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Borne of Caution (Pokemon Isekai)

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by Fuggmann, Nov 24, 2022.

  1. Threadmarks: Act 2: Interlude 2

    Fuggmann Inventor of Sex 2

    Dec 14, 2020
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    Want to support me? See Fuggmann is creating Transformative fiction and other things | Patreon on the place of patrons. I do have goals on there that will hopefully allow me to cut back on work in favor of more writing. As thanks for donating, patrons get to see updates a few days early and suggest edits to the final draft before it goes live.

    The elevator door shuts behind Steven with a near-silent click as he steps into his floor-spanning office in Ever Grande City. With his mind abuzz, he barely notices sitting down behind his desk. The Champion is only pulled from his musings when something icy and alien touches his brain.

    'Your thoughts are in disarray, Steven. Are you well?'

    Steven blinks and sits up straight. Inside his jacket, where a number of magnetic pokeball clamps are sewn, Metagross' ball begins to grow warm, like a machine humming into high gear. 'I'm fine, Meta. Just thinking is all. How are you feeling?'

    The instant the thought hits Metagross, Steven feels the lightning-fast reply come.

    'Teleportation from Lavaridge to Ever Grande utilized six-point-four-five percent of my total stamina reserves,' Metagross rattles off mechanically. 'Supplementation of the Lavaridge arena barrier utilized eight-point-seven-one percent of my total stamina reserves. At this time my reserves have recovered to ninety four-point-eight-two percent and rising. I am able and ready.'

    Steven can't help but smile to himself. 'No need to be so clinical. You could say 'I'm fine.'

    ''I'm fine' relays nothing of substantial value,' Metagross sends back.

    The Champion and Devon heir doesn't argue, knowing it's a lost cause with his stubborn ace. Instead, he logs into his computer and clicks his tongue at the number of emails in his inbox. 'How was that eight percent divided between Ninetales and Ty?'

    Metagross takes only a second to answer, but Steven is well aware that a second to Metagross is an eternity to anyone else. Just one idle thought from the Steel-type would burn out a modern computer from the sheer processing power needed. 'Between combatants Ninetales and Typhlosion, my barrier absorbed a comparable amount of force between their attacks. Of the eight-point-seven-one percent stamina utilized, Combatant Ninetales's Flamethrower required four-point-six percent of the aforementioned total.'

    Steven lets out a breath. 'Not a bad figure… Not a bad figure at all.'

    With a drag of his cursor and the typing of a long, nonsensical password, Steven opens up a hidden network path on his computer, one home to a number of off-record servers under the Hoenn Pokémon League HQ.

    Once inside, he opens up a folder labeled Archive19xx0101_JohtoKanto. Inside are a number of subfolders, and any history buff would pale upon seeing the names of each folder.

    Each folder is named for a battle fought in the Kanto-Johto skirmishes.

    Pokemon battling is the world's most profitable sport, the go-to method for dispute resolution, and is a general way of life for many; at the dawn of the information age, every regional Pokemon League had very quickly agreed on one thing:

    War footage should not be spread for fun.

    Any unapproved graphic media that could damage the delicate relationship between pokemon, pokemon trainers, and the common person had been deemed unacceptable, and to this day, a small army of technicians and a legion of Porygon work to scrub the internet of any content the League deems uncivilized. The resilience and stubbornness of the internet cannot be understated, but the underbelly of the web, away from normal people and the scrutiny of the League, is the only place where such footage of death and carnage can survive.

    Some people cry foul at the censorship, and in a way, Steven understands, but at the same time…

    Steven's cursor hovers over a folder, one labeled 19xx1023MtSilverRout_WildfireIncident.

    He dares not open it a second time.

    …There's a unique horror to seeing a pokemon, then the trainer behind him fall, both never to rise again. It's vile; wrong.

    Moore and Ty's might were a pillar for Johto those twenty-odd years ago, legends who stood side by side with trainers from Clan Blackthorn, Clan Hayato, and Johto Gym Leader Pryce—who is still regarded as one of the best Ice-type trainers to have ever lived.

    Moore and his Typhlosion were past their prime even then, but they commanded a terrible presence on the battlefield. Where they went, Kanto's forces burned. Kanto's civil army, staffed by regular people wielding small arms, refused to march anywhere that Moore and Ty might be.

    Ty was finally disabled and retired from the conflict after being impaled through the chest by the Horn Drill of a Rhydon belonging to one Giovanni of Kanto. Pryce would be forced into open retreat by Kanto's Samuel Oak a week later. When the Blackthorn Clan Head fell in an ambush, the clan of dragon tamers was left leaderless. As tragedy and misfortune piled up and their allies proved reluctant to assist, Johto's morale collapsed. The war came to a close with Johto's surrender only weeks later.

    Moore returned to Hoenn bitter and defeated. Only his decades of service and the potential for public backlash had kept the League from expelling him for abandoning his post as an Elite Four member to fight in the most unpopular war in history; the black mark that branded his file still stands to this day.

    Nearly forty thousand souls went to meet Arceus in those five months, marking it as one of the most deadly conflicts in modern history, and the then-primitive internet gave everyone a front-row seat to the devastation.

    Steven logs out of the server and steeples his fingers on his desk.

    Even with age and old wounds slowing him down, Ty was still a monster of a pokemon who went undefeated for years—until today. It seems almost surreal that he was bested.

    'As I stated previously,' Metagross begins, interrupting Steven's thoughts. 'Due to advances in medical and communication technology, along with greater availability of education for trainers, it is a near certainty that subsequent generations will surpass their forebears.' The supercomputer of a pokemon doesn't seem impressed with either Ty or Ninetales, or at least that's how Steven sees it. Metagross' more esoteric emotions are still a mystery to the Champion even after nearly two decades together. 'Your first meeting today is scheduled to begin in two minutes, fifteen seconds.'

    'Ah, right. Thank you, friend.' Steven clicks his tongue and opens his calendar, seeing the two meetings he has set for today. One is the usual, however-often meeting the Gym Leaders and Elite Four attend whenever everyone manages to find a free hour, and the one before that is one Steven scheduled on his phone before leaving Lavaridge.

    Emergency Disciplinary Hearing - 3:45 P.M.

    Turning on his camera and his microphone, Steven enters the meeting and schools his face into well-practiced diplomatic neutrality. Less than two minutes later, his computer beeps and Mura Moore's face appears on the screen. The old man looks entirely too content for being called into a meeting such as this. Behind the elderly Gym Leader is a darkened meeting room with no one else present.

    "Mura…" Steven begins. Even after being on the throne of Hoenn's champion for several years, it still feels a little odd to the Devon heir that he ranks above decorated veterans such as the man before him. "Do you know why I scheduled this meeting?"

    "Because you wanted to escape the curious mob that was dying to know what you and Lee talked about in that private sitting room?" Moore jokes with a hearty laugh. "Goodness me, your fans are going to have a heyday with that one. What do the girls call it? Yeow-y? I admit I'm rather curious myself. What was so important that that Lee boy had to talk to you in person?"

    Steven doesn't humor the joke. "Don't worry about that discussion. I called you here to discuss the dangerous stunt at the end of your match with Lee Henson," the champion's eyes narrow. "Moore, as Gym Leader, it's your duty to ensure the health and safety of everyone who steps foot into your Gym. You know the strength of your own pokemon better than anyone, and you knew that the average league-trained Psychic-type would not be enough to contain the after-effects of a Hyper Beam. If the second barrier had failed, we could've had dozens of injuries and possibly even deaths on our hands. What do you have to say in your defense?"

    Moore's expression doesn't shift. "I recognize that maybe I went a little overkill at the end there, but I don't think you understand, Steven; I needed to let Ty have one last clash! One more moment to relive the good old days before Dialga's wake forced him to fade into the twilight! Maybe you didn't see it, but I did! When Ty was staring down Ninetales, I saw decades lift off of his shoulders! I saw the Ty from before I let him stagnate!" Moore's voice rises until the Gym Leader stands up in an emotional crescendo. All at once, the energy seems to drain out of the Fire-type master, forcing him to sit back down heavily.

    "I betrayed him, Steven…" Moore whispers, head bowed. "I let him sit and languish, afraid of the pokemon I raised from boyhood. I went to defend my ancestral home, and what did I get in return? Years of scorn for participating and the phantom sense of blood on my fingers. Ty created so many widows, widowers, and orphans all those years ago, all of them at my order. I let him get old and fall from the Elite because I feared him, my first pokemon! I needed to give him this, Steven, I needed to show him I learned to trust him again before he dies…" Moore removes his glasses and pinches the bridge of his nose with a deep, shuddering sigh. "Not once did he protest. Weeks, months, years at a time spent idle, growing older and weaker. Not once did my partner question me, so absolute was his trust."

    Taking a deep breath and holding it, Steven counts to ten and exhales slowly, hating how he always feels like the bad guy in exchanges like this. "I understand there was an emotional stake in this particular match, Mura," he begins calmly. "Due diligence… still wasn't performed, though, and that is my primary concern here. If Metagross hadn't stepped in, there was a very real chance of the second barrier failing. I think you already know the implications of such an event upon yourself, but Flannery would have been caught up in the scandal as well."

    Moore says nothing, but from how his shoulders slump further, the point obviously gets across. "She had no part in this. Taking over the match was entirely my decision."

    "That may be, but the Lavaridge Gym is the oldest and arguably the most respected Gym in Hoenn. Flannery would have inherited a Gym with a tarnished reputation if the worst had come to pass. People don't forget things like that nowadays." Steven leans back in his chair, remaining stern. "It's still conduct not befitting of a Gym Leader either way."

    Moore says nothing in his defense.

    "Since no harm was done and you're already planning to retire, I won't be filing an official reprimand, and if the chairman or the board of directors asks, I will say the matter is already resolved." Steven's conscience finally forces him to relent. "...How are your pokemon doing?"

    Moore raises his head and replaces his glasses, doing so with an exhausted sigh. "Rapidash has a broken fetlock on his right foreleg and severed tendons on his left. He'll be down for a week or so with another week of limping after that, but he's expected to make a full recovery. Arcanine will be back home in a few days, though he won't be smelling or tasting much for a few weeks. Ty…" Moore smiles, both content and melancholic. "The Pokemon Center gave me an official notice that his days as a battler are over."

    Steven struggles not to shift in his seat. "Will he…?"

    "Ty will live, of course," Moore finally laughs once more, his spirit returning. "That fight forced him to use everything he had and aggravated a lot of his old wounds. That's not to say Ty can't roughhouse with his kids or send a whelp packing, but his retirement is official now. The average Typhlosion only lives to be sixty-some, and Ty is already pushing seventy. We're a regular pair of old coots now!"

    Steven finally allows himself to smile. "I'm glad to hear everything will work out."

    Moore laughs once more. "You're a good kid, Steven. I can't think of anyone better to be champ!" The Fire Master composes himself and clears his throat, bumping his table with his elbow and shaking the camera a bit. "Now, onto the big meeting, right? I'll see you there." With that, Moore drops out of the call.

    With a tired groan, the Champion leans further back into his comfortable leather chair, grumbling to himself. After spending a minute mustering the willpower to compose himself, he sits back up and clicks 'join' on the next meeting link after turning off his camera.


    After buffering for a moment, the computer screen fills up with the names of all of the Gym Leaders and the Elite Four.

    "Well well, the champ himself is late," Sidney's icon lights up, and Steven can already imagine the man's sneer. "What took ya?"

    Glancing at the corner of his screen, Steven rolls his eyes when he sees he's only a single minute late. "Sorry, Sidney. I was organizing some news that I'll be sharing." Steven's retort is as diplomatic as he can make it. "Does anyone have any important news they'd like to share before we move on to the state of the league this year?"

    There are murmurs, and after a moment, Roxanne takes the lead like she usually does. "Devon Corp suffered a break-in here in Rustboro several weeks ago, as I'm sure you've all heard," The academic woman's frown can almost be heard in her voice. "I worked with the local police and Devon to try and determine who the thief was and what the possible motive might have been. A Devon representative revealed to me that the thief was after a gene sequencer intended to clone pokemon from fossils."

    "Clone pokemon from fossils?" Wattson asks with an amazed whistle. "Didn't that lab in Kanto land in hot water over the ethical ramifications of cloning some years back?"

    "The Cinnabar Island Laboratory in Kanto pioneered the technology and faced rather severe backlash for it, yes," Roxanne confirms. "But Devon has begun prototyping their own gene sequencer. As per the representative who shared the details with me, I must request that this information does not leave this circle."

    "If this tech is so new, it must have been top-secret…" Phoebe, the Elite Four's Ghost-type Master hums. "How did the thief know?"

    Roxanne pauses, likely to collect her thoughts. "After setting up a sting operation with the Rustboro Police Department, we captured another thief and interrogated him. He refused to reveal much, how he acquired the information on the gene sequencer included. After several fruitless days, all we ascertained is that he is loyal to the eco-activist group called Aqua."

    "Those bozos again?" Wattson grunts. "I heard they've been sniffing around the Slateport sub docks, too, and someone busted them before they broke into a dock holding some state-of-the-art submarine."

    "Their thugs have been seen around Lilycove as well, according to my darling niece," Wallace chimes in. The Water Gym Leader might sound as he usually does to everyone else, but years of being best friends have keyed Steven into the dangerous lilt in Wallace's tone. "How curious…"

    "The thief refused to cooperate for a lighter sentence and was jailed with a heavy bail amount. The bail was paid… then the thief never showed up to his court date. He's assumed to remain at large," Roxanne clicks her tongue.

    Steven takes that time to unmute himself. "Thank you for the update, Roxanne," he says kindly. "That actually ties into my news as well. Does anyone mind if I take the floor for a moment?" After a round of negatives, Steven clears his throat. "A source I've deemed to be reliable has tipped me off that the eco-activist groups Aqua and Magma might be a greater danger than suspected, suggesting that their current street-gang level crimes and environmental activism are fronts for something much more sinister. The source suggests that both gangs have deep pockets, friends in high places, a slew of Elite trainers and pokemon to call upon, and goals that might result in the loss of lives or even the destabilization of Hoenn." The Champion hardens his voice. "This is an unofficial notice for all Gym Leaders and Elite Four: confirmed members of Magma and Aqua are now considered persons of interest to the Hoenn region. Suspected members are to be tracked and may be detained for questioning with probable cause. An official notice in writing will be sent to you after the Hoenn League Department of Justice finishes its final drafts. I am warning you in advance as I believe that this is a matter that shouldn't wait. Depending on the results of further investigations, Magma and Aqua may be elevated in status from simple eco-activists to domestic terrorists."

    Stunned silence is the answer to Steven's announcement. Really, he can't blame them. If he didn't get the news right from the Ponyta's mouth, he wouldn't really believe it either.

    "That's quite a warning…" Steven murmurs, resting his chin in his steepled fingers. 'Metagross?'

    From within his ball, Metagross is silent for almost five full seconds, long enough for a living supercomputer like himself to simulate a rocket launch, one so detailed it would go all the way down to the specks of dirt displaced by the engines. '...After a thorough analysis of Henson's brain waves during questioning, including a recursive analysis of the results, I have found no evidence of falsehood or deception. He believes what he is saying.'

    Steven raises his eyes back to Lee Henson's face.

    Blue, impassive eyes, one framed by ghastly burns, stare back. "I'm aware it might be… hard to swallow," Lee says with a nod. "And I'm sorry that I cannot reveal the source of my information for safety reasons, but I hope Metagross' verification of my word is enough."

    Steven isn't really sure where to begin with this. Plans to awaken ancient pokemon? Moving landmasses and oceans? Schemes upon schemes upon schemes? It almost seems like something out of a fantasy novel. Henson seemingly couldn't stress how dangerous both groups were enough, going as far as to give detailed accounts of key members—one of which he and his dragon tamer friend are traveling with to pump for info—and their capabilities. To make things worse, Henson declined to cite where exactly he got all of this information, saying that revealing his source would put him in danger.

    When Henson said that leaders of both organizations are capable of Mega Evolution, Steven felt his brain short-circuit for a moment. Absolutely no one outside of the highest tiers of upper echelon trainers and classified circles in academia should even know what Mega Evolution is. And yet, Henson looked right at the keystone pinned to Steven's breast pocket when he said it. The conclusion was inescapable:

    He knows.

    Did his Draconid friend tell him? No, never. The Draconids are as stubborn as the Dragons they stand beside. Not a single one would dare breathe a word of their sacred technique to an outsider. During Steven's visits to Meteor Falls in the far north of Hoenn, not one Draconid has ever agreed to part with any information related to Mega Evolution, no matter the reward offered, and so the phenomena still remains mostly a mystery.

    Were Henson anyone else, Steven might have invoked his powers as Champion and declared this whole fiasco to be a national concern, letting Metagross mentally probe the other trainer without fear of legal repercussion. He had stopped himself short, though. The possibility of Henson realizing something is amiss mid-probe is just too high. Alienating the Hoenn Regional Laboratory, the Birch family, a Draconid, and angering a Ninetales on top of a cadre of other powerful pokemon is courting disaster, even for a regional champion.

    So here he is, in the awkward situation of being told about national threats not from an official source, but from a trainer vetted only by Metagross…

    "It's obvious that you're very well-informed, Lee…" Steven lets the statement hang, hoping Lee will provide more info of his own accord. When Steven gets no such thing, he continues. "However, my ability to act is limited by your refusal to disclose exactly where you're getting your information. If someone is threatening you to keep quiet, I would be happy to provide official League protection from any persecution or retaliation."

    The unmarred side of the other trainer's face frowns. "Thank you for the consideration, but I'm afraid I still have to decline." Henson seems to consider something as he taps a finger on the meeting room table. "Champion Stone, have you ever heard of Ash Ketchum?"

    "I've heard his name pop up here and there, yes. He's competing in the Ever Grande Conference this year, I believe," Steven raises an eyebrow. "Why ask?"

    "Have you been following his…" Lee pauses, rolling a raised hand as he searches for a word. "More 'extravagant' adventures?"

    Extravagant? "I don't know what you mean?"

    Lee hums, staring hard at the champion. "That confirms a few things for me. I know the various Leagues keep files on different trainers, so look up Ash Ketchum when you get a chance. I think my warnings about Groudon and Kyogre will make more sense after that. Legendary pokemon, as in Legendary with a capital L, are more real than you think. Worse is that Magma and Aqua know that, too." Lee smiles, and it's a grim thing that forces a frown onto Steven's face. "After all, is there anything more tempting to a psycho with men and money to spare than Godly power?"

    What Steven found in Ash Ketchum's files, or rather what he didn't find, spoke volumes. Even with his credentials as a Champion, the logs regarding the Kanto-born trainer were filled with black ink. A lot of black ink. Even the dates were redacted. It took a brainstorming session with Metagross doing the heavy lifting to build a rough timeline of all of the censored files, and each one lines up with strange happenings and legendary pokemon hearsay in Kanto and Johto. He sent an inquiry to Kanto's chairman for more information, and his email bounced back.

    Someone is going to a lot of trouble to ensure Ash Ketchum and his friends remain unmolested in their travels, but it highlights Lee's warnings clearly.

    Legendary pokemon, as in Legendary with a capital L, are more real than you think.

    Is there anything more tempting to a psycho with men and money to spare than Godly power?

    With little else to do and honestly feeling a bit out of his depth, the Devon heir decided to trust in the warnings as they were presented to him… and to begin his own investigation into the mystery that is Lee Henson.

    "Well…" Norman Maple of Petalburg begins unsurely, drawing the Champion's focus back to the present. "Sure thing, Steven. We'll keep an eye out."

    "Steven, dear," Glacia of the Elite Four begins to object, "How was this source verified?"

    "By Metagross." With that, any other protests wither on the vine. Steven clears his throat. "I apologize if I unintentionally made the atmosphere awkward. Is there anything else, before we move on to lighter topics?"

    After a round of negative murmurs, the Champion leads the group into the next topic. "Has anyone had any interesting challengers? We've had a record number of registrations for the Ever Grande Conference this year, so I imagine everyone's schedule is packed."

    "Several," Roxanne begins, her cool voice restoring an air of normality to the meeting. "One Gavin Freed, a Fighting-type specialist, visited me. Due to the threat he presented, I met him with my personal Graveler and Nosepass. He did well, securing a sure, if narrow win, despite Nosepass paralyzing his Machoke early in the bout. My other opponent was a rather sour boy, maybe seventeen years of age, named Andre." Roxanne huffs. "I underestimated him at first, which proved to be a mistake as his Mightyena's Ice Fang incapacitated my loaner Geodude in one strike. Nosepass fared better, defeating Mightyena, but lost against his Absol. That Absol was quite adept at avoiding harm." The Rustboro Gym Leader sighs. "His pokemon were powerful and his tactics without needless fluff, but the boy could do with an attitude adjustment. The gloating before and after the battle was entirely unseemly."

    Brawly groans. "That kid… Don't worry too much about Andre, Rox," Brawly says. "He was my last real challenger, too. The kid is a Dark-type specialist and has been throwing himself against me for years, finally winning narrowly a month ago. He's got a case of asshole-syndrome and some sort of victim complex that I'm hoping calms down now that he's left Dewford," the surfer grumbles. "In other news, I battled this kid, Ash. I beat him the first time, but he had his Nuzleaf pull a pretty clever trick in the rematch by attacking Hariyama's legs. With Hari slowed down, Nuzleaf took the win." He chuckles. "I'm going to battle the Gavin guy you mentioned tomorrow, but I haven't really faced anyone else of note."

    "My turn then?" Wattson goes next. "I've got four this time around. Brendan Birch, Lee Henson, Tyson Rhyn, and Ash Ketchum. Hoho, Brendan really is his father's son!" The old Electric-type specialist laughs. "Baited me good! His Breloom smacked one of my poor Magneton silly with Counter, and his Marshtomp went toe-to-toe with Manectric for a fantastic finish! He was really cooking my brain there with his moves all planned out and such!" Wattson's chuckles ease. "Lee Henson… Hrm, I hope I didn't make a bad impression on him. He came into the match distracted and was right peeved when I had to pull out the old Agility-to-Baton Pass to save Jolteon and knock out his Grovyle. All the speed in the world couldn't save us from his Vulpix, though." The sound of Wattson scratching his beard can be heard through the microphone. "Sure as the sun rises, she went on the attack and everything she threw out curved and swerved like an angry Beedrill with barely any warning. Magneton and Joltie both went down, and that was that. Tyson and Ash…" Wattson hesitates. "I'm not sure what happened in those matches. Tyson was a terror and a half. I remember sending him packing three or so years ago, and by golly, he and all of his pokemon must've had their noses to the grindstone the entire time because his Donphan tore through my Jolteon and Electabuzz. We could barely do anything. It was the same story with the Ketchum boy and his Pikachu, only worse. With one attack for each, Pikachu downed both Manectric and Magneton."

    A ripple of murmurs flows through the assembled Elites and Gym Leaders, and after a second, a sigh comes from Sidney. "Someone want to put it on screen sometime today, maybe?"

    Reluctant keystrokes can be heard through Wattson's mic, then the videos of each fight begin to play.

    Ash's battle is just as Wattson said: the boy's Pikachu throws utterly enormous thunderbolts at Wattson's pokemon, so bright they almost overwhelm the cameras. With just two attacks that rattle the windows, the battle is over, leaving a shocked silence behind.

    "Arceus above…" Winona mutters.

    Tyson's is almost worse. The Donphan the young man used is brutal. The instant Jolteon makes the mistake of coming too close, Donphan seizes her hind leg in his trunk with devilish speed before he breaks the limb like a dry twig. Before Jolteon can cry out, she's raised high, slammed upon the ground, and then crushed beneath Donphan's foot as Tyson calls for an Earthquake that shakes the entire building. Electabuzz is dealt with in a similar, nauseating manner.

    "I battled Tyson two days ago…" Norman breaks the usual order to chime in grimly. "I used Spinda against his Hariyama and paid for it. Spinda went down in a single blow. Slaking managed a win against Hariyama after sustaining a few injuries, but…" A sound similar to grinding teeth can be heard for a moment over Norman's mic. "Slaking was treated like a toy by Tyson's Metagross."

    There are several sharp inhalations when they hear another of the near-legendary Metagross is in the hands of a trainer other than the Champion, and it takes Steven a moment to realize one of them came from himself.

    "We lost, and last I heard, he was headed to Rustboro and then Dewford," Norman finishes, clearly warning Roxanne and Brawly. "Other than that, I defeated a talented Grass trainer named Valorie who is set for a rematch in about a week. I'm not sure I can win a second time."

    "It seems like Miss Forrest is moving quickly…" Winona says quietly. "To my shame, I underestimated Valorie Forrest and suffered a loss at her hands. Her Venusaur is quite a powerful pokemon with an impressively diverse array of techniques."

    "No one too strong has crossed our paths yet…" Liza of Mossdeep speaks for herself and her twin brother, Tate.

    Wallace hums under his breath. "Mister Clark White and I clashed a few weeks ago. He has quite a polished nonverbal style to conduct his pokemon with, quite literally I might add! I've never seen someone use an orchestra conductor's baton to direct pokemon as he does, and it was a delightful showing. Alas, the power of his pokemon left something to be desired, as he struggled greatly for his win against my weaker pokemon even when he left me guessing as to what he would do next." After a moment, Wallace speaks again. "Mura, you've been silent so far. Have any interesting trainers crossed swords with you recently?"

    'Oh Wallace, you don't know the half of it.' Steven thinks to himself.

    Moore chuckles. It's a quiet, worrying sound, and it tells Steven that the Johto noble theatrics are going to come out. "Indeed. Today, I battled Lee Henson in a three-on-three match. It was quite something."

    Drake, the strongest of the elite four, finally speaks. "You mean your granddaughter battled Henson."

    "No no, I know what I said," Moore's tone is all smiles. "Today, I pitted my Rapidash, Arcanine, and Ty against Lee's Grovyle, Octillery, and Ninetales. We lost."

    Even with the meeting relegated to audio-only and despite it being no surprise to himself, Steven can still feel the tension ratchet up. First the revelation that a Metagross is in the hands of a challenger, and now a Ninetales?

    Without needing someone to complain, Moore taps a few keys on his end. "C'mon… I know Flannery put the video somewhere… Aha!"

    Moore starts the recording of the fight for everyone to watch.

    The first is Lee's Grovyle against Rapidash, and already Steven can tell everyone's eyes are glued to the screen. Reviewing the match from this new perspective, Steven watches as the Grass-type dips and dives with impressive midair control, avoiding what should have been nigh undodgeable attacks. Then, when Rapidash suddenly changes the spray of his Flamethrower and sears large, ugly patches of skin right off of Grovyle, there is a gasp here and there. The brutally pragmatic disabling of Rapidash draws hisses from more than one person.

    Octillery versus Arcanine is less thrilling, but no less wince-inducing. Octillery's resolve to keep battling with his entire side torn open is admirable, but the Gunk Shot directly into Arcanine's mouth and its horrifying effects flip any positive sentiment right around. After Arcanine's unexpected Facade finishes off Octillery, Arcanine is left a panting, wheezing mess, with red still weeping from his gums.

    Finally, Ninetales makes her appearance.

    "Challenger Lee! Please select your final pokemon!" The referee calls.

    The applause goes quiet at the announcement as nervous anticipation seems to fill the entire arena. All eyes are on Lee - everyone knows who his selection is going to be.

    Lee takes Ninetales' ball and enlarges it. With a deep breath, he steadies himself, draws his arm back, and throws the ball into the arena.

    The ball splits open, and out comes Ninetales.

    The great fox lands in a crouch, then slowly stands, unfurling each one of her tails as she does so. Once at her full height, she snaps her red eyes open and imperiously stares down Arcanine with open, burning hostility.

    The fox cuts a hauntingly beautiful figure, one that glows radiant gold in the intense sunshine streaming through the windows. Even through a computer screen, the weight of her presence is undiminished.

    Ninetales' eyes glow, and everyone is treated to a front-row seat as Moore's Arcanine is dismantled without being touched.

    When Ty, in all of his scarred glory, is finally called upon, no one makes a sound as the pair of Fire pokemon clash, ending with a Flamethrower versus Hyper Beam struggle. The resulting explosion is one that rocks the Gym so violently that the cameraman tumbles to the ground, ending the video with a loud crack and an 'OFFLINE' error message.

    "Madam Ninetales was the final send-off Ty needed…" Moore sighs contentedly. "I feel the storm brewing over Hoenn. This year's crop of trainers…" Moore laughs, loud and clear, "will be unforgettable!"

    Silence consumes the meeting for the next minute as mute testament to the calculation being undertaken by every other participant.

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    Topic: Official Lee Henson Megathread
    Threadmark #1: Lee wins 4th badge at Lavaridge
    In: Boards ► Hoenn ► Indiv Trainers ► Lee Henson

    Posted On July 20th 20XX:

    Well I almost died but I'm pretty happy about it ngl. I nabbed a ticket to see Lee's battle live at Lavaridge and flew in on my pal Fearow to see if he lives up to the hype. I definitely got my money's worth. I got most of the battle on my phone and I'll post that alongside the rip of the TV broadcast. Summary for anyone who cant watch rn below:

    So this was supposed to be Flannery vs Lee because she's been fielding all the battles in Lavaridge for like the last month and some change and filtering the casuals pretty well, but Mura Moore walks in at the last minute and yoinks the match away from his granddaughter. I asked the guy next to me what was going on and he kind of shrugged.

    They start the match and Mura sends out his personal Rapidash. Like a Rapidash to fight Lee's Grovyle. I'm sitting there like "Wtf how is this fair." Then Grovyle pulled out some insane 3D moves, shot Rapidash in the shoulder with a move I've never heard of and got first blood, then somehow tanks a Flamethrower to hamstring Rapidash and win the fight. (Look I know I'm bad at describing fights just watch the videos. Grovyle's fight was good.)

    Grovyle gets retired, and Octillery comes out next to fight Mura's Arcanine (This fuckin guy sent out an Arcanine in a gym match). Octillery gets blitzed by Arcanine and loses, but not before he does Arcanine dirty and hits him in the mouth with Gunk Shot. Arcanine is choking, bleeding, and throwing up, and finally things even up when Lee sends out Ninetales.

    Arcanine stood no chance and gets folded like wet cardboard without being touched. L.

    I can't even put the Ninetales v Typhlosion fight into words cuz running out of post space and I can't do it justice anyway. Just watch. Mura keeps going on and on about how his pokemon aren't elite-tier anymore and it shows but fuck me they ain't slouches either man cool it

    Edit: Thanks for threadmark mods

    #TVRip Lavaridge gym Lee Henson versus Mura Moore (Link)
    #LHvMM (Link)

    (Showing page 91 of 124)

    Replied On July 20th 20XX:
    This thread is clearing 150 pages by tomorrow. Screenshot this post.

    Replied On July 20th 20XX:
    Type specialists on suicide watch. Variety team wins again. Go look at the stats and seethe at how the top 1% of trainers almost all use variety teams.

    J_Augger (Verified Trainer)
    Replied On July 20th 20XX:
    DannyDarko The fuck you mean you almost died you're skipping over an important part.

    OakNuggins (Banned)
    Replied On July 20th 20XX:

    RunThatBack (Mod)
    Replied On July 20th 20XX:
    3rd strike for advertising in viral threads. You're gone.

    K_Markus (PKMN Ranger)
    Replied On July 20th 20XX:
    …Was Steven Stone in the crowd? I swear I saw Steven Stone.

    Replied On July 20th 20XX:
    Ok. I know everyone is absolutely freaking out about Ninetales, but I'd like to talk about grovyle for a moment. Go back and watch (Timecode here) where Rapidash is using flamethrower and grovyle flickers around it in midair! That's crazy! How fast is that pokemon? Can he fly?

    Replied On July 20th 20XX:77
    Ok, what the hell is he feeding his pokemon, and where can I get some?

    Aegi_ (Verified Trainer)
    Replied On July 20th 20XX:
    Maybe I should start betting on these matches? Henson for the title vibes anyone? Hoenn's heating up this conference!

    WirelessGrasp (Psychic Type Specialist)
    Replied On July 20th 20XX:
    Where did that second shield come from? The gym Kadabra's shield broke on that last attack, and there was a little bit of a shout at the end…did someone say Metagross?!

    (Showing page 92 of 127)

    Replied On July 20th 20XX:
    Anyone else take a look at the crowd in the video? I thought I saw Steven Stone of all people there. Can someone who was actually there confirm that?
    EDIT: WirelessGrasp if the Champion was there, then that must have been his

    GreenPhoenix (Verified Trainer)
    Replied On July 20th 20XX:
    Why is no one talking about how Ninetales countered HYPER BEAM with flamethrower? HYPER BEAM! Sure she took some damage, but so did Ty! She is going to be a monster by time she reaches the Ever Grande tournament!
    Edit: Spelling. I make that mistake every time.

    Replied On July 20th 20XX:
    Told y'all Henson would be giving Ketchum a run for his money. This shit is wild. Next thing you know he'll be going head-to-head with a goddamn Moltres or something.

    FlamingTress (Verified Trainer)
    Replied On July 20th 20XX:
    WTF is the madlad doing to those pokemon?! Flamethrower matching a HYPERBEAM!?
    What the hell is next?! Hyperbeams that track their targets? Baby Shinx using Hydro Pump? Grass that cuts through boulders?

