Dealing with Death

Summary

Old traditions are everything to an island, but less so to the spirit its Dusknoir is forced to travel with. My attention returns to the chief as he finishes his chant in the old tongue, lowering his hands to the coffin and finishing with the words I’m most familiar with. From the coffin comes his soul, and his soul forms something vaguely humanoid. The white sheer of his body fades away as my mouth closes around him, and I can immediately feel his presence in my body. Malakai.

Genre:
Adventure / Thriller
Author:
Fugue
Status:
Complete
Chapters:
1
Rating:
n/a
Age Rating:
13+

Dealing With Death

Old traditions, while being just that—old—are revered on the island for what they symbolize, and for what they mean to the villagers’ wellbeing. Although it does not affect me personally whether they perform their ancestral rituals or not, it is my job to oversee them. It’s not like anyone else can do it.

Bamboo torches are arranged in the familiar zigzag pattern as on me and lit with the ghostly lavender flames of the village’s only Chandelure. The chief’s bare feet sink into the sand as he stomps each one, raising his hands and chanting in the same movements. Ahead of him lies the wooden coffin where my newest burden awaits. The other villagers remain in a loose huddle as they witness the old magic act, as if they haven’t seen the same smoke-and-mirrors dozens of times before.

‘New faces, old matters… We are gathered to witness the passing of yet another soul from this village. For tens of hundreds of years, we’ve committed to this ritual of purging the body of its weight, releasing our child to the place where they can reach their final judgment alongside their final rest. I, Hezekiah, as village chief, hereby—power vested—grant this soul—to—path of whence he—through our appointed—and—forevermore.’

My attention returns to the chief as he finishes his chant in the old tongue, lowering his hands to the coffin and finishing with the words I’m most familiar with. From the coffin comes his soul, and his soul forms something vaguely humanoid. The white sheer of his body fades away as my mouth closes around him, and I can immediately feel his presence in my body.

Malakai.

The villagers cheer as the violet flames extinguish themselves, then one man hangs to collect the smoking torches as they return to their shacks and huts. The moonlight creates odd patterns over the sand through the large palm trees, which I pay too much attention to as I cross the familiar pathway. I have a very good sense of him, of Malakai, inside of me, which is both unnerving and plain uncomfortable. I shouldn’t be able to feel a spirit, they don’t have the energy to maintain physicality—

Let me out!

I nearly fall on my face, his shout surprises me so.

Let me out! I want to go home!

How long has it been since the soul has willingly fought against me? I’m almost tempted to release him, then I cross onto the Unwavering Pathway, marked by torches on either side of the thin sand trail lit with ever-burning ghostly fire, and I let the thought die. There is no room for error now, otherwise—

I see an opening!

I feel a full-body shiver come on as his hand…touches me. It’s such an unfamiliar, gut-wrenching feeling that I heave, automatically opening my mouth and spewing him out. A ball of white sheer rolls across the sand, given a ghastly aura by the firelight, before disappearing down the path and into the darkness where the glimmer does not reach. I grit my jaw and give chase.

“Ooh… I’m still on the island…” Malakai’s voice echoes past my line of sight into the dark forest. I cover as much distance as I can, however I can hear his growing footsteps getting even further away from me. He’s becoming solid again, which means he’ll soon have his mental facilities back.

“Don’t step off of the path!”

“Is that a Pokémon…?” A torch blows out a few feet away, but before it does I catch a glimpse of amber-colored eyes. A second later the crack of a tree trunk rents the air, shortly followed by the scuttling of a mad Kingler horde. I follow them to a small clearing filled with rocks and low-hanging vines, and due to those there is only one torch to light the area. The dimming glow reflects off of the Kingler’s flexing pinchers and Malakai’s tanned skin alike, giving me something of perception to their relative position. I form electricity from the energy in the air and bend it around my fist before slamming it to the ground. The bolts quickly jump across the Kingler, causing them to jump and scatter before the surges can even dissipate.

