, “It just seems kind of cute when you try to hide your relief…”
I stuck out my bottom lip, still unable to rid the colour from my face. “You… are okay aren’t you…?” I managed to ask. “Are you sure you should be walking around…?” I was finding it difficult to look into his eyes. Despite his brush with death, N was still walking around like he hadn’t a care in the world. It was honestly a little irritating, but it was hard to get mad at him.
“There’s no need to fret. I’m feeling quite fine actually. Anywa—Oh! What’s this,” he gasped suddenly as the little Audino, who I suppose was watching our conversation with interest, waddled up to N with a happy squeak.
“Hello then,” he said, kneeling down to near eye-level with the Pokémon, “You must have been the Audino who saved me last night. I can’t thank you enough for what you’ve done. I’d be in a pretty bad spot if it weren’t for you.”
The Audino responded with a string of chirps and squeaks that I couldn’t made heads or tails of. N stared at the pink fur ball thoughtfully, nodding his head occasionally as it spoke.
“You don’t say…” he mused as it continued talking, “I can understand how that would be troublesome…”
I turned towards the conversing duo, feeling very third-wheel-ish at the time as I tried to figure out what on earth they were talking about.
N broke out in a good natured laugh as if the Audino had just told a joke.
“Uhh,” I suddenly found my voice, “Mind filling me in on what’s going on here?” I pointed questioningly at the both of them, fanning my finger from side to side.
“Oh.” N scrambled up, “Sorry about that Touko. I forgot that you were standing there.” My eyebrow twitched angrily, “I mean…!” N put up his hands defensively before picking the Audino up in his arms, “Marie says she wants to come with us…”
My eyebrows scrunched in confusion, “Marie? You mean she already has a name?”
N shrugged, “She just said that’s what she’s called. It’s no trouble if she comes with us, right Touko?”
“Of course not!” I started. I was actually pretty happy about having this Audino join our group, and how could I say no to that adorable face?
“It’s settled then,” he said, holding the Audino gently in his arms, “It’s quite fortunate for us, you see. Marie knows a move called Heal Pulse, if we ever run out of potions or get caught in a tight spot we’ll have her to help us out,” N said scratching the Audino under her chin. She peeped in response, nuzzling affectionately into his arms.
“Wait a minute, what about the Pokémon Centers and Pokémarts?” I questioned.
N turned his gaze to the trees, staring thoughtfully into the gloomy branches, “From what I understand, both institutions have been closed down respectively. Now that people aren’t allowed to use Pokémon anymore, what’s the point of keeping up the facilities used to cater them?”
“Right…” I said, tapping my finger against my chin. It made sense, but I had a hard time wrapping my head around the thought of the Pokémon centers being shut down or converted into something else. It was an abstract concept.
“Anyway,” he said, turning back to face me, “Let’s go back inside of the cave now…” he looked downward, having the brim of his hat obscure his eyes, “There’s something I need to talk to you about…”
The confusion was clearly shown on my face as I pondered what he meant by that. The air of composure N held as I helped him back over to the cliff face, recalled me to the time the two of us had met in Nimbasa city. The same sternness was settled over his voice when he dropped the bombshell of his kinghood right over my head… so long ago. What was N planning to tell me now? I got nervous just thinking about it, and even as we crawled inside of the cave N avoided eye-contact with me. Laika was waiting for us when we returned and decided to pre-empt our conversation shortly by tackling into N affectionately and covering his face with slobbery kisses.
“Laika! Hey!!” I gasped, making an attempt to pull the fox-like beast off, “He’s still hurt you know! Come on!! Off! Off! Off!” Instead Laika threw herself onto me and gave me my share of her slimy gratitude. “Gross!” I squealed trying to fend off the Zoroark with my hands. I knew she was just showing her relief by lack of words, but I didn’t need to be covered in her spit to know it!
After Laika had said her wet thank yous, I dug into my bag and pulled out a pair of shirts for N to wear which were much similar to his usual attire. The customary black turtle neck and white button up.
“Here” I held them out to him, “I found these in my bag and…” My eyes darted down to his toned chest embellished over with a grisly scar. My cheeks turned a little rosy, “Its cold out…”
N flashed a grin, probably seeing my embarrassment but not daring to address it. He took the shirts and pulled them back over his head as I took out something to eat from the depths of my pack. Anthea and Concordia had so generously planted food inside of my rucksack. Though it wasn’t much more than a few slices of bread, cold cuts and a bundle of apples, it would serve as a good enough breakfast. I peeked out the mouth of the cave towards the high risen sun. Or lunch…?
N and I had established ourselves at the mouth of the cave and I waited for him to begin. But after a few minutes of silence he still did not speak. By the look in his eyes, it seemed like he was still debating the issue inside of his head. I decided to keep quiet and gnaw on my apple until he was ready to begin. The topic he was about to bring up seemed too delicate to force out.
