A powerful shudder runs through my body. I look back every few feet; sure I'm hearing something unnatural. It's getting dark too, which means if we don't find and kill whatever's following us we'll have to sleep with the knowledge that we're being watched or not sleep at all. Our overnight guard system hasn't failed us yet, but we've only spent one night out here and these strange sounds are new.
The shuffling sound comes again, making my heart race. My palms are sweaty around my crowbar, and I pause to wipe them off on my pants. I want whatever this thing is to come out and fight us already. I wouldn't be nearly as anxious if I could determine for sure what it is, but if it's undead it isn't acting like it and if it's living I don't understand why it won't approach us. Getting attacked or even ambushed is much less concerning to me than getting stalked. At least then we know what we're up against.
We can't exactly go after it either, because it might not be alone. I refuse to go into the woods to investigate only to find myself suddenly swarmed by a ravenous hoard of Bidoof. So we're forced to just keep walking, wandering vaguely in the direction of Jubilife.
We can see the sun poking through the trees, low and dull. Whatever rain the sky had left was dumped on us last night, leaving us cold and wet for most of the day. We had a fairly thick, clear plastic sheet for a cover, but much to my dismay and Scout's horror it wasn't nearly as effective as I'd hoped. It allowed us to collect some rainwater, but made this morning an unexpected struggle. I tied a long piece of rope from one tree to another, and hung most of my clothes from it. Freezing and in only one layer of clothing, I waited anxiously for Scout to dry my things off. She was very efficient, but it still felt like forever.
I hear the noise again and stop dead in my tracks, tired of screwing around. I turn to face it, Scout immediately preparing herself for battle at my side. Holding my crowbar so that it shines in the sunlight, I make my voice as clear and steady as I can. "Who are you? Show yourself." As long as my emotions are in check, the undead shouldn't be attracted to us. They only respond to stress.
The path goes silent again, and I stare wearily into the forest. My heart pounds against my chest, my lips suddenly feeling very dry. I begin backing up, holding my weapon before me in anticipation. Scout's back is hot against my legs, standing behind me so she can watch our front. The silence is deafening, the soft sizzle of Scout's fire doing little to calm me. I crouch down slightly, preparing for an attack.
For a long while, there is only silence. We can't wait forever, so we decide to keep moving forward. I look behind us as often as I can, scanning the darkening woods for any sign of movement. A little voice in the back of my head reminds me that I could very easily turn back now, apologize for everything, and live a safe and reasonable life in Sandgem. Leo would be angry for a while, but Dawn and the Professor would surely be glad to see I'm not dead. There would be food, decent water, and a solid shelter every night. I bite my lip, tightening my hold on the crowbar. There would still be the occasional horror, but I wouldn't be alone. Leo and Dawn could help us fight, and we'd never have to worry about keeping watch or jumping at every little sound.
I shake the idea from my head. I've resigned myself to this; I have to accept the fate I've decided upon. Turning back now would be to admit defeat, and I have no intention of giving up anytime soon.
We build our camp. The trainer's mat goes down first, followed by a thick blanket and a small pillow. We push collapsible metal sticks deep into the ground in a circle with a taller one standing in the middle. Scout makes her fire outside, digging a hole through the grass before collecting some kindling. I unwrap a large sheet of clear plastic and drape it over the sticks, sliding them through small holes along its sides. The fire crackles noisily, and I crawl out to sit next to my partner.
We prepare a small dinner, just some bread, cheese, and a few weird vegetables from the lab. They taste terrible, but supposedly they give extra nutrients. The meal is gone in a matter of seconds, and I debate whether or not to make more. Scout slumps over toward the fire, looking dissatisfied. Still hungry myself, I ask her if she wants some more. I make a little less this time, and then hide it away deep in my bag so we won't be tempted again.
"First or second shift?" She shrugs, and I offer to go first. She scrambles inside quickly and is fast asleep not long afterward. I smile a bit, happy she's getting some well-earned rest. But without her the silence grows even louder.
I pull my legs up toward my chest and wrap my arms around them, crowbar in hand. For the first hour or so I try not to think about anything, meditating with the powerful little fire as my guide. The flames dance by my feet, flicking back and forth in the cold, dead air. Leo's shoes brighten in the weak orange light, casting every crevice in shadow. The dark grey laces were once strong and clean, but over the years have grown dark and tattered. The shoes themselves will do for now, but eventually I'll have to find a pair of newer ones. If every day is like today, they will be torn apart in a few short weeks.
The moon above is little more than a sliver, a thin claw mark slashed into the sky. The incredible stars glimmer, shining proudly in the night. They are free from the ever-powerful reach of human civilization, allowed to be as beautiful and plentiful as they please. I briefly wonder if my father can see them, if by some miracle he's still alive and is thinking about these majestic little lights right at this very moment. I never learned whether or not he was killed or turned, nor did I technically hear what became of my mother. I'd half-expected to see her remains in Twinleaf, but was thankful when I didn't. We didn't find any human remains in Twinleaf. However, knowing that doesn't make me feel much better. Not finding any bones means they may have simply turned.
