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Pokémon the bonepicker [oneshot]


golden scars | pfp by sun
the warmth of summer in the songs you write
  1. silvally-grass
  2. lapras
  3. golurk
  4. custom/booper-kintsugi
  5. custom/meloetta-kint-muse
  6. custom/meloetta-kint-dancer
‘Pick clean the bones of Pokémon caught in the sea or stream.
Thank them for the meals they provide, and pick their bones clean.
When the bones are as clean as can be, set them free in the water from which they came.
The Pokémon will return, fully fleshed, and it begins anew.’

- Sinnoh Folk Story

Hayate attends Jubilife’s 300th anniversary festival.

Made with love for the Mischief and Malice contest! I changed the title because I am the worst. Some typos and flow fixes were also made.

crit preference: anything goes. bear in mind that at this stage i am an actual dinosaur at review responses, but I definitely read/implement them!

the bonepicker

Can’t it be anyone else?”

It has to be you.”

“… I know.”

Hayate rolls the conversation over in his mind as he approaches the back of the line. Remembering the harsh angles in Jaina’s voice is reassuring, in its own odd way. Her anger’s always smooth and frigid, but her determination sounds a little stilted, a little hesitant, like it shouldn’t fit inside of her small frame. She stutters when she’s certain; Hayate stutters all the time. So even if he’s fiddling with the pouch at his side nervously, even if he’s taking halting steps up and keeping his head ducked down as low as he can without crouching, even if he’s wishing for nothing else than for the ground to swallow him whole—he can still be brave, just a little. Just enough.

Jubilife’s changed a lot since the last time he’s been here. The small changes are less jarring to look at. Those are the ones that might’ve happened over a day or a week instead of over years. So as Hayate waits patiently in line, he lets his gaze linger on the pothole they’ve paved over on the main road, then the storefront whose hand-painted lettering has been replaced by a brightly-lit sign. Slowly he gathers up the courage to take in the rest of the city. It’s a proper city now, as his mother would’ve said, with towering buildings and a healthy bustle. The streetfolk walk with a businesslike air about them; they’re all resolutely fixed on their end destination and don’t stop to look around. Which is a blessing for Hayate, and a shame for them, he thinks distantly—the decorations for Jubilife’s 300th birthday are something special indeed. Strings of old-fashioned paper lanterns drip across the lampposts like a net of cherry-colored stars. A fruit vendor’s cart jingles invitingly, with a hand-painted canvas festooned with blue waves covering its normal, more stately awning. A pair of children giggle and shriek as they chase one another adorned in zoroark kabuki masks.

It’s the oldways zoroark, Hayate can’t help but notice with a pang as the splash of white-painted fur vanishes around a corner. So they still remember.

A trio of teenagers elbow past him and end up taking his place in line. Wrapped up in their banter as they are, none of them notice Hayate’s half-hearted attempts to get their attention, and he ends up sagging back to let them continue their conversation uninterrupted. They’ll all get inside eventually.

“Do you think they’ll have the other ones here? I’ve always wanted to see a samurott.”

“The Unova champion has one, right?”

“But it’s not the same , you know?”

Hayate waits, politely, kicking at a pebble by his feet while they discuss whether or not Alder should retire— he lost, didn’t he? Their conversation goes too quickly for Hayate to track, laden as it is with complex battle terms, but Hayate’s grateful all the same, since it means he knows they aren’t looking at him.

Jaina’s voice is almost scolding in his head: “ You shouldn’t be ashamed to be here.

And she’s right, of course. He belongs here too. If anything, steeped as he is in the old ways, he belongs more than anyone else. He remembers Jubilife as it was, so of all people, he shouldn’t feel shame crackling in his chest at a celebration of its founding.

Words like ‘shouldn’t’ never worked with his family, though. His mother had made the harsh journey from Ecruteak even when everyone had warned her from the open road when she was so young. Makoto, her eldest daughter, had braved the wilderness even though her rightful place was at the helm of the family. His family had revered traditions, passed down stories. But they’d never been afraid to break them when the time came. It was no wonder that Hayate, with his slow, patient fire, had always been the odd one out.