They shouldn’t have been able to cross onto the path, not while I am here with the torches lit. Something is amiss…

“You’re the thing that tried to eat me,” Malakai says, crossing his arms over his chest. He’s closer to the will-o’-wisp now, and I take note of his features. Dark hair hangs over his forehead, semi-curled by the sea breeze, and his eyes—the same orange-gold color I remember from earlier—are steely, defiant. I hate them immediately.

“I’m sorry, perhaps I should have left you to be torn into ether.” He continues glaring and I think that he misunderstands. “Ether is nothingness. From there, not even the spirit world can be attained.”

“You know, I can’t understand anything you’re saying. I don’t speak Pokémon.”

“Curious. I thought that was basic knowledge among the villagers. No matter.” Malakai tries walking off and so I quickly cut him off. “Do not leave the path,” I say with gestures meant to help him understand.

“I don’t care about this stupid hiking trail. I have to get home. I have to go home—she’s probably crying herself to sleep right now—”

“Your mother is not worried,” I sigh, switching to the old language. If he’s surprised, he doesn’t show it, but I also haven’t seen one genuine facial expression from him yet. He appears stuck on lassitude right now. “She was at your passing ceremony.”

“My passing ceremony,” he repeats flatly. “That’s impossible. That’s a ceremony for those that…passed.”

“Should I put it in bright lights for you?” I say sardonically. “More so, do you not recognize me?

“I can barely see you. It’s nighttime, in case you can’t tell.” I concede him that much—even my eyesight is limited. I hold out my hand and create a Will-O-Wisp between us, lighting our faces. He squints for a moment, analyzing my features, and thins his lips as his apathy slowly melts into sobriety. “You are the village’s Dusknoir. You only come to take the dead to the afterlife.”

“And so that would make you…?” I let him put two and two together. His eyes widen.

“Oh. Oh, Arceus, I’m damned.”

“No, you’re dead. That fate has yet to be determined.” He covers his face and turns away.

“I can’t… I don’t even remember what happened. I argued with Mom, left her house, and… Arceus, it hurt so bad.”

“When you came free from my body, some of your sheer—your body—was lost to the ether. You should count yourself lucky that you did not lose any limbs—memories are expendable.”

“I’m dead,” he pronounces with a moan. “I can’t be. I’m nineteen. I can’t be dead—dying is for the old, the sick—”

“Death knows not age or condition, it knows only where to strike next.”

“I’m not dead!” He holds out his hand—for what, I don’t know, maybe to strike me—and in that second he sees it, sees how the light bends around and through it as glass. He stares at his hand, his arm, his other arm, his torso, and turns away. He reaches out towards the trunk of a tree and presses his hand against the layered skin. Then, gritting his teeth, he pushes harder. His hand sinks through the skin and into the tree. He waves it back and forth repeatedly but still cannot touch the tree. Eventually he draws it back, although he looks physically pained to do so. “…I’m dead,” he says without inflection.

“Now you see the picture. If you don’t mind, I would like to get you to pass on before the end of the night.”

“What, do you have a hot date to attend to?” Bitterness. Well, humans are known for that. “Your only job is to take the dead to their final resting place.”

“That’s my job, correct. It isn’t something I particularly enjoy. Walk.” He grudgingly continues down the path while I keep pace behind him. It would be a lot faster to consume him again, but if he does that odd…thing…again, I would rather spend all night out here.

“Then can’t you just leave me to get back to my damn body?”

“No, for two reasons.”

“…Well?” he asks after a moment.

“I apologize. Your body is buried. We’re on the path.” It looks like the torches are growing dimmer, but it must be a trick of my eye.

“I really don’t get the deal about this stupid trail. I’ve hiked it every year,” he says dully.

“That was different. While these torches are lit, this Unwavering Pathway leads straight to the afterlife. Straying from it would put both of us in danger, so we continue until we reach the end.”

“Then what? What is past that point?” There is no inflection left in his voice and it comes out low and nearly gravelly.

“I can’t say.”

“Why the hell not?”

“You will see soon enough.”

“Did anyone else ever find you so annoyingly cryptic?”

