Zoe and Holly looked upon their trainer with anxious eyes.
Scarlett seemed utterly vacant. There was nothing there, no movement or even dilation of the pupils as the clouds above them hid and then released the light of the sun. They were dark, shadowy, misty… and unfamiliar.
Her expression was as grey as the smoke that was running through her mind. With just the mention of that place, Scarlett had been transported back into memories that she had long since tried to forget. They were sights which should not have been seen by anyone, let alone the young girl she had been back when that tragic accident had occurred.
But why… a small, quiet voice inside her head echoed, Why does she need you now?!
Unable to take the silence any longer, Holly reached out her paw cautiously to coax Scarlett out of her deep, deep thoughts. Tentatively, she said her name as if she feared what would happen when she did.
The weak timbre of the puppy’s voice snapped Scarlett out of her daze in an instant.
‘Oh, Holly,’ she croaked, her voice dry and broken. ‘I’m… um…sorry if I startled you… I don’t know… what came over me…’
That was a lie.
Her words were uncertain and her sentence disjointed. It let the two Pokemon know that their mistress was still as shaken as she had been seconds before. What they wanted to know now was why.
The Patrat from before broke the tension, unfazed by the young woman’s state. It was clearly a reaction he had been expecting.
‘I’m sorry,’ he began. ‘This must be hard for you.’
Scarlett glanced at him from under her long fringe and nodded. ‘I guess you know what happened at the Dreamyard?’
‘I was not hatched at the time, of course,’ Louis nodded, closing his eyes and adopting what he hoped came across as a dignified expression. ‘But Selene told me everything I needed to know, and any Pokemon who inhabits the Dreamyard today knows of the tragedy that struck it. It is…something of a legend now.’
‘“Legend”…’ Scarlett scoffed. ‘It was a disaster that should never have happened!’
Zoe shook her head in frustration and turned to Holly.
‘I don’t understand!’ the young Snivy hissed. ‘What even is the Dreamyard, or Hub, or whatever one calls it?!’
‘I’ve never heard of it,’ Holly whispered back.
‘The Dreamyard was a Devon research centre,’ Scarlett stated, interrupting them both. ‘About ten years ago, there was a terrible explosion there. It was an accident, they say. One of the lab tech computers overheated, or something. Either way the place caught fire and burned to the ground.’
She clenched her fists in her lap.
‘Many Pokemon and people died in the fire.’
A cold silence hung over all four of them as the gravity of her words sunk in. Neither Zoe or Holly wanted to be the first to ask the next question that was clearly in their minds. Even Louis seemed curious as to whether Scarlett would volunteer her story or would remain quiet on the subject.
A good ten seconds past and no words were uttered.
That was when Louis decided he had to say something. ‘Scarlett, do you have an idea of why Selene wants to see you?’
I want to know how Scarlett knows this Musharna in the first place, Zoe mused. Yet she still refused to be the one to say it, despite sensing that question was very much on Holly’s mind too.
Thankfully, Scarlett did not seem to see through their expressions — or if she did, she did not say anything. Instead her eyes were fixed squarely on Louis.
‘I honestly don’t know,’ she answered. ‘I can’t imagine what use she would have for me—‘
She stopped as soon as she said it. That had been a rather naive statement as it was obvious from Louis’s previous introduction, as well as her own common sense, what use she of all humans would be to Selene the Musharna.
She was a Pokemon Whisperer.
But Scarlett also felt that there had to be more to it than that. It seemed all too convenient that Selene had called on her now when she had just become a Pokemon Trainer. Too convenient even for a psychic Pokemon.
‘I have a pretty good idea,’ was all she said.
This crypticness was really starting to irritate Zoe. Yes, she had her own secrets that she wanted to keep to herself but this was different. The moment Louis had uttered that place’s name, Scarlett had gone from a pretty grounded trainer into a distant figure that completely conflicted with what Zoe had seen of her up until now.
Even Holly had been taken aback and she had known Scarlett longer. Clearly the story surrounding the Dreamyard had never come up before, despite it having some deep significance to her.
This Patrat would not have been sent to find her specifically if it hadn’t.
'What does any of this have to do with you?' Zoe probed.
'Good question,' Scarlett admitted with a sigh.
The young trainer folded her arms defensively and hid her eyes beneath her floppy, long fringe. It was as if she feared one look in her eyes would act as a window into her memories. But it was time to explain how and why this mysterious Selene would be looking for her.
'I was in the centre when it caught fire,' she began slowly. 'I...was one of the few people who survived...'
It was impossible not to let that the memories take hold after her confession.
She had been just a young girl at the time, eight years old. Smoke was everywhere, so thick it was impossible to see more than three inches in front of her own nose. Desperately, she had clutched one hand against her mouth as she used the other to feel her away along the seemingly endless corridors...
