A note from Fuggmann

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'You're certain you'll be fine? One-hundred percent?'

Ninetales' worry distracts Lee enough that he nearly trips over a crack in the Lavaridge streets. After his stumble, he smooths his jacket and replies. 'Just fine, Love. Enjoy your day off, okay?'

'You'll call me if you need me, yes?' Ninetales' follow-up is as quick as lightning, and, try as she might, she can't quite hide her discontent. 'Zinnia reported that there are confirmed Magma agents in Lavaridge, and I'm loathe to leave you alone with such dangers about.'

Ninetales' ire compels Lee to glance to his side, where Courtney walks with him, having taken him up on the offer of morning training. He returns his eyes forward before the Magma admin can see him looking.

'I have both Grovyle and Octillery with me,' Lee says soothingly. 'I doubt anything will happen, but if things look dicey, I'll call you straight away, okay?' After a moment, he adds, 'Also, can you keep an eye on Brendan when he wakes up? He was kind of withdrawn last night. He said he was fine, but nothing has kept him upset for this long…'

Although her worry and twinge of irritation at being left behind don't totally abate, Lee can feel Ninetales slowly turn her attention away from him and down to the book before her paws. Through her eyes, he sees that she's lying on his bed, halfway through page one-forty. 'I'll speak with Brendan if something still seems amiss,' Ninetales promises.

'Thank you. I know things have taken a weird turn between us, Nine, but I still love you and always will.'

Even across town, Lee can feel Ninetales' annoyance melt, replaced with a fond mental grumble. 'And I, you, Beloved. Be safe.'

'We will.' Lee lifts his hand and touches his cheek, stilling the ticklish sensation of a phantom fox snout nuzzling him.

After a long minute, Ninetales' focus shifts to the half-read chapter within her book, and Lee gently squeezes the telepathic channel between them mostly closed, slowing the throughput of emotions, shared senses, and idle thoughts.

A shiver runs down Lee's spine at the sudden, primal pang of loneliness, but he sighs and looks to his left.

Grovyle, his escort for today, looks back up at him. In those cool, yellow eyes is a silent, reassuring confidence that dulls Lee's spike of anxiety.

Lee smiles down at the gecko pokemon, who nods back in acknowledgment. Taking a deep breath, Lee's mind turns back to the day prior.

Yesterday was a busy one. Their primary goal of finding someone who could repair Lee's old cellphone, and thus salvage the treasure trove of information from the pokemon games within, failed. The first shop didn't want to risk damaging the unfamiliar device further, and the second was a PokeGear chain store that turned Lee away instantly when they saw the phone wasn't a supported brand of theirs. Disgruntled, Lee debated on trying to work on it himself before stopping.

He has no idea if volts and amps are measured the same on this Earth. With that in mind, he sent an email to Lavaridge Electric, the local power supplier, to see if they have a legitimate electrical engineer who can provide some insight. So far, his email hasn't been answered.

During the trip from the first to the second repair shop, Lee and Ninetales had their disquieting talk with Lokoko, who insisted that Lee and Ninetales need to draw harsher boundaries in their telepathic relations, lest they "venture into the uncharted waters of a gestalt."

Lokoko's other suggestion, one that Ninetales needs interests outside of being Lee's pokemon, was one Lee agreed with wholeheartedly. After a stop at a local bookstore, Ninetales picked out several books to see if reading would be a hobby she would enjoy. So far, the vixen has been engrossed with texts of historical accounts… when she's not brooding over Lokoko's previous warning.

The only other thing of note popped up when everyone was settling in after dinner, and it was a surprising one.

Silph Co finally paid him for Grovyle's TMs. All of Seed Sniper and Seed Blast's pre-orders must have sold out, because in Lee's bank account, a lump of seventy-six thousand credits appeared.

That was only for the first run minus the patenting fee that Silph Co took out. If the second and final run of the TMs sells out, then another eighty-seven thousand might be on the way.

After looking around online, he realized that it wasn't a question of if the TMs would sell out, but when.

A moderately popular BattleNet video uploader, an older, retired trainer named Haul Parrel, who is often praised for being factual and down to earth, pre-ordered a copy of both Seed Sniper and Seed Blast to review at the behest of his fans. It seems as though Silph Co pulled some strings to move preorders for high-profile trainers faster, as Parrel claims he acquired his disks several days before uploading his video. The man's Cacturne demonstrated both moves on a variety of targets to devastating effect, and Parrel himself provided commentary on what he thinks the moves excel at and criticisms on where they could be better. The review signed off with Parrel commenting that the moves are "Steeply priced if bought as a complementary pair, but seem like they would fit well into the arsenal of a career competitor. Are they worth the price? You be the judge."

Following the release of the video, a number of copycats with Grass pokemon are now trying to secure their own copies of the TMs to capitalize on Parrel's wake and grow their own followings.

If that wasn't enough, Gardenia, Gym Leader of Eterna City all the way over in the Sinnoh region, apparently got copies as well. Her famed Roserade, a pokemon as powerful as it is beautiful, used Seed Blast on live television during an exhibition match to decimate a speedy Lycanroc.

Lee had to sit down after that, uncomprehending for a moment. In the next month or two, he will likely be holding onto six figures worth of money. The thought… seems so strange.

It was mostly his pokemon's doing, so the acclaim feels… misplaced. People online have offered praise for the 'talent' of being able to make moves, but none knew that his piggy-backing off of Ninetales' senses offered him a pokemon's perspective on how Type Energy works. Even if Ninetales can't use most forms of TE, the first-hand insight she provides makes unraveling the unfamiliar forms of TE and instructing his pokemon how to mold it so much easier.

Ninetales shushed him, saying there was no reason to feel guilty for capitalizing on a team effort. She did agree with him that the stylized, anime-esque art of himself and Groyvle on the box of the TM was cringe-inducing, though, joking that the eyesore wasn't worth the money.

The TM case accidentally nailed the early 2000s aesthetic of an earth video game case perfectly, featuring a split cut of Grovyle and Lee's scowling faces in the middle. The top held the name of the move in bold, eye-searing font, and the corner had a bombastic "Limited Edition!" sticker. Lee didn't bother looking at the back.


Lee looks back down to Grovyle, who stares back up at him with a raised eyebrow, and Lee realizes his face twisted itself into a grimace. "Sorry, Grovyle," Lee waves him off. "I was thinking of the box for your TMs again."

The gecko pokemon's muzzle twitches in distaste. He gives Lee a narrow-eyed look and a short hiss, one that clearly says, "What do you mean by my TMs?"

"Our TMs; my bad. I'll take half the blame there." Lee raises his hands, exposing his palms in mock surrender. "I expected Silph to use a photo or something, not a picture that looks like it came from the bowels of BattleNet's fan art section. We'll be more involved in the process next time."

Grovyle twiddles his twig in his mouth, mollified. On Lee's opposite side, Courtney's mouth twitches in amusement.

Together, they venture out to one of the more secluded training grounds on the edge of Lavaridge. Zinnia returned the night prior with damning information on Magma's movements up upon Mt Chimney, and now it's business as usual until the next 'unexpected' lift closure…

It's nearly 11pm, and Lee has changed out of his day clothes for a bare chest and thin shorts in preparation for bed. Anything heavier is just too hot when he and Ninetales share the covers. The overhead lights are already turned off owing to Brendan, who has turned in for the night. Lee pauses in his task of grooming Grovyle and scans the room.

