There are a lot of people gathered on the streets today. The typical mess of ruined citizens wander about aimlessly, yelling and cackling and screaming at the top of their lungs. Boys missing limbs and old women with skin hanging from their faces beg for food, while quick-footed children run from person to person stealing their supplies. They have dark clothes and swift hands, hardly having to pause for more than a few seconds to sneak unprotected food or water from the backpacks of exhausted travelers.
They won't be taking anything from me. I left all of my supplies with Roark and Kitty at the lab. My crowbar, knife, and the five PokeBalls in my pocket are the only things I have to worry about. I figure I won't be needing food or water where I'm going.
I've been waiting too long for this. I spent the last few days quietly observing the crowds with Dawn, listening carefully for information or asking about Raichu and redheads. We kept ourselves out of conflict, taking note of how quickly the tide could change in the city. A quiet, peaceful street could erupt with noise and fire just minutes later. Old men knocking on death's door could move their old bones with surprising power the moment you looked at them wrong. Strange Pokémon neither Dawn nor I recognized would pick fights with Scarlet or Grotle without any provocation. The time spent watching for patterns and gathering basic information took forever, but was well-worth it.
Roark was not happy with my decision. Had Kitty not stepped in he wouldn't have let me stay in the lab overnight. He despised what he called "revenge for the sake of revenge," and told me her death would not solve anything. He could not understand the way Dawn supported me, and told her he was disappointed that she would agree so quickly to something so pointless.
Kitty insisted he not let it bother him. She said they had far more to worry about than whatever I was planning. That's fine. As long as they give me someplace to stay, I really don't care what they think of me. My goal is so close now; my heart pounding so fast that at this point nothing else matters. With clenched fists and sweaty palms I am finally ready to fight and destroy her.
Scarlet divides the crowd before me, her pelt sparkling with excitement and shocking anyone who gets too close. Her tail swings back and forth, hackles raised and muscles rippling with each step. She exudes power and confidence well-beyond her size. Today, her childish arrogance has abandoned her. She is too prepared, too anxious to be her spoiled, mischievous self.
The other members of my team know we very well may be walking straight to our deaths. Dracula and Scout are far too injured to fight, and I know it pains them. Scout was especially broken up over it. I know how badly she wants to taste revenge, but I have to keep her protected. If I lose her I have no idea how I'll keep moving. We've been through so much together; no matter what mistakes I've made she's always been loyal to me. She's my greatest friend and most powerful guardian. I can't imagine this journey without her, and I would never want to.
Scout objected to being kept in her ball, but seemed to understand when she realized Elizabeth wasn't coming with me. I planned on bringing the whole party, but Dawn insisted the little Togepi stay behind with her. After all, Elizabeth would only be a liability. If worst came to worst Scout or Dracula could use long-range attacks, but Elizabeth is too young to do anything. I'd hate to see any more of my teammates seriously hurt, so after a bit of arguing I agreed to let Dawn take care of Elizabeth.
Someone slams into me and I whip around to face him. He's missing an ear and I'm assuming an eye. A ragged Aipom hangs off his shoulder, ribs poking out from beneath bald patches on its fur. I must be looking at him in a strange way, because his disfigured gaze is angry and defiant. "H-hey, watch where you're going!" A few people slow down to look at him, their empty gazes lingering on his heavily-clothed form.
Scarlet turns and glares hard at his Aipom. The Long Tail Pokémon watches her warily, but doesn't move from his trainer's side. I narrow my eye and lock my gaze with the boy's. "I suggest you stay out of my way."
He takes a step forward, pulling a shining knife from the pocket of his worn blue jeans. "Excuse me? Who do you think you are?" Scarlet growls as she steps to my side, fur prickling with tiny jolts of electricity. He turns his knife in his hand and runs his tongue over his chapped bottom lip.
I'm not letting this kid waste any more of my time. I slam my crowbar into his side, hard enough to make him double over in pain. His Aipom lands unsteadily on the ground, balancing on its toes to look move intimidating.
