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"Just remember, Lee," Mable firmly says as both rise from their spots in the Pokemon Center meeting room. "Life can be challenging sometimes, but don't ever let unpleasant times control you, okay?"

"Right…" Lee sighs as he stretches his arms above his head, taking care to not push Vulpix off of his shoulder. "Thank you again, Mable."

The therapist smiles kindly and steps up to his side, placing a hand on the shoulder Vulpix isn't occupying. "I know your Corvisquire has you down, Lee. Just take heart in your other pokemon and know that someone like yourself will pull through stronger than ever."

Lee smiles back, though his smile is little more than a slight upturn of his lips. "Will do," he says, turning and leaving the meeting room. Like last time, he heads left down the hall back to the lobby of the Pokemon Center.

After Corvisquire's sudden abandonment and Lee's victory at the Mauville Gym, he, Brendan, and Zinnia stuck around Mauville for several days in an unspoken agreement to wait and see if Corvisquire would return.

So far, nothing.

Lee's post on Battlenet garnered little in the way of useful replies, though one young trainer provided a humorous five-post adventure of him tracking down what he thought was the rogue pokemon, only to discover it was a Honchcrow. One person suggested contacting the Pokemon Rangers, and Lee did so, but other than the confirmation email saying they're looking, the Rangers have been silent.

The team hasn't been idle during their time waiting, as Grovyle began to throw himself into his training with fervor. His loss in the Mauville Gym stung him, that much was obvious, and Lee didn't need Vulpix's translation to understand the wood gecko's intentions.

Grovyle, against Lee's wishes, is trying to single-handedly cover the loss of firepower that Corvisquire's departure created.

Seed Blast was mastered in less than two days, and already the Grass-type can utterly saturate an area in a hellish barrage of near-sonic seeds. Grovyle's next custom move was a simple reversal of Seed Blast, being a single, accurate super-sonic seed to pierce defenses Leaf Blade can't safely carve through. Seed Sniper is the somewhat uninspired name, and after just a day Grovyle has mastered it enough to use in a battle.

Vulpix pushed herself as well, but not to the same level as Grovyle. Her physical growth is slowly beginning to stagnate, as her weight gain began to taper off and the recorded feats in Lee's notes show less and less improvement as time goes on. It's no big surprise or a problem, as Vulpix is a special attacker first and foremost, but Vulpix herself seems irked that Grovyle is beginning to pull away from her in physical ability. Her pyrokinesis continues to grow as expected. The shapes she can create with flames grow more and more complex, and directing them in different directions is becoming easier. With her telepathy so honed and Psychic energy so familiar to her, Lee decided it was time to begin training the physical side of her psychic talents. So far…

Well, the empty soda can they were practicing with last night wiggled a little bit.

So far it's been a frustrating experience for the vixen. Controlling fire came to her so easily that telekinesis has been a rude awakening.

Stepping into the crowded midday lobby, Lee and Vulpix are just in time to see Brendan get his pokeballs back from one of Nurse Joy's white-coat-clad assistants before the boy turns to them, a smile on his face. "Hey, you guys!" The Birch heir greets as he clips his pokeballs to his belt and walks closer. "Ready for your demo with the Silph guy?"

"As ready as we'll ever be," Lee nods. "Grovyle has his moves, and Vulpix is going to show off Convergence, so I hope that'll be enough for a TM deal. Grovyle isn't super attached to Seed Blast and Seed Sniper, so we're planning on offering them up if Silph wants something right away."

"Pssh," Brendan waves a hand with a grin. "I betcha Silph will sign you on instantly after seeing just one."

Lee smiles. "I appreciate the optimism," he says, glancing around. "Where did Zinnia go?"

"Right here. I ran to the post office real quick."

Lee, Brendan, and Vulpix turn, finding the missing dragon tamer walking up with a beaming smile on her face. She stops before them and puts her hands on her hips with a satisfied sigh. "Guess who just sent her Tyrunt fossil off to be revived?"

Brendan's jaw drops. "What? How? Fossil revival is stupid expensive if you're not some bigshot!"

'Stupid expensive?' Lee wonders. "How expensive is 'stupid expensive'?"

"Hundreds of thousands of credits for just one revival…" Brendan's reply shocks Lee to his core. "Hell, if you don't put a huge deposit down, most labs don't even reply back."

'Ouch,' Lee winces. 'I thought an Eevee was asking too much, but just one fossil can set you back the price of a nice house. Wait…' Lee turns to Zinnia with a sinking feeling in his gut. "Zinnia, you didn't just put yourself in debt to get yourself a dinosaur, did you?"