At the foot of Brendan's bed, Electrike and Shinx sleep cuddling together. The (literal) odd bedfellows are equal parts adorable and comical since Electrike is three times the size of Shinx.

Ninetales herself has already wound down, lying across the hotel bed on her belly as she slowly reads through the first of her stack of books. So far, Johto - Other Eyes has been such a captivating read for her that she's said little all night, not even letting the upsetting talk with Lokoko linger in the forefront of her mind. So relaxed is she, that the vixen's hind legs are splayed about behind her, covered by her limp tails.

Octillery has relinquished Lee's laptop for the night. In a rare moment of lethargy, the octopus is sitting on the couch doing nothing. Octillery watches the news on the TV, which has the volume turned down low. The local news channel of Lavaridge has little to report, it seems, as Octillery is dozing off in the glow of the screen.

All of Brendan's pokemon sans young Electrike are sleeping in their balls. The three were… unusually sullen and guilty-looking, retreating into their pokeballs before they could be questioned.

Grovyle is sitting on the bed with Lee, just beside Ninetales. The gecko pokemon doesn't show how bashful he's feeling (though Lee is sure the Grass-type is) as Lee gently rubs a green medicated gel intended for burned and scarred skin across patches of discolored scales. It's the same stuff that Lee uses on his face to keep his own scars pliant.

"Rapidash sure did a number on you, bud…" Lee murmurs, massaging Grovyle's side. He pauses to take the bottle of gel leaning against his crossed leg and squirt a little more in his hands. "Even now, in fighting shape, you've still got scales coming in oriented wrong or missing their chlorophyll…" Lee continues rubbing the gecko's side, working the gel past the scales and into the skin underneath. Idly, he has to admire Grovyle's hard-earned musculature. It doesn't show under his scales, but one could mistake the Grass-type for a Fighting-type if judging solely by hand. "Any stiffness or pain when stretching?"

Grovyle shakes his head in a jerky 'no'.

"That's good." Lee smiles and shuffles to the side of the bed, standing up to put the scar gel back in his backpack. The gel is exchanged for a pack of wipes, which he uses to clean the remaining gel off his hands. "With any luck, the discoloration and uneven scales will fade in the next few weeks. If not, evolving should fix it right up."

Grovyle perks up at the mention of evolution, his embarrassment at being touched forgotten.

As Lee zips his bag back up and sits back down on the bed, his phone buzzes on the nightstand next to Ninetales.

Without looking up from her book, one of Ninetales' tails reaches out, wrapping dexterously around the phone and dropping it into Lee's lap.

"Thank you, Love," Lee says aloud, reaching out to scratch the base of Ninetales' center-most tail.

The fox wiggles at the pleasant, tingly sensation that runs up her spine, turning her head back to offer Lee a wordless smile.

Lee unlocks his phone, an eyebrow rising when he sees another message from Zinnia. Unlike the vague message before, this one is asking him to meet her outside.

"Back in a moment, everyone." Lee stands and throws on an undershirt, stepping around the bed and to the door with his team's eyes on his back.

'Zinnia?' Ninetales questions, quite literally reading his mind. 'Is she finally elaborating on her unhelpful message from earlier?'

'Seems like it. I'll keep you in the loop.'

Gently pulling the hotel room door open as not to disturb Brendan, Lee shivers as the cool night air nips at him. With the summer coming to an end, the nights are slowly getting chilly.

Outside the door, looking down at her phone, Zinnia perks up as Lee shuts the door behind him. "We scored big, Lee!" she whispers excitedly. "I've got confirmation on everything!"

"Really?" Lee crosses his arms as he looks Zinnia up and down. "Do tell."

Zinnia's usual outfit is absent, replaced with a too-small, midriff-exposing shirt and jacket that pushes her bust up, a dangerously short skirt, and high heels. The Dragon Tamer's face is lightly dusted with make-up, and the faint scent of alcohol and smoke hangs around her.

'Arceus, she looks like a groupie.'

Zinnia's face takes on a teasing smirk when she sees Lee's roaming eyes. "Dolittle, check me out later. We've got more important things to talk about."

"Less checking you out, more wondering how you're breathing with a shirt that tight," Lee shoots back, but it doesn't stop the faint prickle of embarrassment. Thankfully, Ninetales is too distracted with her reading to catch the thought.

"Uncomfortably, that's how. Now hush! The faster I give you the low-down, the faster I can get out of this get-up." Zinnia's retort is just as quick as Lee's. Grinning, she reaches into her jacket and withdraws a small, shiny badge, presenting it to Lee.

In Zinnia's hands is a silver coin reminiscent of a gym badge, one emblazoned with Magma's M-shaped logo. Taking the presented coin, Lee flips it over, seeing a faint, square-shaped QR code cut into the metal of the opposite side.

'A signet coin? Seems like an oversight carrying an identifier like this around…' Lee thinks to himself, rubbing his thumb over the code.

"As of tonight, I'm officially a Magma grunt," Zinnia says, pocketing the coin when Lee drops it back into her hand. "Swablu and I trashed some girl trying to muscle in on the knucklehead lieutenant I've been stringing along. I think having girls fight over him stroked his ego just right, because he gave me a sales pitch and asked me to join Magma." Zinnia grins. "He added me to their 'secret' text group, but was smart enough to hide the previous history from me. Not that it matters too much, because if I get pinged for a job on Mt Chimney on the same day the lift next goes out…" Zinnia's grin takes on a malicious air. "Then we know they're up to no good."

The conversation afterward just reaffirmed the plan going forward. If Zinnia is called for a job by her faux boyfriend and the cable cars going up to Mt Chimney happen to go down for "emergency maintenance" at the same time, Lee will approach the lift station and play the role of a concerned League official suspecting negligence. With any luck, they'll be allowed up to the top of the volcano to bust Magma mid-scheme. If not, Lee will have to begin the tedious process of acquiring a warrant to investigate the lift.

Until then, it's business as usual. Zinnia is still sleeping off her late night last night, and Brendan didn't get up at his usual time, so it's just Lee and Courtney for now.

The training ground comes into view, and this early in the morning, the person there is an elderly man on a bench with a Buneary munching on a little pastry seated next to him. The field is a simple, flat plain of green with a children's playground off in a distant corner, out of any crossfire. Some patches of grass in the park are higher than others, the hallmark of damage repaired by a Grass pokemon.

"So what's the plan for today?" Courtney asks, her flat tone giving away no thoughts. Magenta eyes turn their bored, half-lidded gaze to Lee.

"Today?" Lee begins, taking his notebook from a side pocket on his backpack and flipping it open. "I was going to begin work on a new technique for Grovyle, then work on synergy with Octillery and Shinx. Ninetales has been working herself hard lately, so she's just relaxing for now. Afterward, I was hoping you'd be up for a spar?"

Courtney nods, and Lee suppresses a frown at how difficult the woman is to read.

Courtney wanders off to claim her own slice of the park for herself and her pokemon, leaving Lee and Grovyle to their own devices. With a sigh, Lee puts the Magma Admin out of his mind for now and focuses on Grovyle. "Alright, let's get seated and go over everything."

