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Hunting Game

Spiteful Murkrow

Early Game Encounter
Hello everyone, it took a little longer than I expected to get everything together, but I'm proud to present a cleaned-up version of my submission to the Fall 2022 Mischief and Malice One-Shot Contest on Thousand Roads. Which as those of you were following the chatter surrounding the contest may have already gathered, is about the people and Pokémon that go about catching Pokémon... in a manner of speaking.

Now a word of warning: this isn't a happy story, and it’s in contention for being the least happy piece of writing I've ever formally published. Now, with that said, it's not exactly a gory splatterfest and it doesn't tick a lot of content warning boxes mechanically. Enough so that I honestly could've made a decent argument for rules-lawyering a fairly low content rating for this one-shot. In the end, I ultimately decided to play things conservatively and not risk any nasty surprises for readers since this story is fairly dark thematically and contains depictions of abuse towards Pokémon, and stuck with a T rating on FFN and AO3. If content like that is a big turnoff for you, you probably won’t have a good time reading this one-shot.

There is foreign-language dialogue in this story. While translation notes have been provided and it is ultimately up to the reader to decide whether and when to use it, to get the full effect of the viewpoint character’s perspective from behind a language barrier, it is strongly recommended to read the text in natural order to preserve that dynamic.

I'd like to take a moment to give my thanks to BestLizard from Thousand Roads for beta reading the initial contest submission, and to @canisaries and zoru22 from Thousand Roads for giving recommendations during this story's planning process that ultimately helped the pieces of this one-shot's plot to fall into place. I'd also like to extend my thanks to windskull , SparklingEspeon , and bluesidra 's feedback as judges from that contest that helped make the final version of this story what it is. For the curious, an archival version of the story as-submitted to the Mischief and Malice contest was published on AO3, which can be read here as Hunting Game β.

And with that, I’m proud to take you into the desert sands of Hoenn, right as the sun begins to drift westward over the horizon…
 
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Spiteful Murkrow

Early Game Encounter


Hunting Game



It’s sunset. Rays of light sink over the horizon and paint the desert sands brilliant hues of orange and red. The day's heat has begun to bleed away and the wind carries a nipping chill. It reminds you of the sands around the ancient castle where the gods are said to sleep in Unova, the same desert you once called home as a little Trapinch.

The desert you’re currently in is in a land far away from there. ‘Hoh-wen’, you think you heard it called. It’s a land where the Pokémon speak in a tongue you can’t understand and one where many of their kinds are unfamiliar to you. But as you beat your wings and the wind rasps past them, it all melts away and for a moment, you feel like you’re back in your homeland.

You rest your wings briefly after a gust makes you shiver. The chill of the desert night is fast approaching. Along with it, you hear a familiar-sounding warble in the wind. Its tune is different, but its cadence is unmistakable: it’s a Flygon’s song just like yours.

So it is more than just the desert that feels like home right now…

“Aren’t you getting tired of just sitting there and beating your wings around like that, Dali?”

You turn and come face-to-face with a Krookodile staring you down with an unimpressed frown. That’s ‘Chase’, or at least that’s his human name, just like how ‘Dali’ is yours. The fact that it’s become second nature to you is a sign that some habits have been rubbing off onto you from your trainer.

Behind Chase, there’s a campsite set up with a pair of tents and a lit fire pit you can smell smoke coming from at the moment. The only thing separating it from every other human encampment is that there’s a gray pickup riddled with dents and scuffs parked at its other edge with a canvas enclosure over its bed. The style of vehicle is apparently rarer in this land than it is in Unova, but you don’t find it all that strange. You, Chase, and your humans are far from the nearest Route at the moment, so it’s only logical that you’d need a way back… and you’ll need the extra space, too.

The Krookodile before you has a mangled tire tucked under his arm, sporting fresh bite marks on it. You narrow your eyes from behind their protective red lenses and let out a buzzing scoff. “Aren’t you tired of burrowing around and chewing on that tire like a little hatchling?”

“Oi! I’m allowed to have my hobbies!” the Krookodile protests. “And it’s practice! We’re hunting again tomorrow!”

He’s not wrong. While humans often go into the wilderness alongside their Pokémon for travel or, increasingly these days, for their own amusement, you two have come for a purpose: to help your trainers with their livelihoods. The wind kicks up again and Chase shivers briefly before he pulls his arms over his body with a disgusted grunt.

“Let’s hurry up and eat by the fire. The sooner we get out of this cold, the better.”

The proposal is music to your ears. Chase has always handled cold temperatures better than you, and if he finds it chilly right now, it’s about time to pack it in and retreat to your Pokéball. You sniff the air as you follow the Krookodile into the encampment and catch a whiff of spice. You turn your head to follow the scent and see two men dishing out something that looks like a ruddy soup from a pot over the fire. ‘Curry’, you think it was called. That’s Chase’s trainer, along with yours. ‘Kato’ and ‘Abe’ are what they call themselves.

You make your way over and swish your tail as you stoop beside your trainer. He pats you and asks you in his tongue if you had fun “making a racket,” from what you gather. You think to protest that your song is more than a mere racket, only for him to raise his bowl and offer you some of his food.

You think twice about his offer from how strange the food looks, but its smell convinces you to try it anyway. It’s spicy, and surprisingly delicious. It even made you feel a little stronger afterwards. You drape a wing over your trainer and remark to yourself how strange it’d seem to the Pokémon you used to know back in Unova to find out you’d grown so close to a human from such a faraway land. One so far away that you had to effectively relearn all the human that you’d picked up in Unova. Apparently human languages can differ from region to region much like those of Pokémon do.