Dawn knew for sure both of her parents were dead, while Leo learned about his father a few short months after the outbreak. Though any form of long-distance communication in Sinnoh died along with its population, the radio remained working until about three months after we returned to Sandgem. The announcement was so unnoticeable that at first Leo didn't quite catch on. The host said she was doing an interview with one of the Frontier Brains; Dahlia, I think her name was. The woman spoke in short, stammering sentences as she described the horrors that befell the Battle Zone. From what I could understand, the area was affected by the virus after the Sinnoh mainland. They had due warning, but once it became clear the disease was airborne there was no stopping it. The incredibly powerful wild Pokémon of the Battle Zone turned quickly, forcing the Frontier Brains to try and decimate every one of them.
But even some of the greatest trainers in Sinnoh were not enough. One by one they fell, until only Dahlia was left. She escaped to Lily of the Valley Island, where the interview was being held. Leo didn't do anything at first, not really paying attention to the story. But once Dawn began apologizing, he suddenly realized what must've happened. He used to tell me his father was invincible, that his father would come to save us and everything would be alright. After that, he never mentioned his father again.
A loud rustling sound breaks my train of thought, and I bolt to my feet. I stare out into the woods, struggling to see past the reach of the firelight. Something slams into my back, and I fall forward on to the tent. My face narrowly misses one of the sharp sticks pointing out of the ground.
I try rolling over to see who my assailant is. They're too heavy, and there's something incredibly sharp digging into my back. I feel a burst of heat above me, and look over to see Scout already wide awake and in a fighting stance. Scrambling to my feet, I grasp my crowbar tightly and look out into the darkness. Another Pokémon flies at me, and I hit it away just in time. It slams into the ground and makes a loud, distorted barking sound. A Bidoof, well-past the first few stages of decay. It run at me again, mouth wide open and aiming for my ankle. I slam my crowbar into it, blood and brains bursting out from its shattered skull.
Several of them come for me at once, aiming for my face this time. A blast of flame sends two of them flying away from me, while I knock a few more aside with my crowbar. They keeping coming and I stab into them as much as I can.
Unlike most undead, Bidoof are bothered by neither flame nor the reek of death. They attack as they please, often swarming areas in massive numbers and waiting in the darkness for their prey to lower its guard. I've fought them many times before, but every battle is something new.
I force the sharp end of my weapon into the head of one, kicking aside another. Sharp claws dig into my ankle, and I'm forced to push the creature off with the body of its ally. I throw both bodies back into the onslaught, their forms disappearing amongst the masses. In one swift motion, I bring my crowbar across my body and turn, narrowly dodging another leaping at my knee. I drive onward through the crowd, trying to keep them as far from me as possible.
Scout's own weaponry has added to our campfire, creating a massive blaze not unlike the one we caused on Route 201. It hasn't spread yet, but it will. I try to tell her to slow down, but the wind steals my breath and chokes me. Gasping, I jump back and continue trying to fight the horrendous beasts. They keep coming, wave after wave. Scout leaps through the air, turning into a bullet of fire and blasting through a group of them.
The image of her lying on the ground, screaming for help, flashes through my brain. I blink hard, struggling to refocus. She lands within our bonfire, immune to what she called forth from her own body. The undead continue unimpeded, countless perishing in her shield of flames. She pushes up and out, breathing heavily. The Bidoof charge toward her, and she sweeps them away with a wide arc of heat. Their screams pierce the night, calling for more and more from the surrounding woods. Scout creates another bonfire around her, setting the field ablaze.
I step carefully, breathing in the heavy smoke and trying to avoid the sparks. My eyes are filled with light, only interrupted by my enemies throwing themselves upward. I use my entire body to fight them, but they're getting too close. One grabs onto my arm hard enough to draw blood, penetrating through several layers of thick fabric. I shake it off furiously, slamming my crowbar hard into its skull when it hits the ground. Now I'm panting, desperate for the fight to end. There has been no respite, no eye in this storm. These monsters don't fight like the others; they follow their rules and do as their instincts suggest.
We're about to burn down the entire forest, and if Scout doesn't calm down soon I'll be surrounded. I look around for our camp, only to see it bathed in flames. Stunned and horrified, my heart drops and I freeze up. My backpack lies among our other supplies, about to be consumed. Concerned only for our food and water, I skirt around the fire and bolt for it. A Bidoof runs at me, but I swipe it aside with ease. I reach for the backpack, only to see the flames have already caught it. I collapse to my knees and begin trying to pat it out, my shaking hands stinging painfully in the heat.
Suddenly I feel an intense, red-hot pain in my left eye. A Bidoof clings to my face, and I pull it off using all my strength. Incredibly weak, I grab my crowbar and crush the creature's little body. I reach up to feel for what hurts, only to see an incredible amount of blood dripping from my hand. My vision fills with red, and I cry out in pain. Hands trembling furiously, I press my fingers to my eye.
There is only blood, and pain. I try to blink, but feel only a mocking, phantom burn. Out of my right eye I see Scout making massive rings of fire in the air. She starts yelling, but I hear no pain in her voice. Only pride and victory. No more undead monsters screech into the night, leaving me to sit among the brilliant flames and struggle to find what isn't there.
The adrenaline begins to wear off, pain shooting through my body as new injuries reveal themselves. My arm bleeds furiously, the pain deep and throbbing, while several acute patches on my back cry out terribly. I fall over onto my side, covering my face with my hands and letting the blood stream from where my left eye used to be.