"The map says this is the best way to Floaroma. If we go around the cliffs it'll take…" I bite my lip, making a rough estimate of how much time it takes us to travel a few miles, "roughly five more days. And I don't know about you two, but I can't climb that. So the only good way is through." Scarlet and Scout stand beside me, staring uneasily at the massive cliffs towering before us. They split open in the middle, a deep cave holding its great mouth open for us to enter. Inside there is only darkness, a long and wavering abyss hopefully leading to our destination. The rock face extends far to our right and left, eventually vanishing into the forest that perpetually surrounds us. Weak morning light does little to guide our way, barely reaching the cave's opening.
I lower the map and gaze into the shadows, squinting. If I had to guess, I'd say a cave would be the absolute worst place to be in our situation. They were chaos before the outbreak, so they can't be any better now that everything else is insane. But even with our improved rations from Jubilife, we don't have enough food to keep us going for five or more extra days. Scarlet doesn't eat much, but every fight burns a lot of our energy and we'll run out quickly if we don't keep a good store. As a rule we never eat everything we have because the next town could very well be a barren wasteland and we may not see any more food for a long time. Walking into an indefinite amount of danger for an indefinite amount of time will get us all killed.
If Ravaged Path isn't a complete hellhole then we shouldn't need more than two days to pass through it. Those two days should not be filled with endless fighting, but it's always a distinct possibility. If we can't use it and we end up wasting our supplies we're done for, and nothing we've managed to do will make any difference to anyone. I tell my partners all of this, and they baffle me once again by wholeheartedly accepting the possibility of death. They understand me completely, yet they do not question my often poor judgment or planning.
Scarlet takes the first few steps into Ravaged Path. Scout guards us from behind, while I watch for danger in between. Our steps echo off the walls, filling the silent cave with sound. A beam of light pools in front of us at all times, my flashlight providing ample visibility. My crowbar hangs loosely in my right hand and flickers in the light of Scout's tail. I wiped some of the blood on it off last night, but there's a permanent buildup gathering on its curved end. I don't really mind though, as I never intended my weapon to look pretty.
The cave is dead with a comforting silence, the soft drip of groundwater the only sign that time is passing at all. I might feel relaxed if caves by definition didn't make me nervous. I've never liked being very enclosed, and only knowing one way out of anywhere sends a chill down my spine. It occurs to me that we may need to come back this way, so I have Scout singe our path into the dusty ground. Each of her footfalls leaves behind a flaming imprint, quickly dying out to leave behind a scar of ash.
Scarlet keeps a meter or so ahead of me, her tail electrified in excitement. Though I know now that she can handle herself, I still refuse to let her out of my sight. Regardless of ability she's still a baby, and naturally she's more prone to making mistakes than Scout and I are. Four years ago that would be fine, but now a poorly-timed mistake could kill her. At the first sign of danger I will return her to her PokeBall.
Darkness envelopes us as we travel farther and farther into the cave. Scarlet weaves in and out of the flashlight's gleam, a bit of a bounce in her step. A spark travels over her body, her tail twitching in excitement. I glance back at Scout, trying to see her face without needing my light. Her tail keeps the front half of her body in shadow, and each of her steps illuminates her legs briefly before bathing them in blackness. She looks somewhat relaxed, with her arms crossed behind her head and her stubby fingers intertwined. They must be able to sense or smell something I can't because I feel completely on edge. I take in a deep breath, trying to catch something comforting on the air.
The reek of death haunts my nose, but I don't smell it here. There's only dust and cold clarity in the air. I suppose it's possible there aren't undead in here, but why? I figured we'd see Zubat, but so far we haven't found anything. The sound of our footsteps should have attracted them to us the second we entered.
I look carefully at the cave walls, light reflecting off long streams of water sliding down their cool surface. Nothing moves, the cave filled with silence. Scarlet pounces forward suddenly, and I turn my flashlight on her little body. She rolls over on the ground, mewing loudly. I kneel beside her and ask if there's something wrong, but she just smiles up at me and rolls around more.
She's bored. "Come on, we have to keep moving," she gives me an exasperated look and squirms in the dust a bit longer, kicking pointlessly into the air. I roll my eye and shove my crowbar back into its spot on my backpack, picking Scarlet from the ground and holding her in my arms so she doesn't have to walk any more. She tries to climb back down, but I keep a good enough grip on her that she can't. She lets out a puff of fed-up breath before settling down and getting comfortable, her heartbeat quick but gentle against my hand.
