The following is a collaborative effort between myself, Knightfall, and NixillUmbreon. Fanfic contains language and violence.
Kanto Republic Preservation Coalition Order 5B: In the light of the recent crisis, all Afflicted cities are to be placed under a state of continuous quarantine until further notice. This executive order extends throughout the entire Republic of Kanto, its Provinces, Protectorates, Territories, and Dependencies and will apply to any Afflicted citizen not within designated Clear Zones. Within sixty hours of first completing a blockade, this order will give Hazardous Environment Quarantine Unit officers the right to use lethal force to restore government order within Afflicted areas. Casualties are to be considered a non-issue.
K.R.P.C Order: 5B will go into effect in exactly eleven hours. This information is considered extremely sensitive and top secret. Disclosure will result in immediate termination.
--Signed, Chief Intelligence Officer David R. Worth
Eight hundred twenty thousand, eight hundred seconds. Thirteen thousand, six hundred eighty minutes. Two hundred and twenty-eight hours. Nine and one-half days. Each measurement was equivalent. Each one a story. Each one a representation of what could have been done differently. A timeline of the ‘what if’ scenario.
Nearly ten days. It had been nine and a half days since the teen felt proper warmth. Since he had last had a decent meal. Since he had talked with his parents. Since he had trained with his friends. Since he had seen a human not hell-bent on turning him into a corpse.
It was about six o'clock in the morning. Kaleb Westing should have been sleeping in a room in the Celadon PokéCenter, just beginning to think about waking up and starting out on a new day of training. He should have been formulating which strategies would be the best to topple Fuschia City’s Gym and claim his third badge. He should have been doing virtually anything else in the world, but instead he was curled up and shivering in a dark corner of a basement in a shattered high-rise apartment building in Saffon’s central downtown district.
Perhaps the most important thing he should have been was human, rather than stuck in a body he had no choice in transforming into. There was no way he could have known; how could he? How could anyone? There were rumors that the government knew, but information in the Quarantine Zone --as it was now called by the trapped citizens of Saffron-- was untrustable at best, Kaleb had come to learn after the sixth day when he was robbed for everything he owned by an extremely deceitful Jigglypuff. Kaleb barely got out of that fight with his life and his limbs intact.
The days previous had not fared for him any better. His team of three Pokémon was gone. Taken, or worse, in the chaos across the first seven days. Kaleb had nearly starved as he hid for a few days underneath a makeshift fortress of fallen concrete walls. At the culmination of the first week had seen him running for his life across the highest bridge in Kanto, the Saffron Viaduct, spanning the space in the lower valley of skyscrapers in the ruined city. The gang of former humans chasing him were out for blood for stealing a bit of their food. And without his team to protect him, he was a dead man sprinting.
He ended up shoving a small unopened packet of sunflower seeds into his mouth and dropping the rest of his armload of precious supplies. He didn’t look back to see if his gambit had worked, instead dashing to a nearby service ladder leading to the ground and sliding down it, gripping hard with his claws and talons as the rusted metal groaned under his weight.
He had survived, but after that, the next three days he spent in hiding from the roaming mobs of other Afflicted. On the bright side, it left him plenty of time to contemplate his situation. Shivering in the cold morning dew, reinforced by the chilling draft that blew through the basement, Kaleb simply stared up at the cracked ceiling. His thoughts raced around his head like an excited Houndoom. Each memory mixed with a different shade of guilt or regret with what he failed to do.
He tapped his claws together; these appendages were the most noticeable change. The sudden onslaught of radiation had taken his dexterous fingers and replaced them with claws, taken his skin and gave him a coating of light and darker orange feathers, taken his mess of brown hair and left him with a plume of dark orange feathers. His mouth had been transformed into a beak he had no idea how to use.
Despite his recent genesis in his training career, Kaleb had learned enough of the basics in Biology to know that he was currently in the form of the exotic Fire-type starter Pokémon, Combusken. The specifics of how and why were questions to which no one had answers.
The teen of about seventeen took a deep breath, and immediately doubled over as he dry heaved onto the basement floor. His stomach growled violently, requesting some type of nourishment that it had been denied for three days now. He clutched his aching organ as he slowly got to his feet, barely managing to balance on his talons.
Shaking his head to drive away the gnawing hunger, Kaleb stumbled towards the crude piece of metal sheeting currently acting as a barrier against the world beyond. His vision was shifting, nothing remaining in focus for long. Groggily, he shoved the steel rectangle down, wincing as it clattered noisily on the concrete. Noise was the ultimate enemy in his game of hide or be murdered.
The maintenance passage leading away from the storage room basement was punctured with rays of sunlight streaming through the massive craters in its ceiling. These gaping holes through over five feet of stone and concrete didn’t phase Kaleb anymore. He had seen plenty of attacks ten times the strength of those that had caused them.
