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"Okay, I think that's everything!"

Lee leans back against the headboard of his hotel bed, dropping the pen from his cramped right hand with a grimace.

Sitting across from him with her legs crossed, Zinnia grins and collects all the papers scattered across the surface of the bed. She shuffles through them, eyes gliding across Lee's chicken-scratch writing as she slowly nods.

On his own bed, Brendan sits holding his phone - eyes glued to the screen - with most of the trio's pokemon crowded around him. Swablu sits on his shoulder, Goomy upon his bare head, and Shroomish in his lap, with the rest crowded up at his sides. The volume on his phone is courteously set low, so as not to disturb Lee and Zinnia as they study, but Lee can still hear the sounds of a pokemon battle. The only pokemon missing are Corvisquire, who sits by the window watching the stormy, raining sky, and Shinx, who lays sleeping against Lee's leg.

For the last three days the dragon-tamer has quizzed Lee furiously on countless battle-scenarios, ranging from common encounters to once-in-a-lifetime hypotheticals. She challenged him constantly by dictating the pokemon in the scenarios, what moves they know, and what the terrain was like, only letting Lee pick his own team and moves on occasion. All of this in an effort to see what Lee's first thoughts were and to build a profile on his ideal form of battling. She broke up the theory-work with sparring matches where Lee was forced to work around restrictions, such as strictly using attacking moves, no telepathy with Vulpix, direct orders only, swapping teams, and battling against both her and Brendan at once.

'It's been... surprisingly professional. Part of her training as a Lorekeeper, perhaps?'

He also worked on rounding out Grovyle's limited-ranged capability with a Bullet Seed TM that ate into an unfortunate chunk of his savings. It still felt silly putting the button of Grovyle's pokeball into the hole of the TM and watching it spin until the whole disc cracked and crumbled away. Lee always thought that a special machine would be needed picturing a CD player with a slot for a pokeball on top... or something. As silly as it seemed, the results were hard to argue with as, sure enough, his pokemon was now able to spit seeds like a botanical machine gun.

When not training, Lee spent every moment getting Shinx settled in. The small waif of a kitten didn't take long to come out of her shell, and had explored the hotel room thrice-over by now. She tired out easily, but would never turn down any opportunity to play. With Slateport's robust market, it didn't take long to source electrically-insulated toys and top-grade Miltank milk to feed her with. Her physical examination was short, as she simply refused to sit still, but Lee found himself satisfied when the only defect he could find from her premature birth seeming to be her small size.

"Ever the methodical sort, eh, Dolittle?" Zinnia smiles over the papers in her hand. Looking back down, she scans the answers to all the proposed questions one more time with a nod. "Taking it slow and bleeding the foe dry before attacking. It's not a bad plan in most cases, but it falls apart when the other pokemon is too fast and aggressive to play keep-away with. Here is what I propose..." She lays the stack of papers down. "You need to keep training yourself to keep calm and formulate real plans rather than just reacting so you aren't caught on the back foot, or you need to train a dedicated bruiser or two to send in when shit gets crazy. Or both. Both would be best."

Lee frowns. "A dedicated bruiser, huh?" He glances over to Corvisquire, who is busy glaring through the window at a Wingull braving the storm, then to Grovyle, who sits with the other pokemon in a meditative stance rather than watch the battle playing on Brendan's phone. "I know who my prime candidates are, then."

"I thought so," Zinnia replies, a faintly-amused look on her face. "You've been getting better at working under pressure and not just reacting, which is great. You know when you should be using status moves and when to use raw attacks... for the most part. Switching gears between status moves and frontal fighting is still kinda clunky for you, though, so until you can instantly identify when you need to adjust, having a pokemon whose only job is to hit like a truck makes it easier."

"Makes sense..." Lee nods and raises his arms over his head in a mighty stretch, and groaning when he feels his back pop. "Gah, how long have we been here?"

The loud pop rouses the cub cuddled to his side. She blinks her luminescent yellow eyes and stands, arching her back in a stretch of her own, then she looks up at her trainer and paws at his hand when it comes down to rest by her. "Merow?"

