"Not ringing any bells at all?"
Shroomish glances around the well-beaten path leading into the shaded Petalburg Woods, his eyes lethargic but never totally stopping. He looks up at Lee and shakes his head with a grumble, making the man's shoulders slump some. On his shoulders, Vulpix noses his cheek.
To Lee's right, Brendan shrugs in his pokemon's stead while Zinnia advances a few steps and stares into the gloom of the woods. "It was worth a shot, at least," Zinnia comments as Brendan returns Shroomish to his ball. "Petalburg woods does have a huge Shroomish population after all," she finishes.
Lee and company had briefly passed through Petalburg on their way to Rustboro, just long enough to top off their supplies but not long enough to truly see anything important. Lee himself was sorely tempted to visit Petalburg's large Pokemart, one much more impressive than Little Root or Oldale's but held off, reasoning that Rustboro's would suffice.
"Old fashioned way, then," Lee says with a sigh. He starts towards the trodden path with Zinnia falling into step with him. "Keep an eye out. Vulpix? Could you scan around with your telepathy as we walk and see what you find?"
"Vul," She confirms, her eyes already glowing dully.
"Well, how hard could a whole Treecko colony be to find?" Brendan asks, folding his arms behind his head as he follows a step behind the pair of older trainers.
Zinnia hums to herself for a moment. "Pretty hard, I'd think," she chimes, "Treecko are rare pokemon, so I'mma guess they're really good at hiding from nosy people." She's silent for a moment before asking; "Say, why are we doing the gym route this way? Wasn't there a gym in Petalburg?"
"Yeah," Brendan says with a scoff. "But the Petalburg Gym Leader is Norman Maple, one of my dad's old friends. He's a Normal-type specialist and one of the toughest gym leaders in Hoenn. It's a good call to skip him and come back later. Roxanne, meanwhile, is a newer gym leader without any evolved pokemon yet. Me, Mudkip, and Shroomish will wipe the floor with her, and I'm sure Lee can pull a win even with just Vulpix."
"Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall," Zinnia smirks. "Real confident, aren't you?"
"Roxanne has barely a fifty percent win rate. Of course, I'm confident."
The dragon tamer shakes her head, smirk still in place. "That's how you end up on the losing side of that win rate, shrimpy."
Brendan scowls, but Lee jumps in before he can start an argument with Zinnia. "She's got a point, Brendan," Lee says, looking around as the forest canopy begins to envelop them in darkness. "A fifty percent win rate means she's still regularly sending trainers packing. She might have some sort of strat or hidden gimmick to her style. Don't tempt fate because fate will fuck with you if you do."
The boy grumbles to himself but doesn't argue any further.
As the three follow the beaten dirt path deeper into the forest, the tree-cover thickens until their sole illumination is shafts of golden sunlight that shoot through the few holes in the canopy like spears. The whisper of the wind through the dense trees plays a gentle, natural melody with the sounds of the wildlife. Above, the sound of Taillow chirping and flitting through the branches contrast with the scattered cries of distant Poochyena. In the distance, a pair of Beautifly flutter soundlessly through the air, passing a patch of sunlight and vanishing behind a thicket, leaving behind tiny, glittering wing scales in the light that settle to the ground. A tree filled with nothing but Seedot watches the three trainers pass by as a pair of Nincada on the trunk scuttle away.
"It's like something right out of a fairy tale," Lee breathes quietly. He glances at both Brendan and Zinnia, neither of whom seem as impressed as he with the Petalburg Woods. 'Of course, they're not impressed. This is normal for them.'
But for all the wonderful sights the woods afforded, there is no Treecko to be found even after two, almost three hours of walking.
Finally, Zinnia calls for a timeout. "Alrighty boys, I think it's time for a break," she says, stopping the party. She glances up to one of the shafts of sunlight. "It's probably one PM or so, in other words..." She grins. "Lunchtime!"
"You've been snacking as we've been walking this whole time," Brendan deadpans. "How are you still hungry? You can try and hide that jerky under your cloak and pretend you're slick all you like, I've seen you."
Silently, Lee agrees with him. Zinnia... isn't the subtle type.
Zinnia smiles, her ruby red eyes filled with mirth. "Peeking in my cloak, eh? Why Brendan! You just need to ask if you want to see anything~!" she flares her cloak out behind her and strikes a provocative pose.
Lee can both see and feel Vulpix's frown of disapproval.
"You keep the front open all the time. That doesn't exactly hide anything, thot." Brendan rolls his eyes. He yelps when Zinnia stalks forward and pinches his cheek.
"You can at least humor me," Zinnia hisses through a tight, not-so-amused smile. "Lee? Are you teaching him words like that?"
Lee wisely looks away. "Kids these days..." He mutters, trying to hide his smile.