Kaleb pressed against the damp wall beneath the nearest hole and listened. Most the store and car alarms had been set off on the first day and had died from either lack of power or simply being smashed into silence. The only sounds that trickled down from the streets above were the occasional clang of falling metal from the damaged buildings surrounding him, the moans of creaking steel, and the ever present wails, shrieks, and laughter of the roaming packs of Afflicted that had survived the short-ranged gas cloud.
Kaleb had learned that the situation wasn’t going to get any better the longer he waited: the roaming bands of Pokémon never went away with time. His stomach not allowing him to wait another moment, Kaleb leaped into the air, barely grabbing onto a small ledge of concrete. As he hung in the air, he was grateful for his new set of large claws. He was easily able to dig into the stone and secure a foothold about halfway up the crater.
He poked his plumed head over the rim of the pit for an instant before ducking down once again. The street seemed clear, but Kaleb knew that anything that seemed could easily be faking it in this new era of anarchy. While he would have prefered to wait and cautiously plan out a safe way to cross, his complaining stomach would not hear of it. Hunger managed to override his sense as he took another glance both ways and scrambled over the displaced asphalt.
His talons clicked loudly against the cracked street, every hurried step he took sounding like a landmine explosion in the open city. He clutched his claws to his face in an attempt to block out some of the smoke, dust, and faint traces of toxic gas that still hung in the air from the most recent shelling by the military forces in their attempt to wipe out all sentient life within Saffron. Kaleb nearly ran straight into a deep crater from the attacks, the Combusken screeching to a halt at the edge of the deep hole that broke the surface of the sewer systems beneath the street.
What he saw nearly made his stomach turn inside out. A wispy puddle of yellowish, swirling gas pooled at the very bottom of the hole, swiftly diffusing through the sewer tunnel network. Past the clouds of vile, sickly gas were corpses. Pokémon, every single one of them, whether a natural or Afflicted, it didn’t matter: they all choked on their own lungs. Kaleb had gotten out of the underground rooms just in time. Silently, he thanked his history teacher for showing accounts of the First Regional War and the gas weaponry used in them. ”Beware the hallows and bunkers, for that’s where the reaper haunts,” quoted the grainy black and white film showed in class that day from his memory.
It’s only getting worse... the Afflicted teenager thought grimly as he skirted the perimeter of the gaping hole in the asphalt. They’re getting closer every day. Despite being either running for his life or hiding in some dark corner for the last ten days, he had been keeping observations of his surroundings. He hadn’t had a proper journal to record his new life experiences, but tried to keep track of the important things in his mind, if only to keep him from going insane from the immense paranoia and loneliness.
Besides, I can’t even hold a pencil anymore, his mind reminded him as he glanced down at his claws, lamenting the loss of his fingers. After successfully evading certain death in the crater, there was little road left between him and relative safety in the line of former high-end shops that lined the avenue. Kaleb swiftly sprinted across the blacktop and vaulted over the concrete barrier separating the sidewalk from the open road. The department stores used to be the height of trends and luxury, but now their doors had been blasted off their hinges, their grand, block-long, glass windows scattered along the interior of the store in a billion sharp shards.
Kaleb was running out of options. Every grocery store, corner market, and deli had been looted down to the floor tiles, and the Combusken wasn’t too keen on gnawing on them until the last traces of edible moss disappeared off the sewer walls. His stomach growled fitfully, angrily pounding inside his body for food. It was getting painful to move. Kaleb knew his new form could take punishment --he rather enjoyed that aspect-- but slow starvation wasn’t something his feathery hide could stave off forever.
His mind was beginning to feel like he had inhaled a mouthful of the poisonous gas from the crater, the outsides of his vision going in and out of focus like a camera zoom. He numbly felt the crunch of glass breaking further underneath his talons as he dizzily wandered inside the Emerald Stone Department store. Even his immense fear of everything with a pulse was pushed to the side as a small, green gecko fell to the ground from atop a clothing rack. Kaleb didn’t even so much as bat an eye as he continued to move into the store, the Treecko wrestling an impressive blue jacket from a stubborn coat hanger before finally yanking it free.
Kaleb heard the creature’s whoop of victory as he heard it rush across the floor of broken glass. He turned around just in time to see the Treecko hop out the window and dash down the street. Shrugging to himself, Kaleb turned back around and returned to his primary task of finding anything edible. He figured that the break rooms in the very back of the store might have some unspoiled food intact within them, giving him all the more reason to move faster, despite his body feeling like fishing weights had been pinned to his skin.
He climbed over a ruined display that used to house the very shirt he had been eyeing for the past week. The memory haunted him; not because it was bad, but because it reminded him of the time before the starvation, before the transformation, before his team was taken from him by death and the chaos. The party in the lobby of the Silph Office Building for the recently initiated trainers was to be the highlight of the week and one of the first stepping stones to making his mark as a trainer.
Now, he thought as a tear ran along the inside of his face down to his beak, They’re all gone. Amid his flood of memories, he nearly ran into a metal door. With a slight huff of annoyance, he lackadaisically pulled the handle open. Unlike the trashed store, the room was nearly spotless: there was no trash on the floor, the cabinets weren’t smashed, and there was even a clean smell to the storage room. There were also voices which caught his attention as soon as he walked in.
