The little Vulpix was still blind and helpless when she was seized by a strange mouth.
Instinct made her cry out for her mother and siblings in fear, but the mouth, that large mouth that could have swallowed her whole, only held her gingerly between its teeth, careful to cause her no harm. It carried her off in terrifying, bounding leaps, away from the warm body of her mother and everything she knew, and her cries were useless to stop it; her little Vulpix heart beat with all its feeble might, and her limited awareness faded into a murky thicket of primitive terror.
She was dimly aware of being deposited on a hard, unfamiliar surface. Her paws pushed at the rough ground and again she cried out, but she only heard the great creature that had brought her there take another leap into the void where she could no longer hear it. She was alone.
She did not know she was different. She did not know that the creature had taken her because unlike her white siblings, she had been born orange, and her fur would only continue to darken. She did not know that the creature was the one who had made her that way when she was still in her mother’s womb, or that he had taken her to test her. She knew nothing at all, save that her mother was not there, and her siblings were not there, and it was cold and she was hungry.
She learned to make her own flame, soon, to keep her warm. The first time, it happened by accident: she sneezed at the dust in her nostril, and all of a sudden there was heat in front of her; she crawled helplessly towards it, but by the time she was there, it was gone. She tried to do the same again, then, and she tried it a few more times when it failed, and eventually it worked. And after a while she could do it whenever she was cold. It helped.
She was still hungry, and she cried out for milk, but of course none came at first, but then there was a furred body: a Rattata mother had heard her, and though she was not her mother and her milk tasted strange, it was edible and afterwards she was no longer hungry. Days passed, long days of feeding with the tiny Rattata babies and making her own heat in between. Finally, one day she opened her eyes to the world for the first time, and she found herself in a dark room.
She had long gotten used to the feel of wood beneath her paws, but by instinct she felt that there was something wrong with the place she was in when she could see it: everything was angular and lifeless, and there was only darkness above, though there were windows where faint light came through at the sides. Alongside the walls stood ominous statues showing long, twisted bodies with bell-shaped heads on top.
There was a Gastly near her, looking at her with a curious grin.
She liked the Gastly; she felt a strange sort of closeness with it that she had never felt with her surrogate Rattata mother. She looked at it and blinked, still getting used to using her new sense, and the Gastly hovered closer to her. Then, suddenly, it stuck out its long tongue and gave her a lick. Its saliva was cool and numbing; she shivered and used fire, and the Gastly cried in indignation before coming up to her and licking her, again.
She considered this with her limited mind as she resisted the urge to use more fire to heat her up; it hadn’t worked the first time. Instead, she stuck out her tongue as well and gave the Gastly a lick of her own. It recoiled in surprise, but then grinned: it liked her too.
The Gastly introduced her to its friends. They were all Gastly, too, and they liked to vanish into the void and reappear elsewhere or pass through walls. She watched them and knew, on some deep, basic level, that she could learn to do the same. She didn’t know how she did it, but somehow, the ability came to her slowly but surely as she watched them, and eventually she could shift in and out of the physical world as she liked. She spent her days playing with them, returning to her surrogate mother for milk when she was hungry and making a flame when she was cold.
It wasn’t long, however, before the Rattata mother began to shoo her away and scuttle off into the darkness when she tried to approach her: they were getting to be about the same size now, and she could no longer produce near enough milk for this strange Vulpix in addition to her own young. The Vulpix didn’t understand; she whined for someone else to come feed her, and when nobody came, she crawled off on her own. The Gastly couldn’t help her; they didn’t nurse their young.
While helplessly seeking a warm body to curl up to, she discovered a hole in the wall near the floor and leaned just a little too far forward to examine it; she tumbled down but managed a clumsy landing on her feet in the soft grass. From there, desperately seeking a way back to the Gastly, she crawled a long way, her underdeveloped sense of direction giving her little indication of how to find her way back. There was an earthy smell, distantly familiar but still alien; the more familiar wooden smell she knew came only from the harsh, unwelcoming trunks of the trees. Wild Noctowl hooted at her for disturbing their sleep when she tried to call out for her surrogate mother or the Gastly, and Sneasel hissed at her from the darkness between the trees; on the other side there were terrifying metal monsters roaring as they darted along the unnatural, unfamiliar-smelling dark surfaces snaking around the area. She stayed on the edge, a safe distance from both the merciless wildness of the forest and the alien landscape of the town, and tried to work her way onwards in the hope of finding some sort of food.