You see Abe get up, before he makes his way to the back of the truck where Chase’s trainer is waiting. He stoops down and opens a box alongside the other man, and pulls out a net that he eyes carefully to check for rips and tears. Behind him, the truck’s tailgate has a boxy laptop set on it with a linking cable and a small container filled with various Pokéballs. Past it, you can catch a glimpse of steel cages.

Tools for the hunt tomorrow.

You let out a small buzz in annoyance as Abe fusses over the tools in the truck with Kato. You don’t see why he needs to worry about those right here and now. Dinner’s getting cold.



It’s around midnight, or at least that’s what it looks like from the sky in your Pokéball. The neat, orderly den in the simulated desert you’re in has no moon of its own. The heat isn’t as varied as it normally is, never too hot or cold to be uncomfortable. The wind also comes flat and in unnatural bursts, which affects your wings’ songs when you try to warble with them.

If it was really night, it’d be time to nod off and go to sleep, but in your particular case, the time in the world outside is almost completely backwards from what the Pokéball tries to make you think, as a casual glance up at the sky reminds you.

You see faint afterimages of the sun in the middle of the real sky outside your Pokéball, of cloth fabric to your right, and faint, translucent images of desert rocks and dunes bumping up and down in jolts you can’t feel. If you keep quiet enough, you can even hear the muted crunching of boots against sand.

The sky wasn’t always like this in your Pokéball. It used to align properly with the days and nights outside when you were still in Unova. You at first thought it was just a normal side effect of being in a faraway land, and adjusted to it by hiding in the den in your ball when you were tired or by resting in the outside world when you could.

You stopped thinking that after you happened to meet another Pokémon from Unova on an inter-regional ferry one day. Much to your surprise, he told you that the nights and days in his Pokéball continued to stay in sync with the sun and moon even so far away from home. According to him, your Pokéball was somehow broken and that someone likely had tampered with it in the past.

Abe’s voice cries out in the distance and snaps you back to attention. The afterimages in the sky blot out as a hand grasps down on the Pokéball outside and the real desert blurs. Abe’s found prey and it’s time to hunt.

You’re annoyed at how Abe insists on stalking prey himself when it is such a big part of the thrill of hunting, but Chase told you long ago that letting humans handle that part of the hunt was important for keeping the element of surprise. And you suppose that your prey really wouldn’t see you coming like this.

Suddenly, your surroundings are bathed in light. You reflexively spread your wings, as the simulated world around you melts away into the real one. The desert heat hits them and the rest of your body like a wave and you pull higher into the air with an updraft, steadying as you scan your surroundings and murmur to yourself…

“What are we hunting this time?”

Abe calls out to you to bank right when battle cries ring out from the ground. There up ahead, Chase is being harried by a quartet of yellow creatures with large claws and prominent brown spikes on their backs. A number of smaller, ball-like creatures with what look like yellow scales watch nervously behind them—Sandslash and Sandshrew.

One of the spiked creatures recoils and jumps back from Chase after a snap of the Krookodile’s jaws, while another flashes his claws and stays quick on his feet, the wind carrying their voices faintly to you from the distance.

"N-Nani kore?!"

Shiru ka yo! Tasukete kure!

You growl under your breath. Their language’s rhythm and tone are different, as are their calls, but from the way they fight, they’re much like the Sandslash and Sandshrew in Unova. That means you can’t just whip up a sandstorm to give you and Chase cover. Since they’ll just exploit it to slip away.

It’s not like Chase to let himself get caught off-guard this badly, and you wonder if the Krookodile’s trainer will need to break out his sidearm: a metal tube with a wooden stock. He keeps it around to scare off or wound Pokémon in cases where one slips past Chase and tries to attack him directly. If it’s anything like Abe’s, its tube was cut down from a longer one and there’s a series of scratches next to a lever at the top where a set of human glyphs used to be. Kato’s surely makes the same gods-awful noise whenever it’s used, too.

Except Kato is keeping his on his sling and doesn’t seem worried. Yet, anyways. The Sandslash nick at his partner with swipes while one of them barrels at the Krookodile while rolled up in a ball. But the whole time Chase holds back beyond an occasional swipe from his claws or snap of his jaws.

This has to be a feint of some sort by those two, but you can’t make out what it’s supposed to be.

And then Abe calls out for you to signal. Seconds matter in these hunts, and so without questioning, you let out a bellowing roar. The Sandslash and Sandshrew all turn up and spot you. Even from a distance, you can see them stiffen up in shock. The first Sandslash from earlier gestures up at you to his fellows and cries out in audible terror.

F-Furaigon! M-Minna kakurerun da-!

Kato cries out and reaches out after Chase with his gesture from his free hand. On reflex, the Krookodile jumps up and slams into the ground. A plume of sand kicks up below you and the Sandslash and Sandshrew lose their footing. A few of the Sandshrew are thrown about, some scurrying away while others lie motionless in the sand. The Sandslash reel from the blow and look alarmed when one of them, the one chiding the nervous one from earlier, lunges forward with claws drawn for a vicious swipe.

Kurae!

Chase moves his head as the Sandslash bears down on him, and clamps down onto the pangolin’s shoulder. The Sandslash screams in pain and thrashes desperately as Chase shakes him. After a few seconds of struggling and flailing, Chase’s attacker goes limp in his jaws. The Krookodile throws him aside and the pangolin hits the sand in a crumpled heap. Blood begins to ooze out from torn-up chunks of hide.

