Traveling Buddies

The last snow of Winter melted, and with its passing, arose spring and the first wave of tender, pale green stems erupting from the thawed earth. Cubone and Psyduck emerged from the rock shelter to the bright morning light of a crisp, blue day. Eyes squinting, pupils mere pinpricks, their thin frames wavered in the chilly mountain breeze as it cut across the damp, stony land. Their stomachs felt tight. They needed food but could not identify hunger in of itself, as both bodies were lean after they had survived winter through hibernation and only infrequent feedings from nut and dried fruit stores kept inside with them. Water was more pressing. Cubone led the way. Stumbling on loose scree, they skidded a dozen feet down the hillside.

Instead of fighting to get up again, Psyduck and Cubone used a new tool they had developed in the past autumn: the power of massage. Psyduck rubbed their own feet, and could feel the weak blood flow gain strength in their appendages. Cubone took special care around their knees, which felt dead and cold, having been bent for a month and weakened by lack of use. Soon enough, limbs were wrested from the depths of sloth, soon to be rescued from the lair of malnourishment.

Taking more cautious steps this time, the two friends made their way down to the stream. It felt as though it were liquid ice, and it ripped away any remaining warmth from their paws and lips and throats. It tasted pure from the snowmelt bloating the waters, and they both appreciated the particular way it refreshed their bodies. Cubone could feel their thoughts opening wider as the firm grip of hibernation’s smother was coaxed aside. Psyduck noticed their head felt clearer than it had in a long time, and that was a little frightening, but also distantly familiar.

Psyduck decided to follow this sensation as far as it would allow them. Memories of last Autumn trickled in. Days collecting food and preparing the cave with mosses and rushes as thick as they could manage. The smell of dry leaves for bedding. The particular singeing, woodsy odor of that fire smoke they could smell drifting up from the valley below, where human dwellings lay in rows.

Memories from before, from the summer time when Psyduck had friends who were not Cubone. Of chasing Butterfree and laughing with Bulbasaur. Eating river-chilled summer vegetables and playing games in the golden dusk.

Psyduck remembered something else. A face that was close but blurred. Golden brown, with orange hints. It faded even faster than it came and left behind it an image of a road. Dirt, lined with stones, and with grass growing on the ditches to either side of it, opening up to a wide and gently sloping hillside. Psyduck suddenly felt more alone than they had thought imaginable, and they knew something important was missing. Then everything caved in on itself and a turgid electrical storm filled its place. Crackling bolts firing painfully and forcing seemingly randomized connections between events and times and things. The whirlwind without order overpowered everything and Psyduck collapsed onto the ground clutching their head, and pulling out runs of downy feathers.

Cubone knelt down and scratched out pawfuls of mud to pack onto Psyduck’s head in a thick layer. Cubone tried to keep muck out of Psyduck’s eyes, but it ran and dripped anyway, dribbling down their arms and sides. Tears fell and washed away the mud in salty streaks. Psyduck was crying.

They stayed there by the stream, managing the migraine as best they could with cool mud and intentional massage along the neck and spinal column. Eventually the pain was reduced enough that they could walk back up the hill carefully and Cubone left Psyduck in the cave while they went out alone to hunt or gather something for two.

Gripping their club of bone, Cubone decided on a whim to travel West for food today. There were some unusual rock formations that way, which offered shelter and cover if needed. In the past it also held some more tenacious plants, which hopefully had taken to spring’s warmth, and grown.

Cubone picked their way between low scrub and the increasingly large stones, boulders, and monoliths. The earth gave way to sand and grit and rock. It looked almost unchanged from when Cubone had traversed through here last autumn. There were no deciduous trees betraying the season. Mostly canyon walls, wind-swept plateaus, and various prickly things clinging viciously to life by driving toughened roots deep into the rock walls.

