Theft at Devon Thwarted.
By: Amelia Thatch
Earlier this week in Rustboro City, where the headquarters of The Devon Corporation is stationed, a gang member from the eco-radicalist group known simply as Aqua attempted to steal experimental Devon technology.
Readers might know Devon for their numerous mining subsidiaries or their wide array of household products, but the company has also dabbled in many trainer-focused technologies such as the PokeNav, new pokeball variants, pokemon medicines, and other tools to aid trainers.
In an official statement delivered from Mr. Joseph Stone, owner and president of Devon Corp, the thief entered into the restricted section of Devon's R&D laboratories by posing as a member of the public and taking one of the weekly tours of non-restricted areas. He then released his Crawdaunt, and after overwhelming on-site security, threatened harm to tour-goers until a security officer relinquished his keycard to the laboratory.
Before the thief could escape, he was confronted by Kanto-born trainer Ash Ketchum, one of Professor Samuel Oak's professional Lab Trainers, and then promptly defeated in an intense pokemon battle. The stolen goods were recovered, but the gang member managed to escape arrest, and the Rustboro PD urges the public to remain alert for suspicious activity.
"While this was a frightening experience, we came out of it without any bloodshed and wiser than before." Joseph Stone said in an interview. "I trust our men, women and 'mons of R.P.D. to catch the perpetrator and bring him to justice. We will also be putting tours of our facility on hold for some time as we review our security procedures and hire additional officers. The safety of both our staff and visitors is paramount."
Mr. Stone declined to comment on what the thief was attempting to steal.
"I couldn't just let him go!" Ash Ketchum was passionate during our interview with him. The twelve-year-old veteran of both the Indigo League and Silver Conference had this to say; "Stealing is wrong, it's as simple as that. I don't know why he was after Devon's technology, but he was up to no good. Being a pokemon trainer has taught me to trust my gut, and my gut said I couldn't let him get away."
The young trainer's take is as down-to-earth as it is refreshing, but Ash declined to answer any further questions and asked Hoenn News Network to contact Professor Samuel Oak for anything further. Ash recently battled Rusboro's Roxanne in a gym challenge, so be sure to click here to see the HNN highlight reel!
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Lee looks up from his phone when the ship's horn blows, signalling that they're coming into port.
The trip to Slateport via cargo ship proved to be much more leisurely than the ride to Dewford. The weather stayed beautiful and sunny, and Brendan made sure to bring nausea medication this time, meaning he wasn't confined to his bed with a face as green as Grovyle's scales. The rooms were much the same as last time as well.
The older trainer hisses and plucks the dozing Vulpix from his lap. He deposits both his phone and the drowsy vixen on the lumpy bed, ignoring her telepathic irritation, and hops to his feet.
Over on Brendan's bed, the boy cradles his bleeding hand as his Mawile hisses and backs away. Between them lies a pile of misshapen teeth carefully extracted from Mawile's overcrowded jaws.
Brendan must have tugged on a painful one that isn't ready to come out.
"Timeout, both of you!" Lee frowns and slowly steps closer, keeping a careful eye on this still hissing Mawile as he does so. When she opens her jaws a little wider in a clear threat display, Lee stops his advance and slides over to Brendan.
The younger trainer holds his hand with narrowed eyes and gritted teeth. "What's the deal, Mawile?! I'm trying to help!" He exclaims loudly, his voice cracking somewhat.
Mawile just glares at him with her red eyes and hisses much like a crocodile would, making her sound much larger than she is.
"I said enough!" Lee finally raises his voice, stopping both Mawile and Brendan short. Out of the corner of his eye, Lee sees Zinnia finally stop playing with Goomy and pay attention to the commotion. "Zinnia? Can you get my first aid kit from my bag please?"
The woman sets Goomy down on the bed so she can get up to get Lee's bag, but Brendan is quick to protest. "I can dress my own cuts, Lee. I'm not a kid..." the Birch heir grounds out harshly. "If I needed help, I would ask."
Lee doesn't need his bond with Vulpix to notice her irritation with the younger trainer's attitude, as her face portrays her thoughts perfectly. 'Marshtomp and Shroomish were cakewalks, 'Pix,' Lee sends to her. 'He's just a kid, a talented one at that. It's natural that he would get frustrated when he comes across something he can't get right on the first try.'
Vulpix sniffs, but lets the issue drop in favor of laying her head down and dozing off.
'You've been sleeping a lot during the day. Are you feeling okay? Not sleeping well?'
A flicker of dismissal is the only answer.