The trainer and pokemon make themselves comfortable under a nearby tree, and Lee lays his notebook in his lap, flipping open to a section dedicated to Grovyle. "Let's see here…" Lee's finger trails down the lines, stopping halfway down. "Right, so in an effort to assist you during prolonged battles, I've been wanting to formulate a move similar to Absorb, but lacking the wind-up time. If my research and observations are correct, then Absorb needs to be cast while still, or the effect is simply diminished too much to be useful. While I'm sure we could puzzle out Synthesis for you, it, like Absorb, is slow. This clashes with your main strengths of speed and maneuverability, so here is what I'm proposing…" Lee draws a quick sketch on the page, one of Grovyle's arms with a Leaf Blade extended. "Other physical life-drain moves like Drain Punch and Horn Leech don't have the stillness requirement of Absorb, so physical contact must bypass that. Using your expertise with Leaf Blade, I think we should hybridize Leaf Blade and Absorb, allowing you to sap foes with every attack. Since both use Grass TE, it should just be a matter of kinesthetic conditioning until you can move the absorption point to your wrist leaves rather than your mouth." Lee looks up from his notebook to Grovyle.

Sitting with his legs crossed and his two-fingered hands in his lap, Grovyle nods coolly, telling Lee that he's following along.

'I haven't worked one-on-one with Grovyle in too long. I'd forgotten how refreshingly sharp and non-combative he is.' Lee smiles and stands. "Okay, let's get to it."

From a dozen feet away, Lee watches Grovyle pull his glowing-green Leaf Blade back out of a log of green, freshly chopped wood. In the face of the log are a number of cuts, and if one were to squint, they might see the cuts appear drier than the surrounding wood.

Taking a deep breath, Grovyle raises his Leaf Blade to his mouth, which takes on a yellow light. From the leafy edge of Grovyle's attack, tiny motes of yellow flow into Grovyle's mouth as the half-hearted Absorb cannibalizes the energy supplying Leaf Blade. Then Grovyle halts Absorb, scrunching his eyes shut as he dedicates the feeling of both Absorb and Leaf Blade to memory. Letting his breath out, he tenses, then lashes out.

Leaf Blade sings through the air, slicing into the wood, and Lee witnesses Grovyle's leaf suck a miniscule amount of moisture and near-unnoticeable dots of yellow energy from the log.

'Incredible…' Lee's pen dances across the nearly-full page of his notebook as he watches Grovyle at work. 'Not an ounce of strain maintaining Leaf Blade while using other attacks, and in just two hours, he's already got a working grasp of…' Lee hesitates to put a name to the prototype attack just yet. Looking down at his notebook, he crosses out the name Lifehunt Scythe. 'I'll come back to that with something more professional later. Anyway, Grovyle's sheer talent is something…'

The first hour was spent with Grovyle using Absorb on a few freshly cut logs to re-familiarize himself with the move. Unlike with a pokemon, Grovyle was able to cast Absorb on the logs instantly, and the pieces of wood were quickly reduced to withered husks, something Lee noted for later. Unfortunately, it seems like Absorb takes more energy to cast than what the logs returned, making emergency refueling from trees a non-option… Or maybe the logs have worthwhile energy, but Absorb doesn't have the conversion efficiency needed to make use of them?

'Considering the extreme desiccation of the wood, Grovyle must be converting the water and nutrients within into something he can use…' Lee mulls the phenomenon over, tapping his bottom lip with his pen. 'Now, can we boost the conversion ratio? Grovyle's prototype attack is getting more effective with repeated use, so there is more to explore on that front. What about wasted energy? The motes generated by Absorb emit light, so we know for certain that much is wasted as radiation, at least.' The zoologist jots down his observations. 'Questions for later.'

During the second hour, Lee instructed Grovyle to practice Absorb while maintaining an unused Leaf Blade so he could get used to the feeling of both moves at once. When it became apparent that holding a Leaf Blade is second nature for Grovyle regardless of the task, they moved on to trying to refocus Absorb's origin point to the edge of Grovyle's blade. So far, having Grovyle cast Absorb on himself seems to be the way to go. Memorizing the feeling of Absorb upon his wrist leaves is definitely aiding in reverse engineering the move.

'It must be a purely mental thing for Absorb to be focused around the mouth. Maybe ingrained in some kind of ancestral memory? Grovyle is showcasing that it is possible to change the absorption origin point, though only time will tell if the energy conversion properties of Absorb will suffer for it.' Lee hums. 'Energy conversion… That might open some exciting doors. Since conservation of energy and mass aren't rules on this Earth…' More ideas are jotted down to be explored later. "Okay, Grovyle! Time for a breather!"

Grovyle's head-leaf twitches, and he powers down his Leaf Blade. He trots over to Lee, following the man back to the tree where they had their briefing.

Sitting down, Lee pulls a pair of water bottles from his bag, along with his berry case. Taking a ripe Oran from the case and one of the bottles, he tosses them to Grovyle, who deftly catches the berry in his mouth and the bottle in his claws.

With a relaxed sigh, Lee opens his bottle and takes a gulp of the cool water, wiping his damp forehead on his sleeve afterward. "Autumn needs to hurry up. Nothing but mild days and cool nights is something I've been missing."

Grovyle snorts past a bite of his Oran. After another slow, methodical bite, he washes the snack down with his water, draining half the bottle in a single go.

"Even after Absorbing all those logs, your thirst and hunger kept building?" Lee asks, flipping open his notebook again.

The gecko pokemon nods, finishing the Oran berry, drinking the last of his water, and licking his lips to make sure he got everything.

"So even with decent mastery, Absorb is consistently a waste unless used on another pokemon. Good to know…" Lee caps his pen and closes the notebook.

Grovyle nods once more, then looks down at his empty water bottle. With a thoughtful growl in his throat, he opens his mouth, and from his glowing gullet comes a handful of brown, thickly-shelled seeds that he spits into the bottle, filling it partway before he caps it. Giving the bottle a shake, he coils his arm back, locks his eyes on a distant trashcan by some children's swings, and throws the plastic bottle. With the heft added by the seeds, the bottle makes it all the way to the waste bin without the wind throwing it off course, and Grovyle sinks the shot without his toss so much as touching the rim.

Lee can't help but grin at the superb display of problem-solving, one even the most intelligent of animals would take ages to figure out. "Nice shot," he compliments, turning his attention away from Grovyle and over to Courtney.

On the other side of the park, Courtney is locked in a battle with another woman with several onlookers scattered around. The old man with the small Buneary is off at the side of the arena, acting as the referee. Courtney's Camerupt is facing down the other woman's Pelipper, a pokemon resembling a white-feathered pelican, if a pelican's head and bill made up the majority of its body.

Pelipper dips and dives, taking care to keep out Camerupt's melee range, all while pelting Camerupt with blasts of water courtesy of his Water Gun attack. Pelipper gurgles, then shoots yet another blast of pressurized water down at Camerupt from his mouth.

Camerupt winces at the bruising strength of the water blast, for Pelipper's attack has enough wallop that Lee can feel the impact rumble the ground just a little. Camerupt's Ground and Fire typing, both being weak to Water, make it all the worse, but the camel pokemon doesn't waver.

