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A note from Fuggmann

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 https://www.patreon.com/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.

Ninetales
Special Ability: ?
Typical Held Item: N/A
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
Lokoko: 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.

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Fuggmann

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Pandemonious_Ivy ago

This last surprise POV is remarkably akin to a certain brooding Flying type 🤔 Corvi coming in at the last moment to save the day sounds more viable than before.

ValkyrViolet ago

A very good story, like it a lot, but their 'relationship' is being mentioned too much recently.

Please, if it willinevitably end that way, just say so and i can stop reading before i read something that i really, really do not want to see.

Otherwise, is it possible to stop referencing it time and time again, its making me really uneasy going forward...

    ChaosUntold ago

    Its apparently been confirmed before as not going that way. But yeh its offputting it even exists here

    INB4Boredom ago

    This has always been a character and drama driven story. He clearly stated nothing will come of it and you can’t just….slide past a permanent telepathic connection. It’s gotta be addressed because of the type of story this is. So enjoy the ride of two being finding their place in the world

    Bobbles ago

    The story is cross-posted to sites that absolutely do not allow sexual content. Your eyes are safe.

    Pandaemonium04 ago

    As far as I remember, this story has always been less "action, fights and poke tournaments" and more character driven with unique insights and studies on pokemon.

    Lee specifically says that he's not interested in battling and the league tournament and is more interested in research.

    On the other hand, i do agree that the telepathic communication chapters are tiring. At least the chapters are moving with the plot, which is the corvi and now the lavaridge attack chapters.

    Edit: the author is specifically said that there will be no LeeXninetales stuff. Their relationship will not be moving into Sextual stuff ever 

    Vintearis ago

    Hard topics have tk be addressed in order to make story authentic even if MC doesn't have sexual attraction toward Ninetail otherwise we risk one dimensional characters because author is driven to cowardice by squeamish readers. To lower quality of the story by avoiding hads topics is desecration.

    Mind me, I'm talking about addressing problems and solving them not showing off sex scenes for shock value . Like in life, there are hard topics than needs to be adrssed and solved.

    BTW I'm feeling shadenfreude right now  Let me take card from SJW. I really can't resist. You squeamish guys are just... Pokemonophobes  

TheSilenceOfTommorow ago

Thanks for the chapter! Edit suggestion:

Ninetalesthinks 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.'

Nihonica ago

Starting the year with a cliffhanger ORZ

Thx for the chapter!

Owlindenial ago

Y'know, I really hope Lee sits down with Courtney and Brendan and explains how this will go. Explains his experience with waiting for the nuke to fall and knowing you're going to die and how team magma will do much the same.

Grindle ago

So, fellow commenters (and author if you want to say anything) I have a question for you all that I have been wondering about for awhile. Zinnia, is she really at the same level as Lee and Brendan? I know she is supposed to be some Dragon-type guru eventually, but ignoring that for now, I really find it difficult to believe she is at the same level as a trainer combat-wise as Lee or Brendan. I mean, she was never really at Lee's level (yes she won that first fight, regardless of method that was a win, but something like that would only ever work against Lee once and I feel like them never fighting again until the evolution was pretty Ploty) and although she was definitely ahead of Brendan when he was starting out but I refuse to believe the boy wonder everyone cant stop calling a battle prodigy is still losing to Zinnia at this point. She doesn't battle much in the story's spotlight and her combat prowess (aside from being dragon like) is hardly ever focused on and so I wonder if it that is because the author doesn't want to highlight it since she is supposed to be strong simply for training dragon types and it would clash her whole 'thing'. As in, her entire personality revolves around her as a dragon specialist and dragon types being 'the shit' and contradicting it already in the story wouldn't work for the plot or something. Because again, I just dont think anything in the story has given us a reason to believe she has the ability to keep up with Lee and Brendan.

