The Song of Sympathy
Running. That’s the first part of the Absol experience I remember that comes to mind, all adrenaline and bodily sensation. Running, and snarling, and assisting in calming the wild Skarmory down. They’re not afraid of me, Absol can’t chew through their metallic feathers; and they don’t eat sinewy, gamey prey like us, assuming they can take us down. (Which they can’t, of course, we’re too difficult to take down by anything short of Mamoswine rampaging, which is what happens when your hunt goes seriously wrong.)
Not every Pokémon can claim to have a right job in the human world, but I did. Some Pokémon run their parcels and clans and tribes and families. Some build towns and run shops on the Pokémon side of Palkia’s domain. Some are adventurers, reaching far into where Palkia’s forgotten to do the upkeep and discovering relics of the Old World, before all the mess. That’s the one thing they never tell you in the movies, anime, or the games: our story has always been post-apocalyptic, in its way, and if you’re going to take a moral of the story from another world with its own history and disinterest on really being fictional, it’s that you can always build back better, even if you can never recover what you’ve lost.
Still. I run, and when I do it on two legs it’s impossible not to get immediately frustrated with my lack of stamina. I can’t run the way I did, all shoulders and haunches and rough pawpads hitting the ground. Absol have a canine gait, that much is true, even if we aren’t true canines, even if we could never be put in a classification of canine versus feline. We’re neither, and we’re both, and we are so far removed from what current scientific classification might consider a valid animal that if the Rapture actually happened and I shapechanged back, nobody would be able to classify me at all, and there’s something folcinteric about that.
That’s the one thing I’ve always found funny, a little. When ‘folcinteric’ was made, I was part of the inspiration, because my existence is so linked to death, and disaster, and psychopomp folklore. And I can see it! Absol would be great for something like that, able to sense the changes in the slumbering earth, able to know what’s wrong with the air, able to warn others away from the danger. So it then must follow, able to take souls home. But to do that is to fundamentally misunderstand us, and honestly, I didn’t notice that the misunderstanding had occurred at all until it was pointed out to me.
I understand why the humans – Poké sapiens, to clarify, which look like humans from the outside but are terribly, terribly not – gave us the classifications that they did. I understand that I could raise the point that they are Normal / Psychic typing themselves, and by all means could probably commit bestiality with a Delcatty and spit out a catgirl with powers not unlike an Abra. But to say that all of one type act a certain way, or have a certain skillset, is to fundamentally misunderstand the magic at play in the world I call home. (Or one home. Or my first home. Home is wherever you lay your head at night, and wherever your heart sings to be, and wherever your blood demands you return to, and wherever you could close your eyes and need not a single sign to find your way. Alas. We move on, and we leave home behind us, always.)
I am a Dark type, and I always found that reasonably accurate, and reasonably pathetic. You could argue better in semantics that I am a Dark/Grass type, and maybe my green eyes was a marker of some crossbreeding in my ancestry, wild as I always was and remember down to the bone, but to call me a Grass type is also to fundamentally misunderstand me, because I am both, I am neither, and I am something in the middle, an amalgam of a classification and a reasonably normal Pokémon that is so rarely studied because humanity has not, on the large, trusted us very much to let us into their labs. The facts that despite aiding the Rangers, holding a fulltime job, and being a partner enough in the region where all Rangers must go to train, I cannot say I did the best job I could have done to explain to humans that Absol are not, by ourselves, dangerous creatures who cannot be reasoned with.
Any and all Pokémon can be reasoned with, and so either our brain composition was different enough to be intelligent in many ways regardless of size, or intelligence and reasoning was a gift from the gods. I would argue the gods did it, otherwise the lake gods wouldn’t have anything to do. Still. An Absol is a creature of the earth, and we provide a specific function in keeping the world safe. Every Pokémon does, always, and we may deviate from that purpose the same way everyone else is fully capable of. We are dark, because we must go where the light does not reach. We are earth, because the earth needs a messenger to sing its praise before it slaughters populations wholesale. We are wind, for about the same reason. We are life, because life must always fight against death as long as it exists. What we are not are agents of death, plotting and waiting. What we are not are bystanders, witnessing the changing of the world and only recording it for the ages. If you want that, go ask one of those weird, haunted coffins that I was fortunate never to meet. I think I would have simply bit them and run away.