The first of them sounded like an older teenage girl, who was singing, each line occasionally punctuated by the sound of something breaking, being knocked over, or otherwise disturbed. The second was a much quieter voice, and Kaleb might have mistaken it for a child’s voice if not for the fact that the speaker occasionally pulled out words that no five-year-old on the planet would be allowed to repeat.
“Elizabeth, please! Hurry the hell up!”
The singing voice stopped for a few seconds. “Fluffy, if you don’t stop moving your jaw, I’m going to break it. I want to be sure that I can feed myself.”
After a few seconds of silence, she sighed. “And you, assuming you remain useful, and don’t give me a real reason to throw you into the path of a mob in order to save myself.”
Kaleb simply stood there in the doorway, watching the exchange between a scruffy-looking Electabuzz and a Mareep with upwards of fifteen TV dinners tied to his back. His hunger-driven mind somehow not registering that both these Pokémon were exactly the type he had been running from for the past ten days. The Combusken didn’t know what drove him to step forward out of cover.
The Electabuzz turned to face him. After sizing him up, she tilted her head to the side. “And what do you want?” Kaleb gulped. His stomach rumbled rather loudly as he stumbled to find words.
“I -- I was just -- Searching for ...” he trailed off, his mind effectively cutting away from his mouth as his stomach took control. “Look, you guys got any food? I’ve been running for the past week, and the later half of those days have been without anything to eat. I don’t have any money or possessions anymore, but I’ll offer whatever I can,” he suddenly stated, stamping his talon on the wooden floor.
The Electabuzz nodded. “And what can you offer? I mean, you don’t really look like you’d last that long in a fight- you’d collapse from hunger before the other guy got within ten feet of you. And I don’t know how sneaky you are...”
Kaleb crossed his arms as he moved forward a few more feet across the storage room. “I can offer my smarts. I’ve lived in Saffron my whole life, and I know my way around here better than any map can tell you; sewers included. While I can’t fight that well, I’ve managed to survive this long in this hellhole. I’ve evaded mobs, escaped from ambushes, and stolen food from gangs, all without my Pokémon team,” he recounted, counting through each scenario on his claws. His actions unconsciously grew bolder as his hunger increased as well.
The Electabuzz thought for a few moments before shrugging to herself. “Hell, that’ll do.”
She untied one of the boxes from the Mareep- Fluffy- and handed it to him. “Name’s Elizabeth. Try and shorten it, and I’ll abandon you to save my own hide. This here’s my servant, Fluffy.”
Fluffy looked like he was about to try and speak, but Elizabeth cut across him. “Your name?”
Kaleb shot the Mareep a sympathetic glance as he answered, also extending his claw out towards the Electabuzz. “Kaleb Westing. Very nice to become your ally, Elizabeth and Fluffy.” Simply because order had been abandoned didn’t mean that decent manners had to be given up as well. His mind was swaying around like a car wheel. Both his arms shook as he tore open the plastic wrapping and swiftly shook Elizabeth’s hand.
The packaged slice of now-soggy steak was one of the most beautiful things Kaleb had seen since that day. As soon as it was free of the plastic, he tore half of it off with his beak, and within a few seconds, the slab of meat was erased from existence. He didn’t care that Elizabeth was watching with a smug grin on her yellow face.
“Arceus, hungry much?” she chuckled as Kaleb moved onto the small side of assorted vegetables, finishing them off just as fast as he did the steak.
“You have no idea, miss. Thank you so much! It beats starving by a long shot,” Kaleb exclaimed as he placed the empty tray down. He stretched his arms and did a small jump, demonstrating his regenerated energy levels.
Elizabeth sighed. “Miss... I swear, next you’ll be calling me ma’am. Look, I’m Elizabeth, alright? Didn’t we just finish discussing this? Nothing else.”
Kaleb nervously ran a claw over his head plume. “R-right. Of course, I forgot. Thank you, Elizabeth,” he sheepishly told her once again.
She glared at him for a few seconds more before shrugging. “Anyway, what’s your deal? What are you doing here?”
Before answering her, Kaleb turned behind him and pulled the metal door to the storage room shut and engaged the lock. “We don’t want any of the mobs to find us too easily,” he reported, walking back towards the makeshift camp in the rear of the crate-filled room. Kaleb sat down in front of both Electric-types and cleared his throat.
“I was training just outside the city when the radiation hit. Immediately went into the underground tunnels back inside to look for my folks. Changed as soon as I went up to the surface. Ever since then, and hearing that most government people got out of the city, I’ve been trying to escape. My team was either taken or killed in the chaos. I know two of them are still alive for certain. For the last few days, I have been running for my life and looking for food. And that’s the condensed version of what brings me here today,” Kaleb said on one long breath. After a short recovery, he spoke again. “How about the both of you?”