He shuffles forward, patiently waiting until the line’s moved up and there’s no doubt at all that it’s his turn.

The ticketkeeper is seated on a rickety stool behind a cart that’s been remodeled to look three hundred years older. To match with the rest of the festival, he reminds himself. Her kimono is bunched a bit around the neck, and it’s starched in a way that pinches her shoulders shut. “Erm,” she says placidly to Hayate, her smile stretched archly across her lips. “Can I help you?”

Jaina had warned him that this would be the first snag. Not that knowing made him any less anxious, but at least it meant he could prepare. Hayate’s already got the card in his hands, and he strains up on his tiptoes to pass it over the counter.

I would like to buy a ticket, please.

The script isn’t perfect, no matter what Jaina insists. But it’ll do.

The ticketkeeper’s brow furrows; she makes no effort to keep the confusion from wrapping all over her face. “You’d like to buy a ticket,” she repeats slowly, and Hayate hopes it isn’t from Jaina’s haphazard handwriting. “For yourself?”

Hayate points at the portion of her sign that advertises, ‘Seniors (Ages 65+)’ and pushes three crisp moneynotes across the table, to nestle patiently against the first. Jaina had insisted that this part wouldn’t work, that they should just try to get in for full price—he’s spry and doesn’t look his age, and it’s not like they’d care—but something in Hayate had still wanted to try.

“I, ah,” says the ticketkeeper. “You’d need an ID, and besides, those aren’t for …”

Jaina might’ve argued at this point, even if she’d been against the idea to begin with. It's the principle, she’d say. But Jaina isn’t here right now, so Hayate rummages through his money pouch and produces another hundred yen to place next to the rest. He points politely to the middle of the sign: ‘Adults (Ages 12-64)’.

Her brow furrows even more, which Hayate wouldn’t have thought possible if he hadn’t just seen it, but she glances at the money, and then over his shoulder to the long line that’s formed behind him. A toddler is crying impatiently while her father tries to hush her. Necks are craning to see the source of the delay. The ticketkeeper’s eyes sweep across all of them, and then a decision is made.

“Enjoy your visit,” she says, sounding resigned. But she takes his money and hands his card back, alongside a fresh ticket, and that’s all that matters.

Hayate nods a quick thanks and skirts around the booth. Relief floods through him. He imagines Jaina at his shoulder, her voice smug. “The worst they can do now is kick you out.”

Inside of the museum, the exhibition hall is a whirl of smells and colors. Lights dance across the ceiling, ominous smudges of greens and blues and red, while a calm voice on the intercom explains that this is how the Hisuian sky looked on the day that almighty Sinnoh appeared. There’s a reconstructed miniature of the Spear Pillar Unbroken at the center of the room, shrouded by a plaster replica of the original statues of the twin children of Arceus. An entire back wall has been redone to resemble the old shops of Jubilife, littered with grainy black-and-white reference photographs. Quiet flute music drifts over the chatter.

“Long ago, when Sinnoh had just been made, pokémon and humans led separate lives.” The woman’s voice is sonorous and ethereal, and Hayate has to look around the room until he finally identifies the source at the back of the exhibition hall, where a blank white screen has been put up and oldways shadowpuppets dance across the screen. “... A pokémon proposed to the others to always be ready to help humans. It asked that pokémon be ready to appear before humans always. Thus, to this day, pokémon appear to us if we venture into tall grass.” The voice washes away but the familiar silhouettes of a cyndaquil, rowlet, and oshawott remain. Hayate swallows nervously.

The puppets have eyes but no faces, dark shadows on the screen. And it’s in seeing the blank-faced cyndaquil dancing around the screen that Hayate remembers the one story his mother had passed down that he never felt he understood. As the silhouettes whirl away and are replaced with new ones to tell the next familiar story— a young man, callow and foolish in innocence, came to own a sword —Hayate can’t help but watch the stage, even as the voice he hears is his mother’s:

The no-faced monster was born very sad, for it realized that all other Monsters, ugly or beautiful, had faces for others to recognize them. The no-faced monster had no such thing, and so it was lonely, for all the other Monsters of the land never seemed to remember it. The no-faced monster decided it would go out into the world and find itself a face of its own.