Behind Camerupt, Courtney stands, her face impassive. Her eyes remain locked on Pelipper like a bird of prey, just waiting for the perfect moment.

Then Pelipper messes up. The pelican slows down mid-air, relaxing at Camerupt's lack of retaliation, and it's at that moment Courtney finally issues an order.

"Stone Edge." The Magma Admin's voice has zero inflection, as if the battle is a bore.

Camerupt's eyes narrow as razor-sharp stones manifest from rings of bright white light that bloom to life around him. The shards shiver, then scream through the air at Pelipper at near-sonic speeds.

The other woman and Pelipper can only drop their mouths open in surprise at how sudden the attack is, and by the time Pelipper flaps his wings to move out of the way, the first stones are already tearing bloody furrows into him. A second later, Pelipper falls to the grass, bleeding profusely from numerous lacerations. With a croak, the pelican lets his eyes roll back into his head, falling unconscious.

'One super-effective attack and Pelipper was down for the count. Meanwhile, Camerupt was shrugging off Water Gun with barely a grimace…' Lee frowns, watching as the elderly referee calls the match in Courtney's favor. 'That Pelipper didn't seem like a pushover, either.'

Turning his attention to Grovyle, who was also watching the fight, Lee clears his throat. When Grovyle snaps his head around, Lee speaks. "So… Should we confront her? Try to sway her off of Magma's scheme? It's only a matter of time before the events on the volcano kick off. While I'm sure our team, working in tandem with Zinnia and Brendan's, can handle her…" Lee watches as another challenger, this time a confident teen boy, steps up to Courtney. "...I'd much rather not fight at all."

Grovyle crosses his thin arms, rolling his chewing twig between his lips in thought. His intelligent yellow eyes pan back over to Courtney's back. After a moment to think, he shakes his head. He chirps in his throat, ending with a hiss as he looks between the Magma Admin and the people around the park.

Despite not understanding all of Grovyle's speech, Lee nods grimly at what he does understand.

Too much potential for collateral damage.

"You're right, we'll do it later…" Lee scratches the back of his sweaty head. "Okay, let's get…" He trails off, seeing a new set of bodies wandering toward himself and Grovyle.

Entering the park is Ash and his friends. As per usual, it's Ash and his shoulder-mounted Pikachu leading the party with May, Max, and Brock bringing up the rear.

May is quick to spot Lee, and with a smile and pointed finger, makes her friends all aware. The kids smile as one, and begin to make their way over.

"Hiya, Lee!" Ash greets, raising a hand to wave at Lee and Grovyle. "You out here training?"

"That we are." Lee smiles back. Something about Ash makes it hard not to reflect his cheer, even if the kid is a peril magnet. "Come and sit for a spell. I take it you're here for the same reason?"

"Yep!" Ash nods as he and his gang sit down in the shade a few paces away. "My match with Flannery is in just a few days, and my Corphish is my only solid counter, so I've been training my other pokemon up just in case."

"A solid plan." Lee nods. "I faced the same issue with my Octillery. Who is on your current roster, if you don't mind me asking?"

Ash shakes his head. "No worries! I've got Tailow, Corphish, Nuzleaf, and Pikachu here," the boy says, raising his hand to pet Pikachu across his cheek.

Pikachu nuzzles into the gloved hand with a pleased expression.

"If you haven't already taught him one, then Nuzleaf might benefit from a Rock-type move since Rock beats many of Grass's weaknesses, chiefly Fire. Grovyle made use of Rock Tomb in our gym match to great effect." Lee idly fingers the shoulder strap of his backpack as he talks. "Not only are the dense rocks good at breaking bones and pinning limbs, they can also function as cover or obstacles in the field."

"Hey, that's a great idea!" Ash grins and slides his backpack off. Unzipping the bag, he reaches a hand inside and begins digging through the contents. "Nuzleaf knows Rollout which is Rock-type, but ever since he evolved, he's had a lot of trouble using it… Rock Tomb might be the answer we're looking for!"

Beside Ash, Brock thoughtfully rubs his chin with his finger and his thumb. "Rock Tomb is a fairly stamina-intensive attack, though," he says, his experience with Rock-type showing itself. "It takes time to manifest a rock that dense, too. I can't imagine a non-Rock pokemon would be able to use it to make much extra terrain, especially in the heat of battle…"

"Not without some time to master it, at least, which is why I had Grovyle practicing Rock Tomb for nearly a week beforehand. As per usual with him, the dedication showed itself in the gym match." Lee sends a proud smile Grovyle's way, and the gecko looks away with a bashful flick of his chewing twig. "Since Nuzleaf is already familiar with Rock TE, he shouldn't need so much prep, but it never hurts to start early."

Max, who is sitting between May and Brock, finally speaks up. "TE? What do you mean by that?" the young boy asks.

"TE is short for Type Energy, the energy that pokemon use for their moves," Brock supplies before Lee can. "Every Type uses its own special energy that influences how the moves work, and a pokemon's mastery of TE can make their moves stronger or faster. That's some really advanced theory, though." Brock turns his squinted gaze to Lee. "You sound like you've researched the topic, Mister Lee."

'I guess I shouldn't be surprised that Brock knows about TE. He's an aspiring pokemon breeder and a former Gym Leader, so the subject has to have come up during his tenure in the Pewter Gym.' Lee blinks his surprise away. "Erm. That I have." He clears his throat and recovers quickly. "I've been researching and experimenting with Type Energy, and its counterpart, Infinity Energy, as part of a larger project centered around pokemon biology and behavior. I'm hoping by understanding TE and IE, the various mysteries of pokemon biology will begin to make more sense. I'm sure you've seen the inherent differences that exist across the Type boundaries of different moves? You must have some fascinating insights on Rock-type."

"I might." Brock nods, a smile rising to his lips. "Not many people are keen to talk about it, though. When you start getting into energy-to-matter conversion and crystalline assembly versus sedimentary layering, it's blank stares all around."

Lee grins. 'No offense, Ash, but I think Brock is my favorite person in your little gang.' Outwardly, he says, "I know that feeling all too well. The only person I can gab about TE to is Ninetales, and I know she is just pretending to be interested beyond a certain point."

"Um…" May finally speaks up. When Lee turns his attention to her, the young girl flushes pink. "Where is your Ninetales, Mister Lee? I'm not sure what I did to upset her back at that restaurant, but I wanted to apologize to her..."

Lee is taken right back to the embarrassing dinner a few nights prior, where Ninetales nearly snarled right in May's face. Taking a deep breath, Lee gently touches the thin psychic line leading back to Ninetales to check on her. When he gets no reply, he peers in just a bit deeper and finds himself staring at a foreign scene.

"Are you certain, Shiba?" Shiro's words are quiet, gliding into my ears like a Noctowl riding a cold wind. My dearest brother's weak voice is yet another reminder of the withering illness that still ravages his body. "I would join you on the field, even if I am weak. A death in battle, no matter how ignominious, is better than wasting away here." Shiro peers down at his bed of straw. "Hideki's forces camp beyond yonder hill, almost atop us. The Shogun requires bodies to stem the flood." His head lowers. "I wish to be useful, brother. Just once in my life."