She scoffs. "Have some faith in me, Dolittle. I had to pull some strings, burn some favors, and make a few calls, but I didn't pay anything other than my time. It'll take a bit, but I'll have my Tyrunt in a month or so."

Brendan still seems unconvinced. "Right…"

"Good for you, Zinnia," Lee steps in before she and Brendan can argue. "I'm glad to see this working out for you. I take it you're excited for your new pokemon?"

Zinnia beams. "Hehe! Of course I am!" She wiggles in place. "Ah! Every little girl's dream; her own dinosaur!" She sobers up and clears her throat. "Erm, anyway, how did your time with your shrink go, Dolittle?"

"It… went," Lee crosses his arms and shifts on his feet, unsure what to say. Vulpix nuzzles his cheek, and from her comes a soothing reassurance. "Last week was kind of heavy, so she suggested taking it easy this week, just talking about life and whatnot."

The tanned woman smiles and nods, not pressing. Brendan looks as if he wants to inquire further, but he bites his lip.

Vulpix paws Lee's neck, a silent reminder of the time poking his brain a second later. "Oh! I need to get to that demo for Silph! Are you guys coming?"

Brendan grins. "You know it!"

"Mmm-hmm," Zinnia agrees.

As a group, Lee, Vulpix, Brendan, and Zinnia leave the pokemon center and head deeper into Mauville through the throngs of people flooding the streets. Lee spares a look around as they walk, taking in the sights.

Wattson's popularity as the Gym Leader is apparent from how many Electric-types are out and about with their trainers. In just a few minutes, Lee spots a Pikachu riding in a girl's handbag, a Raichu jogging along with his college-age trainer, an impatient Electrike tugging at his leash, a Mareep with a giggling little girl on her back, and a Galvantula clinging to the underside of a lamp post enjoying a berry snack. Some of the smaller businesses they pass are made to cater to Electric-type pokemon only, many offering services like 'discharge therapy' or 'electro cycling', which sound like the same thing to Lee. Others are stocked with tools and insulated toys for raising younger pokemon.

'Almost like a miniature New York,' Lee hums as he peers up at the tall buildings of Mauville. 'Largest city in Hoenn, yet only five-hundred thousand people live here. I wonder if the census counts pokemon? Hard to say… Idly, Lee wonders what Nigel would think of Earth's population of eight billion when the entire pokemon world doesn't even boast an eighth of that number. 'Then again, pokemon outnumber humans so that figure might be a bit skewed… and Earth's population probably isn't that high anymore…'

A nip on his ear from Vulpix pulls him away from such morbid thoughts.

"So do these guys have a place set-up for the demo, or are you just going to trash one of their offices?" Zinnia asks with a smirk. "I gotta admit, that would be funny."

"The address they gave me leads to one of their offices," Lee says, pulling out his phone as they stop at a crosswalk with a red light. He flips through his emails back to the one from the Silph Co rep. "Yeah, one of their offices," He looks up in time to see an old truck roll by with a panting Rockruff hanging out of the passenger window. A second later, the crosswalk light turns green and lets them continue on. "I imagine they have a test site or some indoor range with a pokemon that can make force fields on-hand. I warned them that these moves are no joke."

Another thirty minutes of walking leads them to a four-story building in its own small corporate park near the outer eastern part of the city. The grass is cut short, the shrubs are all trimmed square, and the windows of the building are all sparkly and clean. At the top of the building is a large sign clearly spelling out "Silph Co" in stylized letters.

Lee double checks his phone one final time before nodding. "This is the place. Let's go."

Stepping inside, the trio of trainers and single pokemon push past the revolving door and take in the lavish lobby of the Silph Co building. Lee in particular looks down at himself afterward, now very conscious of the wear on his clothes and the dirt on his boots in the face of the immaculate room.

"Do you feel a little underdressed too?" Lee hears Brendan whisper to Zinnia as they make their way to the reception desk in the middle of the lobby.

Zinnia scoffs. "No. Why would I care about what some office jockeys think?"

As they approach, the smartly-dressed woman manning the reception desk looks up from her computer screen with a smile. That smile shrinks when the first thing she sees is Vulpix. "I'm sorry, but Silph Corporation has a no loose pokemon policy on the premises. I'll have to ask you to..!-" She trails off with a look of vague fright when her eyes shift to Lee's face. "E-Erm…"

The zoologist smiles disarmingly, or at least tries. 'Was I doing the scary no-expression thing again?' He clears his throat. "Good afternoon. My name is Lee Henson and I have a 12:30 meeting with Mister Aarons?"