"Did I wake you, baby girl?" Lee smiles, rubbing her chin with a finger, the small kitten leaning into his touch and starting to purr. The slight electric charge in her soft fur makes his finger tingle. "Sorry about that."

"We're probably not going to get in any meaningful training today..." Zinnia murmurs, looking out the window as the rain pounds against the glass. Standing, she grabs the remote for the hotel room's TV from the night stand and flips it on. After a moment of scrolling through the channels, she lands on the news and sits back down on the edge of the bed.

"-wers are expected to continue for the rest of the day and into the evening," A well-dressed anchorman on the TV smiles and waves a hand at the map of southern Hoenn behind him. On the map is a blobby mess of green indicating rain over the landscape with Slateport in the heart of it. "Tomorrow will be a muggy one, with highs in the upper eighties, so enjoy the cooldown while you can, everyone."

Brendan looks away from his phone and to the news with his brows furrowed and a frown set on his face. "What are we going to do all day if we can't go outside?"

'That's refreshing to hear a kid say, albeit in a rather depressing way.' Lee snickers and cups the underside of Shinx' head in his hand, petting her cheeks with his pinky and thumb. "R-and-R day it sounds like. Who wants to numb their brains with a movie and order take out?"

Both Brendan and Marshtomp jump up, scattering the other pokemon with a smattering of cries. Grovyle just barely ducks a startled snap of Mawile's jaws from the commotion. "Heck yeah! A break day sounds great! ... Not sure how we're going to get a movie working on this dinosaur, though." The boy points out, motioning to the rather dated CRT TV.

"Don't you worry your little head." Zinnia stands, walking over to the corner where she'd kicked her boots off, taking a moment to slip them back on. "There's a video store down the road not too far from here, so we won't have to be in the rain for very long." Walking over and tapping the old VCR under the TV.

"Places still sell tapes?" Brendan blinks.

After recovering from being so rudely roused by Brendan jumping up, Vulpix sniffs and hops back to Lee's bed away from Brendan's side. She then settles next to Shinx, pulling the cub's attention away from Lee.

When Lee first introduced Shinx to his team, a tiny part of him worried about conflict arising between her and Vulpix due to jealousy, but...

He watches as Shinx cuddles into Vulpix' warm side with a purr, and Vulpix responds by fanning her tails to cover Shinx' thin form. The vixen runs a careful eye over Shinx, then grooms a patch of mussed fur on the cub's head with her tongue, laying it flat. The baby pokemon's pleased purr only increases in volume, and she kneads the covers with her little needle-sharp claws.

...Lee feels a bit silly about his worries now. He hasn't felt even the slightest twinge of jealousy from Vulpix so far.

'Vulpix is a little too mature for games like that. She's a den mother at heart.' He smiles and mentally reaches out to Vulpix. 'You're the best, you know that?'

She gives him a sidelong glance along with an amused snort, and the little pulse of love she returns is wordless.

Out in the physical world, Zinnia turns and gives Brendan a befuddled look. "Yes. Yes, places still sell tapes. Is that actually surprising?"

"It carbon dates you pretty well, grandma." Brendan smirks. Said-smirk dies a grizzly death when Zinnia scowls and rushes over to pull the boy into a headlock. "Gack!" The Birch heir cries, clawing at the arm around his neck. "Lemme go! Marshtomp! Help!"

Marshtomp just stands on the bed and lets out great, croaking guffaws at his trainer's plight.

Shinx huddles further into Vulpix' side from the commotion, watching the going-ons with wide eyes and the fur on her back raised.

Lee shakes his head and gently strokes Shinx across her back, making a few quiet crackles of discharging static as she relaxes some. "Children, please. If you're going to rough-house, do it outside. You're making Shinx anxious."

Zinnia grumbles and lets Brendan go. Brendan, meanwhile, smiles down at the still wide-eyed Shinx. "Sorry about that, girl."