Lee frowns and makes a mental note to look into it later. Right now, he's got bigger fish to fry. He turns his attention back to Brendan and Mawile. "I understand, Brendan, but sometimes you need help whether you like it or not. Dental work is delicate stuff, and tooth pain is one of the most distressing experiences an ani-pokemon can endure," Lee nearly trips over his words with a grimace. "Go hang out with Vulpix and bandage up your hand while I finish up Mawile's tooth extraction. When she's past the worst of it, I can teach you how to spot a tooth that needs to come out and the safe way to do it, yeah? It's not something you'll have to do often."
For a second, Lee fears that Brendan is going to put up a fight, judging from the glower that darkens his face, but then he sighs and stands from the bed. "Okay... Sorry I didn't notice you were in pain earlier, Mawile," he says quietly, meeting the deceiver pokemon's eyes.
Mawile's face remains blank.
Lee claps Brendan on the shoulder before he can walk off. "You did a good job, Brendan. If we weren't on a rocking ship, I'm sure you would have gotten her fixed up easily," Lee smiles.
The boy trainer returns the smile with a small one of his own.
Brendan takes his bag over to Lee's bed and pulls out a small roll of bandages before sitting down. Vulpix huffs and flicks an ear when the motion awakens her again, but she still crawls into Brendan's lap before shutting her eyes again.
Seeing that she's not needed anymore, Zinnia shrugs and returns to laying back and petting Goomy, who coos and gurgles in delight.
Lee steps back over to his little corner of the ship cabin to grab his own backpack and withdraw his berry case. Popping it open, he shakes his head when he finds that he's low on Oran. Again. He also spares a glance at Brendan and is satisfied to see the boy disinfect the cut across the back of his hand and wrap it tightly.
Walking back to the still wary Mawile, Lee seats himself and shows her the berries in his hand. "I'm going to crush these into a paste and then we'll rub your gums down with it, okay?" He asks slowly. Without waiting for an answer, he sets one down between them. "You can sample one if you want. It's just a normal Oran."
Mawile's distrustful gaze softens slightly, and she steps closer to take the offered berry. She inspects the blue fruit in her little hands carefully, sniffing it a few times, then takes a bite with her smaller, front-facing mouth. The tension in her shoulders eases somewhat.
"See? Easy." Lee smiles, taking care to not display his teeth as usual. After pulling his gloves off, he cups his hands and crushes the other Oran into a thin mush as Mawile watches and munches on her treat. She hesitates when Lee twirls a finger telling her to turn around, but she presents her crooked jaws to him, looking back at him the entire time.
"Modified horns my ass, this is a full mouth..." Lee mutters, looking at all the pearly razors that would make a crocodile green with envy. Her gums are swollen and even bleeding in places, definitely owing to the teeth all trying to overtake each other. Lee dabs his fingers in the blue paste in his hand and gently rubs the Oran mixture along Mawile's gums, stopping for a second whenever she flinches. The entire time, Lee is careful to not let any part of his hand linger between her teeth any longer than needed.
'One bite, and off goes my hand. I can only imagine the sheer power of these teeth if they can rend an Aron to bits and pierce Marshtomp's skin.'
"Hey, Lee? Is Mawile always going to pop teeth out?" Brendan asks, stroking the sleeping fox in his lap.
Lee nods absently as he works. "From what I can tell, yeah," He pokes Mawile's drooling tongue to keep her from licking at the Oran soaking into the roots of her teeth. Then with feather-light touches, he carefully prods her teeth to find loose ones. "She's what's called a polyphyodont."
"A poly phone what?" Zinnia perks her head up off her pillow to blink curiously. Brendan likewise looks lost.
"A polyphyodont is a... pokemon that continually sheds and regrows teeth, usually because they're often used," Lee explains, nearly tripping and saying 'animal' again. He pauses to finger a wiggly tooth, and when Mawile doesn't flinch, he grabs it between his index finger and his thumb and gives it a short tug. With a quiet 'shlick', the tooth comes free and is tossed into the pile. "Normally you see it in certain reptilian and fish pokemon, like the Sharpedo, Garchomp, or Sceptile line, but some mammals like Mawile can be polyphyodonts too. When your teeth are your main mode of attack, it makes sense to be able to replace them when one is damaged. Mawile's mouth is overcrowded at the moment, so this is not the norm."
As he gives his impromptu lecture, Lee's hands keep moving, slowly removing several more loose teeth and dropping them into the pile. Lee stops, then tenderly runs his hands over a few spots where teeth are still trying to grow over each other, but none of the remainders wiggle like they're ready to come out. "Well, it's not perfect, but this should keep the pain down until we get to the Pokemon Center and have a professional perform something more comprehensive. Thank you, Mawile."
The little pokemon tilts her head at being addressed. "Maa?"
"Normally my patients aren't so understanding when I root around in their mouths without proper anesthesia," Lee chuckles and stands, walking to the small bathroom to wash off his hands. "The boat sh-"
"Attention all guests," The old PA system crackles to life, echoing up and down the ship. "This is your captain speaking. We've docked in Slateport. The time is 2:45 PM, and the weather is clear and sunny. Thank you for riding with us, and please disembark on the starboard side."