When Zinnia snickers, the poor young woman seems to regain her wits. "O-Oh, of course, Mister Henson. One moment…" She returns her eyes to her computer and quickly types in a string of words, her painted nails and the large ring on her left hand flashing in the sunlight. She pauses, then types something else. "Alec Aarons will be seeing you in just a moment, Mister Henson. Will your guests be joining you?"

"If it's all the same," Lee responds kindly.

She nods and smiles back unsurely.

It takes only a moment of waiting for one of the elevators near the back of the lobby to chime and open, letting out a smiling man in a black suit who beelines for Lee's group. "Mister Henson! Alec Aarons is the name, and thank you for coming out here today!"

Lee scans the approaching businessman with an appraising eye.

Aarons is a handsome man in that difficult-to-place age range of late twenties to mid-thirties. The skin of his angular face is flawless, and his platinum blond hair is slicked back and shiny in the bright fluorescent lights of the office. There isn't a single wrinkle on his three-piece suit, and his perfectly white teeth almost glint through the narrow gap in his lips made by his easy-going smile. There's an aura about the man, one that would charm most anyone with his smooth voice and attractive face.

In the back of his mind, Lee can't help but draw a comparison to Patrick Bateman from the old movie American Psycho.

"And thank you for taking the time to talk to me, Mister Aarons," Lee reaches out and clasps the man's hand with his own in a brisk shake. "I know you must be busy around here."

Aarons lets out a single short laugh and lets his smile widen just a smidgen. "Please, call me Alec, and for one of Hoenn's rising stars? I can make time." He withdraws his hand and gestures to Vulpix before letting it fall to his side. "Congrats to you and Miss Vulpix on your Dynamo Badge. Wattson is a superb trainer even if his other duties means he doesn't have as much time for his pokemon anymore. To go toe-to-toe with his personal pokemon and win speaks volumes about you." He looks past Lee to Brendan with an appraising look. "And Mister Birch's match was just as thrilling. Watching Manectric get pushed and actually lose is a rare event."

Brendan chuckles bashfully. "Ah, we were working with a type advantage, and even then Wattson's pokemon were tough. He nearly had us."

"Regardless, it was an excellent showing," Aarons inclines his head and turns to Zinnia. "And I'm afraid I never caught your name, miss…"

"Zinnia," the dragon tamer supplies simply. She looks over Aarons with a critical eye, then relaxes. "Dragon Tamer. Nice to meet ya."

"The pleasure is all mine." The blonde man smiles back. "Let's take this to my office, shall we?"

Lee and co follow Aarons back to the elevator, where the businessman takes them up to the 3rd floor and to a wooden door labeled "Tech Machine Dept" guarded by a keypad lock, one that Aarons swiftly enters the code for. As they enter and make the trip to Aarons' office, Lee glances at the open-floor office and glass dividers taking up much of the floor space, each desk occupied by a well-dressed worker, many of whom look up to see himself, his friends, and Aarons. The air is filled with the sounds of shuffling paper, the ringing of desk phones, and muffled conversation.

On Lee's shoulder, Vulpix's ears turn as she takes in sounds human hearing would miss, then she widens the psychic channel to her trainer and wordlessly offers her hearing to him.

"-Aarons doing bringing someone up here? He should have taken them to the demo site not-"

"-ing to show off his new client? That's bold, breaking the no pokemon rule and walking right by Nasir's office."

"I thought Joan was working on the new Henson account?"

Lee reaches up and gently scratches under Vulpix's chin, making her shut her eyes in satisfaction. 'Thank you, Vulpix. Seems like Aarons is quite the opportunist to say the least.'

Along the outer perimeter of the large room are a number of private offices behind closed doors, several of which they pass, then they come to a stop by one labeled "A. Aarons - Sr Licensing Rep."

The four people and single shoulder-riding fox step inside, finding a tidy, modern office with little in the way of personal effects, though Lee is surprised to find three guest chairs before the desk. He seats himself in the middle one with Zinnia and Brendan flanking him.

Aarons sits lightly behind his desk and folds his hands over one another. "Can I get you all anything? Water? Coffee?"

"Thank you, Alec, but I think we're fine," Lee speaks for everyone. "I understand there is a demo process before any ink touches paper, so forgive me if this comes off as a little rude, but why bring us up here?"

Aarons smiles once more. "Mister Henson, I think we both know that for a trainer of your caliber, the demo is just a formality. Grass TMs are especially in vogue right now, so your personal takes on Bullet Seed will most assuredly sell out quickly."