The other Sandslash lose their nerve and then turn to run as you approach. One of them stops to scoop up a Sandshrew lying on the ground and pull the smaller Pokémon before fleeing as your shadow falls over them. Abe’s voice cries out to you from somewhere down on the ground behind you. He’s telling you to use Earthquake.

You dive to the ground as a plume of sand erupts around you. Sharp screams mixed with the sound of rending earth ring out for a few seconds, then there’s silence.

You brace yourself for hacking blows from the trio of Sandslash but they don’t come. As the dust and sand settle, you quickly discover that they are lying sprawled out around you. The one that was cradling the Sandshrew is slumped over, the Sandshrew lying in a limp lump before her. The Sandslash to her left is lying half-buried in a sand drift.

A weak groan turns you to the third, the one who tried to warn the rest of the group about your presence. He’s weakly pulling himself off some rocks he fell on. You approach him, and partway over, he sees you and yelps. He tries to limp away, but his right leg isn’t supporting his weight properly anymore. He then starts to curl up into a spiky ball as you near. You put a quick stop to that by swooping in and digging your claws into his belly’s hide, and then pin him on his back against the sand.

The Sandslash trembles under your claws and lets out frightened whines from his throat as he braces for a killing blow. He understands that even though you’re being trained by a human, you’ve come as a predator. Were you still living in the wild like him, this would be when you’d finish him off and eat your fill of his flesh.

… Well, maybe not of his flesh. It’s surely become tough and unpalatable from his fright by now. Back in the desert you were born in, others might’ve told you it was a reprimand from the gods for being careless as a hunter. For not dispatching your prey quickly.

Fortunately for you and him, that’s not your problem. Abe has other food for you, and the other humans you and Abe are hunting for want you to bring your prey to them alive.

The crunch of sand tips you off to Abe coming over and you lift your foot as he throws a net over the Sandslash. The Sandslash struggles, but in his attempts to break free, the pangolin ensnares himself in it worse and worse until he can no longer move his limbs.

Abe inspects your prey. He notes the pangolin yelps and winces whenever his injured leg is touched, and then turns and moves along. You take a moment to catch your breath, as Kato ensnares the Sandslash Chase bit into earlier and Abe begins to ensnare one of the other Pokémon you downed.

The Sandslash in the net next to you weakly says a few words in his tongue, which he keeps repeating a few times. It gets annoying, so you snarl at him to shut up. He gets the message. He screws his eyes shut and lets out a few whimpers, but otherwise remains quiet afterwards.

Approaching boots prick your ears and a stroke at your neck turns your attention to your side. Abe’s back, smiling between affectionate pats. You let out a content rumble as he compliments you in his tongue on a job well done. Whatever your counterparts back in the Unovan desert might’ve said about how your hunting skills turned out, they’re exactly what Abe needs.

And that’s what matters most to you right now.



The way hunting among humans works has always been peculiar to you, mostly because it seems to require someone else to do the actual hunting for them. The humans who wanted the prey you caught didn’t have the skill to take them on their own, and they traded large amounts of their ‘money’ for you and Abe to make up for it. It even extended down to the way your team dynamic with Abe worked. As good of a spotter and tracker as he is, as clever he is on his feet with battle strategies, for all his nets and contraptions, he needs your strength to take game.

You’ve stopped questioning those oddities long ago and assumed it to be another peculiarity of the way humans lived, one that you’ve gotten used to. Just as you and Chase have gotten used to helping your trainers drag your quarry while still tangled in their nets into the cages on the pickup’s bed—so that they can dealt with back at base camp without worrying about any of them getting away. Chase’s trainer took the time in between hauls today to apply a couple Potions onto some scrapes your Earthquake left behind on the Krookodile, before the two humans recalled the both of you to drive off for base camp.

Once you all returned, it was a matter of taking the cages out, and then removing the reinforced lids over the wire grates at the top. They have gaps big enough to fit Pokéballs through and gravity took care of the rest as Abe and Kato dropped some of the Pokéballs they prepared last night through the mesh onto the prey you took. You and Chase stand guard in such situations just in case one of the Pokémon breaks free and attacks your trainers, but they are usually weakened enough that they can’t fight their way out. The Sandshrew and Sandslash you hunted today are no exception, as one last, disoriented Sandshrew vanishes into light in a red-and-white ball and after a couple weak rocks, it goes still.

You beat your wings impatiently and start to head off as Abe and Kato sift through the bottom of the cages to pull out the now-filled Pokéballs and the netting. With his attention no longer needed, Chase turns away from the cages in front of the pickup’s tailgate and shields his nose with a low grumble.

“Gods, those things reeked,” the Krookodile grumbles. “How do a bunch of sand rats make such a mess in just a couple hours?”

You hadn’t been paying attention, but as Kato tends to the bottom of the cages with cleaning chemicals, Abe brings a sullied net past you. Your nostrils pick up a whiff of blood. That doesn’t faze you so much, what does is the smell of vomit on it, which makes you gag and reflexively recoil. You could tell from the way the afterimages of the outside world jostled around from your Pokéball that the ride back to camp was fairly bumpy, evidently some of your prey got sick from it.

You’ve encountered worse left behind after a hunt, but even so, you opt to take your leave and make your way to the edge of the encampment to get some fresh air. Dinner still needs to be prepared tonight, and you sure won’t have an appetite if you smell that the entire time until then.

It occurs to you on your way over that you don’t know what will become of the Sandslash and Sandshrew you hunted. You know from personal experience that Pokéballs automatically put Pokémon inside them into stasis whenever they sense they’re badly hurt, so they’ll at least make it alive to the humans you’re hunting for. Chase told you in the past that much of the time, the humans that trade for your quarry patch them up and keep them around afterwards. Why they would want that, you’re not sure you’ll ever understand.