They listened intently and caught the ringing of the rocks, which seemed immortal and immovable, but they frequently clattered in chips and breaks onto the canyon floor. Water was winning against stone. Teeny fissures years in the making, held together in winter by ice that was simultaneously expanding and cracking the pieces apart, the degenerative process aided by plant roots gripping and growing and pushing. Come spring, the ice melted back into water and no longer held the fragments together, leaving them to the whims of gravity.

Ping. Clack clack clack.

Pitter patter pitter patter ptt ptt pt.

It sounded like a percussive orchestra number using acoustic instruments to recreate the more rounded sounds of a light rain with heavy drops.

CRACK. boom.

A much larger piece of rock, roughly the size of Cubone, plummeted from way up high in the canyon wall and landed explosively in the bottom, shattering into a hundred shards that whizzed past Cubone’s head. A fragment pitted their helmet and bounced off, another cut into their arm just enough to produce a drop of blood. Clutching the boney club tighter, Cubone edged on deeper into the canyon, now keenly aware of the dangers and so keeping to the walls and looking for tunnels and overhangs for protection.

Along the way, Cubone kept an eye out for a particular plant. It was known for its nutritious tubers, and had helped Cubone make it through the canyon the first time. After a time, one of these plants was spotted. Unfortunately, it was up high, growing out of a ledge, and Cubone would need to climb in order to collect the tubers.

Gritting their teeth, they began their ascent. Paw over paw, club clenched in mouth, Cubone closed the distance to the food. Breathing heavily, they hoisted their bedraggled, frail form up onto the ledge and sat, pausing to regain some strength. Cubone remembered having so much endurance available before hibernation stole any toned fitness away. The discrepancy was unsettling and literally a pain, since their muscles were already aching. The plant itself had several thick, strong blades with substantial points at the end. It lay in a bed of soil, perhaps three inches deep, that had collected in a pocket on the ledge.

When the burning in Cubone’s ribs died down enough, they took their bone and began to dig at the plant’s base, hoping to uncover the biggest tubers possible and to come home with food enough for two full bellies. Scraping, tugging, panting and waiting for the last bits of strength to come forth, and ultimately uncovering a few great big roots, each one a couple of inches in diameter. The tubers protruded deep, deep into the rock face, it seemed. Not knowing of any reasonable way to retrieve the full tubers, Cubone was content enough to start jabbing at the roots as far down as they could with the pointy end of the bone club. Slicing and hacking, Cubone hadn’t made it through the first tuber before a great, angular, grey face sidled up next to the ledge.

Onix opened her mouth and a sheet of pebbles fell and jingled down the canyon wall and pooled on the stone floor. She leaned in on Cubone’s ledge and tore a great big chunk from it. The ledge came loose, already weakened by weatherization and the very plant Cubone was gathering. Cubone tumbled to the hard ground, clutching the top of the plant in one claw and their club in the other.

Cubone, whirled around to face the Onix–and, in trying to find distance and cover and watch the behemoth’s moves all at the same time, failed to notice the hairline fracture running along the length of their beloved bone, a badge from the impact moments before.

Cubone spied a cavity a few dozen feet to the right, and realized they would have to skitter almost completely around Onix, with only a minimally covered circumnavigatory route to get there. Onix, who had finished nibbling the ledge, leaving behind a craterous pockmark, moved on to another outcropping. Her tail flicked carelessly behind her and as it swooshed, Cubone lifted their bone club in preparation for a beating, but Onix’s tail missed completely. The roiling body of the Onix did scrape against the walls of the canyon, unleashing a cascade of jagged fragments and dust.

Cubone’s club was still poised, and Cubone finally nearly to the shelter. Ten feet, five feet, almost inside… and a shard, perhaps the size of Cubone’s fist, fell down from the canyon wall and dropped onto Onix’s spinning body. The speedy rotation amplified the velocity and redirected the trajectory of this not-terribly exciting, though admittedly very sharp, rock. It whizzed off of Onix’s body, Onix herself still happily munching bits of plateau and sand sculpture, and, just as Cubone crossed the threshold into the safe pocket, this nondescript stone clipped the end of the bone such that the club shattered along the fracture and then split into a dozen needles.