Our techniques and attacks are firmly Dark typing, although being earth, and maybe thus Grass typing, is more innate. Maybe that’s why we didn’t earn that classification. We don’t reason with the earth; we don’t call life forward to do our bidding. We aren’t Leafeon or Roselia or hell, even Geodude or Onyx. We don’t use the earth to fight or play or use in any sort of noticeable, quantifiable magic. Other Pokémon would of course know when we are talking to the earth, reading its snores and grumbles and shifting positions, but most humans would not have noticed that. Although neither would your average Meowth, who holds little psychic potential, so I suppose it’s not much an ‘of course’. And that isn’t to say that what we do is psychic in nature, psychic argues a higher conscience and a meeting of the minds. Rocks are not psychic, and neither is the earth. Gods are psychic, when they are more than concepts and forces of nature. People and Pokémon are psychic, to a point, we exist within the world, halfway to being a part of it, but we are not so connected that we would die without a link to it. You could replace everything we needed in a sterile lab, and we would survive. Those of us who are truly a part of the world, not psychic but sympathetic and a byproduct of the world and its workings, would die no matter what you did, unless you put them back where they belonged.
A Zapdos is a psychic being. It does not govern the laws of lightning; it is not lightning incarnate. It is a very big, very rare bird with a very long lifespan that reproduces once every couple millennia. It is a giant in our world, but a slow one, and I would not call it a legendary. Although, by that argument, neither could you call Mew a legendary, for there was more of them, once, if they are not all hiding somewhere waiting for some unknown prophecy to be fulfilled. A Mew is also a psychic being, insofar that it invented being a psychic being, and it is a sympathetic being, because it does govern the laws of that part of the world, and as far as I have always known, a Mew is a byproduct of the world.
An argument can be made that the lake gods are Mew, separated by slow transformation and adaptation to their surroundings. Perhaps they were Mew that the gods who govern more than our world uplifted. Perhaps they are Mew who govern only subsets of the psychic laws. If the humans had theories on that, they didn’t share them with me. That seems a shame, now that I play historian and shapechanger and memory of singing to the shadow of the earth, but at the time, I had other problems.
Being an Absol has always been a little intangible, a little body-focused, a lot of missing powers and sensations, and several years of misunderstanding myself and forcing myself into a box that didn’t fit in order to try and communicate with others. Because when I entered the community in gentle, not-quite-broken 2014, that was the narrative. If you were fictionkin, you missed your relationships, your people, your life story. And so that’s what I looked for. My partner, a blue Umbreon hesitantly named Ryan, Sven, the odd-marked Espeon named Elise that I so hated, watching the sky go black as a living nightmare took control of the entire region against his own will because a cruel human decided he wanted to use psychic powers for evil now in a pretty re-enactment of the tragedies we forgot to tell the humans to pretty-please leave in the past.
I suppose it’s no wonder that the memories I have of all these events are fleeting noemata at best, once ever-so-sharp and then fading with my disinterest in working with what I already know. The fact that I didn’t write them down in detail is much to my own chagrin, for now they are in all likelihood never to be recovered, and I will never again remember more than the overview of what happened, and maybe a fleeting emotion of how it felt. But what I do remember, distinctly and clearly, how it felt to exist, to be, the taste of a Big Mac against the tongue and teeth, the adrenaline of culling some of the local Furret population, the gentle snoring of the earth that said all was well.
Nothing is quite so peaceful as those noise generators with a Jurassic Park theme that play lush forest noises and the sub-bass humming of the great dinosaurs long since gone, followed by the heavy footsteps of the titans at play. Nothing is as peaceful as leaping onto a tree branch and stretching out, chin on my paws and listening through my horn to the world as it goes about its day. Another thing they don’t tell you, another thing filtered through my human side. I feel phantom ears, and a phantom tail, and I am not certain if Absol truly had either one, and I know not where they come from. Absol as a species do not hear the way you think we do. We do not have ears at all, and arguably, we are deaf as old people. What we have is one large horn to the right side of our heads, and a smaller horn to the left hidden under our fur unless our true psychic potential is tapped into. Both sense vibrations of any and all kinds: psychic, sympathetic, and louder based on spatial location and typing. We do not hear what you say, we never have. We hear what you mean, and your intent is what we understand. You can easily say, “Hey, you, that Absol over there,” and what we feel through the air is no word or phrase or verse but can be best approximated to a rumble of “I want your attention”, like the rumbling Morse code equivalent of waving a ‘hello’ sign in our direction.
There is a reason Absol name our children after concepts. There is a reason none of those concepts can truly be translated. We have our own language, and the psychic children of the world translate it into sound and waves and speech, and the sympathetic children of the world consider us briefly, brilliantly one of them, and we straddle the line between the two.
We call the sympathetic children gods and spirits and entities, and none of them are true. They are byproducts of the world, they are functions that exist to govern reality and occasionally become people on the side, and they do not dress up what they are. Gravity does not exist as a person. A true legendary exists as a person sometimes, when they want to, but their main job is to be gravity. They just so happen to also seemingly find Mew’s domain useful enough to use it to occasionally get on the level of those of us that understand only psychic things.