But that’s their concern and not yours. As a Pokémon traveling with a human, yours is to watch over Abe. You made cause with him, so his enemies are your enemies, and he watches out for you in return. His tactics guide you to victory in what would otherwise be tough or disorienting battles like with the Sandslash earlier today, while your strength keeps him safe. Together, your shared efforts as a team keep the both of you well-fed.

You notice your perch from yesterday overlooking the rest of the desert and decide that you’re in the mood for some music before dinner. You start to make your way over and give a few tentative bats of your wings, when a gruff growl rings out from behind you.

Hey.

You glance back and spot Chase again. He narrows his eyes at you and flashes his teeth briefly, before folding his arms with a sour huff. “What was the big idea about running me over in the field like that?”

You blink and tilt your head, twitching your antennae. Is Chase talking about when you used Earthquake earlier? He’s still mad about that? He didn’t seem particularly hurt by it earlier and the protest prompts you to answer him with an unimpressed buzz.

“Abe ordered me to use Earthquake, so I did,” you scoff, turning your head aside. “You just happened to get caught up in it.”

“Yeah, well you could’ve hit the ground further away from me!” the Krookodile snaps. “Getting thrown around like that stung!”

“Chase, you’re not some little hatchling. It was a slip-up,” you retort, narrowing your eyes. “Don’t you remember that one time you misjudged your lunge when we were hunting Farfetch’d and you bit me by accident? These sorts of things just happen sometimes.”

The Krookodile turns away with a sour huff. He’s not too mad since he’s not displaying his teeth or claws. Even so, it’d be wise to try and lift his mood, since there’s no sense in going into the field tomorrow bickering and sniping at each other. Fortunately, you’ve gotten a decent idea of how Chase’s kind think in the few years since you first met. You sidle up beside him, holding out a claw in reassurance.

“Look, I’ll make it up, alright? Next time there’s a carcass left behind to split after hunting, you get the first share,” you offer. “That’s a fair trade for being sloppy today, right?”

The Krookodile hesitates, before shaking his head and drifting off back towards the encampment.

“Tch, we haven’t had one of those in a while, but I’ll hold you to it,” he says. “I’m gonna go and chew my tire before it’s time for dinner.”

With Chase content to leave you be, you make your way to your perch and let the wind blow over you. It’s earlier in the evening, so the chill hasn’t set in just yet. But it’s still just you, sand, rocks, stray cacti, desert shrubs, and the bluffs off in the distance as your song fills the air.

… Like yesterday, you’re answered by a Flygon’s song returning on the winds. It’s unfamiliar, like the language that the Pokemon speak here.

You have mixed feelings about your time in Unova. You remembered leaving the desert sands out of a sense of curious wanderlust when you came across your first trainer as a Trapinch. She was aloof and you were slow to learn words from her tongue, but you don’t remember her ever being cruel to you when she trained you.

You can’t say the same about your second trainer, the one that you’re that sure messed up your Pokéball’s day cycle. You don’t know how it was that your first trainer even agreed to pass you along to him, just shortly before you became a Vibrava at that. There was an argument right before you were passed along, one in which you remembered your second trainer grabbing your Pokéball. He lived in a dingy apartment and shouted at you a lot. So did the Liepard he trained, who bullied you and a small party of Pokémon who were all near evolution like you into knowing your places.

That lasted for a couple weeks, before one day, your second trainer took you to some sort of terminal in a Pokécenter. After a flash of light, you found yourself in a strange land where you couldn’t understand the language of the other Pokémon, or the rhythm and tone of the humans’ speech.

You were traded between humans looking for partners a few times afterwards, many of them forgettable and distant, and the ones that weren't were uncomfortably like your second trainer. After a couple years of that, Abe came across you as a Vibrava not long after he’d started hunting alongside Kato and Chase, back when Chase was still a Krokorok.

Abe had a partner before you that had been snatched by humans called ‘rain-jerrs’ that ambushed him during a hunt. Chase apparently was the one who suggested Abe take you under his wing and trust you to fill his old partner’s tracks through a bit of prodding and translation through Kato, since he thought you’d work well as a partner alongside them.

Chase wasn’t wrong. Between him helping to show you the ropes as a hunting partner for humans and Abe’s attention and affection, your time as a Vibrava flew by almost as quickly as your first hunts. The two of you evolved and so did your skills, as you and Abe began to stalk more impressive prey.

Except the entire time, you were an outsider to the lands where your partners traveled. You still are. You’d picked up enough of the local human tongue to understand some of their names for attacks, for Pokémon, and a few scattered phrases here or there. Even so, much of what goes on in Abe and Kato’s heads is guesswork to you.

It bothers you sometimes, being so shut out from the world around you. You frankly don’t know how you’d manage without your partners if you were separated for any reason. Chase assured you that it’s nothing to be ashamed of, and that it’s become increasingly common in recent years for the Pokémon of human hunters to come from faraway lands. He jokes that he counts it as divine providence that fate brought you two together so far away from Unova. That someone was watching out for you two to make sure you wouldn’t go crazy from being stuck without at least one partner to hold a full conversation with.

You shake your head and turn back to making songs with your wings. In the end, you tell yourself that it doesn’t matter that much. Some things come through no matter the language, and your bond with Abe is proof enough of that.



You passed the time at your perch until the sun began to set and the scent of smoke came from a fresh fire in the encampment. You checked up on things, since this was around the time when dinner would be prepared. You could tell from the smell that you’d be having ‘curry’ again like last night, and you were curious enough about how it was made to try and find out.