Cubone nestled down into the cavity, but it was not much bigger than they were. They looked out through the opening, and could see the Onix moving away little by little, until eventually she bored an enormous hole through the canyon wall and left behind a cave that would take a traveller into the heart of the plateau. It was after the Onix has disappeared in a cloud of dust when Cubone noticed that their club was not much more than a handle.

It did not register. It was there, or, more precisely, it wasn’t–but it still would not compute. Cubone had kept this bone for years, even since they were small and had gone on their first journey to find their mother. Cubone had been wearing the helmet for as long as they could remember. They had a run in with some rougher wild creatures on their way to a local graveyard and mausoleum complex. It made sense to grab whatever was a hand, and it so happened, it was a foot. And rest of leg. Cubone only kept the thighbone in the end. It had felt so stout, so naturally sized for Cubone’s not very large paw and gripping claws.

To see an important feature of their maturing years in such disrepair as to make it unusable; it was simply heartbreaking. A close ally was lost. Things could be similar to, but never the same as it had been. Like holding a picture of yourself with the friends you had while getting your photo taken with the friends you have.

Cubone, finally remembering that the Onix was gone, shakily clambered out of their hole, still holding the handle of their bone. The hollow hunger they felt echoed their overall numbness, but managed to just remind Cubone that the tubers were needed. Cubone stumbled to the nearest one and, paw shaking, they picked it up. The pattern repeated until Cubone’s arms were full, one hand still holding the bone bit, the other a dusty tuber.

It was evening by the time Cubone made it back home. Psyduck had managed their migraine by moving as little as possible and by drinking many cupped hand-fulls of fresh water from the stream. Cubone set the tubers, which would last for several days, on the floor and gently placed the broken club on a flat, clean stone near the door.

“I can mush it for you,” Cubone said blankly, grabbing a tuber from the pile and rubbing the dirt off of it with little conviction. Psyduck had hardly any choice except to have the root vegetable mashed, and since they couldn’t manage such strenuous labor in the moment, they nodded.

Cubone took two stones they kept inside the cave, one for holding food matter, and one for crushing it while it was held. They took the veg and crushed it, over and over, until it formed a rough paste, and then Cubone left the lower stone for Psyduck to eat from. The pre-macerated foodstuffs made it easier to manage headache. Less concentration and effort was required, while still getting vital nutrient. Otherwise, Psyduck had tendency to simply not eat, which was not an option if they had plans to recover and recuperate from the end of hibernation season’s fast.

Cubone tried eating their own, unmashed tuber, but the usually satisfying crunch and pale sweetness held no interest when their hunger was metaphorical and overpowering the literal. It was a hunger that currently could not be sated. Dropping the untouched meal to the ground, Cubone stared out the mouth of the cave and felt nothing.

Psyduck, ravenous in their own right, gulped down half of the mush before noticing Cubone hadn’t even started eating. “What’s wrong?”

Cubone sighed. They gestured to the remainder of the bone. Psyduck looked but did not see. “What is that?”

“My bone. It exploded.” A single tear trickled down Cubone’s cheek: emotion distillate.

“What happened?”

“Onix. Explosion.”

Clearly Cubone wasn’t going to offer more details so Psyduck tentatively continued eating the last few mouthfuls of tuber mash.

That evening was spent in silent reflection and mourning for Cubone, and in quiet respect and distance for Psyduck. A fitful night gave way to a bleary and unkempt wake as soon as the first piercing beams of light etched Cubone’s eyelids. A dreary breakfast, bleached out by the sun, of mash for Psyduck and a few nibbles of tuber for Cubone, was followed by a trip to the stream for drink. At the water’s edge, Cubone announced “I think I need to travel again. I need another club. Once I get my club I will resume my search for my mother.”