"Really?" Lee raises an eyebrow and leans back in his chair as Vulpix slides down into his lap. "Why do you say that?"

The businessman's eyes seemingly twinkle. "Ah, that's a little secret of mine, but I can give a bit away I suppose. A great way to tell how well a TM run will do is to look at the Gym Leaders of the region, and the usual route aspiring challengers take between them. Grass is so popular right now because of the average starting and ending point of most trainers taking the circuit."

"Roxanne is the weakest Gym Leader… and Wallace is the strongest…" Brendan's eyes widen when it hits him. "Both of their specialties are weak to Grass!"

Aarons' smile turns into a small grin. "Right on the money! The data doesn't lie, and trainers want everything they can get when they first begin and are about to end a journey. In the middle, there is quite a bit of drop-off since everyone has a good idea of their own power in relation to the Gyms, but the last Gym is always intimidating. There are other factors at play of course, such as TM rarity, the cost per unit, who the TM is being copied from, and media attention given to specialists of the same type." The blonde man laces his fingers and sets his elbows on the desk. "With Grass being the answer to both the weakest and strongest Gyms, and the unexpected defeat of Fortree's Winona to the rising Grass specialist Valorie Forrest, Grass is hot. A limited run of brand new Grass moves will sell out from preorders alone."

'Huh, I never thought about it like that,' Lee silently muses. 'With the price tags on TMs, it must be a lucrative business.' Aarons' enthusiasm makes more sense. 'Ah, if he's the one doing all the behind-the-scenes work, then he probably gets a nice cut.'

"Understandable," Lee nods along. "So, how does the process work here?"

"First," Aarons holds up a finger. "We'd establish an outline of the technique you intend to propose to Silph Co. I've already done so here if you'd like to review it," he says, opening a drawer on his desk and taking out a packet of paper. He drops it to his desk and slides it over. "Pending the demo, Silph Co can then choose to move forward with the process or decide to not take the proposal, and if denied you won't be able to submit your move again for a full year. No need to worry about that one I think," he smiles. "Upon choosing to move forward, Silph Co will have you sign a number of forms giving us exclusive rights to be your TM manufacturer and distributor, along with a few more giving us the right to use your name and likeness as marketing material. Once complete, we'll have the boys in the lab copy the move from your pokemon and send it off for TM transcribing. When the disks hit the shelves, you can start collecting your royalties."

"Name and likeness, huh?" Zinnia crosses her arms and taps her foot. "And how long do you get to use it afterward?"

'That's a good question,' Lee focuses on Aarons for an answer.

"Just for the TM run," he cooly replies. "Once the last batch of disks leaves the warehouse, the contract is over. Typically a standard limited run is two-hundred and fifty units."

"Does Silph retain the rights to the move itself at all?" Lee asks as Aarons' answer isn't enough for him.

In his lap, Vulpix shifts and thinks. 'Ask if t*ey ar* allowe* to make more c*pies. Be sp*cific.'

"As in, can Silph Co just decide to make more copies of the TM after the contract is over and cut us out of the equation entirely?" Lee amends, watching carefully for Aarons' reaction.

If Aarons is perturbed by the line of questioning, he hides it masterfully. "We do reserve the right to create copies of unpatented moves without the input of the trainer who submitted the move for copying." He admits. He opens another drawer on his desk and takes out another packet of paper, setting before Lee. "Silph Co can submit the move for patenting on your behalf for a fee which will be deducted from your royalties until paid in full. If you'd like to read over the forms for yourself, then please go ahead. Now, your royalty rate does drop two percent if you decide to patent, keep that in mind."

With the beginnings of a frown, Lee takes the paper offered to him and holds it so Vulpix can read along with him. At his sides, Zinnia and Brendan lean in to see it as well.

'Fee of 11,500 for the patent app, followed by losing fifty percent of my four percent of the royalties until paid back. If a basic TM is roughly 2000 credits, and assuming my specialty TM would be worth a bit more at 3000 credits… ' Lee crunches the numbers in his head. 'That's 37,000 credits for both runs after the fees. Holy shit…' He blinks in surprise. 'That's a lot of money even with Silph chunking me for not giving up the rights to it… Or I could get 90,000 credits from the six percent and no fees just by letting them have the moves. Hell, they might price the TM even higher than 3000 and push that payment into six-figures…'

Lee looks away from the form in his hands, feeling slightly lightheaded. It might take weeks for the TMs to sell, but that's still a dizzying amount of money. If these are the sort of figures high-level trainers play with, then Lee suddenly understands how they afford to care for their rare and powerful pokemon. 'Pay to win? No. It's just free to lose.' He shakes his head and looks down at Vulpix. 'What say you, love? Do we play the long game and hope they want to make more afterward, or get a bigger windfall?'