Shinx raises her head and flicks her tongue out to wet her nose, fear totally forgotten after hearing the apology.

'Already beginning to grasp tones and facial expressions,' Lee recalls a video lesson he watched from the Rustboro TS a week prior regarding the rearing of infant pokemon and how in-tune they are with the emotions of everyone around them. 'She should genuinely begin to learn English in the coming weeks.'

Zinnia pulls her pokeballs from her belt and holds them out, aiming at her three pokemon. "Alrighty guys and gal, I doubt you want to be in the rain, so return!"

In a flash of red, Shelgon, Goomy, and Swablu are brought back into their balls.

Brendan is next. He pulls the pokeballs from his belt hanging off the side of his bed and rolls their shrunken travel forms in his hand. "Anyone want to walk with us?"

Marshtomp lets out an affirmative croak, but Mawile hisses at the thought of the rain and Shroomish just shakes his head. Satisfied, Brendan expands their pokeballs and returns the two dissenting pokemon to storage.

Lee stands next, hands already reaching for his pokeballs. "Any takers?"

Vulpix wrinkles her muzzle at the thought of being in the rain. 'No'.

Grovyle shakes his head, and Corvisquire just lets his already dour expression deepen into a scowl.

Seeing the pokeballs being raised, Shinx lets out a mournful mewl and reaches a paw out, melting Lee's heart.

Something else he learned from the RTS online courses? How to care for infant Electric-type mammals. Lesson one was keep them away from water unless you want them to quickly and painfully master suppressing their excess charge.

"I'm sorry, baby girl. You're a little too young to be in the rain. You'll short out and hurt yourself..." The scarred man runs his hand across her head with a feather-light touch. "Maybe next time, okay?"

Before the kitten can protest, Lee returns all four of his pokemon in flashes of light. The sudden dulling of his connection to Vulpix is hesitantly accepted as he gives the psychic thread to her a tug, feeling a comforting tug back in response.

She's still there.

"C'mon boys!" Zinnia throws her cloak on and pulls the wide collar over her head like a hood, casting a shadow over her face. "Time's a-wastin!"

"Hang on!" Brendan complains, throwing his hat on lopsided and shouldering his backpack.

With all three trainers and the singular pokemon prepared, they leave the hotel and walk out into the downpour. It doesn't take long for Brendan, being the lightest dressed, to break into a sprint to try and avoid being soaked. Lee and Zinnia follow after him, while Marshtomp practically skips through the warm rain in delight.

It's only a minute or so of a sodden, splashing run before Zinnia points out the video store in question. "There!" She points a finger at a small, hole-in-the-wall shop in the corner of the block. "That's the place!"

The three trainers quickly file into the store, with Marshtomp remaining out in the street, enjoying the rainfall. The sudden chill of the air conditioning on Lee's wet shoulders makes him wish Vulpix was out of her ball to warm him up.

The inside of the store is small and devoid of customers other than them. Different racks of DVDs and VHS tapes line the walls, and a number of standing racks form aisles. The musty smell, humming fluorescent lights, and tinny music playing overhead is surprisingly nostalgic to Lee's senses.

Near the front of the shop, an older, balding man sits behind the register, leaned back in his creaky chair and snoring away, dead to the world as the rain batters the window behind him. Sitting by him on the counter, a Noctowl turns its head to regard Lee, Brendan, and Zinnia with its red eyes. "Who?"

"We're just browsing right now! Thanks!" Brendan gives the pokemon a friendly smile.

Noctowl bobs his head in what Lee assumes is a nod. "Whooo."

Looking around and following behind Brendan and Zinnia, Lee takes in all the foreign titles and pulls a few tapes from the shelf to inspect the covers. The faded cardboard cover of the tape in his hand has a pair of posing police officers in front of a cruiser, and hanging out of the car window is a panting Growlithe. The tape is titled with a very cheesy "Burning Justice". 'Some kind of buddy-cop drama?'