All the pokemon between the three trainers are released in short order as the group settles under a large tree for a short lunch. After Zinnia releases Brendan, that is.
Brendan sits and crosses his legs as he rubs his smarting cheek with a pout. Under his breath, he mutters about "stupid dragon ladies who can't take any banter." Mudkip pats his knee with a low croak, trying to offer some comfort. The boy trainer smiles down to his starter and gives him a rub on his smooth head, making the mudfish pokemon smile and lean into the touch.
"'Least you and Shroomish are on my side, pal," Brendan smiles at Mudkip and turns to look at Shroomish, only to spy a food bowl with no Shroomish.
"Oh shoot!" Brendan shoots to his feet, almost throwing Mudkip off and making the entire group jump. "Where did Shroomish go?! Hey! Shroomish!" He calls into the woods, hands cupped around his mouth. Mudkip joins a second later, bellowing out loudly into the woods.
Lee follows Brendan's eyes to the food bowl, instantly noting the food left as he stands as well, stuffing the last bite of his sandwich in his mouth and hurriedly gulping it down. "No need to freak out, Brendan. He's not a fast pokemon, he couldn't have got far," he says, throwing his trash and Vulpix's empty bowl into his bag.
"Swablu, fly up and see if you can find the little mushroom!" Zinnia orders as she gets up herself, her usual playful expression gone in favor of a more serious face. She swiftly returns her quivering Goomy to his ball, but the ever stoic Shelgon remains out.
The little bird pokemon responds with an affirmative trill and quickly rises up as high as she can without being lost to the overhanging canopy.
"Vulpix," Lee begins as the vixen takes her usual spot on his shoulders. "Can you psychically scan around and see if you can find him?"
She nods, her eyes already glowing before she closes them in concentration. A moment later, she shakes her head, feeding Lee a feeling of futility through their mental channel.
Too many. Too similar. Overlapping.
'Well shit. I hope Swablu has a sharp eye then.'
Vulpix growls lowly in her throat, some of her self-disappointment bleeding through to her trainer.
'Love, don't think like that. It's just an area to grow and improve in is all,' Lee sends back, reaching up to stroke her furry cheek. 'We'll have you baffling actual Psychic-types with your skill before you know it.'
The vixen leans into the hand, the disappointment stemming in favor of contentment.
"Shroomish already indicated that he didn't know the Petalburg Woods at all, so where could he have wandered off to?" Zinnia wonders aloud, pulling Lee and Vulpix's thoughts back to the current crisis. "I don't really see anything worth running off for around here." She states, her lips pulling down into a frown.
Brendan's hands ball up as he looks all around him, his face contorting into the beginnings of fright. "You don't think he was taken, do you?"
'Right here, in front of all of us?'
"I don't think someone snagged him right under our noses like that," Zinnia says, crossing her arms as she shakes her head. "He probably just wandered off. It's a big forest, after all."
"Wandering away from his lunch?" Brendan asks, shaking his own head. "No way. He would eat until he bursts if given the chance. I have no idea what could drag him away from his food."
The three trainers and their pokemon look up as Swablu flys back into view, chirping incessantly as she lands on a high branch. The bluebird hops to a further branch and looks at them, seemingly waiting for them to follow.
"See shrimpy?" Zinnia says with a smile. "Swablu found him."
The trainers and pokemon follow at a brisk pace behind Swablu as she leads them down a thin path through some undergrowth. As they walk, Vulpix raises her nose and sniffs the air. After a moment, she pokes Lee's mind with her own and offers the scent she found.
'Jeez, that's almost overpoweringly sweet, even second-hand,' Lee sends back as he pushes a low branch away. His nose tingles from the phantom sensation. 'What could it be? Did Shroomish wander away for this scent?'
When the group bursts out of the thick brush, they all find themselves in another small clearing.
At the far end, a content Shroomish sits next to a bush where several Pecha berries hang. All the lower branches of the bush are devoid of any berries, making the pink stains around the little mushroom's mouth very telling.
Brendan breathes a sigh of relief at seeing his pokemon fine and in one piece. He walks ahead of the group and picks up Shroomish, who doesn't protest at all. "Did you really have to scare me like that, pal?" Brendan asks with a sigh. "I thought something happened to you..."
Shroomish seems to come out of his food-coma and blinks, grumbling something in his wet voice.
Lee glances over to the vixen on his shoulder. "Any idea what he said? I still can't read plant faces."
"I'm guessing Shroomish isn't sorry?" Zinnia guesses, glancing between Lee and Vulpix.
Vulpix answers her with a simple nod.
Zinnia and Shelgon stroll up to the bush Shroomish was feasting from. The young woman plucks one of the higher berries off and pops it into her mouth, her face lighting up. "Wow, I totally understand why he wandered away," she says through her bite of berry. "Natural Pecha is just as good as they say." She takes another one and offers it to Shelgon, who turns it down.