Scarlet growls and pads toward him, her eyes glowing. The Aipom stares at her a moment longer before shrinking back and whimpering quietly. It runs to its trainer's side with its tail between its legs. The boy is breathing heavily, clutching his side and staring at me with a terrified expression. The people around us have begun to move again, the crowd quickly swelling to fill the short distance between us. I cast one last glance at the boy before walking away; his face is red with embarrassment, but no longer contorted in pain.
The closer I get to her, the busier the streets get. People push past me in an inexplicable hurry, shouting in my ear and making my heart race even faster. I feel a lump in my chest, a ball of anxiety weighing heavily over my heart. I'm confident in what we can do, but I also know the danger we're jumping headfirst into. I'm risking the rest of my team on a revenge plot. They've been so loyal to me, how can I put them through this? Am I only doing this for myself? Do they want the same thing I want because they feel the same hatred I do, or do they just want to follow me?
I watch Scarlet's tail swinging in front of me. Every paw step is powered by self-assuredness, every spark stemming from desire lying deep within her. She glances back at me as if sensing my distress. Though her eyes are focused on me, her paws still find their footing with incredible ease. She knows where she will step without having to look at the ground before her. Even with her eyes on me, she never trips or falters.
I saw the pain in her eyes. I remember how angry she was, how much it hurt her to be powerless against a stronger foe. She lay quietly on the artificial grass as her body twitched and shuddered without her consent. She flinched when she heard the gunshot, cried out when the sharp plastic blades sliced across her soft underbelly.
She sat quietly beside me in the church. She brought me my badge case and urged me to move on. She lost someone extremely important to her, but still had the strength to drag me from my grief spell. Scarlet, for all of her pride and immaturity, has kept me alive. She wants this just as badly as I do. I may not know what Marley or Dracula or Lenny want, but I know Scout and Scarlet are just as angry and eager as I am.
The crowd is thickest at the doorstep to her hiding place. Dawn's sharp reasoning and our collected information led us here, and we managed to spot her last night. It took everything I had not to take my revenge when I saw her closing an upstairs window. I felt my heart race the second I saw her, the image of her face burned into my mind. I knew immediately that it was her. The broad shoulders, dark skin, and vibrant red hair were unmistakable. Scarlet snarled and ran her claws along the ground, staring up at her with narrow, hate-filled eyes.
But Dawn made sure we stayed away. She told me she didn't want any more involvement in this. Now that I knew where she was, Dawn's job was over. She knows how important this is to me and my team, and said that was why she had no interest. This needs to be between Erin and I. My decisions need to be my own.
That was how I started this journey. I made the choice to leave, and from then on every mistake has been my own. And they must continue to be. After this, I will find a way out of Oreburgh. I will fulfill my promise to Cheryl by collecting all eight badges, one way or another. I will find survivors, and come to my own conclusions about my future.
I know that if I set my mind to something, I will do it.
Scarlet and I push through the crowd, ignoring the yelps of anger and racial slurs pointed at us. They close in around us, making the lump in my chest grow heavier. I start to feel trapped as we force them aside, their bodies squeezing mine painfully. Blood pounds in my ears and my entire body feels hot. I can barely see Scarlet weaving in and out of swiftly moving legs. She dodges them easily, her lithe body slipping through the clustered mass. Then she vanishes.
I nearly fall out of the crowd, stumbling on to the doorstep and scrambling to regain my balance. Old people sit outside, reaching up at me and begging for basic needs. They grab at my pants and sleeves, wrap their dirty fingers around my crowbar and try to yank it from my hand. I pull away and grasp the doorknob. It's barely attached, and the door slams against the wall when I throw it open with too much force.
The people inside hardly notice me. They fill the large room to the brim, the stench of countless close, dirty bodies contaminating the air. Children run around between busy adult legs. I see a few people with unappetizing bowls of white mush fighting to keep their food to themselves. Pokémon bark and yell loudly, desperate for the food so few people have. They lap up unidentifiable substances clinging to the decaying tile floor, and lick the walls for moisture clinging to their crumbling surfaces.