Elizabeth shrugged. “Not much to tell. Fluffy over here turned into a Pokémon out of the blue, and we’re headed for Cerulean Cape- he heard that there are a number of boats away from Kanto there. Of course, if that turns out to be wrong, being stuck in Kanto is going to be the least of his worries.”
Kaleb nodded. “I think ... Fluffy is onto something there. I’ve heard the rumors of a safe area in Cerulean as well. Some of the people I heard it from had heard it from some of the military chatter, so it might be a real thing. That’s where I plan on going once I get out of Saffron.” He was trying his best to give the fearful Mareep some credit in the eyes of Elizabeth, but he knew that whatever had happened between the two was probably going to be something he couldn’t resolve.
She shrugged again, leaning against one of the walls. “As long as he’s not wasting my time, it doesn’t much matter to me.”
“So, I don’t know what you two were planning on doing next, but I think we should keep moving. Regardless rumors, the military is getting closer every day. We don’t want to be in their path once they get here. There’s a water treatment plant a few blocks over that might have a tunnel we can use to get out. The one on the other side of the city’s blocked off,” Kaleb suggested, gesturing towards the wall behind them to indicate the location of the plant.
She tilted her head to the side. “Great plan, but why not just head north out of town? Seems like the obvious solution, am I right?”
It was Kaleb’s turn to be confused. “The military has got a blockade around most of the city. If the north wasn’t blocked off, I think I would have heard of it by now. How in the world did you two get in the city?”
“I didn’t see any kind of blockade anywhere around here. I’ve got no idea what you’re on about.”
For the first time since Kaleb had arrived, he heard Fluffy speak. Now that he was closer, it was easier to place his age- roughly eleven or twelve. “Um... um, Elizabeth? There was that one guy... with a gun...”
Elizabeth looked bewildered. “You mean he was military? I’ll be damned... Anyway, one guy on the South end, and he was basically asleep. We just sort of walked in. Still, I suppose this means that getting out just got a whole lot harder. You were saying something about a water treatment plant?”
Kaleb couldn’t believe it. He remembered the first days well enough, even then the containment force had been there, sealing off the city almost immediately. Hell, there were craters not even fifty feet from where they sat. But, he wasn’t going to call any bluffs until he had a better idea of what cards they were holding.
“You got one thing right. Getting in here was about the worst mistake you could make nowadays.” He shook his head, changing the subject ever so slightly. “The plant’s probably our best bet of getting out without a bullet wound.” He wasn’t going to tell them that he’d never even reached the plant before and had no idea if the maintenance tunnels would be accessible.
She shrugged. “Sounds like the best way of getting out. You know the way?”
“Vaguely. I mean, visiting treatment plants was hardly on my daily routine, but, I can find the way easily enough. You both ready to go?”
Elizabeth nodded. “Yeah, let’s get moving. Fluffy, you can eat while we walk.”
Ignoring the confused and somewhat desperate look on her friend’s face, she stood up, and nodded to Kaleb. “Following you.”
Without saying anything, Kaleb got up and headed for the emergency fire exit at the back of the stock room. He was thankful for the bright, red color of the exit, otherwise he would have never found it among the towers of boxes. The Combusken found it more than slightly strange that both these Pokémon were just camping in the back of a looted department store and were willing to join him after a few minutes of conversation, but he figured it was best not to question these types of scenarios anymore. Questioning things these days often got one killed.
It was around this time that he noticed that Fluffy had been kind of hobbling along, trying to eat a bit of food while moving. He hadn’t been very successful with it- currently, he was holding onto the corner of a small square of beef in his front teeth, trying to maneuver it with his tongue back into his mouth.
Kaleb let Elizabeth go on ahead of him as she elbowed the door open, the power for the alarm thankfully had been shut off days ago. He hung back, giving the Mareep time to catch up to him. Elizabeth had moved into the alley to survey the path, so the Combusken was certain they would not be overheard. He stopped just before the door and motioned with his claws for Fluffy to stop as well.
“Hey, man. What’s the deal with you and her, if you don’t mind me asking?” It had been something he had been wondering ever since he’d heard the Electabuzz roughly cut off the Mareep earlier.
Fluffy fired a quick look ahead to see if Elizabeth was listening in before holding his leg out, and draping the meat over it. His answer was hurried and quick, as though he expected her to turn and jump at him any second. “...Where do you want me to start?”
“Well, your name would be a good place. I doubt your actual name is Fluffy, unless your parents were just cruel. And then you can tell me just what the hell is going on with you both,” Kaleb asked, peering into the back alley. Elizabeth’s form was barely visible in the humid steam that flooded the passage from the discharge of the hot water pipes, strangely the only thing still working in Saffron.
Fluffy fired her another quick glance. “Dustin Black. I’m Dustin. And she’s one of my Pokémon. Or, she was. Then this morphing plague thing happened, and she captured me with one of my own Poké Balls. She nicknamed me Fluffy, and treats me like a slave.”
“Alright, Dustin. Nice to finally meet you. Anyways, that’s got to be the strangest thing I’ve heard all week. And I’ve seen some insane things. I’m in the same boat, but my team was willing to help me out until I lost them all. Is there anything ... You know, that I can do to help ... With her?”