Psyduck looked up, sipping the last of the water cupped in their hand. “I figured you might need time to wander. Your feet were running all night in starts and stops. I’m surprised you had enough energy to prepare my meal. Thanks, by the way, for that…” Psyduck looked into the ripples of the stream and watched a few leaves from last Autumn, withered and black, shoot down the current, then get caught in the occasional pool created by taller stones which jutted in the way and habitually caught other debris. A powerful gush of snowmelt pushed the debris around the blocks and cleared the way once more. Cubone had their push, and now needed to travel in a new way in order to grow. “Will you wait another few days? Long enough for the passes to clear so you can walk the roads clearly and safely?”

“It sounds like you aren’t coming with me. Would you accompany me if I asked it of you?”

Psyduck hadn’t considered that a real option. “My headaches. They’re so inconvenient, and then you would need to find food and water for both of us… I would slow you down too much. I won’t go, for your sake.”

Cubone leveled their gaze directly into Psyduck’s golden eyes. “I would rather go with you than without. I’ve gotten used to caring for you. Leaving you alone at the cave would be far more upsetting to me than any situation I could imagining happening to us on the road. You are my preferred companion, especially to my shadow.” Cubone reached out a paw and took Psyduck’s fingers in their own. Psyduck didn’t pull back and thought for a bit.

“Did I tell you about my remembory? Yesterday?” Cubone shook their head.” “There was a lot of stuff I hadn’t been able to think about in months. Old friends. Laughter. Then I had a vision of a road, empty and with something missing. I don’t know if I’m going to lose you if we travel together, and I don’t know what I would do if I did.”

Cubone wiped away a tear rolling down Psyduck’s cheek, and caressed them. “I have no intention of leaving you. And if, for some reason, we get separated, let’s promise to meet back here when we can. There’s water, food, and a beautiful mountain to live on and with until we see each other again. All I know is that this journey needs to happen, and I hope you choose to come with me and help me walk it boldly.”

Psyduck nodded, and sniffled. “I don’t want you to resent me. Promise me you will go on without me if I am dragging you down. We can meet here after, okay?”

“Okay. Promise.” Cubone kissed Psyduck’s head and held them in tight arms, then let go. They walked up the hill, back to the cave, and didn’t talk any more about the impending travel. Instead, Psyduck gathered more moss and re-lined the cave floor. Cubone went in search of more food that they could eat here, while saving the more durable and hard-won tubers for their travels.

Pokemon Saga: Beginning

[EDITED 2:00 AM after writing a bit more, as well as a quick edit for style and clarity. Not perfect, but… more?]

[Cubones are pokemon (of any variety) whose mother dies in childbirth. The child who outlasts their littermates and survives the next few weeks while their mother’s body decays–her flesh sustains the pre-Cubone– is the child who then takes the mother’s skull and places it on their own head. The skull acts as a physical and metaphorical barrier between the traumatized youth and the full depth of sadness and melancholy. The barrier isn’t perfect, though, so certain stimuli will bring up new waves of grief. Full moons are particularly moving because nighttime, with the cold and steadfast quiet of their infant days, always made the absence of their mother and caretaker that much more palpable.]

They had always known the tug of deep-seated longing in their breast. It made every heartbeat a little slower and each soft and sweeping sigh a touch heavier. Cubone reached a paw up to readjust the skull helmet that had slid down. They shuffled through the fallen autumn leaves and looked across to the far edge of the clearing, keeping to the trees along the perimeter. The moon light filtered down through the branches, seemingly too bright for a waning slice of disk.

Cubone didn’t much like the lack of cover and the strong light. It was better ten minutes before when a low mist had passed through. The somber groundcover better suited their mood, anyway. Unfortunately, they still needed something to eat, and the stream on the other side of the clearing was the nearest place to catch a fish or crawdad or something.

After picking a way between the tree trunks and scraggly shrubs, Cubone spied the snakey glint of the stream at the bottom of a narrow cut along the earth. The trees here were thicker, offering more serviceable cover, which eased the pressing and constant anxiety slightly. They looked up and behind their shoulder, sweeping across the clearing and then back to the stream, speeding up the last shuffling footsteps to the water’s edge. Cubone found a larger, fallen tree trunk that provided a wall of protection to their back while they knelt over the stream and pulled out a stout club of bone.