You turn back and retrace your steps up to the tents. Along the way, you stiffen up at the sound of heated bickering. Up ahead, your trainer and Chase’s are forcefully arguing with each other in front of the Krookodile, who’s taken aback by their dispute. Abe and Kato occasionally get into arguments, but they’re unusually agitated tonight. Kato loses his temper and gets red in the face before he encroaches on Abe and shoves him. That’s your last straw. You rush forward and come between the two humans, shielding Abe with a defensive crouch and growl that makes Kato flinch and back off.

“Oi! What’s going on here?!”

Chase shoots you a dirty glare after your entrance and steps forward himself to position his body between you and Kato. He scowls at you for a moment before he lets things go and explains to you…

“Your trainer doesn’t want you to go hunting tomorrow. He’s worried about how you’ll do with our prey.”

You blink and let your mandibles hang open. You could understand if Kato didn’t want you to come along from being mad over roughing Chase up earlier today, but Abe? That catches you off guard, and you can’t help but scowl over at your trainer and snap at him in displeasure.

“Oh, like hell I can’t handle it! What sort of prey is Chase magically better at dealing with than I am?!”

You spread your wings and protest vigorously to your trainer, and he is taken aback, afraid. You catch yourself after it occurs to you that your protest might have made Abe think that you didn’t want to hunt, so you make your way beside Chase and lower your head with a sharp snort.

Kato looks on, before shaking his head with a chuckle and turning back to Abe. The two humans talk with each other briefly in their tongue with its strange rhythm and flat tones that muddle together. Abe hesitates, before he says something back and Kato pulls him in with a grinning pat. You’re not sure what that was all about beyond them talking about a ‘den’ where tomorrow’s prey lives, but Chase seemed to pick up on bits of their conversation that you didn’t understand. He turns back to you shortly afterward.

“Looks like you got your wish, Dali. You’re coming along tomorrow.”

You crane your head up in triumph and beat your wings. You were about to needle Chase about how he wouldn’t be rid of you so easily, when suddenly you notice that he seems distant and hesitant. Far more than you were expecting him to be after the exchange.

“Chase, what’s wrong?”

The Krookodile shifts uneasily. There must have been something he heard in Abe and Kato’s earlier argument that didn’t sit well with him. He opens his mouth for a moment, only to clamp his jaws shut with a grudging shake of his head.

“Just… watch your back tomorrow. I’m not sure what we’re going to face out there,” he says. “If you feel overwhelmed at any point, just turn and fly away with Abe. I’ll cover your backs even if I have to drag Kato along kicking and screaming for it.”

Cripes, now Chase is doubting you as a hunter too? You know he’s more experienced than you at this, but it still rubs you wrong.

“Chase. It’ll be fine. Whatever’s out there, I can handle it.”



The rest of the night goes by just like the last one, as does the following morning. The day’s loadout is prepared, the truck started up and you and Chase are returned to your Pokéballs for the drive over and initial stalking of your prey. It’s the same song and dance: you see the mismatch between the night sky of your Pokéball and the glimpses and muted sounds of the truck’s cabin, then daytime in the outside world once the truck stops and Abe climbs out of it.

You faintly hear the crunch of Abe's boots against the desert floor. The outside world jostles in the sky of your Pokéball as it usually does during Abe’s trek. This time, the ground and surroundings are craggier, with fewer sand drifts and a lot more rocks scattered about. They’re the same brown-red color as the bluffs you could see from your perch at base camp. Eventually, Abe stops and pauses, before his hand comes down over your Pokéball and he sends you out. You brace your feet and come out onto a patch of sand as the outside world fills in and your eyesight adjusts to the lighting.

You’re at the base of an escarpment today, with a sandy patch that goes up into a shallow cave that looks surprisingly comfortable to you. If it weren’t the den of today’s quarry, you’d have half a mind to just curl up and rest in it for a while.

Even so, you weren’t expecting to be brought to a place like this since it doesn’t play to your strengths. It’ll be hard to move around as easily in a cave as a flier. But you’ve had successful hunts in more challenging terrain in the past and you tell yourself that it should be manageable. A prod at your shoulder and Abe’s voice prompts you forward and you go ahead, a quick glance revealing Chase and Kato hanging back towards the rear.

You look closer behind you and get a better view of Abe. He’s wearing a set of red goggles that look much like your lenses. A cheap set sold at a truck stop near where Kato took the pickup out into the wilderness meant to help tourists keep sand out of their eyes in deserts like this. They’re silly, but his normal goggles were broken shortly before your current hunting expedition and he needed a set of replacements in a hurry. And the red lenses worked well enough on prior days.

He’s expecting today’s prey will need a Sandstorm to help take down. That shouldn’t be an issue. You’ll set it up and swoop in for the first blow, then Chase will move in to pick off any stragglers. Just like you two have done more times than you can count.

The lenses block Abe’s expression around his eyes, but from the rest of his face, he seems on-edge today. Nervous, even.

Something pokes at your foot and you pull it back to see you stepped on a gnawed bone. There are others littering the ground, some broken apart, others crushed by strong jaws. Signs that a strong predator calls this place home.

That would explain why Abe is so worried right now. You’re hunting dangerous prey today. Except, even with that in mind, something about his mannerisms are off. His attention isn’t on his sidearm like it usually is on hunts with more dangerous game where he’s worried about his safety.

Instead, it’s on your Pokéball.

You lean in and nose at him, reassuring him that whatever lies ahead, you’re sure that you and Chase come out on top. It’s not an environment where you’d have to fight against the terrain like a forest, it’s a desert, the same conditions you and Chase are naturally adapted to hunt in. That whatever happens, you’ll be there to defend him.