As Vulpix mulls her answer over, Lee looks between Brendan and Zinnia. "Any opinions?"

Brendan finishes reading the form with a hum and scratches his chin. "Yeah, patent 'em. Better to keep your rights for later, or that's what Dad told me. The fee is a little steep, but I guess you're paying for the convenience."

"I dunno…" Zinnia fingers the edge of her cloak as she thinks. "On one hand, keeping the moves sounds good, but on the other…" She trails off. "That's a lot of moolah, Dolittle. I can't decide, so I'm not going to say anything else."

Vulpix snuffles and kneads Lee's leg with her dull claws. 'Keep th*m.'

Mind made up, Lee sets the form back on Aarons' desk. "I'm going to patent them. Now, any other details?


Out behind the Silph Co building and in the middle of the testfire range Silph created for demos just like this one, Lee impatiently fingers Grovyle's pokeball. At his side, Grovyle cooly waits with his arms crossed.

The testfire range looks much like a gun range back on earth. A long stretch of barren land roughly one hundred yards leads back into a tall dirt berm to act as a backstop. The range is pockmarked with craters and burns, likely from other tests. Off to the side and leaning over the range from high above, a structure of metal beams like a leaning power pylon looms over the range. On the point of the pylon, a camera-like dome shines in the sunlight.

Behind Lee and Grovyle, Aarons, Zinnia, Brendan, Vulpix, and several Silph techs holding tablet computers stand behind a screen of ballistic glass. Zinnia taps her foot while Brendan simply sways on his feet, looking eager. At his feet, Vulpix sits calmly.

Aarons turns his eyes to the techs. "Gents, are we ready?"

One of the three men, a tall, gangly man with limp brown hair nods his head. "Beginning sim. Standby."

'Sim?'

Above Lee and Grovyle, the dome-like apparatus on the point of the leaning pylon glows a dull blue, and down on the ground, a hazy shape standing a head taller than a man and thrice as wide begins to take form.

Startled, Lee takes a step back as Grovyle narrows his eyes and takes up a defensive stance before his trainer.

The mass crackles like TV static and coalesces into a shape with two thick legs, equally thick arms ending in claws, a long muscular tail, and a wide head with a shovel-like plate along its skull.

'A Kangaskhan?' Lee wonders as the pixel-like details fill in on the pokemon like a loading video game. In just a second, the details sharpen to a life-like level, and there stands a Kangaskhan minus a youngling in its pouch. 'Some kind of hologram?'

The fake Kangaskhan grunts and slams its tail into the ground, making a tremor run under the feet of everyone in the field. Its eyes are flat and lusterless, but they focus on Grovyle with a disturbingly life-like gaze.

'Not a hologram.'

"Whenever you're ready, Mister Henson!" One of the Silph techs call. "Have your Grovyle attack the Kangaskhan construct with Seed Blast!"

'Construct? Like hard light?' The technology doesn't seem too far-fetched considering the consumer-grade non-euclidean bag on his back. "You heard them, bud," Lee points a finger at the Kangaskhan. "Seed Blast!"

Grovyle hisses and draws his head back, his throat bulging as seeds manifest from pure Grass energy and travel up to his mouth. He trains his eyes on the Kangaskhan's center mass and works his jaw. Then with a flourish, he throws his head forward and spits a shotgun blast of seeds with an ear-ringing bang!

The seeds fly in a tight cone trailing with yellow light, spreading only to the size of a volleyball in the twenty yards they fly. Then Seed Blast crashes into the Kangaskhan's thick hide with a series of loud cracks, throwing bits of the Kangaskhan's rock-like armor that dissolve into static before they hit the ground. Several seeds stay lodged in the armor, sizzling with unburnt Grass energy.

The Kangaskhan reels back with a realistic gasp, holding its cracked stomach armor with a paw. It retreats with several lumbering steps, watching Grovyle warily. Above the Kangaskhan, a green HP bar of all things appears and drops to roughly 70%.

"Not bad at all…" One of the Silph techs murmurs as he taps away at his tablet. "One direct hit dealt considerable damage to a mid-level construct." He taps a button on his tablet and the damage on the fake Kangaskhan vanishes as its lifebar refills to 100. "Again, please."