Dustin made an unusual movement that may have been trying to shrug. “I don’t know. I mean, I’ve tried reasoning with her. It doesn’t work. She’s decided that I deserve this somehow, and that she’s the one who gets to do it. I mean, all she told me when I asked the first time was that I tried to nickname her Susan, and then told me that if I asked again, she’d break my legs.”
Kaleb let out a small whistle. “Damn, man. I thought I had it bad that I was alone for most of this, but ... Man, she ... No one should be that cruel. Not with what just happened to you. How did you live for the past ten days?”
“Hungry, in fear, and moving almost constantly. We walked up Cycling Road to get here. I needed a rest three separate times, but I-”
He abruptly stopped speaking and bit into the meat again as Elizabeth approached them. “What’s the holdup?”
“Nothing! Fluffy was lagging behind so I had to wait up for him!” Kaleb replied instantly, shooting the Mareep a look that screamed ‘I’m sorry’. Dustin gave him a very small, barely perceptible nod before mumbling something that might have been an apology to Elizabeth.
Elizabeth shrugged, and gestured towards the door. “Looks like it’s mostly clear.”
It took nearly all of Kaleb’s will to keep from pointing out the irony of her statement as they entered the steam-filled alley; visibility was close to zero as soon as they closed the door. He took the lead once again, slowly treading the long path in between the back of the store and the long wall that belonged to the row of high-end apartments.
They traveled mostly in silence, aside from Elizabeth shouting for Dustin to keep up with her and the transformed human’s near-silent apology. This process repeated itself for several minutes; the clatter of talons, hooves, and feet was all that remained in between the dialogue. Kaleb began to wonder just how long this alley really was. He was certain the chain of stores that lined the street wasn’t this long, but maybe his perception had been altered with his transformation. After all, things certainly looked a lot taller now that he had shrunk three feet.
It was about with that thought that the wall in front of them exploded in a shower of shattered concrete as a something small and soft slammed into the opposite wall. The object let out a small groan as it slid down the wall to the ground. From inside the building a blue and black jackal jumped out and growled.
“Come on! Where’s the exit?” the rough, male voice yelled. For a split second, Kaleb looked up at the voice. Something about it was familiar, but he couldn’t pinpoint what it was.
“W-why should I t-tell you?!” a quivering voice responded. Kaleb couldn’t tell exactly what was being threatened, but he was able to see the Lucario well enough despite the steam. He was aware of Elizabeth charging over towards Dustin, who gave a surprised bleat as she hoisted him into the air, nodded to Kaleb, and ran back towards the door.
Kaleb, deciding that life was more inviting on the other side of a heavy, metal fire door, swiftly turned tail and ran away from the fight. At least, that’s what he would have done if Elizabeth hadn’t slammed the door on his face. Kaleb just barely managed to raise his arms to brace himself as he ran into the cold steel. Hs speed instantly dropped to zero, inertia taking hold, and jerking his head against the door.
“I told you: I’m getting out of the city! And you’re going to lead me through it!” the Lucario bellowed as his silhouette bent down, grabbed a smaller, fox-like body off the ground, and pinned it against the alley wall. The Fighting-type’s voice again seeming to trigger a memory within Kaleb. He had heard it somewhere before, but he couldn’t place where. It wasn’t the mobs he had encountered. It was from somewhere else.
“A-and I told you! I c-can’t use that on a L-Lucario!” the fox replied. Kaleb peeled himself off the door, which locked with a muffled clunk despite Dustin’s equally muffled protests against the Electabuzz’s actions. The Combusken wasn’t that surprised really. Ever since he met her, Elizabeth had rubbed the wrong way with him. He gave her what was possibly the only way out of the city. She could easily find it, the plant was huge and eye-catchingly obvious --enough so to be the cause of public uproar when it was constructed in the middle of the residential district several years ago.
Getting his bearings once again, Kaleb leaned against the alley wall as he slowly shuffled towards the confrontation. His mind was screaming for him to go back and hide, or at the very least beg Elizabeth to let him inside, but he inched his way forwards. He remembered a similar scene from earlier in the week. It went by quickly: a man in a armored hazard suit pressed the barrel of his weapon against his Meowth’s back, pinning him against a wall as Kaleb could only watch from behind a nearby gutter, unable to even cry in fear that the soldier would catch him as well.
It had ended swiftly enough. Ramu went down like he would have wanted: clawing at the soldier’s mask. Kaleb heard the loud report of several gunshots in the seconds afterwards followed by the murderer’s muffled curses as he clutched the breaches in his protective suit. The only consolation the teen as he buried his friend underneath a large pile of garbage had was that the radiation would transform the man within the hour.
“Does it look like I give a damn what you can and can’t use? I’ve spent five days looking for a way out and I’m not letting this chance slip away. You will get me out! That’s an order,” the Lucario yelled as he pressed the smaller Pokémon against the wall even harder. Said Pokémon could only scream as the weight started to become too much for him.
