I glance down at Scarlet and she meets my gaze with cold, hard eyes. She cracks her tail in the air like a whip and hisses quietly. Marley is silent, waiting for one of us to make the first move. I squint and tighten my grip over my crowbar. The snow crunches beneath me as I shift my weight.
The small figure falls to the man's side and shakes him violently by the shoulders. His hands are on his lap and he's sitting on his knees. His heads flops back and forth as the little person grips his shoulders.
Scarlet snarls when I make a cautious step toward them, but she follows anyway. Twitching corpses dot the snow, their blood seeping into the dirt-stained white. Dark red feathers cling to our bodies and fall heavily to the ground when I sweep them off. We walk on them as we wade through the snow, pressing them into the endless stream of footprints.
The small figure -clearly a child but not obviously a boy or girl- jumps up when we walk past. I don't look at it when I feel wide, wet eyes on me. A weak hand grips my arm and I shake it off, the gate in sight. I hear the child's feet shuffle in the snow and it trips, landing hard on the cold ground. Scarlet pads ahead of us, gaze locked on the path before her. The child begins to sniffle and whine. The Luxio snaps her tail in the air again and stops at the massive door to the gate. There's a huge hole burned through it, easily large enough to fit all three of us side-by-side.
The child starts to whimper for help. I can't see it because it's on my bad side, but I hear it perfectly fine. The sound stings my ears and I swallow down a painful ache in my chest. Clenching and unclenching the fist wrapped around my crowbar, I breathe steadily and ignore it.
"Please!" It cries out. The snow crunches loudly as it stumbles for us, fingers brushing the back of my leg. Scarlet growls, twitching her ears in annoyance. She's sitting in the cold snow, her tail sweeping over the ground impatiently. The child repeats its plea, but now its voice is weak and barely above a whisper.
Marley coos quietly; I'd forgotten about him until now. He floats over to me and hovers in front of my face. Apparently he can swell or shrink however it pleases him, because he's much smaller now than he was before. He drifts to the left and right slightly in the cold, stale air. The reek of death fills my nose with every breath, burning in my throat. I order Marley to step aside, and his face falls dejectedly. He starts to sway, then suddenly stops and raises his eyes back up to mine. Sensing his resolve, I repeat myself more sternly.
He doesn't move. I order him one last time to move out of my way. He expands so that he's much bigger than me and floats up to seem intimidating. "I don't have time for this," I hiss at him. His eyes widen when he sees the PokeBall gleaming in my hand. "Return."
The light struggles for a moment to consume him, shuddering in the air and shaking as he expands and contracts wildly to fight it. I inhale deeply and will him to give in, to accept my order and let the light overtake him. He battles against it a moment longer before being dragged inside. The ball shivers in my hand, then clicks loudly and shrinks to its travel size.
Scarlet turns back slightly, looking over her shoulder at me. Our eyes meet for a second, and a flash of understanding flows between us. Then in one lithe movement she leaps through the hole and disappears into the shadows inside. The sound of her paws skidding against the cold concrete scrapes against my ears.
The child is sobbing. I turn now to face her, trying not to notice her pained, blood-shot eyes. A spark of hope fills her face for a heartbeat, then fades quickly when I offer her neither help nor respite. She begs me to give her something, anything.
But I can't. Giving her anything means we'll have to go without, and we're already running low on everything. Food, water, medical supplies…I can't give her any of it.
I turn away from her and step through the door, following my team mate into the darkness. There's only a light dusting of snow in here, enough to make the floor slippery but not enough to slow us down. Scarlet's pelt sparkles with electricity, fighting the dark with tiny flashes.
I can see debris lying about, but only if I squint and stare really hard. Scarlet deviates from her path several times to examine one random artifact or another. The main exit has been blocked off by a massive wall of rusted metal objects, but I can see light pouring in through a side hall. We head towards the light, our footsteps echoing in the dark, empty room.
Sounds like a crazed mob drift in from outside. Shouting fills the air and occasionally I hear the roar of fire or the deep rumble of thunder. Scarlet's pelt prickles with nervous excitement, her tail twitching and sparks running through her fur. She looks back at me briefly, her eyes shining in the shadows. I nod at her and tell her we'll be fine. Her gaze lingers on me before she slowly turns away, hesitant but brave enough to keep moving.
Gripping my weapon tightly, I step out into the light. I rest one hand on the edge of the ragged hole sliced into the wall. The hard brick crumbles a bit beneath my fingers, and I rub the dust between them. I blink hard and narrow my eye to take in the chaotic mess before us.
The buildings of Oreburgh are lying in ruin, but each one seethes with people and Pokémon. They spill out from the mess of scattered bricks and shattered concrete into the waste-filled streets. Rickety tents lean against free-standing walls, covering shivering, raucous people and their equally crazed companions. Beggars roam the rancid road with their hands held out desperately, begging for food or water. Their Pokémon are mangy, rabid creatures baring their teeth and shivering with anxiety. The people inside the tents curse at the beggars and hurl rocks at them, sending the decrepit things scampering back into the streets.