Grovyle looks up towards Lee, who nods back. "Give her another one. Everything you've got. We don't need to worry about pacing ourselves here."

The Grass-type turns to the Kangaskhan and charges Seed Blast once more, drawing up even more seeds than before. The muscles of his jaws quiver as he struggles to keep the attack contained, and once he can hold it no more, he snaps his mouth open and fires a wide-spanning blast with a bang like thunder.

This time, the seeds spread out rapidly, but since there is a veritable storm of them, the Kangaskhan is struck over nearly its whole chest and head. The fake pokemon cries out and stumbles back, a number of seeds buried in its flesh. It covers its head and ducks, avoiding several botanical bullets that whizz by. The wounds on the fake pokemon don't bleed, instead leaving behind simple holes that glow a faint blue. The HP bar above Kangaskhan's head jumps down to 45%, the green color changing to yellow.

"O-Oh wow…" Lee looks back when he hears one of the techs gulp. The middle tech glances down at his tablet and clears his throat. "Well, I uh, think we have enough data to work with on that one. Let's move on, shall we? I believe the next one is called Seed Sniper?"

Once again, the Kangaskhan stands straight, its wounds vanishing and its expression returning to uncanny neutrality.

This time, Grovyle needs no prompting and leans his head back, taking a deep, lung filling breath. Like with Seed Blast, he stands still for several seconds, letting the power behind the attack build before spitting a single hyper-sonic seed the size of a marble. The air cracks sharply as the seed breaks the sound barrier and crosses the distance as little more than a streak of light.

Grovyle's aim is off even at the short distance, as rather than the center of Kangaskhan's chest, it hits her left shoulder, pushing in deep enough that the bones of a normal pokemon would be pulverized by the impact. The seed then explodes into shrapnel, shards digging into skin and making a ghastly wound. The fake Kangaskhan goes pale and grasps the hole with its opposite paw. Above its head, its HP drops all the way to 30%, which flashes red in warning.

Lee turns back to the spectators, taking in their reactions.

Zinnia and Brendan both sport grins, and at Brendan's feet, Vulpix smiles slightly.

The Silph techs look between their tablets and the hard-light Kangaskhan with dropped jaws.

Aarons?

Aarons just smiles. "Mister Henson?" He calls over the ballistic barrier. "Fantastic showing. I believe you have one more?"

"We do," Lee nods. Then an idea hits him, one that he pauses and mulls over. "Say, Alec? Is there any wiggle room on that royalty percent if we show something really impressive?"

A look crosses Aarons' face, one that stands at the midpoint of predatory and hungry, then it vanishes and is replaced with his pleasant resting smile a split-second later. "I… could be convinced to argue such a case to upper management for a better payout. What do you have in mind?"

"While we're not going to let this move be released for copying, it's proof that we have a lot to bring to the table." As Lee speaks, Vulpix is already briskly trotting around the ballistic glass. "Convergence is Vulpix's strongest technique, one that could be argued to be on-par with Fire Blast."

Is it on par? Lee isn't sure, but a bigger payment opening the route to rare breeders and better equipment for his team is worth embellishing for, he thinks.

Aarons rubs his chin. "Fire Blast, hmm? I admit, when I saw it on the demo list, I went and researched the move. Imagine my surprise when the only hints I could find were cell phone videos on the internet." He folds his arms behind his back and gives Vulpix a searching look as she and Grovyle trade places, the wood gecko walking back and standing by Zinnia. "Fire Blast is a move only the mightiest and most esteemed of Fire-types can learn, Mister Henson. If Convergence is that powerful…" He trails off and glances at one of the labcoat-clad techs beside him sharply.

The lanky tech jumps and nearly drops his tablet and Aarons' eyes bore into him. "R-Right!" He types a command into his tablet.

The panting and injured Kangaskhan straightens back up as its wounds vanish, leaving it whole once more. Above it's head, the HP bar returns back to 100%.

Lee takes a deep breath, stilling the thrill of eager nervousness that wants to make his limbs shake. "Alrighty, love," the trainer slips his hands into his pockets so as to not fidget. "Convergence."

Vulpix widens her stance and flares her tails, her eyes blazing a hellish orange.

All around the Kangaskhan, orbs of flame the size of tennis balls burst to life with a cacophony of fwooshes, casting a harsh light even as the noon sun overhead grows brighter and brighter, coaxed by Vulpix's Drought.

The fake Kangaskhan raises an arm to shade its eyes, looking around at the fireballs with confusion.

