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Pokémon PMD: Elegy for Humanity

Chapter 2: Wayward Spirit
  • Shiny Phantump

    Born of Smol and Void
    1. sylveon
    Chapter 2: Wayward Spirit

    Pneumatics hissed as a glass cover retracted, revealing a tiny Vulpix quivering on the platform beneath. Her pale fur was wet and flattened against her body.

    She opened her eyes and looked around, soaking up her surroundings. She was on a soggy metal platform. The platform was half covered by a cylindrical glass case, but the other half was open to the rest of the room. Around her spot on the platform were a number of rubber tubes, each ending in a metal needle. Did they just hang loosely… or had they been connected to her?

    She tried to remember… Surely, she must know something about why she was here.

    But… her mind was blank. She changed her goal, trying to find something, anything to give her a sense of who she was. And yet she came up with nothing. Absolutely nothing.

    She felt like she should’ve had memories. Without them, she felt… lost. She could remember what a “memory” was, and she felt there was a gaping void in her mind. A spot where there should have been… something.

    Without memory, she had no identity. She didn’t even have a name to call herself.

    She whimpered. As far as her memory was concerned, this moment was the beginning of her life. Her gut told her she had been someone before she woke up here, but she couldn’t know for sure. That thought frightened her.

    She curled up into a ball and began to cry. For some time, she remained like that, a miserable ball of wet, shivering Vulpix, alone with the bitter emptiness in her head.

    Eventually, though, a painful gnawing in her stomach drew her out of her self-pity. She discovered there was a name for the feeling in her vocabulary. It was hunger. Instinct told her that it wouldn’t go away until she found something to eat.

    She stood. Her legs wavered beneath her, struggling to obey her orders. She needed to get down from the platform. She lifted one forepaw, then placed it in front of her. The next followed. Then her hind paws. She repeated the cycle.

    Her walk was painfully slow and mechanical. It felt unnatural to her. Handling front and back legs seemed… wrong somehow.

    How could she expect to find something to eat when she could barely walk? The thought made her want to curl up and cry again, but she only had so much time left before starvation claimed her. She may have had at least a day or two, but at the truly pathetic rate she was making progress, it felt like a strict timeline to her.

    She reached the edge of the platform and looked down. It would be a safe drop, but something about the scale of it felt… off. Looking down at the floor below made her feel incredibly small. The drop was several times her height. Her gut told her that was a safe distance to fall, but it still felt like that scale was wrong somehow. Like she should be… bigger?

    She threw herself off the edge. Her legs gave out under her as she landed, so she ended up on her stomach, sending up a large cloud of dust as she landed on the floor. She got back up, and began to walk towards the door, leaving a trail of footprints behind her in the dust.

    Noticing her own footprints, she looked around. Hers were the only set. Nobody else had entered the room in a long time.

    She reached the door and looked up at the size of the doorframe. It was built for creatures much larger than her.

    Fortunately, the door had a smaller window cut into it with a flap allowing a creature of her size to pass through without being able to reach the doorknob. She pushed the flap open with her nose and passed through.

    As she crossed over onto the other side, she was shocked to see how much larger this area was compared to the room. If she weren’t worried about finding food, she would’ve retreated back into the familiar dusty room. This new room was frighteningly large. If a single room could have this much space, how terrifyingly vast must the entire world be?

    A hallway stretched down in both directions. The hall was lined with doors, but hers was the only one with a flap. Why? Why did only she get a flap? Were there others like her who were just trapped in their rooms?

    The floor in the hall was still dusty, but there were other sets of footprints, too. Ones that did not belong to her. One set crossed her going left, then two crossed back going right. Two pairs, the left and one from the right had identical paw prints. Someone making a round trip in both directions.

    The third pair was odd in that it only went one way. Could the one who left that one way footprint trail still be in the building? Or could they have awoken here like her and found their way out? Or… had they died, never to leave again?