“I wouldn’t know. You’re the first spirit I’ve ever talked to.”

“I can tell. You suck at the talking thing.”

“It’s not a necessary skill.” Something is definitely off. The fires are barely match lights now and we’re not even nearing the end of the path.

“Then what? You just silently creep along this trail while the poor unlucky victim crashes inside of you?”

“…What does it matter, honestly?”

“Then let me ask a relevant question: Can you tell me how in hell I died?”

“I believe it was from a bad strain.”

“Strain? Strain of what?” he asks, paling.

“In layman’s terms? Curiosity.” He grouses once more. “It will do you no good to know the fine details, Malakai. They will only plague you.”

You’re plaguing me—can I forget you too?”

“You are not ending things well for yourself. This pathway leads to both redemption and damnation, you know.”

“What do I care? I know what I deserve already,” he declares dismissively. He looks at his hand again, flexing his fingers as if testing their weight. I have a good sense of Malakai’s character, and although he is very blunt and dismissive, I cannot sense anything inherently bad about him. Then again, I also cannot make sense of memories due to the emotions tied in with them—they are so…mortal, they are always scrambled in my head like sound waves. “I’m going to miss Mom,” he mutters after a moment of silence, coming to a stop. A sound comes up nearby, giving me an excuse to dodge the topic.

“Are you a good runner?”

“What’s it even matter? I’m dead.” He says dead as if it is the worst thing that can happen to someone.

“And as hard as it will be for you to hear, you’d be better off staying that way. Something is nearby, and I want you to be capable of running away—along this path, I feel I need to add.”

“What’s with you and this dumb hiking trail? I don’t care about it.”

“I’m doing this to preserve your life, you know. So should you want to throw away your chance at an afterlife, I will not stop you.”

“You will not?”

“No. It is not my duty to give chase against resistance, neither do I want to. It’s annoying and tiring.”

“So you’ve done it before.” I choose not to go down memory lane again and push him forward. He stumbles, more in surprise than from my force, and turns to me. “You touched me.”

“Of course I can? I’d think it obvious. Move quickly. Quicker.” His face flashes in a nearby light, just as blank as before, but he needs to understand the danger. A rustle sounds nearby and I snap my head towards the source of the noise, catching glowing green eyes before they fade behind the brush. “The torches are going out, meaning the protections around this path are becoming weaker. We’ll be more susceptible to vile spirits.”

“Then what is the point of staying on the path if we’re vulnerable anyway?” he says between breaths as he runs down the path. He was at least a fast runner in life—I can float, so it makes it easier for him to keep up to my pace.

“The path leads to the afterlife, as I’ve said two million times already. Once you reach there, you’re safe; if you stray from the path now, you won’t be able to find the entrance and you’ll be lost to the evil out there.”

“Then how come this evil—” Malakai says disdainfully, “has never come up in the village while I was alive?”

“The village has its wards.” I’m starting to tire of speaking, but he’s easier to deal with when he doesn’t question every other action I take. “The path’s wards, as you can see, are wearing out.”

“Because of what?”

“…That is the one answer I cannot give you.”

“Then aren’t you helpful.” I may or not have been summoning a curse when, without any warning whatsoever, the last of the torches puff out, plunging us in the expansive darkness that only a forest could house. A wail echoes beyond the trees before petering out, then it returns much closer. I spot the flash of a Sableye’s gem, then the halo of a Shedinja. That makes two Pokémon, but no spirits?

“Close your eyes. Now.

“No,” he says quickly, looking towards a noise in the brush. I juggle a Shadow Ball between my hands before letting it fly towards a growl. The Sableye jumps forward just as it explodes several palm trees into chunks of bark and charred leaves. It lands at the edge of the path but doesn’t come any farther. I can’t tell if there still exists some protection or if it’s simply biding its time.

“Soul, soul, precious soul,” it hisses, eyeing Malakai. “Precious gem. Tasty gem.”