Abe probably didn’t understand the specifics of your words, but his demeanor eases a bit. He then motions forward and calls out for you to use Sandstorm.

You whip your wings together, stirring up strong currents that fill the surrounding air with grit and sand. The light from the sun clouds, but with the lenses over your eyes, your vision pierces through the reduced visibility up ahead.

Abe calls out for you to go on and you prowl forward with a low growl as your Sandstorm reverberates against the cave walls with a loud roar. You raise your tail and spread your wings to make yourself look bigger and cow your prey, ready to lunge at whatever lurks within. It’s then that you suddenly hear a small, chittering cry.

N-Nani mono da?!

You freeze instantly at the voice. Even though you don’t understand what it’s saying, it sounds familiar. Like the voice you used to have when you first left Unova. A glance down reveals orange heads with vice-like jaws surfacing in the sand, their owners recoiling with startled hisses and cries—the clear profile of Trapinch, young ones at that.

You instantly pin your wings against your body and your tail droops. It’s then that you realize that these Trapinch are the prey you and Chase are hunting today.

Abe calls out for you to use Bulldoze: a move with a lighter touch to avoid risking a cave-in, and one that’s specialized for slowing prey down to make it harder for them to flee. His words go in one ear and out the other as your mind goes blank and you stay frozen in place. You know that your kind squabbles over food and territory in the wild, sometimes viciously, but somehow it just never occurred to you that you’d be hunting-

Sh-Shinnyū-sha! Shinnyū-sha!

One of the Trapinch spots Abe and spits up a glob of sand at him. You hurriedly step in the way and the sand glances off your body with a weak sting. A single attack like that would be manageable on its own, except the Trapinch are starting to swarm and encroach on you. On Abe.

Abe calls out to you to use Bulldoze again. He sounds scared right now, and you’re all that stands between him and more than a dozen jaws that will chew him up if they get ahold of him. Your breathing becomes shallow as clods of sand strike you and heavy tackles land against your body and start driving you back.

You can’t do this.

You remember Chase’s insistence to turn and fly away if you felt overwhelmed. And you sure as hell feel overwhelmed right now. You turn and lower your head, readying your claws as Abe’s eyes widen. You’re sure he’ll give you an earful for this later, but all you want to do right now is snatch him and fly away from this accursed escarpment.

Houttoite! Houttoite!

Except you see one of the Trapinch darting past you. He sees Abe and Abe sees him as he makes a grab for his sidearm, but fumbles it in fright. You hear the antlion hiss in warning and watch him crack his jaws open as he gets ready to lunge and bite down.

On your trainer. On your friend.

No! Get away from him!

Something in you snaps as you stomp the ground with all your might and your surroundings erupt in a spray of sand and chunks of rock. Screams and screeches ring out, and as the dust settles, the world around you becomes clearer. Ahead of you, Abe’s on the ground from losing his footing from your Earthquake. The Trapinch near your feet lies motionless a short distance away.

You hear cries from behind. A number of the Trapinch lie strewn about. Some of the others are staggering in a daze, while the more lucid ones lose their nerve and let out panicked cries as they try to flee deeper into the cave.

The sound of sand suddenly reverberates from inside it and Kato frantically cries out for Chase to use Bulldoze himself. The ground trembles with a roar and there’s more screams, and then at long last: silence. Your Krookodile companion brushes himself off from deeper in the cave as the sand settles, and he starts hurrying over calling out for you. The sounds of the world around you blur together as you pant in shock. If you had hesitated for just a moment longer, then Abe would’ve…

Kāchan! K-Kāchan!

A voice crying in pain from somewhere inside the cave snaps you back to attention. You’re not sure what it’s saying, but from how young it sounds and the way it weakly sobs and keeps repeating itself… you have a few ideas. You try to ignore the Trapnich’s cries, when the crunch of claws in sand turns your attention to Chase right behind you.

“D-Dali, are you alright?”

You’re not, but you don’t tell him that. Abe’s getting up now, visibly shaken from the encounter. Why wouldn’t he be when he almost got chewed up because of your hesitation? You grimace as a wave of shame comes over you, and hurry over reaching a claw out for him.

“A-Abe! I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to-!”

You were about to apologize for being so slow to listen to him, to try and assure him that everything was alright now. Except before you can get out another word, Abe raises your Pokéball and recalls you. The transition back into simulated night is abrupt and jarring, and you see afterimages of Abe’s hand shakily grabbing onto your ball.

He doesn’t put it on his holster for your Pokéball like he normally does. This time, he shoves it deep into his bag and zips it up. All you can see of the outside world in the sky is a large dark spot, and everything suddenly goes quiet.



You’re not sure how much time passed in your Pokéball, but you’re pretty sure it was a good while. You felt a sinking sensation in your stomach over the whole encounter and tried to tell yourself that the Trapinch forced your claws by going after Abe when you were trying to flee.

It didn’t make you feel any better. And it didn’t dispel the sounds of their screams and cries from your mind. Was this what Abe and Kato were arguing about last night? Why was Abe so nervous the entire day? Did he want to carry out today’s hunt?

You’re not sure what the answers to those questions are. Their various possibilities worry you.

The whole time, the darkened spots in the simulated sky stubbornly hang there and barely any sounds manage to make it through the bag’s fabric into your ball. Some muffled shouts between Abe and Kato. What about, you can’t tell. Some time later, you faintly pick up the clatter of the pickup’s doors or maybe its tailgate being loudly slammed shut.