    Replied On July 20th 20XX:
    You all are sleeping on Octillery. This must be Henson's new acquisition to his battle team. They couldn't have been together for more than a week right? And he held his own on Moore's Personal Arcanine? Octillery has massive type spread in their movesets. Can you imagine what Henson can do with a couple months of training with him? We've already seen some custom moves come out from the rest of his team. The move variety could be endless!

    Replied On July 20th 20XX:
    Octillery got mentioned in the last thread update, hadn't been seen before Lee passed through the Valley of Steel. I don't know of any major bodies of water there though, and Lavaridge is about as far inland as you can get in Hoenn? Maybe Lee got him at the beach and has just been keeping him in his back pocket or something.

    Regardless, Octillery did surprisingly well, and displayed a breadth of move types.

    Replied On July 20th 20XX:
    J_AuggerDuring Ty and Ninetales final clash, you can see the barriers fall before being reinforced, if they did actually fall I definitely would have died as well seeing as I had a front row view. Completely worth it though. Anyway, is anyone able to get some rough stats for the energy output in that clash? I want to know how close I came to being annihilated.

    Edit: the firebeam(that move has no right being called flamethrower) seems quite similar to the pillar of fire that was seen in a wild-fire clearing near Lavaridge a few days ago. Maybe they are the same? If so could that help in getting some numbers to this insanity?

    PoisonedFaith (Poison Type Specialist)
    Replied On July 20th 20XX:
    FlamingTress Grass and leaves slicing through boulders is fairly standard for grass-types. There is a reason why Grass usually trumps Rock.
    Back on topic, thank Arceus I am not competing on the Hoenn Circuit this season. Tentacruel, Weezing, Cradily and either of my three Muk (Especially Crag) are my go-tos for dealing with fire types, but that much fire would boil them alive!

    Spece-Time (Pokemon Researcher)
    Replied On July 20th 20XX:
    ARCEUS FUCKING DAMN! Just how much energy was being output by that final Hyperbeam vs Flamethrower!? Hell, how could flamethrower somehow match it? Wait, going to use a napkin for this real quick. Anyone here study Pokemon Moves?

    FlamingTress (Verified Trainer)
    Replied On July 20th 20XX:
    PoisonedFaith Fair enough. Maybe grass cutting boulders was me taking leave of my senses and forgetting. But seriously though, the way things are going, that lizard will probably use Surf, and whatever move that vulpix used in Dewford, all in the same match.

    Whatever pokemon he captures next will never know what hit it.

    (Showing page 93 of 131)

    Replied On July 20th 20XX:
    Not sure if anyone else has pointed this out, but, Henson's Ninetales was already setting records as a Vulpix, I wonder how she stands in comparison to other records of freshly evolved Ninetales now? We might just have a new record for their entire species on our hands.

    Add on the fact that Henson seems to create radical new moves every few weeks, especially for his Ninetales, and you get a trainer whose record is starting to border on the fantastical. Furthermore, he's traveling with Birch's son and an unknown Dragon Tamer who is not challenging gyms with them, which compounds on that fantastical factor. I'm very curious about the strength of a Dragon Tamer who travels with those prodigies.

    Replied On July 20th 20XX:
    Jeez, sending a Grovyle out against a Rapidash is one helluva move. Impressive that he was able to win despite the type disadvantage and Rapidash being so stronk. Hope he's doing ok! Plus 9T at the end? Wow, I'm partial to my grass fox, but that firefluff is DANGEROUS!

    Replied On July 20th 20XX:
    Does nobody else find it a bit sus that Henson is ON CAMERA at Moore's Gym when he gives vulpix her fire stone? Moore's even in that vid?! I'm not saying it's all fake but come on, the man must have given Henson the stone in the first place and then muscles Flannery out of her match to use his old as dirt team. He probably just told them to make it flashy to hype him up.

    GyaradosUsedSplash (Water Type Specialist)
    Replied On July 20th 20XX:
    licorice&litleo do u have eyes? i was in the stadium and i felt the heat from that beam struggle from the back row. no way that shits fake, im betting henson all the way to the conference

    Replied On July 20th 20XX:
    Yo! That battle was insane and it was only his 4th badge!? What's his 8th badge battle going to be like?

    FlamingTress (Verified Trainer)
    Replied On July 20th 20XX:
    JustAnotherInternetStranger The gym will probably explode. In style. Wallace will be ecstatic.
    Speaking of style, I wonder what that battle crow of his is up to. Anyone got an update on that?

    Replied On July 20th 20XX:
    Licorice&Litleo No way, That team is dangerous as hell. I've heard stories from family friends who took part in the fighting back then. It wasn't pretty.… I think I remember hearing a rumour about a glass field after a battle that took place. Nothing left to even see of the enemy.

    Replied On July 20th 20XX:
    Leafeon_L0ver I'm not saying Moore wasn't a monster back in his day… but his day was a long time ago, his typhlosion is what, pushing 65 at least? I just can't help but wonder how a grovyle (not even sceptile) can take out a formerly elite rapidash without some foul play, but an octillery (the only member we don't even have stats on yet) gets one lucky shot before being downed. Arcanine didn't even try to fight back once ninetales came out.

    But the real smoking gun is in that final showdown, after that firestorm typhlosion makes it tries something else and the move fizzled, smoke and sparks like some sort of skit. And then it doesn't pull out any more fire attacks for the match? Like at all? Has anyone ever seen an elite's attack just go limp like that for no reason? Smoke and mirrors, has to be.

    Replied On July 20th 20XX:
    Licorice&LitleoI don't think thats the case at all. There is a REASON his team is in the elite tier, even as they have gotten older. I'll admit that the combustion Typhlosion tried to make was kinda sus, but I don't think that was on Typhlosion's part. He did seem super surprised when it didn't work. Plus he still had the energy for that hyperbeam at the end! (I am questioning why he went for hyberbeam rather than overheat, but that just may be a personal choice from Moore) Something was off about that battle, but I don't think it was fixed. Both were giving it their all at the end.

    CrystalShowers (Scientist)
    Replied On July 20th 20XX:
    Did anyone else notice that only Grovyle had a held item? Ninetales did all that without a type booster!? That's insane! I'd love to examine the battle data and performance stats with and without an item of that majestic beautiful floofy fox.

    (Showing page 94 of 134)

    Replied On July 20th 20XX:
    I wish I went out to watch matches more often. That video was sick! It must have been amazing being there in person!
    Then again, that final barrier shaking attack was pretty scary…

    j4x3r (Ace Trainer)
    Replied On July 20th 20XX:
    Kids these days sure grow fast, my first circuit wasn't as intense as this one and if I tried what Henson did, my pignite (at the time) would be toasted. Keep it up! Will be waiting on the big leagues!

    Replied On July 20th 20XX:
    Well, I might not have confirmation for talking, but Ninetales sure delivered hard on psychic abilities. I'm honestly shocked.

    Replied On July 20th 20XX:
    Glasses_Man I had to rewatch from the fan cam and the official gym video a few times to realize. Did anyone else notice that Mr. Henson spoke a total of FOUR words that entire fight!? Count em FOUR and they were "Ninetales match him" and "Ninetales". I want that! The Pokemon just needs to be able to learn psychic stuff right? How do I learn to do that with my Braixen?!

    Replied On July 20th 20XX:
    WitchHatStrat Yeah, they are obviously communicating: I was specifically wondering about whether they could TALK. With words. I know some people who have described it as vague ideas back and forth, and I think some people have said they could talk but it hasn't been proven: This Ninetales is probably a contender for saying if it's possible at all.

    Betterwhenwetter (Water Type Specialist)
    Replied On July 20th 20XX:
    Holy shit, that Ninetales looks AMAZING! She and Henson are so totally in sync with each other it's just mind boggling. Makes me wonder if there's something going on behind the scenes in their relationship. Almost makes me regret becoming a water type specialist.

    LoPwny99 (Verified Trainer)
    Replied On July 20th 20XX:
    See?! I told you all he was drugging that Grovyle! How else would a stage two grass type battle an elite level fire type for longer than 20 seconds, nevermind beat it! The fact that the League hasn't liberated the poor thing from Lee speaks volumes of the incompetence of the League. Poor lizard is drugged out of his mind. Someone save these pokemon, before someone gets hurt!

    FlamingTress (Verified Trainer)
    Replied On July 20th 20XX:
    LoPwny99 Bruh, I sure would love to have some of whatever shit it is you're smoking. Do you think none of the pokemon centers he visited would have known if he'd been drugging up his 'mon? Birch would probably have fired his ass (or worse) if there was even an inkling of something shady going on with the guy his son is traveling with, not to mention one of the Nurses Joy would've come down on him like the wrath of Arceus.

    Dude's supposed to be a researcher, researching pokemon nutrition, care and movesets. That would explain much of the bullshit he seems to be pulling outta his ass on a weekly basis. Seems to me like he's putting his money where his mouth is.

    A sudden tug at the back of his mind draws Lee from scrolling through his phone. He jolts up so suddenly his head hits the wall behind him, drawing both Brendan and Zinnia out of the conversation Lee had since tuned out.

    "Something wrong, Dolittle?" Zinnia asks, eyebrow raised. She leans back on Brendan's bed, folding her arms behind her head. "You look like you saw a ghost."

    "I just felt Ninetales wake up is all," Lee answers, letting the relief ease the tension in his shoulders. The fox is still largely incoherent, and telepathically peering through her bleary eyes, Lee sees her glaring at the itchy cast on her fractured hind leg. A wordless complaint about the too-tight oxygen mask around her muzzle zips from her brain to Lee's. He soothes her with a silent assurance that it's for the best. "I don't think she's happy to be in the ICU."

    Brendan snorts. "She's got Typhlosion right there with her, so it's not like she's going to be lonely," the boy jokes.

    "Hmm…" Lee, nearly as tired as Ninetales after the match, doesn't put much effort into replying. He frowns though when he notices someone missing. "Where did Courtney go?"

    "Errands," Zinnia's reply is curt, telling him that she's suspicious as well.

    "Maybe someone should go give her a hand next time…" Lee grunts. "You guys don't have to stay here with me if you don't want to. I'm tuckered out, and all I have to do tonight is feed Shinx before bed."

    Brendan frowns. "Maybe… but you don't have any battle-ready pokemon right now. It wouldn't feel right to just leave you here."

    At Lee's raised brow, Zinnia rolls her eyes and explains. "It's a… What's the phrase? Sort of a social faux pas to disable all of a trainer's fighting pokemon. Once the nerds online figure out that Greenbean, Calamari, and Miss Fox were all your fighters, Moore might catch some heat for it. It's why you never see anything more than a four-vs-four unless it's a huge tournament with a lot of security hanging around. Kinda your fault, too, for not objecting to a three-on-three, but Moore was expected to know."

    'Interesting cultural bit I didn't know about…'

    "Besides, all of us being here gives me the opportunity to ask something," Zinnia continues. Sitting back up, her smile is traded for something a bit more serious. "Lee, Brendan, if it's cool with you guys, I'd like to head north to Meteor Falls and visit my tribe." Dare Lee call the way Zinnia is holding herself nervous? "I've some business to attend to, and people to talk to. You know how it is, right?"

    "Why not give them a call?" Brendan tilts his head. He yelps when Zinnia reaches out and flicks his forehead.

    "You think my tribe out in the sticks has a phone?" She snorts before sobering. "I know it's out of the way and all, and if it's too long, I can split off and meet you guys somewhere afterward?"

    Brendan's face brightens into a grin. "Lee, aren't we way ahead of schedule?"

    "We're only three months into the league year and already we're at the halfway point," Lee idly muses, wondering what Zinnia needs to do. "I don't see why not. We'll have to run it by Courtney, though."

    Zinnia's smile is rather pretty when it fully reaches her eyes, Lee thinks to himself.

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  2. Threadmarks: Act 2: Lee's Logs 1

    Fuggmann Inventor of Sex 2

    Dec 14, 2020
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    "That should be everything, Professor," the smartly-dressed intern standing before Nigel Birch's desk closes his binder. "We've moved Miss Jenning's Trumbeak to aviary section five, which is the least populated. Since then, Mister Mudahar's Staraptor and his clique have calmed down."

    Seated behind his desk, Professor Birch sighs. "That bird…" He mumbles, thinking of the aforementioned Staraptor and his foul attitude. "I'll have Medicham, Flygon, or someone else straighten him out. Matt," He addresses the intern before him. "Make a note on Mister Mudahar's profile. If his pokemon can't behave, then he's going to forfeit his place at our ranch and be forced to purchase private boarding. This is the second time one of his pokemon has acted out."

    The young intern nods rapidly. "Yes sir," he says, then his brows furrow. "Professor? Can't you ask Lab Trainer Birch's or Lab Trainer Henson's pokemon to keep an eye on things? It seems like your pokemon are forced to play peacekeeper rather often…"

    Professor Birch has to suppress a grimace at Matt's question. "I would, but Brendan and Lee are very picky with their pokemon. Neither of them has more than six yet," Nigel scratches his short beard and sighs. Oh, if only… Nigel finally got clearance from the ever-so-finicky Pokemon Rangers to camp out and observe a natural Sitrus grove near Verdanturf, and all this nonsense is cutting into his prep time! A pokemon trained by either Lee or Brendan would quickly rise to the spot of ranch Alpha and keep the peace. He can already imagine a Swampert's bellow and a ground-shaking thud putting an end to any drama.

    While Nigel thought of the Mudfish Pokemon, given that most of the lab is in a tizzy over the battle that aired in Lavaridge today, he knows Matt's thoughts are probably focused on a certain golden fox.

    'For a man scared to death of drama, you sure find yourself mixed up in it a lot, Lee.'

    As if cued in by his thoughts, Nigel's computer bings, and glancing up at it, he sees a new Logs Update email from Lee with a number of attachments to it. .

    "Anyway, thank you for sorting everything out Matt," Nigel smiles. "Please close the door behind you."

    Smiling widely back, the aide bows out and shuts the office door as he goes.

    After waiting for a moment, Nigel opens the email — which is devoid of any text as usual —, then clicks the first attachment and leans back. 'I'm glad my predecessor had the office soundproofed, Nigel thinks to himself. 'Lee's been throwing a lot of curveballs lately.'

    "Log twenty, day ninety-three." Lee's voice begins from the first recording. In the background is the sound of distant conversation, and Lee's voice reverberates as if he's standing in a cave.

    "I realize these logs are probably going to arrive a bit later than usual considering that we're currently traversing the Valley of Steel. At first, the four of us considered using the desert which would have been about two-and-a-half weeks to Lavaridge assuming no complications, but when we came to the crossroads between the desert and the valley, we decided the valley was the better option for a few reasons. One, Zinnia knows how to get through the valley in a little over a week, and two, Brendan and I want to hunt for new pokemon."

    "Brendan is doing fine considering that he has three active battlers on his team, but Vulpix and Grovyle are having to do all of the heavy lifting due to Corvi's absence. I… still haven't officially released him. I want to give him more time. He's too complex a pokemon to just leave for no reason, and I get the feeling deep down that I'll see him again one day so that I can ask why."

    "Anyway, onto what I was originally talking about. The Valley of Steel is home to a number of powerful pokemon, many of whom would make excellent team members based on Type and what role they would fill in the team. I'm still lacking a bulky fighter, and I hope that a trip through the valley will fix that. I've updated my 'wanted list' as well and I'll attach it to the email I send with this recording."

    "During our time here, I've gone out and approached a number of wild pokemon while trying to be obvious with my intent to expand my roster. I made sure to keep a respectful distance away with either Vulpix or Grovyle at my side, along with an empty pokeball in my hand. So far, though… There've been no takers. I did briefly consider trying to capture a monstrous Magnezone that attempted to attack us, but thought better of it after the injuries he inflicted on Brendan."

    Nigel sharply inhales and pauses the recording. "What?" He hisses to himself. The date on the recording is weeks ago, and he was never informed of this? Neither Lee nor Brendan ever said anything about being injured! Taking a deep breath and keeping his suddenly short temper in check, Nigel resumes the voice recording and crosses his arms.

    "Brendan is fine, thankfully. He pulled quite a few muscles in his legs and back lifting himself out of Magnezone's Gravity attack to pull Zinnia to safety, and he'll be spending the remainder of the trip being carried on poke-back. From what I can tell, he'll make a full recovery. He said he'll be giving you a call about the mess once we're in Lavaridge."

    The Professor exhales slowly, letting his temper ease. Brendan did indeed call home as he usually does once or twice a week to recount their adventures, but evidently, his son left out some very critical details. "What am I going to do with that boy…"

    "During the whole fiasco, we did run into a familiar face. Do you recall the huge Manectric in my earlier logs? Her egg hatched, and apparently, she felt it prudent to track us down all the way in the valley to give her son to me." There's a short pause in the recording. "I'm certain Brendan will give you a call about this, so I won't bore you with details. Like his mama, Electrike is quite large, and while I would love to raise him... I've already got Shinx to care for. Taking care of two cubs, raising a battling team, traveling, and performing independent research all at once is quite a lot of work, so I've taken the liberty of giving Electrike to Brendan. I think it'll be a good test for him, as I've recently begun teaching Brendan the finer points of zoology, nutrition, and... I guess not animal psychology, but non-human psychology to aid in raising his pokemon. Naturally, he's taken to it like a Goldeen to water, and a hardy baby to raise will be the perfect opportunity to apply what he's learning in a practical way. Of course, I'll be on standby in case anything happens, but I doubt that Brendan will need anything more than a finger pointed in the right direction every now and then."

    "As for my team, things are progressing as normal. Due to the volatility of the valley's pokemon, we haven't been able to get much more than basic training in, as anything more than mild noise and lights irritates the locals. I have to say, the Valley of Steel is an exceptionally hostile place, both in terrain and wildlife. Never before have I seen pokemon so aggressive and raring to battle. More than once while out hunting for a prospective new team member, we've had to bow out and cut our losses when a pokemon clearly too powerful for any of us stepped forward, spoiling for a fight."

    There's another short pause in the audio. "During these nights where there is little going on, most of our time has been spent meditating on where we want our future training to take us and how to best get there. Grovyle already has a superb mastery of Leaf Blade and X-Scissor, and both moves utilize the leaves situated on his wrists. He can also channel both moves into the claws on his hands if needed, but it's not terribly practical unless his leaves have been sheared or burnt off mid-battle. He's most familiar molding Grass TE, and with a bit of creative application, can even alter the size and shape of his wrist-blades. He can't do this with X-Scissor quite yet, but he's getting there. I considered having him attempt to channel his attacks through the long leaf on his head, but discarded the idea later as Sceptile lacks that leaf, and Grovyle is so heavily reliant on kinesthetic learning that he quickly builds habits and muscle memory. I don't want him to get into the habit of using a feature of his body that he won't always have. With that in mind, our focus going forward will probably be on expanding his available repertoire with new slicing attacks like Night Slash."

    "Considering the Lavaridge gym uses Fire pokemon, I'm also thinking about using a TM to round out Grovyle's arsenal. We still haven't used the Rock Tomb, Bulk Up, or Shockwave TMs given to us from our gym battles, and Grovyle would benefit greatly from a projectile like Rock Tomb to shut down Ice, Flying, and Fire Types. It'd also introduce him to Rock TE, opening further doors down the line."

    "Shinx is still growing like a weed, as I've said in past updates. Not much has changed with her. In the next few weeks, I'll be weaning her off of her bottle and introducing her to solid food. Her introductory training is moving along with minimal hiccups, though we haven't been able to do much with her here in the Valley due to how sensitive the local Magnemite are to atmospheric electric charge. She is getting squirmy and frustrated with being stifled, but she's kept her acting out and mischief to a minimum."

    "Vulpix's abilities are definitely beginning to plateau on the physical side. I don't know where she stands in comparison to other examples of her species, but she's been able to reliably fight middle and occasionally final evolutions looking for trouble out here. Granted, she's fighting most of these battles with a type advantage, considering many of the wild pokemon around here are Steel-type, but I've watched her stumble pokemon that must weigh a ton at minimum with her Quick Attack."

    "On the non-physical side, we're beginning to hit roadblocks there as well. Vulpix' pyrokinetic abilities continue to improve at a steady rate, and although her firepower is superb, we're running into issues with her focus and stamina. These two critical factors are being outpaced by her power, and although I can help out on both fronts via telepathy, the amount of stamina and mental computing power that a human can contribute to a superpowered fox is a drop in the bucket. In our efforts to mitigate the focus issue, we've been trying to deconstruct moves that contain inbuilt 'programming.' As things stand, Vulpix must manually direct every part of an attack that is functioning outside of the normal parameters of an established move. Redirecting Embers doesn't take much, but redirecting Embers and having them chase two different targets requires a noticeable increase in focus. We've kept this to ourselves thus far, but something as intensive as charging Convergence leaves Vulpix practically paralyzed. The more complex the move becomes, the more mental resources it takes to ensure it actually fires off without a hitch. We need to figure out what's missing from these custom techniques, and how to integrate that innate programming that other moves seem to have. Or maybe we're overthinking it? Is it just repetition until it becomes muscle memory? This is what we'll be focusing on for a while."

    "Also... regarding the study you mentioned? The one regarding the telepathy between Vulpix and I? Once our group gets to a good resting point in our journey, which I imagine will be after this gym, I'll be reaching out to you regarding your trusted contact. Over the last few weeks, I've been digging deep into the extant theories about telepathy and the various nuances in how a relationship develops between individuals who frequently utilize telepathy. I can't say that my search has been particularly fruitful, as telepathy is an absolutely indispensable tool in pokemon battles for the ones capable of using it, and I suspect that much of the information that exists is not being shared in order to keep a tactical advantage over other trainers. Part of me understands it, and the other is frustrated that important studies like this are being kept private. Vulpix and I have been collectively mulling over our dynamic, particularly in regards to the advice that Zinnia gave me in Slateport."

    "According to Zinnia's words, both the ones she said aloud and the ones she didn't, the trainer should be the undisputed leader in the relationship between humans and pokemon. Now, I think this is colored a bit by her specialty in Dragons, as I've noticed that her team has a very definite pecking order to it, but part of me wonders how valid that is when it comes to the dynamic shared by myself and Vulpix. Vulpix herself is insistent that Zinnia doesn't know what she's talking about, and makes some valid points, though I'm worried bias might be influencing her opinions. Despite that, Vulpix has certainly stepped back and held my hand less when making critical decisions. If your contact can offer any insight, then we'll be glad to participate in this study."

    "That's all for this one. Lee, out."

    Nigel rubs his chin as he digests the man's words. "Huh. Guess we're moving that study back up…" He hesitates. "I don't think I've ever really considered that telepathy would be more than speaking brain-to-brain..."

    He starts the next recording.

    "Log twenty-one, day one-hundred-one…" Lee's voice comes through with a troubled sigh. "Please excuse any brevity, Nigel. I've got a lot on my mind."

    "We arrived in the town of Lavaridge yesterday after an all-night march. The day before that, we happened across an Octillery in a watering hole that I suspected was contaminated. Octillery was displaying a number of symptoms consistent with heavy metal poisoning, and after wearing him down, I captured him and everyone agreed to shorten our remaining two day trip to Lavaridge with a hellish pace so Octillery could receive proper treatment. I'm happy to report that Octillery is in the care of the Pokemon Center and is expected to make a full recovery. Once he's lucid, I'll be extending an offer for him to join my team. Octillery isn't a pokemon on my wanted list, but I very much would like a Fire type counter on hand that isn't Vulpix."

    Lee sighs once more, and in the background of the recording is the faint sound of furry paws sliding over denim.

    "All day today, and I suspect for probably a while longer, my studies have taken a detour into the psychology behind evolution anxiety and research into Ninetales." Lee hesitates again. "Yesterday, I had an impromptu meeting with Mura Moore, the Gym Leader here in Lavaridge. To make a long story short, he wants a custom Fire technique for his granddaughter's pokemon in return for a grade one, purity one Fire Stone."

    "I never even considered the possibility of Vulpix evolving this early, let alone with the best stone possible. I've only done some basic searching to get an idea on evolution stones, their prices, and how much the quality actually affects the resulting pokemon. Fire stones are some of the most expensive stones due to the danger associated with their mining and how they're in huge demand for Growlithe owners. A gee-one, pee-one demands... Hundreds of thousands of credits at a minimum. In fact, I think the only stones more expensive are Dawn Stones, which only form naturally during the nightless summers of the north pole, and only on the very tops of specific mountains at that."

    "The benefits would obviously be undeniable as Vulpix is beginning to hit limitations that we've been struggling to overcome, but at the same time, she's anxious about the idea. She... doesn't want to outlive me. Much of what I found in my initial research about Ninetales is mostly mythological lore, as the sheer rarity of Ninetales, combined with a seemingly species-wide introversion, makes getting concrete facts a nightmare. The only common report is that the average Ninetales lives for several centuries. I don't know if the thousand-year lifespan is real or not, but I wouldn't be surprised if it is. It's not only me that Vulpix has to worry about outliving, either; she's worried about everyone else as well. I know for a fact that Vulpix has become a fixture in my life, and losing her would be like losing... everything all over again. I suspect… that might go both ways. In an effort to help her make the most informed decision possible, I'm diverting as much of my free time as I can to researching the Vulpix and Ninetales species."

    "Between that, we'll be keeping to routine training and visiting Octillery as he recovers. I have no updates or breakthroughs to inform you of on that front currently."

    "That's all for this one. Lee, out."

    'An interesting look back into Vulpix, even if that was more Lee venting than anything.' Considering he already knows the choice Vulpix makes, Nigel continues on and clicks on the next recording before leaning back into his chair.

    "Log twenty-two, day one-hundred-nine." This time, Lee sounds much more relaxed.

    "Two days ago, after much debate, soul-searching, and days upon days of research, Vulpix decided to make the leap and evolve," Lee laughs quietly. "It's... it's been something. I'm not even sure where to begin. I suppose first, there's the excitement of having a pokemon evolve. I was beyond thrilled, and so proud of Grovyle when he evolved, but this feels different. I suppose that Vul- Ninetales reaching her final, mature stage has an assuring permanence to it. Of course, I took the liberty of giving her a very thorough physical and documented all of my observations. I'll include some scans of my notebook along with this recording. Who knows, maybe the stiffs at the Hoenn Academic Board will up the lab's funding in return for my findings?"

    Nigel grins to himself. He can't help it. Something about his usually serious and pessimistic Lab Trainer speaking with such an upbeat tone just makes the professor want to smile. "Wishful thinking about the board, Lee..."

    "Besides that, there are also the mental changes Ninetales has undergone…" Nigel hears the ruffle of shuffling paper in the recording. "Some of what was shared between myself and Ninetales is rather personal, especially her reason for evolving, so I won't be going into that in the recording here. The first and most profound change within her is the new crystal clarity in her telepathy. I think I described it before? If not, then telepathy with Vulpix always involved a level of guesswork, as sometimes the words she was trying to convey would get garbled or skewed with her non-human comprehension of certain concepts. Now I can hear her word for word! It's incredible! Her telepathic power, precision, and range have increased to such a degree that she can reportedly pick out Brendan or Zinnia from across the entire town. It's… astounding, simply astounding."

    Nigel can almost hear the smile on Lee's face. "Heh. We have some work to do on the physical side of her psychic abilities. We began working on refining her other telekinetic abilities back in Slateport. Since neither Vulpix or Ninetales are true Psychic-Types, it took a bit of time to get that off the ground and it's been slow going ever since. Before her evolution, Ninetales could reliably lift about twenty pounds with telekinesis and manipulate her load with a degree of clumsy dexterity. Now? Ninetales... I don't even know just how strong her telekinesis is, but clearly we have quite a bit of work to do with regards to control, as she accidentally ripped a door right out of its frame."

    A growl comes from somewhere nearby in the recording.

    "Love, there's no shame in needing improvement! Knowing you, you'll get it in no time."

    The growl tapers off into a huff.

    "Where was I? Ah... Her physical and pyrokinetic abilities have also taken a significant jump, so significant that I hesitate to put a number to the amount. As a Vulpix, I estimated she could drag around a half-ton worth of deadweight if her paws could get enough traction, and as a Ninetales that strength has probably doubled. I'll be taking up an offer from the Lavaridge Gym to use their equipment to get exact numbers, but I'm spitballing a solid two-times increase since I can sit on her back and she barely even notices my weight. Doing so isn't very comfortable, mind you. Muscles like steel make for a rough bareback ride."

    Again, there is a huff, but this one sounds much more amused.

    "...Love, a phrase like that can only be misconstrued if you're looking for things to misconstrue," Lee clears his throat, sounding embarrassed. "Anyway... I don't have a number to put to the pyrokinetic side of things, so we'll be testing that later. Also, Nigel? That psychic expert you mentioned? After both Brendan and I secure gym badge number four, I'll be reaching out to you for that study on telepathy. With the new clarity between Ninetales and myself, there have been a lot of personal revelations that… are difficult to put into words. If you didn't ask me to be perfectly candid in my audio logs, I likely would have excluded this part."

    "Ninetales and I had a heart-to-heart talk shortly after her evolution. Telepathy… at least our telepathy, goes much deeper than just words, images, and emotions. I say this with the utmost seriousness."

    "I know Ninetales better than I know myself. Much better than I know myself. It is no exaggeration to say that I know everything there is to know about her. I know for a fact that she knows me better than she knows herself in turn."

    Nigel's spine tingles.

    "Yesterday we had a short conversation regarding our relationship and the dynamics therein, as her evolution, the circumstances behind her choice, and the newfound ease of communication caused a shift between us. It's difficult to explain, but something fundamentally changed. Telepathy between her and I has always been... intimate, but the bond that exists following her evolution is magnitudes deeper."

    Lee is silent for a handful of seconds.

    "I'm... aware that relationships like the one you're likely thinking of right now exist in a... legal gray area that the Pokemon League tactfully refuses to touch or draw attention to. Our relationship is not heading in that direction and likely never will, despite what her joke a minute ago might make you think. We both agree that there would be little to gain and potentially much to lose in doing so, but then, neither is the relationship that we share completely... Well, platonic? It is platonic, but at the same time, it's not? I don't know how to describe what we even have." There's a frustrated sigh. "It's certainly not romantic. Being keyed into each other's thoughts, emotions, and often physical sensations, is much less romantic than some trashy books might make it seem. The stories always seem to gloss over things like intrusive thoughts, involuntary reactions, and the annoying poke to the brain that occasionally wakes you up when your partner gets up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom."

    "This isn't a round peg, square hole situation either. Hell, this is like replacing the peg with a tesseract in the peg and hole metaphor. There isn't a word for what we have due to how complex all the factors are, and as such all we can really do is wing it, and promise to be understanding if someone missteps." Lee once more pauses, leaving several seconds of silence in the recording. "Ninetales isn't overly concerned about this, but we discovered that we can't disconnect anymore."

    "What?" Nigel's brows raise in surprise before furrowing in renewed focus.

    "The telepathic connection between myself and Ninetales has been actively sustained for... geez, months now. I don't have any kind of psychic talent, so this is just me describing it as best I can. See, before her evolution, Ninetales and I kept the telepathic connection going constantly and while doing so, there was a distinct termination point between myself and her. As time went on... that termination point became blurrier and blurrier. At the time of this recording, the termination point is completely gone. Somewhere in the 'middle' is an indistinct gradient where there is no telling which side belongs to who. Now, don't misunderstand this as some kind of problem! I certainly don't want the connection to be broken, but I want to understand it and what it means for myself and Ninetales. It's for that reason that I would like to move the priority of that telepathy study up."

    Nigel barely has the presence of mind to pause the recording before he slumps back in his chair. With a sigh, the professor opens up his drawer, taking out a bottle of aspirin while eyeballing the half-full glass of water on the corner of his desk. "Arceus dammit, Lee," he curses, dropping his face into his hand. "You're going to make the lab so much money at the cost of my sanity…" He raises his head again and stares at his desk phone. "I'm going to need a better psychic specialist. And someone who knows how to manage relationships like this." Ruminating for a moment longer, he presses play once more.

    "I had more to say, but my train of thought is still a little fuzzy even two days after Nine's evolution. Octillery is slated to get out of the Center in the coming days, then I'll begin training with him in earnest in preparation for our Gym challenge. While Flannery isn't an insurmountable opponent, I think it would pay to properly respect her and her pokemon's capabilities."

    "That's all for this one. Lee, out."

    Nigel sighs, finally uncapping the little bottle of aspirin before tossing two capsules in his mouth and grabbing the glass of water on his desk to wash them down. The water is unpleasantly warm. Once both pills have hit bottom, the professor clicks on the final recording of the email.

    "Log twenty-three, day one-hundred-nineteen."

    "Our gym battle will be bright and early tomorrow, so today we're taking it nice and easy today so that we're rested up. With Octillery's release from the Pokemon Center, the wake of Ninetales' evolution, and Grovyle mastering a new move, I've actually got a fair bit to report in this log. I apologize if the last one was just a long string of rambling about Ninetales."

    "Anyway, I know I said Octillery wasn't on my shortlist and wasn't my preferred Water-type, but he's thoroughly changed my mind. Part of me still wants a Vaporeon, but I won't be terribly upset if that doesn't happen this League year. After making a thorough recovery, Octillery has proven himself to be a very competent pokemon, if one I'm still trying to figure out how to best sync with."