Heavy raindrops began to fall from the sky, and she shrieked in surprise as one hit her nose. She was familiar with the pitter-patter sound of the rain, but having lived in Sprout Tower for so long had made her forget what it felt like. The rain was cold, and she tried to make fire, but it was harder than usual. Shivering, she stumbled onwards, having nowhere else to go; eventually she discovered a bush that kept most of the rain away when she crawled under it, and there she lay, cold and hungry, watching the strange bipedal creatures, the humans, making their way past her. The Vulpix didn’t fully understand their speech yet, but she listened closely to it, instinctively picking up the emotions behind the words as they passed. They weren’t threatening; her fear slowly eased, and when a human girl’s large blue eyes locked onto her, she stayed still, her curiosity overcoming her wariness.
“I think it’s a Vulpix.”
The girl knelt down in front of the bush, peering curiously at her. “Cool,” said the human, smiling brightly as the larger human with her bent down as well.
“But if you notice, it’s not the same color as a normal Vulpix, is it?” he said, pointing at her.
“Is it shiny?” asked the girl, looking at her with interest.
The man shook his head. “No. Shiny Vulpix are yellow. But it’s darker than normal. It’s not as special as a shiny, but it’s still a little different from most Vulpix.”
“Oh.” The girl’s face fell slightly, though her eyes remained on the Pokémon.
“Now, I don’t know about you, but I think this Vulpix is in trouble,” said the man. “It looks really young, and it’s out here all alone. I think it must have lost its mom.”
“Oh,” the girl said again. “So how do we find her?”
“I don’t think we can,” said the man. “Maybe it just needs a new mom. Do you want to try?”
The girl looked up and folded her arms. “Dad, that’s stupid. It’s a Pokémon. It should have a Pokémon mom. And I don’t want to be a mom anyway. It’s boring.”
The man laughed. “I guess you’re right. But if you can’t be its mom, maybe you can be its friend instead. Then one day you could even be its trainer.”
“Trainer?” The girl’s interest was immediately awakened. “You think so?”
“Sure, when you’re old enough. Lots of kids have Pokémon as pets and then take them on a journey when they become trainers. It’s good when they’re friends beforehand. Many of my friends when I was a kid had pet Pokémon.”
The girl nodded contemplatively, still looking at the Vulpix. “But not you.”
“No, not me.”
She extended her hand and allowed the Vulpix to sniff her. The human’s smell was odd but not quite unfamiliar; she felt as if she’d smelled some faint tinge of the same when she was in Sprout Tower.
“Why aren’t you a trainer anymore, Dad?” the girl asked suddenly, looking up.
The man was silent for a few moments. “Because my Pokémon died,” he said at last. “You know that.”
“Yeah,” the girl said, “but that was just one. You could’ve continued with the other ones.”
The man didn’t answer. The girl reached forward to touch the Vulpix carefully, stroking the curls on her head. It reminded the little Pokémon of the dim memory of her real mother’s soft touch, and it was calming to her.
“I guess I could have,” said the man quietly.
“’Cause then we’d have money again,” the girl went on. “I think it was stupid to just quit.”
The man let out a long, heavy sigh, but didn’t say anything. The girl reached forward with her other hand, gently grabbed hold of the Vulpix’s body and began to pull her closer. She cried out in surprise and tried to struggle out of the human’s grip, but to no avail; however, once the girl was cradling her in her arms, it felt warm and comforting and she went still. It wasn’t her mother, but it seemed safe.
“Let’s take it home, Dad,” the girl said, and the Vulpix closed her eyes and drifted into dreams about warm milk and soft fur.
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