Lee follows shortly and grabs a pair. He bites down on one and gives the other to Vulpix, who snaps it up and gladly eats, her fan of tails wagging.
'Oh man, that's... not bad,' Lee thinks. In just a few chews the soft berry is little more than a sweet paste that goes down easily. 'I was expecting it to be disgustingly overpowering from the scent... Or does your nose make it seem overly sweet to my human senses?'
Vulpix declines to answer in favor of licking her chops to get the last bit of Pecha flavor.
"Either way, we'll save a few of these just in case something around here knows Poison Sting or something," Lee quietly finishes verbally, grabbing a few of the Pecha and tossing them into his bag.
Without warning, both Shelgon and Vulpix tense up. From Vulpix, Lee feels something he has no name for, but the feeling makes his spine tingle.
Zinnia notices Shelgon's sudden stillness. "Shelgon? What wrong?" Zinnia wonders aloud.
Above, the leaves shake and something darts into view.
All eyes turn to a tree branch above the Pecha bush, where a... a...
Lee blinks when he comes up with no answer. 'The fuck is that thing?' he wonders, reaching for his Pokedex.
On the branch sits a crow-like bird nearly three feet tall, coated in metallic blue and black feathers. Its eyes, a bright red, look between the Pecha bush and the still pink-stained Shroomish with a narrow stare. Its talons knead and tear the wood branch below it as if the wood were paper mache.
Brendan beats Lee to the punch and pulls his Pokedex out first, pointing it at the mystery bird. The Pokedex comes to life with a beep. "Corvisquire, the Raven Pokemon. Corvisquire are intelligent, Flying-type pokemon native to the Galar region. They use their impressive intellect to use tools both in battle and in everyday life. As a result of many harsh battles, Corvisquire are masters of gauging an opponent's strength."
Lee racks his brain. 'Galar? Was that the new region in the Switch games? I never got to play those! Why the fuck is this pokemon in Hoenn?' Then the last part of the dex entry hits him. 'Masters of gauging an opponent's strength?' Lee looks back up at Corvisquire, the pokemon's facial expression and ruffled feathers give away how furious the pokemon is, and the murder in it's eyes for Shroomish is all too apparent. 'Vulpix and Shelgon sense something amiss, then this pokemon comes and thinks it can take on a Shelgon, a Vulpix, and a Shroomish?'
That's all Lee can get out before Corvisquire dives down at Brendan and Shroomish, talons poised to shred both of them.
Corvisquire banks away just as Vulpix blasts through where he would have been, the vixen missing him by just inches. Vulpix bounds off a tree in her path and leaps back to Lee's side in a single jump. The bird pokemon circles back around in the air, malice-filled eyes now locked onto Vulpix.
Lee uses the instant to glance around. 'Cramped clearing with a ton of foliage to catch fire. Gotta be careful with Fire moves. If we try to run to a new place to fight, Corvisquire will have free reign to attack us in the back as we move through the underbrush. Corvisquire is fast and can move in three dimensions freely, making great use of the limited room. If he's as intelligent as I think he is, then we'll need to pull out all the stops. Not good...'
"Brendan, Zinnia, back up!" Lee calls to his friends, making them look at him. "It's too cramped for all three of us to fight. Let myself and Vulpix handle this."
Before either can protest, Corvisquire lets out a bone-rattling "Caw!" and charges Vulpix again, flying in tight, expert zig-zags.
"Baby-Doll Eyes!" Lee calls. He glances back at Zinnia and Brendan. "Move!"
Zinnia grabs a protesting Brendan and pulls him away, back towards the edge of the clearing. Shelgon takes a stance in front of the trainers, sparks of green trailing his form, the telltale sign of a ready Protect.
Vulpix's eyes light up pink and focus on Corvisquire, casting a gentle, eerie light in the darkened woods.
Corvisquire falters mid-air as his muscles slacken against his will, but he recovers rapidly and turns away mid-air, his wings now glowing white. With an echoing cry, the raven pokemon shoots a barrage of starry rays at Vulpix with a downward flap of his wings.
"Intercept it with Ember!" Lee cries. Mentally, he reaches out to Vulpix and lands in her waiting psychic grasp. 'Ready up Quick Attack as well. We'll blitz him as soon as Swift is taken care off'
With nary a second to charge the attack, Vulpix exhales a stream of tiny fireballs, each one screaming through the air with flyers swerving into Swift's path thanks to her pyrokinesis. The stars and fireballs explode with jarring pops and cracks when they meet, and the instant the last star is gone, Vulpix is in motion.
Corvisquire's eyes widen and he almost manages to barrel roll out of the way of the speeding vixen. Instead of the clean dodge he tried for, Corvisquire is still clipped against his side, sending him spiraling out of control toward the ground.