    "First off, I didn't realize just how wide a variety of techniques are available to Octillery as a species. At the time of this recording, Octillery knows Wrap, Headbutt, Water Gun, Octazooka, Psybeam, Gunk Shot, Rock Blast, Charge Beam, Aurora Beam, Signal Beam, Ice Beam, Bullet Seed, Focus Energy, and Lock-On. Good Lord above it seems like he has a move for every situation. Naturally, we tested all of them, and I was surprised by a lot of the findings. Due to some preconceived notions, I expected Lock-On to work much like slapping a magic lightning rod on the enemy so that attacks would home in on them. Lock-On working like a reversed Detect is not what I expected, but I can understand it. Octillery is already an adept shot so Lock-On is unfortunately less useful than I expected. Sitting still and focusing all of your brainpower on a ballistic calculation is definitely a devastating advantage when it comes to long-range combat, especially when trying to hit an evasive or flying target, but in the range of typical pokemon battles, Lock-On is unfortunately just too situational. Ice Beam, Gunk Shot, and Octazooka open the door to some real shenanigans, and to maximize the tactical applications of Octillery's techniques, I've been working with him to hammer out some subtle cues on how to apply each move. It's... amateur stuff that won't work on a more experienced opponent after the first time honestly, but voice inflection and delays between words combined with Octillery's sheer variety should hopefully win the day in most cases."

    "While he is not lacking in the power department at all, Octillery's mobility leaves something to be desired. Maybe this is just a weakness on my part, as I freely admit that I'm used to having the fastest pokemon on the field. Either way, some of the maneuvers that we have been working on are defensive in nature, like using Ice Beam to erect obstacles and walls, or using a low-power, quickly cast Signal Beam to blind the other pokemon long enough for us to make a play. I'll still be exploring mobility options for Octillery, but in the meantime, we will make do with what we have."

    "Personality-wise, Octillery is quite the intellectual. The first day we went out to train, he astounded me by drawing a pictogram to detail part of his internal anatomy, as I was wondering why his species were considered to have "rock-hard" heads. Using that pictogram, he made it clear that he has a pressurized subdermal sack that he fills with water so that he can use his own head as a bludgeon. The intelligence neatly explains why he was so miserable in the Pokemon Center; he was sitting there bored to tears as they weren't mentally stimulating him. I went out and got him a number of puzzles and brainteasers for him to play with in his downtime. Though... he seemed a bit indignant when I told him I didn't get the most difficult ones. Regardless, he's happy if he's got something constructive to do. He's integrated quite well with the team and enjoys the company of both Grovyle and Ninetales. Understandably, he's a little standoffish with Shinx, what with being a Water-type and all, but he's yet to be outright rude. Due to his innate intelligence, I was a little startled to realize that he can't read. I guess it makes sense now that I really think about it. Ninetales can read because I can, and she knows what I know. Corvi could read... which further confirms my theory that he had a prior trainer. I never realized that Grovyle always required Ninetales to read for him if I wasn't around, and I feel like a bit of a jackass for it. Either way, I'm rectifying that mistake by offering both Grovyle and Octillery lessons. Grovyle was... less interested than I expected, but Octillery jumped at the chance. After a few nights of tutoring, Octillery is already beginning to pick up on things."

    "Ninetales... Where do I even begin here? It's clear to me that to actually get hard numbers on her current capabilities, I'm going to need to consult some League specialists with especially heavy-duty equipment. That's a can of worms that we'll open when we get there. I'd say more, but I'm afraid even naming a Fire attack around here will bring that lady ranger and her Togekiss running. It's still too early in her evolution to know if my baselines are accurate, or if any observed growth is just residual, but I'll be keeping an eye on everything anyway."

    "Grovyle has been spending the last week or so perfecting Rock Tomb and Night Slash. Since Rock Tomb was learned via TM, he started off at a passable level, but 'passable' isn't good enough for Grovyle, and he's back to the grind. For all his grace and finesse, he can certainly hurl a boulder with the best of the brutes. We've also been experimenting with using Rock Tomb to alter the terrain around us into something more favorable. Since Grovyle can speed along and change direction on a dime, additional obstacles aren't really a concern for him. Another interesting application we've tried testing is using the stones generated by Rock Tomb as shields of sorts. Due to his unfamiliarity with Rock TE, the stones aren't exactly the most sturdy, so that one's on the back burner for now, but it's always a possibility for the future."

    "In regards to all of his other abilities, Grovyle continues to excel and push himself to newer and greater heights... I really hope I'm not making a mistake by deciding to let him participate in the upcoming Gym match, but Grovyle needs a win he can be proud of. He's continuing to grow in response to near-daily training and his tailored diet. I believe the typical example of his species is roughly three feet tall, with Grovyle now approaching approximately three-foot-four. His muscle development continues to remain nice and even."

    "In other news, I've been modifying the diets and general workout routines of my team. Ninetales' evolution and the potency increase of her psychic abilities have necessitated a drastic increase in her caloric intake. Before her evolution, Ninetales was already eating twenty-two-hundred calories in a standard day, with twenty-six to twenty-seven-hundred on days when we have intense training. Her dietary mixture has changed only a little, though going forward I'm sparing no expense in picking the best ingredients. Her brain is the focal point of her Psychic TE, and I'm taking steps to limit any sort of strain caused by her newfound abilities. Specifically, I want to be sure that Ninetales is getting enough omega-3s, magnesium, calcium, vitamins B1, B9, B12, D, E, and various neural amino acids to promote cognitive health. If Ninetales has a blood-brain barrier similar to other, more common pokemon who utilize psychic powers, then the quality, abundance, and balance of these compounds in her food are paramount... I realize that might be some biology jargon, so let me explain a little."

    "Around the brain of most creatures, there is a layer of protective, semipermeable cells that separate the brain from general blood circulation. This is called the blood-brain barrier. These cells are selective in what gets to be transported into the brain, and how much of what gets to go in at once. This is to protect the brain from pathogens and toxins in the blood. I'm simplifying things a lot, otherwise, we'd be here all day. Due to the nature of these cells and the limited amount of compounds they allow to pass at a time, the quality and balance of what is actually going into the brain can make all the difference in the world. If Ninetales wants to hang with the best psychics, then she needs a proper balance of the good stuff. With that in mind, Ninetales had been upped to thirty-three hundred calories on a standard day, and I'm not discounting the possibility of her requiring four thousand or more on an especially intensive day."

    "Grovyle's menu has remained largely the same with a few variations for taste. Like Ninetales, his caloric intake is increasing, but it's a slow uptick."

    "Octillery needed an especially careful amount of thought put into his diet. As I said before, mammals are where I'm most comfortable, and devising a menu for a cephalopod took some thinking. A standard dish for Octillery is looking to be roughly twenty-eight hundred calories daily spread across two meals. I've selected an array of fatty fish, clams, enriched seaweed, caviar, and crustacean meat served raw with added supplements, Sitrus slivers, and seasoning to taste. This was all selected to try and emulate what his species would eat in the wild, and I think I did a fairly decent job considering he digs into his food with gusto."

    "Having to make such a large amount of food each day is becoming laborious, but it's something I do happily. On that note, though, this is going to become a problem with the addition of more team members, especially team members who might be human-sized or larger. I've been looking into the possibility of getting a portable pokeblock maker to produce high-density food... but the ones I actually want, the ones that use Silph space-bending tech to cook and condense high volumes of ingredients all in one go, are so damn expensive... If the check I get from Silph for our TMs bounces, Aarons is a dead man."

    "Shinx is pawing at my leg and starting to use her claws, so I better cut this short. My baby here is definitely starting to grow out of her infant phase, as I noticed that she's been more and more interested in the food the rest of the team is eating as time goes on. Her grasp on human speech is getting better and better by the day, and to my chagrin, her emergent personality is… Ugh. She's turning into a troublemaker with her best pals Electrike and Goomy. Oh, baby girl… Stay a cute kitten for a while longer, please?"


    "Ah...That's all for this one. Lee, out."

    With the last recording over and his aspirin finally kicking in, Nigel grumbles and opens the first document on the email: Lee's notes on Ninetales.

    After a brief moment to load, the professor is shown seven scanned pages filled to the brim with notes and anatomical sketches. Ninetales' weight, height, the measurements of all her limbs—tails included—and countless other details are written in small, excited lettering. Lee must have burned through half a pen of ink in his haste to put every single thought in his head on these pages. He even went as far as to sketch the fox's rough skeletal structure, noting that everything was done by hand and shouldn't be considered accurate... then he wrote down that each of Ninetales' tails has exactly sixty vertebrae and that he counted the bones in each tail by touch alone.

    There is practically no one else on the face of the earth that could get away with touching every single one of a Ninetales' tails and live. The Academic Board is going to have an absolute heyday with this.

    Moving on down, Nigel opens up the updated 'wanted list'.

    No particular order. Wanted for battle/research/both

    Latias/Latios - Wishful thinking
    Hippowdon (Maybe)
    Alolan Vulpix/Ninetales (Clear with Ninetales first)

    Some were removed, some added, which was all pretty well in line with what Nigel was expecting. But at the same time… "Really shooting for the stars there, Lee," Nigel clicks his tongue, focusing on the name 'Zoroark'. "I don't think a Zoroark has been publicly seen in decades. Finding a Latios would be easier."

    Nigel glances over at his desk phone with a grimace. Reluctantly, he reaches over, picks up the receiver, and slowly dials a number he knows by heart, but sorely wishes he didn't. Holding the phone up to his ear, it rings once, twice then—

    "Yo! If it isn't Nigel boy himself!" A chipper voice, one forced to speak loudly through the din of what is obviously a party in the background, addresses him by name. "You never call! What's the occasion? I'm here at the LaGoodra, a little place I had built just a stone's throw away from the Battle Tower! Do you want in? I can arrange for an air taxi to be in Littleroot in twenty minutes! Best Salamence-sized hangover of your life!"

    "Scott, can you cut the crap for five minutes?" The professor grumbles. "I've got a study I should be preparing for, I can't goof off to hang out at a sports bar you built on a whim."

    "The LaGoodra is a sophisticated establishment that happens to serve a good drink to enthusiastic clientele. It's not a sports bar," Scott scoffs.

    'Right. Sure…'

    "Anyway, what can I do for the esteemed Regional Pokemon Professor?" Scott asks. "You never call me for anything fun," he whines, "so what could it be?"

    Nigel grunts. "You recall that study on telepathy that I was talking about a few weeks back? The one involving Lee Henson?"

    "Sure do!" Nigel can definitely hear Scott's grin. "What a battle he had today, eh? We played it on the big screen in here, and I bet you could hear the cheers from the other side of the Battle Frontier!"

    Ignoring Scott's attempt to strike up a longer conversation, Nigel soldiers on. "In light of some new info I've been provided, I don't think the specialists you wanted to loan me will be good enough anymore. Can I borrow Anabel?"

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  3. Threadmarks: Act 2: Chapter 10

    Fuggmann Inventor of Sex 2

    Dec 14, 2020
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    Want to support me? See Fuggmann is creating Transformative fiction and other things | Patreon on the place of patrons. I do have goals on there that will hopefully allow me to cut back on work in favor of more writing. As thanks for donating, patrons get to see updates a few days early and suggest edits to the final draft before it goes live.

    Big thanks to Bobbles for helping smooth this chapter out with his several editing passes.

    It's frustrating sometimes, Brendan thinks to himself, the amount of politicking in the world of organized pokemon sports. Oh, he understands why, as pokemon are everything. Power, prestige, wealth? These things are ripe for the taking for any pokemon trainer willing to make pokemon training their life: their truest passion in all of Arceus' green earth. The rest of the world follows suit, as trainers simply exist above other people in society, and it's most evident with how much money and effort goes into catering to the needs of pokemon and the humans who raise them.

    Shops with equipment designed for pokemon? Even in the smallest towns, they can be found on every street.

    Fundraisers to sponsor trainers from less fortunate families? They almost always meet their goal.

    The latest technological advancement everyone is chatting about? The first question everyone has is how can trainers use it?

    The number of news outlets with a dedicated section on pokemon training? All of them.

    People love strength, and to be a pokemon trainer is an open declaration that you're cultivating the greatest sort of power, one of friendship and destruction alike… But where there is power, there is politics. In the wake of Lee's match versus Mura Moore, Brendan's match against Flannery has been… well…

    'I don't have anything nice to say, so I'll say nothing,' the boy thinks to himself.

    Politics are afoot here too, for the only spectators of his match are Courtney, Zinnia, Lee, Moore, and a few of Moore's staff. Officially, the gym is closed for repairs. But Brendan knows the real reason why his fight with Flannery isn't being shown off.

    'I'm too high-profile an opponent for Flannery.'

    Brendan shakes his thoughts away and returns to the Gym match afoot. "Marshtomp, Mud Bomb! Slow, douse!"

    "T-Torkoal! Deflect with Rapid Spin!" Flannery quickly counters.

    Marshtomp is so much faster than Torkoal that it's almost unfair. Brendan's starter repositions just as they had planned before the fight began, leaping to the left and circling to Torkoal's flank. The Mud Fish Pokemon's mouth opens, thick, dark mud pooling inside.

    Torkoal tenses his legs to spin in place, but before he can, Marshtomp's Mud Bomb screams through the air and slams into his legs, tripping the tortoise pokemon and knocking his legs out from under him. Torkoal's blazing body heat cooks the mud into a brittle ceramic in hardly a second, forcing Torkoal to waste precious moments shaking his legs free of the sharp shards of hardened earth.

    A second Mud Bomb flies right into one of the holes in Torkoal's shell, hitting the coal base in his back with a hiss and the crackle of baking mud. Torkoal throws his head back with a distressed groan and shakes in pain, falling to his knees again.

    Flannery's look of desperation makes Brendan's stomach twist, but he ignores it for now; he can apologize after the badge is in his hand.

    Earlier in the match, Breloom secured a win against Magcargo with Brendan's preferred style of high-speed hit-n-run. Stun Spore into Mach Punch is an effective, if simple, combo. Magcargo and Flannery attempted to counter with Flame Terrain, but after watching Lee struggle against the move yesterday, Brendan brainstormed a counter.

    Breloom dealt with Flame Terrain by using an unspoken Growth with a focus on the soles of his feet. Normally, Growth works by forcing the user's body to produce a bunch of fresh, healthy cells all over the body packed with TE to boost the power of energy attacks, but with a last-minute modification, Breloom could turn the soles of his feet into thick calluses, giving the Grass-type a few moments of immunity to the burning ground.

    Magcargo fell after only landing a glancing Flamethrower on Breloom, and Brendan used his one substitution in the match to allow Breloom to rest, letting Marshtomp take the stage.

    They played it safe for the first minute, feeling Torkoal out with a few cautious attacks while dodging the retaliation. Flannery's pokemon are powerful and have several tricks to boast; the burns littering Marshtomp are proof enough of that. Much like the elder Moore's pokemon, though, they're entirely too straightforward, with stratagems more suited to tackling multiple weaker foes than a strong opponent in single combat. A quirk of learning under a war vet, maybe?

    Brendan catches Marshtomp's eyes for a split second, and the trainer sharply nods his head to the left. With a savage grin splitting his face, Marshtomp shines a bright white, then explodes towards Torkoal with a wordless Take Down.

    Neither Flannery nor Torkoal react fast enough, letting Marshtomp drive his shoulder into the side of Torkoal's head with a brutal thwack!

    Torkoal's head whiplashes to the side, the tortoise pokemon stumbling from the blow, one that would have thrown a car right off its tires. Bleeding profusely from the split in his skull, Torkoal shudders and lets his legs give out, falling to the ground in a heap.

    "Torkoal, c'mon baby! You can do it!" Flannery calls into the arena, her hands cupped around her mouth. "Don't give up!"

    Groaning, Torkoal slowly, painfully forces himself back to his feet. A second later, his head wound forces him to falter and slip, falling back down.

    Flannery sighs and slumps her shoulders, signaling the referee off to the side of the arena to call the match.

    The ref, a younger man in the traditional robes Moore insists on, clears his throat. "Torkoal is unable to battle! The winners of this match and the Gym Challenge are Marshtomp and Brendan Birch!"

    The barriers around the arena fall as the few spectators rise to their feet and politely applaud. Despite how few people there are, Zinnia's grin, Lee's half-smile, and Courtney's tiny smile all feel wonderful to Brendan. He catches Courtney's pretty magenta eyes, and her smile deepens, making the boy's stomach grow warm and wiggle. Despite trying to play off the win coolly, he grins back and feels his face become hot.

    Courtney is forgotten for a second as Marshtomp, yelling in excitement, rushes Brendan with his arms wide open. The air is driven from Brendan's lungs with an "Oof" as he gets a back-popping hug from his starter. Man oh man, Marshtomp's excitement is infectious! Brendan's grin returns as he hugs the mud-fish back. "Way to go, bud! You did amazing out there!"

    Marshtomp sets Brendan down and bumps a slightly charred fist against his own chest, gurgling confidently. "Of course I did," Marshtomp practically says.

    Across the field, Flannery recalls her unconscious Torkoal, sucking the pokemon back into his ball in a flash of light. She murmurs something too quiet to hear to the pokeball, then clips it to her belt where two other pokeballs hang.

    Schooling his face into a polite smile, Brendan walks out to the middle of the battlefield, which still bears the marks of Ninetales' and Ty's cataclysmic duel. There, he and Marshtomp meet Flannery in the middle.

    "You really are the real deal, huh?" Flannery begins, hooking her thumbs into her belt loops. She blows out an exasperated breath that makes her hanging red bangs flutter. "Gramps wasn't joking when he said the Birch family pumps out good trainers. I guess I've got a ways to go with this whole Gym Leader thing…" She sighs, but perks up and offers Brendan a closed hand with a smile. "Despite the loss, that was a fun battle! Illuminating, too. I think I now know better what I need to work on going forward."

    Flannery's hand opens, and in her palm is a shiny Heat Badge.

    "For your victory, I award you this Heat Badge!" Flannery smiles and offers it to Brendan, who takes the badge with a small, awed smile on his face.

    Getting a new badge always feels amazing.

    "Heh…" Flannery combs her fingers through her ponytatail sheepishly. "We, uh, need Ty to rest up and make us another copy of Overheat, so it might be a few days before you can get your prize TM. We'll have your prize money transferred over before long, though!"

    "It's no prob." Brendan waves Flannery off and deposits his new badge in his pocket to be later added to his badge case. He grins up at the heir of the Lavaridge Gym. "We were looking to take a vacation here in Lavaridge anyway. Just gimme a ring and I'll swing by!"

    Flannery smiles back. "Will do. If you're looking to vacation a bit, try out the Quilavaridge Onsen on the north end of town. They've got some of the best natural hot springs around. Book the 'special' and tell them I sent you. They cater to trainers and pokemon, so take everyone along," she says.

    Brendan grins. "Will do!"

    After a good-natured handshake with Flannery, the victorious trainer turns and heads back to the front of the Gym through the arena doors with Marshtomp in tow, finding that Lee, Zinnia, and Courtney are already in the lobby waiting for him.

    "Not a bad match at all, kiddo." Zinnia grins and pulls Brendan into a rough, one-armed hug that feels more like a headlock. Before Brendan can complain, Zinnia releases him and plants her hands on her hips. "You guys killed it out there."

    "Indeed you did," Lee agrees with Zinnia. "You aced both rounds. Well done. You'll have to tell me how Breloom got around Flame Terrain, though. I didn't see what you did."

    "Growth, just localized around Breloom's feet," Brendan reveals. "Not how it was intended to be used, but after some last-minute tweaking, we managed to get a padding of dead skin he didn't have to worry about burning."

    Lee blinks. "That's smart."

    Brendan glances over to Marshtomp, who looks back knowingly. "I would have liked to have a showdown more like yours, though."

    Lee's smile grows brittle. "You say that, but Moore is not a pushover—"

    'That's exactly why I would have liked to battle him.'

    "—and all of my pokemon sans Shinx are still laid up in the Pokemon Center with some of the worst injuries they've sustained yet." Lee sighs and crosses his arms. "Ninetales was not a happy camper after finding out she's going to be in the Center for another few days, and on light duty for a few more afterward."

    Idly, Brendan wonders if Lee and Ninetales are talking to each other right now with telepathy. Ninetales was pretty opinionated and finicky as a Vulpix, and evolving only made her more so. Does she complain to Lee nonstop? If so, then Brendan's friend-slash-mentor is even more patient than he thought.

    It does seem strange to see Lee without Ninetales, though…

    As a Vulpix, she would always ride on his right shoulder, and as a Ninetales, she always walks on his right when she can. Lee, as absentminded as he is sometimes, might not have noticed, but the symbolism is not lost on Brendan.

    Coming back to the present, Brendan crosses his own arms. "I think we could have managed against Mister Moore."

    "I dunno, kiddo. That heroic confidence will take you far, but Mura Moore and his pokemon are a whole other gaggle of beasts." Zinnia's doubt stings. The dragon tamer looks through the still-open arena doors at the pock-marked arena inside. "You'd outbrain him maybe, but sometimes raw guff wins the day."

    Courtney, surprisingly, speaks up. "I think you'd win, Brendan," she says quietly, drawing all eyes to her. If the attention spooks her, she hides it perfectly. "Gym Leader Moore… is a product of his time. He wins with power, you win with skill. Skill, when properly leveraged… wins nearly every time." She smiles, and despite how small a quirk of the lips it is, it's fantastically pretty.

    Brendan can't help but turn pink under the unexpected vote of confidence. "T-Thank you, Courtney," he says with a shy smile.

    Lee and Zinnia share a short, severe look that seems to convey a whole conversation. It's so brief that Brendan almost misses it.

    Brendan takes a moment to clear his throat. "Since we're going to be here for a few more days—" He pauses to cross his arms behind his head and stretch, feeling his tense body loosen now that the adrenaline of a good battle has passed. "Why don't we take a real break before we hit the road? Fallarbor is easily two weeks away or more, and Flannery told me about this place called Quilavaridge on the north side of town."

    "I was looking at that same place the other day," Zinnia chimes in with a smile and a nod. "A restaurant, onsen, and spa all in one." Her smile becomes sly, and she bumps shoulders with Courtney. "I bet they can be convinced to let our pair of celebs and their pretty friends in for cheap, don't you think?"

    Courtney shakes her head, making her hair bounce under her hood. "That seems shameless…"

    "Thrifty, you mean," Zinnia counters. She turns to Lee and clasps her hands together. "Dolittle, you won't leave your best gal pal hanging, will you?" she asks with a cringe-inducing simper and big, Rockruff eyes.

    Lee smirks. "Never, but I think Ninetales will get the guest of honor treatment just for showing up."

    Zinnia's expression twists like an arrow just struck her in the heart. A tanned hand flies over her chest and dramatically claws at the fabric of her shirt. "I see how it is…" she grumbles, but her lips twitch in a barely suppressed laugh. "Well, let's make tracks, people. We've got a booking to make and Brendan's pokemon are due for a Center visit." Zinnia turns and strides toward the doors.

    Lee and Courtney turn to follow, leaving Brendan and Marshtomp to bring up the rear.

    As they walk, Brendan locks his gaze onto Lee's back.

    Pokemon training is a game of power and politics, and that realization hit Brendan at an early age. Growing up, people never talked about his father's discoveries as a professor and academic. No, for years they only ever wanted to gripe about how he could have been Champion, or how he could have been a part of the Battle Frontier, and how much of a disappointment he was when he declined both titles. Some regions might treat the title of Regional Professor differently, but in Hoenn? It's a place for figureheads.

    Nigel Birch, a figurehead.

    The old newspapers in the Littleroot library had told a younger Brendan everything he needed to know about how the world reacted to his father taking the regional circuit by storm, only to quit and vanish to be with his wife and newborn son. Even now, the Pokemon League barely gives his father the time of day for the 'betrayal,' and only now, years later, is his reputation recovering.

    As if watching history repeat itself, Brendan can see the same thing happening to Lee.

    Lee's been kind to Brendan, even during the times he's treated more like a child than a peer. There's no maliciousness, just genuine concern. Lee even gives away his methodology and secrets behind his raising of pokemon, taking the time to answer every question and teach Brendan anything he asks for, even at his own expense.

    Lee… He's too gentle, too kind to want the office of Champion. Brendan knows the only reason the man is even tackling the gym circuit is because he's too polite, too… meek to protest being railroaded into it. Brendan can't help but wonder to himself if Lee's unwillingness to protest has to do with his past—the one Brendan knows so little about.

    Regardless, the man lives and breathes everything pokemon, never pausing or resting in his pursuit to know and understand. If he's not giving a physical examination, measuring every facet of his pokemon, counting calories, providing physical therapy for injuries, or something else a casual or even intermediate trainer wouldn't think to do, he has his nose in a book researching something or other. Lee Henson barely has a life outside of pokemon. With his tireless methods, his pokemon are growing into monsters that will draw the eye of every dedicated battler around.

    Heck, that's already happening. People online are going nuts over Lee and his pokemon, and the initial ripples are going to double back in waves soon. Were he a bit younger, Brendan might have felt upset or even jealous about playing second fiddle to his friend. Instead, he finds himself fine with it, considering his goals now.

    When they first set out from Littleroot all those months ago, Brendan wasn't really sure what he wanted out of his journey. Dad said not to worry and just have fun, as a goal would come to him eventually. Traveling Hoenn, seeing new and wonderful things, meeting strange people and stranger pokemon, all of it is an inspiration of the finest sort…

    …but here on the battlefield, where his adrenaline rushes and his heart thunders in his ears, here in the ring of honor where mind, body, and bonds are truly tested. This is the place Brendan found his own dream.

    He will win the Ever Grande Conference, topple the Elite Four, and dethrone Steven Stone, declaring to the world that he is his father's son, here to finish what was started twelve years ago.

    That's not all, though. His mission is twofold.

    Before Brendan can be the Champion, he has to defeat Lee and his pokemon at the summit of the Ever Grande Conference, freeing them from the expectations of the masses. If Lee is defeated at his best, then the shackles of promises unspoken can't close around his wrists.

    Brendan's eyes travel over to Zinnia. He's suddenly stricken by how little he knows of her as well. He knows Zinnia likes Dragons, is from a reclusive tribe up north, is an old movie buff, and many other surface-level things… But who is Zinnia Draconid, really? Who is the woman who broods and rolls an empty pokeball in her hand when she thinks no one is looking?

    Well, maybe it doesn't matter. Like Lee, she's Brendan's friend, and he'll make sure he and his pokemon are strong enough for her, too.

    Brendan looks over to Marshtomp, his best friend and partner in this journey across Hoenn. Like the brother he never had, Marshtomp is simply so in-tune with Brendan that, when they lock eyes, the boy knows they're thinking the same thing.

    Dad never said it aloud, but his actions after abandoning the Ever Grande Conference are clear as day:

    Friends and family are everything.

    The young Birch's gaze once more finds its way to Lee.

    And because of that, I will defeat you.

    "Alright baby girl, hit it!"

    Shinx puffs her cheeks out in concentration, her fur sparking yellow, especially around the multimeter probes touching her ears. Lee glances down at the multimeter sitting in his lap as the meter's insulated probes quickly grow warm in his hands. "Goodness. Forty thousand volts at fifteen milliamps…" He whistles. "Okay, Shinx. That's enough."

    Shinx cuts off her electrical current as Lee takes the probes away, setting them down next to him in the grass before taking a moment to wipe the sweat off his brow.

    "Merow?" The kitten looks up at Lee with big, sparkling eyes.

    "Wonderful work, baby girl," Lee smiles and reaches a hand out, rubbing her under the chin and earning him a heart-warming purr. "You're getting so strong all of a sudden. I don't know why Brendan and Zinnia are worried about me when I have you around."

    Shinx beams under the praise. Quite literally, in fact. Her luminescent yellow eyes shine with a captivating gold light that's visible even in the bright sunlight. She presses her head into Lee's hand, purring all the while.

    'Forty thousand volts at fifteen milliamps. That's enough to put a burly man on his ass, or even kill someone with a weak heart.' Lee breathes out an amazed sigh. 'In just a few weeks, her electrical powers have gone from unpleasant static zap to totally incapacitating… for a human, at least.'

    A week after Brendan's gym battle finds Lee and company in one of Lavaridge's parks. Other people are out and about, with kids and pokemon playing in the field while parents chatter by the picnic tables off to the side. A few other trainers are going about some light training of their own, and thankfully no one wants to bug him or Shinx.

    Brendan and Marshtomp are out near the center of the field, quickly endearing themselves to the local children with Marshtomp's Water Gun playing the role of a sprinkler on this hot day. Breloom is using the distraction to leisurely dig through Brendan's bag, munching on anything that looks edible. Electrike, meanwhile, is off to the side playing with a few other younger pokemon under Mawile's watchful eye. The younger pokemon are simply awed by how large the electric pup is.

    Courtney is further away, engaged in a battle with a teenage trainer. It's clear Courtney's foe didn't expect the reclusive-looking woman to be a challenge, but the young trainer's Croagunk is sweating and barely keeping out of the way of Courtney's Mightyena. Even if Courtney is being mercifully lenient, the match's outcome is already a foregone conclusion.

    Zinnia is absent, waiting impatiently at the Pokemon Center for her Tyrunt, which is due to be delivered today. Upon acquiring Tyrunt, Zinnia will take the "rarest pokemon in the group" title from Lee and Ninetales.

    Grovyle and Octillery were released into Lee's care just two days ago, both with light-duty advisories. Grovyle, ever dutiful, decided to rest in his ball, staying on standby with Lee when not otherwise needed. He's recovering quickly, though his appearance remains rather lop-sided with his burned wrist-leaves still regrowing.

    Lee had once more offered to teach the gecko how to read alongside Octillery, but he hesitated, and then declined, much to Lee's befuddlement.

    Octillery, who is driven up the wall when sitting idle, was left back at the hotel. Having tired of doing all his research and projects on his phone, Lee had splurged a little and bought a laptop for himself, which was left with Octillery today. In mere days, the octopus had grasped the basics of reading and writing enough that he began to crave something more stimulating. After a night of learning the basics of using a computer and memorizing Lee's credentials for the Rustboro Trainer School's online learning website, Octillery could safely be left to his own devices.

    Poor Ninetales is set to be released today, then left on light duty for an entire week, much to her chagrin. Even if they're never truly apart, Lee had stopped in to visit her every single day. In the back of his mind, Lee can feel the great fox lightly dozing on her hospital bed.

    That has left Shinx receiving nearly all of Lee's attention for a solid week, and seeing as he had nothing else to do and he couldn't put off Shinx growing up forever, they finally began some light training for the little Electric-type. To Lee's silent lamentations, her training has confirmed his worst fears.

    In just a month and a half, she's left the clumsy kitten stage and is taking her first steps into the overly-curious juvenile stage. It's a part of a feline's life that Aasir back at the zoo made damn sure Lee was familiar with.

    Looking down at Shinx, Lee lets his hand wander from her chin up to her cheek and short muzzle. With his thumb, he strokes one of the tufts of fur on the side of her face.

    She'll be the third cub he's raised by hand.

    Something in Lee's chest clenches painfully. They're gone. They're gone and they're not coming back.


    Lee sucks in a sharp breath and blinks, wondering when he spaced out. Looking back down, he sees Shinx looking back up at him with worry in her big, gold eyes. With an inward sigh, Lee goes to curse at himself only to stop himself short. 'Remember what Mable said. Don't put yourself down over things you can't control, and talk with someone if you need to…' Lee composes himself and smiles back down at Shinx. "Ah, I forgot how in-tune with emotions young pokemon are. Don't mind me, Shinx. I was just thinking about some things, is all."

    Shinx says nothing in reply, but she does crawl into Lee's lap and looks up at him, blinking once.

    Lee snorts ruefully. "Don't worry yourself over it, baby girl. I won't mope around you anymore."

    The kitten flicks her tail once, still staring up at him as if waiting for him to explain.

    'Ah, to hell with it. You'll feel better by saying something, and Shinx is so young she won't remember this.'

    "...You weren't my first baby, you know?" Lee strokes Shinx across her back with two fingers, talking more at her than to her. "You're the third. You would have been the fourth if… things had worked out for the best." The zoologist takes a deep breath in and out. "Zefu and Suburi were like you, these little cubs I helped raise. I loved them like nothing else, but they aren't… around anymore, making you my last."

    Lee looks down at Shinx again, who is still staring at him with her wide, innocent eyes. "You look just like them, and for a while, I wondered if I made the right choice by taking you, baby girl. Was I trying to fill the hole they left behind? I don't know, but I do know I was worrying myself sick wondering if I would do a good job raising you, wondering if you'd get big and strong." Lee smiles and scratches Shinx near the base of her tail, making her arch her back and shut her eyes with a contented purr. "Well, here you are, doing fine. That's probably more you than me, but I'm thankful regardless." He scratches a little harder. "I love you, baby girl."

    Shinx's purr grows, and she nuzzles her head into Lee's stomach.

    'You should give yourself more credit, Beloved,' Ninetales' groggy 'voice' echoes through his head. 'Shinx went from a premature waif fated to be as fragile as spun glass to just a few pounds underweight in the span of fifty days. In another fifty, no one will be able to tell she's ever been anything but a model of picture-perfect health.'

    'Perhaps, but I credit her for tolerating all my meddling and therapy,' Lee sends back. 'I'm sorry if I woke you up.'

    'If you want to apologize for doing so, you can come and check me out of the Pokemon Center,' Ninetales says dryly. 'I've been ready to leave since day one.'

    Lee closes his eyes and taps a little deeper into Ninetales, gauging how she's feeling.