The stench of waste -human and Pokémon- saturates the air. I wrinkle my nose and gag, the reek smacking me as hard a bat to the face. I smell blood too, mingling with the ever-present aroma of death and decay to create a terrible combination of rotten stink overwhelming my lungs and filling my airways. I see now that many of the beggars have open wounds that fester and bubble with infection so obvious I can see it from where I'm standing. They cluster together and cling to each other's ragged, tattered clothing. Their Pokémon are hardly any better off. They run from tent to tent sniffing around for scraps of food. The people inside are always quick to send them off any way they can, be it by a painful smack or an attack from one of their own companions.
Scarlet hisses at my side and takes a step backward into the gate. She snarls at the awful reek and snaps her jaws angrily. Biting my lip, I let out a shuddering breath and look down to meet her anxious gaze. A spark travels down her pelt and up to her tail.
We don't have much of a choice; we can't realistically go back. The entrance to Mt. Coronet is blocked off by a fairly large landslide, and we know there isn't anywhere else we can go. I already have the Coal Badge, so it's not like we need to go searching for it. I guess we could just pass through and try to find another way through Mt. Coronet.
But what if Erin is here? What if she's hiding somewhere in this wretched hive? I promised Cheryl I would honor her, and if we turn back we might never get that chance. Even if I have to dig through all the trash of this disgusting city, I'll find her.
One of the beggars sits against a wall, picking ruthlessly at a rotting gash on her arm. Her yellow teeth glint in the early morning sunlight as a disturbingly smile cracks across her face. She peels a long strip of skin off her arm and waggles it in front of a Pokémon so ragged I can't tell what it is. An Umbreon? A Houndour? A Mightyena? The dog-like Pokémon gets painfully to its feet and sniffs the strip of skin wearily. She tosses it down the street and yells at the miserable creature to retrieve it for her. It stares at her in abject horror for a moment before she hits it hard. Yelping, the flea-ridden mutt bolts after the strip of flesh while his cackling trainer sits and points at him.
A child picks up the piece of flesh and holds it above his head. He dances around with it and throws it to a girl with hardly any hair on her sunburned head. She screams but then laughs, kicking it away into the street and yelling at the dog Pokémon chasing after it. The boy runs back to it and teases the poor thing, shaking it above him and making him jump up to try and catch it. The Pokémon whimpers but fights hard, his ragged, furless legs pumping hard to reach the disgusting toy. With a solid, powerful kick the young girl sends the Pokémon rolling across the street. He lays there in the center, panting hard. The children go out to play with his broken body some more, kicking and throwing him until a man that must be their father calls them over. The dog does not move. His trainer walks over and lifts his leg disapprovingly before letting it drop back to the ground. He starts to move and she laughs some more, grabbing him violently by his neck and dragging him back to wear they were sitting before.
Surely a rotten and wretched person like Erin would live here amidst such awful things. I can see her now in the eyes of every despondent street rat begging for a scrap of food. I can see her in the raggedly-thin, screeching old woman waving a bloody metal rod at a child running off with a packet of powdered milk. There are flashes of red hair hiding amidst the crowd, flashes of the woman I vow to kill.
"Come on," I say simply. Scarlet stares at me in bewilderment and I take a quick look around to make sure there's no one close to us before kneeling before her and grasping her tightly by the shoulders. Not enough to hurt her, but enough to make her listen. "She's here, Scarlet. I know she's here, I can feel it. If you want to avenge Cheryl, and Colin, and Daisy, and Molly, well, here's our chance. I wish it wasn't like this here, I wish we could finally get some rest. But we can't. We have to keep moving and working and doing what we know we have to do." She looks down, tail twitching nervously. "Hey," I put my hand lightly beneath her chin. Her gaze flicks back up to mine, and I smile at her. "One of these days things will get easier. They have to. But for now we just have to live with what we've got. You see those trainers out there?" I point toward the streets and her gaze follows my hand. She nods quickly, and I let my hand drop to my side. "Hell, those can't even be called trainers. They're just lucky enough to still be able but too stupid to know how important their team mates are. Scarlet, I promise I'll protect you from them. I'll never, ever treat you like that and I promise I'll see to it that no one else ever does. We're the strongest things we've got, Scarlet. We have to work together and get through this."
Fire bursts out of one of the buildings while several loud, laughing boys jump out the second-story window and run off into the street. Two mangy Flareon jump out after them and vanish into the terrified crowd. Scarlet tenses beneath my careful hands and I feel a shiver race down her spine. "We'll get through together, Scarlet. It'll be hard, but we'll survive."