"...Should be docking any minute," Lee finishes with an eye roll. He flicks the faucet on, cleans his hands off, and dons his gloves again. "Let's roll."
Brendan and Zinnia both withdraw pokeballs. "Mawile, return!" "Goomy, return!"
Both pokemon are recalled back to their balls in flashes of red light. Brendan then shakes Vulpix awake, who yawns and stands, letting Brendan get up to gather his things.
Lee shoulders his bag and lets his fox leap to his shoulder, where she settles but remains awake.
It takes the three trainers only a minute or so to stuff their belongings away and exit their room. Brendan throws open the door leading out and nearly bowls over a Meowth standing in the way.
"Erk! Sorry?" Brendan apologizes when the Meowth rears up on his hind legs and hisses.
The cat pokemon hisses again and scrambles away into another open cabin door, his tail fluffing up as he does so. Then; "Meowth? Were you out there making trouble again?"
Lee and Zinnia step into the hallway just as a man exits the other cabin with the Meowth trailing at his heels. The man smiles at the group. "Hi there. Name's Tyson. Sorry if Meowth was being a pest. He does that." He leans down to stroke the cat pokemon along his back.
The beige cat looks totally unrepentant and just soaks in his trainer's affection with a purr.
The man before them looks to be a young adult, a bit younger than Lee and probably closer to Zinnia's 19 years of age. His brown hair is several inches long and lightly swept back, matching his brown eyes. Garbed in an open, light green jacket, a darker green shirt, simple cargo pants and plain boots, it would be easy to lose him in a crowd.
"No, it's cool. I shouldn't have opened the door so fast," Brendan returns Tyson's smile with a sheepish one of his own. "My name is Brendan Birch, and this is Lee and Zinnia," the Birch heir introduces the group, pointing to Lee and Zinnia in turn.
Zinnia raises a hand in a casual wave. "Heya."
"It's a pleasure, Tyson," Lee nods absently. 'Where have I seen this guy before? I know I have... Some part of the anime? Let's dig, shall we?' "What brings you to Slateport?"
"It's not really Slateport in particular I'm going to," He begins, falling into step with the other three trainers as they continue off the ship. "My hometown is in Mauville, and after blowing the Gym Challenge big time a few years ago, I traveled around and trained my team..." Tyson lets out a wistful sigh. "Wattson curbstomped us, and I... kind of gave up."
Zinnia snorts and crosses her arms. "If you're that much of a quitter, then you're not going to go far in the world, let alone a gym circuit."
Both Brendan and Lee shoot the dragon tamer glares, but Tyson just shakes his head ruefully. "You're not wrong, hence our little sabbatical," he mutters. At his feet. Meowth mewls softly and rubs up against his leg.
The group exits the ship and finds themselves on the sunny deck, making Lee blink his eyes in the bright sun. He turns his head slightly so less sunlight can sting the lines marring his face. When his vision finally adjusts to the sudden brightness, he looks at Slateport and feels his eyebrows rise.
The port city is a true metropolis, with sleek high rise buildings that dominate the skyline and sidewalks packed with people and pokemon. The port is massive, easily dwarfing Dewford's. Tankers, cargo ships, and cruise ships crowd the docks as other ships, smaller boats, and even a number of Water-type pokemon weave between each other in a complex dance. To his amusement, Lee even sees an Empoleon casually towing a small sailboat with a broken mast. The crew of the damaged boat all lean over the side rails with spirits low.
"But I think we're strong enough to make a difference this time. It was arrogant of me to think I could take on Wattson's real team back then, but I believe that my team can do it now." Tyson's bright smile is dazzling like the sun and drags Lee's attention back to the conversation as they descend the ramp to the terminal the cargo ship is moored to. "So I'm on my way home to reunite with my family, beat Wattson, and then challenge the rest of Hoenn."
"Heh, good luck!" Brendan laughs and pats the pokeballs on his belt. "Cuz Lee and I are taking the Gym Challenge too! Both of us already beat Roxanne and Brawly going all out!"
Tyson's eyes widen. "Really?" Do you have the badges?" He asks.
The group steps out into the terminal and several paces away from the ramp before Brendan fishes the badge case from his backpack. With a proud grin, he pops the case open to show the two badges inside.
Tyson almost reaches out, but stops himself short. "May I?"
Grin dropping into an expression of wariness, Brendan mulls it over and slowly nods.
The older trainer lifts the Knuckle Badge from the case and turns it around, his eyes widening even more. "No way..."
Lee steps a little closer to see what Tyson is looking at. Peering over the slightly shorter man's shoulder, he finds a tiny B engraved into the back of the badge. It's outlined in what looks like a laser-etched QR code.