Poised above the sweetly burbling water, Cubone slowly and silently raised their weapon. They waited, searching for a disturbance in the rhythmic cycling of splashes and low turbulence around rocks and debris. A flick of a wrist and the club neatly rapped the barely seen prey on the head. Cubone reached in with a paw and snatched the sleek, silvery fish from the icy eddies.

Setting down the bone, Cubone turned their attention to food. The fish, stunned from the blow, was small, but sweet. The first mouthful a refreshing respite from a long day of parched tongue and itchy eye. Falling into a freshwater stupor, Cubone closed their eyes, making the sockets of the skull appear hollow and dead to the creature currently stalking its own meal.

A sharp, searing pain cut through the comfortable dull depression that tinted Cubone’s life. They dropped the half-eaten fish, which fell back into the stream from whence it came with a splash. The steady current started to pull it down and away from the still-hungry Cubone. Half-blinded by the bright sensation cutting through its mind, they grasped frantically for the bone club. After what felt like too many aching seconds, fingers wrapped around the familiar, cool handle and Cubone whipped around to meet their attacker.

Perched on the fallen tree trunk, a menacing figure sat. Shaded by another tree, Cubone couldn’t make out the identity of the creature, and so braced themself for a further exhausting activity. The sky began turning a hellish pink, seemingly to set the scene for a bloody battle. A new wave of anxiety washed over Cubone, this time at the thought of being caught out in the open, wounded and hungry after the confrontation. With a sigh, Cubone crouched down and then sprung up on the fallen trunk in order to meet their foe on equal footing. The combatant swung to face Cubone and lurched wildly, clutching its head as if about to scream as Cubone swung the club over its head and brought it down on the enemy.

With a presumably fatal thud and splish, Cubone watched the creature fall down and roll off the trunk, landing straight in the stream. Now out of the shadow and in a well-lit patch of water, Cubone could see they were brown in color and had an enormous nose. A bill, actually. A rivulet of blood trickled from a small gash on the Psyduck’s head, mixing with the water.

Psyduck blinked and winced, reaching over to the bruising cut and patting it tenderly. “PSY?” it muttered woefully. It sat up in the cold water and shivered, looking over to the bank where Cubone stood. Cubone, by this point, had lowered the bone club and–until further notice–felt no need to beat up the poor psyduck more. Cubone saw only a sad and terminal headache sufferer, not a malicious predator.

Turning to look down the waterway, Cubone hoped to spy the fish from earlier, but alas the flow had already carried it far away. They whimpered a little and reached to feel the grumble in their stomach.

Psyduck clambered clumsily onto the pebbly bank and sat down with its feet sticking out awkwardly. Rubbing its head and attempting to push down the now different and coalescing forms of torture rattling around in its skull, they rocked side to side gently. Cubone hopped down from the tree trunk and reached into the stream. Pulling out a pat of cold mud, they turned to Psyduck and offered to smear it on the wound. Psyduck spent a few moments staring straight ahead and massaging its temples before noticing Cubone. Finally the pupils came into focus and Psyduck could motion to indicate that yes, a cold pack would be appreciated.

Cubone then learned that Psyduck frequently comes to the stream in order to self-medicate with soothing mud compresses whenever they are suffering from particularly bad bouts of migrane. Psyduck also apologized for the sensation that Cubone had felt, the splitting bright light from earlier. Apparently their friends used to live close by, but the increasing frequency of mind shattering pain blasts had eventually proven too much for their mortal faculties, and they all felt compelled to move away.

Psyduck could hardly remember their old friends. Sometimes memories of laughter and warmer days from earlier in the year managed to slide in-between an otherwise numbing existence, but lately it only seemed to make the headaches sharper in contrast. Big, salty tears began to fall down Psyduck’s face, dripping, one plop at a time, off the end of their bill and landing in the stream.

Cubone looked to the sky, offering their companion a moment of privacy. The sky had morphed from deep blush to peachy gold, and soon would break into the cold, clear blue of a late autumn’s day. The sleepy cries of a flock of pidgeys waking up from their slumber peppered the crisp morning air.