Shiro's coat, pale as a horned herald's, hides his frame, which is frail as reeds, just as the hastily moved straw hides the sick that I know he expelled. Shiro, dearest Shiro, in his condition, cannot smell what even a man could. He does not know he cannot hide how dire his health is.

"You ask me to commit a sibling's greatest sin, Shiro…" I lower my voice, so as not to disturb the other Growlithe resting in their own beds. They will need all the rest for the morn to come. "You ask me to let you stray into danger, to let you die. I am Firstborn, and I would see myself fall before you. Why must you force this issue so?"

Shiro's head lowers further, nose brushing the floor. "I'm sorry."

The scene suddenly freezes, growing blurry.

'Lee?' Ninetales takes notice of him. 'Is something the matter?'

'Nothing wrong here, just checking up on you,' Lee thinks back.

A pulse of understanding comes from the vixen. 'I see. Everything is going well, then?'

'Yep,' Lee confirms. 'It looks like you were really into your book, so I'm sorry for interrupting.'

He can almost hear Ninetales scoff. 'You're not interrupting. My legs are getting stiff, so I was due for a break, anyway.'

'You like your books, though?' Lee sends back. 'I know your imagination is vivid, but it was almost like I was there when I peeked into your head.'

Ninetales mulls her answer over. 'Other Eyes seems to have some creative liberty applied here and there, but it is quite an engaging read.' After a moment, she continues. 'Would you be opposed to me seeking out other books? The citations Other Eyes uses are listed in the back, and I would enjoy seeing those texts.'

'Say the word, and our eventual house will have a library just for you.'

Ninetales scoffs, and this time he can hear the sound, though it's through her ears. Despite that, the fox's loving amusement is plain to feel.

'Oh, and before I forget…' Lee frowns. 'May says she apologizes if she offended you.'

The emotions within Ninetales twist themselves into a paradoxical mess, one so warped that Lee can barely decipher what she's feeling. Like a drop of dye creeping through white threads, though, regret bleeds through to the surface. 'Beloved, please tell her the fault lies with me. It was… wrong of me to nearly snap at a child. There is nothing to forgive on her end.'

'I'll let her know, but don't beat yourself up over it.'

Ninetales doesn't reply with words, but a bright pulse of affection that washes Lee's frown away. With that, Ninetales pulls away, reluctantly allowing the connection to narrow once more.

'Good to see that her conscious self can look at what her instincts do with some logic.' Lee returns his attention outward and gives May a smile. "Sorry if I spaced out there. That's nice of you, May, but don't worry about it. Ninetales evolved only recently, and it's made her temper short and somewhat random. I'm helping her get over it, and you're not at fault."

The brunette girl breathes a sigh of relief. "Thank goodness…"

"Aha!" Ash finally pulls his hand out of his backpack, and with it comes a cylindrical case filled with different TMs, and Lee struggles not to boggle at the thing. Ash must be lugging around tens of thousands of credits in TM disks. Popping open the case, Ash sifts through the disks within, humming to himself. On his shoulder, Pikachu finds Rock Tomb before Ash, and reaches his tiny hands in to pull it out. "Pika!" the iconic pokemon exclaims, presenting the TM to Ash.

"Good eye, Pikachu," Ash compliments, taking the disk. He stows the TM case away and stands, his free hand taking a pokeball from his belt. Holding the ball aloft, Ash gives it a grin and rears his arm back. "Go, Nuzleaf!"

The pokeball flies from Ash's hand and snaps open with the typical 'snap-hiss' sound, tossing a mass of light at the ground. When the light fades, a short pokemon is left behind.

Nuzleaf blinks his eyes and stands, showing his three-foot-and-some-change height. The pokemon is obviously a Grass-type, owing to the green leaf growing from his head, and the brown, bark-like skin covering much of his humanoid body. A beige, mask-like pattern covers his eyes and nose, the latter of which is long and ends in a point. Nuzleaf's arms are thin, ending in mitten-like hands, but his legs boast impressive muscle. All in all, the pokemon resembles a buckeye nut that has grown a body.

"Nuzleaf, huh?" Lee comments, looking over the pokemon. "Hmm…" He hums to himself, looking at a little pouch held to Nuzleaf's leg with a strip of leather. 'A held item? I don't remember Ash ever using held items before.'

"Yep!" Ash grins. "At first, I wanted a Treecko, but then I found Seedot protecting his favorite tree from a couple of Nincada bullies lead by a Ninjask, who wanted to drink it dry. We helped fight off the Nincada and Ninjask, and when Seedot went off on his own to find Oran berries to treat Ninjask afterward, I knew he was a good pokemon."

Nuzleaf crosses his arms, nodding rapidly.

'Certainly sounds like an anime episode…' Lee and Grovyle meet eyes for a moment, neither commenting on the distorted timeline.

"So how about it, Nuzleaf?" Ash kneels down and shows the Rock Tomb TM to Nuzleaf. "Want to learn a new move?"

Nuzleaf's hand rises to his chin, where he hems and haws in an exaggerated show, leaning back and forth like he's considering it. Then he smiles and gives Ash a thumbs up, complete with a nasally chuckle.

"Great!" Ash rises back to his feet, then unexpectedly gives Lee and Grovyle an eager look. "Say, Lee? How about a battle afterward so Nuzleaf can test out Rock Tomb?"

'Well, that came out of nowhere…' Lee debates the merits of a battle with the Ash Ketchum, hiding his grimace. 'Not the best idea right now, not with Magma so close to making a move. I need all my fighters in top shape and a bout with Ash will end with injuries.' After another moment of thought, he decides the bare minimum explanation will do.

"I would…" Lee begins carefully, "but all of my fighters are on standby right now for an investigation I'm running on behalf of the League. I can't have them getting torn up right now."

Max adjusts his glasses with a small frown. "What kind of investigation?"

Lee meets Grovyle's eyes once more, and the gecko shrugs. 'Yeah… If I say 'don't worry about it', they'll probably just keep pestering or get into trouble…'

"One regarding the eco-terrorist groups Magma and Aqua," Lee says, unsurprised to see a flash of recognition in the eyes of the children before him. Before he continues, he peers over Brock's shoulder.

Courtney is in the middle of another battle, not paying the group any mind. She's using her Camerupt again, and her Mightyena is standing by, but her Swellow is nowhere to be seen.

"You probably didn't get the memo since you're not Hoenn natives, but members of Magma and Aqua are officially persons-of-interest to the Hoenn League." Lee didn't get that memo either; it was forwarded to him by Nigel this morning, but the kids didn't need to know that. "They're suspected to be involved in more illicit activities and have Elite level trainers in their ranks. Ash and Brock…" Lee levels the boys with a stare that makes both stiffen. "You two are experienced pokemon trainers, more so than I, but for the sake of my own conscience and the sake of your less experienced friends—" He looks to Max and May, who both fidget, "—I have to ask you to be careful if you encounter members of their team. They're dangerous and unpredictable."

"You don't need to tell us…" Ash's smile falls. "We encountered those creeps in Rustboro, Oldale, and Dewford. They seemed like common criminals… until Dewford. We stumbled upon them while exploring some caves on the coast, and they got into a battle so intense that it nearly brought the whole cave system down. We barely avoided being flattened."

'Wasn't Nigel supposed to be with them during that adventure?' Lee clicks his tongue and chalks the inconsistency to another timeline wrinkle. 'Nigel would have said something if he was there, I'm sure.'