“…Should I be scared?” he says dryly. Sableye grins before disappearing into the shadows. I pick up its presence a nanosecond before it reappears on the path and slashes at Malakai’s leg. It vanishes again before I can retaliate, leaving his form wavering with instability.

“Your fear isn’t the issue here. Whether you take this seriously or not, it is very grave.” His soul solidifies again, leaving him staring blankly into the distance.

“I feel fine?”

“Rather, it’s what you don’t feel.” I send out several of my own flames to the nearby torches—they won’t have the same properties, but at the very least they act as light sources. Sableye edges away from the light, but as evident from a cackle opposite to it, there are more enemies. “Keep going. The torches will light your way.”

“You’re going to get beaten hard,” he tells me.

“This is my job.”

“Suit yourself,” he mutters, starting to run. He stumbles once before regaining his footing and continuing down the path. Before I can start to move something grabs me from behind, yanking me backwards.

“We will have precious soul,” Sableye rasps.

“It is my job to give souls safe passage to the afterlife, and no one can interfere.”

“No one could, at least not with Deacon’s flames alight,” the Shedinja says. “And as you can see, those flames no longer remain on this Unwavering Pathway. All spirits are now for our taking.” It turns its back to me, and with a ghastly sound like nails on glass it moves its carcass wings, creating a zephyr that quickly grows into strong Gust. Sableye releases me and I have no time to gather my bearings. The wind catches me and blows me away from the path and into the trees. My body automatically turns intangible to pass through the bark and leaves but my mind is still whirring, watching the faint glow of Sableye’s gems disappear into the brush. “We’ll be eating good for the next century! Kekeke…”

…Shit.

*.~.*.~.*

I would like to say that I went back to my dwelling and put the mess behind me, but the issue has become too massive to ignore. Sableye and Shedinja, if they haven’t already (which I doubt) have consumed Malakai, and soon to consume every other spirit freed to the Unwavering Pathway for the next century or so. Not only will it massively tick me off to see them piss on my only job, but for them to destroy every incoming spirit will throw the entire island out of balance. Matter is matter, after all; the ether will eventually have to reform, and Arceus knows what’ll come from it.

I trek alongside the path, aware of the nearby growls and grunts of angry spirits, and follow the wisps of Deacon’s flames in the torches. Deacon has been lighting torches for longer than I have been a Dusknoir—which is to say, a long, long time—and never before has anyone undermined him this way. I want to investigate, but I cannot lure the spirits to the village. The only thing I can really do is lure Sableye and Shedinja away with me…that is if I can even catch up to them at this point.

A spirit reaches out and catches me by the wrist, tugging me backwards until I fall into the sand. More appear and pin my limbs, then even more start piling on me, weighing down my body until I feel as if I’ll choke from the malevolent ether. I start pushing them away, firing Shadow Balls in all directions (the island needed some tree control anyhow) but for every three I take down, five form within seconds and ground me once more, and while ether is near unlimited, my energy is not.

Oh, I’d give a century’s worth of souls just to rewind this night.

Right when my last, wobbly excuse of a Shadow Ball peters out, footsteps echo through the tight cage of tree trunks. Through the writhing mass of blood red, violet, and black ether, I recognize eyes like gold shining through the gloom. The spirits, sensing “fresh blood,” extricate themselves from me and swarm into a mass of negativity around Malakai. He stops short, panicking for just a second before he regains control and starts swatting at them. It’s about as effective as the wind on a boulder, but the distraction gives me time to regain my bearings.

“Malakai, catch!” I draw an Iron Ball from my mouth and toss it at him. He doesn’t move at first, maybe expecting it to go through his body, then he extends an arm for it to drag him to the ground with its weight. Quickly, while he’s bound with it, I open my mouth and start taking in the mass of spirits. The number alone makes me sick but I force myself to take in as many as I can before I feel like I might faint. The air has cleared, and though I know more bad spirits will rise in time and I’ll be powerless to stop them, I have to track down Sableye and Shedinja.

“Ugh,” he groans, getting to his feet and leaving the ball on the ground. “What the hell’s that?”

