"... And make sure some useful Trainers are with the group this time." She shouted after one of the more helpful civilians, fuming. "These idiots can't even seem to fend for themselves, let alone unarmed civilians." Glaring hard at the small knot of would-be trainers that had managed to survive the building's collapse, Joanna turned and kept moving, making sure the bulk of the noncombatants gathering had a roof over their heads. She didn't want the flock of Skarmory or, worse, the dragon itself, looking down and seeing nothing but a rabble of easy prey.
As she marched she gave orders to anyone willing and able. Many were orders to gather and distribute food and water. Others had to do with parentless children. But most concerned injuries. Mostly from the building collapse. Bumps, bruises, sprained joints, severe head trauma. Shock. Confusion. All from falling debris, from either the building itself or the Pokemon battling nearby. A few lacerations had been sustained from relentless ferals that had refused to back down even as the very building they were assaulting collapsed on them. Improvised splints had to be applied. Any unconscious individuals had to be carefully moved and settled. At least one tourniquet was needed. Not much blood had been spilled, but everyone involved had a fine coat of dust layered over them, including Joanna herself.
She was still trying to brush the dust off as a small girl came up to her, shy, scared, familiar. She poked at Joanna, to make sure she had her attention. They smiled at each other. The girl handed her a piece of paper. It had a drawing on it, filled in with crayons, bright and colourful. Childish. A rectangle, all in gray. It was tilting, a ragged gash at the halfway mark. The department store, tumbling. There were people coming out of it. A giant turtle, all green and brown, almost as big as the building itself, was to the right of it. It was holding the store up. Giant green whips extended from the shell and attached themselves to the building. A rough approximation of Aker, his size vastly exaggerated by the girl's imagination. Next to the turtle was the girl herself, tiny, a smile on her face, holding hands with a woman that was no doubt Joanna. Tall and commanding, Poke Ball in hand.
The girl asked whether she liked it, a serious expression on her face. Joanna smiled and gave her approval, nodding gravely. The girl giggled and ran off, seeking compliments from other Trainers. "Stay with your parents, Megan. We're moving soon." Joanna called after her, her smile fading as she recalled the chaos of the past half hour...
She had long since stopped trying to get through to Crux. The desert bandit hadn't responded to her at all. He'd been lost in concentration, enveloped in his own mind. Then the Arbok was loosed, and Crux was enveloped twice over. So this is what he meant, she thought to herself. OK, Crux. Guess we're splitting up after all.
She didn't bother trying to let him know. Figured Crux would be OK. She knew he was capable enough, and his Onix was doubtless still below ground somewhere nearby. So she kept on running, further into the city, toward the dragons still clashing overhead. Looked like they were somewhere over the department store, by her guess...
She didn't try to hide as she made her way through the city. Not because she was disregarding the ferals. There just didn't seem to be any. She figured most of them were centered on the sandstorm, protecting whatever was still perpetuating it. She constantly tried her radio. "Status!" Or "Report!" Or "Anyone still with me?" There were no responses. Not really. She wasn't expecting much to begin with. The ferals would be the source of just about everyone's attention. On top of that, there was still the unnatural weather to compete with. Mostly she was answered by static. A few times she heard people talking, but she couldn't make out the words. The rhythm and the inflection made it sound like a cry for help. Low, urgent, afraid, a plaintive consonant at the beginning. Maybe please. She tried again. "Location?" No reply. "Where are you?"
Nothing but empty static.
Joanna charged on, frustrated, moving toward the Pokemon Center now. Saw something move ahead, in one of the buildings. Heard a small whimper. Joanna stopped, searching. "Hello? Someone here?" No reply. After a while someone poked their head out from an open doorway, tiny hands pale as they gripped the wall. Eyed Joanna for a long second and ducked back inside. "I need your help. My name is Joanna." The head popped out again, peeking. Stared at Joanna again. Then a girl, small and young and pretty, smooth face streaked with dirt, padded out of hiding. She was maybe five years old. Her eyes were green, and they were scrunched up in concentration. She had a serious, solemn expression on her face, like she was thinking hard.