But the world was young and uncharted, and the no-faced monster knew it would get lost long before it would succeed. So it decided to split itself in two, in order to search twice as quickly. “You will search the lands you can see here,” said one of them. “And I will search the lands over the horizon.” The two agreed immediately, as they were still of a single accord, and then one of the no-faced monsters made its way towards the setting sun, while the other remained.

After one day and one night, the no-faced monster crossed over the horizon, where it found a gathering of other Monsters. This time, the no-faced monster was prepared. While the Monsters slept, the no-faced monster snuck into the home of Braviary and whispered into his ear: “I will make you as sharp and quick as the sun, and give you mastery over the sky. All that I ask is that you let me in, and lend me your face.” And Braviary thought carefully but quickly agreed, for he secretly had wanted great strength so that the other Monsters would respect him.

The next morning, when the other Monsters gathered, Braviary’s face was different. His bloodred plumage had turned an ethereal liliac, and his wings had grown so large that they could flatten an entire field of grass with a single flap. However, come evening, Braviary realized that his talons had lost their brute strength, and he could no longer rend creatures out of the sky when he hunted. He begged for the change to be reversed, for his face had only been lent, not given. But the no-faced monster, who quite liked this face, refused—so Braviary flapped his wings so hard that the lilac feathers tore from his head, along with the no-faced monster.

Thus Braviary and the no-faced monster both lost their faces, and the no-faced monster had to search again. It met many other Monsters who agreed to its promise initially: Lilligant asked to have great muscles with which to protect her meadow; Avalugg wished for a rocky underbelly to survive the summer; Samurott desired a dark riptide. But like Braviary, none of them wanted to share their faces forever, and in turn they tore off their faces to cast the no-faced monster away.

Frustrated, the no-faced monster traveled to the city, where the Queen of all Monsters gave lessons to her son, whose throat had been damaged by a jealous Monster, causing him to lose his voice. “I will make him speak again,” the no-faced monster whispered into her ear. “All that I ask is that you let me in, and lend me his face.” And the Queen agreed, and the no-faced monster became a prince.

At first, the Queen was overjoyed, for her darling son began to speak. He was precocious for his age, and all the Monsters of the land cheered for their heir. But in time, they discovered that the prince had grown cruel. In whispers, some called it immaturity, some foolishness—but none raised their voices when the teenage prince demanded that they all take up swords, and hunt down the Monsters Who Did Not Belong. And so the city turned outwards with wrath, and it was not just Lilligant, or Avalugg, or Samurott who faced it.

Finally, the Queen turned to her son, and demanded that he stop. “This cruelty is unbecoming of you,” she said with flinty eyes.

“On the contrary,” said the prince-faced monster, “this cruelty is what I have become.” And it lunged forward and devoured her.

Then, it crossed the horizon, where the monster-who-remained waited. To the prince-faced monster’s surprise, the monster-who-remained smiled, and said, “Welcome home.”

“Look at this lovely face I found,” bragged the prince-faced monster, spinning around with its arms outstretched. “Where’s yours?”

“I decided I did not need one,” said the monster-who-remained quietly, not meeting the prince-faced monster’s eyes. “I realized I was happier as I was.”

“Then what worth are you?” snarled the prince-faced monster. “We both agreed to find a face. But you did not even try. Do you expect me to share mine?” Enraged, the prince-faced monster lunged at monster-who-remained, who did not resist as it was torn apart.

When its wrath faded and it realized what it had done, the no-faced monster wept bitterly.

For it now had a face, but no one to recognize it.

“Hey. Hello?”

Hayate’s been sitting in the middle of the hall for at least half an hour when someone finally approaches him. He’s staring past the shadow puppets and at the stuffed body of a basculeigon, who’s been contorted to form a triumphant arc over the sign proclaiming, ‘THE COBALT COASTLANDS: HOW LAND WAS RECLAIMED FROM SEA!’