Cubone’s gut growled again. Hoisting themself up from the pebbly ground, club in tow, they returned to the earlier task of catching something to eat. Once more readied and with feet planted firmly on the ground, Cubone lifted the bone over their head and squinted, seeking food.

And once more, a dazzling pain blinded Cubone. It was almost as startling as the first time, but it wasn’t quite so sharp, and subsided rapibly. Cubone returned attention to the stream and then skipped a step back, caught-unawares. Apparently Psyduck had blasted a magikarp straight out of the water, and it now lay flopping on the bank. Splash! Splash!

Cubone regained composure, and leaned forward to bash the great, big, tender, juicy, golden orange fish on the head. Their heart was willing but the fates intervened. The pidgey bastards from earlier swept in and attacked Cubone and Psyduck both, beating back the would-be feasters in a successful coup to control the pile of fishy meat. Cubone grabbed Psyduck’s paw in one fist and their bone club in the other, favoring a hasty retreat to a brutal eye-plucking. After traipsing up the hillside, far enough away from the flock of pidgeys as to be safe, Cubone paused to look back, a brisk breeze cutting through their helmet. The magikarp was still flailing on the bankside, half a dozen pidgeys holding the fins down as another half a dozen pidgeys rotated duty in stabbing the poor creature’s various tender areas until the jerking motions slowed and finally ceased.

Cubone flinched and lamented how they had missed a chance to ease the suffering of this poor beast, while also remembering how equally upsetting it remained that they hadn’t had a chance to eat more than two bites of anything in the past day. Psyduck stared in the direction they had been traveling, out across the clearing and into the eyes of a caterpie, munching tirelessly on the last sunny patches of grass to be found this year. Cubone finally noticed Psyduck’s fixation, and followed their yellow-eyed gaze to the new prey. Cubone poked Psyduck, to see if they would be keen to follow at a quiet distance while Cubone crept up behind the caterpie and smacked it with the club. Psyduck barely deflected from the jab, and so Cubone shrugged and decided that Psyduck would probably be less of a nuisance in this delicate operation if they just… stayed right… here.

Stepping gingerly along the trees hugging the clearing, attempting to minimize excessive crashes and crunches on the fallen twigs and piles of dry, crackly brown and gold leaves. They thought briefly how nicely they probably blended into the dying foliage and occasional medium-sized boulders resting in wee pockets of earth, like teeth poking out from the maw of the mountain. Ducking and weaving the last dozen meters, taking special care to remain under cover in this uncomfortably well-lit scenario, Cubone closed the last distance between themself and the caterpie and readied their substantial boney club once more.

The caterpie never wavered from its ceaseless greens nibbling, seemingly staring into the far-off eyes of the Psyduck across the clearing. Cubone’s finishing move was deft and effective, which pleased them, since their goal in life these days was to prevent as much needless suffering as they could. As soon as the caterpie’s spirit floated away and the glassy, bulbous eyes clouded, Cubone ripped the stench-organ from the caterpie’s head, leaving it in a shallow grave in the earth, and lifted the foot-long carapace to fling it over their furry shoulder.

Looking back to where Psyduck had been standing, they saw instead a void where their stupefying friend had once stood. Quickly, Psyduck lumbered up the hillside to meet Cubone, but not without a crunchy, noisesome accompaniment as leaves swooshed and twigs snapped underfoot. Cubone sighed, and commended themself on their good judgement about leaving Psyduck behind while hunting the caterpie.

The bumbling companion plodded the last bit of distance and breathed heavily. Again at Cubone’s side they rubbed their head a little and murmured something about losing time or somesuch. Cubone paid little attention as it seemed troublesome, and food was so near at hand as to overpower any creeping concern.

Now Cubone had a decision to make. Bring Psyduck to their home and share the caterpie? Or ditch the new guy and eat in peace, possibly never to see them again?