"Mom says I should only talk to people I know. I remember you. Your name." She said, slow but sure. Joanna nodded gravely. "Wise advice. Is your mom with you?" The girl shook her head, pain on her face. "No. I can't find her. She told me to wait, so I did, only she didn't come back, then nobody else did neither..." Joanna walked toward the girl, squatted next to her, arms across her legs. "I'm sure she tried to come back. But there's a lot of trouble right now, so maybe she couldn't. Do you know where she might have gone?" The girl thought hard for a moment, biting her lip. Then she nodded. "The partment store. Someone said run to the partment store."
"OK. We'll go to the partment store. Maybe your mom thought you'd run there, too. What's your name?"
They walked slowly at first, hand in hand. After a few minutes Megan agreed to being carried, and their pace improved greatly. Long, easy strides, maybe thirty extra pounds on her back. The weight didn't bother her. Joanna was used to heavier loads, over longer distances. She knew they were nearing the department store as soon as stray ferals started showing up. They were avoided easily. Just random stragglers. Tired, or stupid, or injured.
She started cutting through buildings, quick and quiet, the girl on her back not making any noise. Eventually she saw the store itself, dead ahead, already listing dangerously under its own weight, concrete pebbles and chunks petering out endlessly. Bright, flaring stones fell from the sky, crashing into the streets, testament to the fury of the dragons still locked in their deadly sky-duel.
They reached an apartment building far enough from the department store to be safe. The door was unlocked. They went in and walked up to the second floor. Joanna put the child on her feet, gently, in some long since abandoned living room. "Need you to stay here, Megan. Think your mom might be somewhere in the partment store. Gotta get her out." The girl nodded, her face a jumble of emotions. Fear, and sorrow, and confusion, and hope.
"Good friend of mine's going to keep you safe, OK? Stick with her and you'll be fine." Joanna let Stranger out of her Poke Ball, the Luxray stretching for a moment as it appeared. Then it was all eyes; alert, aware, wired and ready for action.
"Strictly guard duty. Keep her safe, girl. No risks." Stranger gave a slight nod of her head, and nothing more. Joanna turned to Megan again as she felt a tiny hand tugging at her pants.
"Mom says I'm not sposed to be with strangers. I dunno your friend's name."
Joanna smiled reassuringly. "She doesn't really have a name, Megan. Doesn't like them. Call her Stranger, if you'd like, but don't think of her as one." The girl nodded her understanding, smiling for the first time. "It's very important that you stay with Stranger, Megan. She'll keep you safe. And try to stay quiet, like I know you can. I'll be back." That solemn look came over the girl's face again, and she sat down, staring at Stranger inquisitively. Before she left Joanna checked the second floor thoroughly, then the third, then the fourth. No sign of anyone. No ferals, no survivors. She went down to the first floor and checked that, too. Nothing doing. Satisfied, she left, making her way toward the toppling department store.
A flock of Skarmory was above, circling the skies or shuttling off. Following commands, she thought. They looked organized. Directed. Some patrolling, others scouting ahead. Or guarding something's rear flank. She couldn't be sure. No sign of the Garchomp. There were other ferals at street level. Not many, and widely varying. They looked agitated. Like they wanted to attack, but couldn't. They knew it was suicide. The building could collapse at any minute. One of them was trying to direct the rest. It was a Marowak. It was huge, for its kind. Well over six feet, all tough hide and raw muscle, a blood-red skull grafted onto its head. Its bone-club was nearly as tall, well-worn but still plenty intimidating. There was blood dripping from either end of it. The giant Marowak was waving it at the department store. Not straight at it. It was slanted down, at an angle, like it was pointing below ground. The basement levels.