    Her broken hindleg is free of its cast. Her ribs, although tender, don't hurt. Her blown-out eardrum is as good as new, and her hearing on both sides is back to 100%. Her burns are healed, though her regrowing fur is thin in some places. Most importantly, the bone-deep weariness is gone, replaced with a pent-up energy yearning to be free of the Pokemon Center.

    'We're on our way.' Lee nods and looks down at Shinx. "C'mon, girl. Let's go pick up Ninetales."

    Shinx's eyes light up at Ninetales' name, and with a little wiggle, she hops up and drapes herself across Lee's shoulders like she'd seen Vulpix do a thousand times.

    After packing up the multimeter, his new and marginally filled notebook, and a charred, cut-up poke-doll that Shinx was honing her Thundershock and Scratch attacks on, Lee shoulders his bag and stands. Rather than yell over the dull roar of the park, Lee quickly sends Brendan and Courtney a text message each saying he's heading to the Center and starts off.

    During the walk to the Center, Lee hesitantly unlocks his phone and opens his emails.

    24 New Emails.

    Lee clicks his tongue. Weeks after Ninetales' evolution and eight days after their dramatic win at the Gym, Lee is still getting barraged by emails. Some are obvious spam, some seem like real offers for various sponsorships that become one-sided when scrutinized, and some are just nonsense. Easily 90% of what he was sent was either ignored or politely declined, with a decent chunk of that remaining 10% being sent off to Monty for a better response than Lee could come up with.

    Monty, the Hoenn Pokemon Lab's PR manager, is an older gentleman that Nigel has been friends with for years. He was a nice enough guy during the call that the professor had arranged so they could meet each other, and has so far proven himself to be exceptionally competent at turning away pointed questions.

    Lee had forwarded the man an email from a gossip rag that wanted to interview him, one heavily implying Lee was using stimulants of dubious legality on his pokemon. Monty shut down the entire conversation in a heartbeat, giving them a sterile, diplomatic denial with no room for misinterpretation. He ended with the implication that the League itself might be displeased with the accusation leveled at Lee.

    No article was ever published by the newsgroup.

    In light of some of the other emails he's getting, ones with business offers, Lee bit the bullet several days back and contacted a Rustboro-based lawyer to keep on retainer. Finding a lawyer had been a surprising pain, as many declined without even speaking to him. It took a while before he realized why.

    To a lawyer, a client with a vengeful, mind-reading pokemon is a nightmare come to life.

    Amanda Keller, a young woman only a year older than Lee, finally took up the job for a modest (or at least modest for a lawyer) monthly retainer. The law firm she works for in Rustboro has a good reputation, and although Amanda herself has only been on the job for a year and some change, she's won nearly all of her legal battles and was willing to take on a high-risk client like Lee. Keeping her on retainer is risky with his sometimes unstable income, Lee thinks, but not having a lawyer on speed dial doesn't seem like an option anymore.

    'Being a trainer is expensive….'

    Lee opens his emails and begins scrolling. 'Let's sort them now and be done with it for today.'

    Spam, spam, invite to a spammy-looking BattleNet group that he declines, a new post in Fox Friday, spam, new posts in his BattleNet mega-thread… Really just a whole lot of nothing.

    There are a few that seem interesting. One is from a company called Junesoft Entertainment, which wants to license his and his pokemon's names and images for what looks like a mobile gacha game in return for a decent monthly sum. Another from a company called HoD Group is asking for more or less the same thing, just for their brand of trading cards and figurines. More money can never hurt, so Lee forwards both to his lawyer to scan for any red flags.

    'Gah. Six months ago, my biggest concern was what I was having for dinner. Now it's navigating business deals and keeping an eye out for eco-terrorists.' Lee grunts. 'When did life get so complicated?'

    'Such is the burden of the extraordinary,' Ninetales chimes in, a mental giggle punctuating her words. 'If they make video game characters of us, insist on you and I being the highest rarity there is. I won't settle for less.' After a moment, Ninetales continues. 'Lee, Magma may be making a move soon. We'll be investigating Mount Chimney in accordance with 'canon', correct?'

    Lee hesitates, turning his body so a Rhydon carrying a child on his shoulders can slip by on the sidewalk. 'We can look. If we don't find anything, then Ash and his friends probably will when they stop by Lavaridge, and it'll be taken care of then.'

    Ninetales' reply is the curious sensation of a telepathic nod.

    With the Pokemon Center in sight, Lee dismisses the rest of his junk mail and glances at BattleNet, finding little of importance. Fox Friday is once more hosting a little event, asking posters to share a little-known fox fact. 'This probably isn't well known.'

    Today at 12:50 PM
    L_Henson: Ninetales (Sample size of 1. Counted by touch. Unknown margin of error) have sixty (60) vertebrae per tail, checked and double-checked, for a total of five hundred and forty (540) when all the tails are added up.

    Multiple people are typing…

    Lee locks his phone and slips it into his pocket as he steps inside the Pokemon Center. With no line at the front desk, he's free to walk up to Nurse Joy—who is busy typing away at her computer from her place seated behind the desk. "Good afternoon, Nurse Joy. I'm here to check a patient out."

    The nurse looks up, a smile on her face. "Good afternoon, Mister Henson. I'll have someone bring Miss Ninetales out. In the meantime…" She hits a button on her keyboard, and the printer under her desk spits out several forms. Taking the forms, a pen from an assortment within a mug on her desk, and a little bacon-looking treat from a jar by the mug, Joy hands the papers and pen to Lee. "Here is Miss Ninetales' release forms and her continued recovery plan," she says, offering the treat to a delighted Shinx, who gobbles it up and leaves crumbs on Lee's sleeve.

    By the time Lee has signed everything and handed the papers back to Joy, a young nurse in scrubs has emerged from the doors leading deeper into the Center with a pokeball in her hands. Walking up to Lee, she presents the ball with a smile.

    "Thank you." Lee smiles and takes the proffered ball.

    "Take care, Mister Henson!" Nurse Joy says goodbye with a wave.

    Looking around the Pokemon Center, Lee quickly finds Zinnia sitting on a couch in the corner impatiently bouncing one of her legs. The Dragon Tamer glances at the clock on the wall and sighs.

    Upon making his way over, Lee sits down next to Zinnia, surprising her into looking at him. "No Tyrunt?" he asks.

    "Not yet," Zinnia scowls. "I was told 'noon', and guess what happened?" she asks snarkily, pointing at the clock. "Still nothing."

    Lee looks up at the clock as well. The hands tell him it's just now one o'clock in the afternoon. "Hmm. What region is your contact in?"


    "Orre's timezone is three hours behind Hoenn."

    Zinnia groans. "Cool…" She crosses her arms and grumbles. "So I'm here way early…" She reins in her annoyance and looks at the pokeball in Lee's hand. "How is Miss Fox?"

    In response, Lee just hits the button of Ninetales' ball.

    With a flash of light, Ninetales materializes, sitting regally with her tails fanned out behind her before Lee, Shinx, and Zinnia… though the effect is ruined by the places where her burned-away fur is thin and in the process of regrowing.

    Ninetales looks down at the spots where Lee's eyes linger, a frown on her muzzle.

    'I'll trim your coat a bit soon, Love. It'll cover the worst of it,' he silently promises. 'You're still the most beautiful pokemon around regardless.'

    Ninetales' frown eases. It vanishes when Shinx leaps down from Lee's shoulders to rub herself against Ninetales' front legs lovingly.

    Zinnia nods slowly, looking up and down Ninetales' form. "Well, it could've been worse. Do you think you've recovered enough to put a Dragon throwing a tantrum in his place?"

    The golden fox raises an eyebrow, and Lee turns to Zinnia asking Ninetales' unspoken question. "Can we get some elaboration on that?"

    "I'll be all too happy to fix your ignorance on the topic," Zinnia jabs with a smirk. "Do you know how dragons, capital 'D' Dragons, run their relationships?"

    "I… can't say I do," Lee admits with a blink.

    Dragons, like Fairies, aren't very well-documented. Dragon Tamers keep their secrets close to their chests to make their powerful pokemon that much harder to counter. There is more myth than fact out there.

    "Dragons crave social structure, and that structure is based on a strength-driven hierarchy," Zinnia begins, tapping Shelgon's ball. "They want a pack, sometimes called a Flight — or a Thunder depending on who you ask — and a role in that Flight. Naturally, the alpha spot is the one they all want since it comes with prestige and guaranteed mating rights. A Dragon coming into a new Flight must challenge the strongest pokemon for their spot. Normally, a Dragon will fall in line after taking a harsh enough loss, but a sore loser might just try to assume control of a neighboring group as a vassal of sorts, so… Jeez, Dolittle…" Zinnia snorts and tries to hide a smirk as she peers down at Lee's hands. "You're such a nerd."

    "Hmm?" Lee looks down at his notebook, unsure when he pulled it out, but Zinnia's explanation is already written word for word there. He crosses out the unconsciously written 'Jeez, Dolittle, you're such a nerd'. "Well, I'm not going to apologize. This is fascinating stuff! Please, keep going."

    "Right, right." Zinnia composes herself. "Anyway, vassal groups. A sore loser Dragon who can't secure the alpha or beta spots in a Flight might take over a weaker Flight and use them as a vassal to their main Flight. A greedy alpha might even send Dragons under them to go do this on purpose. Some Dragons have made some impressive kingdoms in the past, spanning dozens of Flights and hundreds of individuals beholden to a central Emperor Flight in a big social web."

    'Wouldn't that kingdom inevitably fall due to infighting?' Ninetales asks skeptically. She flicks her heart-marked ear. 'If the primary way to move up socially is with violence, it just incentivizes the hidden consolidation of personal power and a culture of backstabbing.'

    When Lee repeats Ninetales' question, Zinnia shakes her head. "Not really. Most Dragons are just born with a concept of honor, understanding that before any other emotion, so they don't do backstabbing. A challenge from a Dragon is unmistakable. Besides, Dragons grow fastest when put under pressure, and the pressure of keeping your underlings in line and your crown safe is immense."

    'That paints a frightful picture…' Lee can already imagine how Dragon-types have snowballed their way into being considered the most powerful type. If the strongest Dragons get stronger just by being strong, and they're almost certain to find a mate, it turns into an infinite feedback loop.

    "The reason why I ask is because Tyrunts are fighty little things," Zinnia continues. "When Shelgon puts my little dino in his place, he's not going to take that sitting down and is going to pester Ninetales and Marshtomp. When he does, make it clear he's not going to get a foothold, okay?"

    "We can do that," Lee agrees, closing his notebook. "That's some really interesting stuff, Zinnia. I'd like to hear more if you get time."

    Zinnia raises an eyebrow. "Huh. I thought a mammal-focused trainer like you wouldn't be… Ah, what am I saying, of course you'd find Dragons cool." She shakes her head with a small smile.

    "You call me a nerd and then think I wouldn't be interested in pokemon social structures?" Lee scoffs. "That'd be like a Dragon tamer not being interested in raising an ancient reptile back from the dead."

    "Okay, okay, get off my back," Zinnia grumbles. Her red eyes scan around, then she levels Lee with a serious look. "Lee, I was tipped off that Magma might be operating in the area," she says, her voice quiet. "I…I'm not going to ask that you look with me, but I wanted to inform you that I'll be scouting Lavaridge and Mount Chimney for them. I have no idea why they're here, but…"

    Lee and Ninetales share a look, time seemingly slowing as they converse. 'What I want to know-' begins Ninetales, '-is why Zinnia is so interested in Magma. She's never stated a reason. She's apparently been using clandestine, perhaps even illegal, sources for information and supplies. I don't see how it could be related to her stated goal of being the Draconid Lorekeeper.' Ninetales' suspicion is as plain as it is distrusting.

    'Neither do I,' Lee agrees. 'There must be some reason, though. Zinnia is a hothead, but when she sits and thinks things through, she can be surprisingly shrewd. I doubt this obsession with Magma is something baseless. I mean, we know for a fact they're trying to unbalance the entire world! I think that counts towards the goal of keeping her tribe safe.'

    'Yes, we know what Magma's aims are because of meta-knowledge. Zinnia already implied that she knows what they're up to, but if she knows, why wage a single-woman crusade when she has a tribe of Dragon Tamers as backup? Why not tip off League officials as you did? Something isn't adding up,' Ninetales insists. When Lee has no answer, Ninetales relents ever so slightly. 'Before we commit to anything, I have to insist we ask why she's pursuing them so dogmatically.'

    The conversation passes in a tenth of a second, and Lee returns his attention to the woman next to him. "Zinnia… What's with this thing you have for Magma and Aqua? I get that they're eco-terrorists and up to no good, but why are you so personally invested in this?" Lee crosses his arms. "I appreciate the warning, and I'm not going to let you wander into danger alone, but I'd like to know why you're doing this."

    Zinnia hesitates, looking away and biting her lip. "Lee… it's complicated. I don't want to say, because I don't want you to get caught up in this."

    "It's a little late for that now," Lee shoots back. "We're already going to sniff around for Magma and we've got one of their admins under surveillance."

    "Caught up in the deeper parts, I mean," Zinnia snaps back. She takes a deep breath and calms herself, looking around to make sure no one is looking their way. "There is a lot at play beyond Magma and Aqua. I really do not want to explain, because if I do, I know you'll get tangled up in this mess even worse, and…" She gives Lee a tired look. "I don't want to push more onto your plate, Lee. You've got your own things to worry about, and I've got mine, okay? Some things are better left unsaid."

    "Deeper parts, deeper than what crackpot eco-terrorists are up to, hmm?" Lee frowns. "You're not doing anything to alleviate my concern, here."

    Zinnia leans back into the couch, her face falling into something… lost? Afraid? She takes a pokeball from her belt and rolls it in her fingers. After a minute of silence, she speaks up, quiet and unsure. "You and Brendan are the first friends I've had outside of my pokemon since Aster died…" Zinnia says, voice little higher than a whisper. "I don't like keeping you in the dark, but I have to for your own good. I know your type, Lee. If I explain, you'll invite yourself along even if you don't want to. Even if you know it could kill you."

    Lee's skin breaks out into goosebumps as Ninetales' hackles rise. At Ninetales' feet, Shinx stares up at Zinnia.

    Zinnia stares down at the pokeball in her hand and presses the button. The ball pops open, and no pokemon comes out. She closes it again with a sigh. "If you really want to know…" Zinnia's eyes lock Lee in place. "…then think about it until we get to the Draconid stronghold outside of Fallarbor, okay?" She puts the empty ball away. "I need to work up the nerve to talk, and you need the time to consider it. If you still want to know…" Zinnia clenches her fists on her knees. "Then I'll tell you. I promise."

    Silently, Lee nods. "My answer won't change, but take however much time you need."

    Zinnia gives him a tired smile, then rises from her seat with a dramatic flourish of her cloak. She stretches her arms over her head. "Alrighty! Enough doom and gloom! I saw a Johto sashimi place down the road, and if my pokemon isn't going to be here for another two hours, then lunch is in order!" She grins. "For upsetting your best gal pal, you can pay for her lunch!"

    "But Ninetales isn't upset."

    Lee earns a slug to the arm for the comment. Apparently, Zinnia doesn't care for being hit with the same joke twice in a week.

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  4. Threadmarks: Act 2: Chapter 11

    Fuggmann Inventor of Sex 2

    Dec 14, 2020
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    It's a rare sort of day today, two days after Ninetales' release from the Pokemon Center. For the first time in several weeks, Lee and Ninetales have been left to their own devices.

    Brendan asked to borrow Grovyle and Octillery for a training exercise out near the base of Mount Chimney, and both pokemon agreed. After making some plans, promising to return before dark, and double promising not to work Grovyle and Octillery too hard since both are still on light duty, Brendan took his temporarily expanded team and set out.

    Shinx, who is thankfully not fussing too much during the process of being weaned off of her bottle, is off in a deep slumber. She ate a little too much for lunch and quickly fell asleep to digest her meal. Lee returned her to her ball and placed the capsule in a pocket of his backpack, letting Shinx sleep somewhere dark, cozy, and quiet. She'll be out for a few hours, at least.

    Zinnia and Courtney are out together for some 'girl time'. Lee is 99% sure the outing is Zinnia trying to get the Magma admin to slip up and talk about something she shouldn't, and maybe 1% trying to get free drinks at a bar somewhere. The Dragon Tamer apparently has plans to begin their investigation into Magma's recent activity tonight. She's going to go out and eavesdrop in the usual dives that gangsters frequent, while Lee… is going to study up on how far his powers as an auxiliary peace officer go. First, finding out if he can request warrants, just in case Zinnia gets stonewalled on a lead.

    None too thrilling, all things considered.

    Since today is their weekly rest day in the cycle Lee has formulated for his pokemon, Lee and Ninetales have been left with some time to relax together, as their only obligation today is to meet with Moore at the Gym and allow the still unnamed move for Flannery to be copied. That in mind, Lee and Ninetales decided to go out and enjoy themselves for a bit.

    Out on the streets of Lavaridge, man and fox cut through the crowds on the street with ease, as most part around them with excited whispers and awed smiles. Ninetales was the subject of stares before, but she's a veritable celebrity now after defeating Ty.

    The great vixen keeps her head held high and her prowling gait regal, but she can't quite hide the smile that pulls at the edges of her lips. Her steps are still a bit ginger and if one looks hard enough, they can see where her coat is a little thinner in places, but the fading aftermath of her bout with Ty does nothing to diminish Ninetales' mood.

    Lee smiles. 'Enjoying yourself?'

    'Perhaps a little,' she admits with a sniff. 'It was somewhat unwelcome before our match with Leader Moore, but now the attention feels appropriate.'

    'Lavaridge has a lot of immigrants from Kanto and Johto, and both regions have a long history with the Vulpix line. It makes sense that people would stare.' Lee eyeballs a few shops as they walk, his eyes lingering on a tobacco shop advertising everything from traditionally Asian-looking pipes to fine cigars.

    Ninetales follows his eyes and draws her lips back into a thin line. 'No.'

    A frown finds its way to Lee's face. 'I wasn't going to get anything bad. Just a box or two of cigars for special occasions.'

    'Lee, my Beloved,' she begins, eyeing him with a pained look, 'you only have so long on this earth, and I want to savor every moment of it. I don't want you to ruin your health, and I don't think my heart could bear it if you perished before your time.' Ninetales narrows her eyes, staring up at him seriously. 'You already quit smoking months ago, so why go back?'

    Quitting had been more involuntary than anything, considering how hectic the first few weeks of trainer life had been, but guilt still pokes a hole in his heart and Lee falters. 'Ah… I forgot about that part… My bad, Love.'

    The conversation falls into a lull and, although she tries to hide it, Lee can feel Ninetales' own guilt gnawing at her. 'You may have one box of your choice,' she begins, her tone leaving no room for argument. 'They're to be saved only for special occasions like you said, understood?'

    'Nine, if it upsets you so much, then I'm fine doing without.' Lee reaches a hand out and strokes her behind her heart-marked ear as they walk. 'No skin off my nose.'

    Ninetales leans into the touch with a content sigh. 'Perhaps, but I shouldn't have manipulated you like that. I knew what I said would make you feel guilty.'

    Mulling over her words, Lee takes a moment to reply. 'Maybe you did, but that doesn't make your point or good intentions less valid.'

    The fox huffs. 'You're infuriatingly kind sometimes.'

    'If I can't have pity parties, then you can't either.' Lee meets her eyes with a smile as they walk past the tobacco shop. 'I'll pass this time. Maybe another time.'

    Ninetales leans into Lee's side, her warmth seeping into him just as much as her telepathic adoration does.

    The pair separate and continue forward, pulled along by whims more than anything else. They browse the various merchants as they go, such as a flower shop teeming with Cutiefly, all busy pollinating the flowers within. The shop's largest display is a colorful array of bamboo, grown by crossbreeding the plants with Berry trees. A liquor store they stop by proudly presents its locally made sake, a traditional form of rice wine. Ninetales is considerably more okay with alcohol over tobacco, so Lee buys himself some "Burning Spirit Sake," the bottle of which features Ty the Typhlosion's scowling, stylized face on the label. The third shop is what really captures Lee's attention, though.

    "Look at that…" Lee breathes as he and Ninetales step in through the propped-open door of Parlor Kaede.

    All around them are racks of clothes and garments. Some are obviously common wholesale fare, but quite a bit looks to be handmade, especially since the bulk of the inventory is traditional wear like robes, kimonos, haoris, and other things Lee can't rightly name. They're artistic and eye-catching, but that's not what has Lee's attention. No, what draws his eyes is deeper inside.

    Near the back of the store and behind the employee counter are a hard-working group of Spinarak, diligently overseen by an Ariados.

    The Spinarak are spider pokemon sporting a size fit to send an arachnophobe into conniptions. The spiders are green with yellow legs that easily span a foot, and both the body and legs are banded with blue-black stripes. On the spider's head are two large eyes, a pearly white horn, and fangs colored a threatening red. Despite being commonly called spiders, the pokemon only have six legs.

    The rear wall of the shop is covered in a silken spiderweb of mammoth proportions. From the wall protrude a number of shelves off to the side, also covered in web. If a Spinarak isn't hanging on the back wall, then they're on the shelves, or sometimes under the shelves, parallel to the ground.

    Some of the spiders are busy working the spinnerets on their abdomens, producing a steady stream of silk that they twist and roll up into wooden spools held in their rearmost legs.

    Others are transporting full spools of pure white silk over to one of the shelves in the corner of the wall. They set the spools on upward-facing pegs before pulling the threads through a low-set bowl on the bottom of their workstation. With slow, careful tugs, they drag the white threads through the bowl, and the silk, now a brilliant color, is wound around another waiting spool.

    'They must have little pools of dye up there,' Lee thinks to himself.

    On an unused portion of the employee counter, a team of Spinarak are using their fangs like sewing needles, weaving spools of colored silk together to form a thick bolt of fabric. They're even weaving a pattern into it! The current bolt they're working on is a rich sky blue with purple flower petals.

    In the middle of all the commotion sits the Ariados, one that must eat well with its three-and-a-half-foot leg span. Like the Spinarak, it is a spider of terror-inducing proportions. Its body is red striped with black, with yellow legs striped violet, and the same violet coloring its two eyes. On its forehead is a white horn, and its similarly pale fangs are easily as long as a man's fingers.

    The Ariados keeps a watchful eye over the efforts around it, shifting its attention around rapidly. Its legs pluck at the web every now and then, and with each pluck, some of the Spinarak heed unspoken orders and move to new phases in their work. The spiders all work together like a well-oiled machine, and Lee can't help but stare despite the unease he feels from Ninetales.

    "Quite something, hmm?"

    Lee jumps and barely suppresses a curse when an unexpected voice speaks up next to him. He turns his head, taking in the owner of the voice.

    Next to Lee, a short, elderly woman watches the spider pokemon work with a small smile on her face. Her visage is like that of an old crone, one so on-the-nose Lee has to wonder if that was her intent. With gray hair pulled back into a high bun, a drooping, hooked nose, half-lidded eyes paired with a self-satisfied smirk, and a lit cigarette in a long, stem-like holder in her hand, she must be aiming for the appearance.

    The old woman turns her smirk up to Lee. "Captivated by my darlings, are you?" she asks, a pronounced accent most evident in how she says "dahlings". "I don't blame you. They're masterful in their art, so much so that I've little left to teach them." She chuckles and lifts her cigarette holder up, taking a long drag. Exhaling the smoke, she continues, "Ninth generation in a growing dynasty of silk-weavers, they are — and sweethearts to boot. They barely let their old master work anymore. It makes me feel useless."

    The Ariados on the wall seems to take offense at the statement, lifting its head and clicking its fangs in obvious agitation. It stares at the old woman with a hard, challenging gaze.

    The elderly woman meets the stare with a raised brow. After just a few seconds, the Ariados concedes and looks away.

    "Hmph!" The old woman nods, then returns her eyes to Lee. "Well then, boy. Don't be rude. Introduce yourself and your companion to me if you're going to be in my shop taking up space."

    Ninetales gives the old shopkeep a glowing red glare for the brusque tone, but it goes unnoticed.

    Caught flat-footed, Lee blinks. "Lee Henson, ma'am. With me is Ninetales, my first pokemon and best friend."

    "Hmm…" The crone of a woman regards Lee for a moment, then Ninetales, deep in thought. Then her eyes widen just a bit, and she cackles a hair-raising cackle. "Ah! You're the ones who toppled Mura! I remember." She calms herself. "I am Madam Kaede, and you will refer to me as such in this store, understood?" Without waiting for a reply, Kaede sends a look of disgust at Lee… or rather, at his jacket. "What brings you into my store? Obviously not your sense of taste…" She reaches a gnarled hand out and pinches the worn elbow of Lee's jacket. "Hoenn Civil Army camouflage? What are you hiding from? If I were in such an ugly, ineffective pattern, I'd be hiding from the mirror!"

    Lee drops a hand onto Ninetales' head and gently pets her, silently coaxing the narrow-eyed vixen to keep a grip on her thinning patience. "We were just browsing around Lavaridge, Madam Kaede," Lee begins diplomatically. "I saw your pokemon at work through the window and my feet led me in. They really are quite a marvel."

    Kaede sniffs imperiously. "Indeed, indeed," she agrees, looking the trainer up and down. Her disdainful face remains, but at the very least, the elder sounds less hostile. "I can tell that my shop has nothing for you."

    "You might be right…" Lee glances at the different racks of clothes on display, noting a number of garments clearly intended for non-human body plans. "Ninetales and I have been thinking about entering a pokemon contest just to see how we like it, and my first thought on that was to go for a more traditional look for the performance…" Lee turns to Ninetales, who blinks her red eyes at him. "Would you like a kimono, or maybe something else, Nine?"

    'I was under the impression that the trainer is the one that needs to dress up in a pokemon contest, not the pokemon.' Ninetales punctuates the telepathy with a rolling growl in her throat and a snort, mostly so Lee doesn't look insane getting answers from a mute fox.

    "Yes, but the point is to show off the pokemon, not the trainer." Lee crosses his arms. "Plenty of coordinators use accessories for their pokemon."

    Ninetales scans the racks of clothing, her mind slowly working. As she thinks, Lee can practically see what's going through her head.

    One part of the fox is skeptical. Her natural beauty is enough, she thinks. Besides, clothes are for humans, not pokemon. She'd only wear an outfit once in a blue moon anyway, and they would take up space the rest of the time.

    Another part, one close to where their minds join, looks at the assorted robes and dresses with a measure of appreciation, imagining some of them wrapped around her. She's also pleased by the idea of receiving a gift from Lee. The two sides clash in indecision briefly, then a winner is decided.

    '...I suppose one won't hurt,' Ninetales says with a nod of her head.

    Lee smiles in reply. "I guess we'll have a look around, then," he says, looking back down at Kaede.

    "Look around?" The elderly woman scoffs and tilts her head, peering at Lee like someone might a Slowpoke. She waves a hand around the store, occasionally stopping to point at the racks. "At this?" She shakes her head with an aggravated sigh and pinches her cigarette out between two fingers. "Darling, these are rags for tourists, barely even fit to be used as bibs for children."

    Lee raises an eyebrow and looks at the different clothes. They look great to him, with some of the more opulent robes boasting price tags of thousands of credits a pop. "Could have fooled me."

    Kaede hands her cigarette holder and the snubbed cigarette to a Spinarak who descends from the ceiling. The spider takes the wooden holder in his front legs and rises back into the rafters, vanishing from sight. "No," Kaede declares. "I will not be besmirched by letting a Ninetales wear anything but true Madam Kaede. Come! Come!" she urges, stepping around Lee and walking towards a closed door in the rear of the shop.

    Lee and Ninetales share a look, then follow.

    Kaede leads them to the door, a sliding one made of wood, and throws it open. "Lloyd!"

    Inside the room, a teenage boy with a Joltik on his shoulder jumps and nearly drops the bolt of fabric he's carrying. "Y-Yes, Madam?" He turns, regarding the old shopkeeper nervously. The boy is young, bright-eyed, and looks like he wishes he was anywhere else but here.

    "Make yourself useful and man the front. I have a client to see to." Kaede waves the boy off.

    "Yes, Madam!" Lloyd gulps and hastily jogs to the corner of the room, placing the bolt in his arms down next to several others, then slips by Lee and Ninetales in a hurry. As he goes, the Joltik on his shoulder blinks its four shiny, curiously intelligent eyes at them, as the teen slides the door closed behind him.

    "Hmpf. Stupid boy," Kaede mutters to herself. "He'll be in debt forever at this rate…"

    'Quite a pleasant person, isn't she?' Ninetales' words are like a concentrated stream of sarcasm right into Lee's brain, thick and gel-like. 'How a merchant can keep operating with such an attitude is beyond me.'

    'Perhaps her work is just that good?' Lee spitballs. 'In my experience, good artists are either humble as can be or so far up their own ass that they look like a human donut.'

    The vixen smirks at the imagery.

    "Now, where to begin…" Kaede mutters to herself, peering around the room.

    The back room of Parlor Kaede is a tailor's dream, with high shelves fitted with cubbies, all of which sport great rolls of fabric. One wall is dominated entirely by a pegboard filled with spools of silk arranged by color, and the opposite wall is stacked high with wooden boxes, each color-coded with a small sticker. What the colors mean is anyone's guess. By an ancient-looking iron sewing machine are a number of mannequins, each made for a different body type. Several quadrupeds, a few human-sized ones, and even a more esoteric one that looks like it can have extra limbs slotted into its torso.

    Looking up, Lee is only amazed further.

    In the rafters are several more Spinarak, and with them are even more shelves of fabric and equipment. Seeing what the spiders are standing vigil around in the gloom of the unlit ceiling is a challenge, but the stark white web at the very top of the ceiling is plain to see.

    "Hmm…" Kaede looks up as well and snaps her fingers. "A blank 15QM4M6 if you would, my darlings."

    A Spinarak from the rafters skitters to someplace out of view, then returns and descends on a thread of spider silk. A plain white robe, a white sash, a filled pin-cushion, and a rolled-up tape measure are all held in his legs.

    "Thank you, darling." Kaede smiles and takes the garments, tape, measure, and pincushion from the spider, who chitters and rises back into the ceiling. Then she turns her attention to Ninetales. "Come here, darling. Let's begin."

    'I'm beginning to rethink my choice…' Ninetales grumbles, but she does as the old woman asks and steps into the middle of the room.

    Kaede drapes the blank kimono over Ninetales' back, holding the sleeves up so Ninetales can easily step into them. Then, reaching under the fox, Kaede pulls the kimono closed, wraps the sash around Ninetales' middle, and tightens it in seemingly one movement. The whole dress seems to have been made from the ground up with a quadruped in mind.

    "Yes, 15QM4M6 should be about right…" the old seamstress murmurs, securing her pin cushion onto her wrist with a strap. Moving like lightning, she takes various measurements across Ninetales' body, sometimes marking the blank kimono with pins.

    Lee leans back against the wall, content to watch.

    Kaede moves with a deftness unfit for a woman her age, quickly marking the blank kimono and adjusting it, sometimes stepping away and asking Ninetales to turn. The blank kimono is then removed and placed on the quadrupedal mannequin before the seamstress requests another from her Spinarak, this time a '14QM4M7'. The process repeats itself several times. Throughout his waiting, Lee notices that, for all her surly confidence, Kaede avoids so much as brushing one of Nine's namesake tails.

    With three blank kimonos marked, a Spinarak descends, providing Kaede with a color chart, one of different colored silks stretched over a wooden backing. The chart in hand, the elderly woman holds it to Ninetales' fur coat. "Something warm and simple…" she mutters. "Yes, a red base will do…"

    "We don't get to pick the color or anything?" Lee asks, eyebrow raised.

    Kaede openly cackles a mocking note.

    After much debate with herself, Kaede nods and smiles. "Ah, this will be a good one indeed," she says, undoing the sash around Ninetales' middle and helping the fox step out of the latest white kimono.

    "You're certainly thorough, Madam," Lee comments, stepping off of the wall and stretching. He pulls his phone from his pocket and checks the time. 'Geez. Half an hour flew by in a flash.'

    Kaede ignores him, instead shuffling over to the well-aged sewing machine, where an old notepad lies. Producing a pen from her pocket, she begins writing down numbers: a long, almost nonsensical string of them, and none of them seem to correspond with the measurements she's just taken. After half the page is filled, she rips the page free, steps over to the wall, and knocks upon it sharply.

    "I don't mean to be a bother," Lee begins, keeping his annoyance at being ignored in check. "But can we have an ETA for when the kimono will be ready? And possibly a quote before we actually commit?"

    "Hush, boy." Kaede clicks her tongue. "Your Ninetales will have her finery today. Don't worry about money, either. I won't gouge you like some might."

    The door to the tailoring room opens, and in walks the Ariados from earlier, scuttling up the wall and into the rafters, but not before he takes the paper in Kaede's outstretched hand.

    "Now…" Kaede's eyes sparkle. "Stand back and behold!"

    Ninetales retakes her place at Lee's side, joining him in watching.

    Ariados stands upside down above them in the middle of the web. He sticks the paper in his little pedipalps to the web and, not taking his eyes off of it, begins to pluck at the web strands with his legs.

    All around the rafters, the Spinaraks suddenly move as one, skittering past one another in a frantic race to grab supplies.

    Some rappel down to take bolts of fabric in two-spider teams.

    Others take spools of individual thread.

    Another team drags one of the quadruped mannequins to the center of the room, with one spider remaining behind under the mannequin. Reaching into the dummy's belly, the spider twists some kind of mechanism that has escaped Lee's notice, and sections of the mannequin resize themselves with the clicks of a ratchet.