The more he inspects the tapes, the more it looks like all the movies feature pokemon in some main-character capacity, as expected. He pulls a few more to look at and turns them over to read the backs. One is a very disney-looking fantasy about a lost Cutiefly finding her way home, another is several episodes of anime packed into one tape (complete with an appropriately edgy-looking punk-dressed teen and Bisharp on the cover), and a third is an amusingly low-budget kung-fu flick featuring a Cacturn and Hitmonlee back-to-back, surrounded by various silhouetted humanoid pokemon, entitled "Spike Lee 4" in bold letters, with a caption at the bottom "The Enemy of my Enemy is my Enemy''

'Man, I'm going to look like I've lived under a rock my whole life.' Lee frowns. 'I don't know what any of these movies are. Come to think of it, I've never really stopped training or researching long enough to absorb any kind of Hoenn culture... other than pokemon.' He replaces the tapes and resumes following his companions. 'I'll have to correct that at some point.'

"I haven't seen some of these in years," Zinnia muses aloud, running a finger down the spine of a shelved tape and flicking the dust away. "The Tribe doesn't have much in the way of tech, so the old TV and VCR in the elder's house was always in use. Trips to the nearest town were pretty rare, but the runner always brought tapes back."

Brendan hums to himself in thought. "So you're some kinda film buff?"

"If it's older than thirty or so years, then I guess you could say that," Zinnia barks out a short laugh. "When my pokemon and I weren't beating ourselves into the ground training, we were at the elder's house on that TV. She had to chase us out pretty often."

"Huh..." Lee smiles, filing the interesting tidbit of information away. "Well, any recommendations?"

Zinnia grins. "As a matter of fact..." She flits from shelf to shelf, intently scanning over the titles of everything she finds. Sometimes she pulls tapes from unmarked cardboard sleeves only to quickly put them back. "Aha!" She snatches one sitting on a lonely corner and dusts it off. "I remember this one from when I was a little girl; a real classic. Take a look!"

Lee blinks at the colorful cover thrust into his face and takes a step back to properly look. When he does, his eyes widen a little.

The title of the movie is "Pokemon: Mystery Dungeon." On the cover is a Pikachu and a Piplup in matching blue neckerchiefs, both peering into a treasure chest with excitement. Behind them, a sinister, grinning shadow looms.

'That's a... Pretty extraordinary coincidence.'

"What's it about?" The zoologist asks, despite having an idea as to the answer.

"A girl wakes up one morning in a world with nothing but pokemon as a Pikachu, and she partners with a Piplup to make a rescue team," Zinnia fondly recounts, flipping the tape around to look at the cover herself. "I always thought that would be cool, to be a pokemon."

Brendan doesn't seem as impressed if his flat expression is anything to go by. "PMD is a kids movie, Zinnia."

"I know," the dragon tamer sniffs imperiously. "Perfect for a brat like you and a softie like Dolittle. This is my vote and I'm not changing it."

'Probably time for me to step in.'

"We can get more than one," Lee stops Brendan's retort before he and Zinnia can argue in the store. "We're going to be in all night, so may as well be sure we've got ample entertainment."

That seems to defuse Brendan instantly. He grins and passes Zinnia, beelining for a corner of the store labeled 'Horror'.

"You know he's going to pick out the most bloody, gore-filled thing he can find, right?" Zinnia dryly asks. "Then he's not going to be able to sleep."

"Perfectly honest?" Lee shrugs. "That's fine. It's what boys his age do. I'm just glad he didn't go to that section." He points behind Zinnia, who turns to follow his finger. "I don't think I could explain that to Birch."

Against the back wall and covered by a curtain is a narrow doorway, and pinned to the doorframe is a sign that says Adults Only.

The tanned woman can't help but hold a hand over her mouth and snort, stifling a fit of laughter as her face turns red from the effort, her shoulders shaking from mirth.

Brendan seems to find what he's looking for and plucks a tape from a shelf with a grin. "Got mine."

Lee nods, then turns and grabs the cheesy-looking kung-fu movie he was looking at earlier off the shelf. "Alrighty. Let's get moving before the storm gets worse."