Mommy... Daddy... where are you?
They had not been with her when the accident happened. She had been alone in one of the test rooms. At least that was all Scarlett could remember from before the fire. Afterwards, there had been just smoke and the distant sound of people and Pokemon screaming in anguish.
So when Scarlett's scream of 'Help me!' rang out, there would have been no one who heard her. No one who could have helped her either. In the dim recess of her memories, Scarlett recalled being trapped behind a pile of fallen ceiling, ventilation tubes and equipment. There was no opening through which she could have escaped.
She had been trapped.
Choking back the smoke, even at this young age she knew that her lungs could not last much longer...
I'm so scared… were her thoughts. I want Mommy and Daddy... I want Mel, Hugo, Lady, Briar, Dexter--
Then, suddenly, a different type of smoke surrounded her. A warm, pale smoke that seemed to make the air cleaner. Perhaps it had just been her imagination? This could just be what death felt like; a rich, pink smoke guiding you into the next world, being beckoned forth by a figure she vaguely recognised...
Next thing she remembered was waking up in hospital, surrounded by her parents and their Pokemon. She knew nothing of the why or how, only that somehow her mother had been able to rescue her from the fire…
Shutting out the memories once again, Scarlett shook her head and sighed. 'There isn’t much else to say. I barely remember what happened, apart from feeling isolated and scared.'
She folded her arms and continued.
'I had kinda hoped I'd put all of it behind me,' she muttered. 'Believe me, it took a lot of therapy to cope with it...'
Zoe had silently watched as the story unfolded and patiently waited until it was clear her trainer had nothing more to say. Sharing a brief exchange of looks with Holly, she allowed her friend to ask the next question, 'But I don't understand, what were you doing there in the first place?'
'That's...not important,' Scarlett said simply. 'The point is I was there and it happened. Selene was there too and that's how she knows me.'
Zoe lowered her eyelids and took everything she had been told in. 'The pink smoke, was that Selene?'
'Yes,' Scarlett nodded. 'She used the smoke to protect me until my mom was able to clear the passage. Then Lady, her Gardevoir, transported me to safety with Teleport. I don't remember it, but that's what I was told later.'
Louis stepped forward, now addressing all of them together. 'I'm sorry for springing this upon you, ladies--'
'I think you'll find I was the one who “sprung” you, sir,’ Zoe said tartly.
He raised his brow at her, eyeing the source of her vines, her shoulder blades. 'And a pretty strong whip you had there too.'
She placed her hands at her sides and turned to Scarlett who finally pulled herself to her feet. 'How can we even be certain we can trust this Pokemon?'
Louis frowned, 'I don't know what back of the sticks lab you were hatched but where I come from a Pokemon's word is their bond.'
That struck a nerve.
How dare he speak to her like that?!
'I am well aware of the honour code, thank you,' she pouted.
'Zoe,' Scarlett said firmly, brushing herself off. 'The fact that Louis knows about Selene in the first place is enough reason for me to trust him.'
Her large red eyes widened, 'So, we're going!?'
The human nodded, ‘I am going. You don't have to if you don't want to. You can get back into your Pokeball or wait at the Pokemon Centre in Striaton City, if you want. But I will go with Louis to see Selene.'
She offered her two Pokemon a weak smile.
'I...owe it to her.’
Holly frowned and took a strong step forward. 'Then we're going too!'
She turned to Zoe.
With all eyes on her, the regal Snivy sighed and nodded gracefully. 'A Pokemon must follow her trainer if she is to grow stronger, but,' she extended her vines from her leaves and directed their attention on Louis, 'if this turns out to be a trap, you will be sorry, rodent!'
Louis cringed as he remembered the harsh slam into the dirt she had granted him before.
As the afternoon drew on, lending way to the howling of the local Lillipups and the chirping of distant Venipede, Cheren made his way down the dirt pathway that led to the next town. The thought of finally getting there had started to work him up inside. Once he took on the Striaton Gym, he would truly be on his way to reaching his goal.
Pyrrhus snorted happily on his shoulder as they walked along. Cheren chuckled lightly at sound and sighed.
Facing the gym would be a challenge, that he knew. He had studied all of the gym leaders closely before his journey began. Cheren knew their names, rosters and even what kind of move sets they preferred. Most importantly, though, he knew the types they favoured and how "unique" the trio of leaders who ran the Striaton Gym were.
He could not possibly face the challenge with Pyrrhus alone.
‘Scarlett made catching Pokemon look so easy,’ he grumbled to himself.
He glanced down at the empty Pokeballs he had received from Professor Juniper. It was almost as if they were staring expectantly up at him from his bag, wondering why they weren’t filled yet. ‘It’s easy when you can just go up to any Pokemon and talk to them, I guess.’
