The bike is covered in rust, but in all the right places. I found it hidden beneath a pile of random debris, glinting very slightly in the sunlight slipping through the cracks in the ceiling. It feels steady and doesn't shake much, though the tires could probably use a little more air. The stained metal basket attached to the front is strong enough to hold anything I don't want on my back and deep enough to keep my supplies from falling out. I tie a strip of fabric over everything as a precaution in case I run into trouble.
The bright orange sunrise sets the long road in a pale, clouded light. Route 206 is a straight shot, slanting downwards towards the Oreburgh terminal resting silently on the hazy horizon. My jacket lifts out behind me as a faint breeze stirs the air. It whistles as it flits over the snow covering the road, drawing the heads of tired plants into the ground. Sharp cliffs line us on either side, giving way to a deep and expansive valley below. The shadow of the Coronet Range looms over the route, its snow-capped peaks jutting sharply into the sky.
I swing one leg over the bike and rest my right foot on a pedal. The tires press down into the snow, crunching quietly as it condenses beneath my weight. A vast series of footprints covers the road, the markings of dirty feet leaving dark marks in the clean snow. Abandoned supplies are strewn about; everything from empty cans to torn-up shoes lining the roadside.
Inching forward, I put a little more weight on the wheels to gauge how well it can handle the terrain. The hard tires hold strong to the ground, using the deep ridges down their middle to grip the snow and keep from slipping. Pushing down on the pedal and bringing my other foot into position, the bike starts to move very slowly over the snow.
Leo taught me how to ride a bike when we were nine years old. His father found an old one for me at the dump and we all worked together to fix it up. I was terrified every time he brought that old bike to my house. He was missing one of his two front teeth after colliding head first with a wall on a sled, so whenever he smiled I could see straight through the gap into his mouth. He would have his shivering hands wrapped around the handlebars, his cheeks puffy and red with cold. I would open the door wearing only pajamas and insisting it was too cold to go out. I'd try to convince him to come inside and maybe play a game, but he wouldn't have it.
So every time he came around I'd give up and head back in to get my winter gear on. Then we'd trudge up to the top of a hill, and he'd tell me to get on the bike. I would refuse and remind him how cold it was and could we please go home? But as I protested he'd be easing me on to the bike. I'd swing one leg over while still filling the air with stupid excuses. Then, as soon as he thought I was somewhere in the vicinity of ready, he'd push me down the hill mid-sentence and start to run after me.
I crashed the first four or five times we tried it. The most I ever got was a broken finger, but it was still enough to make me hate going out with him on those winter days. After a particularly bad crash I finally told him I'd had enough. He waited until I was done complaining before surprising me by giving in.
"Okay, you can go home. We don't need to do this anymore. I just thought maybe if I taught you how to ride a bike we could do it together in the summer. That's okay though, I'll just go off on my own. You can stay inside all alone with your mommy all summer."
The very idea of being stuck inside with my mother for any amount of time terrified me. After a quick moment of hesitation I held out my hand and demanded he give me the bike. We climbed back up to the top of the hill and, as always, he didn't wait for me to finish my list of reservations before pushing me as hard as he could.
For one glorious and horrifying moment I felt completely out of control. My legs could barely keep up with the pedals as they whipped around in violent circles. The wind tore into my skin and eyes, stinging the already-sore skin painfully. I gasped as I neared the bottom of the hill, bracing myself to hit an exposed rock and fly into a hard, cold snow bank.
On a desperate whim I pulled the handlebars to the left and leaned the same way. The bike shot off away from the rock and down the hill to the flat road below. Its speed gradually decreased until I had to pedal to stay upright. My heart raced, adrenaline burned through my veins like wildfire. Leo ran in front of me and braced himself against the handlebars. I fell forward slightly but caught myself, staring dead-straight into his wide, excited amber eyes.
From then on I felt much more comfortable on a bike, and come that summer we would head into the woods almost daily to see how far we could get before dinner. I was never as good as Leo, but that was okay with me. I was always okay with being weaker than him. He was smarter, stronger, and faster than me, and I accepted it.
I reach back quickly to feel my crowbar at my back. There's rust consuming it now, its smooth steel tarnished by harsh red blotches. Breathing deeply, I let it go and put my hand back on the handlebars.
I didn't stop being okay with second best until we became trainers. Scout and I were always a stronger team than him and Prinplup. She made me feel like the most powerful man on earth, which meant Leo could not possibly be stronger than us when it came to battling. He would joke about it constantly, but behind every hollow laugh I felt a creeping paranoia. I suspected he was jealous of me, but would then immediately reject that as arrogant and ridiculous.
But as it always went, I would start to really think. Every little thing he did was a subtle hint of his hatred. Every harmless bout of teasing, everything he said about Scout being little, everything was a sign. It was inevitable that we would eventually part ways in our journey, but for me the question was always when.
A loud caw tears through my thoughts. I stop suddenly and look around, scanning the sky for an alien shape. Slipping my crowbar out from the front of my backpack, I swing my leg over the bike and let it fall sideways into the snow. The air is still and crisp in the mid-December cold. Graying plants shudder in the breeze. The Coronet Range watches silently overhead.</p><p>The sound does not come again. I keep quiet and don't move for some time longer, waiting with strained breath for any break in the quiet around me. My muscles begin to ache from standing in the same position for so long; my fingers twitch from holding my crowbar so tightly.