Tyson replaces the badge and picks up the Stone Badge. The back of it has an R engraved into the metal with the same code-like pattern around the letter.
Standing on the tips of her toes, Zinnia looks over Tyson's shoulder to see the little mark as well. "What does that mean?" Zinnia asks, raising a brow.
"You guys don't know...?" Brendan blinks.
"If you beat a Gym Leader," Tyson begins, putting the badge back in Brendan's case. "Then you get a badge, everyone knows that. What a lot of people don't know is if you really beat a Gym Leader, then the badge will have a mark on the back, and that badge qualifies you for the Ever Grande Conference for three years rather than the standard two."
'Note to self. Finish that rulebook. That would have been nice to know...' Lee sighs.
"If it's not too much to ask, could I bother you for a battle?" Tyson asks, catching Lee's eyes with his own. "Sorry if this is too sudden," the brunette man laughs nervously. "But I want to know how well I stack up against trainers who can go toe-to-toe with Gym Leaders."
"I don't see why not," Lee shrugs. "Let's find a battleground."
The walk to the battleground is a short one, as just off the terminal where the cargo ship landed, there's a large, circular shopping plaza bustling with sailors, tourists, and a dizzying menagerie of pokemon. The center of the plaza is dominated by a towering two-story-tall fountain featuring a slew of stone water pokemon statues spraying jets of crystal-clear water into the shallow pool below, and onto a Slowbro who rests in the cool water half-asleep. Around the massive fountain, several pokemon battlegrounds marked with white paint sit ready to be used.
"Does one on one work for you?" Lee asks as he and Vulpix take his side of their chosen field. "I've still got one down from the battle with Brawly."
Tyson's visage sours when the Gym Leader is mentioned, but he covers it up immediately. "I was about to suggest the same thing!" Tyson calls. His hand throws back his jacket, revealing six pokeballs on his belt that his hand hovers over.
"Brendan?" Lee calls the boy. "Care to ref?"
He smiles. "Sure thing!" Brendan bounds to the side of the arena and clears his throat. "This will be a one-on-one match between Lee of Littleroot and Tyson of Mauville! The battle will end when either pokemon is no longer able to fight. Select your first pokemon!"
A crowd quickly gathers around the arena as the people watching realize a battle is about to start. Already, cellphones and PokeNavs appear in people's hands, ready to capture the action.
Lee draws Grovyle's ball from his belt and enlarges it as Tyson pulls one from his. Reeling his hand back, the zoologist tosses his ball in with Tyson following suit a second later.
"Grovyle! You're up!"
"Donphan! Let's go!"
Grovyle materializes on Lee's side in a crouch, one hand planted against the ground, his eyes closed. Slowly, he rises, shifting his twig to the corner of his mouth and crossing his arms. His eyes snap open, then he dismissively scans the on-lookers, who eat up the dramatic intro with cheers.
Lee shakes his head as he feels Vulpix's exasperation. 'Just let him have his theatrics.'
When the bright white light clears around Tyson's pokemon, it reveals a scowling Donphan.
The squat pokemon resembles an armored elephant just a bit over four feet tall at the highest point of his hunched back. Thick, rock-like armor covers the outside of his trunk and continues up his back, covering both his long ears and tail. Long ivory tusks shine in the sunlight just below Donphan's narrowed eyes. The pokemon's body carries small, discolored scars and chips in his armor here and there, much like the marks across Grovyle's torso.
Donphan raises his trunk and cows the small crowd with a trumpeting, bone-shaking cry that echoes off of the tall Slateport buildings in the distance.
'Huh, that's a fearsome pokemon. Less so than Absol, though. I hope we don't discourage him enough that he gives up again.' Lee shrugs. 'I wish I knew where this Tyson guy was from in the anime, though...'
"Begin!" Brendan chops a hand down.
Tyson's eyes narrow and focus solely on the pokemon in the arena "Focus Energy!" Tyson wastes no time calling out an order.
'Uh oh...' Lee frowns. "Grovyle, circle and use Leaf Blade!"
"Catch and punish him, Donphan!" Tyson's mouth is moving before the last syllable of Lee's order is even out of his mouth.
Donphan lets out another trumpeting cry and raises his trunk, orange energy crackling like lightning around his body briefly. His narrow eyes shine with cruel intent.
At the same time. Grovyle raises his arm, the leaves on his wrist growing into rigid Leaf Blades. Then without needing to be told, the white aura of Quick Attack bursts to life around him before he charges forward as a featureless blur of green, curving to come in on Donphan's left.
Before Leaf Blade can tear into Donphan's hide, his trunk comes down like lightning and wraps around Grovyle's wrist in one precise movement, stopping Leaf Blade dead just an inch short of landing. Grovyle seems stunned, then struggles to pull himself free, but Donphan doesn't budge or even look as if he's straining his muscles keeping a hold on Grovyle.