He wasn’t jealous of Scarlett, exactly. The act of talking to Pokemon was an interesting gift but it was also an oddity. As a child, before they really became friends, the other kids in the local school had shunned her and found her weird. She had preferred sitting alone at lunch in the playground, talking to whatever Pidove or Patrat was willing to listen. It didn’t help that she was hardly there most of the time. With her parents taking Pokemon battles and travelling around the country to dig up rocks together, Scarlett was home schooled at least half the year until she was seven or eight…
Then it all changed.
Pyrrhus snorted awake. ‘Tep-hoc?!’
He nearly slipped off Cheren’s shoulder. The trainer chuckled and used his free hand to help his little friend rebalance himself. ‘Whoa, easy there little guy.’
He honked gratefully.
Cheren could tell by the tone at least that his Pokemon was grateful to have his dignity still in tact. So, he spoke again as if he could understand any answer that was given. ‘We should think about adding a new member to our team, what do you think?’
The utterances were cheerful.
‘Question is,’ Cheren began, ‘what do we go for?’
There were only a few species that lived on Route 2, according to the Pokedex. He had already seen all three: Lillipup, Patrat and Purrloin. Seeing as which ever choice he made would almost certainly be used in the up coming gym battle, it was logical he try to seek out the best fighter he could.
He brought the Pokedex up to his face so that Pyrrhus could see too.
‘Seems to me that a Lillipup would be our best bet,’ he explained. ‘I know Scarlett has already captured one but according to Pokedex Pro, they have the highest stats of the thee species. Plus, being a three stage evolution doesn’t hurt either—‘
‘They are also pretty defensive, so we wouldn’t have to worry too much about attacks hitting hard—but their HP is also high, meaning those berries we foraged won’t work too well,’ he went on.
The whole time Cheren wondered what Pyrrhus was actually saying. His sentences were short and basic, not really conveying much in way of “speech”. When Scarlett spoke to a Pokemon, the utterances from her mouth were run-on sentences. Or they sounded like they were. They could tell her what they actually thought, not just agree or disagree.
Damn it, stop thinking about Scarlett!
‘Patrat are pretty fast too, though,’ he went on, clearing his throat awkwardly as he tried to let his previous thoughts flitter away. ‘It’d be pretty good if we got one with Keen Eye ability. No need to worry about sand-attack then…’
He flicked to look up Purrloin.
‘This one is probably the weakest of the bunch,’ Cheren said plainly. ‘Its flaw lies in its typing. As a Dark-type it doesn’t benefit from same type bonus with its initial moves, which are all Normal-type. Unburden is a good ability although I don’t see how it would help us—‘
Pyrrhus began to twitch his ears, bob his tail and flail his front legs, as if he had seen a ghost. His sudden shock and surprise startled Cheren greatly.
‘What’s wrong, Pyrrhus?’
He continued to indicate in front of him.
Cheren realised that he was pointing; his eyes followed the line of his trotter to see what he was trying to show him.
It was then he finally noticed.
There, lying at the side of the road, was a dishevelled Purrloin.
Cheren rushed over.
Pyrrhus jumped off his shoulder to run ahead, snorting as he did. He was already trying to communicate with the injured creature. Gently, he nuzzled the Purrloin’s neck with his snout. ‘Tepig, tepig-tep?’ he asked - or it sounded like a question to Cheren - to which a meek, ‘…purr…’ came out.
He fell to his knees immediately to find an oran berry in his bag. Thank Arceus he was such a good forager! With this Pokemon Mart crisis that Silph Co. were having, it literally was a matter of life and death. There would be no healing potions for when he was on the road, after all, and certainly none to heal random wild Pokemon…
‘Hey there, little fella,’ Cheren whispered.
He cautiously reached out to stroke the Purrloin’s fur, uncertain whether it would strike out at him. Fortunately, or unfortunately, it was clearly too weak for that. It allowed the kind stranger to touch it as it weakly opened its eyes to look at him.
Cheren held out the berry.
‘Have some of this,’ he said softly. ‘It’ll give you some strength.’
The Purrloin looked at the oran berry reluctantly, as if it was confused why this human would do this.
‘I promise, I’ll help you…’ Cheren assured it.
‘Purr?’ it gurgled and struggled to raise its head to take bite. Cheren moved a little closer to support its head for it while it suckled the berry, attempting to sink its teeth into the flesh to drink the juice.
The young man tilted his head as he noticed the wounds the Purrloin had. From the looks of things, it had been attacked by other Pokemon, possibly other members of its own species. Scratch marks and Fury Swipes were scarring the poor thing’s torso and legs.
It was then he noticed something odd compared to the other wounds—
A single, fresh bruise on its right cheek.
It rang a bell with Cheren… but he couldn’t remember why.
To be continued.