    The spiders all halt as Ariados stops plucking at the web. Then, like a conductor moving to the next movement in a symphony, the great red spider above begins his furious coordination anew. The whole time, Lee looks for the threads he knows must be connected from the web above to the working spiders, but they must be so thin that they escape the human eye.

    As the team of Spinarak descends on the mannequin, Lee can't help but let his jaw drop.

    Fangs slice cloth like scissors and stitch like needles as a new kimono materializes from raw fabric and thread under the writhing mass of spiders. The Spinaraks seem totally erratic from the outside, but under them, a garment quickly begins to take shape on the mannequin, arrayed in reds, oranges, and white.

    The well-organized discord of yellow legs and red fangs dominates the room for a solid fifteen minutes, and the entire time, Lee is transfixed at the scene before him. Even after months in this world, he's still stumbling upon new surprises. 'And I doubt it'll be the last,' he ruminates.

    Beside him, Ninetales' spider-induced disgust is stamped down and used as a stepping-stool for her own amazement, her mouth formed into a little 'o' at the end of her muzzle.

    Kaede just glows with pride as her pokemon work.

    Finally, the Ariados' frantic footwork abates, and the Spinaraks all skitter away, leaving the product of all their hard work behind.

    Before Lee can really get a good look, Kaede sweeps forward and urges Ninetales along with her. "Come, Darling! Come try it on!"

    Despite her misgivings over Kaede's attitude, Ninetales pads along behind the old woman readily. Trailing the fox, Lee can see her tails flick to and fro with excitement.

    The elderly shopkeeper stands in Lee's way of seeing Ninetales as she helps the pokemon into the freshly made garment. As she does so, more Spinaraks descend from the ceiling, crawling over to one of the cluttered corners and dragging a sectioned, rattan divider with them. The spiders pull the divider open behind Ninetales, showing off the sunset and blooming plains painted into it.

    Another spider slowly drops from the ceiling, dropping a parcel of waxed paper into Kaede's waiting hand. The parcel is swiftly opened, and although Lee doesn't see what's in it, he does hear the chime of a small bell.

    Kaede murmurs to herself as she places something around Ninetales' neck, then something else behind her ears. "There, perfect," Kaede smiles and steps away.

    Lee can't help the awed smile that slowly grows on his face.

    Ninetales as a species were obviously inspired by the kitsune of Japanese legend, and Ninetales' new attire drives the point home perfectly.

    Wrapped around her is a rich, red kimono the same shade as her eyes, edged in white. The rear is slitted in the back, allowing her tails freedom to fan out behind her, and on the lower section of the kimono are broad fall leaves, all expertly woven into the bold red with more subdued shades of orange and yellow. It's all held closed with a sash of red, also edged in white, tied into a ribbon upon her back.

    The front of the kimono is open to such a degree that it would be scandalous on a woman, but here it allows Ninetales' voluminous tuft of breast fur to be presented, where it hangs a little over the edge of the neckline. On that tuft and around her neck is a necklace of thick red cord, and dangling from the necklace is an ornate, somewhat shield-shaped charm inscribed with kanji Lee can't hope to translate. The charm is flanked by a pair of small, round bells, and hanging from the bottom of the charm itself is a pair of tassels, one white and the other red.

    Finally, in the tuft of fur trailing down Ninetales' head, a pair of hair sticks tipped with red gems are crossed inside. Bridged between them is a golden, fan-like ornament.

    '...Well?' Ninetales asks. After a moment of slightly embarrassed indecision, she sits, fluffs her tails up into a neat fan, and turns her head in a pose. 'How do I look?'

    "Holy hell…" Lee breathes. "Okay, now we have to try a contest. You'll knock the judges dead just walking onto the stage."

    Silently, Lee offers his vision to Ninetales, who reaches across the short telepathic band to see for herself.

    The vixen smiles brightly, enjoying her new look much more than she expected, and positively loving how much Lee admires her. Her happiness only makes Lee's own smile wider.

    Before that smile fades or Ninetales gets a chance to protest, Lee quickly withdraws his phone and snaps a picture of the scene. 'Wait 'till the nutcases on Fox Friday see this one,' he sends to her, taking another vertical photo and setting it as his background.

    Ninetales' ears burn red at the thought of someone other than Lee seeing her like this. 'Must you?'

    The longer he looks at the beautiful fox, the more Lee really appreciates just how much his life is looking up… then his smile dies a horrible death when another thought hits him. 'Oh shit. How much is this going to cost?'

    Lee turns to Kaede, gulping. "So, uh, Madam Kaede? About the cost here…"

    The old woman smirks. "For a specialty such as this? I don't even listen unless a client has a deposit of ten-thousand ready."

    Lee feels his soul leave his body. Through Ninetales' eyes, he watches his own face go white as a sheet.

    "But…" Kaede continues, eyeballing the now-furious Ninetales. "Stop with the scowl, darling. Let an old woman have some fun," she huffs. "I will only charge you for the materials today. It's not every day I can design for a client who actually wears my work well, and unlike some others, I will tell you to your face that this is a marketing ploy. Tell others you were here, and I will consider the time repaid."

    A sigh of relief blows past Lee's lips. Reaching up, he rubs his forehead. "Okay, so how much?"

    "Three thousand credits." Kaede looks like she's barely keeping herself from cackling.

    Suppressing the urge to hiss at the still steep price, Lee just nods. "I can do that," he mutters, turning back to the door leading to the front of the store.

    "Where are you going?" Kaede demands, a scowl taking over her wrinkled face. "Come here, boy! Before you go, you're learning how to take the ensemble off of your pokemon, how to put it on, how to fold it, and how to keep it clean. If it does get dirty…" Her face grows stormy. "Dry! Clean! Only!"

    Under Kaede's watchful eye, Lee, who is kneeling at Ninetales' side, begins removing the kimono from her for what feels like the tenth time.

    'We should probably head to the Gym once done here.' Lee idly thinks, undoing the knot in Ninetales' sash and folding it up. 'Once the move is in Flannery's hands, our obligations will be done there.'

    'We should.' Ninetales agrees. 'I'm sorry that this ended up being so expensive,' she then apologizes, remorse soaked into each word.

    'It's for you, so it's worth it.' Lee sends back without a moment's delay.

    Ninetales turns her neck and licks her trainer across his scarred cheek.

    'I swear this is taking much longer than before,' Ninetales complains, crossing her red eyes to glare at an errant wire hanging in front of her nose.

    In the sitting room of the Lavaridge Gym and once more in the company of Mura Moore and Flannery, Lee and Ninetales wait as the old, briefcase-bound TM copier belonging to the Moores copies Flannery's custom fire move from Ninetales. Just like before, the old headband fitted with pitted electrodes and disintegrating wires is just barely hanging onto Ninetales' head, and she's none too pleased with how it's mussing up her head tuft.

    She was much happier outside showing off the unnamed Fire move to a starstruck Flannery.

    'It's copying a more complex move, Love, and this thing looks like it's on its last legs…' Lee eyeballs the TM copier, swearing to himself he sees thin wisps of blue smoke rising from it. From the sitting room table, Lee raises the teacup Moore poured for him as everyone was seated. Taking a sip more out of politeness than enjoyment, he sets it back down. 'I'll fix up your fur afterward.'

    Ninetales just silently fumes in response. The new, three-thousand-credit outfit neatly folded in Lee's backpack keeps her mood from getting too foul, however.

    'I'll need to get something for Grovyle and Octillery. I'd get something for Shinx, but I don't think she's at the age to appreciate much beyond toys and attention,' Lee thinks. 'I love you, Ninetales, but it's not super fair to them if I give you an expensive present and don't give them the option too.'

    'Well, I'm not about to be jealous,' she scoffs. Even while focusing on the unnamed Fire move, Ninetales' telepathy is smooth enough for her to hold a seamless conversation. 'Grovyle would want something practical, like a TM or a new host for his Miracle Seed, since his neckerchief was burned to a crisp. Octillery…' Ninetales stops. 'Well, I can't rightly say. I don't know him well enough yet.'

    "-Damndest thing, don't you agree?" Moore finishes with a rueful shake of his head.

    Lee nods along, hiding how he spaced out mid-conversation with the older trainer. "Certainly…" he agrees. "Ah, I never asked. How is Ty doing, Leader Moore?"

    Moore smiles. "He's been recovering well. It's taking him some time, considering his age, but he came home early this morning and is plenty happy. I did get an official advisory from the Pokemon Center that Ty should be retired from battle, lest he suffers an injury that he cannot heal from," Moore sighs, content, while Lee has to hold back a grimace. "In return for his send-off, I feel as if I owe you a tip for your next Gym. You said you intend to challenge Norman next?"

    Lee nods. "Yes. We're taking a detour up north, then circling around to Mount Chimney's western flank, so it likely won't be for… two or more months, I think."

    Moore hums and strokes his chin with a forefinger and thumb. "Hmm. That time to prepare is a double-edged sword, you know. Norman is regarded as one of the best, most balanced trainers in all of Hoenn, and youngsters always complain that he's their biggest roadblock. Norman suffered a particularly humiliating defeat at the hands of a young trainer named Tyson recently, and that embarrassment will only compel him to prepare even more for you and young Brendan."

    'Tyson? The same one we battled in Mauville?' Lee wonders to himself. A thrill of apprehension runs down Lee's spine. "Really? Surely it couldn't have been that bad?"

    "This Tyson guy beat Norman's Slaking with a Metagross…" Flannery answers in her grandfather's stead.

    Ninetales raises her head sharply, and another shiver, one much colder, runs down Lee's spine. "A Metagross?" Lee asks weakly.

    Flannery shifts uncomfortably on her cushion, perhaps thinking of facing off with Tyson herself. "And it wasn't an even fight, either…"

    "Even Steven was surprised to hear this young Tyson fellow has a Metagross," Moore clicks his tongue. "Nasty things, Metagross. To earn the loyalty of one is an ordeal in of itself, for to a Metagross, all but the brightest humans are retarded children-"


    "-Slow children, I mean," Moore clears his throat. "No pokemon such as that would willingly partner itself to anyone but a trainer with true talent. The only other Metagross trainers I can think of are Steven and that girl who runs the Battle Tower, Anabel." The old Gym Leader raises his cup of tea for a sip. "Be wary, boyo. The Conference this year is going to have stiff competition."

    Lee sighs. "Wonderful…"

    Metagross is right up there with Ninetales on the "rare and dangerous" pokemon chart, as Lee discovered during his research frenzy prior to Ninetales' evolution. Being both physical and psychic powerhouses with an IQ that can't be accurately measured with human methods, they're nightmarish pokemon fit only for extraordinary trainers. Their gestalt physiology only makes it worse, as Metagross are born from the union of four individual Beldum or two Metang. The fusion of different minds makes predicting the gestalt thoughts of a Metagross nigh-impossible. Not many people can cope with the weight and mind games of a pokemon who is for sure more intelligent than they are.

    "Anyway," Moore sets his teacup down with a clack. "Be ready for Norman, my boy. Family life might have slowed his growth, but it's done nothing to weaken his pokemon. Norman and his team at their fullest will be your first real taste of an Elite. There is no surefire counter for him, and he'll be getting his team ready for you. If he can rouse Slaking for your battle…" Moore slips his glasses off and cleans the lenses against his shirt. "Well, it'll be a fight for the books."

    With a tired hum and the whine of an old electrical capacitor, the TM printer finally slows to a stop and spits out a TM disk from its side port. Once the printer chugs to a stop, Ninetales wastes no time shaking her head and dislodging the wired headband, which gracelessly falls to the floor.

    "Ah!" Moore smiles and takes the disk, placing his glasses back on as he does so. Turning to his now-grinning granddaughter, he hands the disk to her. "There you are, my dear. One custom pokemon technique." Moore turns back to Lee and Ninetales, bowing his head. "Lee, Madam Ninetales, I believe that concludes our deal. Thank you for taking the time to develop this technique and provide my oldest partner some closure on his career when I so rudely forced it upon you."

    Pushing thoughts of Gym battles and year's-end tournaments away, Lee smiles back and inclines his own head. "No no, thank you, Leader Moore, for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with your Fire Stone. I'm aware of the danger associated with mining such a pure stone out of Mount Chimney, so Ninetales and I will remember this."

    Moore waves them off. "It's no issue, my boy."

    Flannery bows her head as well after she tears her eyes away from the disk in her hands. "T-Thank you, Lee."

    "Not a problem at all," Lee returns. "Ah, a quirk of that move to be aware of; don't modulate the power too much. It's made very deliberately, and overloading just causes a backfire."

    "Of course, will do!" Flannery nods her head rapidly. She's bouncing in her seat like a little girl, clearly eager to use the TM she's holding like a treasure on one of her pokemon.

    With one final incline of his head, Lee rises with Ninetales following along. "Thanks again, and we'll be sure to visit next time we're in Lavaridge."

    Moore guffaws. "Glad to hear it, my boy! Glad to hear it! You're a friend of clan Moore, so stop by any time!"

    After a final farewell, Moore and Flannery walk Lee and Ninetales to the front of the gym, leading them past the repair crews doing final checks on the building following the damage caused by Ninetales and Ty. Once outside, Lee and Ninetales start back towards the town proper.

    'So a Metagross, huh?' Lee frowns and kicks a rock on the dirt road as they walk. 'You know, I only just realized I haven't really done any research on anyone in the circuit. Not even the Gym leaders.' Now that he realizes it, it seems like a really foolish mistake. Andre nearly had them, Tyson and his Donphan didn't even break a sweat against Grovyle, and the win against Wattson's unexpected combo in Mauville was narrow. 'Fuck me, I feel stupid. Brendan does it all the time and I barely even pay it any mind. Does he think I'm some kind of arrogant ass for walking into battles unprepared?'

    'Don't put yourself down over it, Beloved,' Ninetales says sharply. She stares up at him with hard, ruby eyes. 'This is a failure upon me as well. I should have thought of trying to predict our foes beforehand, too.'

    'Love, I'm the trainer, and you're pokemon; it's not on you at all.'

    'A typical pokemon-trainer relationship does not apply between you and I, remember?' The kitsune raises an eyebrow. 'As a pokemon who practically lives within the mind of a human, as your partner, it's my duty to do all I can for you. I've been just as foolish here to overlook such a simple thing as well. Besides, you have your own interests and studies to pursue, so I refuse to fault you. I know Grovyle doesn't either.' She blinks. 'I already feel your argument brewing, so shush.'

    'Well…' Lee flounders after being shut down. He eyes a Pachirisu enjoying an Oran in a distant tree. 'Okay, fine. What do we do then?'

    'We simply do better. Together.'

    Lee runs his hand down the side of Ninetales' neck. As usual, the silky fur soothes his nerves. 'We'll do better from now on. Together.' he agrees.

    With Lavaridge proper still being a number of minutes away on foot, Lee withdraws his phone from his pocket, sorts through his emails, then dives into BattleNet. At his side, he can feel Ninetales perk up as she, too, takes in what he reads.

    BattleNet is a true behemoth of a website, being a bastardized hybrid of a forum, wiki, chatroom index, and social media site, but even then, Lee only needs to search for his name and scroll to the earliest result to find the "Newcomers to look out for" thread in the Hoenn board. There, he finds Tyson, Andre, himself, Brendan, Ash, and a few names he doesn't recognize. The only profiles he's looked at in depth are his own, Brendan's, and Ash's.

    …Or rather, he looked at what little was available on Ash. The young trainer's profile, particularly his activity tracker, is sparse to the point of being useless. A number of his larger, hyped-up moments are captured for all to see, like his performance in Gyms and tournaments, but everything in-between is blank. The fact that the edit history of his profile is dominated solely by site admins is also suspect, enough to trip Lee's finely-tuned 'internet bullshit' detector.

    'Considering his Legendary encounters, that's to be expected, is it not?' Ninetales questions despite already knowing the answer.

    'Yes, I'm just a little exasperated that shadowy government shenanigans are a thing here, too. I should have guessed, considering the almost feudal-style laws and wobbly power structure between government and trainer.' Rolling his eyes, Lee skims the profiles of the most notable trainers running the Hoenn Gym circuit this year, reminding himself to dive deeper later. 'At least government suits are less inclined to fuck with people this way.'

    'With good reason,' Ninetales giggles, blowing a little tongue of flame.

    As they pass into Lavaridge, Lee puts his phone away as a pang of hunger gnaws at his… No, wait, that's Ninetales' hunger he's feeling. His own is there, but not quite as intense. 'How about an early dinner?' Lee eyes a few restaurants they pass. 'I saw a traditional-looking asian grill place down the road. Also, are you getting enough to eat in a day, Love? We can up your calorie count if it's too low.'

    'I'm fine with my current amount,' Ninetales insists. 'I feel like a Grumpig already with how much you feed me.'

    'Yet, you eat it all each time.'

    'I'm not going to waste your time and effort by not,' the fox grumbles. 'Being a bit hungry isn't enough to warrant a diet change.'

    'Okay, okay,' Lee gives in. 'So, do you want to stop for an early dinner? I think we deserve a treat.'

    'My telekinesis still needs work before I can use silverware…' Ninetales' unspoken 'I don't want to look undignified by eating right off the plate' is plain. Just as plain is the slightly bitter frustration at her lack of control.

    'Well…' Lee scratches his chin, fingernails rasping against his stubble. He needs to shave tonight. 'I'll feed you, then.'

    There is a flash of surprise from the fox, then a smirk crosses her muzzle. 'Beloved, you worry over people getting the wrong idea about us, yet you take me out for a private excursion, buy me expensive clothes, then offer to take me out to dinner, and offer to hand-feed me at that. Why, you treat me better than you have any of your past girlfriends!'

    Lee doesn't blush at the tease, merely rolling his eyes. 'Har har. Let's skip that and just get married, then. It already feels like we're there. Hell, I'm already at the stage where I can fall back asleep in hardly a minute when you get up to pee at two in the morning.' He smirks back at her. 'Oh and, Love? You don't need to crawl over me to get out of bed.'

    The comment earns him a sharp nip on his pinky finger, along with a telepathic mix of exasperation and fondness. 'Then stop taking the side closer to the bathroom.'

    Theatrically waving his 'wounded' hand in faux indignation, Lee chuckles and pulls Ninetales into a one-armed hug. She smiles in turn and nuzzles her head into his stomach.

    "Hey, Lee! Is that you?"

    With a blink, Lee releases his fox as both turn around, facing the young-sounding voice calling from behind.

    There in the street are Ash, Pikachu, May, Max, and Brock, all of whom are smiling at him. Ash, Brock, and Pikachu's smiles are swiftly traded for surprise when they see Ninetales.

    'And here I thought today would be peaceful,' Lee silently laughs at himself for ever having a hope like that. Outwardly, he clears his throat and smiles. "Hey, everyone. Long time no see. Did you just blow into town today?"

    Ash recovers the fastest, putting a bright grin on his face. "Sure did. We just came in from the Valley of Steel, and boy, what a hassle that was." On his shoulder, Pikachu nods along with Ash's words. Ash turns his attention to Ninetales. "Wow, Vulpix evolved!" he exclaims, eyes wide and cheerful. "When did that happen?"

    "Two, almost three weeks ago," Lee says, stroking Ninetales' head with his hand. Looking at Ash's friends, Lee notes Brock's hands on May and Max's shoulders, keeping the sibling pair from getting much closer.

    "I've never seen a Ninetales in real life before," May gushes, seemingly not noticing Brock's hand. She pulls out her pokedex and points it at Ninetales, who watches with a quirked brow.

    "Ninetales, the Fox Pokemon," begins the droning voice of May's pokedex. "Intelligent and vindictive, these long-lived pokemon never forget a grudge. Legend has it that these pokemon will lay a 1000-year curse on anyone who grabs one of their tails."

    May's smile becomes fragile. "Huh. Interesting stuff…" she laughs nervously and puts her pokedex away.

    'Whose idea was it to put the stupid little intro on 'dex scans?' Lee shakes his head and continues stroking Ninetales. "Don't let the pokedex blurb scare you too much, there is a lot of misinformation out there on Ninetales as a species."

    Ash nods along. "Of course. There's no such thing as a bad pokemon."

    'Not the phrase I would have used, but I have to compliment the attitude.' Lee perishes the thought and continues. "I'd say half of what you hear isn't right. Here's an example…" Lee takes the hand that was stroking Ninetales along her head and snatches one of her tails, letting the tip wiggle in faux distress.

    Brock inhales sharply, and both May and Max freeze in fright. Ash and Pikachu only seem a bit surprised as their eyes widen in-sync. More than one person on the street stops to watch with bated breath.

    After a moment, Lee lets the tail go, and Ninetales returns the errant tail to its fan formation with its sisters. "See?" Lee gestures at himself. "No curse. Just don't repeat the stunt because while the curse isn't real, the teeth and fire very much are."

    At that moment, Ninetales' hunger makes itself aware again with a phantom pang, so Lee moves the conversation along. "Ninetales and I were actually about to find a place to eat. If you kids want to join us, you're welcome to come along. My treat."

    Lee can already feel Ninetales mentally grumbling; having guests means no more dating jokes.

    As with many groups of children, the possibility of danger is forgotten at the mention of free food. As one, all of them perk up.

    "I did it…" Kirlia breathes, gasping and panting for air as he looks down at himself. "I did it!"

    Corvisquire is treated to the nauseatingly sweet sight of Wally and Ralts - now Kirlia - embracing and spinning in a circle, laughing and practically leaping for joy. In his perch in a tree just above the green-headed brat and the newly evolved Kirlia, Corvisquire sighs to himself and allows the two of them to enjoy themselves for a moment.

    For several weeks the pair have been growing like weeds in terms of skill and power. Corvisquire would suffer no weaklings under his wing, and to his grudging approval, Wally and Kirlia learned quickly. Corvisquire would throw problems their way — usually in the form of attacks — they adapt, then rinse and repeat. A brutal, but effective way to train.

    The boy proved himself to have something of a brain, studying the art of pokemon training in his spare time. He and Kirlia sync up well with his pokemon's telepathic talent, now to the point that Wally only needs verbal cues for the most complex of instructions.

    Kirlia, meanwhile, has been trodding down the route of the patient opportunist. He would duck, dip, dive, block, and sometimes Teleport to keep out of harm's way, then strike when the iron was hot. His attacks, while impressive looking, do little to Corvisquire's steely feathers. Other pokemon are not so fortunate.

    In their time training, Corvisquire did set out to possibly find another foe, one mighty enough to trigger his evolution, but alas, no such adversary was found. His evolution is so close, too! That black armor, the sheer strength! It could be his if Verdanturf wasn't filled with such weak pissants!

    What's worse is that the Pokemon Rangers are becoming a nuisance. Evading their patrols is pathetically easy, as no League dog has the brains required to match him truly, but their persistence is irritating. He needed only to eavesdrop by an outdoor area of the local ranger office to overhear why they're so doggedly insistent.

    A new bulletin went out for him, one stating that he is now a high-priority capture. At first, Corvisquire was confused. He heard the news a full day before his Dawn Stone heist. Then he was furious at the news, at the realization that the scarface's kind facade had finally fallen and that he was pulling rank in the Pokemon League to take Corvisquire back.

    Corvisquire was mad that the illusion of choice was just that: an illusion.

    He was rancorous for over a day when another thought struck him.

    Could it be that he's a high priority for some other reason? Maybe…

    Then it hit like a blow to the stomach.

    The death of the scarface's whole world. He, Corvisquire, is privy to that poisoned knowledge. He knows it happened, and he knows nuclear energy can somehow be harnessed and turned into bombs. To kill a whole world, one would need to be on equal footing with Arceus.

    The illusion of scarface's kindness returned, but another shadow was cast over Corvisquire. If he is captured by the Rangers, he will never see the light of day again, not unless he lets a Psychic root around his brain and erase whatever they please.

    The pilfered Dawn Stone hidden in his nest and the fury of the warehouse security seems like the least of his worries now.

    The raven pokemon sneered at the memory. The blindspots the warehouse left in their camera array were atrocious, and seriously, wafer locks to keep the precious stone containers secured? He got in and out with no issue and the crudest of tools.

    "Mister Corvisquire? Are you okay?"

    Corvisquire is pulled from his spiraling mood by Kirlia, who looks up at him with worried eyes.

    The little fool's hair is shorter than normal, and his 'skirt' is more like a waistcloth, marking him as a male of his kind, but by Almighty Arceus, the big Rockruff eyes make him an eyesore.

    "Worry about yourself," Corvisquire gruffly replies. "Go and rest. Return tomorrow, and we will begin further refinement of your powers. You're still piss-poor at defending from overhead attacks, and that's unacceptable." When the pair don't move, Corvisquire raises an eyebrow. "You've been dismissed, idiots. Go home. That wasn't a suggestion."

    The brat and the psychic meet eyes for a moment, then Kirlia gulps and looks back up. "B-But something is bothering you, and we want to help."

    An amused snort is Corvisquire's answer. "How cute." He shakes his head. "Begone. You are no use exhausted, and I wish to be alone. I have things of my own to be doing and you're cutting into that time."

    Kirlia actually has the audacity to shake his head, wincing as he does so. "No. I can feel it. Something is bothering you."

    Corvisquire's amusement drains away in an instant, replaced with a prickling irritation. "You were ordered to leave, fool," Corvisquire clacks his beak. "The hatchling that bites the beak that feeds is a hatchling that will learn a harsh lesson. Remember that." The raven raises his beak and stares down menacingly. "Is that a lesson you're ready for?"

    Kirlia shivers on his feet, and Wally begins to look pale, but Kirlia's sad, simpering look seems to redouble itself and he opens his damn mouth again. "Do you miss your trainer? It wasn't your fault. You can't blame yourself for someone else getting sick!" Kirlia slaps his hands over his mouth, aghast at his own words and seemingly surprised that they came out at all.

    Corvisquire's mind goes blank. In his ears, he hears a sharp keen, and at the edge of his vision, a red haze begins to form. How does he know? How does he know? How does he know?

    "Nothing can be done."

    "Nothing can be done."

    "Nothing can be done."

    "You can't do anything."

    "I do not know how you came to find that knowledge," the raven begins, his words halting and so hate-filled that each one quivers. He turns his red eyes down, staring at Wally and Kirlia like Giratina himself. "I do know one thing for certain, however."

    Both the child and pokemon openly quake. In their eyes is fear, and Corvisquire drinks it in.

    Wally palms the inhaler in his pocket, pulling it free and taking a puff. The action almost snaps the raven out of his murderous haze.


    "I know that thirty seconds is all I will give you," Corvisquire growls. There is a tiny pop and a flash of pain, and Corvisquire knows he chipped his beak from clenching it so hard. "Thirty seconds to run and meditate on your mistake before I teach you both about the chick who bit the beak that feeds. Go now. Time. Is. Wasting."

    Both younglings turn tail and flee through the brush of the clearing, and in his head, Corvisquire begins to count down. Just as he reaches zero, an unexpected voice rings out.

    "I don't understand what he saw in you."

    Corvisquire gasps and immediately shoots his wings open, taking off in a flash to hover in the air.

    There, standing in a casual crouch inches away from where he was perched, is a Medicham.

    Corvisquire inspects the interloper up and down, gauging him carefully. The Medicham has certainly seen a fight or two, as his scarred physique tells a story of harsh encounters, but the stranger doesn't trip Corivisquire's well-honed survival instincts. 'An unlucky fool, then.'

    The Medicham looks back up at Corvisquire with a bored, bug-eyed gaze, one totally apathetic to the seething fury on Corvisquire's visage. The Fighting-type doesn't even raise an eyebrow at him.

    "And just who in the hell are you?" Corvisquire hisses. "You have some ner-" the raven stops himself short when he notices what's in Medicham's hand.

    A Dawn Stone.

    "You're not as slick as you might think," Medicham hums, slowly standing on the branch and turning the shining stone over in his hand. The drooped, bored eyes never leave Corvisquire's. "He would be held responsible for your theft, you know."

    "Wha-" Corvisquire shakes his head, confusion making his boiling fury even worse. "Enough with the pronoun game, moron! Who is he?"


    The name makes Corvisquire falter. Why does his private business seem to be public knowledge all of a sudden?!

    "I don't understand what he saw in you," Medicham repeats, finally breaking eye contact to look at the stone in his hand. "I've read his reports and listened to his audio logs. He was always fond of you, even if you caused him issues. The hurt in his voice when you abandoned him was real. Now you're out here, menacing children and stealing baubles." Medicham takes a deep breath. "Why run?"

    Reports? Audio logs? Just who is this Medicham? Corvisquire defaults back to the one thing that's never failed him.


    "Listen here, bastard!" Corvisquire shouts, the red haze returning to his vision. "What sort of mind games are you trying to pull? You don-"

    Pain explodes in his stomach so fast that he can do nothing. In fact, all Corvisquire can do is gasp as stars dance in his vision. There is a thud, and he realizes he's tumbled out of the air and hit the ground like a falling brick. There, prostrate in the dirt, he wheezes as his brutalized lungs beg for air.

    A pair of feet touch down in the grass next to him without a sound.

    "That wasn't an appropriate answer to my question." Corvisquire doesn't need to look up to know it's that damned Medicham, as the skinny bastard's voice is still as disinterested as it was before. "Why run?"

    The raven hacks and stumbles to his feet. "That's none of your business, nosy shi-"

    One second, Medicham is there. The next, he's gone, and Corvisquire shrieks when a knee is driven into his back, sending him back down with a crash that's sure to bruise. The attack is so fast, that even his Extreme Speed accustomed eyes miss any movement.

    "Civility will take you far," Medicham murmurs above Corvisquire. Oh, how he's beginning to hate this bastard. "I have given you the courtesy of explaining yourself. Please, use it," Medicham's knee rises, and Corvisquire's pride demands that he rise, too.

    Standing up tenderly, Corvisquire takes as deep a breath as he can and levels the thin Fighting-type with a glare. "If it is polite conduct you desire," he hisses, "then so be it. May I have the pleasure of knowing with whom I speak?" He spits the word 'pleasure' like it burns his beak.

    Medicham doesn't seem amused. "I am Medicham, Ace of Nigel Birch, the Hoenn Regional Professor and direct superior of Lab Trainer Lee Henson."

    Ah. Suddenly things make more sense. Corvisquire huffs. "Very well then, Medicham, Ace of Nigel Birch, the Hoenn Regional Professor and direct superior of Lab Trainer Lee Henson…" He says it all in one breath that reeks of spite. "What, if I may ask, are you doing here?"

    "Asking you questions," Medicham answers, voice flat.

    Corvisquire waits, and when no further elaboration comes, he scowls.

    "Why run?" Medicham repeats, and despite how Corvisquire wishes to look away, he can't seem to escape Medicham's eyes.

    Corvisquire doesn't answer, and after a moment, Medicham begins guessing.

    "Team dispute? Dissatisfaction with training?" Medicham's blank bug eyes turn toward the path Wally and Kirlia escaped to. "Past hurts?"

    Corvisquire bites back a curse.

    "Your silence says a lot," Medicham muses aloud.

    "Aren't your kind supposed to be a reflective lot that speaks in riddles and preaches zen or something?" Corvisquire growls. "So far, you've been as blunt as a Snorlax's backside."

    Medicham shrugs. "There is a time and place for reflection and riddles," he says, freezing Corvisquire in place with his blank stare once more. "Why run?"

    Temper and nerves both frayed, Corvisquire raises his voice once more. "Let me answer your question with a question of my own! Tell me, O aloof one! What would you do if your entire world came crashing down!?"

    Medicham hums to himself and looks down at the stone in his hand. "I cannot say. I do know what I would not do, though."

    "Enlighten me!" the raven snarls, his feathers ruffling. "What sort of sage advice do you have for me? What would you not do?!"


    The tailwind is taken out from behind Corvisquire's seething anger in an instant.

    Medicham ponders the Dawn Stone in his hand for a moment, taking in its gentle glow, then he drops it at Corvisquire's talons. Turning on his heel, the Fighting-type begins walking away.

    "Wha… Where are you going!?" Corvisquire caws incredulously, looking between Medicham's back and the stone that Medicham knows is stolen.

    Medicham doesn't break his stride or look back. "Back to Nigel."

    "After stalking me, attacking me, and interrogating me, a pokemon you know has committed crimes and is a runaway, you're just going to leave?" The raven's head is spinning. From his fall or this maddening pokemon's insanity, he has no idea.

    Medicham pauses for a moment but doesn't look back. "I won't take more from you," he says, though a niggling feeling tells Corvisquire that the Ace pokemon isn't talking about the discarded Dawn Stone. "Your trainer is in Lavaridge right now. He will be leaving for Fallarbor town soon. All of your choices impact more than you, far beyond the obvious consequences. Remember that." Medicham continues walking, vanishing in the brush.

    As the sun begins its descent into the evening, Corvisquire sits there in the clearing. Confused, frustrated, and with a throbbing pain in his chest that isn't physical, he lifts his head and screams.

    Below are the names of some patrons who got to view this chapter early and felt like signing it. A huge thanks to them and everyone else who supports this story and everything else I write.

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  5. Threadmarks: Act 2: Chapter 12

    Fuggmann Inventor of Sex 2

    Dec 14, 2020
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    "In summary, you do have all the powers of a peace officer since Lab Trainers fall under the broad umbrella of 'Pokemon League Field Agent', but Lee, please consult me before you take any liberties with said powers," the voice of Amanda Keller, Lee's recently acquired lawyer, pleads from Lee's cellphone. The little device is on speaker mode for the whole room to hear. "Your conduct is going to be scrutinized heavily by the League Department of Justice if you insist on your investigation, and we must cross every T and dot every I, do you understand?"

