I approach Scout and Tinkerbell with caution. The Flying-Type squirms in her grasp, desperate to break free. I kneel down and ease Scout's paw off the Starly, feeling the smooth, soft feathers brush against my hand. Even though she's visibly frightened, the Starly doesn't try to run away. Reaching into my backpack, I pull out a piece of bread and hold it out to her. Scout's eyes widen, and she grasps my arm with surprising force. Tinkerbell jumps, steps back a few paces, and readies her wings for flight. I gently pull Scout's fingers off of me, leaving her to watch with bewildered eyes as I extend my hand to the little bird.
There is only silence for a few agonizing moments. Leo and Prinplup come over to stand behind us, keeping as quiet as they can so as to avoid ruining my attempt to help the little Pokémon. The forest is coming to life around us, roused from its deep sleep by the noise we made with Emily. The creatures that lurk there, in the bare autumn trees, can sense distress above all other emotions. They come when the threshold between suspicion and panic is crossed. Scout moves into a fighting stance, listening hard to the noises around her.
Without warning, something large and grey bursts out of the trees. It lets out a loud screech, diving straight for Tinkerbell. The beast suddenly bursts into flame, falling just short of its prey and landing in a burning heap on the ground. Some of the grass begins to catch fire, and Tinkerbell clumsily takes to the sky, flying away from the chaos about to unfold.
I can't blame her. Holding my bloodied crowbar in one hand, I jump to my feet and prepare for a fight. The creature Scout destroyed struggles a bit on the ground, exposed organs still pumping beneath its decayed flesh. Leo drives the handle of his shovel into its skull, ending the thing's misery once and for all.
He looks back at me, and we find we are once again witnesses to the true calm before the storm. The forest falls into eerie silence, the crackling sound of the burning corpse echoing into the daylight. But then one more shape falls from the sky, knocked to the ground by Leo's weapon. Another comes, and another. The swarm has come, and we are prepared for it.
Scout leaps backward, releasing a burst of flame at several of our attackers. Some of them fall to the ground, but a few continue their way for her. Unafraid of the searing flames, she swipes them out of the sky. They land beside their leader, quickly creating a massive fire behind us. A few come for Scout at once, trying to get at her from different angles. She's fast though, and dodges two of them before creating a wheel of flames and throwing herself into the flock. The two she escaped momentarily return, and she snatches them out of the air. They try to bite her paws, but she crushes their skulls with the sort of ease that only comes with killing things to stay alive. The others drop to the ground like meteorites, creating spots of smoke and flame all over the ground.
My crowbar meets flesh, and I drag whatever I've hit to the ground before sending it flying into the fire with a flick of my wrist. I now see the creatures attacking us are Starly and Staravia in various stages of decay. They are starving for flesh, desperate for anything after being alone in the forest for such a long time. Each one requires very little of our meat to survive, but just one bite and we'll become one of them. I turn around swiftly, driving my weapon hard into another feathery body. Not wasting any time, I whip back to barely save myself from another decaying Starly. It cries out in my face, its beak hardly attached to the rest of its head anymore. I swing it away from me, pushing it into the fire. Though the fire won't destroy them, it will at least keep them under control until Prinplup has enough time to put it out.
Something flies over my head, and I drop down instinctively. "Watch yourself." I look up to see Leo with a dead Starly stuck on the end of his weapon. I don't answer him, just stand up so we're back-to-back, and ready myself for the next wave.
Prinplup makes his move, forcing a massive crowd of Starly and Staravia back with a huge pulse of water. Another group flies down almost immediately after, and Leo swings his shovel handle in an arc to take them out at once. The fire roars amidst the panic, spreading to cover much of the field. The oak tree we'd been sitting in only minutes earlier bursts into flame. Leo orders Prinplup to redirect his attention to keeping the fire under control, and he obeys, running away from us to begin lessening the damage we'd done. Leo follows him, keeping his stance low and his weapon raised to protect himself from anything that would dare try to harm him or his Pokémon.