After a few more moments had passed, N forced out a heavy sigh and said “I’ve been having nightmares too…”
I froze. I swore I misheard. But when I found his ashen eyes I could tell that he was dead-serious.
“You had them too? I mean, you knew about my…?” I tried to swallow what chewed apple I still had in my mouth.
“Well,” N shrugged, giving me a sly look, “You’re a pretty vocal sleeper…”
My cheeks became red and I turned away in a huff, “Okay, so what’s your point?”
N’s smile faded as his gaze settled over the forest again, “Well I…” he rested his hand on his knee so that Marie, who was seated comfortably in his lap, could have a nibble of his apple. “I kept having nightmares of your death.”
I was finding it hard to swallow.
“They began shortly after you were first imprisoned. At first I thought I was feeling the guilt of witnessing your failure and allowing it to happen… and I’m sure that played a big part in it… but they were relentless. Every single night I kept seeing you perish.” His voice was almost monotone but I could hear the undertones of despair clinging to each word. “You were painted with blood… not moving and not even breathing. I would try to awaken you but…”
A silence followed after that. I hadn’t a clue what to say and even if I could form a response there was no way I could force it from my sealed lips.
“So I took you out of your prison and invited you to stay in my room.” He looked down thoughtfully, “Though Ghetsis was vehemently against it, I finally managed to persuade him to let you live in my quarters…” The apple N had neglected was slowly being nibbled up by Marie’s little jaws. “But still, the nightmares wouldn’t leave me alone.”
He struck me with an unfaltering gaze. “Your nightmares were the haunting of the past… I took mine as a premonition.”
My heart knotted in my chest.
“Please don’t misunderstand.” He said quickly, “This isn’t really about me. You see, it doesn’t matter to me how much I’m haunted or hurt, because I’m probably deserving of any ill fate that befalls me, especially after what I’ve let happen to you and this world. But I never wanted to see you get hurt Touko. That’s why I never tried to help you escape or go against Ghetsis’s orders… I was so terrified that my vision would become a reality…” he lowered his eyes. “Who’d of thought I’d become so malleable?” He clenched and unclenched his one free hand. “My formula for a perfect world… has been corrupted…”
I wasn’t sure but N sounded like he was crying—or at least trying to hold back tears. Both Marie and Laika seemed to see it as they drew close to their friend in the hopes of offering some comfort.
N’s words had left me feeling so torn up inside. He had been suffering just as much as I had all this time and I couldn’t even see it! I’d been so ignorant it was sickening; I wasn’t going to let N wallow in his torment any longer. I went right up to him and wrapped him up in my arms. His shoulders shuddered and Marie was squished right between us, but I wouldn’t dare let him go.
“Touko…?” He muffled out.
“Shut up,” I responded, tightening my grip. “Please don’t… don’t try to carry the burden all on your own…” I broke the embrace and locked eyes with him. “The both of us messed up and all of Unova is paying for our mistakes. But we’re alive!” N’s eyes seemed to widen with the realization. “I’m alive… you’re alive too… our Pokémon haven’t given up either…” A few stray tears managed to find their way down my face. I hadn’t even realized I’d been crying, but the trembling of my voice and the shaking of my body alerted me to it now. “W-we’re the world’s only hope N. We have to keep moving… we have to keep… going no matter what…”
And that’s when I lost it. I dove back into N’s embrace, hid my face in his neck and cried. My quiet sobs echoed through the depths of the cave, muffled by the fabrics of N’s shirt as I held him. Marie patted us comfortingly while squashed between our bodies and Laika watched silently. I may have been mistaken, but the Zoroark seemed rather impressed by my short but sweet speech. Even I was a little taken back by my own resolve and the words I used to represent it. But the words just flowed so effortlessly just like salty tears down my face; they embodied my emotion and my determination. I hope N felt it too. I hoped he wouldn’t give up on this world.
“I think you’re right Touko,” N said breaking the silence and our hug, finally giving Marie room to breathe. “I’ve thought this over quite a bit and I’ve decided that I want to help you no matter what happens, okay?” He suddenly broke out into the most genuine smile I’ve ever seen. “Since you are the very first and the very best human friend I’ve ever had.” His smile nearly broke my heart. It was so innocent and child-like I found myself forcing back another wave of tears. My hands flung to my face as I tried to wipe my tears away with the back of my hand.
“And I honestly…” N began again with eyes downcast, “I no longer wish to be the king of a rotting world…” he grabbed onto my hands, “I may not be much help to you Touko. I am regretful to say this, but I am also ignorant to how the world has changed…”
“So that means…” I leant back a bit, “You don’t have much of an idea of how Team Plasma is running this region?”