"Well, I'm glad you understand how dangerous they are…" Lee mutters before shaking his head. "I'd be glad to battle another time, Ash." When the boy's face falls, Lee adds, "That doesn't mean I can't help with some training, though."

"I never thought of it that way…" Brock rubs his chin as he and Lee watch Shinx sample from a pair of plates on the picnic table they have commandeered.

Before the kitten are two plates of food, one prepared by Brock, and another by Lee. Brock's plate consists of a number of moist, dark brown food pellets, flecked with larger bits of identifiable food matter, like meat, vegetables, and berries that weren't totally emulsified before the mix was balled. Lee's plate looks much more traditional, mainly being rare-cooked red meat sliced thin enough for young fangs to chew, with thin layers of pressed veggies and Sitrus slivers between the layers. The supplements within were rubbed into the meat and masked with a pinch of spice.

"It's a psychology thing, really," Lee begins, gesturing to the plates and Shinx, who is in the middle of tentatively nibbling one of the food pellets. "Pokemon have sharp senses of smell for certain, but sight still plays a role. If it looks like food and smells like food, then it's probably food. Stimulating as many senses as you can helps cubs on the smaller side stay interested in eating until full. For severely premature cases, the act of eating itself might be exhausting enough to tempt them into stopping."

Shinx, after having a nibble of Brock's mix, licks her lips and chomps down on the rest of the pellet, purring. Lee's plate goes ignored for now as Shinx digs into Brock's food.

"Factoring in taste is also very important." Lee raises his fist to his mouth and clears his throat, faintly embarrassed. "Something I'm still learning. Seems like I don't have Shinx's palate down yet."

Brock's maturity shines through, as he doesn't have any funny or smug comments on Shinx's choice. "Learning the tastes of others is a skill of its own. Besides…" He carefully reaches over, minding his hand's proximity to the still-eating Shinx, and takes a strip of the rare beef Lee prepared. The young pokemon breeder pops the strip into his mouth, slowly chewing and swallowing it. After a few seconds of thought, he speaks once more. "There's nothing wrong with what you made. I can taste the supplements a little, and a sensitive palate might disagree with it, but that's all."

"For a pokemon, though, an off taste can break a dish, and I'm weaning Shinx off of her bottle, so…" Lee crosses his arms. "I'd be open to suggestions."

The tan-skinned teen looks back down at Lee's plate. "Instead of trimming the fat down to a target percentage—" He points at the narrow line of fat along the sides of Shinx's meat strips. "—try trimming most of it, cooking it down with a bit of butter, then basting the meat in it. It's a little less precise in the fat-control department, but that'll infuse the meat with flavor and help cover any unpleasant medicines or supplements that happen to be stuffed in there." Brock chuckles. "My sister has a pet Rockruff with the palate of a princess. She wouldn't eat anything if it tasted funny, so giving her medications was a chore, but basted red meat fooled her every time."

"Sure thing…" Lee's notebook finds its way into his hands, and he quickly jots down the tidbit. "Can you tell that I've been a bachelor my entire life?" he jokes.

Brock's shoulders slump dramatically. "You and me both…"

Looking away from the little station that he and Brock set up to talk about all things poke-science, Lee watches as Ash, Nuzleaf, and Grovyle train.

"Once more, with feeling!" Ash orders with a dramatic punch to the air. The twelve-year-old trainer stands by Nuzleaf's side, encouraging the Grass-type as he practices Rock Tomb over and over.

Panting, Nuzleaf draws his arm back, screwing his eyes shut in focus. Just above his palm, sandy sediment swirls in, as if summoned from the aether, before coalescing into a small stone. The sand continues to build upon the stone, growing and growing into a rock roughly the size of Nuzleaf's head. Nuzleaf grits his teeth, then throws the rock forward as hard as he can.

The rock flies in a lazy arc, then smashes into the ground and ruptures like an egg, revealing the insides to be nothing but loose dirt. The bits of rocky shell disintegrate shortly after, turning into dirt as well. Like magic, the pile of sediment slowly grows smaller as the Rock TE decays, leaving flat but unharmed grass behind.

Nuzleaf groans, falling to his rear in a moment of melodrama.

"Don't worry too hard about it, pal!" Ash claps a frustrated-looking Nuzleaf on the shoulder. "It just takes time, is all. You'll get it for sure! Say, Grovyle," Ash looks over to the pokemon that would have been his in another life. "Can we get another example?"

Grovyle nods. He extends his arm, sets his brow, and growls deep in his throat. Unlike with Nuzleaf, when Grovyle's rock begins to manifest, entire pebbles appear and smash into each other as if drawn into a gravity well. Within a handful of seconds, a round boulder several feet across hovers above Grovyle's fingers. Growling again, the gecko pokemon heaves the stone forward, and it lands on the ground with a muted thud. The exterior is cracked, but the stone otherwise remains solid.

Nuzleaf eyes the in-tact rock with a measure of envy.

"Rock TE really needs some 'oomf' when called on!" Lee supplies, drawing Ash and Nuzleaf's attention. "I don't know how much Rollout needed when Nuzleaf was a Seedot, but put more force into it! Act like the Rock TE is an actual rock you're trying to lift!"

Ash grins, determination in his eyes. When Nuzleaf looks away from Lee and back to Ash, that determination bleeds over, and Nuzleaf clenches his fists before standing once more.

Off to the side of Ash, Grovyle, and Nuzleaf, Octillery is splitting his attention between trying to teach Ice Beam to Ash's Corphish and Brock's Mudkip, and Flamethrower to May's Torchic. Pikachu is there as well, not to learn, but to encourage the younger pokemon.

Octillery lets out a gurgling sigh, looking as if he's resisting the urge to strangle Mudkip and Corphish. Once more, he opens his conical mouth, slowly charges an Ice Beam, letting the young pokemon watch the cryo-energy form, then he shoots the ground before him with a weak beam of crackling blue, coating the long-since-ruined patch of grass in frost and lumpy ice.

The octopus then gestures at the ice with a tentacle, telling Corphish and Mudkip to try.

Mudkip's beady eyes are nervous, but he opens his mouth and takes a deep breath as his throat glows an icy blue. Just as the glow begins to build, it sputters out, and Mudkip coughs a handful of snowflakes right into Octillery's face.

Octillery wipes his face off with another sigh, flicking the water and saliva off of his tentacle and into the dirt. He turns his half-lidded and already resigned eyes away from the apologetic Mudkip to Ash's Corphish.

The little lobster pokemon has held a blank look since the start of the lesson, as if he didn't comprehend the words of anyone around him, let alone Octillery's. Nevertheless, he clicks his claws, opens his mouth… and shamelessly fires off the wrong attack, squirting the ground with a Water Gun that throws wet mud directly into Octillery's face.

Mudkip and Torchic cringe.

Pikachu has to cover his mouth with his paws to stifle a laugh.

Corphish pretends to blink cluelessly, but he shakes with barely suppressed laughter, telling everyone that he's playing dumb as a joke.

Lee winces. 'Please don't strangle Corphish and put me on Ash's shit list, Octillery.'