"What the hell?" The words pour from Lee's mouth unbidden. At the side of the arena, even Brendan seems dumbfounded from how easily Grovyle was stopped. Zinnia, who stands further back, looks on with her eyebrows raised almost to her hairline.
Donphan's scowl twists into a malicious smile, and with a simple flex of his trunk, Grovyle's wrist snaps like a dry twig, drawing a collective wince from everyone watching.
The gecko pokemon bites his lip hard enough to draw blood, but does not cry out.
"Other hand, Grovyle! Leaf Blade! Get him off of you!" A cold feeling settles Lee's stomach even as he gives the order.
Grovyle's first Leaf Blade powers down, and the leaves on his free hand, powered by desperation, flare into bright, humming blades.
"Deflect and punish with Fire Fang!" Tyson orders the instant before Grovyle swings.
Donphan's tusks burst into raging, crackling flames, and a simple twist of his trunk redirects Grovyle's attack into the closest tusk.
Leaf Blade and Fire Fang meet with the sound of steel-on-steel, and after a half-second, the Leaf Blade shatters.
The other tusk is then savagely driven into Grovyle's stomach right as Donphan releases the gecko pokemon's broken wrist from his trunk.
Grovyle's high pitched cry -almost screech- of agony is as harsh on Lee's ears as seeing his pokemon in pain is to his heart. Grovyle lands on the concrete ground and skids for several feet, breaking off scales and scraping the soft flesh underneath. He stops nearly at Lee's feet and lays on the ground, panting in short gasps.
Donphan takes a few heavy steps forward and snorts almost dismissively.
With a grimace, Grovyle slowly rises to his feet, cradling his snapped wrist as he glares daggers at the armored pokemon, drawing cheers and shouts of encouragement from the people watching. On his belly is an ugly burn, like a red-hot iron was pressed to his flesh, the leaves on his left arm are ragged and half-gone, and his right arm hangs limply at his side. From his view of Grovyle's back, Lee looks at the mess of scrapes and cuts with a grimace.
Tyson's focused eyes narrow a little further, almost to slits. "Superpower!" he almost roars.
Donphan rushes forward like a bullet-train, each step breaking the concrete ground below him as a shell of blinding red energy forms around him. Under the shell, the elephant pokemon's muscles all bulge with raised veins and ripple in sync with each step.
'Shit shit shit!' Lee panics. "Detect!"
Grovyle's eyes shine with sudden clarity, instantly chasing away the weariness that dominated them before, then with a tensing of his legs, he jumps over Donphan with less than an inch to spare.
Donphan grunts, then stops on a dime and jumps right along with Grovyle, making a shallow crater in the ground from the sheer strength of the leap.
Grovyle's Detect-powered eyes widen, and he rapidly charges Quick Attack to launch himself through the air to safety, but Donphan is just a hair too fast.
Like a boulder hurled from a catapult, Donphan hits Grovyle and dispels both Detect and Quick Attack. Grovyle's head brutally smashes off of Donphan's Superpowered hide, instantly knocking the Grass-type unconscious before he's thrown straight up from the force. At the apex of his flight, nearly as high as the fountain, Grovyle begins to fall, limp and dead to the world.
Lee's hand grabs Grovyle's ball with haste borne of terror, then his arm snaps out as he begins to yell "Return!"
Grovyle is caught by the beam of red and sucked back into his pokeball just ten feet away from a painful meeting with the ground.
Brendan looks between the unscathed Donphan and the spot where Grovyle was about to land with something akin to confusion. "Uhh. Grovyle is unable to battle. Tyson and Donphan are the winners?"
The onlookers break out into applause, but some look disgruntled, and Lee hears one old sailor grumble; "Only a minute? What a waste."
'Did that really take just a minute?' Lee wonders, his head feeling light and stomach-churning. 'How...?'
Vulpix nuzzles herself into the crook of his neck, psychically smothering him in waves of comfort, but it doesn't help.
Across the battleground, Tyson breaks out into a bright smile as Donphan returns to his side. The elephant's scowl drops off, replaced with a bright, bubbly expression that would be right at home on a Phanpy. He reaches his trunk up at his trainer, and Tyson gladly drops to a knee to accept a hug from Donphan. The trainer and pokemon break apart, and after saying something too quiet for Lee to hear, Donphan is returned to his ball.
"Good match, Lee!" Tyson smiles as he walks up with a hand held out. "Sorry if Donphan was a little rough on Grovyle. One of the lessons we learned on the road was to not give any quarter, or we could lose at any time. No hard feelings?"
