I shudder as Volkner carefully unwinds the bandage from around my head. His face is a mask of concentration and solemnity that seems incredibly alien on him. He's extremely cautious, peeling the thick, damp bandage off with surprisingly skilled hands. His sleeves are rolled up, proudly bearing deep scars from old victories. His bright blue eyes gleam in the orange haze of dusk, focused entirely on the task at hand.
The yellowed dressing is wrapped tightly around his arm, cutting into healthy, sun-reddened flesh. I flinch when he tears it, breaking the long strip between my head and his hand. He drags his wrist against the side of his leg, letting the bandage fall to the floor with a light thump. He brings his hand around me several more times before he stops, preparing to remove the last piece of gauze and let me see my new face for the first time. He asks if I'm ready, and I tell him I might as well be.
His jaw clenches briefly, his lips tightening to his mouth in disgust. His eyes flash with pity and revulsion for just a moment before he looks me in the eye and tells me it really doesn't look so bad. I assume by that he means it appears uninfected, because I can feel pain deep in my skull, sense the loss of my eye and know, without seeing it, that the wound is rippled and terrible. Volkner tries to reassure me, gently grasping my shoulder and struggling not to fixate on the gaping hole in my face. "It won't hurt. Well, it'll sting a bit, but no more than if you were peeling off a scab." I don't bother to answer, looking away from him and into a dark corner of the room. "Jay, trust me. I've done it before, many times, it's really going to feel fine."
The pain doesn't concern me. If I could live through having my back torn into and my eye ripped from its socket I think I can survive having a few stitches removed. I'm far more worried about having to see what I look like. It shouldn't bother me, to be so scarred when I have no one to prove myself to, but it does. I bite the inside of my cheek and continue avoiding Volkner's worried gaze, ignoring anything he has to tell me. He stops trying to make me talk and releases my shoulder. Crossing the room to my bed, he locates his plethora of medical tools from beneath it and starts to examine them.
I keep looking down, eye now locked on my shoes. Scout stands beside me, her paw resting softly against my leg. She does nothing to openly encourage or dishearten me, merely giving the silent word of her support. Her tail flickers, lending some small amount of heat to this cold autumn evening. She waits for me loyally, never impatient or demanding.
Breathing in sharply, I raise my head to face the mirror. The man staring back at me has a face filled with steely determination, one iron eye watching me with caution and resolve. One half of his face is dirty, a thin mixture of blood and grime covering a young yet hardened expression, deep lines showing fear beyond his years. The other half is dominated by hard, bulbous purple scars. Three deep lines run from his hairline diagonally toward his nose, leaving mountains of red in their wake. A series of parallel stitches cross each range, perfectly threaded but blackened and weak. What a pitiful man, with only one dark grey eye and a body ravaged by injury. Yet I do not feel sorry for him; do not wish for him to have made his choices any differently. His mistakes are his own.
Scout pulls lightly on my pant leg and I tear my eyes from my own reflection. She directs my attention to Volkner, who stands beside my bed with his tweezers in hand. I manage one more glance at the tired and darkened mirror before he calls me over, asking me kindly to lie down on the bed.
The tweezers are cold against my skin, sending chills down my back. Volkner nearly straddles me, working carefully to undo his own work. I hold myself down, keep my body as controlled and contained as possible. Scarlet curls up at my feet, watching the procedure with great interest while Scout stays vigilantly by my side. I feel a mild sting as the first stitches come out, grasping the covers tightly to avoid movement of any kind. The next one is removed, and every one after that is taken from my wound with such great care that I feel little pain and find myself capable of staying calm with ease.
Volkner grasps the final stitch, unthreading it with a steady, experienced hand. He sits back on the bed, looking down at his job well done. He smiles at me and I smile back, unendingly grateful for his help. He opens his mouth to speak, but is interrupted by a loud crash and a long, dark brown shape nearly falling out of the stairway. We examine Looker with wary eyes, mentally preparing ourselves for a meeting with the unintentional king of haphazardness. But the officer looks more frightened than flustered, his stupefied expression startling us as much as his entrance.
"Everything alright?" Volkner asks, sliding off the bed and approaching the older man with caution. Looker starts panting, bending over and pressing his palms hard into his knees. He tries to look up at the former gym leader, but is too worn out even for that. He sits crossed legged on the ground, right in front of the stairs. Croagunk sits by his side, looking somewhat excited but otherwise fine. Volkner stands before them, waiting irritably for Looker to get his bearings.
"Ah, yes, I…I went outside, for just one moment! I saw, some…." He waves his hands a bit, struggling to find the right word. "Monstrosities! I did not think Croagunk and I could fend them off, so we run back inside and tell you of this." He gasps for breath, breathing heavily in the dusty air.
"What sort of…monstrosities?" I sit up and angle myself so I can see them, feeling my heart beat quicken when Volkner's voice becomes cold and thick. He takes a step toward Looker, the floor creaking loudly beneath his feet. Jolteon appears like a ghost at his side, fur prickling in anticipation.
"I believe…zubats, perhaps. Birds possibly. We ran in before they could become too close to us. When they saw that we were living, they dove directly for us! We closed the door tightly just before they caught us." He sounds quite proud of himself for narrowly avoiding death, but I can tell from my bed that Volkner is furious.