Octillery remains ominously still for a moment, then slowly, he wipes the mud away and stares down at Corphish. With a look far too placid to be anything but full-circle fury, the octopus lays a gentle tentacle across Corphish's back…

…Then throws the lobster with all his might, right up into the sky.

The edges of Corphish's shell whistle as the Water-type flies through the air in an arc, nearly striking a startled Taillow. At the apex of his flight, Corphish blinks and looks down, seemingly realizing he's not on the ground anymore. The crayfish pokemon flails in alarm, coming down on the other side of the park, right into a tiny, murky pond with a splash. The water bubbles, then Corphish breaches the surface, covered head to toe in pond scum. On the lobster's face is the expression of a kicked puppy.

"Never a dull moment with you lot, eh?" Lee comments to no one in particular.

Ash pulls the brim of his cap over his eyes, hiding his embarrassment.

Corvisquire stares down at the hotel room door from the laundromat roof across the street, debating with himself for the thousandth time today, and cursing himself for his cowardice for the thousand and first. Behind him, the sun is beginning to set, reminding him of how long he's been standing here.

The flight to Lavaridge was without issue. He flew, stopped to eat and rest, then flew once more. The wind descending from Mt Chimney made for an annoying headwind, but Corvisquire didn't let that deter him. He would run no more, and wind is the most minor of obstacles. As he flew, part of him wondered what Wally and Kirlia would do with the stone he left behind. They'll likely return it, not because they realize the police would connect a Dawn Stone theft with a Gallade, but because they can't stomach the thought of theft.


Corvisquire staked out Lavaridge for the last day, and this morning, on pure chance, he saw Lee leave the hotel he now stares at. Seeing the man's scarred visage, his happy visage, sowed the seeds of doubt within the raven.

Does he have the right to come back? To intrude upon things? What has he missed? What will his estranged team say? Has Lee moved on?

…Should he dig his beak into a wound that might already be healed?

Corvisquire shakes his head, cursing himself again. 'Damnation! Enough sitting here and thinking! Go down there now!'

The raven's body moves of its own accord, his wings spreading as he glides down to the hotel room where Lee and the team are staying. Stepping up to the door, he gives it three solid knocks with the top of his beak and waits. Beyond the door, he hears someone moving.

'...Perhaps I should not have been so hasty. I don't know if Lee has returned yet,' Corvisquire sighs, but remains where he is.

The door latch unlocks, then the door swings open, and Corvisquire's stomach sinks.

In the doorway is no kindly human trainer, but a Ninetales — a Ninetales that he recognizes the eyes of. Those eyes, once a dark brown, now red, widen in surprise.

Then they narrow into hateful slits.

"Ninetales?" A voice from within calls, and Corvisquire matches Brendan's face to the words. "Who's at that door?"

"No one, Brendan…" Ninetales' words are quiet, yet painted with mortal danger, and Corvisquire takes a step back. "No one…"

Ninetales steps outside with Corvisquire, the door slamming shut behind her. Corvisquire can't look to see what shut it, for the hellish red eyes of the fox pin him in place.

"You have a lot of nerve coming here," Ninetales begins coolly, her lack of screaming and raging making things all the worse. "Why? Why come back now?"

Corvisquire takes a deep breath, trying to still his heart after seeing one of his worst fears made manifest. "I see you've evolved. Congratulations."

A flat, unamused stare is Ninetales' answer. "Is now the time for small talk?"

The raven gulps, picking his next words carefully. "I came to make amends."

"Amends?" Ninetales raises a brow daintily, her lips rising in amusement. "You came to make amends… Can you?" The fox asks. Her tails flit to and fro behind her, then like Seviper slithering through the air, begin to close in on him.

"Can I?" Corvisquire parrots, uncomprehending. He tries to watch the tails, but those damnable eyes paralyze him.

"You left." Ninetales lowers her head to whisper in his ear. Her breath is uncomfortably hot. "You left when Lee was most vulnerable, when his healing had just begun." The thin veneer of civility around Ninetales' words begins to unravel, and the fury within bears its fangs. "You left when another loss threatened to shatter him. You know as well as I do, that this team is Lee's family, that you were part of that family." Tails begin to wrap around Corvisquire, around his torso, his legs, his neck, and he sees his life begin to flash before his eyes as his feathers grow unbearably hot.

"I will give you one, and only one chance, Corvisquire…" Ninetales' tone is as frigid as the Crown Tundra, far to the north of noble Galar. The tails around him are feather-light, yet he still feels their weight. From their touch alone, he feels both the world-consuming firestorm within the kitsune, and its desire to swallow him whole. "Fly away and do not come back. Pretend you were never here."

Corvisquire isn't sure if the sudden fire in his chest is foolishness, courage, or just heatstroke from the tails blanketing him, but he speaks once more. "I cannot!" He insists. "I have to make amends!"

"Can you? Can you make amends? For abandoning Lee without so much as an explanation?!" Ninetales snarls, her beautiful face twisting into hideous savagery. "I don't think you can!"

The tails suddenly tighten like coiling snakes, forcing a gasp from the avian's lungs. His bones creak, and his vision begins to flash, but before his breath is robbed of him, Corvisquire blurts: "Lee would let me explain!"

The tails halt, and Ninetales' hate-filled stare tells Corvisquire just how narrowly he's avoided being crushed. "You dare?" She grounds out.

"Am I wrong?" He can't help but snark back.

The tails loosen just enough for the raven to breathe. "Speak," the fox demands. "If I don't like what I hear…" She leaves her threat hanging.

Corvisquire sucks in a breath, blinking the stars from his vision as he wonders where to begin. The explanation is on his tongue, but even with the tails threatening to end his life, the words remain stuck in his throat, as if covered in stinging barbs.

The golden tails wrapped around his body twitch, and Ninetales growls. "I'm waiting, Corvisquire," she spits his name as if it burns her lips. "What do you have to say in your defense? Tell me, so I may finally snap you in half and return to the rest of my day." Once more, the cursed appendages holding him prisoner begin to squeeze and pain lances up his body.

I don't want to run anymore.

"Lee…" Corvisquire hisses past the tail beginning to strangle him. "He was not my first trainer. There was another, a boy, my Young M-Master. I l-loved him. I still love him." The word is like bittersweet poison on his beak, and Corvisquire grimaces, forcing the words to keep flowing so the tail around his neck doesn't cut off his windpipe. "I… was born for him, to be his First and Most Faithful pokemon, just as you were to Lee. My earliest memory is of his hand upon my brow, and the sweet purpose he gave me. I-I…" he raven struggles to keep his composure. "He was sickly, his terminal illness misdiagnosed from an early age. For months we ventured through beautiful Galar, as his medication became less and less effective. One day…"

"Nothing can be done."

"Nothing can be done."

"Nothing can be done."

"He collapsed…" The raven croaks, looking at Ninetales, whose fury-laden visage begins to morph into something he can't place. "I was too weak to carry him, and by the time medical help arrived, he had been brain-dead for several minutes." Ninetales nearly fades from his vision, but the flashback to that hospital room is pushed away. "I watched him wither in the hospital, then they pulled the plug on him, and he…".

He can't say it. Not even with his life on the line.

"You can't do anything."