    She swallowed her fear and decided to ignore that third possibility. Hopefully, if she followed in the same direction as the prints, she could either find her way out, or find her way to the one who left the prints, who could probably help her.

    She just really, really hoped that her footprint-leaving guide hadn’t died. If so, she would be following them to whatever caused them to meet their end.

    Fortunately, though, the footprints did lead her to the building's exit. Unlike all the indoor rooms that lined the halls, the exit door was rusted, knocked off its hinges and left on the floor.

    As she stepped outside for the first time, the sun hit her eyes. She hissed and shut her eyes. For a few moments, even the light shining through her shut eyelids hurt her. After a few moments, when the pain had passed, she reopened her eyes, and found the light much more tolerable. Pleasant, even.

    She looked around. Green leaves rippled in the wind. A few small flowers poked up from the rich brown earth in whatever spots sunlight reached through the trees. Compared to the dusty greys of the building, the world outside had so many colours in it.

    Her heart fluttered. For a moment, her hunger was forgotten. She was caught up in the sights and smells surrounding her. The world was overwhelmingly large, more so than ever, but these woods felt much less oppressive than the empty vastness of the building.

    Before she began to search for food, she turned around to take one last look at the building. Though the indoors had looked almost undisturbed for years, the exterior of the building was being taken over by the outside world, mosses and lichens dotting the walls.

    Beside the door, there was a sign with runes printed in metal upon it. The colour had mostly worn off, but the runes themselves were embossed in three-dimensions. Stepping further away to get a better look at the runes from her low angle, she was able to read the sign. “Private Property. For access, please contact the Ministry of Research and Development.”

    She wandered. She didn’t know where she was going, but she didn’t care. It’s not like she could become lost. She didn’t have any idea where she was, and she didn’t mind the idea of losing track of the oppressively grey building and the room full of loneliness.

    It wasn’t far before she came across a river. She stared at the rushing water, thinking. Though she’d never before seen any of the things she was encountering since waking up, she still knew words for things like water and trees and flowers. She remembered what they were for, too. She had to drink water to keep herself going, or else she’d get thirsty. It worked the same way as food and hunger. She walked up to the riverside and began to lap up some of the flowing water.

    As she did so, she heard a voice cry out from behind her. “Aah! It’s a spirit! Don’t haunt me!”

    She whipped around to see a yellow and red furred creature standing behind her, crouching, palms readied at her sides. The vocabulary buried in the depths of her mind stirred, providing her with a name for her new discovery. It was a Mienfoo.

    The Mienfoo had called her a spirit? Is that what happened to her? “Do you know what I am? What happened to me?”

    Mienfoo was taken aback. “You, uhh, don’t know what happened, huh. I… uhh… I’m sorry to hear that. It looks to me like you’re the spirit of a Vulpix. A dead one.”

    Her heart fluttered. “You think I’m… dead?”

    “I don’t know! You kinda look all pale and things, so maybe? I’d expected you to know!”

    “I don’t remember anything… Nothing at all. Well, I remembered what water was when I saw it, and I remember that you’re a Mienfoo. But… I don’t remember anything about myself or the past. I have no memories.”

    “Oh. Well then. That’s… quite the situation.”

    “Do you know what I should do? What are spirits supposed to do?”

    Mienfoo scratched her head. “I dunno… Listen, I bumped into a guy who might know what’s up. You wanna come with me and go see him?”

    She felt a fluttering of hope at the suggestion. “Yes! I do… but I need something to eat first. I’m hungry.”

    “Huh? Spirits need to eat?”

    She lifted one foreleg into a half-shrug. “Well, I know I’m hungry because my stomach is hurting. That means I need to eat, right?”

    Mienfoo shrugged, and pulled a cluster of small blue berries from a satchel worn on her side. “I guess so?” Mienfoo handed the berry over to her.

    She took a pensive nibble. It was sweet, but the texture was slimy. Still, she didn’t want to be rude, so she made herself swallow. It felt like she was eating it wrong somehow, but she couldn’t imagine what was off…

    Not until an instinct welled up in her, and a breath of icy air forced its way up her throat. The cold air rolled over the berries, freezing them within a second.