Lee looks down at the offered hand. A spiteful, childish part of him wants to slap the hand away and tell Tyson to get lost, but after a brief internal struggle, the rational side wins out, if only barely. With a sigh, Lee reaches out and takes Tyson's hand in a weak handshake. "Yeah. No hard feelings..."
If the younger man senses the barely hidden hostility, he doesn't comment on it. Instead, he turns to the still dumbfounded Brendan and the now indifferent Zinnia. "It was nice meeting you all, but I've got to get going to Mauville. I hope we meet again, if not on the road, then in the Ever Grande Conference!"
The crowd disperses as Tyson walks to the north into Slateport proper with a wave behind him, leaving just Lee, Vulpix, Zinnia, and Brendan.
"Pokemon Center?" Zinnia suggests.
As they leave, the Slowbro in the fountain awakens and surveys the destruction of the battleground with a lazy eye. With a slow, almost casual wave of his paw, all the concrete fragments glow a light blue and fly back into their spots like time itself is being reversed, leaving the arena clean and in one piece.
The walk to Slateport's Pokemon Center is brisk and quiet. Vulpix stops trying to comfort Lee about half-way there when it's made apparent that she's being ignored. The vixen instead goes silent, but not before Lee hears a whisper quiet 'So*ry'.
Lee just kicks himself for what feels like the millionth time today.
When they get to the Pokemon Center, Lee swiftly checks-in Grovyle, followed by Brendan handing off Mawile's ball to a dental specialist that Nurse Joy calls from the back of the Center, then the group stops in the lounge area to enjoy some rest away from Slateport's muggy heat.
With a sleeping Vulpix in his lap, Lee leans back into the old couch in the secluded corner of the Center's main room with Zinnia on his right and Brendan on his left. Zinnia busies herself watching a young woman check in her Dratini with Nurse Joy at the front desk while a fidgeting Brendan looks though his pokedex.
Finally, Zinnia breaks the silence with a sharp exhale. "Okay, do you want me to give it to you straight, or spare your feelings and keep my mouth shut?" The dragon tamer looks at Lee. "Because I know which one I want to choose."
Lee blinks at suddenly being addressed. "I don't understand?"
"About why you lost that battle so badly," she says, brushing some hair behind her ear.
"There was nothing that could be done!" Brendan hotly speaks in Lee's defense. "That Donphan was too strong!"
The boy stops when Zinnia actually uses his name. She crosses her arms and continues. "You've seen it too, and it's best to get it out now." Then she turns back to Lee, who is still lost. "I had my doubts back in Oldale when you said you were a beginner trainer, but as we've traveled, I've come to believe it. Your brains and prep work are top notch, but you're a mediocre battler, Lee."
The words sting his pride much more than Lee cares to admit, and he struggles to suppress a flicker of anger. "What makes you say that?" He responds, careful to keep his tone neutral.
"You can never seem to settle on a style, for one." Zinnia begins, holding up a single finger. "You're all over the place, and not in a good way. Your pokemon are freaky powerful, probably because of how you care for them, and you rely way too much on that. They can overpower other pokemon easily and battle more-or-less on their own. You've got little tricks that can turn the tide of a fight, yeah, but you make choices that make me scratch my head sometimes."
Lee notices that Brendan doesn't come to his defense, and an unpleasant feeling he can't identify rolls around in his stomach. "And you have a style? I recall you just sort of went wild in Dewford."
Zinnia's face twists into a scowl and Lee instantly knows he misspoke. "You have some gall saying that. This isn't about me, so don't deflect it onto me. I do have a style of battling, and if you want to be like that, I'll be happy to demonstrate it."
A growl interrupts any further words, and everyone looks to the now awake Vulpix, who stands and glowers at Zinnia with her hackles raised.
"And you!" The draconid growls right back at the fire fox. "You're part of the problem! You're telepathic, aren't you?"
"What?" Lee's mind goes blank. "How did you...?"
"Telepathic..?" Brendan parrots in confusion.
Zinnia snorts. "I'm not stupid, so don't insult me by implying I am, Lee. I can put two and two together, and I can research to see what pokemon has what powers. I was just wondering how long you were going to keep it under wraps."
Lee isn't sure how to respond, and the sinking feeling in his stomach is too distracting to think of a reply anyway.
In the back of his mind, Vulpix begins feeding him an explan-
"Right there!" Zinnia's voice startles both Vulpix and Lee out of the mental exchange. The tanned woman points a finger at Vulpix, as if damning her. "You both spaced out for a second. Are you giving him answers and making decisions for him?"
Vulpix's answer is just a glare.
"You are, and you're enabling these bad habits," Zinnia accuses.
Now it's Lee's turn to glare. "Leave Vulpix out of this."
"I will if she stays out of our conversation," Zinnia counters without hesitation. Then she sighs and lets her expression soften just slightly. "Look, I'm not saying all of this just to be an asshole. Just let me finish, okay?"
