Scout goes on ahead, wading through the tall grass of Route 204 in search of danger. She holds her tail up high above her head so it doesn't catch on any of the dried brown plant life, her flame burning quiet and careful. The sun shines brightly overhead, lending some heat to the otherwise rather cold day. Most of the clouds have cleared, and there's a sharp, clean taste in the air. Shimmering ponds line the edges of the route, scattered about as if a giant beast had left its footprints there thousands of years ago. The trees seem somehow more alive here, more powerful and dominating in preparation for the coming winter. A comforting silence surrounds us, broken only by the occasional howl of wind or the crackle of Scout's tail. Here even our footsteps are deafening, cracking tired twigs and pressing lightly into the worn and wild ground.
Scarlet keeps close to my side, her ears pricked and hunches low. She doesn't make a sound, focusing her efforts on keeping watch where Scout and I are too tall to see. Her tiny body moves deftly through the grass, scarcely touching a single blade with her tail. She doesn't generate sparks like Jolteon, or keep a flame like Scout, so whatever power she has is well-hidden amidst layers of soft, dark fur.
Earlier I tried to hold her, but as soon as we left Jubilife she became difficult and fidgety, never wanting to stay in one place for too long. I can tell she wants to be independent, wants to prove herself to us, but I can't risk getting her killed. As long as she stays on my right I can keep watch over her, and make sure she doesn't stray from our path.
Scout slows down ahead, the grass rustling into place around her. She turns and fixes her gaze on me, sunlight catching on her dark eyes. She points forward and yells something, which I take to mean as "come look at this". I bend down and pluck Scarlet from the grass, letting her fight me for a few seconds before giving in and settling down in my arms. I struggle to look down at my feet and keep my wits about me at the same time, carefully stepping through weak stalks and cracking sticks.
I stand beside Scout and squint, my vision obscured by a bright reflection of white mid-day light. She lets her arm fall to her side, hanging limply. Before us sits a small house, a single story mass production type built of sturdy concrete and thick, dark wood. I vaguely remember an old teacher trying to explain why places richer than Twinleaf all had the same type of house, but as far I care to remember it has something to do with "using only the best" from countries whose land we raped and pillaged.
The door hangs off its hinges, rust spreading over the knob and crawling up the storm drain. The paint, appearing as if it's been torn off by hand in wide strips is a dark blue in some spots and a calm grey in others. The windows are coated in a thick layer of dust but not boarded up, as if whoever was here left without much warning. Weeds hold tightly to the walkway, bursting through the ravaged concrete to grasp whatever precious sunlight they can.
Scarlet wriggles in my arms, kicking her legs and reaching for the ground. I struggle to keep a good hold on her, but she manages to completely turn herself over and leap onto the ground. I call her back, and she turns to look at me with a face full of grim simplicity, determined and apologetic all at once. Scout starts toward her but I hold my arm out, gently stopping the fire-type from going any further.
Volkner said he received Scarlet as an egg, so she shouldn't be able to remember this place. But her pale, wide eyes are filled with longing and familiarity, the type that someone only gets when they know they've come home. I wish I could make her understand that I went through the same thing, that there's nothing like seeing your home torn apart by forces beyond anything you can control. Maybe I could get that many words across to Scout, but would Scarlet even begin to understand me?
If anything, I want to understand her. She's stuck with us now; she chose to join me completely on her own. But for what? What could Scout and I possibly have to offer that Volkner couldn't? I can't help but wonder if she'd still come with us if she knew what had happened before, how we failed the ones closest to us so many years ago.
She bounds forward, moving swiftly for the door. Now we follow her, still aware of what could be lurking in the darkness. I grip my crowbar tightly and hold it with the curved end up, prepared for a fight. Scarlet slides through the door and I swing it open wide, letting it hit the outside wall hard. She begins to sniff the ground, head bobbing up and down to catch whatever scent she's looking for. She slips into the next room, legs bent and stomach close to the ground. The entire house seems to be decaying, with paint peeling off the walls and the hardwood floor stained with water. A leak above me drops fetid water onto my head, and I glance up to see where it's coming from. There are spots all over the ceiling, dotting the darkened paint in wide yellow stains. I hear soft dripping sounds all around me, the outside sneaking in and reclaiming what once belonged to it. Scarlet steps into the hallway and peers back at us, silently requesting we keep her company.