    Mienfoo was taken aback, but she was too focused on the food to worry about it. She tried nibbling at them again, and found that freezing the berries had gotten rid of all the wet, slimy texture from them. Now, they were quite edible, and she gobbled them up.

    Mienfoo started at her with a look of confusion, leaving her to speak up for herself.

    “Thank you, I feel much better. Can we go see the person you were talking about now?”

    Mienfoo slowly blinked before responding. “Uhh… sure. Yeah. Let’s do that… tomorrow. You can, uhh, stay with me tonight?”

    “Okay,” she said, not feeling she had much room to argue with the only lifeline between her and the indifference of nature. Mienfoo began to walk off, and waved for her to follow.

    The two walked quietly for some time before the Mienfoo decided to break the silence. “So… Do you have a name? Or, uhh, do you remember one? Mine is Niko.”

    A name. When she’d first woken up, it was one of the first things she’d reflexively tried to remember, but she’d failed. “I think I had one. I… don’t remember it. I don’t have one anymore.”

    Niko scratched the back of her head again. Did she have an itch, or was it for some other reason? “Oh… That’s not good. Should I just call you “Vulpix” then? Or maybe “Spirit” instead?”

    “I like the name Spirit,” she said. “Spirit...” She was Spirit now! Spirit was glad to have a name again, it filled the void in her memory where it felt like a name belonged.

    “Okay, then. That… settles that. I… uhh…” Niko seemed to have something else she was thinking, but not saying… Niko had suggested those as something to call her, which Spirit had thought meant a name. Was she not supposed to have picked a name?

    She didn’t care. It made her happy.

    “Well, uhh, Spirit, let’s get going. I’ve got a room in town until tomorrow. We need to get there, like, today.” Niko resumed walking, and Spirit resumed following.

    They arrived at the edge of a village. Niko guided her down the streets, countless others flowing around them. Spirit tried to focus on staying behind Niko, not wanting to get lost in the action.

    Were they all like Spirit and Niko, with their own names, personalities and histories? She was once again feeling overwhelmed with the size of the world. How many others could there be? Hundreds? Maybe a thousand? She could hardly imagine all the stories there must be between all the people out there.

    Niko led her to a street paved with cobblestones. They felt funny on her paw pads. About halfway down the street, Niko stopped her in front of a wooden building with a sign she couldn’t read. In the doorway, a curtain hung in place of a door. Niko pushed through the curtain, and she followed Niko in. Niko waved to a Florges being the counter. “I’m back.”

    Florges perked up. “Hello, dear! Oh, you’re taking someone with you tonight? Do you want to upgrade to a double room?”

    Niko shrugged. “Nah. I’m good.” She dropped her voice into a whisper so that only Spirit could hear. “Can’t afford one anyways.”

    Florges giggled. “Oh, I see. Enjoy the night, girls!”

    Niko grimaced, and departed to her room. Spirit followed in to find a nice room with a single soft, fluffy bed. It was like a cushion, but with a rim to stop someone rolling off the edge.

    Spirit hopped straight to the bed and began to roll around. This fluffy fabric felt so nice! She loved it. Without her intending to, her tails started wagging up and down. She stretched out on the bed. “Do we get to sleep here? It’s wonderful!”

    Niko nodded. “Yes. It’s a bed. Sleeping on it is kinda the point… If you’re tired, go ahead. I’ll stay up a little longer first.”

    About a half hour later, Spirit began to nod off. She was safe and warm. The world, in all of it’s awe-inspiring, frightening vastness, had begun to feel more comprehensible.

    When she awoke, Niko was lying on the floor, curled up asleep. The bed was large, there was enough room for Niko beside her. She considered asking why Niko didn’t want to share the bed with her, but she just let Niko keep her reasons to herself.

    Niko leapt up, as if surprised Spirit had woken up before her.