Without waiting for an answer, Zinnia bulldozes on. "One," she holds up a finger again. "You battle like you're just guessing, and you panic and pull last-second tricks when things go wrong. It works because your pokemon are powerful enough to make do, but up against someone with a refined style, or stronger pokemon, or both like that guy Tyson? It's going to fail every time. Two," a second finger rises. "You second guess yourself all the time, then let your pokemon decide for you. You are the trainer in the relationship so you should be the one calling the shots. It's fine to consult your team and stuff, but the roles of trainer and pokemon are the way they are for a reason. You've got to be confident to be a good trainer. Three," now three fingers are held up on her hand. "Stop being afraid of failure."
Affront floods Lee and he can't stop his offended reply. "I'm not."
"You are," Zinnia shoots back, her brows furrowing. "You can deny it all you want, maybe you don't even realize it, but you are. You stumble into battles and flail your way to victory, acting like losing means death. If it was Brendan or I or any other trainer who battled Tyson, we'd shake off the loss in a minute or two, because we know we can't win all the time. You're still moping and it's been nearly an hour."
"Is this the part where you tell me you're a psychiatrist or some shit?" Lee snaps, his emotions finally reaching a boiling point. "Go on. I'm waiting," he says with a sarcastic wave of his hand.
Zinnia's scowl deepens. "Work with Dragons sometime. You'll learn real fast that reading body language is a skill dragon tamers need. A skill that I thought you had, jackass. I guess not since you feel the need to insult my intelligence again." The dragon-tamer stands suddenly. "I dunno what kind of complex you've got, but fix it before it lands you with something worse than those," she points to the burn lines across Lee's face. "I'm going for a walk. Bye." With that, she turns and walks to the exit of the Center with a clipped pace.
"Wait!" Lee's plea stops Zinnia for a moment. "Why did you wait so long to say anything?"
"Why are you still holding things back from us?" She shoots back before quickly making her way out the door.
Lee is quiet for a moment, the anger bubbling in his chest clashing with a sudden surge of melancholy before both burn out, leaving him empty. Then he turns to a very uncomfortable-looking Brendan. "Brendan? Does... Does it seem like I have no idea what I'm doing in battles?"
Vulpix's almost instinctual attempt to telepathically deny the statement is halted when Lee places a palm on her head with a quiet hush.
The boy hesitates, his eyes looking around at anything but Lee's face. "Well... I always thought it was some kind of strategy that was just too complex for me to get. I didn't really know..?"
Slowly, Lee stands and Vulpix hops from his lap to the floor. He tries to think of what to do next, and Vulpix is silent in his mind. After a moment, he says; "I'm going to get a hotel room. I've got some things to think over. I'll text you the address and room number later, okay?"
The boy nods quickly, and Lee begins the aimless walk out of the Center's doors into the streets of Slateport.
He and Vulpix weave through the people on the sidewalk, looking around without actually seeing anything. Vulpix keeps pace at his feet as they walk, seeming just as lost in thought as her trainer.
After almost thirty minutes of wandering, they come across a chain hotel that Lee's bleary mind judges as 'good enough', and a swipe of his debit card later, he and Vulpix are resting in a two bed hotel room with the lights off and the curtains drawn.
As he lays back in the bed, minus his boots, gloves, and jacket, Lee's mind keeps replaying Zinnia's words over and over again as he stares at the ceiling.
You battle like you're just guessing, and you panic and pull last-second tricks when things go wrong.
You second guess yourself all the time, then let your pokemon decide for you. You are the trainer in the relationship so you should be the one calling the shots.
Stop being afraid of failure.
With a sigh, Lee sits up and crosses his legs, drawing Vulpix's worried eyes from where she rests at his side. "Vulpix? Do you think..."
'You already know what she thinks.'
The former zookeeper stops himself short. "Should I..." He stops again and balls his hands up. "I don't..."
You second guess yourself all the time, then let your pokemon decide for you.
Lee grits his teeth. "Damn it!" he pounds a fist on the bed.
Vulpix watches on, but does not offer any comfort like she usually would. Slowly, she stands and pads her way to the foot of the bed, where Lee's backpack, discarded jacket, and pokeball belt lay. The vixen taps her pokeball with a paw and pulls Corvisquire's ball free with another. Her ball enlarges and sucks her inside as a mass of red light, and Corvisquire's shrunken pokeball freely rolls to rest against Lee's leg.
The action is so unexpected that it takes Lee a moment to process it, but her message to speak to someone else isn't lost to him.
'Does she think she's influencing me in some way? Zinnia's words didn't bug Vulpix that much, did they?' Lee silently ponders, taking Corvisquire's ball in his hand and enlarging it with a push of the button. 'I don't think she's influencing me. What does Zinnia know? She doesn't understand the full story.'