As long moments pass with no new sound, I begin to wonder if maybe it was all in my head. Nothing moves on the sharp cliff sides around me. The wind ruffles my hair but neither howls nor sings. I turn slowly and pull my bike out of the snow. With a cautious hand wrapped in my thick winter sleeve, I wipe the freezing water from the bike.
I don't get very far down the road before I hear the same noise again. This time I swing off the bike and toss it to the side in one fluid movement. I rip my crowbar out of its hold and look around desperately, turning in every direction for the threat I know is here. A single stone tumbles from the cold rock on the cliff side and falls into the valley below, making me jump and shake in anticipation. My heart races and sweat begins to pool on my neck. A shiver jolts down my spine and sets every hair on end.
The wind fades away to leave me in complete silence. With a nervous and fumbling hand I fish Scarlet's PokeBall from my pocket. Marley's comes out with it and drops into the snow below. Cursing, I release Scarlet and bend down to grab his PokeBall.
She hisses loudly, pawing angrily at the ground and holding her tail straight up in agitation. Her fur stands on end, especially her mane. She arches her back and bares her teeth, a low growl escaping from deep within the chest.
My freezing finger slips and I accidentally release Marley. A bright light shoots out from his PokeBall, but before I can call him back I hear the noise again.
It grows louder, surrounding us. Each builds off the last, creating a terrifying cacophony of unnatural, vaguely animalistic noises. Scarlet roars at a huge mass creeping over the horizon. It shifts and shakes in an erratic, dangerous pattern. Marley cries out loudly and swirls around me, giving a proud "pchoo" as he hovers to my side.
A massive horde of undead Starly and Staravia are upon us in seconds. I strike at the first one I see, slamming into it as hard as I can with my crowbar. Its skull crunches and it falls hard to the ground. Blood splatters across my face when I shove the sharp end of my weapon through one's stomach, flicking my wrist to toss it of the end. Their beaks are barely attached to their faces, their feathers ripped off in massive strips. Many of them are missing eyes and have only deep, fleshy hollows where they should be.
Scarlet shoots off a burst of energy, tearing several out of the sky. She keeps blasting them with small jolts while nimbly dodging the ones that get too close. I swing my crowbar into two dive-bombing for me and leap to the Luxio's aide. I cover her back and she covers mine.
The air is thick with the reek of death and the crackle of electricity. Soreness creeps into my body and grabs for my arms and legs but I fight through it, constantly shifting to stay off whatever hurts the most. A Staravia missing both its eyes and a good part of its beak flies straight for me and hovers there while I hold it off, struggling against its weight to keep it off my face.
Out of the corner of my eye I catch Marley spinning through the air and avoiding every Starly that comes near him. He dances and flits around their clumsy strikes while crying out and giggling happily. I yell for him and he floats to me, hovering by my face while I hold off the massive Staravia. I gasp when its claws cut through my clothes and dig into my skin. With my opposite hand I grab it by the face and break the head from the rest of the body. It falls to the ground as soon as I pry its claws from my flesh.
"Scarlet, Charge." She meows confusedly between growls of anger and grunts of effort. "Just do it, Marley, cover her." The Drifloon looks at me with big, surprised eyes. With a harsh swing I slam my crowbar into another Starly. "You can do it, Marley." He "pchoos" quietly, then spins out of my sight to help his team mate.
I feel a strange shift in the air as Scarlet begins to charge. The Starly want her even more now, but Marley and I can hold them off well enough that she has room to ready herself.
Marley fights using strange balls of dark energy, or occasionally a gust of dark wind. He dodges their initial assaults, then spins to their side and unleashes a blast of purplish matter that sends them flying backwards. The Starly just keep coming, diving for us out of the sky. Their blood splatters onto the snow, bodies landing on top of each other in a thick layer of unmoving gore.
It all smells awful, and I can feel my lungs tightening. Each breath feels forced and heavy, my chest burning for air. My body hurts more and more with each swing. Pain surges through me and I bend over for a small second to calm the sharpness. Marley dashes to me and releases a burst large enough to spare us a few precious moments.
"Scarlet, now." I hiss, knowing that she can hear me. I grab for Marley to try and shield him from the electricity, but when I reach for him I feel only a painful heat. Turning quickly, I see the Drifloon suddenly enveloped in bright white light. Lightning shoots out from Scarlet's pelt and rockets through the air, stopping every Starly dead in its tracks. Marley's light fades and he floats over her, now much larger and much more powerful. The bodies drop to the ground around us, creating a thick circle of decaying, diseased flesh. Scarlet pants loudly, her body rising and falling with each breath. I look to Marley and he floats over to me, using one of his long, thick arms to help hold me up. I thank him and struggle to stand on my own, breathing heavily.
Through a trembling and shaking lens, I stare out to the road before us. A tall figure waits for us, a thin knife glinting in his hand. A very small person stands beside him, holding tightly to his waist. I ease myself back into a fighting position and get ready to protect my team.
But he doesn't threaten us or make any movements. He says something I can't understand, then his knees suddenly give out beneath him.