Sorry for the text wall, just wanted to get it out there and I really hope this isn't interpreted as hate, I will admit I am not fond of Zinnia at all but this question is purely because I want to see what others think and if I have forgotten something crucial.

 

TFTC!

    Wheels ago

    As described, I think Shelgon was a bit stronger than Ninetails prior to evolution, but now it's outclassed. We'll probably see her catching up as he evolutions start up, because the big weakness of Dragon types is how slowly they evolve. I suspect we'll get Marshtomp, Grovyle, and Corvi evolutions, then Goomi, Electrike, and Shinx evolutions in a similar timeframe, before we see Shelgon and Swablu evolving and giving Zinia a major boost as her pokemon gain some really robust power.

    I mean the whole point of dragon types is slow growth but incomperable strength, I dunno why you wouldn't expect her to fall behind before catching back up.

      Grindle ago

      I know that, what I mean is is she strong because she uses strong pokemon or is there more. Brendan is battle prodigy and he controls the battlefield like none other at his age. Lee, meanwhile, takes pokecare far beyond others his level, can coordinate near instantaneously with Ninetails and thinks so outside the box he creates moves that nobody can reasonably plan for. What about Zinnia though? What does she have going for her there as a trainer like that? To that point, Shelgon probably did have more raw power than Ninetails before she evolved, but do you think Shelgon actually could have beat her? 

      Galad2510 ago

      I think I see where you are coming from, but I think the ability of being able to control/train a group of dragons is a feat in itself. (At least from the context of this story). Zinnia hasn’t been a focus in awhile and I assume that once they finally visit the draconoid village we will get a lot of story and background on her and fill in the gaps a lot.

      On another note, what dragon would Lee have? I am thinking the dreepy line would be interesting and he would love learning about it cause the physiology is literally the oppposote of what he specializes in lol

      Wheels ago

      Agreed, controlling dragons seems to be a feat in and of itself.

      As far as a dragon for Lee? I'm not sure hos temperament is right for it at all. If he were to raise one, it would either need to be of an alternative temperament, like Goomy or Jangmo-o. Goomy is an obvious no since Zinnia is already raising one.

      That said, Trapinch seems like the obvious answer, since Lee has expressed a desire for vibrava/flygon repeatedly... Not that Lee always gets what he wants. It also has to be said that despite my feeling it would be a better match for Lee, with its relatively honourable and structured outlook on life, I would actually be disappointed to see such a pokemon join his team, as it would ultimately blend in too much, personality wise, with the more established Corvi and Grovyle.

      Gothic Butterfly ago

      Its partially the fact that dragons are strong pokemon and also that Zinnia is/was being trained to be the next Lorekeeper for the Draconid tribe, which iirc are supposed to be the ones strong enough to survive and restart the tribe if *everyone else falls*.

      Darker7 ago

      Adding onto all that, I'm pretty sure that, in a Zinnia PoV, she thought about how much faster her/her team's progress has been while traveling with Lee and Brendan than before, and how she's constantly being kept on her toes by them :Ü™

    Pandaemonium04 ago

    Don't forget, 80% of how Lee does battling was taught by Zinnia with aid from Brendan.

    Zinnia thought he was some hotshit egomaniac trainer and that's why she challenged him only to beat him and then realise that he's just a quiet guy and then decided to join him.

    Brendan though Lee was using some advanced tactics only to realise later on that Lee simply didn't know he was making so many mistakes.

    We may not see much of Zinnia, but remember, she's still better and more experienced than battling than Lee and Brendan

      Tread Carefully ago

      Brendan though Lee was using some advanced tactics only to realise later on that Lee simply didn't know he was making so many mistakes.

      Which is kinda weird, cuz if you go back to the early chapters, Brendan was surprised just at Lee using Quick Attack to dodge.

Simone Calderari ago

Courtney’s Swellow PoV was a really nice cherry on top of this chapter. This, Corvi’s and the other Pokémons PoV breathe life into this world you’re writing.

 

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