The cave begins to narrow, and it's soon too tight for me to stretch out my arms without touching the walls. I struggle not to start worrying, biting down hard on my lip and holding Scarlet close to my chest. She's fallen asleep, and part of me wishes we could change positions. Between my flashlight and Scout's tail the entire cavern is illuminated, walls awash in brightness. I start to imagine I'm heading deeper and deeper into the belly of a massive serpent, maybe a Gyarados or Rayquaza. The water is saliva, and the brown of the cave is actually a deep, fleshy red. Instead of dusty and hard, the floor is soft and slimy. I slip and catch myself on the side of the throat, my hand pressing deep into the wet tissue. Breathing hard, I right myself and keep pushing forward, the canal getting thinner faster, forcing me into the stomach.
I taste something almost metallic on the air, acid drifting to my nostrils and burning my mouth. Oxygen becomes scarce, my lungs gasping for breath. Water splashes somewhere far away, and I hear the great pounding of the beast's heart. The walls begin to move in sync, pulsing and pushing against me. I grip hard to my flashlight, the light shivering as my hand shakes uncontrollably. The ground begins to move, and I anticipate a massive surge of movement beneath me, the final toss into the sea of deadly poison permanently just beyond my range of sight.
Scarlet gasps and my stomach lurches. I drop her and collapse to the flesh, fingers soaking in saliva. My flashlight spins away from me, the entire cavern suddenly bursting into flickering shadow. The walls shake violently, shuddering and closing in for me. I grip my head hard and grind my teeth together, willing it all to stop.
I close my eye and breath hard, pushing my palms into my face. Something soft, like a piece of velvet, brushes lightly against my cheek. I lower my hands and look up at Scarlet, firelight shining in her wide, bright eyes. Scout stands a little further away, watching me warily. The cave has returned to normal, the walls brown and hard once again. The floor is soft, but no longer slimy or shaking. I lean forward and put my hands into it, inhaling slowly. Scarlet smiles at me and licks my face again, eager to comfort. I pull her into my arms and sit back on my knees, my heart slamming wildly into my ribcage.
Scout grins and hands me my flashlight as I get back to my feet, watching her trainer carefully for any further signs of crazy. I turn the light back on and hold it out in front of me, slightly relieved to see the cave widening before us. The soft drip of water grows louder, and I hear another splash. Confused, I hold the flashlight above my head and squint into the darkness. Far ahead lay a vast number of rocky lumps in the ground, stacked high on top of one another and forming huge mountains of boulders. So far the cave has been exceptionally flat, with only the occasional stalactite to break up the smooth terrain.
Scout stops moving and holds her hand out, her flame quieting to a dull ember. I put the flashlight on a lower setting, waiting for Scout to make a move. She stares into the shadows a few moments longer before relaxing, her tail bursting back to normal. She takes several steps forward, and I follow carefully. Scarlet shifts in my arms, and I scratch behind her ear absentmindedly.
The great pile of boulders shifts suddenly, and I instinctively fall into a fighting stance. Scarlet leaps out of my arms and onto the ground, hissing loudly and snapping at the air. Scout stands before a pile, completely calm. She reaches out and hits one of the boulders hard, jumping back as it falls to the ground.
The boulder rolls around to her other side as if controlled by an unseen force, stopping when it's completely behind her. She turns to face it, and holds out a paw. The boulder bounces once, and two long arms shoot out from its sides. I blink a few times and briefly wonder if I'm still hallucinating. Scarlet gasps and jumps behind me, snarling loudly.
The boulder grasps Scout's hand, and realization floods through me. "Scarlet, look," I reach into the side pocket of my backpack and show her my PokeDex, bending down so she can see it properly. The machine sputters to life, and I point it at the boulder. Geodude's entry fills the screen, and the little Flash Pokémon blinks at it in confusion. I read the entry aloud to her, and though she still seems confused I feel she has at least something of a better grasp on the situation.
I stand and put the PokeDex back into my bag. The Geodude turns to Scarlet and I, using its arms to propel it forward. Many of the other boulders in the pile begin to reveal themselves as Geodude, approaching us in one grand mass. Scout crosses her arms and stands away from us, lit by the fire of her tail. Scarlet looks around nervously, hiding between my legs. The Geodude babble randomly, looking around at each other and then back at us. They sit close, extremely friendly in their demeanor.
I saw Geodude when I traveled through Oreburgh Gate more than four years ago, and even defeated a few owned by a Gym Leader. For some reason it hadn't occurred to me that they'd be immune to the virus, but it makes sense. If they're made of rocks and magic, why would they be able to turn? Steel-types must not be susceptible either, at least not the majority of them. They can't be eaten, so they may very well be able to fight off the undead should they show upon in the wrong place at the wrong time. That's why there aren't any Zubat in here – the Geodude must have scared them all off.