The motes of fire all shudder and bulge like disturbed liquid, growing larger and larger with a frightening haste, as if they were cancerous growths set alight. The humid Hoenn air around them begins to dry, and what little grass still alive on the ground of the range begins to blacken and smoke.

Lee blinks his eyes and turns away, the sheer heat and light swiftly becoming overwhelming even from twenty yards away. On his face, his burns tingle unpleasantly. He breathes the hot air slowly, silently assuring himself that Vulpix would never harm him.

The fireballs continue to swell, turning into hissing, miniature suns just as they did in the fight with Absol. Their growth begins to stall out around the size of beach balls, and Lee can feel Vulpix's stamina slowly flagging as her most powerful attack greedily sucks down energy.

Just like he did in their Gym battle, Lee opens his bond to his starter wider and takes the psychic tether deeper into himself, tapping into his own body.

The fireballs roar and grow another size, making the dirt below them dry up and crackle from the sheer heat. Lee cuts the feed from his own body as his head begins to feel light, already prepared to get a scolding from Vulpix later. The vixen looks back at him, and Lee covers his ears.

Vulpix's eyes flash, and the fireballs scream towards Kangaskhan.

Heat. Light. Force.

A power without discrimination.

One Vulpix commands.

KRABOOM!

Lee cracks open an eye to watch, calm taking hold even as he feels the explosion wash over him and nearly take him off his feet.

The explosion is deafening. Even with his ears covered, Lee feels them nearly pop, and the shockwave is like a kick to the chest. Dust rushes past, dirtying his clothes and forcing him to close his eyes. The sheer, burning heat is present only for a moment, but it warms his skin to an uncomfortable level. Through the trees and off the building behind them, the echoes of the explosion roll through Mauville, rousing countless frightened bird pokemon from their perches and into the air.

As the dust settles, Lee rubs the dirt from his eyes and opens them to take in the destruction.

Where the Kangaskhan was, there is now just a limp green wireframe in the vague shape of a pokemon, as if the fake pokemon had its hide blown clean off. Under it is a smoldering crater nearly a foot deep and fifteen feet wide, and the dirt within hisses as it cools from red-hot back to a burnt black.

Above the crater is Kangaskhan's HP bar. There is no number, just a flashing warning saying "ERROR".

'Th*t wa* unn*cessary, Lee.' The vixen at Lee's feet huffs, turning and jabbing his leg with a paw. 'I c*n fuel *y own mo*es.'

Lee smiles and bends down, taking Vulpix into his arms without a fight and rising again. He wraps his arms around her middle with her back to his chest, letting her hindpaws and tails dangle. When he leans down just enough to kiss her scalp behind her head-tuft, the fox's ire cools considerably. "How about that?" He turns on his heel to the spectators.

The trio of Silph Co techs are struck dumb, all three of them glued to the tablets in their hands, all of them emiting a warning chime.

"Jeez…" Brendan breathes, a hint of awe on his face. "I didn't realize it was that strong…" He looks down to his belt, where Marshtomp's ball wiggles restlessly.

The grin on Zinnia's face can only be described as savage. She clenches and unclenches her fists under her cloak as she effortlessly catches Lee's eyes, telling him that he's got a battle with her coming in the near future.

Finally…

Aarons works his jaw, seemingly speechless. His eyes look between the crater, then to Vulpix, then up to Lee. After a long moment, he smiles and combs his hands through his hair, brushing away debris that flew over the ballistic glass screen. "Oooh yes," he purrs. "We can work with this."


As the chilled night of the city begins to roll in, Corvisquire curses himself for the millionth time.

It's been four days since he liberated himself, and he feels… Hungry. His stomach gnaws at itself, demanding a meal more substantial than a stolen pizza slice or a bush of berries.

Perched high on a fire-escape on the side of an apartment building, he peers down at the multitude of people and pokemon walking by the alleyway, his powerful eyesight taking in faces, hair, clothes, and stances.

Few of them look up at him, and none are Lee, and for that he's grateful… Or…?

The corvid growls under his breath and shakes the traitorous thought away. He doesn't want to go back. He doesn't want a trainer. He doesn't… Doesn't…

"Thank you for going above and beyond, Corvi."

Corvisquire's talons grip his railing perch tightly.

"I know you'd do the same for me, even if you won't admit it."

Corvisquire hisses to himself, screwing his eyes shut.

"Can you fly me to Littleroot? I want to make a grave for them, just a little one, so they're not forgotten."

The hollow metal railing groans under his talons. "I didn't verbally agree to anything, so I broke no promises…"

Lee settles on the dingy couch, Shinx crawling up into his chest. He turns to Corvisquire with a small grin. "It feels good to get everything off my chest. You guys are my family and I felt like I was lying to you by not explaining."