“A modified Iron Ball. We’re wasting time.” It’s a physical effort not to regurgitate them. I rarely ever take in bad spirits and certainly not in this quantity. Malakai makes a face that I can barely see in the dark but he remains in his spot. “Move.”

“For what? I can die here, or I can follow you and die anyway.” He puts particular emphasis on ‘die,’ not yet losing his irony. Which reminds me.

“Why did you stray from the path?”

“I could’ve let those Pokémon tear me to shreds or follow you and have a chance, although that’s gone out the window now,” he grimaces.

“It’s more than that. At least if you were destroyed, you would return to ether and have a chance at reincarnation. This is…limbo.” It’s odd; I haven’t used that word in a long time, and not for anyone besides myself. “Most likely, you’ll be stuck as a stray spirit until your own bitterness poisons you and rots you into a bad one.”

“And then you’ll eat me?” My stomach churns.

“Preferably not.”

“Then…” He looks through the trees in the general direction of his village. With a jolt, I realize that if Deacon’s flames have gone out over here, they’ve most likely gone out there too. Yet in this condition I cannot risk crossing the borders. Right now, the only one that can is Malakai.

“How much can you remember about your village? I’m asking for everything.”

“It’s ridiculously one-note,” he says immediately. “They hold onto traditions like constrictor snakes. There’s the Chief, Chief What’s-His-Name—no, honestly I could never remember his name—and his son Zachariah was the weird kid, and Ruthie was a babe, and there were flames like on the pathway, and they were…are always maintained by the village’s Chandelure… Its name is Deacon.”

“You’re going to go the village and make sure Deacon is still alive and capable of making flames, otherwise…”

“I know,” he says. “They won’t be protected anymore.”

“And you’ll lose your mother.” I personally don’t care, but I need to test him. By his perplexed expression, it seems that my test was warranted. “You don’t remember her.”

“Yes, I… Kind of, I kind of remember…” He shakes his head slowly, face pale. “I had a mom, didn’t I? I can’t remember.”

“This is why Pokémon like that Shedinja and Sableye are particularly dangerous. For a spirit like you, the worst that can happen is that you’ll lose some memories, but think of the ones still living. Humans are weak and fragile; they cannot fight Pokémon, and the village does not train Pokémon to fight back. Right now, their lives are in your hands.” His shoulders square and his eyes widen.

“My hands,” he repeats. “No pressure, right?” A spirit slips free, cackling madly at us with black eyes glittering before swirling off into the distance. I back away from him as more and more escape.

“Just go, and hurry!” He opens his mouth, closes it, then gives me a strained smile.

“The village would suck even more without its Dusknoir,” he says before running off. I wait until his energy has completely disappeared before releasing all of the spirits, letting the miasma grow in the treetops and the sky above. Usually, I can hear the echoes of their moans and woes from when they were still alive and human, repeating over and over like a bad song in the endless expanse of the forest—right now, there are ten times more than the usual, and their bad song is more like the muted wailing of an Exploud with a toothache. The sound is like a tuning fork vibrating within my plasma, and the sound grows until I feel like I might turn to ether as well.

The path is long, very long, something I barely ever took note of as I crossed it normally, but now it’s all that I’m aware of as I follow its darkness. I recognize that I’m travelling the right way by the stars, but the path itself is as pitch dark as anything else. It crosses my mind that the Sableye and Shedinja may not be alone, but at this point I don’t have much left to lose. I have to stop to remind myself that whether or not I have anything to lose, the village has too much to lose. There are forty families, sixty-seven adults and eighty children, and to leave their lives in the claws of those two is akin to abandoning my duties given to me by Arceus itself, not to mention my purpose: Dusknoir exist to guide the souls of the deceased into the afterlife so that they may have the eternal rest they deserve.

Ah…what irony.