The trio shuffles to the front of the store, where the shopkeeper is still fast asleep. Feeling only slightly foolish, Lee presents the tapes to Noctowl, who picks up a handheld scanner off to the side with obvious familiarity. With the scanner held in his talons, the owl scans all three tapes then bends down and taps a few keys on the register with his beak.

The card reader on the front lights up, and a swipe of his debit card later, Lee is 15 credits poorer.

The register spits out a receipt that Noctowl rips and offers to Lee with a hoot.

"Thanks," Lee smiles and pockets the paper before taking the tapes under his arm. Turning back to Brendan and Zinnia, he nods towards the door. "Any other stops? I'm just going to order dinner and have it brought to our room, so don't worry about food."

Brendan answers first with a shake of his head. "Nah. Let's just get back before..." He stops as he peers out of the glass door to the shop. "Where did Marshtomp go?"

Lee follows the younger trainer's eyes and scans the wet sidewalk, only to find no pokemon. "Not this again..."

Throwing open the door, Brendan steps out into the deserted, rainy street and swivels his head around, but his Marshtomp is nowhere to be found. "Marshtomp! Marshtomp! Hey! Where are you!?" His voice carries far despite the rain, but his starter does not appear.

With a groan, Lee hands the tapes under his arm to Zinnia and steps out after Brendan. "Head back to the hotel, I'll help Brendan."

"Don't have to tell me twice," she grins and stuffs the movies under her cloak. "I'll have some towels ready when you get back, cuz you're going to need them. Have fun in the storm, boys!"

Zinnia turns and runs back down to the hotel, each step kicking up a splash of water.

Lee throws the hood of his jacket up and follows Brendan, who is walking down the road calling for Marshtomp and peering into alleyways.

The pair of trainers travel eastward down the road, both calling for the lost pokemon. Only a few minutes into their search later, and a loud croak catches Lee and Brendan's attention.

Marshtomp appears from around a corner ahead, waving his arms and bellowing frantically.

Brendan sprints ahead, leaving Lee to run behind him trying to catch up. 'Why did Marshtomp just run off like that? Normally he's attached to Brendan at the hip.' Lee wonders.

Both trainers skid to a stop before Marshtomp, who warbles and takes Brendan's hand on one of his own.

"Hey, what are you-" The young Birch almost trips when his pokemon pulls him along. "Hey!"

Pulling his trainer's hand the whole way, Marshtomp leads Lee and Brendan down several blocks, and as they go, the surrounding buildings shift into industrial designs rather than hotels and shops. Finally, Marshtomp takes them down one final turn between two warehouses before letting go and stopping.

Before them stands the Slateport shipyard. Ships of all sorts, cruise ships, freighters, fishing vessels, just too many to count. They dot the water in various states of repair. Large drydocks bearing half-complete vessels that can't hold their own in the water, and warehouses hanging over the water containing who-knows-what. Only a few dock-workers scurry to and fro in the storm, hurrying to get between buildings. A ship's horn blows from out on the water, and the noise combined with the dreary vista of the rain-drenched shipyard makes Lee's spine tingle.

Marshtomp croaks and points to the nearest warehouse, marked with a large 3, and Lee sees just what has Marshtomp so worked up.

Off to the side of the large bay doors on warehouse 3 is a small man door with three people around it. Two stand at the door fumbling with something while a third sits on the wet ground against the side of the warehouse for some reason. With the heavy rainfall, it's near impossible to make out any details of the three.

Marshtomp lets out an urgent growl. He steps behind both trainers and gives them a nudge before squeezing between them and taking point again.

"We're goin' pal, don't worry." Brendan assures with a hand raised in a pacifying manner. "Did you follow these people all the way here?"

The mudfish pokemon nods with an impatient croak.

"C'mon, Lee. If Marshtomp is this upset, it's got to be worth looking into."

Lee just frowns as he takes in the strange scene in the distance. "Alright, sure..." He quietly mutters, and after a second of deliberation, he palms Grovyle's ball and rolls it between his fingers.