    “I'm awake! I’m awake! I… uhh… good morning Spirit.”

    Spirit yawned, stretched and got out of the bed. She followed Niko back down the room where Florges had greeted them yesterday. Today, the desk was empty.

    “C’mon, Spirit. Let’s not waste time. We’ll grab something to eat on the way.”

    Niko led her out past the edges of town, where there was a tree with bark riddled by claw marks of various sizes. Niko unsheathed her claws and climbed up into the high branches. She returned with two pieces of fruit awkwardly held in one arm as she tried to descend without falling. When she made it to the ground, she passed one to Spirit. “Here, eat this. It’s nice and sweet. Better than the low-hanging fruits, or at least the ones that don’t get eaten right away.”

    “Thank you.” As she went to eat, Spirit felt the same bit of instinct she’d felt earlier re-emerge. She allowed the feeling of cold to well up inside her again, then exhaled a freezing breath over the berry before eating it.

    Niko stared at her. “I still don’t get how you do that. I guess spirits can chill things? I’ve heard something like that before.” Doubt was audible in her voice.

    “I guess.” Both had finished their berries, but nobody had moved. Niko just stood there awkwardly. “Should we get going?” Spirit asked.

    Niko scratched her head. “Oh, uhh, yeah. Let’s go.”

    “Where are we going?”

    “There’s someone I met yesterday. Dude asked me for directions, but then then while I was showing him my map, he was telling me his bloody life story or something. Really! Bloody small-talk. But yeah, he said all kinds of stuff about Ho-Oh and spirits and that kind of stuff, so he might be able to help.”

    Niko led Spirit to a ravine lined with burrows. The first thing Spirit noticed of it was the smells. How was it possible for one place to have so many scents in it?

    Niko ducked into one of the burrows, where an Absol was resting. Spirit lingered just outside the entrance, not sure if she should follow.

    Niko cleared her throat. “H-Hello?”

    Absol looked at her curiously. “Metheu-? Ah. You would be the Mienfoo from yesterday, no? Do you need somethi-”

    Spirit took a deep breath and entered. Absol immediately took notice of her. “Oh? Who have we here? Are you… a Vulpix?”

    Spirit looked away. “I… I don’t know.”

    “We kinda came here to ask you about… things. I dunno, you seemed to know about spirits and things. Could she be a spirit?”

    Absol walked up to Spirit and booped her on the nose. She staggered back and sneezed. “No, she’s not a spirit. Spirits are made up of the same energy as ghosts. You can’t touch them.”

    Spirit whimpered. “What am I, then?”

    “I know you’re not a spirit, but… I don’t have the faintest idea what you are.”

    Nov 3: Edited out some errors
    Nov 14: Dammit one day I will spell Florges correctly
    Last edited:
    Chapter 3: Firelight
  • Shiny Phantump

    Born of Smol and Void
    1. sylveon
    Chapter 3: Firelight

    Niko was bored.

    Spirit and that Absol whose name she couldn’t remember just kept talking and talking. For at least an hour now, she’d been asking him questions, and he responded with dull stories while Spirit sat enraptured. The exchange went on and on and on.

    Niko figured she should at least pretend to listen, but she couldn’t force herself to do it. Absol’s words blurred together into a stream of noise.

    The words of old chastisements echoed in her head. “Come on, Niko, are you even listening? Pay attention for once in your life.

    She gritted her teeth and kicked a pebble deeper into the burrow. Spirit and Absol turned to look at her, trying to see why she’d done that. Niko avoided eye contact, and after a moment with no answer, they resumed their chatter.

    Would it be appropriate to just leave the two of them to their chatter? It would put the burden of dealing with Spirit onto Absol, but she was out of money and had work to do. She’d let Spirit distract her yesterday, but her client’s request to investigate the ruins still stood. She’d have to get that done today.