Vulpix lands against the side of a tree paws-first, still wreathed in her coat of Normal energy.
She blasts off the tree, flying towards the falling Corvisquire.
The edges of the raven's beak suddenly upturn in a parody of a smile, then he shoots his wings out and he corrects his flight as if he never lost control, shooting straight up and out of Vulpix's way.
Both Lee's and Vulpix eyes widen 'Shit! Vulpix!'
The fox twists mid-air and cancels Quick Attack, landing roughly and awkwardly on her paws, but Lee can still feel the pain that shoots up her legs. Hovering above, Corvisquire laughs mockingly in scratchy caws.
'So he wants to play like that, huh? On my mark, love.' Lee frowns. "Two can play at that game. Vulpix, Will-o-wisp!"
Vulpix opens her mouth and charges a white-hot ball of flames. It's so hot, that even from several yards away, Lee grimaces and turns his head when his scars begin to sting.
Corvisquire's mocking laughter stops as he watches Vulpix warily. When the Will-o-wisp shoots past him, missing entirely, Corvisquire just laughs harder.
He never notices the ball of fire do a perfect one-eighty turn and shoot back at him twice as fast. Both Brendan and Zinnia gasp behind Lee.
Corvisquire's laughter quickly turns to agony when Will-o-wisp crashes into his back and engulfs him in flames. The raven writhes mid-air and plummets to the ground where he bounces once and stops. As quickly as they came, the flames burn out, leaving Corvisquire with a gruesome burn across his back.
Lee's hair stands on end as his own burns flare with phantom pain. 'Were we too rough?' He wonders. Vulpix is quick to give him the psychic equivalent to a jab in the side and pull his attention back to the battle.
Corvisquire's red eyes shoot back open, now filled with utter hate.
'I guess not...'
The bird's face contorts into an absolutely nightmarish visage, his entire face filled with bloodlust as he stands.
Vulpix's frame stiffens and her mind prickles with growing fear. Unnatural fear not her own.
'Was that Scary Face?' Lee wonders. Either way, he's quick to smother Vulpix with warm waves of adoration like she often does from him, pushing the fear away. It takes only a second for the vixen to relax again and return his affection.
Corvisquire's frightful face drops into confusion at seeing Vulpix smile of all things before morphing back into anger. The bird grimaces when ruffling his feathers pulls at his burns, but he none-the-less takes to the sky again, moving and flapping his wings as if he weren't burned at all.
'What a tough son-of-a-bitch. No wonder he came in here so confident. He's definitely not normal.' Lee sends to Vulpix, who physically nods. 'Here he comes!'
Corvisquire dives like he's about to attack, but instead swoops out of reach. He calls out a long, taunting note and shakes his tail feathers as he circles around.
Again, feelings that don't belong to Vulpix invade her mind, this time a horrid rage that simmers just below her skin. She looks back at Lee with a growl, her body shaking as she almost begs for an attack to be called.
Like last time, Lee pulls on her mind. 'Vulpix, love. Snap out of it! He used Taunt on you! Don't fall for it!' He tries to soothe her as best he can, and slowly Vulpix's anger calms. Her growls quiet and her shaking stops.
Above, the raven lands on a branch and looks as flabbergasted as his bird face will let him. Taunt failing truly threw him for a loop.
'I think I get how he fights...' Lee sends to Vulpix, both of them carefully watching Corvisquire. 'He uses speed and misdirection to get his foe to make mistakes, then he jumps in and punishes said mistake. His inability to make you mess up is throwing him off. If he were against a slower opponent or one who does have outside help to shake off mental effects...' Lee's mind goes to Zinnia and Brendan's pokemon. Shelgon and Mudkip might have the power and mental fortitude to go toe-to-toe withCorvisquire, but their poor speed would be their undoing. Shroomish, Goomy, and Swalbu would be outright overwhelmed. 'We're the best to fight him. We just need to run the clock on him as his burn will wear down his ability to fight the longer this goes on. Keep it up.'
Corvisquire apparently decides the lull in fighting is over and vanishes. An instant later, he's upon Vulpix with his beak glowing white. Vulpix can't even flinch before she's stabbed over and over on her face and side. She yowls in pain and breathes a tongue of flame out in an instinctual attack, but the blue and black raven blurs out of reality again, leaving her attack to miss.
"What the fuck?!" Lee cries, looking all around only to see Corvisquire coming a second too late. He swoops down as little more than a flicker and stabs Vulpix over and over once again in a near-invisible Fury Attack. The vixen tries again to attack with a short blast of fire, but Corvisquire is gone yet again.
Vulpix pants and stands on shaky legs. Her sides are a mess of lacerations and stab wounds that slowly bleed, turning her orange coat a deep red. Her eyes scan around, but her avian foe is nowhere to be found.