They didn't see Joanna. She walked into another building and looked around, listened hard, on alert. After a while she took out a Poke Ball and let Zeke out. The giant, bipedal grizzly growled deep in his throat as he was released. He was a fascinating mesomorph, muscle layered over more muscle, hard bone, tough sinew and thick, rough brown fur covering him from head to toe, save for his nose and mouth and a perfect tan-coloured circle on his stomach. Not noticing any immediate threat, he started rolling his shoulders, loosening unused muscles. "Hey, Big Z." The hulking bear smiled his lopsided, shaggy smile, like she knew he would. "Got a bone to pick outside. Make an example of him for me, will you?" Zeke grunted in reply and made his way toward the door. He had to bend over double to be able to go through the doorway.
Once outside, Joanna nodded in the direction of the department building. "No time to waste, Big Z. Go for the Marowak. Make a show of it. Hopefully the rest scatter. They look like they're ready to run already." Or fight, she thought, but left it at that. Zeke grunted again and moved toward the building. Marched a few steps, until he knew he was clearly visible. Planted his clawed back feet firmly on the ground and paused a beat. Then he roared out a challenge, loud and angry and threatening.
He waited until he was sure all eyes were on him. Marched on, directly toward the Marowak, sure and steady. He ignored the other ferals. No cautious glances, no intimidating glares, focused completely on the Marowak. Like the others weren't there. They let him pass. Didn't try to stop him. A few trailed a safe distance behind the Ursaring. The Marowak was isolated, rooted in place. A ragged circle formed around the two combatants. The blood-red eyes in the blood-red skull stared out at Zeke. Not afraid. Insane. Hungry for a fight. Joanna smiled to herself a short distance outside the circle, one hand on her knife, the other holding her last Poke Ball.
Zeke didn't bother waiting any longer. He charged, roaring, both arms winding back. The Marowak swung its bone-club, circled it over its skull, building momentum, waiting for Zeke to get too close. The Ursaring charged, heedless.
The giant Marowak didn't hammer its weapon down, like Zeke had been expecting. It swung the club in a wicked arc, like a baseball bat, immeasurably fast. But it waited too long. Zeke caught the club easily in one giant foreleg and the Marowak's wrist in another. He clawed down on the feral's wrist, ripping through the tough hide effortlessly, ribbons of flesh dangling from its blood-soaked arm. The Marowak screeched. Zeke took the bone-club and tossed it away casually. Grabbed the Marowak by its outer skull with both claws and stared at the ghastly skull-mask for a second. It was a crude piece, covered in dried blood, impossibly dense. The Marowak stared out from under it, eyes darting everywhere, hectic and afraid. Zeke tightened his grip on the skull-mask and forced the Marowak into the ground, face first, driving the feral down with all his weight, four hundred pounds of coiled fury bearing down in an explosion of raw power. Both of the Marowak's skulls bust open with a tremendous crack. Zeke lifted it off the ground, like a display. Its bared mouth hung open, bubbling blood, the skull-mask having shattered completely off the feral Pokemon's jaw. Its face was an unrecognizable wreck of bone shards and smashed flesh and dripping blood, dead, blank eyes still open, terrifying in their crimson emptiness.
Zeke forced the Marowak down again, with the same amount of force. Didn't pick him back up. Stood up perfectly straight and roared out another challenge, eyes aflame with anger, muscles tense, breathing heavily as he stared down the rest of his potential victims.
The remaining ferals scattered.
The next ten minutes went by in a flash. The building, falling. People screaming from within. Aker, unleashed once more, doing whatever he could to prevent complete disaster. Joanna herself running inside the building crazily, shouting, directing, aiding, at times fighting. Total chaos as she led the way out. Some made it. Some didn't. No way to tell how many survived and how many were buried as they scurried away from the collapsing building in a frenzy.
Joanna gave out a small sigh. Found her radio and tried it again. "Anyone out there? This is Joanna Lane, requesting assistance. I repeat..." She let off after a while and waited, watchful for any incoming ferals.