Lee falls back to the bed with a quiet poof from the covers, rolling Corvisquire's ball in his fingers as his jumbled thoughts bounce around in his head. "Maybe I do need someone to talk to about all this. I can barely focus..."
His thumb falls on the pokeball's button, and in a blinding flash of light, the ball pops open and deposits Corvisquire on the bed beside him.
The raven looks even more displeased than usual with his left wing still tightly wrapped with a splint and not due to be freed for another few days. He glances around the darkened room, and upon spying just Lee, who looks at the ceiling rather than him, some of Corvisquire's customary anger is traded for confusion.
"It's just us, Corvi," Lee quietly explains, turning his head enough to see the bird pokemon. "Some stuff happened today, and Vulpix thinks I should talk to someone other than her. Grovyle is hurt and still at the Pokemon Center, otherwise I'm sure he would have volunteered. Sorry for bothering you."
Corvisquire just sighs and sits, already looking disinterested.
"You don't have to respond back, if you could just listen, that would be great," Lee mutters, meeting Corvisquire's red eyes for a moment. The red eyes roll and the raven gives a noncommittal nod. "We battled a guy today, Tyson. It was a one on one between Grovyle and his Donphan, and Grovyle lost without even managing to scratch Donphan."
That gets Corvisquire's attention, making the corvid actually listen to Lee intently.
"It was frustrating, more than anything on our journey yet. I don't know why it bugged me so much," Lee growls. "Brawly could have just as easily said our draw wasn't worth a badge, and I don't think that would have upset me this much… We got to the Pokemon Center after the battle with Tyson and checked-in Grovyle. Brendan, Zinnia, and I sat and talked for a bit, and Zinnia said we lost because..." He pauses. "Because I rely too much on you guys being healthy and powerful, and that I'm not a good trainer for battling. Do you agree with that?"
Corvisquire unhelpfully trills in his throat. The sound is distinctly uncaring.
"Right..." Lee grimaces. "She also said I need to stop being afraid of failing, and that I need to get over it before I end up with something worse than these," he rubs the left side of his face, feeling the scars pull and stretch the healthy skin around them unpleasantly. "Corvi? I know she's told Grovyle bits, but has Vulpix told you where I got these?"
The bird is silent, then shakes his head in negation. If he was paying attention before, then he's truly focused now.
"I haven't told Brendan or Zinnia either, and I'm not sure when I will be ready to, but I know it has to be soon..." Lee takes a deep breath to brace himself. "Before I was a pokemon trainer, I lived in a place without pokemon at all. There, I made a living caring for animals. You know? The creatures that look like pokemon, but lack your spark or intelligence? We got warning when it was already too late that some unknown faction of humans used..." Lee stops as images flash before his eyes, and pushing them away without Vulpix's help is a struggle that makes his fists clench. "Bombs. Flying bombs with enough power to level an entire city. As far as I know, I was the only one to escape and it's a miracle that I did. It's a miracle that Vulpix found me and kept me sane. My animals, friends, and family are gone, and all I got for the trouble was a torn-up face as a bad memento."
Lee once again pauses, memories halting the words in his mouth. "Corvi?" He finally asks, voice little more than whisper. "I've been thinking about them less and less. I'm just... out of tears I suppose. Or maybe I'm running away from the thoughts, I don't know." When the raven pokemon doesn't reply, Lee continues on before his nerve can give out. "When you evolve into a Corviknight, can you fly me to Littleroot? I want to make a grave for them. Just a little one, so they're not forgotten."
Corvisquire, who has been silent and listening with a blank face the entire time, slowly nods.
"Thank you..." Lee breathes, feeling a little lighter. "I'm sorry to have kept this from you for so long, but I wasn't sure how to say it. Maybe Zinnia is right. Maybe I do need to be more confident, or be more decisive. I'm just not sure how. What I am sure of, is I need to improve. I need to grow so you, Grovyle, and Vulpix can grow."
Corvisquire's scoff is much less venomous than expected.
With reluctance, Lee's hand snakes into his pocket and withdraws his wallet. From it, he pulls a little card he was given weeks ago.
Post Traumatic Stress Specialists of Hoenn.
100% Confidential. All insurance types accepted.
He stares at the card for what feels like hours when really only a minute passes. Then he puts the card away and stuffs his wallet back in his pocket.
"I don't need that," he mutters. "Not yet." Feeling his eyelids grow heavy as the events of the day catch up with him, Lee turns to Corvisquire a bit more. "I'm just going to take a short nap, alright?"
With a sigh, the raven pokemon hops onto the other pillow and stomps a divot into it, then he seats himself and gets comfortable.
"Thanks, Corvi," Lee murmurs as his eyes drift shut.