Kaleb was distracted from this display by the sound of the door opening slightly, and Elizabeth poking her head out. “Oh! You’re still alive. Er, feel like surviving?”
He hardly registered her question. With that final shout, Kaleb put the pieces together. He remembered just exactly who that voice belonged to, just now it didn’t have a gas mask covering it. He knew it was the same soldier, despite the odds, and Kaleb knew exactly what he was going to do to him.
With a crazed yell, Kaleb broke his cover beside the door, and charged the Lucario with his claws outstretched. The Fighting-type had little warning as the screaming Combusken tackled the jackal’s torso. As the larger Pokémon lost his footing in surprise, Kaleb took the opportunity to slash at the former human’s face. His vision became clouded with unspilled tears as he swung his arms over and over down at the Lucario.
The Afflicted let loose a feral growl as his clenched fist shot up and collided with the Combusken’s stomach, the steel spike on his hand taking a small chunk of skin and feathers as he drew his fist back. Kaleb doubled over as the lacerated Lucario reared his legs back and kicked the teen off of him in one fluid movement.
The fox fell off the wall onto the ground and started taking deep breaths to try to recover oxygen. He was too shaken to move, but he stared at the Combusken that just saved his life. Kaleb was crouched over on the street, sucking in weak breaths as his body recoiled from the quick succession of the two counterattacks.
“S-so, I’m guessing you overheard us, huh? Wanted your own way out of the city, right? Well you can’t! He’s taking me--” The fox almost interrupted with a negative but couldn’t work up the courage to speak, “--out of Saffron and no one else! Not even a transformed runt like you! It’s because of your kind that I’m this way, so I’m going to have fun painting that wall with your head, kid,” the Fighting-type roared as he leaped up off the concrete and bounded the short distance over to the temporarily handicapped Combusken.
The Lucario’s charge was interrupted by Dustin coming out of nowhere, ramming him in the side. A shout came from Elizabeth as the boxes tied to his back continued moving after the Mareep’s forward movement abruptly stopped. The Lucario stumbled backwards from his attack on Kaleb and promptly swung his foot at the Mareep. The kick sunk into the Electric type’s wool and knocked Dustin into the wall. The younger Afflicted moaned as he slid down the brick wall to the street, the Lucario’s fury directed at him completely.
While the Lucario was distracted with that, he didn’t notice as the Combusken laying on the street just to his left faded from his peripheral sight. Kaleb could barely see straight, but his senses had realigned enough for him to tell that something was not right with his body other than the massive bruises and small gashes along his chest.
As he looked down to check himself for the cause of the odd feeling, he found out the problem right away: he was looking through his right arm at the street. The fox from earlier ran up next to Kaleb, but didn’t look at him; he looked at a spot about five feet in front of him. And as he got there, Kaleb was able to identify the fox thanks to his Biology teacher’s fanatical love for the Unovan species; it was a Zorua. No sooner had he identified the fox, though, than did that fox disappear completely from view.
The Lucario slowly approached Dustin, who had struggled to his feet. Dustin charged the Lucario, but his target seemed to have anticipated this. The Lucario sidestepped, and grabbed Dustin as he charged, and tossed him towards another wall. As Dustin attempted to pick himself up again, Kaleb heard Elizabeth calling for him to run. This didn’t seem to register for the suicidally-overconfident Mareep as he began to prepare another charge.
Kaleb had seen enough crazed actions by other Afflicted in the past ten days to put together what the Mareep was attempting. Pushing through the stinging pain in his chest, the somewhat-transparent Combusken leaped to his feet and dived towards Dustin. His long claws snagged on the Mareep’s thick, yellow wool just as he charged. Kaleb managed to yank him backwards, halting his suicidal momentum, and dragging him over the concrete as fast as his beaten body would allow. The Mareep struggled against the Combusken’s grip, apparently unable to see him.
Kaleb didn’t realize Dustin’s inability to detect him and his resistance only spurred the teen to dig his claws deeper into the younger Pokémon’s wool. With a pained grunt, Kaleb pulled the Mareep off the ground completely, thanking the Legends that the kid was incredibly lightweight. Without pausing, he tucked the stunned Mareep under his arm and sprinted as fast as he could away from the Lucario.
“What in the f-” Elizabeth’s question was drowned out as the brick wall inches behind the seemingly floating Mareep shattered in a renewed blizzard of dust and rubble. The Electabuzz hid behind the fire door as the wave of raining death pummeled the outside. Before she was able to close it fully, Dustin, still inexplicably floating a foot above the ground, was shoved through the gap in between the closing door and the frame, the kid’s wool squishing up against his body to help him slide through.
“Elizabeth! Grab him, now!” Kaleb’s voice thundered above the Lucario’s blast. Elizabeth took a second to process the idea that Kaleb was invisible before grabbing Fluffy, and pulling him inside. As Kaleb returned his attention to the crazed Lucario in the tunnel, the Combusken heard the sounds of Elizabeth shouting at Dustin for losing the food, and the sounds of a few blows landing on the unlucky Mareep.