'Shit shit shit! He's just going all out! He must know he can't drag this out with a burn!' Lee tries to pull back his panic, but even Vulpix's slowly hazing mind can recognize her trainer's distress, making her stand taller.
Just in time for Corvisquire to divebomb her.
Coming down through the canopy, the bird pokemon lets out a terrible screech and lands on Vulpix's back, throwing her down and knocking the wind from her. His beak glows white, then he launches his Fury Attack like a jackhammer, pelting Vulpix's back, making her throw her head back and scream with each stab.
'No no no! Not again! You can't get hurt, not out here!' Lee tries to move but is frozen. He shuts his eyes and reaches for her, widening their channel more than ever before. He grits his teeth past the echos of Vulpix's pain the widened channel brings and focuses. 'Focus on my voice, love. We're forcing him off now!' Lee screws his eyes shut and pours everything he has in the next words.
Vulpix's eyes snap open, glowing an impossibly bright orange.
The clearing erupts into flames.
Lee opens his eyes, hearing nothing past the thunder of his own heartbeat. His mouth slowly drops open.
All-round Vulpix and Lee, a whirling twister of pure fire easily thirty feet across is borne from seemingly nowhere. Corvisquire screeches as he's dragged into the twisting, towering inferno that burns through the canopy. The fiery winds throw the bird pokemon around ruthlessly, burning him with another screech each time he bounces off the almost-solid tornado of fire. At the top of the Fire Spin, the smoking, long-since unconscious Corvisquire is carelessly flung out into the distance.
Yet, Lee's scars don't react at all to the heat. He isn't even warm. He looks down, seeing a perfect circle of grass around him untouched by the flames.
She would never hurt you.
A glow even greater than the fire draws his attention.
Just a few yards away, Vulpix, standing tall even with her wounds, looks at him with unblinking eyes the same color as Hell itself.
Slowly, the Fire Spin dies down, revealing the now burnt-out clearing. Fire Spin had turned everything it touched to ash instantly, leaving nothing in its wake.
Vulpix's eyes return to their soulful chocolate color. A second later, she sways on her feet and falls to a sitting position where she pants, total exhaustion radiating from her form.
"Holy shit..." Lee looks around at the devastation. Thankfully, it looks like the sheer intensity of the Fire Spin burned out everything without starting a wildfire. Looking up, he sees a perfect circle burnt in the trees above.
"Brendan! Zinnia!" Lee whirls around, spotting the green dome of Shelgon's Protect at the edge of the once clearing. At Lee's voice, the dome drops, revealing a panting Shelgon, dumbstruck Zinnia, and ecstatic Brendan. Shroomish is nowhere to be found, but Lee spies his ball on Brendan's belt.
"That was the absolute coolest!" Brendan yells, running to Lee and kicking up soot with every step. "I've never seen a Fire Spin so powerful before! How did Vulpix do that?"
Lee lets out a relieved half-laugh and takes his backpack off, opening it to pull his Potion out. "She's just strong. Stronger than even I realized," he says, stepping closer to Vulpix. She barely seems to acknowledge him past her exhaustion but stands on shaking legs so Lee can get at all her wounds.
Zinnia and Shelgon follow shortly after. Both just watch Lee give each of Vulpix's wounds a generous spray of Potion before Zinnia finally speaks up. "You know, some warning would have been nice," she says, tone even. "If not for Shelgon, shrimpy and I would have been toast. Very burnt toast at that."
Lee can only shrug as he looks up to her unusually stoic face. "Sorry. I trusted Shelgon to pop Protect if needed. I don't think any of us expected that pokemon to be so strong as to require that. I know I didn't." He takes a moment to reach in his bag for a water bottle and a cleaning rag, then pours some water over Vulpix's now closed wounds and wipes away the blood in her coat as best he can. "I don't know if that's how all Corvisquire fight, or if he was trained. I know Corvisquire are not naturally found in Hoenn either way."
The dragon tamer doesn't reply and instead looks in the direction that the Corvisquire flew in. "Should we go check on it?"
"We probably should," Brendan says with a nod. "If he's owned, then his trainer needs to take responsibility for Corvisquire attacking us. If not... That might be an even bigger problem."
Lee puts his Potion and water away, instead drawing an Oran from his bag that he offers to Vulpix, who scarfs down the berry and quickly perks up with the burst of energy it gives. "How is that a larger problem? A potential invasive population?" Lee questions.
Brendan nods. "Yeah. If there is a population moving in, then we gotta tell the League so they can be relocated back to, where was it again? Galar?"
"Good luck," Zinnia begins, she pulls Shelgon's ball from her cloak and points it at him. "Excitement is over, rest for a bit pal," with that, she returns Shelgon back to his ball and turns back to the boys. "Galar is good and far away. They're not too open to outsiders either."