Smiling, I feel a sudden surge of gratitude for these strange little Pokémon. Without them we never could have made it through this cave, and while we're not out yet, had they never killed off the Zubat we'd still be at the entrance. Scarlet's body sparks anxiously, and I take her off the ground once again. "It's okay, they won't hurt us," Geodude are part Ground-type, so it's only natural for Scarlet to be afraid of them. She shudders in my arms, and I feel a sting where she touches me. "Careful, I'm not immune to that sort of thing," she glances up at me with a mixture of defiance and apology, her eyes narrowed a bit.
The Geodude start to head back to their mountain hastily, some rolling, some using their arms to "walk". Scout watches them in confusion, looking around quickly as they pass her. Her eyes meet mine in the darkness, and I turn my flashlight back up to full power so I can get a better look at her. She starts moving toward me, but a sudden burst of sound stops her dead in her tracks. Her eyes widen and she looks off to her left, her tail an incredible, frightened blaze.
Flapping fills the air, the cave overtaken by a great flurry of screeching. I turn my flashlight in the direction the sound comes from, my hands shaking in fear. Scout rushes toward us and slides my crowbar off my bag. I let Scarlet jump to the ground and take my weapon, ready for a fight. The flock descends upon us, flying clumsily through the air.
Using one arm to fight off the fastest ones, I use the other to hastily fish Scarlet's PokeBall out of my pocket. It falls to the ground, the sound drowned out by the horde. "Return!" I cry out, and though she yells back in protest Scarlet vanishes in a burst of light into her PokeBall. Fire arcs out around me, and I aim upward to take out the enemies coming down on us from above.
My flashlight illuminates several of them, their decaying forms lit up in extreme detail before my eyes. The Geodude must not have scared the Zubat off, as there are more coming for us now than I've seen in my entire life. Even when they attacked us in Jubilife they were so spread out it hardly seemed they were one flock. Here they are clearly one mass, one huge organism created for the singular purpose of finding sustenance. They fill the cave from floor to ceiling, smacking into boulders and stalactites without bothering to dodge them.
I work tirelessly to protect myself, my body moving in sync with Scout's. Her fire blazes over my head and I know instinctively to duck, my arm swings out to the side and she jumps away without needing to think about it. Sweat builds on my forehead and I start to feel exhausted much too fast. I refuse to slow down, stabbing one after another until the group immediately surrounding me starts to thin.
The cavern is filled with smoke by the time we finish off the first wave, my lungs stinging with the effort of taking it in. But I've been with Scout long enough to have developed some type of immunity to her abilities, and I can survive the pain for the time being. The next wave is upon us very quickly, barely letting us catch our breath in between.
I misstep and nearly trip, catching myself just in time to avoid another of Scout's attacks. She glances at me quickly but says nothing, assuming I can take care of myself. Amidst the flickering mass of undead is one exceptionally large enemy, its wings glowing in the light. I send a few more to the dusty ground, to the pool of blood gathering at my feet.
Something horribly tears into my ears, and I cover them instantaneously. An awful sound echoes off the walls, a terrible screech amplified by the small space. Silence follows, then a clumsy, slow flapping and the sound of bodies hitting the ground. I look up and shine my flashlight into the direction of the noise, struggling to understand what my eyes tell me.
A large Golbat with powerful wings and a healthy body hovers before me, facing the direction the swarm came from. It stays there for a few minutes before suddenly turning and barreling into me, knocking me hard to the ground. I gasp for breath and try to shove it off me, panicking under its weight. I look to Scout, willing her to help. She stares back at me, her face calm but her eyes smiling.
The Golbat gazes at me with big, tear-filled eyes. She rubs her face against my body, and my heart skips a beat. "D-Dracula?" She stops and looks at me, and at that moment she's the most incredible thing in the entire world. "You…you're alive."
Her body suddenly explodes with light, and I try to sit up under her expanding weight. Heat washes over my body but I don't care. I wrap my arms around her brilliantly light body, ignoring the burn on my skin. I taste salt and realize I'm crying, tears slipping onto her shining form. She begins to cool and the light pales, her body now much larger than before. She's easily heavier than Scout and Scarlet put together, and just holding her puts a strain on my legs.
I scramble to get a new PokeBall from my pocket, and hold it out so she can see. She wraps her bright purple wings around me and squeezes tightly, her face wet on my neck. Light shoots out from the PokeBall, bathing her in brilliance once again. The ball shakes once before making a loud click, and I smile widely, holding it to my chest.
DRACULA HAS RE-JOINED THE TEAM.