“You guys are unbelievable. The fact that you all are still alive is something else. But no matter how many times you get lucky, I’m still going to kill you,” the Lucario growled as he climbed over the mound of fallen bricks. “Now where are you two?” the former human bellowed.
Kaleb took advantage of the cloud of dust and his apparent invisibility to easily skirt around the Lucario, carefully skipping along the wreckage silently as if it was a high stakes version of hopscotch. After making sure he was out of the Lucario’s immediate range, Kaleb stood within his enemy’s line of sight. He had no idea what he was about to do, but he let himself go on with it.
“You have no idea how much I hate you, do you?” Kaleb was calm, his voice as cold as ice.
“What? W-where are you, runt? Show yourself!” the other Pokémon demanded as he shifted atop the pile of non-standing wall. Kaleb wasn’t moved.
“You have no idea why I hate you, do you?” Kaleb’s claws curled into a crude fist as his arms shook with repressed anger.
“No, and I don’t really care. Now, where is that Zorua? I don’t have time to waste finding--” he was cut off by Kaleb’s cool reply.
“You murdered my Meowth five days ago.” The Lucario instantly froze and his eyes widened.
“Y-you’re meaning to tell me .. That it was your flea-infested pet that screwed me over?” his voice rose from a horse whisper to a manic scream as he desperately scanned the area looking for the Combusken.
“He was my frien--” Kaleb’s reply was interrupted as the Lucario lunged forward and swung his fist directly at Kaleb. The punch slammed into the side of Kaleb’s head, knocking the teen off his feet and sending him sliding down the mound of broken wall. The invisible fox growled a bit in pain as he felt the punch connect to his extended illusion. Kaleb rippled as his form came back into existence and the Zorua just barely managed to stay invisible himself.
“Every moment over the last five days I thought about what I’d do if I found the other Pokémon who was with that Meowth. I lost everything because of the breach in my hazard suit! So now, they’re not going to be able to tell your species by the time ol’ Marcus finished with you. No sir,” The Lucario, who Kaleb assumed was the Marcus he mentioned, mumbled as he cracked his knuckles. With that, the former human soldier pounced off the bricks and landed less than a foot away from the stunned teen.
A green barrier appeared between the Combusken and the Lucario. Kaleb instinctively braced himself for the punch that never came, Marcus’s attack was stopped completely by the mysterious shield. Kaleb was too exhausted to think about where it came from, though his disjointed mind had a vague idea who had conjured the mystic wall.
“Eh, I see how it is. You two got an alliance going, is that it? Well, I’ve seen the outskirts, they’re preparing to finish everything. Soon, everyone here will be gone. If I don’t get out, none of you do,” Marcus cryptically replied as he took his fist off of the barrier.
Before he could monologue any more, he felt a slight tap on his shoulder. “Excuse me? Did you just imply they’re going to level the town?”
Marcus spun in place, his fist already in motion. It was intercepted by Elizabeth’s gigantic, yellow hand. Sparks leapt from her palm directly into the Lucario’s arm as she held a firm grip on his hand.
“Well, you know, that’s NOT-”
Using her other hand, she delivered a Thunderpunch straight into his gut.
“...what I’d CALL-”
A second one, this time into the center of his chest, missing the spike by an inch.
One more, once again in the gut.
After a second of maintaining the electrical current running up the Lucario’s arm, she leaned down to face him. “So, the first thing I’m going to remove the biggest obstacle to my survival right now. Capiche?”
With that, she released the Lucario. Marcus collapsed to the ground, his entire body shuddering with the after-effects of the repeated shocks. He tried to move his mouth, but he found that it was firmly stunned shut. Only hatred-imbued gurgling was heard from the Fighting- type’s throat as he fell into unconsciousness.
Elizabeth chuckled as she dusted off her knuckles. “Glad to hear it.”
While the two were at that, something walked up next to Kaleb and started whispering in his ear. “Sorry for the sudden invisibility.”
“D-don’t mention it ... Saved my life back there,” Kaleb answered in between gasps.
“Just repaying the favor...” Kaleb glanced at the unseen fox sitting next to him on the curb. Still holding his aching side with his left arm, he extended his right towards the Zorua, or at least where he thought the Pokémon was, judging from the voice.
“Kaleb Westing, former human.” The Combusken introduced himself, feeling slightly perturbed at talking to a patch of air.
A tiny paw was placed directly in the paw as the Zorua faded back into view and the green barrier vanished. “Evan Walker. Also former human.”
A heavy footstep sounded from the side, and Elizabeth strode into view. “How about we do this bit while moving? I’m not going to die so you two can socialize. Fluffy’s already in gear.”
“Not even a moment’s rest for someone who just got ... bested in a fight?” Kaleb idly wondered out loud as he slowly stood up.
Elizabeth rolled her eyes. “You can ride Fluffy- he’s completely unencumbered now that he lost all of our food.” It only took Kaleb one look from the bruised and desperate Mareep to get him to shake his head and decline the offer.