"Since then…" Corvisquire shudders. "Since then, I haven't allowed myself to become close to a human, or let one touch me. I was… afraid of the cycle starting again, to serve a trainer and have them ripped away. I ran away because I was afraid." The bird gulps. "I was afraid Lee's touch would be like the Young Master's, that it would force me to love again. I was… I still am afraid of loss. Now?" His strength flees him in a wheezing exhale, leaving him slack in Ninetales' grip and staring down at the ground. "I am simply tired. So tired that I can run no further."

For a full minute, nothing is said, and Ninetales' mercy remains unbroken. Then the tails withdraw, leaving Corvisquire ruffled but intact.

Raising his head, Corvisquire takes in the fox who nearly tore him limb-from-limb. The neutral mask upon her face is so terribly forced that a realization hits home. "You know that fear too." He says, not asks. "For your kind, it is not a question of if, but when."

Ninetales' mask cracks, and under it, Corvisquire plays witness to the same ugly, wild-eyed terror he harbors within himself. The terror of being lost, listless, and devoid of reason to live. So often has he seen that same face upon himself, that he's forgotten what his real face looks like.

Never has he been able to relate to another pokemon so well.

"It's almost like looking into a distorted mirror…" Corvisquire murmurs, his thoughts scattered and in disarray.

"I suppose it is…" Ninetales' retort is just as quiet. She takes a deep breath through her nose, seemingly at a loss for words.

For one minute, then two, Corvisquire and Ninetales stand there, unspeaking as everything sinks in.

"When I evolved," the fox begins weakly, "I swore I would endure the pain of parting when the time came, but now?" She pauses, turning her eyes away. "Does it get easier as time goes by?"

"No." Corvisquire's answer is near instant. "You merely forget sometimes."


Both fall silent once more, and Corvisquire can barely form a coherent thought as he replays the last few minutes in his head, wondering how he'd lived.

The pair of pokemon are pulled from their reverie as footsteps shuffle the gravel of the hotel parking lot. Turning, Corvisquire feels his throat tighten.

There stands Lee, wearing a stunned expression. He blinks, his surprise shifting into a smile that yanks at Corvisquire's heart. "Corvi? Is that you?"

Not trusting his voice, Corvisquire nods, staring up at the man he swore to cease running from.

"I almost can't believe it," Lee breathes, smiling so hard that even the burned side of his face rises. The light of the setting sun frames the scarred man, making it appear as if a halo of orange and gold surrounds his head.

'Is that you, O Arceus, sending a message to me?'

Corvisquire gulps.

"I was beginning to think you were gone for good." Lee's smile lessens and the light behind him seemingly dims. "I don't know what upset you, or if I'm the one who did it, but I'm glad you're back."

I'm glad you're back. Corvisquire nearly falters.

"Did you come to stay?" Lee's eyes and voice are filled to the brim with hope, so much so that the raven hesitates, fearing no reply would be good enough. Instead, Corvisquire watches the cloud behind Lee move, letting the sunlight return and wreathe the man in rays once more.

'How could you want me back? What did I do to deserve this? Are you sure you want me?' None of the questions Corvisquire wants to ask will rise to the surface; he won't let them, lest he get an answer he does not want. All he can do is shudder and nod once more.

Lee's eyes finally travel to Ninetales, and his smile becomes strained. The raven watches a silent conversation that takes only a split second. "I understand that you and Ninetales had a disagreement a minute ago, and that you want to explain why you left?" Despite the strain of his expression, Lee's voice never leaves its pleasant, neutral tone.

From the corner of his eye, Corvisquire watches Ninetales lower her head, shamefaced. Was she ashamed at being caught? Or ashamed of nearly striking him down? Regardless, Corvisquire finds it difficult to lay blame upon her. Better an overzealous First and Most Faithful than a lax one.

"I do…" Corvisquire realizes that he's parched from the heat Ninetales forced upon him, as his voice is little more than a rasp. "Ninetales? I need you to translate, I do not want a single word missed."

The fox's eyes glow. "He is listening."

Before Corvisquire can muster the energy to explain once more, Lee raises a hand, halting any conversation.

"This sounds like it'll be a serious one," Lee's voice is low and soothing, balming the raven's nerves. "You don't need to explain right now. How about you come inside for a meal, and I can listen later, when you're rested up and in a better place, okay?" His haggard smile is so full of understanding that Corvisquire is left in disbelief. "C'mon."

Why run?

Because I'm a coward.

Lee goes to step past Corvisquire and Ninetales, but the raven's beak darts out and bites Lee's sleeve, halting him.

"Hmm?" Lee looks down at Corvisquire, bewildered.

Why run?

Because I'll fail again.

Throwing his fears to the wind, the bird grits his beak and shoves his head into Lee's palm.

Why run?

I don't deserve love.

There is a gasp, then warm, callused fingers close around his head, stroking his scalp tenderly.

Sensations long forgotten surge to life in his chest, like fuel dumped upon a waning fire. The world grows blurry in the raven's eyes, and for the first time in his life, the tears dripping from his beak aren't bitter.





"Welcome home, Corvi."

A note from Fuggmann

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.

Tyric Gaias, Ash Kitsune, BrokenOlive, puppy0cam, Planetace, Colby, Ethan P, Rakkis157, Berusella, Ciaran Mullen, Pbc98, WiseKitsune, xydra22, Emeraldleafeon, Spice_King, Dicloniuslord, Cynicals That1sungod, majora, Drew6, speedyzman13, Ranger, Cat, Javidom, Bunny Waffles, SleepyKamo, GreenPhoenix, ChickenPhoenix, Zellcos, monoman335, Dusks_Lantern, Mentalist, Emilowish, Grey, Derpydude9001, Superbuchi, Hazel Kings, Derlock, JustALurker, Xegzy, Tzeneth, Fabhar, Nikolaj K, Murtaugh, Strongraider101, ShaRose, Faolen, creativityfails, Thelon, Arcaryx, KingDeDeDe11, Purple Floof, Munirah, Latscry, HGC, Terravash, Banh Bao, AMeek, 🌊, rizen, RaptorusMaximus, Gavinfoxx, Frog, Ray, CMDR Dantae, DJ Firefox, Himmel, LarsHuluk, MidnightJayguar, cjmRAZOR, Rémi C., QuantumWaffles, TheGreatPapyroo, Ashed, Raiger, Appl, Diana.G, ClassicDom, Rikky_Roll, Veeeee, Green0Photon, Dead Bloodchief Buff Alex, Ard0ur8, TitaniumPhoenix, Skrubstar, Soup, Kastors, Spasmino, Moxie

About the author


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  • Inventor of Sex 2

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MooGoesCow21 ago

Thanks for the chapter!

Also First!

I am soooo happy Mr Angry Bird is back

Gold Aegis ago

Aha, I was also thinking of Lifehunt Scythe when Lee started talking about a leaf blade with lifesteal. Cheers my fellow Dark Souls enjoyer!

Not gonna lie, Lee reuniting with Corvi got me emotional. 

ElectricHaze ago

Let's gooo. Thanks for the chapter fugg!


Bobbles ago

>Lee's face to Ninetales when Ninetales to Corvi

SwarthyWaffles ago

The return of our favorite Birb! Will this new acceptance and font of love make him less of a grump? Or will he still be the aggressive fighter who overwhelms his enemies with Speed and Malice?

Drew6 ago

No fried birb this time, but what we got was far better. :')

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