    "I do..." Lee sighs and rests his chin in his steepled hands. From his place at the hotel room table, he looks at his assembled pokemon.

    On the bed is Ninetales, with Shinx snuggled into the vixen's mass of tails. On the surface, Ninetales appears to be busy entertaining the kitten by wiggling a tail tip for a delighted Shinx to bat at with her paws, but Lee knows she's dedicating the conversation to memory. Grovyle sits beside her with his legs crossed, paying rapt attention. His sharp, yellow eyes never leave the cell phone on the table, occasionally shifting his chewing twig in his mouth when deep in thought.

    Octillery is splayed out on the other chair opposite of Lee, his tentacles hanging limply. However, his narrowed eyes tell everyone he's dissecting each word Amanda says.

    'I couldn't ask for a better team.'

    "Honestly, I didn't expect my authority as a Lab Trainer to extend that far," Lee admits to his lawyer. "I'm well aware of the emergency first responder aspect. Professor Birch checked to ensure I knew first aid and had a basic grasp on Hoenn law before we set out, but I had no idea I had full authority to conduct criminal investigations from start to finish. Brendan and I have had run-ins with criminal elements before, and I thought his declaration of arrest was him getting too excited."

    'Nigel probably would have better prepared us if I hadn't forgotten to tell him about Magma and Aqua like a dingus.'

    "Not at all. Lab Trainers have full authority to lawfully detain criminal suspects, as you now know." The woman on the other end of the phone pauses. "The politics within the League is… tiresome at the best of times. According to my senior associates, much of the Pokemon League leadership, or at least the ones who hold seniority, resent the casualization of pokemon battling in recent years. To combat a shortage of 'strong' officers and field agents in their ranks, the League effectively deputizes trainers holding special trainer classes, such as Lab Trainers, Ace Trainers, Top Coordinators, and so on. In these situations, the trainer in question undergoes a background check and personality exam unless vouched for by a trusted member of the League, then their authority is automatically granted. Due to your affiliation with Professor Birch, you fall into the latter category."

    Ninetales frowns. 'We only needed to read the League regulation book, and we weren't even given a test or a timeline to finish it. Isn't the training for a police officer much more stringent?'

    When Lee voices Ninetales' questions aloud, Amanda sighs. "The municipal police forces are administered by the civil government. They're separate from League agents, even if both operate under the same laws and charters. The Hoenn League has been criticized for having such lax requirements ripe for nepotism before. When issues do crop up, the League will either rip the extra powers away, or will softball the offender for fear of alienating them. The better the trainer, the lighter the slap on the wrist. Not that it matters much, as bean counters can easily justify a self-training, self-funding, and self-directing peacekeeping force on paper." Amanda has to stop for a moment and take a breath. "The current system only works as well as it does because the deputized trainers are often high-profile individuals beholden to their public image and personal prestige. If not for these factors, things wouldn't work in the slightest.'

    "You don't sound like you approve," Lee muses. "Do we need to worry about getting direct orders from the League?"

    The lawyer on the other end of the phone hesitates. "Yes… and no. It depends on where you get the orders from. Official writs from the League Department of Justice or Department of Defense can force your hand legally, just as a direct order from the Elite Four or Champion can, but much of the PL leadership is very skittish on the subject of actually trying to order deputized trainers. You can expect more indirect methods from the PL when they need trainers to act, such as emergency bulletins promising a reward for cooperation. Otherwise, they're hoping that deputized trainers take up the mantle of peacekeeper out of a sense of patriotism or goodwill."

    'So like that alert we got outside of Mauville from that Pokemon Ranger.'' Lee recalls the incident with the roving Zangoose pack. "I see, and if someone in the League gives us an order without a writ?"

    "Legally, it's a strong suggestion, not an order. Be wary of burning bridges, though. For example, if an official in League Accounting and Finance is demanding your assistance for a non-life-threatening matter, you can disregard them. If it's someone within your sphere, say, the League Academic Board, you may want to weigh the pros and cons before making a decision, lest they make your life more difficult. If you ever have doubts, call me right away."

    Lee sits and thinks for a moment, eyes jumping to his open laptop and the typed-out notes within. He was in the middle of brainstorming a way to mitigate Grovyle's relative fragility in battle, and finding a way to combine Leaf Blade and Absorb for a 'life-steal' effect seemed like the way to go. Amanda's call interrupted the research.

    With a contemplative hum, Lee returns his eyes to his phone. "Seems like an unnecessarily mercenary system if you ask me. Are there many incidents that pop up as a consequence of the current setup?"

    "Not too many. Several a year, usually relating to white-collar crime or willful misinterpretation of the law in the line of duty. I'm still dreading the day one of those is dropped on my desk." There is the sound of a pen scratching upon paper over the speaker. "Bills have been introduced to reform the deputization system, but incident statistics, or lack thereof, give opponents of the bills too much weight. A cost-cutting argument falls flat as well, as only trainers providing extra services like Lab Trainers are afforded a paycheck."

    The more Lee hears about the inner workings of the Pokemon League, the more it seems like an unknowable, nightmarish behemoth of bureaucracy to him. Departments and officials with poorly defined duties, checks and balances all out of whack, Gym Leaders and Elites reigning like lords, authority being handed out like candy— and that's before factoring in the civil government that handles day-to-day municipal and mundane functions. To further complicate matters, it seems like the Pokemon League and civil government are perpetually at each other's throats all the time.

    'Yet, Leader Moore complains about bureaucracy constantly being a thorn in his side?' Ninetales chimes in on his thoughts. 'I recall him stating that even ordering common office supplies through the League wasn't worth the effort.'

    'True… but Moore does have a black mark on his record for ditching his post for the war. A single pencil pusher isn't going to mess with a Gym Leader, but…' Lee leaves the telepathic line hanging.

    '...With a target on his back, the spineless sort would be willing to gang up on him,' the vixen concludes with a frown and a flick of her ear. 'Attempting the same thing on a Gym Leader in good standing would be career suicide.'

    'Petty office politics aside, poverty and crime are at lows that would have been impossible on Earth, so for all the nonsense they get up to, the Pokemon League must be doing something right.'

    "Just a few incidents a year, huh?" Lee hums, returning his head to the phone call. In the back of his mind, he idly touches the calm current of emotions running between himself and Ninetales, like dipping a finger in a warm river. The zoologist smiles, a realization baring itself to him. "While I'm not endorsing the system, I'm willing to bet the pokemon themselves also factor into the lack of incidents. I know for a fact none of my pokemon would agree to any immoral shenanigans. The League is working with closely bonded teams, not individuals, and there is a degree of internal moderation within a team like that," Lee says, looking at this pokemon.

    Grovyle nods firmly.

    Octillery's nod is slower, and a bit more uncaring, but it's still an affirmation.

    Shinx ceases cuddling the fox tail in her grasp, staring back at Lee with big, innocent eyes.

    Finally, Ninetales raises her nose. 'I don't think you have a treacherous bone in your body, Beloved,' she says. 'If the impossible day comes where you are led astray, I'll happily guide you back.'

    Smiling, Lee turns his head back to his phone. "I don't want to disappoint them just as they don't want to disappoint me. Perhaps pokemon are the keystone keeping everything in place?"

    "I'm not a pokemon trainer, so maybe that's the answer," Amanda concedes. "It's still a legal nightmare waiting to happen, though."

    "I guess so. Anyway…" Lee glances at the clock on the wall. "I know I've kept you for longer than I intended. Sorry about that, Amanda. I'll let you go for now and consult you before I engage the Lavaridge courts."

    "It's not a problem, Lee. It's what I'm here for. Have a nice day."

    "Same to you."

    There is a click from Lee's phone, then the call ends.

    Taking the cellphone and slipping it back into his pocket, Lee leans back in his chair with a sigh. "Trainer, nutritionist, amateur electrician, public figure, and now private investigator," he mutters. "I get that trainers need to be flexible, but this towering pillar of hats is getting heavy."

    'Don't worry too much. We're here to help each step of the way.' Ninetales vocalizes her telepathic words for Grovyle and Octillery's benefit. 'Right?' she asks with a short yip, one deeper than a mundane fox could make.

    Grovyle lets out an affirmative growl deep in his throat, his yellow eyes meeting Lee's.

    Octillery just nods once more.

    Emerging from her cozy blanket of tails, Shinx makes her support known by leaping from the bed to Lee's lap with a somewhat clumsy bound, one that forces her to dig her claws into Lee's leg a bit to steady herself. The kitten cuddles herself to her trainer's stomach, purring up a storm.

    A smile rises to Lee's face.

    A sharp knock on the door draws everyone's eyes, and Lee glances at Ninetales.

    'It's Zinnia and Shelgon,' the fox provides after reaching her mind out. 'And a pokemon I've not met before. Would you like me to open it?'

    'If you could, please.'

    Ninetales narrows her eyes, a violet glow to them.

    The knob of the hotel room door is enveloped in a corona the same color as Ninetales' eyes. Slowly, hesitantly, the knob twists seemingly of its own accord. The metal groans for a split second when Ninetales twists the knob as far as it can go, but she quickly eases her force off. The door then slowly swings open, letting Zinnia stride in. Following shortly behind her is Shelgon, and behind Shelgon is a pokemon resembling a miniaturized t-rex, standing just short of three feet tall. Its scales are brown and rocky, with orange outcroppings on its head and stubby tail. Its short forearms end in two white claws, its feet ending in three. Around its neck is a crest of white spines, just as white as the large teeth lining its jaws. Its eyes scan the room, taking in everyone and everything with suspicion.

    'Ah, looks like Tyrunt finally arrived.'

    "Well, it certainly took that lab long enough," Lee says. Every part of him desperately wants to get up close and examine the living fossil that just strolled in, but he restrains himself just as Zinnia instructed a few days prior. "Just today?"

    "Just today," Zinnia nods. She sighs in an exasperated manner, but she can't quite hide her excitement. "Tyrunt is a spirited little guy, that's for sure. The lab had some trouble getting him into a ball, so I can't really be upset that they ran behind for a few days. I had to cut today's investigations short to pick him up, but I did get a few interesting leads."

    The entire time she's speaking, Tyrunt eyes the various unfamiliar pokemon in the room, all of whom meet his gaze without a flinch. When he finally sees Shinx, a growl rolls out of his throat.

    The kitten stiffens in Lee's lap, turning her spooked yellow eyes to Tyrunt.

    The dino cracks his jaws open, letting his growl grow louder. In Lee's lap, Shinx's hackles rise and her claws dig into his thigh.

    Hissing, Lee reaches his mind across the short, telepathic gulf to Ninetales. 'Ninetales, just as Zinnia said. Let Tyrunt know he can't be a bully.'

    Ninetales hops off of Lee's bed in a flurry of gold fur and hellish red eyes, standing directly before Tyrunt. Drawing her lips back and baring her teeth, a snarl fit for a beast twice her size rips through the room. Rolling tongues of flame weave between the foxes' teeth and trail the edges of Ninetales' mouth as she takes a step forward. Behind her, her tails ruffle and shiver like angered snakes.

    For a moment, it looks as if Tyrunt might actually rise to the challenge, baring his own teeth and lowering himself to charge.

    Sucking in a breath, Lee raises a hand and signals both Grovyle and Octillery, who both tense up. At the same time, he gets ready to jump out of the way if Tyrunt is foolish enough to try his luck.

    At the very last second, though, Tyrunt seems to rethink his stance and backs down with a bitter, defiant snap of his jaws. He steps back and glares at Ninetales, defeated but unbowed, letting Ninetales dial back her defensive posture.

    It's right then that Shelgon whips his whole body around and smashes Tyrunt right in the nose with his forehead, sending the prehistoric pokemon to the floor with a pained screech.

    Zinnia, as casual as can be, steps over to her downed pokemon and stares down at him with disapproval. "Are you done?" She asks, voice flat.

    Any sort of protest Tyrunt has dies in his throat when Shelgon takes Zinnia's right side. There's no anger on the shelled dragon's face—just apathy, as if Tyrunt isn't worth the notice.

    Lee's body breaks out into goosebumps as he watches. 'It's one thing to hear Zinnia describe how Dragons operate…it's another thing to see it.' He gulps, his stomach rolling a bit. 'I never liked dominance struggles when they pop up in nature, and I think I like them even less here.'

    One of Ninetales' tails reaches back, wrapping itself around one of his legs in silent comfort.

    Tyrunt rises back to his feet. His head is held low and submissive, but his eyes burn with frustration.

    "Next time, don't be afraid to rough him up," Zinnia addresses Ninetales. "Tyrunt needs to learn his boundaries no matter how uncomfortable it makes Dolittle."

    Lee schools his face into something more neutral at being called out, while Ninetales nods coolly.

    "So, how did your end go?" Zinnia asks while seating herself on the edge of Lee's bed. "I've got a few leads after asking around. It's less than I wanted, but I'm going to count my outing as a success." Beside her, Shelgon lays down on his shell while Tyrunt submissively sits.

    Pulling his eyes away from Tyrunt, Lee chews on his lip. "Everything went well, I suppose. Both myself and Brendan have legal weight to swing around. We can acquire warrants, perform lawful arrests, and conduct investigations like any police officer can, which I think is a little fucked." Lee shakes his head and leans back in his chair, stroking Shinx's back with a hand. "My lawyer is not fond of the idea of me being involved with anything, but she didn't drop me as a client, so I consider that a win."

    "Ha!" Zinnia laughs. "Seems like everyone is clamoring to be your best friend except for the ones involved in law. There's gotta be some kind of takeaway in that."

    "Yeah, that this boneheaded system wouldn't work if the trainers and pokemon didn't self-moderate themselves with mutual expectations of each other's character," Lee grunts. "Supposedly, issues are few and far between. The more I think about it, though, the more I think Amanda was right in her grievances."

    Zinnia idly kicks her feet. "Maybe the League knew pokemon would be a good linchpin to ensure good behavior?" she speculates, coming to the same conclusion Lee did. "If it works, then it works."

    "I guess," Lee concedes. "What did you learn while you were out?"

    "A few things," Zinnia whips her phone out and unlocks it, opening it to a screen of shorthand notes. "Lavaridge is a hotspot for Magma, no pun intended," she grins and winks. "Usually, gangs don't like hanging around towns with Gym Leaders for obvious reasons, but you can find Magma thugs in the usual haunts pretty easily around here. Dive bars, shitty nightclubs, generally any grimy hangout. I barely need to doll myself up and small-time gangsters are lining up to schmooze with me."

    Lee can't keep the frown off of his face at the imagery Zinnia's words invoke. "And you've been going to these places alone?"

    Zinnia rolls her red eyes. "Save the chivalry for a princess, Dolittle. I keep my pokeballs out on display and that keeps guys from getting handsy." When Lee's dour face persists, she continues; "Lee, I'd bring you along, but I only need a change of clothes and a bit of make-up to be unrecognizable. You're way too high-profile to do anything covert. If I take you with me, you'll scare every Magma grunt into shutting up or just outright leaving any place we go to. Your face is…" she pauses, seemingly searching for a word. "...Distinctive."

    Lee opens his mouth to protest, only to realize he doesn't have a good counter-argument. All he can do is rub the scars on his face and curse under his breath. 'Yet again, I'm missing being a nobody.'

    "Just leave this part to me." Zinnia's smile is reassuring, at least. "I got some good info last night and a bit today. With any luck, we'll have enough to act on soon."

    "...Fine," Lee grumbles, waving for Zinnia to continue. "Please, keep going."

    "Gladly!" Zinnia looks at her notes and scrolls the phone screen down with a thumb. "One guy with more ink than brain cells bragged about being a high-level grunt or something. He said he helped a Magma lieutenant move something heavy between warehouses here in Lavaridge a few weeks back, and mentioned the crates came in by ground with a bit of prodding, which narrows the list of answers for another little project of mine."

    Lee raises an eyebrow. "Maybe we should finish what we're doing first before starting something else?"

    "It ties into everything, promise!" The dragon tamer insists. "Anyway, they're moving things after dark and all that, and a little coincidence pops up when I look around to see if their movements line up with any kind of local events." She shifts her phone over to the browser and goes to the Lavaridge municipal website. From there, she pulls up a calendar built into the site and turns the screen to face Lee. "See anything odd?"

    Lee and Shinx both lean in, even if Shinx has no idea what she's looking at. The rest of Lee's team step closer or angle themselves to better see as well.

    On the calendar are a few events and notices, innocent things like local holidays and whatnot, but in red lettering are several notices saying: "Lift to Mt Chimney Out of Order." The next morning for each is another notice saying: "Lift to Mt Chimney repaired." There isn't a hard pattern, but the lift seems to go down once every five to ten days.

    "The lift seems to be going down a lot," Lee scratches his chin. "Are these dates in-line with Magma's movements?"

    Zinnia sighs. "I'm still trying to get exact dates, but one of these days, in particular, stands out." She taps one of the more recent occurrences on the screen with a finger. "That day we let Courtney out of our sight? The lift breaks. My gut is telling me something is off with that."

    A frown returns to Lee's lips. Reclining back into a more comfortable position, he meets eyes with each one of his pokemon sans Shinx, who lays quietly in his lap. "That does seem suspect, but for obvious reasons, we can't interrogate her too much on where she was or why it matters."

    "We can't squeeze Courtney for info, but we can squeeze everyone else, and that's where you come in, Lee." Zinnia smirks. "The Mount Chimney lift 'breaking' so often opens a window for us, meaning you, to come knocking about concerns of criminal negligence or sabotage. If all of this is connected like I think it is and the lift breaking is a smokescreen to move things to the volcano, then they have to have someone pulling strings to let them move things up there unnoticed."

    Lee blows out a breath. "Seems like a bit of a leap to me, if I'm being honest," he says, silently feeling like a scumbag for going along with this song and dance. It would make everyone's lives easier if he could just tell Zinnia that he knows Magma is up to no good up there.

    'I need to replay Pokemon Emerald soon, preferably tonight.' A sobering thought strikes Lee. 'If I don't refresh my memory and be ready for what's to come… then telling everyone, or at least Zinnia, what I know might be the best move to make. We can't protect them otherwise.'

    Ninetales, who is sitting in on her trainer's thoughts, speaks up. 'Lee, weigh that option carefully,' she says, wrapping a comforting, telepathic tendril of reassurance around his psyche. 'What is the saying? Once that genie is free of the bottle, it does not go back in.'

    'I will, Nine. I will.'

    The tendril of reassurance unfolds into a thick blanket, covering Lee with a warmth that he can practically feel on his skin. The mental conversation takes a split second, so Lee is able to return his attention outward in time for Zinnia's reply.

    "Which is why I'm going to do more sleuthing until more pieces fall into place, then we can bust 'em!" Zinnia's smirk is traded for a full, nasty grin. "I've got a Magma goon a bit higher on the totem pole nice and hooked, and I'm meeting him for drinks tonight. If all goes well, he'll sing like a Swablu, so hang tight and I'll have more to work with tomorrow."

    'Zinnia knows how to handle herself, don't worry too much,' Lee thinks to himself. The flash of jealousy from Ninetales is ignored. "Alright, and this other project involving Magma you mentioned?"

    "For a while now…" Zinnia crosses her legs. "I've been trying to triangulate the headquarters and ID the leaders of Magma and Aqua. Information from a few contacts and my own wandering has left me with an incomplete heatmap of their activity, and Lavaridge's Magma presence has me thinking that they may be based out of Lavaridge or somewhere in Mount Chimney. Since they're moving supplies by ground here, it would make sense to be in close proximity to the town."

    'That's actually a good observation…' Lee blinks. Lavaridge's awkward location in the center of Hoenn's main landmass must mean moving long-distance freight by ground is a chore. "Sharp eye."

    "Thank you," Zinnia preens. "Moving on, Aqua has almost zero presence away from coastlines, and I'm fairly sure they're hiding out in either Lilycove City or another coastline city to the east. I still need to confirm that one, though. Aqua has been a pain in the ass to track since they love doing their dirty business out at sea and away from prying eyes."

    "Makes sense…" Lee nods. "Sounds like we have a game plan, then. I'll wait to hear back from you about your side. Business as usual until then?"

    "Business as usual 'till then." Zinnia smiles, and it's a rare, genuine one that reaches all the way up to her eyes. "Thanks for all of this, Lee. I know we've had our rough patches, but I'm seriously glad we met. You're a damn good friend."

    Lee smiles right back. "I could say the same about you."

    Rising back to her feet, Zinnia beckons Shelgon and the still-sullen Tyrunt to follow. "I'm gonna go find a private training field to trash with Shelgon and Tyrunt. Wanna come with?"

    "I've got a few things to take care of here, so maybe later."

    "Suit yourself!" Zinnia waves over her shoulder as she and her pokemon leave.

    Once the door closes behind them, Lee can finally stop ignoring the buzz of Ninetales' concentrated jealousy and give the fox a concerned stare. 'Love, what's the matter? Your temper has been way too short here recently.'

    Ninetales cools her emotions, though Lee can easily notice how forced it is. 'It's no matter, Beloved.'

    'I think it is,' Lee spins his laptop around to face Octillery. The octopus pokemon wastes no time tabbing back over to an online book he was reading before Lee commandeered the device. 'You were about ready to take May's face off when we had dinner with her and her friends, remember?'

    After inviting Ash and his friends to join him and Ninetales for dinner, Lee led the newly expanded group to one of the many traditional Asian restaurants lining Lavaridge's streets. After being seated at a low table using cushions as seats and ordering their food, the group settled in for idle chatter as they waited. May, Brock, and Max took one side of the table while Lee, Ninetales, and Ash, who had no qualms about being in close proximity to a 'dangerous' pokemon, took the other. After failing to do so before, Lee decided to start things off by picking Brock's brain, easily sparking a conversation.

    "Sodium and other minerals, huh?" Lee asks, looking away from Brock to Ash's smiling Pikachu, who is on his trainer's shoulder. "I think that would neatly explain it. Ketchup does have a fair bit of salt, and although I can't speak to the tastes of rodents, I get the feeling that salt would be the tastiest of them."

    Brock nods, a smile on his face. "Mmhmm. I adjusted Pikachu's diet a little with the inclusion of a few mineral supplements, and I think it really helped since he's not swiping ketchup bottles from restaurants anymore."

    Both Lee and the teen look over to Pikachu once more… who is eyeballing a half-full bottle of the red condiment on another table.

    Ash notices as well and chuckles sheepishly. "Maybe he got a taste for it, though…"

    "A little won't hurt, but too much sodium intake might leave Pikachu dehydrated," Lee comments. "The cheap stuff also has a distasteful amount of sugar."

    Brock nods right along with the assessment, looking at Ninetales as he does so.

    It seems like opening on the subject of pokemon health was the right move, as the tanned teenager is much more at ease now, even if it leaves Ash, May, and Max out of the conversation until the topic changes.

    "I gotta say," Brock begins, crossing his arms. "We've encountered a few Ninetales over the years, but I've never been in a position to ask what goes into their care. I fostered a Vulpix for about a year, and she taught me a lot about caring for pokemon. Is there much of a difference upon evolution?"

    'Ah, that's right. Brock did have what's-her-name's Vulpix until Johto, didn't he?' Lee thinks, watching Brock intently scan Ninetales through his squinted eyes.

    'He cared for her quite well, if your memories of the TV show are any indicator,' Ninetales' telepathic voice rings with approval, and it's clear that Brock is her favorite of Ash's friends by a mile. From her place beside Lee, she regards the Rock-type specialist with an appraising eye, finally taking her displeased gaze off of May.

    It seems that the young girl's crush hasn't faded yet, as she can't help but shyly steal glances at Lee when she thinks no one is looking.

    'He's an intelligent kid with a bright future for sure.' Lee agrees with Ninetales on Brock. 'Oh, and Nine? No need to stare daggers into May. She's just a little girl with a crush. It'll go away.'

    "Well, considering the rarity of her kind and the corresponding scarcity of info, I'm kind of playing things by ear right now," Lee admits, answering Brock's question. "It has required a bit of trial and error, building on her prior routines, and a lot of communication. Honestly, it's a lot to put into words, so if you like…" Lee reaches behind him where his backpack is sitting. Undoing the zipper and fishing his hand inside, he withdraws his first notebook. Already knowing the page by heart, he flips to Ninetales' section and offers it to Brock. "Here are a few notes I took if you'd like to see them. These are a little out of date, but are still good."

    The notes aren't anything too revealing: just recipes, nutritional facts on ingredients, calorie counts, a grooming schedule, the results of a few token cognitive and physical tests, anatomical notes, and other idle thoughts on paper.

    Brock reaches over the table and gingerly takes the notebook, looking down and scanning the page, his eyebrows rise almost to his hairline. "That's thorough… I don't think there has ever been more information on a Ninetales in one place."

    May and Max, who are sitting at Brock's sides, lean over to read the notes as well. Max blinks and adjusts his glasses as he reads, while May just seems lost. Regardless, the young girl levels Lee with a shy smile. "Wow, Lee! You're even smarter than I thought!" After a moment of mustering her nerve, she continues on. "We're going to be in Lavaridge for a while as we wait for Ash's gym match, so is it okay if, maybe…" She twiddles her fingers together and looks at him with large, hopeful eyes. "…We train with you sometime?"

    A spike of raw hostility not his own nearly transforms Lee's smile into a snarl, and when he stomps the emotion down, Ninetales twitches.

    "T-Thank you, May…" Lee barely keeps his smile in place. "That's very kind of you. I'll have to see what my schedule allows." Inwardly, another conversation furiously takes place.

    'Ninetales, what the fuck was that?' Lee demands. 'You were two seconds away from baring your teeth and growling right in the middle of the restaurant. What happened there?'

    '...' The vixen looks away, refusing to answer.


    After a second, which may as well be a full minute in a telepathic exchange, Ninetales answers. 'I don't know.'

    'You don't know?' Lee blinks incredulously. Mentally, he reaches his connection deeper into the fox, trying to divine just what caused Ninetales' anger.

    Only for Ninetales to rebuke his probing, telepathic touch, not unlike someone slapping his hand away. The pushback is hard enough to make a headache bloom in his skull instantly. Lee winces not from the pain, but from the realization that he overstepped his bounds. 'Love, I'm sorry about that. That wasn't my intention.'

    'Being jealous wasn't my intention, either!' Ninetales scowls and constricts her end of the telepathic channel, ending the conversation.

    "Lee? Why is Ninetales suddenly so upset?"

    Lee comes back to reality at the question, looking over Max. The young boy studies the glowering fox with a healthy dose of wariness, just as Brock does. May…

    May seems to realize that Ninetales doesn't like her and keeps her eyes averted. The poor girl blinks away tears. If the tears are from fright or not, Lee cannot say.

    On Ninetales' opposite side, Pikachu stands in Ash's lap, ready to jump into action at a moment's notice. Ash himself frowns but otherwise remains neutral.

    Blowing out a weary breath, Lee debates on what to say. "Well, since it's all over BattleNet, I don't see the need to hide it anymore. Ninetales can use telepathy, and we had a bit of a disagreement just now."

    "But…" Max hesitates. "Isn't she your first pokemon?"

    Ash, surprisingly, cuts in to answer. "Just because a pokemon is your first partner doesn't mean you can't have arguments," he says, self-assured. "Pikachu and I didn't always get along, and we still don't agree on everything."

    In Ash's lap, Pikachu nods seriously, only to smile when Ash rubs a hand along his head.

    "We're still friends, though, and we work everything out!" The Kanto-born boy smiles, dispelling the uncertain cloud hanging over the table, and doing so seemingly without effort. "Every kind of relationship is a work-in-progress, the one between pokemon and trainer especially."

    "Very well put, Ash!" Brock smiles as well.

    "A work-in-progress, huh?" Lee murmurs, silently impressed. "That fits."

    Ninetales remains steadfastly silent.

    Despite Ash's uplifting declaration, dinner is still a quiet and somewhat awkward affair. When the bill is paid and everyone says their goodbyes, Lee and Ninetales return to their hotel, where they don't speak to each other for the rest of the night.

    Ninetales cringes at the vivid memory.

    'Love, I've been content to wait until you're comfortable talking, but we've pretended nothing is wrong for days now,' Lee rises from his seat, carrying Shinx in his arms. He sits back down on the bed next to Ninetales. 'Please, talk to me.'

    Just like the day prior, the fox refuses to reply, instead just looking away and shutting Lee out of her mind.

    "Guys?" Lee speaks up, catching both Grovyle and Octillery's attention. "I need a private moment with Ninetales. Do you mind if…" Lee takes three pokeballs from his belt and holds them aloft.

    Grovyle barely needs to give it any thought before he nods with an affirmative trill in his throat.

    Octillery, on the other hand, lets out a long-suffering sigh and shuts the lid of Lee's laptop, nodding slowly. With that, both he and Grovyle are returned to their balls as flashes of red.

    Looking down at his lap, Lee strokes Shinx across her head. "I'll let you out as soon as I can, okay, baby girl?"

    The kitten gives Lee large, sad eyes that tug at his heartstrings, but she doesn't fuss when she's zapped by the red beam of her pokeball and returned. Lee then sets the balls on the bed and covers them with a pillow, effectively muting anything the three pokemon can hear.

    Not sure where to start, Lee wraps an arm around Ninetales' shoulders. "Nine?"

    The fox leans into the hug, but doesn't say anything in response.

    "Nine," Lee leans into her in-turn, resting his head on hers. "Take all the time you need, but I think we should talk about our spat. You got so upset out of nowhere that it was honestly frightening. I don't want you to feel like that all the time," he says, gently rubbing her shoulder with his hand.

    For several minutes, Ninetales remains mute, instead looking around the room. Finally, she licks her lips and breaks her silence. 'I don't know, and that's the honest truth.' Her tails wrap around Lee, returning his hug like a living, silky cape. 'I simply didn't like the attention May was giving you. I don't have a rational answer,' she admits, frustrated. 'I don't like it when anyone does.'

    'When anyone gives me attention?' Lee prods. 'Or just women? Flannery, Zinnia, and now May. You were amused by her crush before. What happened?' He pauses. 'When you agreed that we don't want our relationship to go in that direction, were you just humoring me?'

    'No,' Ninetales' answer is quick and woven with reassuring honesty as she slowly reopens her mind to Lee. She peers into his blue eyes with her reds. 'Just as we discussed, I am more than happy with what we have now, and anything more just adds an unneeded layer.' A growl rolls from her throat. 'I don't… I don't know what the issue is!'

    'Would you be okay if I tried to find out?' Lee asks after a moment, guilt over his near-intrusion gnawing at him.

    'Please, go ahead,' Ninetales draws in a deep breath, pulling her end of the psychic connection wide, essentially baring her soul to him. 'I've nothing to hide from you.'

    Before preparing himself to dive into Ninetales' psyche, Lee stops short for a moment. 'I'm sorry for trying to delve deeper than surface thoughts without asking, Nine. That wasn't right of me.'

    The golden fox smiles, pulling her head back enough to lick her trainer across the side of his nose. 'That's sweet of you, Lee, but don't invent things to apologize for. I'm the one who should be sorry. We promised no secrets, remember?'

    Knowing arguing further is pointless, Lee shuts his eyes and reaches his mind across the short channel to Ninetales.

    Even with no talent of his own in telepathy, Ninetales' mind is so familiar, that Lee can navigate his tendril of thought around without any sort of issue. He dives past her stream of conscious thought, down deeper into the confusing crisscross of the subconscious. It's curious, he thinks, that a telepath cannot peer directly into their own subconscious, but that someone else can.

    'Or it might be unique to our relationship,' Ninetales silently provides.

    Or that.

    The phantasmal place below the sea of conscious thought can't really be likened to anything that exists in a 3D space, but nonetheless, Lee's brain fills in the blank with a winding web. In that web, urges and emotions are free to surge back and forth like lightning bolts.

    Close to the surface are things he can plainly understand, each one ephemeral, like a pang of hunger and a whimsical desire to satiate said hunger with something meaty and savory. Others repeat themselves over and over, like Ninetales' pleasure at being wrapped in a hug.

    Deeper, things become more esoteric and divorced from the waking mind. Much of what goes on here is a chore to comprehend even for Lee. Ninetales, who piggybacks off of his awareness, simply cannot make sense of what goes on here and is stonewalled from diving further. There is a lingering disgust for arachnids and the desire to kill them, fears of formless dangers to come, a selfish want of fame and control, impulses of violence, an unearthly, almost blinding love for Lee, and an ugly, resigned despair of growing old alone. Lee tightens his hug, and the last thought slinks away to hide.

    Below that is a level of pitch blackness, where only the most primal of thoughts light the dark with their constant flashes. Any lower, and words will fail to describe what comes after. Here in this animalistic trench, the raw need for food, rest, comfort, sex, fulfillment, and the other driving forces of life resides. The surges of unrefined need are unspeakably ancient, and here without the insulation of the rest of Ninetales' mind, each one twists and yanks at Lee's being. Even so deep here, almost disconnected from his body, he still feels his stomach roll and tingle as uncomfortable emotions rise within him.

    Focusing, Lee touches a strand of the web, a vague, muddy picture of himself standing with a woman at the front of his mind. He watches, ready to chase down the spike of jealousy and find what is bothering his partner so.