That does not make them good at it. I can speak Pokémon fluently, enough to understand what they’re saying in the anime without translation, and there will always be something odd about watching The Rise of Darkrai and listening to Palkia sound approximately like either a surfer dude or a cowboy depending on how you want to read the accent. Palkia is a concept, an entity, the laws of spatial existence concentrated into one central point that occasionally has thoughts outside of making that work. I would not be able to tell you what its thoughts were like. They are like a name, sung in its entirety over Dialga’s domain in eternity, or perhaps there is no thought at all there, only existence. Still, they induce psychic power enough to speak with mortals, and if gravity decides to draw itself up a person enough to talk to you, I would expect you to listen to what it has to say.
As far as I know, there is no deific, sympathetic Pokémon who is the earth. Landorus is a byproduct of crops and fertility, Groudon exists as the guardian of the mantle, Heatran is a byproduct of the core and the very idea of heat, and Regirock… Regirock is a construct of humanity from the Old World, and best left alone. If you disagree, you try having the idea of pure static injected directly into your brain and the world’s worst case of tinnitus disabling your ability to string three words together in your head for a week, and then report back to me.
But still. I straddle the line between sympathetic and psychic. Absol are not the only Pokémon to do so, and to imply that we are disregards a good chunk of Dark types, a fair few Dragon and Fairy types, and quite a few species from all across the classification. This is by design: if there were only sympathetic and psychic, then they would never be able to communicate with each other. If we could not influence each other on necessity, then we would be left with nothing but science and slaughter, fighting against the very world to be heard, when their only means of communicating with us is to treat us like toys and push us around and occasionally kill us in order to move us from their battlegrounds and sandboxes.
That sounds a bit like this world, actually. A pity, to have known somewhere better. Everything is better with magic in the air and sympathetic songs to be sung about the laws of nature. We will not speak of the cost we paid in making somewhere better.
Still. What I am getting at here is that an Absol is not a byproduct of the world or a sympathetic being, but neither are we one-hundred-percent psychic. We can hear the world, and the world can hear us when it isn’t kneeling into psychic energy to not harm those it communicates with. We can, just enough, speak the language of the world, the language of beings so high they no longer count as beings.
Sing to me the song of sympathy: fear-desperation-sorrow-terror-hope-submission-caution-ambition-desperation-affection-terror-absolution-existence-honour. Flashes of emotions that count as lyric, and translate that into a phrase, a question, a request. What I said was emotion after emotion, feeling after feeling, intent after intent. What the psychic children would have heard was something dizzying, incomprehensible, from known emotions dancing and diving into concepts too big to explain. What the sympathetic children would have heard was a botched attempt at asking them to be gentle with us, to hear us, to rein in their majesty in exchange for our survival.
I do not speak to the earth, not directly, not in any way it can hear. But I know names, and I know vibrations and intent, and it is every Absol’s job to call out across a language gap that can never be truly bridged and attempt anyway to reason with the nightmares of the earth. When that fails, as always it will, it is then our duty and our calling to warn the psychic children to move, because the earth is moving, because we can hear it, but it cannot hear us. We play messenger and guardian and translator, and ‘harbinger’ has nothing to do with it.
The fact that a storm chaser arrived in the pub you’re in does not mean a tornado is going to drop on you in the next hour, although I can’t argue it isn’t at least partly wise to ask which way they’re heading and then pack up and go in the opposite direction. That would have been nicer, really: I would rather the psychic children take my arrival to mean ‘leave’, not ‘first person to kill the Absol gets free dinner and dessert’.
Being an Absol nowadays, without our language or our duty, is… Difficult. If you take it all away from us, as must you should when shape-changing us into something else, what’s left? Some dark powers? A sinewy body with the ability to climb just about anything in pursuit of a Big Mac or a Furret? The memory of listening to the one true human invention of sympathy, the Ranger styler and its ability to turn honest intent and friendship into a spinning laser beam? The quiet yearning for rainy days spent under a bush napping as nothing but the Lotad are willing to come out from their burrows? The clear mountain air and the lapping-up of waterfall rain?
Mostly, it’s the notice of what I’ve lost. What I know, and what remains to be told. How the laws of the world are different, here, and do not make the effort to care. And if I ignore it all, I can focus on things like people and story and tales of quests I’ve been on and the day-to-day life of having a job and all I have seen on the many journeys I’ve taken. It’s not hard, to miss sympathy entirely when you’re piecing things together from a psychic perspective.
But sometimes I wake up feeling claws and fur and a pair of horns, and for a moment, just out of reach, I can almost hear the sympathetic song.
On those misty, broken mornings, it is everything I have not to hold my roughened pawpads, these soft palms to my face, and weep.