The entire time, you never see the sunlight again and Abe never takes you back out to his side. You begin to shift around in your Pokéball’s simulated desert restlessly, a reminder that you’re not in stasis, even if a part of you wishes you were. Your thoughts turn to your trainer and a growing sense of panic takes hold of you.

Is Abe angry at you for being slow to listen to him? For the way he almost got hurt because of you? You think of forcing your way out of your Pokéball to try and explain yourself, to beg his forgiveness for being such an idiot when he’s been your kindest trainer in years…

Except your Pokéball won’t let you right now. It prevents you from exiting whenever your ball is in an enclosed space too small to fit your body. Spaces like the inside of Abe’s bag that normally can’t even fit your head in it.

You try to make songs with your wings to pass the time, but the simulated wind makes them come out unpleasing to your ears like it always does. Then you try flying around your Pokéball’s environment as it shifts around you, before it inevitably loops back to your den, but it does little to soothe your nerves. Before long, you’re curled up on the not-stone floor of your not-den and staring at its walls, not even noticing as your Pokéball’s sky begins to enter a morning twilight.

And then, a faint zipping noise reaches your ears and a crack of light appears in the afterimages in the sky. You tense up and watch as the dark spots melt away and you see your trainer’s hand covering most of your Pokéball. Through the gaps, you catch glimpses of base camp at sunset.

Abe hesitates a moment and then the simulated sky melts away into light as you take form in the outside world. The tents and firepit of the campsite come into view, awash in burnt tones. You immediately cringe and pull your antennae and wings tight against your body. You gulp and turn around, expecting to find Abe’s face contorted into a livid glare.

Except, the angry expression you were fearing isn’t there, but you find Abe sporting a meek, timid-looking one. For a second, you’re not sure which of you two is about to beg forgiveness from the other.

You lower your head and nose at your trainer, draping your wings over him as you insist over and over again that the incident at the cave was a fluke and that everything will be alright. Your tone’s probably a bit too overeager, but as a human, Abe doesn’t seem to pick up on it. He pats at your neck and tells you that he’s glad that you’re okay, even if something about his voice still sounds uneasy.

Abe turns after Kato calls for him and he makes his way over to go pack up one of the tents. While the pair are distracted, you drift off to the back of their pickup and gulp in dread of what you’ll find there.

Much to your surprise, the cages in the flatbed are empty, with the nets already put away. For a second, you think that maybe Abe and Kato didn’t have the heart to take the Trapinch as prey…

It’s then you notice that the bottom of the cages are unusually clean, and that they carry a strong smell of cleaning chemicals that wasn’t there in the morning.

It means Abe and Kato already removed whatever was in there and cleaned it out. It’s not like them to be this punctual tidying up after hunts and they had to have known that you would come by them eventually.

Were they afraid of how you’d react to whatever used to be there?

“You holding up alright, Dali?”

You turn after a tug at your arm and find Chase waiting behind you. He glances off at the back of the pickup and notices you staring at him as he does so. You lower your head as a thousand questions swirl in your mind. One in particular forces its way to the surface first:

“Chase, did you know?”

Chase falls silent and paws at his arm. He looks away and clenches his jaws with a quiet grimace.

“All I knew was that Kato wanted to go to a Flygon’s den,” he tells you. “I thought at first Kato and Abe were going to put us up to hunting the Flygon, but… as you gathered, they opted for safer prey.”

The answer doesn’t help your mood, much less the sinking feeling in your stomach. Chase notices you seem bothered and hastily speaks up to try and reassure you.

“Dali, I’m sure those Trapinch will be alright in the end. They all made it to base camp alive and they’re not exactly good eating for humans,” he insists. “You were just doing your duty, just like me.”

… Duty. Right. You knew when you left the wild in Unova to live among humans that it meant guarding and making cause with the one you partnered with. Even if it might be dangerous. Even if it might make you uncomfortable.

Chase sighs beside you and it snaps you back to attention. He gapes at you silently, and looks visibly taken aback.

“I… honestly was expecting you to cut and run back there,” he says. “I wouldn’t have blamed you for it, either.”

A twinge of irritation comes over you at the Krookodile’s remark and you narrow your eyes. Chase expected you to choke up? He expected that in spite of how close a friend Abe is to you, that you’d wind up endangering him from your lack of action? You let out a low growl and Chase backpedals briefly, before he pipes up to try and explain himself.

“Dali, it’s alright! This is the first time you’ve hunted another Pokémon of your kind and it’s not something that comes naturally for every Pokémon!” the Krookodile insists. “I mean, take two of my kind back in the Unovan desert and we’ll eat each other alive over food or territory-”

“Chase, Abe could’ve gotten hurt out there because of me!”

Chase recoils as you flare your wings and flash your fangs angrily. You didn’t need Chase reminding you of how you fell short on Abe earlier. You’re all too aware of it yourself.

“I just stood there like an idiot while Abe was in danger!” you protest. “It’s my duty as a Pokémon to protect the humans who look out for me! Especially ones like Abe who have actually been kind to me-!”

“I get that. But sometimes there’s only so much you can do.”

An uneasy moment passes between you two. You glare daggers into the Krookodile’s hide while he maintains his composure and continues on.

“Look, hunting is dangerous and it’s not always pleasant. For both Pokémon and humans,” he tells you. “Things like this just happen sometimes, Dali. Sometimes it sticks with you for a while after a hunt.”

You try to think of something to say back, but nothing comes to you. While it doesn’t make you feel better, the Krookodile has a point. Even if you had successfully fled with Abe, even if Chase dragged Kato along with him like he promised and didn’t pick off the Trapinch himself, something like this would’ve happened eventually.