He shook his head with a wave of green bangs. “But I have a bad feeling about it… a very bad feeling…” his hands began to tremble. “Because of our inactivity the Pokémon of this region have probably suffered…”
“Then we’ll save them!” I shouted, gripping his fists tightly, “We’ll save everyone. Together!” Shock was etched into his features, “You and I…” Marie reached up her small hands and took hold of where we had joined. I couldn’t help but let out a little laugh at her eagerness, “And with the help of Marie and Laika I know that we can rewrite all of the wrongs we’ve let Ghetsis commit,” Laika sealed the deal in a way by placing her clawed hands over ours and snickering.
I’m not alone. Since I had been encased in despair for such a long time, call me crazy but I almost forgot what it felt like to be happy. The despair was gone now, and in its absence came a strong feeling of strength: hope. I had escaped Team Plasma’s castle, stomped down the sadness; I’d even beat Ghetsis on equal grounds. N was with me, so were my Pokémon… all of us had made it out alive. We were free. I was ready to face whatever this world had to throw at me, whether good or bad. I was free.
But I was also so naïve, and I think I knew it somewhere deep down. Even if I had gained this small victory, there was a darkness waiting out there for me, with open jaws waiting to slam shut and crush me once I fell inside. But I was alive, no matter what waited for us out there in that burning world, the journey was far from over.
With a face of void, the Black King births death unto his red hands
Ghetsis descended into the depths of his crystalline castle, passing through chamber after chamber, proceeding down endless staircases and wandering through colossal hallways. As he continued on through the archaic castle, the inhabitants that once coasted the halls began to wear thin. Guards no longer patrolled and other members of the Sages were no longer seen shuffling by. Only the sound of footsteps on stone pervaded.
After a while, the Sage reached a large black door set at the end of a cramped, empty hallway lit only by torchlight. The door was a monolith, free of any mark but a handle and the carving of a gray rose on its center. Ghetsis hesitated for no more than a second before pulling back the door and entering the room beyond.
The Sage had entered a drab, cramped sort of area which was nowhere near the grandeur of N’s chambers. It was barren and empty almost like a void. Even the colours of the walls were gray and devoid of feeling or sensation, and shadows clung to the four corners. All that stood out in the room was a single window set in the furthest wall and sitting in front of it was a boy.
“Can I take the bandages off yet…?” He asked in a frail voice.
“Not yet…” Ghetsis replied keeping his voice calm, free of any emotion. “Does it hurt?”
The figure shrugged with a soft rustle of white clothes, “Maybe just a little bit…”
Ghetsis approached the boy and noticed a vase full of wilting gray roses placed on the window sill. The boy was caressing the dead petals softly with his thin fingers. Some broke under his touch, falling still below him.
“But you need my help don’t you?” The boy said, keeping his back turned. Even though he was facing the open window overlooking a dreary world beyond, his face was covered top to bottom in bandages, even his eyes weren’t uncovered. Which begged the question, could he even see anything beyond the frame? “The king has run away…” The boy continued, “With the white princess?”
“Yes,” Ghetsis nodded, “He’s taken her too…”
The boy made a muffling noise that sounded something like a laugh, “That’s certainly no good. If she’s broken out then that means…”
“My plan is jeopardized,” Ghetsis finished with more force in his voice than before. “That’s why I need you…”
“You should have killed the girl when she was in your birdcage…” The boy said, matter-of-factly.
The elder sage scowled for a moment, “You don’t think I know that? It was an error on my part, but she was the only linchpin keeping that fool N in check.” The creases on his face smoothed once more, “But the past is irrevocable, that’s why you must take his place now. You can be the voice everyone hears and the face that they worship to.” He glowered at the landscape.
“No one will know the difference?” The boy inquired.
“It won’t even cross their small minds,” Ghetsis sneered.
“But what if I run into the original king…?” The boy asked turning to look at Ghetsis with a face wrapped in white.
Ghetsis gave him a hard stare, “You have to kill him. Those two are the only ones in this world capable of abolishing this dominion” Ghetsis glowered at the boy, “Understand that I won’t tolerate failure.”
With those parting words the Sage turned his back on the silent figure, leaving him to his own devices.
The bandaged boy lay motionless as the door closed behind him with a slam and froze as the noise resounded through his cramped chambers. The tip of his index finger just barely grazed a gray petal browned with decay. A silence soon settled over the room once more, save for the boy’s shallow breathing. With a sharp movement he reached forward towards his vase of gray roses and clenched the bulb of the flower ferociously; wilting petals breaking like char beneath his grip.
“I will show you, N. What the world looks like from below the heavens…”
And so… a new marionette sovereign was born.
PART ONE END
—the defeatist is dead
Well. That's it folks. White Heart Black Bones PART ONE has come to a close. I'd like to thank you all for reading and adding your comments so far, you fill me with joy.
Anyway, Part Two will be up soon enough. I'll be posting it on this thread as well. So, I'll be seeing you in the next arc, lovies!
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