I never think of what it actually costs me to do this: I am a Ghost-type, bound to the world by a single purpose—in this case, chauffeuring—and every so often I bring another soul to their final rest while I can’t earn my own. I have no life to speak of, avoiding everyone until I am needed, and I have only ever interacted with a handful of villagers in the centuries that this place has existed. And even so, from consuming their spirits, I know all of their names, what they do, where they live, who they love, who they hate, their likes and dislikes, loves and fears… And yet I’ve never known one as I do Malakai—I’ve never talked to one as I have Malakai. And in his own odd way, “The village would suck even more without its Dusknoir” is a confession of friendship. If he’s willing to give that to me, I don’t want to abandon everything he cares about.

I see the light of the Shedinja’s halo parallel to the glow of the Sableye’s gem eyes come into view just below the brightest star of the night. On either side of them are the two torches that won’t go out, the white-flamed ones that mark the entrance into the otherworld. They’re laughing, patting each other on the back for a job well done, still patronizing us as they await Malakai’s spirit that will never come. I crouch within the bushes, staying just out of their line of sight as they gloat and celebrate their victory. On a normal day, it’s impossible to reenter the path, but considering all of the exceptions today, I try putting my hand between two torches. The plasma pops and sizzles like an afterimage going on the fritz and I pull my arm back before they notice. No matter, I can attack from afar.

“That guy can go fu—” Shedinja cuts itself off when it notices my Ice Beam coming. Instead of being a direct hit and one-hit knockout, Sableye tosses a tree stump in front, blocking the attack.

“It’s in the bushes,” he growls, reaching the edge of the path and shining his read eyes over the area. Our positions work as a double-edged sword: while I’m stuck off of the path, he is stuck on it. He charges and releases a Shadow Ball in one quick movement, shearing off all trees in its wake and causing them to topple. I have to counter the Shadow Ball with my own, creating a huge plume of greyish-purple smoke, but the trees I can simply pass through—I am a ghost, after all. Nearby nocturnal Pokémon scatter at the sound they make as they hit the ground, and a few torches fall prey to their weight. I take up the larger rocks around us and let them fly at Shedinja. Sableye leaps into action, nimbly slicing them apart with his claws until they are just pebbles and landing a few inches away from where the path meets the pine needle forest floor.

Oh, I remember now: a Shedinja can only take one hit. That’s why he’s defending it. Then I need to occupy him first, then attack it. And perhaps…I can even use their teamwork to my advantage. I cannot reenter the path by normal methods, but if there is a soul to collect…

I focus on the dirt below their feet using Psychic, and before he can attack again I send them flying into the sky. Shedinja, who constantly levitates, finds it much easier to regain its bearings than Sableye, but it lowers itself closer to me than Sableye, who has to hop from rocks and chunks of dirt to land safely. I aim a Dark Pulse at Shedinja and fire, knowing and expecting it when Sableye leaps into the direct path, but with his angle and timing, he takes the attack head-on. It doesn’t do much damage with his Dark/Ghost typing, but it does throw him off path, which was my intent.

He crashes back into a tree and is buried underneath a heap of debris, and before he can recover I slam my fist into the ground. Thunder races from the point of contact to the path, shocking both of them into stillness. Sableye shakes it off again, but noticeably charred, and Shedinja falls prey to Paralysis, although it takes no real damage due to Wonder Guard. Which is a…convenient ability, now that I think of it. I hold my arm out and let dark blue and purple lights flow from my body and into Shedinja’s; conversely, light blue and gold lights flow from its into mine. Wonder Guard feels like a protective coating that I put over my body, the weight tangible and a little heavier than what I am used to.

Shedinja turns its wings towards me, flapping them with ghastly creaks to produce razor-sharp gusts of wind. I turn my head away and stand my ground, and while the trees and leaves around me are shredded, my body is unaffected. In a burst of inspiration, I take up a completely normal rock and toss it over. Sableye’s head instinctively snaps over to Shedinja, who is still turned, and in a second his body is petrified. A moment later a blue light floats from his grey-skinned husk of a body, which I easily intercept by stepping onto the path and consuming it with no repercussions.

“What in hell?” Shedinja asks, dumbfounded, as it stares at Sableye’s body.