Brendan frowns and crosses his arms. "Well if they have a League presence, then they gotta respond. C'mon!" The boy turns and begins to walk.
Zinnia shakes her head and follows after.
Lee looks down at Vulpix, who looks dog-tired in her blood-stained, ruffled fur, but she still hops to Lee's shoulders and settles down for a nice nap. The man just runs a gentle hand through her head-tuft with a smile and turns to follow his friends.
After only ten minutes or so of walking, Lee smells something that immensely makes his shoulders tense up.
"Do you smell that?" Brendan asks, his jovial face falling into a rare serious look. He takes another deep breath and fingers Mudkip's shaking pokeball. "Smells like smoke."
"Not again," Lee groans, rousing Vulpix from her short nap.
The trio of trainers pick up the pace, running through the underbrush and bursting out into a dried out clearing. In the center of the dusty clearing.
"Wow..." Zinnia murmurs, no smart remark to make.
Brendan just nods in awe.
Lee blinks to make sure he's not seeing things and even the tired Vulpix across his shoulders opens her eyes wide.
In the center of the clearing is the largest tree any of them had ever seen. Easily hundreds of feet tall and as wide around as a house. It stands so far up in the sky that it blots out the sun for everything in its shadow and utterly towers over the other trees.
However, the tree is bare of leaves and shriveled at the roots, clearly dead to any who look upon it. It also leans to the side to a notable degree, looking precariously like it might fall over.
'This monster must have been even bigger alive,' Lee thinks to himself. 'How did we not see it from the entrance of the woods?.. Have I seen this tree before?' His thoughts are cut off when the wind shifts and he once again smells smoke.
At the base of the tree, the unconscious Corvisquire from earlier lays. Above it is a smoldering indent in the wood just large enough for the Corvisquire to fit into. It's almost like...
'No way. Did Fire Spin really carry him all the way out here with enough force to damage the tree too?' Lee thinks, trying to calculate how forcefully Corvisquire was thrown to do such a thing. He comes up with a ballpark number that just seems insane.
Brendan throws Mudkip's ball. "Mudkip! But out the smoldering spots before it can burn up the rest of the tree!"
Mudkip materializes from the pokeball with Watergun already charged. With a wet gurgle, he blasts water into the Corvisquire-shaped divot and puts out the embers there with a hiss.
Vulpix's ears twitch, making Lee look over to her.
Lee looks further past Vulpix at the sound. All around are a number of Treecko watching Mudkip put out the scattered smolder bits in the tree. Some large, some small, some youthful, others not so much. That's when Lee finally realizes where he's seen this tree before.
'This is the tree that Ash's Treecko refused to give up on. He wanted to live here even after it died.'
The scarred trainer looks around among the Treecko, his eyes settling on a young, surly tree gecko holding a twig with a single leaf in his mouth. His yellow eyes rest cooly on Mudkip, but they flicker over to Corvisquire for brief moments with barely contained disdain. For a moment, Lee is tempted to challenge the little Treecko, knowing full well how powerful he would become as a Sceptile. 'That would fuck up Ash's team though. I can't do that...'
Mudkip puts out the last spot and turns to Brendan with a happy croak, making Brendan grin back. "Nice job, pal!" He reaches a hand down that Mudkip gladly hi-fives. The pair turn and finally see all the gathered Treecko. "Told ya we could find them, Lee!"
Zinnia looks at the mass of green lizards as well. "Gotta hand it to you guys. You never half-ass anything, do you?"
Everyone in the clearing, the Treecko included, go still at the sound.
"Was that what I think it was..?" Zinnia asks, sounding afraid for the first time since Lee has met her.
"Please no..." Lee whimpers.
Brendan hastily returns his gaping Mudkip to his ball and turns to run.
Everyone looks at the great tree. Along the divot where Corvisquire impacted, wide, arm-sized cracks run horizontally along the tree, growing larger by the second. The great tree groans and the ground shudders. Every sound makes the twig-chewing Treecko's face twist in pain.
With a crack that made all the onlookers jump, the tree begins to topple over. Right at them.
Lee stands dumbstruck as the tree grows larger and larger with its descent until a panicked Vulpix bites his ear and snaps him out of it. He turns and begins to run out of the mammoth tree's path, hot on Zinnia and Brendan's heels as the Treecko all scatter with frantic cries.
He glances back for just a moment and feels his insides twist.
Corvisquire is still knocked at the base of the tree out and about to be crushed.
Just fifty feet behind them, the twig-chewing Treecko had fallen to his knees in the panic and refused to get up, instead staring at the approaching tree with both heartbreak and acceptance.
Lee's feet stop, even as his brain screams that he can't save them.
'Or... Or can I?'
He shares his plan with Vulpix over their telepathy, but the vixen just urges him to hurry up and run!