    She was pulled from her thoughts by the arrival of someone else. They looked like… her client? Metal helmet, foretalons, furred body and hind legs, piscine tail… Yeah, they looked exactly like the client who’d hired her for this mission, but the client had claimed she rarely left her hometown.

    Absol perked up and began to speak before Niko had a chance to say anything. “Metheus! How did it go?”

    Her client had been named Mira, not Metheus. By her own admission, Mira’s species was too bizarre to be found in nature, but... here was another one of them.

    Metheus extended a talonful of caught remoraid towards Absol. “I caught these…” They looked around nervously, casting glances between Spirit and herself. “Celeste, what are these people?”

    Oh right. Absol had told her that his name was Celeste when she bumped into him yesterday. Celeste responded. “Ah, they’re some people I met recently. They’re friendly, no need to worry about them.”

    Metheus set the remoraid down in front of Celeste. “You told me if I caught these, we could make them into food? How do we turn them into food?”

    Upon seeing the dead remoraid, Spirit’s fur stood on end. “Did you kill them?”

    Metheus just grumbled, leaving Celeste to respond for them. “Spirit, do you not remember what it means to be ‘feral’ or ‘tamed?’”

    To Niko’s surprise, Spirit nodded no. It hadn’t occurred to her that Spirit might have just forgotten something basic like that. She looked to Celeste, who also bore an expression of concern.

    “We are tamed. We have gifts like language and higher thought. Those who are feral do not. Since some of us, like myself, need meat to sustain ourselves, we have to catch and eat those who are feral, like these remoraid. Those who are feral, too, have to eat, and will seat whoever they can catch, tamed or not. Sound familiar?”

    Spirit still looked concerned.

    “The requirement to hunt is something we take care with. We make sure not to waste, and we respect the lives lost so that we can eat.” The conversation took a pause as Celeste looked to be considering adding something more.

    Eventually, Spirit nodded, but was clearly still shivering. Celeste shut his eyes and sighed. “Everyone needs to eat, myself included. Please try to get used to it.”

    Spirit whimpered. “Why is it like that?”

    Niko rolled her eyes. “Well, would you rather he eat us?” In return for that remark, Celeste and Spirit shot her a couple of glares. “What? I’m just saying.”

    Celeste sighed. “Can we just get to cooking already?”

    Niko shrugged. “Don’t you need a fire to cook over?”

    “Yes. That’s what I’m getting at.”

    Niko stared at him. She didn’t get what he was trying to communicate. “Why don’t you start one, then?”

    “It’ll be easier for you than me. Can you please just start it?” Celeste grumbled. Niko didn’t get why he was asking her. Fire-starting was a basic skill, did he really not know how to do it?

    She decided it would be easier to start it than to argue about it, so she just shrugged, grabbed a piece of kindling and went to work reigniting the wood that had been left in the fire pit by whoever occupied this burrow before Celeste.

    Soon, the remoraid were cooking over the fire. Celeste and Metheus settled down, then Spirit did alongside them, as if she’d appointed herself a third member of their group.

    Niko figured she may as well sit down with them. She had things to figure out before she left.

    She wished she’d insisted on more details from her client. Mira was whatever thing Metheus had been. She’d given Niko a map to some human ruins, and asked her to investigate them. Not to find anything in particular, but to look around. She’d wanted to know if ‘the lighting still worked,’ whatever that meant, as well as whether there were any open doors, or if any tamed lived there.

    Whatever Mira wished to deduce from those answers, Niko didn’t know. Yesterday, she hadn’t cared either. She could just check whether or not the place had light in it, if the doors were open, or if anyone lived there, then she’d be done with it. Mira could do whatever with that information, she would get paid, and that’d be the end of it.

    Metheus complicated things. Her stumbling upon a second member of the species Mira had thought herself the only member of seemed to be the kind of thing she ought to be able to react to, but without knowing what Mira wanted out of the job, Niko was left to guess what Mira would’ve liked her to do.

    Maybe Metheus would have some insight as to what Mira had wanted. Niko just had to figure what to ask. “Uhh… M-Metheus… Do you know anything about the human ruins here?”