Evan took a careful look around before deciding that nobody else was there. “I know where we can get more,” he said so quietly Elizabeth couldn’t make out what exactly he said.
“Food? You’ve got my attention. Where’s it at?” Kaleb whispered, not wanting the Electabuzz a chance to potentially hold whatever food they found hostage.
“... I can go get a little,” Evan said suspiciously after a moment.
“Alright, but keep in mind that we’ve got to keep moving. Judging from what he said, we want to get out of here as fast as possible,” Kaleb answered as he venomously spat at the knocked out Lucario as he passed.
“I can get you guys out,” the Zorua said ever so slightly louder, facing away from them. If Kaleb still possessed eyebrows, he would have raised them. “We could sneak right past the guards.”
“You can?” Kaleb asked as he glanced towards the two Electric types walking across the street ahead of them. “Including them?” Kaleb was mainly worried for the Mareep. If anyone didn’t deserve to be afflicted, he couldn’t think of a better person. The Combusken silently promised himself that Dustin would get out of Saffron.
“Well, she’d have to carry me and Fluffy in order to be within easy range...” Evan muttered as he kept within the darker areas of the roadside and sidewalk.
“You have a target you want to reach if we actually go through with your plan? The military checkpoints are the only way out of the city now, aside from the tunnels at the treatment plant ... possibly,” Kaleb continued to whisper as he kept his head up and scanned up and down the deserted road for any signs of the roaming groups of Afflicted.
“Honestly? My home in Pallet Town. I wanna see if my friend Trace is okay.”
“No, no. I meant for getting out of here, Saffron. Where would you go out?” Kaleb asked, rephrasing his previous question.
“Oh. West, then. Towards Pallet Town, right?” Kaleb crossed his arms.
“Our group is heading towards the Clean Zone in the northeast. The western border is really bad, I’ve heard. Pallet might not even be standing. You can go west once we’re out of the city, if you want. But I don’t think anyone here will join you,” Kaleb replied, explaining their situation and goal.
“Alright,” Evan replied as he walked past the Combusken, seemingly not caring. Kaleb was about to run up towards him in an effort to convince him from going on the suicidal venture. Pallet Town was worse off, almost at the center of the radiation, the now-booming port town and tourist destination had no warning as the Turning hit them. Based upon what he had heard from one friendly Magnemite who had heard it over the radio waves, Pallet Town was declared a Class Ten quarantine zone, while Saffron was only a Class Five. Going by what Kaleb seen of the massive fortifications the military had placed outside the capital, he didn’t even wonder how bad Pallet had it.
“Evan! You can’t possibly still be thinking about going --” Kaleb’s plea was cut short by a loud, high-pitched whine of a motor and a swift chopping noise. He immediately looked up, as did the other three Pokémon in their impromptu caravan.
It looked something like an airplane, if that plane had everything on it miniaturized. Its shiny, chrome exterior reflected the sunlight, making staring at it almost impossible. The small plane zoomed over the tops of the apartment buildings, before dipping down into the airspace above the street.
As it flew, it seemed to periodically drop something square shaped from the rear end of its body. As the parcel dropped, it appeared to break apart into dozens of fluttering pieces of paper that danced in the breeze. Kaleb now recognized the machine as a military drone, a topic his parents said would play a key part in next year’s elections, and so never stopped talking about them. He and the others watched as the silver plane flew over them until it pulled up and banked to the right, going out of sight over a row of buildings.
The craft pulled along some of the papers with it, forcing the sheets to fly through the air until they looped and skidded to a halt on the hard asphalt in front of them. Once the drone of the engine had faded from hearing, the group stayed still, no one going to put up the mysterious paper. Even Elizabeth seemed perturbed at picking up the paper, either that, or she didn’t care enough to do it.
Fine. I’ll do it, Kaleb thought as he strode forward and scooped up one of the fliers in his claws. The paper was damp, the ink not even dry yet, but the professional bold words told the story plainly:
Attention: All Afflicted citizens of Quarantine Zone 4: Saffron City. Upon the date of 5/12/25 Phase 4 of the Quarantine will commence. During which time, any citizens not inside designated bunkers will be labeled as a threat to the Republic of Kanto and treated as such. Lethal force can and will be used by H.E.Q. Units to restore order.
-- Authorized by Kanto President Cade Gideon and Intelligence Officer David Worth
“Anyone know what day it is today? Like, the actual date?” Kaleb asked, not trying to hide the slight quiver of worry that hid in his voice. Elizabeth shrugged before roughly prodding Dustin with her hand, and pointing towards Kaleb.
“Umm ... I think it’s the twenty-fourth. It’s been ten days since I last saw a calendar, though,” Dustin weakly mumbled.
Kaleb’s reply was drowned out as a rocket screeched over their heads and slammed into one of the apartment buildings across the street. The building then exploded and the formerly calm city erupted into complete anarchy.
End Chapter One