Lee's mutilated face fills Corvisquire's mind, and the ugly human's kind smile fixes everything in the worst way. The crow grimaces so hard he feels his beak almost crack. Then another face, one from years ago takes Lee's place.


The boy looks down at Rookidee, surprise on his face. The surprise is traded for delight a moment later. "Wow…"

"Bred and born just for you," the other human who keeps his parents says, but Rookiedee is too focused on his young master to pay the man any mind. "He's the best of the best."

Gentle hands lift Rookidee, and he snuggles into them.

The bird pokemon was just one of many offspring to his parents. It's simply nature to not invest too much into many chicks who are bound to go, so when his little master picks him up?

Rookidee knows love for the first time, and he needs more.


The flitter of air-light wings and the tip-tap smaller talon touching down on the rail pull Corvisquire from the memory making him see red. He snaps his head to the side, half-ready to eviscerate the offender with Steel Wing.

Next to him is Swablu, the dragon woman's Swablu. She looks up at him with unreadable black eyes.

"How did you find me? Speak or else." Corvisquire demands darkly.

"Does that really matter?" Swablu's voice is just as airy as her wings with a slight trill as if she might start singing. She blinks. "I won't tell if that's what you're worried about."

"Tch," the larger bird clicks his tongue. "Really now? Why come down here?"

"Just to talk," she answers easily. "I just want to know why?"

"Why?"

Swablu nods. "Why leave like that? Do you know how much you saddened Lee? Or how angry your teammates are?"

Something in Corvisquire's chest clenches when he thinks of the scarred man, but he scoffs at Swablu. "And I care, why?"

The smaller avian scooches closer, gently running her beak through Corvisquire's wing and preening several out-of-place feathers that Corvisquire didn't notice. When did that happen? "Well," Swablu pauses her preening. "Why stick around so long just to turn around and leave?"

"I simply needed food and shelter until it stopped being convenient." the crow sniffs.

Again, Swablu pauses, looking up at Corvisquire with surprise. "Are you assuming that the rest of us don't talk amongst ourselves?"

'What?' The larger of the two frowns. "What do you mean?"

"You may not talk to your team, but Marshtomp's team and my team do," the cotton-bird looks up at Corvisquire accusingly. "You agreed to let Lee give you a physical only to run away. Why?"

Frazzled, Corvisquire barks out the first deflection that comes to mind. "I don't like being touched. It was his fault for pressuring me."

"You only needed to refuse and the worst Lee would have done is ask again. He does so out of care, not maliciousness." Swablu says dryly. "And you claim to not like being touched, but let me preen you without issue."

Corvisquire jumps to the side as if burned, putting a foot between him and Swablu and turning to her with a glare.

"Is it only an issue when humans touch you?"

Corvisquire's wings darken into a steel-gray and take on a metallic luster, humming with thinly veiled danger, yet Swablu presses on. "Are you afraid to be loved?"

Swablu leaps and spreads her wings, only narrowly avoiding the Steel Wing that screeches through the fire-escape railing in a sloppy, rage-fueled cut.

"Don't speak about things of which you have no knowledge!" Corvisquire screams at the hovering Swablu, red leaking into the edges of his vision. "Don't you dare!"

Carefully, the other bird settles back on the railing a wary distance away. She peers up at the starry sky as she folds her wings. "You're not the only one who hurts, Corvisquire," she murmurs. "Zinnia has hurts, Lee has hurts, Vulpix has hurts, everyone does. You know this, especially about Lee." She gives him a hard stare. "You leaving has left him worse off."

The crow ignores the stab of pain in his heart.

"I know you care for Lee at least, so why won't you let him return the favor?" Swablu asks. When she gets no answer, she continues on. "One only needs to open themselves up to the love of others to heal." She spreads her wings. "If humans like Lee and Zinnia can move past the pain in their lives, if they can bravely open themselves to others after the things they suffered, why can't a strong pokemon like yourself?"

'I'm not brave, you fool.'

As she takes off into the night sky, Corvisquire watches her go, suddenly feeling lost. He spreads his wings and flies in the opposite direction, feeling how smoothly his preened wing cuts through the air, and how much the other one drags.

"Can you fly me to Littleroot? I want to make a grave for them, just a little one, so they're not forgotten."

"I need to evolve, I need the armor of a Corviknight," he mutters. "Then I'll go back, if only to fulfill that promise I stupidly made."

That night, he slept fitfully in a breezy tree, alone.