    He doesn't expect Ninetales' entire being to light up with vehement anguish, which is quashed by fury and jealousy a moment later. It's so startling that Lee is forced to withdraw back into his own head. He blinks away the lightheadedness of the sudden evacuation.

    'Ninetales, calm down. It was just an image,' Lee hugs Ninetales tightly, stilling the infuriated tremors that run up and down her frame. Slowly, the overwhelming deluge of emotion tapers off, and Ninetales is left hanging her head in Lee's arms.

    'I just…' Ninetales growls. 'I don't know! I don't!' Her tails leave their place around Lee and lash against the bed in frustration. With the might in the nine limbs, the bed rumbles against the floor from the blow.

    "Shhh, it's alright," Lee holds the shuddering fox close and lowers his voice to a soothing whisper. "Whatever this is, we'll figure it out." He switches back to telepathy. 'I believe you, Nine. I couldn't make heads or tails of where the reaction came from.'

    'I thought I had my affairs figured out after evolving,' Ninetales' telepathic voice has a bitter bite to it. 'I don't like feeling this way.'

    'We'll figure it out together,' Lee quietly insists. 'Are you afraid of being replaced? You know you're the definition of irreplaceable, right?'

    Ninetales snorts and raises her head slightly. 'I don't think it's that. Maybe.'

    Lee thinks to himself, but with his head muddled by the brush with Ninetales' inner self, he can't quite come up with any other explanations. 'Well, let me reassure you on this,' Lee leans his head into Ninetales' touching his forehead to hers and staring into her ruby-like eyes. 'There is no one in the world who can take the special place you have, Ninetales. I love you more than anything in the world, and that will never change.'

    Ninetales blinks, and Lee's entire body grows warm from the outpouring of love her mind dumps into him.

    'We've got people who can help, like Nigel, Mable, Xatu, and that old Pokemon Master, Lokoko,' Lee continues, a smile on his face. 'We'll figure everything out. If you ever get annoyed with someone because you don't like how they're treating me, just smile and remember; I love you.'

    The great fox smiles back. It's a small, delicate thing. 'And I, you, Beloved.'

    Lee feels her mind reach out and gently grasp his, reeling it in to touch hers tenderly. Just like the last time, the world turns into a haze of bliss as both man and vixen bare themselves to each other, utterly and totally.

    The pair don't stay locked in that rolling, fantastic oasis of thought and affection for long. They're together only for a few minutes, but it's more than enough to quell any fears and doubts for now.

    Returning to his senses, Lee reluctantly peels himself away from his fox. It takes a second for his entirely-relaxed body to catch up, but he reaches under the pillow of his bed, grabbing the trio of pokeballs beneath. "Alrighty, ladies and gents," he stands and stretches. "Back to work."

    The sun is hitting high noon in Verdanturf, and Corvisquire finds that he doesn't care for his heated feathers distracting him from his pondering.

    Why run?

    Why run?

    Why run?

    The infuriating Medicham from several nights prior forced this introspection upon him with that stupid, repeated question, and it makes the raven want to pluck his feathers out. He flew to a Sitrus grove to heal his injuries from the one-sided fight, but that lanky bastard was there, and he looked right up at Corvisquire. Reluctantly, the raven retreated, and his slowly mending aches forced him to sit and think with little else to do.

    Day in and day out, Corvisquire sat in his favorite tree and meditated, hating each moment.

    The brat and the fool haven't returned since that night, and it's beginning to look as if this detour has been all for naught. Trying to manufacture a foe for his evolution has failed.

    'Yet another thing you've failed at.'

    Corvisquire violently shakes his head once more, shaking the branch beneath him and dislodging the intrusive voice.

    Why run?

    Because I'm a coward.

    There is a rustle in the brush off to the eastern side of the clearing, drawing Corvisquire's eyes instantly. When the intruder steps through, the bird pokemon blinks incredulously.

    From the greenery comes Wally and Kirlia. The boy is carrying a wicker basket laden with berries. Considering the berries are all of the sweet variety, the boy might be more observant than Corvisquire thought.

    The pair walk up when Corvisquire makes no attempt to chase them away, stopping at the foot of his tree.

    "Mister Corvisquire?" Wally begins, nervously kicking a foot along the ground. "We're sorry if what Kirlia said to you hurt your feelings. H-He didn't mean to! He just lost control of his telepathy when he evolved! We practiced really hard before coming back so he wouldn't see any of your memories!"

    Any vitriol bubbling upon Corvisquire's tongue fizzles out at the admission. He tries to muster something, but his anger just burns out, leaving him weary. "Tell no one what you saw, and I'll consider the score settled…" He sighs. "Now go away… And do not come back. Take your treats, too. I'm not hungry."

    "But Mister Corvisquire…" Kirlia is the one to speak next. Guilt carves hard lines into his youthful face. "We still want to help you…"

    Corvisquire sucks in a sharp breath. "If you know what you claim to know, then you're already aware that nothing can be done. Unless you have beseeched Dialga herself to appear and turn back the clock, go away."

    Both Wally and Kirlia flinch. "T-That wasn't your fault…" Kirlia forces out.

    The cold, nearly dead coal base where Corvisquire's anger rests roars back to life. "Yes it was!" The raven screams back, spreading his wings to balance himself in his sudden rage. "Yes it was!"

    "No it wasn't!" Kirlia screams right back, tears pricking his eyes. He clenches his eyes shut. "Stop pretending you're not worth anything!"

    Coevisquire explodes.

    "What do you know, fool?!" Corvisquire's voice echoes through the trees, and his eyes shine red in his frothing anger. "I was born and bred to be there, to be his First and Most Faithful! I failed! Then I ran away like a coward!" The raven's cries batter the pair as he jumps down from his tree and stands before them, all rancor and ruffled feathers. "What would you do, hmm?! What would you do in my place!? Hmm?! Speak up, lowborn mongrel!"

    Wally shivers in fright, only stilling himself when Kirlia steps in front of him.

    Corvisquire hacks out a mocking laugh. "How brave. Would you continue being so brave if your trainer was ripped away from you like mine was? No! You would do nothing!"

    Why run?

    Because I'll fail again.

    Kirlia grits his teeth and forces back tears. "Wally?" He asks quietly. "Would you love me even if I failed you? Failed you so bad, that what I failed at can't be fixed?"

    "Of course!" Wally's answer is so instant that Corvisquire's laughter is cut short. "Always!"

    "If…" Kirlia gulps. "If you d-died, would you be upset if I found another trainer?"

    "Never…" The green-haired boy's eyes soften into something tender, something achingly familiar to Corvisquire. "Would you blame yourself and call yourself worthless if something did happen?"

    Kirlia is quiet for a moment, as the very thought of Wally expiring seems to root the little psychic in place. "N-No."


    "B-Because," Kirlia's red horns quiver and hum, his psychic powers venting the sheer emotion gripping him into the air. "Because I know you would want me to be happy, and I won't ruin your memory by wallowing in despair." He raises his head, staring directly into Corvisquire's eyes with such noble resolve that the raven is frozen on his feet. "Even if I sometimes hurt because someone is gone, I'll never be afraid to reach out again." Each word is like a hammer blow to Corvisquire. "Love is always worth it."

    A stabbing pain erupts in Corvisquire's chest. He looks down, expecting a beak, a claw, or a knife coated in blood.

    He's unmarred.

    Why run?

    I don't deserve love.

    The world grows blurry.

    They were outside a small town on the second week of their journey when the first attack hit. The Young Master couldn't catch his breath after a run alongside Rookidee, eager to be back in civilization. He fell to his rear, gasping along the side of the road.

    Rookidee did exactly as he was trained. Deft in both beak and talon, he opened his master's bag, located the inhaler the Lord of the Manor insisted the Young Master carry, and pressed it into the boy's hands.

    The Young Master's shaking hands bring the inhaler up, and with an inhaled puff, the peril passes. Breathing a sigh of relief, the Master strokes Rookiedee along his head. "Oh, Rook. You really are the best."

    Rookidee doesn't puff up under the praise. He's simply doing as the First and Most Faithful should. Silently, though, he will never tire of his master's love.

    The attacks are growing more frequent in the third month of their sojourn. The Young Master led them through winding woods and fantastic new cities, but often he needed to pause to catch his breath and sometimes use his inhaler. When they returned to the civilized world, Rookidee took it upon himself to write reminders to the Young Master to refill his prescription.

    A younger, more childish Rookidee bemoaned the lessons in literacy, art, and chivalry he spent with the Young Master, but now the ability to write has never been more valuable.

    The inhaler medication is an uncommon one, one not always available in the more humble towns, so Rookidee always ensures there is enough in the Young Master's possession.

    Despite his ailment, Young Master is so bright, so happy to be given the freedom to see beautiful Galar, and to share the experience with Rookidee. They didn't challenge the Gyms, or the Contest Halls. No, they were content with the travel, the fun, and the companionship of each other. For a boy of such noble privilege and wealth, the Young Master's ability to find joy in the small things left Rookidee in awe sometimes. He repaid his master's love one day in a battle, showing off Swift, a move he practiced in private as a surprise.

    The Young Master's delight filled Rookidee with a wondrous sense of purpose.

    With such happiness abound, why does it feel like a cloud hangs overhead?

    It was month six.

    He collapsed, inhaler falling from limp fingers.

    Rookidee didn't panic. He held the inhaler to the Young Master's lips and administered the medicine himself.

    It didn't work. They're hours away from the nearest town.

    Rookidee tried to carry his Master, gripping the boy's shirt with his talons, but he was too weak to fly with such a load. He cursed himself and his weakness endlessly.

    He yanked the SOS cord in the side of the Young Master's wristwatch, and the thing made a terrible wail. The screen flashed, saying help is on the way.

    Was it hours or minutes? Hours or minutes, it didn't matter, it all came together into a terrible blur.

    A helicopter escorted by a contingent of Corviknight landed nearby.


    'Cerebral hypoxia.'

    'Brain damage.'

    'Nothing can be done.'

    Words and phrases he's heard for weeks now. In the critical time it took for help to arrive, the Young Master stopped breathing for over five minutes.

    Motostoke Children's Hospital scrambled when a young noble boy on a ventilator was rushed into their midst. Some of the brightest minds of Galar resided here, and through them Rookidee's world shattered.

    A cancer, one that attacks specific cells in the lungs, was growing beneath the noses of everyone inside the Young Master. His lungs were losing their ability to process oxygen, and had been for years now. His childhood asthma was a gross misdiagnosis.

    For all the wonders in the world of medicine, nothing can be done if it's too late.

    The Lady of the Manor was inconsolable, and the Lord of the Manor stood with her, hiding his agony behind a wall more stalwart than any castle.

    Day in and day out, Rookidee stood at his Master's hospital bed, remaining at his side like the First and Most Faithful should. The Young Master's sleeping face, once full of life, was now pale and gaunt beneath his oxygen mask, ravaged by harsh medicines. The Young Master could wither into an ugly, inert peppercorn, and it wouldn't matter to Rookidee.

    He'll be here, at his side.

    That is the duty of the First and Most Faithful.

    They killed him. They pulled the plug. The instant Rookidee left his side for a day, recalled to the Manor by his Lord, the order was given and the Young Master's life support was cut.

    Nothing can be done.

    The line plagues him, clawing at his very being like a rabid Zangoose.

    Nothing can be done.

    They did it on purpose, calling him back. They wanted him away so he couldn't stop them.

    Nothing can be done.

    On the desk of the Lord of the Manner, Rookidee stands, staring blankly into the polished wood. Everything is numb, and he feels as if he's observing himself from the eyes of another. Stoutland and the Lord are there, and both forgive his abhorrent decorum. "I don't want him to die." The words leave his beak almost automatically. "There must have been something I could have done..."

    "Rookidee…" The Lord of the Manor's hand falls upon Rookidee's head. It's heavy and worn, totally unlike the Young Master's hand. "You are hurt, as we all are, but you must understand…" The Lord of the Manor steels himself. "He was never going to wake up, and his illness would have taken him before long. Nothing was working, so do not blame yourself. You can't do anything."

    Everything turns into a blur. With the snap of a pokeball's hinge and the shatter of glass, Rookidee flies. Inside him, the love fostered by his Master turns into a Seviper and sinks its toxic red fangs into him.

    Nothing can be done.

    You can't do anything.

    Anywhere, anywhere but here. He flies, heedless of all else but getting away.

    Nothing can be done.

    You can't do anything.

    There is only blue ocean below now.

    Nothing can be done.

    You can't do anything.

    Light envelopes him, and anguish breaks his body, molding it into something new mid-air. From the shell of despair, Corvisquire feels the fires of anger grow within, suffusing his limbs with new and incredible might.

    Why couldn't this happen when his Master needed help?! Why evolve now?! Why?!

    Nothing can be done.

    You can't do anything.

    Corvisquire screams. Below, the water passes in a supersonic blur.

    He flies, heedless of all else but getting away.

    Nothing can be done.

    You can't do anything.

    He ran away like a coward.

    There is green below. His wings can flap no more as the ground rushes up to greet him.

    With any luck, he will die on impact.

    It's not your fault.

    Even if I sometimes hurt because someone is gone, I'll never be afraid to reach out again.

    "Mister Corvisquire?"

    The world comes back into sharp focus with a gasp. Looking up, Corvisquire takes in Wally and Kirlia without actually seeing them.

    Kirlia steps forward, reaching a hesitant hand out. "Mister Corvisquire?"

    The confusing whirl of memories and words leaves Corvisquire's head swimming. It takes longer than he cares to admit to steady himself. "What?" he asks, hoarse. There is no surge of rage to return him to lucidity.

    "Are…Are you okay?" Wally twiddles his fingers together. "You were screaming."

    "Was I?" Corvisquire swallows thickly. "Oh."

    Kirlia pulls his hand back, seemingly unsure if he wants to approach. "Are you okay?" He repeats Wally's question.

    It's not your fault.

    Even if I sometimes hurt because someone is gone, I'll never be afraid to reach out again.

    "Do you believe what you said?" Corvisquire asks, looking at the grass.

    Both Wally and Kirlia blink.

    "Your little speech," Corvisquire cannot even ruffle his feathers. The anger simply won't come to him. "Were you speaking from the heart?"

    Kirlia sets his shoulders and nods. "Every single word."

    "And do you thi-"

    "It's not your fault," Kirlia cuts Corvisquire off. The psychic's face is understanding, and the raven… can't bring himself to hate it.

    Mind awhirl, Corvisquire stares at the ground. A thousand thoughts plague him like biting insects, all demanding his attention. Through his mind's eye, things come and go, but a pair of faces stand out.

    He sees the Young Master, and the boy's smile is more radiant than the sun. It's free of judgment. In those youthful, trusting eyes is love.

    He sees Lee Henson. The scar-laden smile speaks of pain, pain both he and Corvisquire understand. In those weary, haggard eyes is love.

    He ran away from both.

    Even if I sometimes hurt because someone is gone, I'll never be afraid to reach out again.

    Love is always worth it.

    'I don't want to run anymore.'

    "Listen and listen well," Corvisquire raises his head, leveling Wally and Kirlia with as stern a stare as he can. "In a tree sixty-seven meters south, the one with equal amounts of ivy and moss on its western flank, there is a Dawn Stone hidden in the knothole of the trunk. I stole it for you."

    Both Wally and Kirlia gasp, visibly shocked. "Is that the stone Uncle was talking about? The one that the newspaper said went missing?" Wally asks Kirlia, apparently too startled to use telepathy.

    "Use it, return it, leave it for someone else, I don't care," Corvisquire sniffs. "Your lessons with me are over. I have an obligation to return to, and I will not hear any stupid begging."

    The pair of children get over the admission of theft quickly, and to Corvisquire's surprise, neither argue. "We understand," Kirlia smiles, and damn it, the raven wants to strangle him. "Are you going back to your new trainer?"

    Corvisquire snaps his beak. "Yes, are you happy?"

    Wally once more produces that heartache-inducing smile. "We are. Oh, Mister Corvisquire?" He calls when Corvisquire spreads his wings. "We'll miss you."

    The Flying-type sighs. "For what it's worth… You two weren't totally hopeless."

    Their childish faces light up.

    Corvisquire doesn't stay around to hear any goodbyes or hear their reply, as he flaps his wings and rockets into the air, his heart thundering in his chest. Yawing to the side, he orients himself north, towards Mount Chimney.

    Then he flies. Resolve, and just a little hope, fills each stroke of his wings.

    Below are the names of some patrons who got to view this chapter early and felt like signing it. A huge thanks to them and everyone else who supports this story and everything else I write.

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  6. Fuggmann

    Fuggmann Inventor of Sex 2

    Dec 14, 2020
    Likes Received:
    With that, we're all caught up. QQ will go into the regular update schedule going forward. I hope you all enjoy! My other story, Borne of Desire, will... probably go into the NSFW section. Usually, I'm not one for smut, but the story itself might actually benefit from a deep, physical romance.
    Remegar, khatun, Zendrelax and 22 others like this.
  7. Subhelios

    Subhelios Voryn Dagoth, Dagoth Ur

    May 21, 2020
    Likes Received:
    Dang, not sure how I missed this story being uploaded here! I've enjoyed it for quite a while now so having it on my preferred platform is a boon.
  8. doomqwer

    doomqwer Versed in the lewd.

    Dec 13, 2020
    Likes Received:
    Indeed in world like pokemon being prepared is a necessity.
    Hmm for all his intelligence and highly pragmatic attitude, one would think that he would understand that raising up and created molten land for new habitation would take ages to become habitable with out serious terraforming and not to mention the sheer upheaval a new land mass would reek on the climate.
    Clever and a fun idea of what the Ninetales of the mansion did after it left, its now watching and making sure others like it are taken care of and love.
    Another great upside to QQ allowing you to show off media and art to better accentuate the story telling experience.
    This fight and the rest of the Moore battles are probably the best so far in the series as while also fighting with power and showing how far Lee and his team have come its also was found smartly using every advantage they could take.
    Ooof that has got to be devastating, and with how you have portrayed the poison typing in this story it makes it all the worse.
    He has made alot of progress and has shown he truly trusts ninetales to the deepest levels.
    Best fight so far/
    God that has got to weigh heavy on anyone and growing up together would make it worse, fighting side by side in a battle to protect there home but slowly coming to fear who is essentially your brother in all but name after that would fill you with guilt.
    Yeah kids gonna need some serious touch ups not to come off as a complete asshat.
    This was quite an interesting look at Brendan's psyche and how he thinks, while we have seen him act his age this shows that he definitely has seen the the more adult sides of things.
    That is going to be lovely as the things ninetales could pull without needing to focus on combat to much could be amazing.
    And we we are caught and see the resolution of Corvi's Character Arch, Showing us why and how he became what he was which was very touch seeing someone who you loved dearly wasting away and always hearing that everything is futile would break someone.
  9. TheEyes

    TheEyes Experienced.

    Jul 2, 2018
    Likes Received:
    It's kind of interesting that Lee hasn't named all of his Pokemon. You'd think he would; he named the animals under his care, to better help differentiate them in his mind and distance them from generic considerations of the species as a whole; why not for his Pokemon?
    Wheenesss and Tobi like this.
  10. Winged One

    Winged One Not the Simurgh

    Jul 16, 2013
    Likes Received:
    I'm just going to subscribe here so I can keep reading when the SB thread somehow being hornier than this one gets it locked.
  11. Eevee shadow bacon

    Eevee shadow bacon You've met with an interesting fate, haven't you?

    Sep 19, 2020
    Likes Received:
    Welcome oh winged one. The forbidden fruit tastes the sweetest and they insist on trying to overindulge themselves.
    Tobi likes this.
  12. doomqwer

    doomqwer Versed in the lewd.

    Dec 13, 2020
    Likes Received:
    wait really, guess I gotta skim through the SB thread to see the chaos.
  13. Goldenrah

    Goldenrah Experienced.

    Jun 18, 2022
    Likes Received:
    All it takes is one mod over there having a bad day.
    Yeetboi, Winged One and VincentR like this.
  14. doomqwer

    doomqwer Versed in the lewd.

    Dec 13, 2020
    Likes Received:
    damn they sounds like a bunch of stuck up pricks.
    Yeetboi and VincentR like this.
  15. Vanbers

    Vanbers Well worn.

    Apr 3, 2016
    Likes Received:
    I mean, I'm figuring there's a reason why effectively anyone asked (and many unasked) say that this place is *markedly* more chill than SB/SV. And part of that is probably the rules being... significantly less-draconian/too-hyper-specific/not-specific-enough leading to mod fuckery.

    More relevant to this, I feel it's more a case of "Normies can't into Pokefucking". So any reference to, mention of, or intimation towards the Lee/Ninetales ship gets people heated. Pun fully intended.

    Personally, I'm just hoping the crossposting to here means that there more hope for the Lee/Ninetales ship to turn more romantic, because holy shit I love that pair so much, and it's so god damned adorable.
    pvtmiller, Yeetboi, khatun and 4 others like this.
  16. Eevee shadow bacon

    Eevee shadow bacon You've met with an interesting fate, haven't you?

    Sep 19, 2020
    Likes Received:
    Honestly, the pair is very cute. They have some of the best synergy I've seen in a while and they are just perfect.
  17. doomqwer

    doomqwer Versed in the lewd.

    Dec 13, 2020
    Likes Received:
    Agreed They are adorable together and the back and forth between them has become my favorite part of the story, Though the moments where the pokemon talk amongst themselves are a close second.
    khatun, Winged One, VincentR and 2 others like this.
  18. Threadmarks: Act 2: Chapter 13

    Fuggmann Inventor of Sex 2

    Dec 14, 2020
    Likes Received:
    Take a look here. We're close to making writing my full-time job so I can keep the pace for this story and others going almost indefinitely. If you want to help with that, see below. If you want to keep up-to-date on releases, use discord code hive-of-degeneracy and opt in to the fic-updates role for a ping.

    Want to support me? See fuggmann on the place of patrons. I do have goals on there that will hopefully allow me to cut back on work in favor of more writing. As thanks for donating, patrons get to see updates a few days early and suggest edits to the final draft before it goes live.

    "Sorry, sir, I don't even want to give you a quote on this." The apologetic man behind the electronic store counter slides Lee's old, cracked smartphone back to him. "I've never seen the style of port on your device before. Heck, I've never seen this brand in my life! I'm sorry, sir, I don't want to try because my inexperience with your brand means a risk of damage or data loss. If privacy concerns means Porygon can't get at your device and perform a data transfer, then I don't think I can do much. You might be better off consulting a proper electrical engineer for a proper battery swap and charging solution rebuild."

    Floating at the counter attendant's side is a pokemon, one that looks like a simplistic, blue-and-pink duck made in a 3D modeling program. The Porygon shakes their head, letting out a series of downtrodden beeps.

    A curious pokemon, Porygon. The sapient, hard-light pokemon is one Lee briefly considered acquiring due to their intellect and ability to interface with damn-near any computer. That thought was discarded after hearing about their multi-thousand credit price tag and their tragically short lives unless frequently maintained by their owners. Something about the ever-active and self-editing AI of a Porygon accumulates read-only partitions of junk data, kernel-deep errors, and other issues that turn into a lethal cascade failure if ignored too long. Porygon2 can apparently go much longer without debugging… Which requires the purchase of Porygon's expensive evolution catalyst, the Upgrade. Lee hasn't seen any mention of Porygon Z anywhere.

    Lacking the experience needed to debug a pokemon and not wanting to invest the money into keeping a specialized programmer on retainer, Porygon was relegated to the Maybe Someday part of Lee's wanted list.

    With a sigh, Lee takes the phone back and slips it into his pocket. "I understand. Thank you for taking the time to look."

    "My pleasure!"

    A moment later, Lee and Ninetales are outside the shop and in the Lavaridge streets, slowly making their way to the only other electronics repair shop in the city.

    After his and Ninetales' heart-to-heart in the hotel room, Lee tended to the rest of his pokemon with a meal, then dug his old phone from his bag, intent on replaying Pokemon Emerald as a memory refresher. If he recalls correctly, he had also installed another emulator, one capable of running newer games. With any luck, a copy of the Pokemon Ruby remake, the one featuring Zinnia as a character, is also there. Being able to play both would be an incredible boon.

    Upon pulling the old phone out and turning it on, Lee was met with a '0% charge' message. Not a problem, he thought. I'll just charge it.

    Then the rude awakening came.

    He doesn't have a charging cable.

    Silph Co's omniwire-beta cable that came with Lee's Pokegear branded smartphone doesn't fit his old phone at all, and Lee tumbled into this world with only the things in his pockets.

    What a frustrating, vexing, and just plain dumb way to be stopped short. Idly hoping for an equally dumb solution, Lee opened his current phone and looked up 'charging phone with electric pokemon'.

    Naturally, what he got was a lot of news articles warning against doing such a thing, saying 'your precious Pikachu's Thundershock will destroy your phone.' The articles all referenced a fake ad campaign run by internet hooligans impersonating Silph Co with the goal of causing mischief.

    Least intelligent method eliminated, Lee and his team ventured out into town to tour the various electronics stores. Two of the locations advertised repair services, and with any luck, one of them can pull some sort of miracle and revive the alien device.

    Well, one down, one to go.

    As they walk, Lee decides to kill two birds with one stone… Two Taillow with one Rock Throw? Eh, that doesn't flow quite as well in his mind. Pulling out his intact pokegear phone, Lee logs into BattleNet and navigates his way around, taking in the recent news on his way to the chat group section, where Lokoko and possible answers to Ninetales' unexpected temper might reside.

    'Seems like our novelty is wearing off,' Lee silently comments to Ninetales as he scans their megathread. The number of posts per day has slowed down a fair amount, leaving only a few dedicated weirdos obsessing over Lee and his team. Someone ignited a furious debate with a proposal on Ninetales' 'stats', but that lasted only two days. Curious, Lee zooms in on the little wall of text.

    Special Ability: ?
    Typical Held Item:
    Known Moves: Confuse Ray, Quick Attack, Payback, Baby-Doll Eyes, Hex, Feint Attack, Extrasensory, Double Team, Bite(?), Flamethrower(?), Ember(?), Fire Spin(?), Will-o-Wisp(?), Unknown Fire Move #1, Unknown Fire Move #2, Unknown Fire Move #3, Others (?)
    Notes: Henson's first pokemon(?). Evolved from Vulpix using G1P1 Fire Stone (citation needed). Capabilities are unknown. Observed using undocumented moves as a Vulpix on multiple occasions. Capabilities as a Vulpix noted to be in excess of previously known upper limits of species. Total number of moves is unknown. Type spread of moves is unknown.

    At a Glance:
    Physical Atk: A+
    Ranged Atk: SS+
    Status Atk: S+
    Phys Resist: A+
    Energy Resist: S-
    Status Resist: ?
    Agility: SS
    Reactions: S+
    Stamina: S+
    Pain Tolerance: S+
    Overall Species ranking:
    (? Tier) Pokemon cannot be accurately categorized at this time. See legacy feat and performance breakdown here (link)

    'Good fucking God. What kind of scaling is this? If you're just now beginning to touch Elite territory, then the 'stats' on a Champion 'mon must look like someone smashed their fist on their keyboard.' Lee shakes his head.

    Most people in the thread seem surprised by Nine's ability to take a solid hit and willingness to fight up close and personal, which isn't surprising. From what little battle data is available about the kitsune pokemon, they all seem to be ranged attackers that are practically allergic to melee.

    While Lee's megathread is winding down without any major events to spur discussion, Tyson Rhyn's recently made megathread is exploding in activity after his win over Petalburg's Gym Leader, Norman. The revelation that Tyson is the trainer of a Metagross is almost perfectly mirroring the reaction that many had upon Ninetales' victory over Ty. Many posters have flocked to the thread to sing praises about Tyson and his rare, powerful pokemon, while others have barged in to lament about their own shots at Ever Grande becoming harder. A disgruntled few internet raiders have started arguments about how Tyson is needlessly brutal or cheating somehow, with just as many defending keyboard warriors coming to join the verbal melee. A few of them have dragged the names of other popular trainers into the debate, comparing, contrasting, and arguing about who would win in a battle. Lee sees his own name a few times.

    Tyson pops in once to thank his supporters amid the mess, then wisely goes quiet.

    The rest of the Hoenn section of the forum is much calmer, with news and discussion of much tamer subjects.

    Moving on, Lee tabs over to the various chat groups in BattleNet.

    Besides 9TT, Fire Masters, and Fox Friday, he has joined a few other ones—mostly to observe silently—but he pays them no mind. The nearly one-hundred pings in Fox Friday are ignored as Lee opens 9TT, then taps his thumb on Lokoko (9TT Administrator) to start a private message chain. In the back of his head, he feels Ninetales watching through his eyes with apprehension.

    -Beginning of private message history-

    Today at 5:33 PM
    L_Henson: Excuse me, Lokoko. Do you have some time? My Ninetales and I have a few questions. I apologize for using DMs, but this matter is potentially sensitive.

    The reply doesn't take long. In only a minute, Lokoko sends something back.

    Today at 5:34 PM
    Lokoko: Of course, Lee. Do not worry about sending me a direct message. I understand the need for discretion. How can I be of assistance?

    'Thank goodness,' Lee sighs and begins typing his reply. Looking up, he sees he and Ninetales are only halfway to the next repair shop. Plenty of time for a short conversation, he thinks.

    Today at 5:34 PM
    L_Henson: Ninetales and I share a rather deep relationship, one aided by telepathy. While we're close, we've agreed that we don't want to go that far, as it adds a level of complication we don't need. Despite that, Ninetales' temper has been… a bit short with other friends, women in particular. Her reactions have been involuntary as far as I can tell, and don't trigger with other members of my pokemon team. We're not sure where to take this and were wanting guidance.

    The thin fur of Ninetales' inner ears flush as she follows along with the text conversation. Besides Lee, she growls, only stilling herself when Lee places a gentle hand on her head.

    'This is humiliating…' Ninetales laments, focusing her eyes on the ground. Inside of her burns an acrid embarrassment that Lee keenly sympathizes with. 'I feel like an animal, a lesser being for having reactions like this. I should be able to control myself.'

    'I thought the same thing when I started seeing Mable, remember?' Lee briefly lowers his phone and rubs a thumb along the white heart on Ninetales' ear. 'You're a brave one for not pushing off outside help as I did.'

    Ninetales leans into his touch, but her foul mood doesn't abate.

    Raising his phone back up, Lee reads Lokoko's returning message.

    Today at 5:35 PM
    Lokoko: I see. How old is Ninetales? When did you and Ninetales begin using telepathy? And to what length and level?

    An interesting question to lead with. Lee rolls his phone in his hand and takes a moment to think.

    Vulpix was a young adult biologically when she evolved, and her kind usually takes around four years to reach full maturity. Mental age is a harder answer, as Lee doesn't want to use human standards for a pokemon. That being said, Vulpix was much more level-headed than most, so…

    Today at 5:35 PM
    L_Henson: I don't know Ninetales' age for certain, but I am estimating five-to-ten years.Several months back, when she was still a Vulpix,we couldn't communicate much at first, but attained a decent level of verbal and emotional transfer before she evolved by way of constant practice. After evolving, she and I have had perfect clarity. I can understand her one-to-one.

    After a moment's hesitation, Lee offers the mysterious Pokemon Master one more snippet. If not for her supposed specialization in Ninetales as a species, Lee doubts he would have told her half of what he already has.

    Today at 5:35 PM
    L_Henson: We can't seem to disconnect anymore, either. I will be working with Professor Birch and possibly specialists to study that particular phenomenon.

    This time, Lokoko takes a full three nerve-wracking minutes to send something back.

    Today at 5:38 PM
    Lokoko: Interesting. I have both good news and bad news for you. The good? The temper your young Ninetales is expressing is normal. Unlike many other pokemon, where evolution is isolated to physical growth, a Ninetales undergoes a number of mental changes as well. A Ninetales is a creature of robust emotions; they must be, in order to persevere for hundreds of years. At the same time, the attachments one forms will be mighty, and so early in her evolution, a young vixen will need to relearn her control and wrest her conscious mind from the grip of her instincts, which will urge her to be tribalistic and possess her loved ones in every way she can. Both her capacity for love and hate have grown to a level she does not grasp yet. Due to the emotional root of a Ninetales' powers, you can observe this disruption when she performs supernatural feats. Have you observed thusly?

    'I'm… having trouble with my telekinesis because of my emotions?' Ninetales herself seems confused, though it's superseded by relief and annoyance that she's having 'growing pains', of all things. 'I don't see how that could be affecting my moves. My Fire is practically a muscle at this point.'

    'Let's humor her, Love.' Lee types his response. 'She's got some big names in 9TT, so she has to know something.'

    Today at 5:39 PM
    L_Henson: I have noticed that her psychic powers are a bit out of whack since her evolution, but I chalked that up to the sudden increase in their potency. Her superb control of her Fire moves hasn't diminished, though.

    Today at 5:39 PM
    Lokoko: Do you have a phobia of fire, Lee?

    The sudden and pointed question makes both Lee and Ninetales stiffen. How does she know that? Lokoko sends another message before Lee can get his bearings.

    Today at 5:39 PM
    Lokoko: Your young Ninetales indeed has a wonderful grasp on her pyromancy. I observed your past battles on BattleNet and was pleasantly surprised by your Ninetales' skill in molding flame before evolving. Such talent is not commonly seen. In fact, I do not recall a Vulpix in recent history who could perform to such a degree.