Cubone surprised themself by how long it took to make this decision, since it was so obvious that eating alone and without competition was the better decision. A new thought wormed its way in, asking if it truly was better, or simply seemed easier? It was merely easier to not change habit, wasn’t it? It took effort and persistence to build bridges and make lasting friendships, energy that could be spent getting by with the status quo. Maybe the chill of autumn made a difference, and picturing a more vibrant, warmer cave dinner for two appealed this one time. And so, Cubone asked Psyduck if they would care to eat this caterpie in Cubone’s stony home.

Psyduck, intrigued by the prospect and thoroughly excited for an opportunity to spend some time with someone else, rocked from one foot to the other in rapid succession and opened their mouth, lolling a pink tongue around in their yellow bill and gurgling happily. Cubone took this manic response as Probably Yes, I Think. Readjusting the skull on their head and the caterpie corpse on their shoulder, Cubone motioned the direction in which the cave called home was, and began walking. Psyduck followed closely and couldn’t stop grinning stupidly. It was almost cute?

Rolling a few boulders away from the entrance into the leaf littered sockets where they had come from, Cubone stepped inside and brushed away the dust and cobwebs that had built up in the past two months. After Cubone gestured that the interior was ready, Psyduck waddled in and inspected the rock walls and floors appreciatively, glittering eyes watering a little with suppressed glee. A new friend! A true friend! Someone seemingly unfazed by the very behavior that drove away old mates this past summer, when the headaches and subsequent telepathically shared tortures picked up.

Cubone sat down in the middle of the floor, on a mat of aged and crumbling moss in dire need of replacement. Later, they decided–after this meal–a new pile must be gathered in order to improve the warmth and comfort of the teeny abode. Psyduck sat down near Cubone and wiggled its toes. They waited as Cubone cleverly used the club to crack the now quite stiff caterpie down the middle into two long halves of goopy innards in bowls made of its own body. Cubone handed the nutrient-rich “soup” to Psyduck, who sniffed it gingerly. It carried the faintest whiff of grass and wood. Lapping inquisitively at the food, Psyduck learned that caterpies are absurdly adequate; and their subtly spicy, nutty flavor increasingly delicious. By the last slurp, Psyduck was cleaning the carapace with gusto.

Cubone, more accustomed to caterpie, did not find the meal less satisfying than Psyduck, but did pace their consumption more evenly. The slightly slimy and heavy fluids filled the hole in Cubone’s stomach, and once done, they patted their newly plump belly and felt a slow warmth emanate from head to tail.

Cubone’s eyes suddenly felt heavy and thick, their brain cloaked in the throes of impending food coma. Nodding and then drooping gently to one side, Cubone nestled on the dry, itchy moss and fell asleep after its long night of travel. Psyduck, more of a creature of the day by nature, sat at the entrance of the cave and watched the world pleasantly spin on.

When Cubone awoke, it was dusk and the world was gently thrumming with the cross-chatter of many animals hunting insects and each other. Psyduck was no longer there, but a fresh pile of moss lined every part of the cave floor except precisely where Cubone lay. It smelled moist and cool around them, and Cubone only now registered just how uncomfortable their nest of dessicated primordial plant matter was. Sitting up, and rubbing it’s joints tenderly, Cubone stretched, yawned, and blinked.

Stiff. Cold. Ouch.

Cubone could feel any dreams encountered during the day fade away, unidentified and never again remembered in detail. They probably had something to do with memories of Mother. They usually did, anyway, but this time it didn’t seem to matter so much. To hurt so much, either. It was almost… pleasant to be awake tonight? Hmm.

Cubone could sense a touch of hunger pressing in their belly once more. Not nearly so bad as the last time. They reached for some of the fresh moss and plucked a bit to suck the moisture from. It helped. And the refresher brought a new wave of clarity through the usual ebb and flow of cloudy thoughts.