    Metheus huffed. “Nothing of note.” Dammit, Niko mentally cursed.

    “What? You don’t know anything?” Celeste interjected, seeming confused. He turned to address Niko. “That’s where I found them, for one thing. I went there after you showed me the map, and that’s where we met. That’s important information”

    “But I still don’t know anything useful about it. It’s just the building I was stored in,” Metheus complained.

    Niko’s eyes widened. If Metheus themself had come from the ruins… Was that the someone living there that Mira wanted her to find? Mira didn’t seem to know of any others of her kind, but if she knew there might be more here, she could have afforded to send people out to look for them.

    Niko cleared her throat to get the attention of the others. “I think I know someone who wants to meet you. She’s the same species as you. She was going to pay me to investigate this place, and I think you were what she wanted me to find.”

    The other three stared at her, their eyes feeling like they were boring into her skin. She squirmed, wishing any of them would say something.

    It was Metheus who broke the silence. “I want to meet her.”

    Niko sighed with relief and nodded.

    Metheus wasn’t done, though. “I want Celeste to come, too.”

    Celeste grumbled. “I’ve got other things to worry about. I haven’t so much as a speck of dust to my name, and I need to fix that before I start going on grand adventures.”

    Metheus let out a disappointed whine. “I… I want to stay with him, then.”

    Celeste’s face cycled through at least three different emotions as a small choking sound escaped his throat.

    “She offered me a lot of money. She has more of it than she needs. We could split it between us, comfy.”

    A shy voice squeaked its way out of Spirit’s mouth. “That doesn’t include me, does it? You don’t need me for this.”

    A pang of guilt twinged at Niko. The three of them really couldn’t leave Spirit all alone. She wasn’t ready to handle that yet. “Uhh, sure you can come. I’m sure you’ll be helpful…”

    Metheus scoffed. “Celeste and I will already have to protect Niko. We don’t need a second small creature to protect. Niko, at least, we need to show us the way.”

    A combined glare from Celeste and Niko silently overruled Metheus’ objection. The four were to depart together.

    Niko watched Celeste pull one of the spits of roasting remoraid off the fire. He hooked the meat on his claw and pulled it off before dropping the stick from his mouth. He put the morsel in his mouth and began to chew.

    It made rubbery squeaking noises as he chewed. Still, after a bit of chewing, he forced himself to swallow. “I think I prepared this wrong somehow. Still, it’s edible… Better than starving, at least. Let’s not waste it.”

    Metheus looked confused. “How do I eat that, though? It’s still solid.”

    Niko laughed. “Well yeah. It’s food, not a drink. What did you think food was?”

    “When they fed me before, they would put a tube through my helmet to my mouth. It would give me food. A paste.”

    Niko wrinkled her nose. “Sounds gross.”

    “It met our nutritional needs. What more would you want?”

    She shrugged. “Doesn’t sound like it’d taste real good.”

    Celeste took another spit, and bit down. The spit cracked, leaving the meat on a shorter, more manageably-sized stick. He offered the new, smaller stick in his mouth to Metheus, who took it in a talon and stared at it in confusion. “What do I do with this?”

    “Well, your helmet doesn't have a mouth opening, but I figured you could poke it through the eyehole or something.”

    “And then what?”

    Niko rolled her eyes. “Then you eat the bloody thing.”

    “Put it in your mouth and chew until you can swallow it,” Celeste interjected.

    Methus put the skewer through their helmet. A crunch could be heard, then Metheus raised their head and began to chew the remoraid… Niko felt like Metheus’ chewing was making more crunching noises than were appropriate for a remoraid.

    Niko also noticed that the end of the stick was splintered… and shorter than it had been before. “Buddy. Tell me you didn’t eat the end of the stick, too?”

    A meek voice echoed out of Metheus’ helmet. “Oh. Did I do it wrong?”