If an average battle with an undead swarm is like a storm, we've only now reached the eye. Neither Scout nor I relax, instead opting to stand with our backs to each other and wait for the enemy to return. She calls out, daring whatever is left of this particular flock to come out and get us. I feel heat at my back, and hear the crackle of flame as she moves her blazing arm across her body. My heart pounds in my ear, blood rushing through my body and filling me with terrifying excitement.
The next wave arrives, but too slow. Scout and I are ready, and when the first few come for us I stab the end of my crowbar into one and use the side of my arm to knock the rest down. They squawk loudly at me, and I crush them with the body of their own fellow undead. I whip my weapon back, the decaying body flying off the end and landing in a pile with the others. The sort of adrenaline I feel is both wonderful and horrifying. Wonderful in that I feel neither pain nor worry, there is only the desire to keep fighting, keep protecting myself and my friends. Horrifying in that the amount of blood on my hands should be reserved only for surgeons and cheap gorn movie villains. These beasts are only out to hurt me, and I use that to justify my love of slaughtering them.
I spin around, wiping the sky just above Scout of undead Pokémon. She in turn pushes a series of short, flaming bursts behind me. I begin to take out the remaining Starly one by one, swinging my crowbar into as many as I can at a time. The blood is too viscous to have dripped onto my hands, but my crowbar is covered in a deep red color. One gets too close, and I grab it with my hand before crushing its head with my fist.
The chaos falls away, and all I can see is the amount of gore on my hand. My stomach feels terribly twisted, and a disgusting taste rises to my mouth. I swallow it back, trying not to gag. The last time I threw up was more than four years ago. Even when I got sick, the worst I felt was uncomfortably queasy. I look carefully at the blood, wondering how it could feel so warm. I try closing my eyes, but the image won't fade.
I feel a great heat by my leg, and open my eyes to the burned field. My palm closes around the remains, and I shudder as I take in the thick, smoky air. Prinplup has managed to put out any flame of concern, and Leo appears to have finished off any surviving undead. He looks at me skeptically, raising an eyebrow. "What just happened to you? You were just staring off…" His eyes are surprisingly wide and vibrant, alive from the excitement of our first battle on the road. "You're lucky Scout was paying attention."
Looking down at my partner, I see that she's gathered quite a large pile of corpses beside her. She looks worried, but simply nods when I quietly thank her. I hold my crowbar in both hands, examining it carefully. It doesn't appear bent or broken, just covered in a thick layer of carnage. "Are they all gone?" Leo asks, and I nod swiftly without looking at him. Swarms always travel and attack in two waves, so once the second true wave is defeated the battle is over. We've scared off any more, at least for now.
I steady my weapon against my shoulder, and walk over to the now-scorched oak tree. The first casualty of our journey. The branches are covered in blackness, white pieces of ash falling off like leaves. From within the scarred limbs comes a small, hesitant rustling. Curious, I use my crowbar to hold aside the pieces blocking the source of the shuffling from view. Tinkerbell lies hidden among the boughs, shivering in fear. I reach my hand out to her, this time not offering any food. She's seen what we can do; if she wants our protection then that should be what she comes with us for.
She stares back at me for a long time before stepping closer and lightly pecking my index finger. I wince slightly, but don't move. She climbs carefully into my hand, her sharp claws pricking my skin. I pull her gently out of the tree, taking into full view the contrast between the little bird in my hand and the blood that coats it just beneath her feet. She can smell it, but doesn't seem to mind. She buries her head in my hand, and I reach into the side pocket of my backpack as carefully as possible.
The Pokeball is smooth in my hand, but cold from being kept in my bag for so long. I hold it out above her, and press the button on the front of it. After a few brief seconds of loading, I smile when it enlarges and comes to life. I press the button again, and a bright red light engulfs Tinkerbell. The ball shakes once in my hand before making a loud click.
TINKERBELL HAS JOINED THE TEAM.