A shadow flickered in the corner of Cubone’s eye, and their heartbeat quickened. It was Psyduck, carrying armfuls of watery vegetable matter and holding three persimmons, ready to eat. At ease once more, Cubone greeted Psyduck, and asked how they came upon so much fresh food. Psyduck mentioned finding more of the stream, this stretch of which had a few quiet and deep pools with many nooks and crannies for vegetation to take hold of and proliferate. The persimmons came from a tree between here and the pooled waters. Psyduck described the attributes of this tree and it sounded quite beautiful. Bare, dark and twisting branches weighted down with plump, round, vibrantly orange fruits.

The veg was crisp, and the high water content within was greatly appreciated. The persimmon itself was a particular treat. A dry and sweet sort of fruit, with a delicate flavor. They both spit out the flattish seeds on the ground, and then Psyduck picked one of them up and split it in half with their claws. Revealing the pale, milky interior of the seed, Psyduck inspected the more opaque primary root. It appeared to be straight and sharp, as like a knife. “A bitterly cold winter comes. Lots of icy winds.”

“Oh.”

Psyduck dropped the seed halves to the ground and brushed them outside the cave with a foot. Having finished their food, they busied themself by pulling up the last of the dry moss and tossing it outside, then selected pieces of fresh moss from a pile in the corner to fill in the gap.

“Thanks for helping set up my home, by the way,” Cubone finally stated. Should they escort Psyduck out at this point? Maybe walk them back to their own abode? No need to be rude, I suppose.

“No problem! I am happy to help out a friend. You were clearly tired.”

Friend. Cubone had never had one. Never needed one. They hadn’t grown up with the company of family, and had gotten used to living by their lonesome. Relationships seemed complicated. Messy. In the past day, this one had been forged out of a misunderstanding and, admittedly, so far hadn’t so deeply impeded upon Cubone’s habits as they had initially feared.

Maybe this friend thing could stand a trial period. A few days, and then reassessment. Safe. Orderly. With defined parameters and expectations. Just as Cubone was about to tell Psyduck they could stay, as long as their friendship was clearly defined, their daft companion hurtled outside and practically tumbled down the mountainside.

Landing in a sizable puddle, Psyduck scrambled for cooling mud to pack onto their once again splitting headache. Cubone cautiously trailed behind, hoping to avoid another bout of migraine. By the time they arrived at the puddle, Psyduck was definitively coated in a layer of dark, damp, earth from the top pf their head to their shoulders. Cubone looked at the puddle and noticed the fresh, frenetic claw marks resultant of this episode overlaying older, more poorly defined scoops, half-filled with settled water. Psyduck had been here several times already, just throughout this one day. This did not bode well for the coming months, when the ground would firm up with frost and any water found would be beyond icy and simply be ice.

Feeling bad for Psyduck, and not sensing any explosive blowback, Cubone tried rubbing Psyduck’s back a little. The rock-like muscles initially tensed and then relaxed. “That’s… actually helping.” Psyduck gasped uncertainly.

“Huh? Oh, um. maybe if you could… point me to where I should push?” Psyduck motioned to their neck, which was practically nonexistent, it was so short, and at this particular moment is was heavily doused in a mud pack. Cubone sighed and reminded themself that rinsing caked mud off at the stream later wouldn’t be impossible, and that it could be doubled into another hunting trip…

The light had completely given way to an inky blue night, clear except for a patchy cloud or two drifting above the snowy mountain peak across the valley, far to the north. Cubone watched the stars twinkle and the moon shine a little less from the night before as they spent several minutes beating the abused and stiff muscles of Psyduck’s back and neck. Coming away from the task with crackly drying mud clods for hands, nearly painfully frozen, Cubone resolved to walk down the rest of the hill to the water and wash up.

Psyduck lay down in the grass and spent some time watching the constellations turn way up high. They had missed interacting with others. And they hoped, nay–wished–that this was a bond that would last. For the briefest of moments, a streak of light split the sky. The science unknown to these mortal creatures, it was in fact, a fragment of space rock incinerating in a fiery death as it punched through the Earth’s atmosphere. The humans called this phenomenon a “shooting star,” which is what it appeared to be, certainly.