Even though the way humans hunted removed much of the life and death stakes that it had in the wild, you were still taking the lives of other Pokémon into your claws. It was the fate of a predator to have a hunt here or there that didn’t sit well with them.

That was the case in the wilds, so why would it be any different hunting alongside humans?

You just weren’t expecting it to happen like this.

You hang your head and look away with a low murmur, when Chase nudges at you and points off at the edge of camp.

“You’re just a little shaken up by everything that happened today, Dali. Why don’t you go and do your wing thing until we’re ready to go?” he suggests. “Kato should be ready to go in a few minutes. I’m sure he and Abe will understand if you need a break.”

You don’t need to be told twice by Chase. Feeling the wind, the real wind, rasp against your beating wings and hearing the humming melody it makes always puts a smile on your face. Your spirits could surely use the lift right now.

You make your way through the encampment, passing Abe and Kato as they go to put the first tent in the back of the gray pickup, and return to your perch overlooking the desert below. It’ll be the last you see of this place for a while, potentially a long while given that Abe and Kato had been talking about moving on from “Hoh-wen” after finishing up their jobs here to stalk prey in other regions.

So you decide to try and leave this place on a happy note. You spread your wings and warble out a melody. One that others of your kind in Unova made when they first took wing after evolving into Vibrava. A song that let the world know of their transformation and how happy they were to at last be at one with the sky like their parents.

Your wings carry the peppy tune along the wind and you pause briefly. A small smile comes over your face as it makes you feel a little better and you take in the vista.

It takes a few moments, but you realize that something’s wrong. There’s no answer to your song tonight from the other Flygon off in the distance.

You feel a little sad knowing that the Flygon’s song isn’t there. Even if it was a bit strange, it had a charm to it, and a part of you is going to miss it. You glance at your wings and hesitate. For all you know, the other Flygon is out hunting for food right now and is simply too far away to hear you.

Even so, you’re determined to not give up so easily. There’s a little time left before leaving. Who knows? Maybe the other Flygon will hear your song soon enough to answer you one last time. And so you hum your tune again with your wings and let it drift along the desert winds. Once you reach the song’s end, you stop and wait expectantly. But again, no song comes to answer yours.

This time, the chilly wind picks up a faint noise in the distance that reaches your ears. A voice that sounds like a creature in pain that hitches every so often. It takes you a moment, when you realize the voice sounds uncomfortably like your own and it dawns on you:

You’re hearing the Flygon who sang back to you the past few nights. Except tonight, instead of that strange, charming melody you grew fond of, you hear wailing sobs.

You hurriedly leave your perch after that, retreating into camp with your head held low until you can no longer hear those haunting cries. There, the camp has already been disassembled, the fire pit doused, and Kato is climbing into the driver’s seat of the truck. Abe approaches you with your Pokéball drawn, telling you in an uneasy tone that it’s time to go.

You all but dive into it as the real desert gives way to the simulated one inside. As you settle in, you hear muffled murmurs from Abe in the outside world. He’s probably surprised about how quickly you went back into your Pokéball when normally you drag your feet at times like these.

Tonight, you’re relieved to be back in your not-desert, and you beeline for your not-den and curl up in it. You don’t bother to watch the afterimages of the world outside in the sky as Abe leaves the desert that’s been your hunting grounds for the past few days. You hear the door of his end of the pickup slam shut, then the engine starts up as it drives off.

Normally, after a series of successful hunts like the ones from the past few days, you’d be filled with pride… but today’s just ruined everything. Even if you had to step in to protect Abe, something about it felt… wrong. Like you’d done something wrong.

You think back to Chase’s reassurances. That you were just doing your duty. That every predator, in the wild or not, inevitably had some hunt that made them feel uneasy afterwards.

He was probably right. Even if it took you a while, you did your duty as Abe’s partner today. You thought back over your life and remembered that there were other times in the past where you’d felt upset. Worse than you did right now. They weren’t from hunting, but those emotions inevitably dulled and faded from your mind. The uncomfortable feelings that were lingering with you today would surely be no different.

They just needed a little time, and if the simulated sunlight of your Pokéball would allow it, a little rest to help move them along.



Translation Notes:

- "Nani kore?! (何これ?!)" - “What is that thing?!”
- “Shiru ka yo! Tasukete kure! (知るかよ! 助けてくれ!)” - “Hell if I know! Help me (out) here!”
- “Furaigon! Minna kakurerun da! (フライゴン! みんな隠れるんだ!)” - “Flygon! Everybody, hide!” Note the official JPN Romanization is also “Flygon”. In this case, it was decided to use a phonetic rendering of Flygon’s name in katakana to better fit the “sound” of the speaker and the narrator’s lack of comprehension.
- “Kurae! (食らえ!)” - lit. "Eat (this)!" Comparable undertones when used as an interjection to “Behold!” or “Take this!” and used accordingly in depictions of fighting in Japanese media.
- “Nani mono da? (何者だ?)" - “Who are you?” Most analogous in undertone to demanding that someone identify oneself.
- “Shinnyū-sha (侵入者)” - “Intruder”, “Invader”, “Trespasser”, or “Raider” depending on context of use.
- “Houttoite! (放っといて!)” - Expression usually translated as “Leave me alone!” Can function similarly to “Back off!” or "Go away!" in English depending on context of use. Contraction of “Houtte oite! (放っておいて!)”.
- “Kāchan (母ちゃん)” - “Mum”, “Mommy”. Address for mother that would be specifically used by a young child.
 
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