I slip in and move to the right, keeping to the edges to minimize the possibility of being noticed. The crowd is dense but few of them are much taller than me; I can see over much of the group by standing on the tips of my toes. I don't see any shocks of red hair, but that doesn't mean she isn't here. The same sounds of a large, chaotic crowd reach me from upstairs. People run up and down as quickly as they can. Nothing seems to move slowly here.
With measured steps I race up the stairs, keeping Scarlet behind me and checking back often to make sure she's still there. I seriously doubt she's in danger of being stolen or injured, but I need to protect her. Several people rush past me, and none of them seem to realize I shouldn't be here.
The stairs lead to a narrow hallway with several rooms attached. Each is filled with the same noise as the first floor, and seems to hold about the same amount of people. I check each one to the best of my ability and can't find her. I see other redheads, and even a few other Raichu, but I know none of them are Erin or her partner.
Starting to panic, I motion for Scarlet to follow me back downstairs. She lingers in the hall, snarling at another Luxio that managed to piss her off. I call her name and she hesitates, still focused on the other Pokémon. After another long moment she glances to me and relaxes. The other Luxio keeps growling at her as she backs away, sparks traveling up and down her body in agitation. She finally snaps away from him and races over to me, following me back to the first floor.
The air is much hotter down here. I can smell some kind of food being prepared, the scent mingling with the rancid odors of sweat and piss. Scarlet wrinkles her nose and snarls, narrowing her eyes at everyone who walks by.
A second room leads off the main entrance. There are fewer people there, and before I can give the signal Scarlet is already bounding inside. I flinch when someone nearly smacks me in the face with a massive pile of stinking rags as they push past. Something moans to my left and I turn to see an almost-nude couple crawling all over each other in the corner. A Pokémon yelps, engaged in fairly fierce combat with another in the center of the room.
It's there that I see her. A burst of red against a cream-colored wall, a dark block over a pale background.
She is unfocused, staring blankly at the wall on the other side of the room. Her Raichu is curled beside her, his tail wrapped around his small body. Her gun lies beside her, dark and strange in the low light.
I don't think; I act. With my crowbar tight in my hand, I walk confidently through the throng and the Pokémon fighting on the dark wooden floor. They pause when they see me, their trainers quieting for a moment as I push past them.
I stand over her, my pulse drumming against my skull. It's all I can hear. My mind races with adrenaline, my muscles ready to fight. Scarlet stands beside me, her body shaking violently against my leg. My palms are sweaty, my mouth dry.
Without a single word I move so that she has no choice but to acknowledge me. She slowly cranes her neck to look up, her face red and her eyes glistening. My hand twitches with anticipation and white-hot fury suddenly races through my veins. Dropping my crowbar to the ground, I slam my hand around her neck and wrench her upward. She's heavy, but nothing I can't handle. I keep her high against the wall with my right hand while I fish out and release Lenny with my left.
"Do you remember me?" I hiss, using both of my hands again. Her eyes are distant, cold. "Do you remember me?" The room goes quiet. Scarlet snarls and I feel her electricity shift the air.
Erin smirks slightly and shakes her head. I slam her as hard as I can against the wall, tears springing to my eye. "You…you miserable piece of shit! How dare you forget me, how dare you not know who I am? You ruined everything!" Her expression does not change, her face still an empty grin. "You…you're…" I cry out in rage and slam her against the wall again. "You're an awful, worthless excuse for a human being. You killed an innocent girl and her Pokémon. She did nothing to you!" The wall shakes this time, and I feel something warm and wet against my fingertips. "Murderer. You deserve so much more pain than I could ever give you." My breath is sharp and ragged, my chest burning with anger. "I hate you. I've wanted to kill you so badly for so long-"
"Then do it." She says simply, still smirking.