    Celeste sighed. “It’s okay. Your stomach might be a little upset having eaten the stick, but I don’t think that’s enough that you’ll throw it up.”

    “What am I allowed to eat? How do I tell what is and isn’t food?”

    “I told you this once before…” Celeste sighed, “Normally everyone eats either meat of ferals, certain plants, or both. If that remoraid was palatable to you, you can almost certainly eat meat. You might be able to eat plants, too.”

    “That stick came from a tree. A tree is a plant. How do I tell what plants I can eat and can’t eat?”

    Celeste looked at Niko. “You’re herbivorous, right? You wouldn’t happen to have any sort of instinct for what’s edible or not?”

    “Herbi-?” Niko wasn’t sure why he insisted on using such big words, but she managed to guess what he meant before she finished her question. “Oh. Yeah, I eat plants. There’s not much of an instinct for it. You just kinda learn it. I guess if it smells good, it’s probably safe? You probably won’t get poisoned very often if you stick to things that smell good.”

    Metheus nodded. “I see. So by trying the stick, and witnessing your reactions, I have learned that it is not food.”

    “Technically, yes, but… please, ask us before you try eating things, okay? You don’t have to eat it in order to see how we react. We can tell you before you eat it. Understood?”


    The conversation lulled, and Spirit took the gap as her chance to speak up. “Niko fed me berries. I was okay, so that means I eat plants. Is that correct?”

    Niko pressed her palm to her forehead. “Brilliant conclusion.”

    Spirit smiled. “Thank you. I’m glad you appreciate it.” Niko was taken aback. Did Spirit not get that Niko hadn’t meant it seriously, or was Spirit just messing with her. She sighed, causing Spirit’s smile to widen into a grin.

    Celeste rolled his eyes. So she was messing with me! “Ordinary vulpixes can eat both. If you’re the same way, you’ll be able to eat meat as well.”

    “But I don’t have to?”

    “No. You’re more than free to stick to plants. It means all the less hunting that I need to do, so please, go right ahead.”

    Niko declined to mention that it also meant more foraging for her. They were in a forest with fruit trees, and she’d be able to climb to the tops easily. Hopefully she’d have parted with Spirit by the time she went somewhere where food supply was a concern…

    Spirit tilted her head a Celeste. “How do you know all of this?”

    “I read it in a book.”


    “The protagonist, Ninetales, ate both.”

    “Wait,” Niko said, “You learned it in a story book?”

    Celeste looked somewhat embarrassed. “It was a historical story! It’s a trustworthy source.”

    A cracking sound pulled them out of the argument. Metheus had snapped the remaining spit, as Celeste had done before. They then inserted the remoraid into their mask, fiddled with it for a moment, then pulled the intact stick from the mask.

    Celeste smiled. “Does it taste better without the stick?”

    Metheus tilted their head. “Maybe. I am unfamiliar with taste.”

    “You don’t know what taste is?” Niko was astounded, how could someone simply not know what taste was? Had whatever slop they’d had piped into their mask killed all their poor taste buds?

    Or… did they simply not have any in the first place?

    The cookfire had burned down to glowing embers, casting the faintest flickering of light onto the faces of those in the burrow. The sun had long since passed over the cave mouth, leaving that flickering as all that stood between the group and the inky darkness around them.

    Spirit stared into the glowing embers. “Someone should tell a story.”

    Niko rolled her eyes. Was that all this Vulpix cared about? “I don’t have any interesting stories.”

    Spirit looked at Celeste. “You have stories. Tell us a happy one!”

    Celeste stopped to think. “I’m not sure I’m in the mood…” From what Niko had overheard of his description of his last few days, that made sense. He’d just had pretty much everything he knew burn down. Doesn’t tend to put people in a good move.

    Spirit wasn’t having any of it. “Maybe talking about nice things will put you in a better mood?”

    Celeste rolled his eyes. “You’re not going to take no for an answer, are you? Heh, I’m surprised you’re not sick of the sound of my voice yet.”