“Are you lost? You must be from Johto,” the man’s saying, trying to keep his voice light and jovial. But he’s not like Jaina. His unease bleeds through his words. There’s a concerned frown draped across his face and an official-looking vest wrapped around his shoulders. Ah. An enforcer. “Things are a little different here, buddy.”

From Johto? Hayate blinks in confusion before both answers present themselves. First: with his flames suppressed, the people around here probably wouldn’t recognize him as local. Second: in Johto—

—the enforcer leans forward and pats him gently on the head. Hayate bites back a yelp and reels back—

“Easy, buddy. Where’s your trainer, anyhow?”

—in Johto, it was more acceptable for pokémon to be out of their pokéballs. Jaina had explained that one: in Sinnoh, people like her aren’t often outside of their balls without a trainer. “ That’s the point of all this,” she’d said, although by then Hayate had understood. “We have to remind them that we belong too.”

Hayate shudders, quelling the adrenaline sparking through him, even though the man’s palm hovers over his head. Fire will do him no good here, and neither will alarm. He shuffles through the pouch at his side, and pulls out the second card Jaina gave him.

I am here to enjoy the festival.

The enforcer’s confused, so Hayate pushes the card forward again, and fishes his ticket out of the pouch for good measure.

“The festival? But it isn’t …” The enforcer trails off before his sentence can implicate him. “Look, there’s a policy. You can’t. I can’t.”

Jaina had explained that part too, her anger cold and frosty. “Some people,” she’s saying stiffly in Hayate’s ear, a cub’s anger staining her voice, “aren’t welcome indoors. So none of us are. There are quiet ones like you who’d be fine, I’m sure. But what if you weren’t a well-behaved typhlosion, and you burned something instead? Or what if you were a regular-sized steelix? Or—” and her voice catches for a moment, in a way that’s not quite determination, not quite anger or what if you were a stunky? Too smelly to be around, right?”

( You’re not , Hayate insists back, even though she’s just a voice murmuring inside of his head. And he’d certainly know; a typhlosion would have a more keen sense of smell than a human would. “ But it’s not the stench they’re worried about,” Jaina counters, and he doesn’t have an answer for that.)

Hayate presses the card into the enforcer’s hands once more, distinctly aware that a crowd of people have gathered around them. One of the teenagers from before has pulled out her pokétch and is filming the whole thing, excitedly narrating in a semi-whisper about the typhlosion who thinks it can read.

This is what Jaina wants, of course. Enough eyes that he’ll be impossible to ignore. And then at that point it won’t be Hayate who’s the problem. Their reaction will speak for itself.

I am here to enjoy the festival.

Hayate pushes the card forward again, and tilts his chin defiantly upward.

“You can’t be here,” the enforcer repeats, hands outstretched in what he clearly thinks is placating. “Look, I’m sorry. I don’t know which dumb trainer put you up to this. But all patrons have to ensure that their pokémon are inside of their pokéballs while on museum grounds, okay? It’s a safety thing.”

Hayate stares past him stonily. All this work to honor Hisui from two centuries ago, and not a single pokémon is allowed to see it as a visitor. There’s a pair of grimer sludging over trash, and the takoyaki vendor is assisted by an apron-clad skorupi brandishing a pair of sauce bottles, and a growlithe with an odd vest and a leash, and the stuffed basculeigon. And Hayate. Those are all the pokémon allowed inside today, and soon Hayate won't count.

The skorupi’s eyes are on him now. Hayate tries his best not to wither, but she’s inscrutable. Is she mad that he’s making them all look bad? She’s got a scant freedom that people like Jaina will never get, not in a world like this. It took two centuries for humans to stop killing people like her on sight, because where one skorupi lives, a dozen drapion will follow. And to risk all of that acceptance for the promise of wanting to enjoy a festival?

There’s a pop of confetti as the woman beside her hands out the next portion of takoyaki.