Lee reaches to his belt where his pokeballs all hang. The first one belongs to Vulpix. The others? Empty. Grabbing two of them, he presses the buttons on both three times, feeling them both buzz afterward.
'Return function is three presses, right? Shit I hope it's three presses. I should have read the manual closer. If Corvisquire is owned then he's done for! Please work please work please work!'
Both balls are thrown from his hands, then Lee turns tail and runs, following Brendan and Zinnia to safety
The first ball flies to the distant Corvisquire, and Lee's aim is true, as the ball taps the bird and sucks him inside. The ball doesn't even wiggle before it beeps, signaling a capture. Then as if by magic, the ball leaps off the ground by itself and rockets back towards the still running Lee.
The second ball hits the almost comatose Treecko, who is sucked inside without even moving. The ball falls to the ground, wiggling back and forth as if it didn't care about the falling tree. Back and forth, back and forth, all as the tree looms closer.
Lee looks back just in time to catch Corvisquire's ball. He hisses and shakes his stinging hand from the impact, his eyes zeroing in on the ball with Treecko inside. 'Please just give in to it! I can't let you be crushed!'
Finally after a pain-staking seven seconds, Treecko's ball beeps and goes still. A second later, it lifts off and rushes to Lee, escaping the tree with inches to spare.
The enormous piece of lumber crashes into the ground with a sound like thunder and a hundred times the fury. The ground rumbles like an earthquake hit and the plume of foliage and dirt the felled tree kicks up can only be described as cataclysmic. The cloud of dirt rushes up into the sky like a biblical dust storm, blotting out the sun until it begins to settle. Countless bird pokemon all over the woods take to the sky, startled by the unearthly noise.
The three trainers and Vulpix stand for a moment, all of them covering their faces until the dirt settles. Lee feels something bounce off of him and assumes it to be Treecko's ball.
"Everyone okay?" Lee questions, blinking open his eyes.
Brendan grumbles and dust himself off. "Yeah, I'm good."
Zinnia runs a hand through her hair and dislodges as much dirt as she can. "Never a dull moment around here. I could use a shower, though."
Lee sighs. "We all could," he says.
Vulpix hops down from her shoulder perch and shakes herself out. The addition of the dirt with the dried blood in her coat makes the poor vixen look miserable. Her face is kept cool, but her displeasure is easily felt by Lee.
All three look at the devastation caused by the massive tree. It fell into the forest proper and destroyed countless smaller trees in its path, making a huge mess of broken wood and leaves. The sight makes the hairs on the back of Lee's neck stand up. A look at Brendan shows the boy is feeling the same just from his expression alone, while Zinnia seems more contemplative than anything. Her eyes scan over the devastation with a level of familiarity that is disquieting.
Lee rolls the pokeball of his new Corvisquire around in his hand and stops. 'Wait. Where is Treecko's?' He scans the ground, finding the ball under so leaves and dirt. Picking it up, he dusts it off and looks at the pair.
'From one to three in a single afternoon. I've got a lot of planning to do. I... I could release Treecko for Ash...' Lee bites his lip. 'It would make it easier for me to only have to integrate one new pokemon...' The longer he thinks on it though, the more of a non-option it seems. 'No, the timeline is already fucked beyond repair with the early destruction of the Treecko tree. Trying to fix it will just invite even worse trouble. People will ask questions, Zinnia in particular. I'm sorry, Ash, but it looks like I'm taking your Hoenn ace.' He sighs. 'My meta-knowledge is officially unreliable now.
"What's the sigh for?" Zinnia asks, look towards Lee.
The scarred man frowns. "I just dunno how Treecko is going to take this..." he says, raising his pokeball.
"You caught both Corvisquire and that Treecko?" Brendan questions, stepping closer and looking at the pokeballs in Lee's hands. "Quick thinking on that one. They could have died if that hulk of deadwood fell on them!"
"That hunk of deadwood was Treecko's home," Lee says, shrinking Corvisquire's ball and clipping it to his belt. He eyes the remaining ball in his grasp with sympathy. "He probably wishes he was dead." As he said that, Vulpix's returns to his shoulders and licks his un-scarred cheek, putting a wane smile on Lee's face.
Brendan flinches back, and Zinnia pretends she wasn't paying attention in favor of looking at the wreckage again, but her watchful eyes give her away.
"Best to do it like a bandaid, quick and painful to get it over with," Lee murmurs, tapping the button of Treecko's ball. It bursts open with the pokeball signature snap-hiss and shoots Treecko out onto the ground. When the light fades, the green lizard blinks and looks around.
Again, he drops to his knees when his eyes land on the dead tree that was once his home. The twig in his mouth falls from his open mouth onto the ground as very-human tears build in his eyes.
Lee looks back to Brendan and Zinnia, silent shooing them away with a hand. Rather than the protest he expected, they shuffle off a respectful distance back. With a mental 'you too,' to Vulpix, the vixen reluctantly vacates his shoulders and follows her trainer's friends.