“Those who gaze into the hole of a Shedinja’s husk will lose their soul, and with a soul in my belly I have one job: bring it to here.” I point out the entrance to the otherworld. “Which involves stepping onto the path.” Shedinja attempts to fly off but I stop it by grabbing its halo. “How did you extinguish Deacon’s flames?”

“Give that back!” it demands. “I can’t animate without it…” It becomes sluggish as we speak, flying in a jerkier manner than before.

“That’s just another soul to collect in my book.”

“Give it— Okay. Okay. Deacon is old and his flames are weak!” It makes an effort to speak as rigor mortis sets in. “We put a hex on him and that’s it. He couldn’t escape to refuel the fire. Give me—my—halooo…” I toss it back before it hits the ground.

“Don’t think you’re getting off easily just because you’re dead. You and your friend will suffer for crimes against this island.” But in the meantime, I can’t leave the path without being trapped away from it again. Now, it all falls in Malakai’s hands. The thing is, however, only Ghost-types and Psychic-types can effectively undo a curse or hex. If a human does it, let alone a bodiless spirit, the consequences could involve his removal from not only this existence, but reincarnation period.

*.~.Mal.~.*

The village looks like a dream to me now, bright lights of all colors and fabric of all designs blurred slightly with the edges of sleepiness. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve lost my memories or because I haven’t reached the underworld or otherworld or whatever the hell it’s supposed to be, but one thing I’m clear about: I don’t have time to waste. I have to find Deacon.

“Hey—” I say to Ruthie, but she passes by me as if I’m invisible. I’m a ghost, after all—I forget that occasionally because despite passing through everything I touch, I still can’t fly or hover and my jumping ability’s about as good as it was when I was alive, which is to say it sucks ass. Things come back to me for a second and I realize that it’s late into the night—what’s she doing out? She goes into a green-painted home that looks familiar, but I focus on the largest shelter at the end of the village, Deacon’s home.

Things look normal at first—he’s just lying on a string mat, little flames burning in his candleholders—but I feel a brief and strong wave of vertigo hit me. I clap my hands to my forehead and steady myself—honestly, that feeling is the most corporeal thing I’ve felt all night. A faint memory tugs at the back of my skull, time spent with the Chief: he said that Chandelure’s flames will burn at someone’s spirit until there’s nothing left. I didn’t understand it back then, but now I have to think that it’s meant for bad spirits. I wonder how many villagers were burned up by Deacon’s fire.

I put one foot forward and I’m shocked backwards almost immediately by an unseen force, sending me back onto my behind. It’s annoying at first, then I realize that my leg’s been burned away up to the knee. It slowly fades back into existence, but there’s another annoying blot on my memory now. I analyze the shelter from every angle but each opening and little crack is protected just the same. I test each of them with a twig, and each time the twig comes back burnt. I’m just glad I don’t have a body to be fried.

I don’t have much to remember, but I know that even in life, I wasn’t no damn Sherlock Holmes. I can’t figure a way past this curse or whatever holding Deacon in, but I can’t give up either, because if I do… The stakes are high, to sum it all up, and I don’t want to quit. I can’t quit, not after that stupid Dusknoir stuck his neck out for me. Nobody’s done that, ever, and it made me feel special enough to risk my life and afterlife for him. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

“Stupid little demon spawn.”

I feel a sharp pain in my chest that doesn’t do anything but scare me at first, then it jumps up to my head and it hurts. I hold my temples and pace around the shelter, trying to think past it, but things are harder as my mind blurs into a big grey fog. I have to help—I have to help that Pokémon—what is that Pokémon again? Who am I again?

“I named him ‘Malakai.’ ‘Curse’ in the old language. What else do you call a child like this? None other have golden eyes like he does.”

“He must be a punishment from Arceus.”

“We can’t afford this bad omen on the village.”

“Then leave him to drown. Kill him.”

Ghost-types—Ghost-types are Pokémon—dead Pokémon—they make curses, curses make the flames go poof—

“You didn’t kill him. The boy is near seven years old now.”

“I… I’m sorry, Chief.”

“We can’t afford this curse, Ester, I’ve told you already!”