“Hey.” The enforcer’s voice has hardened now. There’s someone else behind him now, looking official and stern. “Shoo.”

It has to be you.

His mother had been the one to make the journey across vast swaths of land, to choose to accompany these humans alongside their exploration into the unknown. She didn’t speak often of Johto. Brass Tower had burned to the ground when she was a child. Precisely once, with flinty eyes, she told of the time that lightning struck, that fire raged, that rain purified; and then, she watched Ho-oh raise three gods. Hayate had often suspected that whatever she’d seen in that smoke was what made her choose to leave.

Makoto had been the one to follow in her footsteps, even if her mind led her to wander Sinnoh alone. The fire coursed true within her alongside her anger and her rage; when she’d evolved, it was far from Coronet’s shadow, and so when Makoto changed shape she took after their mother, and by then, like the erupting volcano, her rage had burned her dry.

But Hayate had been the one to stay close to the human their mother had chosen, to ascend alongside him to the peak of Mt. Coronet. Blinking, in the bitter cold, Hayate had evolved into something not quite new, not quite old. They’d studied him, prodded at him, and dubbed him a new species of typhlosion, unique to Hisui.

Then, gradually, everyone else left. First his mother: old age took her peacefully, although the journey west must’ve sapped years of strength from her limbs. Then the human grew wizened and weary. And finally, Makoto had lumbered off into the woods, stone-faced and bitter as ever, muttering that Hisui had changed too much to be her home any longer.

Hayate had remained—an oddity of his new form, he’d surmised. Each passing only added to the weight of the flames that he carried around his neck, flames that were neither hungry nor warm.

And so for the next two hundred and forty years, cyndaquil did not choose to appear before humans in Sinnoh.

“I’ve got a loose pokémon in the main exhibit hall,” the enforcer’s saying into a black box on his shoulder. “Should I engage?”

Behind the enforcer there’s an exhibit containing an ancient pokéball. Hayate’s eyes are drawn to the familiarity of its muted colors, the reassuring contours of the latch on its front. His mother had never questioned it: the trainer she had chosen had been good, and kind. She’d appeared before him in the bitter cold and he’d accepted her help gratefully. Never once had her trainer made that latch known to her. Never once had he declared that there was anywhere in Hisui that she did not belong, that the latch was needed to keep her from going somewhere she wished to be.

But that did not stop the latch from being made.

It has to be you.

There weren’t many pokémon who organized things like this. There were few who believed it would make a difference. But they’d all agreed that stoic and unflappable Hayate was the best candidate. No one else would even make it past the ticketkeeper.

Of all the stories his mother had passed down, Hayate always told strangers of The Monster With No Face. It was the oddity of it that fascinated him the most, really. Perhaps someone else could give him an answer that would satisfy him. But until then he’d turn the story over and over and over again, like trying to find the smoothest side of a stone washed down by a river.

Makoto had always insisted that the no-faced monster was a zorua. One had gone west, to Hisui, while the other remained. The journey had rendered the Hisuian one unrecognizable: first she had frozen, and then died, and then she lived again. But her body had changed far less than her mind. Makoto warned of the grief-stricken spirits that wandered the snowy north, shells of their former selves.

“It is a reminder, ” Makoto had explained. “Humans drove Zoroark to the ends of the earth, and refused to give her rest. They even killed her children. But her wrath remained. We must leave these lands or share her fate.”

Jaina, who was born long after the last zorua lived and died and died again, thought the no-faced monster was a human. It had been born in a world of Monsters without anything to make it special, and so had tried to beg its siblings for help. But it had failed, and in hate and greed it had tried to covet that power for itself.

“It’s a warning,” the stunky had insisted. “They’ll make promises, and break them. That’s all they ever do. You can never trust someone who only sees you as a stranger.”

And Mother had always chuffed in amusement, and nuzzled close to the ruff of his neck, where his fire sacks were still dormant. “It’s what you want it to be, little one. That’s all a story is, and all it can be.”