The electric-type trainer starts to speak, but is cut short with a massive bang on the window. I whip around, fear and exhilaration exploding in my mind. A Zubat, bloody and confused, throws its small body violently against the dripping glass, creating a loud bang and filling the room with noise. The creature leaves markings of its face on the pane, dark, congealed blood coating the window and dripping from its head. He screams at us, voice dull but echoing in the small attic room.
I bend down and grab my trusted crowbar from underneath the bed, eager to fight again. Scout's tail blazes and she lets out a short cry of excitement, rivaled only by the meows of ignorant enthusiasm from Scarlet. The Flash Pokémon rubs against my leg, her tail twitching excitedly. I reach down and pet her gently, scratching behind her ear. "Sorry Scarlet, you're just too young. I can't risk you getting hurt, so you're going to stay in here with Looker."
"You're not leaving either," I turn to see Volkner standing over me, arms crossed. "You can't even see straight, Jay. You just had your stitches removed and if you tear open that wound again it's really going to hurt." Scout reacts instantly, bristling and glaring angrily at Jolteon. I stare at Volkner in disbelief, furious that he would even suggest I miss a fight."What? Volkner, I can take care of myself. I've fought plenty of these things, I think by now I know what I'm doing." Standing up slowly, I bring myself as close to his height as I can get. He's roughly six inches taller than me, so I have to look up just to make eye contact.
His blues eyes are hard and unyielding, "I wouldn't be so sure of that, Jay. Come on, just stay here. Don't risk your life for something pointless. I can handle a whole swarm of these things on my own, I'll be just as safe out there as I am in here."
There's another slam, a second Zubat tossing its body repeatedly against the window. I stop arguing, jaw dropping when a mass of black dots appears on the horizon. They barrel into the walls and windows of the building, eager to finish Looker off in revenge for earlier. He yelps, but quickly regains his composure and gets to his feet. "I will watch this place! Volkner-" he looks around desperately, taking just as much time as me to realize that the former gym leader has disappeared down the stairs.
I curse loudly and bolt for the exit, tripping once on the uneven wooden panels. Looker jumps to his feet and nearly clotheslines me, flinging his arm out so fast I stop short. I glare at him in indignation, his face flashing with fear for a brief moment before he shakes his head decidedly. "No. Volkner ordered you to stay inside; you must recover before you can battle again."
The building shakes with the force of the bombardment from outside, countless beasts hurling themselves against our walls with unhampered desire. Scarlet begins a terrible sound: a trembling and terrified caterwaul that echoes off the walls and bores deep into my skull. The cries of the undead intensify, their screams filling the room with chaos.
I want to yell back at Looker, to refute his idiot argument and make him stand aside. But I can't think of anything to say, any logic that could make him release me. My thoughts are hammered into submission by the ravenous uproar, forcing me to give in. I step back, staring furiously up at Looker but not making any sound. Scout's flame relaxes beside me, but her gaze is filled with fading rage. Croagunk crosses his arms and closes his eyes, showing far too much victorious pride for my partner to handle.
She leaps for the frog-like Pokémon without a second thought, crying out in a burst of frustration. Croagunk's eyes widen momentarily in fear, and he can't dodge her fast enough. She hits him hard, sending him flying backwards into the wall with an inaudible thud. She continues for him without any hesitation, driving him up against the worn wood and pressing tightly against his chest. Croagunk's mouth hangs open, face ruled by terror.
I order Scout to back down, her tail consumed by her own flame. She falters slightly, loosening her grip on the Poison-Type. Looker starts talking to me in rushed, disjointed sentences, briefly slipping into a language I can't even begin to understand. I approach my partner carefully, letting my crowbar fall to the ground. The clamor outside overrides any hint of noise, making the clang of the smooth metal hitting the floor nearly silent.
"Scout," I raise my voice above the screams, speaking as loudly and clearly as I can. "Return," if I still had her Pokeball I'd use it, but the remains of it are lying in a pile of Bidoof bones somewhere outside of Oreburgh. She glances back at me, eyes wide and feral. I call her name again, order her to calm down. I reach out, kneeling just a few feet behind her.
An incredible noise breaks through the chaos, the screams outside ceasing with an eerie suddenness. I fall back, catching myself before I can land on Scarlet, who must have come up behind me while I was working with Scout. She leaps into my arms, whimpering softly. The sound rumbles through the building, a deep rolling thunder that silences the chaos and makes my heart skip a beat.
Brilliant light shoots forth from the ground, a tangled mess of jagged streaks reaching ambitiously for the sky. The dark forms of undead creatures drop heavily, falling like rain toward the dry, cracked concrete. I hold Scarlet tightly as I stand up, making my way for the bloodstained window. She shakes violently in my arms, her heart pounding against my chest.
We look out into the street below, now littered with the smoking carcasses of our enemies. Looker stands beside me with his hand to his mouth, completely silent. Scout and Croagunk, having apparently forgotten their differences, lean forward on their toes to examine the battlefield.
Volkner stands amidst a sea of rotting corpses. His Pokémon surround him in an impenetrable circle, each prickling with excitement. His massive Electivire breathes heavily, strong shoulders rising up and down with impressive force. A deep black mark lies smoldering on the street, a shallow wound holding tightly to the ground. The electric-type trainer turns to look at us, a wide smile spread across his face. He waves, yelling something incomprehensible. I don't respond, choosing instead to focus my attention on calming Scarlet's rapid heartbeat.