Scout and I follow without hesitation, keeping as close to her as we can. She leans into a room at the end of the hall, and I start to go in before her. She looks up at me and I smile, hoping she understands that I support whatever it is she's trying to do. She turns around and heads across the thin hallway into what seems to be a bedroom, pausing briefly at the entrance before stepping inside. The reek of death assaults my nostrils and I instinctively raise my hands to my face to quell the awful stench. I stop just short of entering and wonder if I should return her to her Pokeball and leave before she notices what's waiting for us. A yellowing white sheet covers something bulging and silent on the bed, the source of the horrid smell and a gathering place for all sorts of flies.
Scarlet recoils a bit, then quickly glances back at us, as if worried we would judge her for feeling disgusted. She focuses her gaze straight ahead and bounds over to the bed, leaping on top in one swift bound to sit beside the rotting form. Swallowing a hard breath of relatively clean air, I walk in after her and gently reach out to calm her down. Scout stands at the doorway, visibly sick from the putrid stink.
"You don't need to do this…" I start, my fingertips lightly brushing her soft black body. "You don't need to prove anything to us."
She shakes her head quickly and, with an obvious chill slithering down her body, grips the sheet with her teeth and pulls. I try to get her away, but she simply dodges me and brings the sheet even further off the corpse.
I want to close my eye, to look at anything else, but morbid fascination draws my gaze back to the body. The skin is completely rotted and dark, with incredibly thin green lips and large, bloodied gums. Several pieces of hair still cling to the skull, the skin pulled taut over jutting bone. I've probably seen hundreds of decaying bodies, but this is different. It's easy to pretend the undead were never alive, that they are simply accursed beings that must be eradicated from a good and normal world. But this was clearly a person. A living being that has died and is never coming back. A body ravaged by living flies and starving maggots. There is nothing evil here, nothing dark or cursed. There is only the reek of death, and the face of rot and decay.
Scarlet bolts past me, out of the room and into the hallway in seconds. Scout follows, racing after her and away from the room. Before I leave I put the sheet back over the body, careful not to touch the slimy flesh. I briefly consider saying a prayer or something, but then remember I don't believe in Gods and fairytales. So I leave the body to rot alone, comforted only by the mass of flies and the maggots crawling in and out of his skin.
There's a sudden crash from outside, and I abandon the house to its dust and water stains. Scout and Scarlet stand back to back, facing off against a somewhat small band of undead Starly. Fire flashes through the air, and Scout knocks a few of them from the sky with ease. They cry out in irrational fury, dive-bombing the two Pokémon. Scarlet dashes around, dodging each one easily. But I can tell she's getting scared, that she can't keep up her charade of courage much longer.
I join the fight with a swift slash into a cluster of them, sending a few hurtling into the pale dirt. I crush each one's skull easily, using my feet or my weapon depending on which is more readily available. We've fought enough Starly now that we know how they organize themselves, and it's easy to destroy entire hordes of them once we get focused on the battle. I grasp Scarlet's Pokeball and order her to return, but the light misses and she scampers under my feet. I try to fight with her underneath, but a Starly slams into me at just the right point to knock me off balance and send me to the ground on my behind.
Scarlet stands before the horde rushing toward us, her legs shaky but strong. My mind flashes with images of Arthur, images of his torn body and his last battle. All at once Scarlet and Arthur are one and the same; both determined to protect their trainer at any cost. The entire world moves slowly, my body pinning me hard to the ground and forcing me to wait for my friend to die. I cry out her name and try to make her return, but it doesn't work. Bright light starts to gather around her, pulling in toward her body at an alarming speed. My throat closes and we're the only things left in the universe; just me, Scarlet, and the ravenous swarm of the undead.
A massive burst of light blasts out from Scarlet's body, electricity filling the air and blinding me with brilliant whites and yellows. I feel a slight pain move through my body, but it disappears quickly. The Starly land hard on the ground around us, and Scarlet snarls in satisfaction. Each body shivers with paralysis, struggling to keep up its urge to kill.
Scarlet turns to me, face filled with pride. I pull her tightly into my arms and bury my face in her soft fur, apologizing rapidly. Scout approaches us and sits very close to me, trying to seem too hardened for this sort of thing. Scarlet puts her paws against my chest so she can look at her other partner, and lets out a very happy and welcoming sort of growl. Scout looks back in confusion before smiling and nodding, offering me a hand to help me back onto my feet.
Scarlet climbs around my body to my backpack and makes herself comfortable there while Scout pulls us up. I look back at the house quickly, trying to see if Scarlet is looking too.
But her eyes are closed in contentment and she's facing the other direction. I reach back and pat her quickly, earning myself a few quick licks from her silky tongue. Scout looks out over the bodies and we begin the odd task of finishing them off, shoving feet, weapons, hands, and even a few rocks into the skulls of our enemies.