I feel a hand on my shoulder, and she looks beyond me. Shaking her head, she speaks to me but watches someone else. "Do it. If you want to kill me so badly, then do it. I have nothing left." Her eyes flick to the side for a split-second, and my heart skips a beat when I realize what's missing.
I look down at Scarlet and Lenny. They're sitting before her Raichu, silent and apprehensive. The Mouse Pokémon is not moving. Its ribs are sharp through its dull fur, and I see now that the color on its cheeks is gone. Its mouth is open slightly, its eyes wide and empty.
Erin chokes and I loosen my grip reflexively. "Even he's left me now." Her eyes fill with tears and begin to slide down her cheeks. I swallow hard and shift my weight, struggling now for the rage that pounded through me only seconds ago.
Scarlet's warm body rubs against my leg. I look down to see her watching me with narrow, disapproving eyes. I have to. I can't back out now. This is what I've wanted for so long. Only a coward would give up.
I let her fall heavily to the floor. She rubs her neck and stares at me intently. I can feel blood between my fingers. I don't look at it, but I know it's there. I know it's there like I know Cheryl never bled.
I bend down and grasp her gun. I've never used one before, but I can't imagine it's that hard. I can feel everyone watching me as I weigh the weapon in my hands. I'm shaking so badly it's hard to hold.
Erin laughs darkly. "You don't know how to use that."
I narrow my eye and ignore her. Raising the weapon in both hands, I aim it as best I can at her head. At this range I shouldn't miss. I wrap my finger around the trigger and put all of my energy into steadying it. Breathing deeply, I tilt my head back and forth to make sure I know where she is. Then, holding that breath so hard my lungs begin to burn, I squeeze the trigger and quickly turn away. Click! I look back to see that nothing happened. With still-shaking fingers I squeeze the trigger again. Click! Blood rushes to my face and her laughter drills deep into my mind. Click! Click! Click!
But before I can respond a massive boom overwhelms my ears. The entire building is shaking, pieces of the ceiling falling down on top of my head. Something incredibly hard slams into my ankle and I lose my balance. I drop the gun and grasp the burning bone, crying out in pain. Scarlet and Lenny surround me, but they can hardly take a step without being hit by falling debris.
An even louder bang explodes just beside me, sending me falling backward and landing hard. Pain erupts in my chest, like a jack-hammer on my rib cage. I reach for where it hurts and feel raw horror spread through me. Blood seeps out of my chest and through my fingers. I look up into Erin's cold, smirking face. Smoke spills out from the barrel of the gun.
The people around us are screaming and running for cover, but she's the only one I can hear or see. She lifts off the ground, her eyes widening and her muscles seizing as bright blue electricity pulses through her. She collapses to the ground beside her Raichu, and Scarlet's static-covered body rubs up against me. She licks my face and stares at my chest with wide, terrified eyes.
It hurts more than anything I've ever felt. I press my hand over it, but it does nothing to contain the blood pouring out of me. I can barely breathe, I feel like something is strangling my lung. It hurts every time I take in a breath, but through the pain I let fragments of reassurance escape my mouth. I tell Scarlet it'll be fine, that I'm fine and we're all fine and everything is fine. Lenny is crying loudly, his slimy body clinging to my arm.
I hear something so alien I immediately assume I'm dying. A familiar voice bursts through the chaos, filling the house and filling my head. It sounds like its being amplified by a megaphone. My vision fades in and out of bright white, clearing every time I blink.
"Citizens of Oreburgh! Do not panic! You are now under the protection of the United Sinnoh Restoration Front! Please remain calm!"
I can't breathe. I fall on to my side, gasping and holding my chest in a vain effort to keep my blood from spilling out of me. I take in one last sharp breath before Scarlet is torn away from me by a heavily gloved hand. The last thing I see is a pair of bright blue eyes before I lose all feeling. Blackness surrounds me, and the pain ebbs as the world disappears.
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