For a while, Lee stands next to Treecko as he silently weeps for his lost home. As he stands, Lee thinks over what to say.
'I don't think my normal approach will work here. This isn't a primal problem. No, this is definitely the problem of a more complex being. Apes can mourn for lost homes as well, I think. Shit, I should have paid more attention to that section in college.'
"It hurts, doesn't it? To lose the place you called home."
Treecko's eyes dart to Lee, who keeps looking at the dead tree. "I know what you're going through, almost to a T. The place you love, all gone for reasons you can't control. You just want to cry, scream, rage at the world because it's not fair."
'You're one to talk,' a snide voice in the back of his mind sneers. 'Have you even come to terms with it yourself?'
Lee ignores the voice and the barrage of painful memories. He sits down, bringing himself down to Treecko's level. The lizard's eyes follow his every movement. "It's not fair, it never is. Sometimes, the world just doesn't care."
Treecko's paws clench into shaking fists as he listens.
The shaking stops when Lee puts a gentle hand on Treecko's shoulder.
"I know your look," Lee turns for the first time and meets Treecko's eyes. When the gecko pokemon shows no hostility, he continues. "You aren't the type to stay down, are you? No, you're stronger than that. The world just took everything from you, but you're not about to admit that the world won. You'll stand up and show everyone that you can't be kept down."
Treecko's tears have long-since dried. He hangs onto Lee's every word as if entranced.
"You are a survivor, a struggler," Lee continues, keeping his unblinking gaze locked onto Treecko. "When push comes to shove, no one shoves harder than you. Soon, you'll be pushing the world around, not the reverse."
Lee looks away for a moment, then back to the still intently listening Treecko. "Have you ever had a dream, Treecko?"
"Tree..?" Treecko tilts his head with inquiry.
"I do," Lee replies. He can't help but smirk as the corny words spill from his mouth. "That dream is to be the best, like no one ever was. To stand at the top of the world with my pokemon team. To show everyone that we're the best there will ever be. It was losing everything that spurred me into doing it." The man lets the info sink into Treecko, who regards him with deep thought. "But I need the best pokemon around to help with that job. I caught you to keep you from being crushed by the tree, and you need only say the word and I'll let you go, but..."
Lee takes the hand off Treecko's shoulder and puts it before him. "...I'd feel much better about my chances with a fellow struggler on my side. What say you? Will you come with me to the top of the world?"
Treecko stares at the offered hand for a moment. He looks back to the dead tree, then to the other Treecko watching in the distance. He returns his blazing yellow eyes to again Lee.
After bending down and putting his twig back in its rightful place, Treecko's paw falls firmly into Lee's hand, and Lee can't help but grin.
'Sorry again, Ash.'
Night had fallen. In a clearing deep in the Petalburg woods far away from where the earlier excitement of the day had occurred, Lee, Brendan, and Zinnia settle for the night. The night is dark and quiet, the tranquil of the woods is broken only by the crackle of the fire and the background noise of Bug pokemon.
"Alright, we're done."
Treecko lets his arms rest at his side as Lee stops poking and prodding him. The green lizard regards his new trainer cooly, but Lee can still see some level of annoyance to his gaze.
"I know it's irritating," Lee says, raising his hands in surrender. "But you do need a physical so I can gauge any issues you might have. Vulpix got the same thing and still gets physicals as she grows. With the info I can better help you grow."
Vulpix, now cleaned and rested, doesn't reply, too busy maintaining the glowing orb of flame giving Lee enough light to inspect Treecko with.
Treecko crosses his arms. "Treecko..." He replies with an aloof voice, but the minute drop his shoulders tells Lee he was okay with the answer.
"I am glad to say that you're as healthy as they come," Lee says, jotting down his last notes and putting his notebook away. "We'll do some more testing when I can get supplies and everyone gets some rest. Some of us definitely need it..." Lee mutters, looking down at Corvisquire's ball.
The bird had been in terrible shape when let out of his ball. Hurt and barely coherent, Lee simply treated him with the remainder of his Potion and a Rawst berry that Vulpix managed to sniff out before returning him to his ball.
'I'll get him treated at the Pokemon Center in Rustboro. With Treecko to guide us, we should be able to haul ass and get out of here by tomorrow. I need to pick up better supplies too. Common stuff Like Burn Heals and Antidotes.' Lee thinks with a shake of his head. He lays back in the cool grass as Vulpix lets her orb go out to join him. She gladly snuggles under his arm, and although he doesn't feel anything, the rustle of the grass tells Lee that Treecko is laying down near his other side.
Lee feels his eyes drift shut as he watches the scattered, unfamiliar stars through the branches overhead.
'Fuck this forest.'
He's out like a light.