I’m a curse too—that’s what they called me, the “golden-eyed curse,” and I—

“Today, Ester, he nears the adult age. Before it’s too late, we must kill him.”

“Chief…”

“Or would you rather die with him?”

“I… Yes, okay.”

…Mom?

Things I wasn’t supposed to hear, that I didn’t need to hear not in a million years… Those things are ten times worse than this stupid little curse. For to burn those memories from my brain, seeing Mom cry, falling, drowning, leaving everything behind because of something wrong with my eyes, of all things, I’d choose Hell three different times. I shove my arm through the invisible barrier, watching my skin fizzle and boil and steam away before my eyes, feeling it burn through my entire body as I seize Deacon’s arm. It hurts like Hell, and the hard part isn’t over yet: his body drags through the curse just like mine, and I have to use both arms now and brace myself with a leg. My brain hurts, my eyes feel like they’re melting, my being shakes—

“…I’ll miss you all, even if you won’t miss me.”

Deacon and I hit the sandy ground as the curse bursts in a shower of little violet filaments, dancing through the air all sparkles and shit. I think I’m imagining them for a minute, then I feel them on my skin. I push Deacon away and roll onto my knees, watching my fingers blur until they’re the same shade as the sand and begin fading. Light bursts from the shelter, purple and silver, lighting up the sky for a second before its replaced with gold, bright gold stars. They hurt my eyes to look at even more, but I bear with it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen gold with a positive meaning, not in my short life or even my short afterlife. My hands don’t reappear, and my legs tingle as they fade away.

“What’s going on?” Deacon whispers, his head flame shivering and shaking as he speaks. His eyes cast dark blue light over the sand, then on me as he looks ahead. “I thought… The hex, what about the hex?”

“I…broke it.” I feel like I just ran three marathons in a row. “You can thank Dusknoir.”

“Dusknoir… There are a Sableye and Shedinja—they’re the ones that—”

“He has those two handled…he has them handled too…”

“And you…” Deacon stops and looks closer at me. His eyes flicker from blue to yellow. “You’re Malakai, the one with the golden eyes.”

“I’m pretty infamous, huh? Gre-eat…” He gets closer, and I want to tell him to move, I don’t want his flames to suck the little bit of life left from me, but they feel physically warm now, maybe because I’m on the brink here.

“You are at the edge of your life,” he says, “…if what you’ve suffered through can even be called as much. Berated, shunned, cast aside for your eyes and old traditions and prophecies…”

“Tell me…something I don’t know…” I can’t feel my body at all, and I just want to close my eyes… I fall on the ground, but it barely has any impact, and I see his body glow yellow for just a second before it fades, a little bit of my imagination going wild in my last seconds.

“But you, you were their newest tradition. You, Malakai, were their change.

Would you believe it? In this little village, this place of old traditions where they killed golden-eyed babies and had a stupid Dusknoir that holds a conversation like a rock, they had me.

*.~.*.~.*

His tombstone stands to this day. I clean it all the time, because I’d rather not suffer his invectives for disrespecting his resting place or something like that. Malakai was something else, and I started to fear I would never see another like him. But today, I watch the ceremony again, as I’ve done for long before and will continue to do for long after. Still, something has changed.

‘New faces, old matters… We are gathered to witness the passing of yet another soul from this village. For tens of hundreds of years, we’ve committed to this ritual of purging the body of its weight, releasing our child to the place where they can reach their final judgment alongside their final rest. I, Hezekiah, as village chief, hereby—power vested—grant this soul—to—path of whence he—through our appointed—and—forevermore.’

My attention returns to the chief as he finishes his chant in the old tongue, lowering his hands to the coffin and finishing with the words I’m most familiar with. From the coffin comes his soul, and his soul forms something vaguely humanoid. The white sheer of his body takes form several feet from the coffin, and I lower myself to the young boy’s level, hovering close enough that the lights’ reflections in his eyes make their gold appear like amber fire. I hold my hand, palm out, and perplexed, he touches fingers to it.

Gabriel.

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