    Doubts about Lokoko's skills are fleeing both Lee and Ninetales like Zubat might a cave upon nightfall. Man and fox lock spooked eyes.

    'Is your pyrokinesis not a unique ability?' Lee sends to his fox. 'That… That never really crossed my mind.'

    'Lokoko is heavily implying that it isn't.' Ninetales' telepathy is capped with a twinge of uncertainty. Behind her, her tails frazzle, discontent. 'She clearly called it pyrokinesis… or pyromancy, so…'

    'So she's likely a real deal Ninetales expert.' Lee sighs and glances at a weathered, wooden bench that they pass. If they weren't on a timetable for tonight, he would have sat down to better absorb the information being thrown at them. Thinking for a moment, Lee types once more.

    Today at 5:40 PM
    L_Henson: You're very sharp, Ma'am. What do Ninetales' emotions have to do with her pyrokinesis, psychic powers, and any fears I might have?

    Today at 5:41 PM
    Lokoko: Spiritual powers, not psychic. Allow me to explain this misconception many hold.

    For several minutes Lokoko types, and both Lee and Ninetales slow their walking pace, waiting.

    Today at 5:45 PM
    Lokoko: In order to explain the relationship between a Ninetales' emotions and powers, one must first understand the inherent differences between the four ethereal pokemon types: Psychic, Ghost, Dark, and Fairy. All other types have elements that totally or partially reside in the physical world. One could make a case for Dragon being a non-material type, but we will not get into that here. As an academic, you are aware of how poorly understood these four types are, yes? So long as they are looked at from a scientific angle, they will continue to elude even the brightest of minds, for they do not work within the bounds of science. These four types exist upon a shifting spectrum with much overlap, and, as such, understanding them is beyond most.

    Psychics are the most populous of the four, and thus the type the layman thinks of when they see phenomena that do not obviously belong to another type. Psychics are rooted deeply in using cold logic and intellect to enforce one's will upon the world around them, with almost zero emotional component. Ghost and Dark energy will disrupt Psychics for this reason, as the volatile emotions within these energies are not a quantifiable concept that a Psychic can control or calculate. Many will mistake a Ninetales for a Psychic because of the overlap between Psychics and Ghosts. A Ninetales can wield all four of these energies, yes, but they stand closest to Ghost-type, and this colors their methods of control.

    Ghosts are the opposite of Psychics. Strip away the flesh and the mind, and what are you left with? A soul, a being of pure sentiment and passion. Here, understanding becomes hazy for most. Love, hate, joy, sadness, and every emotion save raw apathy has a power that cannot be measured with the eye or instruments. Emotion is what makes a soul, what fuels it, and what drives it forward. I say this with all the certainty in the world. Some might break emotions down to something more cold and clinical, like chemical reactions within the brain. Nay, strong feelings are a power that defies and persists even beyond death, as the name Ghost-type should drive home. Within each Ninetales lies a soul of such force that it practically spills from the body. An immortal existence within a mortal shell.

    Lokoko is forced to stop and begin typing again as she hits the character limit for a single post. As Lee and Ninetales digest her words, Moore's words days before Ninetales' evolution ripple through them.

    A Vulpix will go from flesh and blood to… something not wholly mortal. Something not easily controlled.

    Lee re-reads Lokoko's post with a slowly growing sense of wonder. In all his research, there has been speculation on the nature of pokemon types and TE, but much of it is just that: speculation. Some are more studied than others, but just as Lokoko says, Psychic, Ghost, Dark, and Fairy have resisted modern science's attempts to grasp them beyond the basics. Is it truly because these types have no way to be quantified?

    Today at 5:46 PM
    Dark and Fairy exist close to Psychic and Ghost, overlapping but not truly touching. Where Psychic and Ghost are the realms of intellect and emotion respectively, Dark and Fairy occupy an even muddier scale of intent along the axis of Psychic and Ghost, forming a wicked compass.

    Dark is the element of animalistic desire and violence. The want to cause harm, the want to control, the want to spread misery. That is not to say all who bear the epithet of Dark-type are monsters, but that the most personable of them are pokemon of admirable self-control. A Dark pokemon may love and hate like any other, but only the intent within will empower Dark energies. Many fail to realize this and nurture a most detestable character in the pursuit of power. The ability to sequester impulses of violence away from the rest of the mind serves to bring the users of Dark to the highest level.

    Fairy is a type I hesitate to put into words. Most would think Fairy to be the type of joy and happiness, but that's not quite correct. There is an underlying sinister, distorted nature that I do not truly grasp, one required to bear these powers in battle with the intent to harm. I know precious little about these energies or the minds of those who wield them. The state of mind required to master Fairy-type is alien, and that is all I know for certain. I have doubts that many of the users of Fairies actually understand their pokemon.

    A pokemon may call upon these four elements, but their state of mind determines their might. An emotional Psychic is a poor one, as is a stoic Ghost.

    As I said, a Ninetales can wield all four of these aspects, but the one they align to most naturally is Ghost, and this will bleed into her other skills. As her mind becomes accustomed to this newfound depth, her temper and control will settle. You require only time.

    The Pokemon Master on the other end of the messaging app once more hits the character limit for a single message. As she begins typing again, Lee and Ninetales lock eyes once more.

    Ninetales' relief that there isn't something wrong with her spills into Lee, soothing his own nerves some. The vixen takes a deep breath that pushes her chest tuft out, then slowly exhales. 'That answers some questions…' she begins, 'but if this is the 'good' news, then what is the bad news? Much of what she says also seems like nonsense.' Ninetales shakes her head with a huff.

    'At first glance, yes, it seems like spiritual mumbo jumbo…' Lee returns his eyes to his phone, waiting with bated breath for the next message. 'At the same time, though, all my academic sources can't seem to pinpoint the cause of a lot of TE phenomena. If what Lokoko says is true, and state of mind can affect TE potency, then that gives us a place to go forward from on that front.'

    Psychics aren't nearly as well understood as other types, but there is at least a basis for studying them. Dark is poorly defined at best. Ghost is still mostly speculation and theory, and Fairy is so new that almost no one has even begun delving into it.

    Fascinated, Lee resolves to try and pick Lokoko's brain again later, and focuses back on the matter at hand as his phone vibrates.

    Today at 5:48 PM
    Lokoko: You asked why your young Ninetales' pyromancy is still so refined when her control has otherwise suffered? Look upon yourself to find the answer.

    'Look upon myself?' Lee blinks and does so, looking down at his torso and legs, then at his arms. When he sees nothing out of place, he shrugs. 'Any ideas, Love?'

    Ninetales thinks to herself for a moment. 'I get the feeling this is intended to be some sort of introspective question, not something literal. Other than that, I have no idea. Clearly, she means you are the reason my Fire is so easy to command, but 'why' is not explained.'

    Today at 5:49 PM
    L_Henson: I'm sorry ma'am, could you elaborate?

    Lokoko's reply is swift, as if she expected to be asked for an explanation.

    Today at 5:49 PM
    Lokoko: As I said, a Ninetales' powers are bound to her emotions. If you fear fire, Lee, then what would be the most appropriate response from Ninetales?

    'To keep it under control…' Ninetales blinks, realization settling over her.

    "To keep it under control…" Lee mirrors his fox, the words spilling out of his mouth.

    She would never hurt you.

    'Is it really as simple as that?' Ninetales wonders with only Lee to hear. She stares at the dirt road as they walk, her thoughts buzzing like Beedrill. From her, Lee can pick out a few fleeting feelings. Part of her is pleased with her own dedication to her trainer, while another is bitter that her talent is all subconscious and not an earned skill of her own. The bitterness of the latter grows stronger as she remembers how heavily Lokoko implied that her pyrokinesis isn't special, either.

    Lee shuts down the negative spiral by petting Ninetales behind her ear, his thumb returning to the white heart there. 'Love, you're special to me, and don't you dare imply all those weeks of practice were for nothing. Maybe some hidden factors helped you along, but your hard work is what got you this far.'

    Try as she might to remain upset, Ninetales' negativity drains like a basin with the plug pulled. She huffs theatrically and leans into Lee's hand, grumbling to herself.

    Today at 5:50 PM
    L_Henson: That's certainly in line with your impromptu lesson (thank you for that by the way. I hope we can converse more later on the subject of Types). You mentioned that there was bad news?

    Today at 5:51 PM
    Lokoko: Indeed. Although your Ninetales needs only time for her control to return, you've inadvertently complicated matters with the use of telepathy. As I said, it's simply the nature of a Ninetales to be possessive, and I fear the narrow boundaries between you two have exacerbated the issue. I am indeed familiar with the unusual relationship that blooms between telepathic partners, and, unfortunately, this unique form of love is of little use as a buffer in this circumstance. Even if no romantic love exists between you and her, and there is no desire on either end to move forward, her instincts will snarl and gnash at the thought that there is a part of you she may not have. There are two possible ways to resolve this:

    1. Revisit your relationship with her, and put those instincts to rest by taking that last step.

    2. Set more firm boundaries with one another so Ninetales might meditate on what she can and cannot have with all of the people in her life, not just yourself. This should significantly expedite matters. This will mean limiting telepathic contact to the minimum required.

    'That's ridiculous!' Ninetales physically snarls, startling a few people on the street before Lee shushes her. 'Why are those extremes the only options? There has to be something else we can do!' She takes another deep breath, calming her boiled-over temper down to a simmer. 'If need be, I'll tighten the leash on my emotions until this all blows over.'

    'Easy, Nine…' Lee bites his lip, just as troubled as he pens his response.

    Today at 5:51 PM
    L_Henson: I understand the reasoning for your solutions, but is there anything else we can do? Neither of us are keen on such drastic measures.

    Lokoko's following message is just text, but Lee gets a distinctly exasperated feeling from the words.

    Today at 5:51 PM
    Lokoko: I had a feeling you would ask. Telepathy also increases the risk of hyper-fixation, an unfortunate condition pokemon like Ninetales can fall prey to. Tell me, outside of time spent with you, what sort of pursuits does Ninetales have?

    Lee pauses, his eyes narrowing. After such a fresh mindmeld, Ninetales' memories are almost easier to call upon than his own. Still, he struggles to find an answer to Lokoko's question. 'Love?'

    Like Lee, Ninetales can't seem to muster an answer. After a minute to think, she finds something to say. 'I mind Shinx, and I assist you in your research. I also enjoy sitting and watching movies with you when a worthwhile one is on TV.'

    'Lokoko was asking about things you do on your own, though.'

    Ninetales falls silent.

    A tingle runs down Lee's spine. Does Ninetales really have nothing outside of him?

    Grovyle meditates and practices what looks like yoga in his spare time. Recently, he's been trying to learn how to use a leaf as a whistle, too. Whether that's for some kind of training or for pleasure, Lee can't say, but the gecko pokemon does it of his own accord.

    Octillery is a voracious learning machine. The octopus more or less taught himself how to read after Lee's first lessons, and now he devours any kind of learning media he can wrap his tentacles around. He's also conned Grovyle and Lee into playing strategy games with him more than once, things like chess or shogi, where he usually wins handily.

    Shinx's boundless curiosity means she's always getting into things, and when she isn't up to no good, she's playing with Electrike and Goomy, or leading them into no good.

    Ninetales… sits and waits for Lee's attention most of the time. The realization that he overlooked something so critical makes Lee's stomach roll.

    Looking down at his phone after it buzzes with a new message, Lee reads what he sees.

    Today at 5:53 PM
    Lokoko: I can guess the answer from the amount of time it's taking you to reply. If you're going to insist on not taking my offered solutions, then you'll be forced to work things out on your own. A good starting point in either direction is pointing Ninetales' passion into a pursuit of her own choosing, one that is not you or her training. That is not to say that you may not join in on whatever this hobby might be, but you cannot be the locus. This will point your relationship in a healthier direction, and assist in smoothing over the harsh spikes in her emotions. Learning that there is more to life than their human is the most important lesson a Ninetales can learn. If you disregard any part of what I have said today, make it not this.

    I'm afraid I have other matters to tend to and must cut our time here short. I am no expert on the subject of telepathy, let alone a case like yours, but constant contact without boundaries is something the more learned warn against, lest you venture into the uncharted waters of a gestalt. When you meet your professor-recommended expert for your study, I ask that you keep me in the loop in some capacity. They may offer instructions contrary to mine, and I would like the chance to offer amendments if required.

    Today at 5:53 PM
    L_Henson: Thank you for your time. I hope we can speak again soon.

    Locking his phone and putting it away in his pocket, Lee stares down at the road, troubled. Their walk descends into an uncomfortable silence. A lot of Lokoko's words replay themselves over and over to both of them.

    Constant contact without boundaries is something the more learned warn against, lest you venture into the uncharted waters of a gestalt.

    Learning that there is more to life than their human is the most important lesson a Ninetales can learn.If you disregard any part of what I have said today, make it not this.

    A cold shiver wants to run down Lee's spine as he thinks to himself, but he powers through it, reminding himself to bring the questions now nagging at him up to Nigel's telepathy expert. 'Lokoko was right on the second one, though. I want Nine to know how to be happy after I'm gone.'

    'Nine?' Lee musters up his nerve and returns his stream of thought to the telepathic line between himself and Ninetales. 'You've been rather quiet. Are you okay?'

    A sigh escapes Ninetales' lips. 'I don't know.'

    Lee can feel what her words fail to relay. She doesn't want to follow either of Lokoko's solutions.

    'Love, don't be so morose. We'll deal with all of this the same way we always do.' Lee gives his pokemon a gentle smile. 'Together, and one step at a time. We'll consult Mable, Xatu, and Nigel's expert before we start putting anything into practice, okay?'

    The fox leans into his side, her frazzled nerves settling. 'I understand, Beloved.' She pulls away and shakes her coat out, starting from her head to her tails. 'I do not like it, but I understand.'

    'Together, and one step at a time,' Lee repeats. 'Now, onto less gloomy subjects. What sounds like a fun hobby to you? I think that was a great suggestion.'

    Ninetales' mind works, but she can't seem to come up with something. Once or twice, she almost voices something, but she pauses and second-guesses herself.

    'Nothing at all?' Lee broaches. 'There is plenty to do here in Lavaridge. We can peruse an art store, or maybe see about something electronic at the repair shop? I know BattleNet and the rest of the internet is a good time sink.'

    The golden vixen at Lee's side snorts. 'Perhaps something less brainless.'

    'Well…' The zoologist peers at a store that they're passing, then stops with a smile. "Ah," Lee begins aloud. "Maybe here?"

    Ninetales looks up as well.

    Before the pair stands a small, two-floor shop sandwiched between two other buildings. Hanging upon a pole by the door is a swinging wooden sign saying 'Armand's Fine Texts' in wispy strokes of black ink, as if painted by a calligraphy brush. The building is as plain as they come, and if not for his current musings, Lee might have missed it entirely.

    'A bookstore?' Ninetales blinks and tilts her head. 'Beloved, you read enough for the both of us.'

    'I read a lot, yes, but it's mostly scientific articles and research documents nowadays,' Lee remarks. 'If you're wanting something stimulating to do, a good book is worth a try, I think.'

    Ninetales mulls the idea over, one of her tails escaping their neat fan to flick in thought. 'What time does that repair shop close again?'

    'Seven. We've still got an hour.'

    With a shrug, Ninetales steps towards the bookstore. 'I suppose it can't hurt.'

    Stepping inside, the pair are greeted by modest shelves of books sorted by genre along the walls, and more freestanding shelves arranged in rows along the floor. Near the back of the store is an open staircase, above which hangs a sign that says Employees only. Near the door is a lonely little desk and a cash register, and behind the desk sits a man of middle age, engrossed in an open book. The store is as unassuming on the inside as it is on the outside.

    The door shuts behind Lee and Ninetales, ringing a little bell hanging from the doorframe and drawing the attention of the proprietor, who looks up with a smile. "Welcome! Let me know if you need help finding anything!" he says, returning to his own reading shortly afterward.

    Slowly meandering around the shop, Lee and Ninetales take in the various titles on display. From fiction with fantastic, colorful covers, to solemn biographies and historical accounts of famous people and pokemon now gone, the little shop seems to have a slice of everything. A small rack of comic books and manga catches Lee's eye.

    Front and center is a manga with a cover featuring a sleepy old man in a rustic suit, his glasses drooping along with his eyes. In the elderly man's lap is a cheering little girl in a white sundress, and in her lap is a tiny, alarmed Sunkern. The pair are riding in a lawn chair, flying through the cloud-dotted sky with the aid of a dozen Butterfree, who are tied to the arms of the chair with lengths of string. The whimsical-looking comic is titled "Road to Belfry Zephyr - Vol #8".

    Ninetales, meanwhile, scans the bookshelves intently, trying to find something that jumps out at her, though Lee can feel her disinterest second hand. Over in the history section, she stops and takes a closer look at something near the back.

    Lee steps away from the comic rack and peers over the fox. "Find something interesting?"

    'Perhaps…' She hums in her throat. Her eyes glow violet for a second, then she stops and thinks better of using telekinesis, instead snaking a tail forward. The tail pulls the book free, letting the fox and man read the title on the front.

    Johto - Other Eyes

    The cover art is sparse, merely a stylized Growlithe staring out from a balcony down into a sunset-lit valley.

    Ninetales flips the book around, revealing the summary on the back.

    A historically-inspired retelling of the fall of the Johto shogunate, rebuilt from ancient archives, personal journals of the shogun and his retainers, and the testimonies of the pokemon and people descended from the original noble clans. The events of Johto - Other Eyes are told from the perspective of Shiba, sire of the shogunate's finest force of Growlithe, along with a number of other real characters. Within, you will find a world long gone in the era of the feudal lords.

    Under the summary is a number of reviews from different sources, and they all have a common theme of praising the book for being both a thrilling read as well as historically accurate. There is even one from Mura Moore.

    "(Johto - Other Eyes) is a fantastic retelling of the shogunate's final days, never shying away from the ugly events of the past or besmirching the moments of glory. A must-read for lovers of both history and political intrigue." ~ M. Moore, Hoenn Elite Four.

    "Is this one that you want?" Lee asks. "Looks interesting."

    Ninetales looks up at him with a smirk. 'Not true. You consider political discourse to be dry, but thank you for being supportive.' She licks her lips. 'I'm willing to give this a try. I don't have a history of my own, so… I'd like to know more about my kind's homeland.' As she speaks, a vague sense of wistfulness fills her words, and Lee can only liken it to misplaced nostalgia. 'Maybe I'll learn something about myself along the way. I know what I want out of life,' her eyes drop to Lee's boots, 'but I realize I know little else.'

    Lee's fingers comb through the tuft atop Ninetales' head. 'Once all is said and done here in Hoenn, we'll go on holiday in Johto and Kanto, okay?'

    Ninetales smiles and cuddles into Lee's side. The love she exudes washes away the day's doubts, and Lee realizes following Lokoko's instructions beyond this hobby-seeking is going to be difficult.

    'That sounds lovely.' Ninetales sighs and separates herself from her trainer. 'Let's keep looking.'

    After another twenty minutes, Ninetales picks out three more books, all of which are historical but are of less interest than her first selection. After checking out and returning to the Lavaridge streets, Lee's phone buzzes in his pocket.

    "Now what?" he grumbles, pulling out the device and unlocking it. On the screen is a single new message.

    Zinnia: I got everything we need.

    High upon a telephone pole and vigilantly keeping an eye on her trainer below, Swellow sighs to herself for what feels like the millionth time.

    Below, in a nearby field, Courtney smiles as she and the Birch boy sit and converse. The pair sit like young lovers upon a boulder, and at their feet, Swellow's teammate Mightyena and the Birch boy's Marshtomp catch their breath after a spar.

    Marshtomp is a cut above the rest for certain, and with the boy's direction, stood up to Mightyena as an equal. Swellow sees why her trainer is so determined to bring the boy into the fold of Magma.

    Such is the nature of poisoned minds to poison others.

    Hate burns under Swellow's feathers: hate for the man who twisted her trainer so.

    Maxie, the pompous, overinflated bastard in charge of the terrorist freakshow known as Magma, poisoned Swellow's trainer. Promises of a new world, promises of glory as a savior, promises of his approval. Bah! Swellow would cut him down if she knew she could get away with it.

    Promises upon promises, and Swellow knows in her heart of hearts that each word is false under its sweet coating. Maxie runs his organization of misfits as a cult, and only devotion will see one rise in the ranks. The higher one goes, the more absurd his demands of them become, but the worship within the underlings makes them blind to how they are used. One such demand is the use of crude psychic safeguards, so no one in the upper echelons of Magma may be mentally probed.

    Swellow suspects more than just safeguards are put in place.

    Does the madman even know what he's doing, Swellow wonders? He dares tamper with things better left alone, in pursuit of what? To create more land with the power of a God, to combat overpopulation? This march of madness is driven by a problem with centuries, maybe millennia of time to answer. No. There are no pure intentions here. Maxie is driven by hubris. In that hubris, he's created monsters of his own design. Every moment, he sweet-talks another.

    In another life, Maxie could have been something else. An orator with few rivals, a leader, a pokemon Champion even.

    Instead, he seeks ruin for everyone.

    At the very least, Maxie is not the criminally insane head of Aqua. Maxie has the discretion to pretend his schemes will save lives.

    Archie, leader of Team Aqua, does not hide what the result of his victory would bring.

    Swellow's eyes narrow.

    Courtney's ace, Camerupt, cannot escape the trappings of his kind. Strong in body and clever in battle, Camerupt is still a dullard. He sees no issue with following these schemes, for he doesn't understand that Courtney's choices aren't her own.

    Mightyena is even worse. She sees the events before her clearly, yet she turns her head away and abdicates responsibility, saying Courtney's word is law and claiming it's not her place as a pokemon to protest Courtney's orders. Mightyena knows it's wrong, Swellow can see the conflict in her eyes, but Mightyena takes the easy way out and refuses to stray from her pack instincts.

    That leaves Swellow alone to seethe over the injustice. She pushes away the anger, lest it consume her.

    Henson and Draconid have hidden their suspicion of Courtney poorly in recent days, and Swellow has tailed them, confirming Courtney's feeling that her cover is blown. It doesn't matter now. Upon the Lavaridge volcano, a device whose function escapes Swellow is nearly complete, and Magma will step toward its next veiled goal soon.

    Just as Courtney is stepping toward her next goal below.

    Swellow's trainer and the Birch boy are too far away to hear, but Swellow's powerful eyes watch their lips, reading the words that flow out.

    "Brendan?" Courtney begins with a despondent sigh. She balls her hands up in her lap. "I… have some things to tell you. About me… and some things Lee and Zinnia… have been keeping from you."

    Brendan blinks curiously. "What do you mean?"

    Beside Brendan, Marshtomp's eyes narrow, and Swellow feels herself tense, ready to swoop in if needed.

    Courtney looks away, conflicted. Swellow can't tell if it's genuine or an act, a distressing thought. "I'm… more than I say I am. I'm on a mission, and… I need your help." She meets Brendan's eyes. "I'm part of Team Magma, and I want to explain some things to you."

    Courtney tells him about herself, about Magma's 'mission', about how Henson and Draconid left Brendan in the dark. As she talks, Brendan's eyes grow wider and wider as his jaw hangs lower and lower.

    Swellow grits her beak. Upon that pole watching for interlopers, she bides her time, waiting.

    She'll break Courtney free of this madness once the opportunity presents itself, once everything is lined up just right. In the meantime…

    Swellow can only hope the Birch boy is made of sterner stuff than her Courtney.

    Below are the names of some patrons who got to view this chapter early and felt like signing it. A huge thanks to them and everyone else who supports this story and everything else I write.

    WiseKitsune21, Tyric Gaias, speedyzman13, puppy0cam, Latscry, GreenPhoenix, Peter D., Emilowish, Dusks_Lantern, Drew6, Dicloniuslord, Green0Photon, Planetace, Rémi C.,Berusella, Randal the Vandal, CMDR Dantae, ShaRose, Revenge-Of-The-Slime, cjmRAZOR, Aegi!, SaverLi, ncskeeter56, LarsHuluk, MephisASDF, LadyVesfynn, TitaniumPhoenix, bradthebugguy, Skrubstar, Thelon, QuantumWaffles, rizen, TheTankiestTrain, Sean T, KingDeDeDe11, Moxie, Paul O.K., Murtaugh, Arcaryx, Strongraider101, Fabhar, Ranger, Grey, Zany Old Coot,Ciaran Mullen, IAmYourKingAndMaster, Ash The Kitsune, Moonlit Chaser, That1sungod, JustALurker, Firefox, Autocharth, Kastor, King Eevee, MidnightJayguar, ClassicDom, Tzeneth, creativityfails, AMeek, Spice_King, Emeraldleafeon, Rakkis157, Hazel Kings, Gavinfoxx, whaud, Moonnikill, Codeman, majora, Pgarhwal, xydra22, M0och, SleepyKamo, Colby, BrokenOlive, Javidom, TheGreatPapyroo, Purple Floof, Veeeee, Faolen, RaptorusMaximus, Bunny Waffles, Mr Granadas, Spencer S. Munirah, Dankmuffen, Tezral, Happy Buddha, Renko Usami, Ashed, Casual,
    Last edited: Jan 2, 2023
  19. Vanbers

    Vanbers Well worn.

    Apr 3, 2016
    Likes Received:
    Ayyyyy, it's finally caught up. Nice.

    Well, Brendan has been shown to have a good head on his shoulders, so I doubt he'll be taken in by the "Let's summon a legendary to make more land for ill-defined reasons!" goal. If anything, he's gonna go full Shonen Protagonist and 'save' Courtney. At least I hope, those two are cute together.

    And yeah, Swellow's got the right of it. Maxie is crazy, utterly mad, but at least he's not Archie. Maxie is bad, but you can at least read the twisted logic he's using, and see that he has, at the root of it all, goals that are, at least in some way, good, or even righteous.

    Because holy shit is Archie genuinely evil when you think about it. He legitimately wants to murder people en-masse, on purpose, for... what? More water? Because "society bad"? Because "muh fish pogeymans"?

    Teams Magma/Aqua have always been a dichotomy between Incompetence/Maliciousness in my view. Because while Magma are bad guys because they legitimately don't seem to grasp why their plan is dumb, Archie knows full-well what his end goal is. And it's murdering countless in tidal waves.

    And despite how dumb both are, at least they're not the Galar bad guy. Because while Aqua/Magma's problem they're solving is one they have centuries to solve, Chairman Rose decided to put the entire region at risk to solve a problem that's not even an actual problem for one thousand years.

    Yeah, I'm still salty. At least Scarlet/Violet have been super fun so far, other than hacker bitch. I can vibe with Team Star, they're just dumb cringe dorks and I love them.
  20. Saberofblue

    Saberofblue Slave to the Plot Bunnies

    Dec 3, 2019
    Likes Received:
    I finally just caught up to the end of this myself after binging the story over several days. Definitely by far the best Pokémon SI I’ve read. The world building, group dynamics of our favorite trio + Courtney, the characterization of the Pokémon themselves is absolutely fantastic. Still hoping on a romance subplot for Lee feat. Zinnia, but I can see that not really working out for them given their individual obligations (Lee wanting to travel and Zinny going back to the tribe unless she wants to continue that journey after the Omega plot is finished). Regardless, still an awesome read and I can’t wait for more!
    Dar1157 likes this.
  21. Lurker2021

    Lurker2021 Lurking

    May 15, 2021
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    Given a earlier section of Lee and Ninetales' mind bonding reading very close to 'becoming one':
    I think there's very little difference if Lee actually takes that physical step. Though I can see it if he does. And hope that with all this spiritual shenanigans or outright magic going on in pokemon world, that if Lee and Ninetales fuck it is with Ninetales pulling a Daji/Tamamo with a humanoid form. But that might just be my own preferences talking.
  22. doomqwer

    doomqwer Versed in the lewd.

    Dec 13, 2020
    Likes Received:
    Hmm I almost completely forgot about the phone even though it was the catalyst to all this and it makes wonder why he did not try to recover it sooner, then again he has been on a rollercoaster ride of emotions, life and self discovery so it come as no to surprise that an old phone would be the least of his concerns.
    It also makes me laugh that there is essentially a 4Chan equivalent in the pokemon world
    I mean Cynthia was ready to throw fists with Giratina the antimatter pokemon
    Poor Ninetales she is feeling what we all feel when we loose control, Though they way Lokoko explained it has me loving how you are touching on the mental aspect of Ninetales power.
    An interesting take on Ghosts but it does fit pretty well, Though it does make things like Phantump a tad bit more fucked up.
    That Fits to a T as the word Eldritch originates from the discussion of the Fae as they were thought to be so alien and beautiful that they were not human nor did they think like them.
    Makes sense if you had someone you knew without doubt cared for you and that you could feel on a level so deep that care you would do almost anything to keep it that way and not let that bond slip away.
    And the Big Reveal, well at least for Brendan, It should be interesting to see how this plays out Brendan deeply care for his bond with Courtney but he also has a deep sense of duty and he is not gonna join her.
    Hopefully if it turns out badly the rest of the gang can come in as back up.
    Last edited: Jan 2, 2023
  23. Vanbers

    Vanbers Well worn.

    Apr 3, 2016
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    My favourite part of that picture is that I can kind of read Garchomp's face as worried/scared and going "Oh shit Giratina you dun it now", which is doubly hilarious since Garchomps are, IIRC, super aggressive.

    Plus the core idea of Fairy Type being "You must be happy and joyful" and then realising that if someone is using "joy and happiness" to fuel their attacks when beating things to death, there is something deeply unsettling/sinister/wrong with them.

    Faeries, man. Fuck the fae. Also they are not to be fucked with.

    Plus it gives a level of understanding that literally cannot be matched by any other beings/individuals. There are quite literally no other being on that planet who will ever quite understand Lee/Ninetales as well as Ninetales/Lee does.
    Kiden, Zendrelax, Morphile and 6 others like this.
  24. doomqwer

    doomqwer Versed in the lewd.

    Dec 13, 2020
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    Yeah the Fae are not to be fucked with, Though it does make me wonder if they also have rules they follow as most Fae have a deal making nature and set of rules that set for interacting with them.
    Though it does make me wonder what happens to eevee after receiving high enough affection and having some grasp on Fairy TE, as the first game pretty much stated they are in love with their trainer and I am wondering what that did to their mind.
  25. Goldenrah

    Goldenrah Experienced.

    Jun 18, 2022
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    Seems like a ton of drama soon if Courtney manages to mess with Brendan's mind due to his crush. Hope this doesn't spell the end of the travel group, but if it does I'm expecting a crusade with Zinnia and Lee taking down both teams.

    Went to check out who Lokoko is since that name was familiar. Damn, he went straight to probably the best possible expert in Ninetales mentality, that's impressive. I agree that helping separate the two into their own person will help, I always felt they were a bit codependent on each other and it will be good of Ninetales to develop her own likes, wants, hobbies, etc. I'm not saying it's bad that they rely on each other, but it's better to start on this early since I doubt he will ever live as long as her.
    Fitsdreia likes this.
  26. doomqwer

    doomqwer Versed in the lewd.

    Dec 13, 2020
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    You know you are right and I think at first that deep connection was needed for lee to come to terms with what happened to him and give him a lifeline to rely on when times are tough, but now that they have made great strides in coming to terms with themselves they also have to grow individually and that will most likely involve separating a little more finding more about themselves.
    shinighoul6 and Goldenrah like this.
  27. Lyrista

    Lyrista Experienced.

    Aug 5, 2017
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    Will Brendan think with his head? Or with his other head? We'll find out.
    Winged One and Goldenrah like this.
  28. Vanbers

    Vanbers Well worn.

    Apr 3, 2016
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    Eh, I don't think they *need* to separate, but rather to just develop outside each other a little, to become a bit less codependent. But even then, they're still a unit, and that's something I quite like.

    Like, having Ninetales get a hobby outside him is nice, but also her lifespan is long enough it's not absurd for her to want to spend as much time with him as possible, since his, uh, isn't.
    khatun, Fitsdreia, Goldenrah and 2 others like this.
  29. Joe Generic

    Joe Generic Getting sticky.

    Jan 12, 2015
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    Well, you go from a quadrupedal pokemon able to understand but not be understood, likely knowing none of their evolutions will include anything like Gardivoir... to something that's evolved the ability to sense and manipulate emotions through their ribbon-tendrils, and insists on always using said ribbons to hold hands with the trainer they're in love with.

    ...Yeeeeah, I'm going to guess they have an oddly high percentage of Yandere types of different sorts. And that their trainers love them very much, whether they were into that before or not.
  30. doomqwer

    doomqwer Versed in the lewd.

    Dec 13, 2020
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    Oh I am not saying a complete separation as the would do way more harm then good as for Lee he is still somewhat using it as a coping mechanism from his trauma and he could be pretty antsy and jumpy without it to lean on at least a little and Ninetales would be the worst effected as she has essentially been connected with Lee her entire life and the loss of something that significant unless in a highly controlled environment is bound to cause her serious anxiety and mental issues.
    Hmm I would not thing that would allow a mind altering pokemon to stick around without precautions of seeing if they had affected someone, but Yandere's are probably a given in things like Sylveon and other affection and love based evolutions, which brings up buneary which can literally only evolve if a human catches them and are essentially Tsuderes based off the frustration move who you have to give them enough affection til they evolve. And thats not even touching Gardevoir and the black hole, so yeah there are probably quite a few yandere or lovey dovey pokemon pining after their trainer.