    Spirit’s tails began to wag, until she turned around and noticed them wagging, which made them pause. After a moment’s thought, she returned her attention to Celeste, and they resumed. Amnesia sure makes her do weird things, Niko noted.

    “Okay,” Celeste began, “My favourite nights were the nights where my mother and sister would stay up well into the night with me. Normally, we only did it for special occasions. When things like the summer solstice came around, Mother’s position meant that she would have to spend the day managing the festivities, but the nights were ours alone.”

    Celeste didn't seem to look too happy to be going over those memories. “The first night like that was the night I chose my name, too. It was my first time out late, seeing the full beauty of the night sky.”

    Niko rolled her eyes. The full beauty of the night sky? What a sap.

    “See, when I was that young, I had to stay inside when night came and everyone else was sleeping, for you don’t just leave a defenceless hatchling outside with nobody else around. I wasn't happy about it, though. I found my room claustrophobic in the dark of night. Outdoors, though, the starlight put me at ease.”

    Niko raised an eyebrow. “It was the light that put you at ease?” She laughed. “Makes it sound like you were afraid of the dark and not the room itself.”

    Celeste scoffed. “Well… It was the fact that the dark made the room feel small. That counts as claustrophobia. Didn’t stop Salac from teasing me about it. Told me to name myself ‘Sunshine.’ Really, I can’t believe we get along nowadays.”

    The smile melted off Celeste’s face. “Or… That we got along.”

    A pause hung in the air. What was someone supposed to say to that, Niko wondered.

    Spirit slunk up to him and brushed her forehead against his leg. “I’m sure she’s fine… She’s a fire type. She wouldn’t die in a fire.”

    “She might be alive,” Celeste conceded. “But even if so, there’s nothing left of my home but ashes, and husks of burnt trees. Wherever she ends up, I doubt I’ll find her…”

    The warm mood of the fire thoroughly killed, it wasn’t long before the newly-minted group turned in for the night.

    Niko dreamt of a mountain, its peak leveled flat by her ancient ancestors. A sparring ring was carved into the rock. Once, the lines were crisp and easily visible, but generations of use had worn them down. The lines were recarved occasionally, but they always wore down again in time. They were close to needing to be redrawn again.

    She was in the ring. Barely. It was that match, and she’d been driven to the edge of the mountaintop.

    Opposing Niko was a familiar mienshau. When Mienshau opened her mouth, however, it was not her own voice that came out, but that of Metheus.

    Celeste and I will already have to protect Niko. We don’t need a second small creature to protect.

    The shock of hearing that caused Niko to stumble past the edge of the ring, off the flattened area and down the mountain’s face.

    The stone was unsympathetic to her fall, battering and scratching as she fell. She felt one particular sharp stone carve a familiar line down her chest…

    She passed out… Or rather, she jolted awake with a start. He paws shot to her chest, but there was no gash. Just the ridge of a familiar scar, hidden away beneath her fur.

    She relaxed the tension in her muscles and rolled back onto her other side. She tried to get back to sleep, but Celeste was murmuring and whimpering in some dream of his own, which made it hard to rest.

    Eventually, though, exhaustion did claim her.

    When she next woke, the morning sun was trickling into the mouth of the cave. She stretched and sat up. Metheus was still sound asleep on their stomach, metal spikes on their helmet propping up their head.

    Spirit had moved. She had originally slept on her own, but now she was curled up against Celeste’s belly, snuggled up like a little child with a parent or older sibling. Niko couldn’t understand why she’d do that, the thought of having someone else holding her like that made her skin crawl. How other people found it comfortable was beyond her...

    She left the cave to take in the morning sun. It occurred to her that she could just… leave. Walk away from the burrow while everyone was asleep, find a new bit of work, stay in her normal routine.

    She couldn’t bring herself to do it, though. She’d made a promise to the group, and so her moral compass compelled her to stay. Anxiety twinged in her gut.

    What have you gotten yourself into…
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