In the distance, the face of an oldways zoroark mask catches the light, and Hayate’s mouth goes sour. The humans might remember what they did, but they’ve certainly forgotten why they did it, if they’re allowing themselves to make such light of it now. Their forefathers did this, and no one alive was responsible, but if no one alive remembers what happened, then blood will be on their hands when it happens again.

Jaina would never understand that part. Her eyes had glowed when she’d discussed their plan: “It’s spreading. From Unova, and soon all over. We just sit. That’s all we have to do. Sit and remind them that we belong here too. And you’re older than any of us. Your people helped them so much; you were here before anyone. There are probably posters of you inside! If they kick you out, they’ll have to realize that what they’re doing is wrong. And if they let you stay, then that’s a victory, for all of us.”

Three hundred years ago, a cyndaquil chose to appear before a human, and asked her children to do the same. She journeyed across heaven and earth, braving perils so that her children could live this life in Hisui instead. She loved a human and he loved her in return. Together they faced gods.

But now people think a typhlosion in these parts must be from far away, because typhlosion belong in Hisui and Johto, not Sinnoh.

Something hard and cold hits the back of Hayate’s neck, and for a moment his world vanishes in a flash of red. He’s small, and concealed, and drifting in a soft dark ether where stories of no-faced monsters wisp around his ears—

Rage washes through him as he bursts out of the pokéball, panting.

There’s a crowd around him now, too close for comfort, closer to a human than he’s been in decades. They’re staring blankly back at him and the shattered pokéball at his ankles. One of them will try again. The first few might fail to contain him. Eventually they’ll succeed. Otherwise they wouldn't try. His mother had never known the threat of a pokéball with a latch, but that did not protect others, and it wouldn’t protect him now.

Long ago, in the time of oldways, there was an ancient contract. Pokémon would choose to appear before humans. And if humans tried to claim pokémon who had not appeared, who had not made that choice, they would face tooth and claw. Some pokémon lived. Some humans lived. Some did not. Those are oldways, the parts of the stories that were stripped from this festival like flesh from old bone, digested and then tucked away neatly in a place where they didn’t have to be seen, alongside Zoroark’s old face.

Jaina had warned him of their anger. “They’ll feel bad when they see you, and then they’ll need someone to be mad at. If you give them nothing to be mad at, then they’ll have to realize: you aren’t the bad guy here. Something else is.” But that isn’t the part that stings. A toddling human girl is pointing at him and crying, her face half-buried in her father’s trousers. She’s afraid, when all he has done is stand somewhere they’d told her he didn’t belong.

In that moment, seeing the anger painted on their faces alongside confusion and fear, Hayate’s mind is fragmented along three entirely distinct lines of thought.

First: before she left, Makoto had given him a warning—there are two types of pacifism in this world. One comes from strength, when you know your fate and abstain from violence regardless. This one burns low and steady. And the other comes from ignorance, when you do not understand that violence is an option. This one surges like a wildfire when it finally discovers its fuel. Confuse one for the other and the forest will be plunged into darkness or flame.

Second: he thinks he finally understands the no-faced monster. To have no one recognize you. What a terrible fate indeed.

Third: this room that has no place for him is one of the oldest in Jubilife. It’s made of heartwood, found by Ursaluna and borrowed from Lilligant and carried by Wyrdeer.

It’ll catch. It’ll burn.

And then Hayate knows that these three thoughts are in fact one. When he realizes that, for the first time in two hundred and forty years, the wisps around his neck burn red-hot.

Someone throws another pokéball, and he bats it away with a swipe of his foreleg. And then follows it up with a spurt of flame, one that he does not hold back.

As the room fills with smoke and screams, he thinks of the monster-who-remained, who died waiting patiently for the world to right itself, until the choice to wait was taken from it. Of his mother journeying across two continents on foot, because when you wanted something badly enough you had to seize it by the throat. Of the flames wreathing Brass Tower one stormy night, the orange light reflected in a young cyndaquil’s eyes, and the new era born from tradition’s ashes.

It has to be you. He lunges forward.

Jaina will forgive him for this.
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