The trio crosses the street and walks to the warehouse, where the two people at the man door are too engrossed in their work to notice them, and the third one sitting against the wall seemingly asleep in the downpour doesn't stir.

As they finally get within fifty feet or so of the warehouse, Lee realizes something that makes his hand clench around Grovyle's ball.

The third person, a dockworker in a blue jumpsuit and hard hat, isn't sleeping against the building. No, he's knocked out. The ugly bruise across the left side of his face makes it obvious why he's slumped over.

Brendan's eyes widen when he notices, then his eyes shoot to the pair by the door with a scowl. "It's you two again!"

Both men by the door stiffen and look over their shoulders.

The first one, a tall, muscular man with a plain face and a scar on his chin, scowls when he sees Brendan and Marshtomp.

The second man is shorter with a bearded face and narrow eyes that only narrow further when he sees the trainers behind him. He turns just enough that Lee can see the electronic card lock on the door, now devoid of a faceplate and exposing the wires inside. One wire leads from the lock to a thick, phone-like device in the man's hand.

But the thing that stands out most about them is their blue bandanas, each one boldly emblazoned with an "A" stylised to look like bones.

'Team Aqua...' Lee feels himself sweat even through the pouring rain.

"Take your friend and fuck off, kid!" The first man raises a fist. "This is your only warning."

"You know these two?" Lee quickly asks, not taking his eyes off of the gang members.

Brendan crosses his arms and glares right back at the Aqua grunts. "Yeah, they were loitering around here a few days ago when I was on the way to the Slateport museum, and they kept coming back after the dock workers told them to buzz off. Looks like they were staking the place out for a robbery." The Birch heir steps forward with Marshtomp taking an eager ready stance in front of him. "Both of you give up! In my capacity as a Hoenn Lab Trainer, you're both under arrest for assault and attempted breaking and entering!"

Both Aqua grunts share a look, then as one, they reach into their pockets and draw pokeballs.

Lee hisses out a sigh when he realizes that Brendan intends to drag them both into a fight. "Grovyle! Get ready!" He throws the ball in his hand out, and in a flash of light, the wood gecko pokemon takes form beside Marshtomp with his arms crossed and eyes closed.

'Bruiser, remember. Don't worry about status right now.' The zoologist catches Grovyle's pokeball in his slick fingers when it flies back to him. "Don't hold back, Grovyle!"

Both thugs throw their scuffed pokeballs without any fanfare, and from them emerge a Corphish and a Poochyena.

The Corphish, which resembles a two-foot-tall lobster with large, cartoonishly blank bug-eyes, scowls and burbles, scuttling forward on his six lobster legs and brandishing his pincers at Marshtomp and Grovyle. Lee can't readily recall what signs point to a healthy crustacean and abandons the notion of sizing the lobster up.

The Poochyena, meanwhile, stands steady with his hackles raised, growling loud enough to be heard over the rainfall. His fangs and red eyes gleam in the poor light. While not unhealthy, the pokemon is smaller than average.

'We should probably separate them and pick them off one on one. These pokemon don't look terribly impressive, but if they have decent teamwork, then this could turn into a slog.'

Lee and Brendan meet eyes for a second, and Brendan's small smirk tells Lee he already knows the plan that the older trainer is thinking of. "Marshtomp! Scatter them with Watergun!"

"Grovyle, Feint Attack!" Lee orders a second later, eyes trained on Corphish. "You know who to target!"

Before the Aqua grunts or their pokemon can process the orders of the trainers across from them, Marshtomp's throat swells with water, then he spits a pillar of water like a missile at the asphalt between Corphish and Poochyena.

Poochyena's eyes bug out, and the Dark-type canine just barely manages to jump to the side and out of the way. Corphish, however, is caught in the explosion of water and ripped-up asphalt, which throws him off of his feet like a ragdoll. The lobster pokemon hits the ground and scrapes his shell across it painfully.

No one notices Grovyle's form flickering and vanishing in the excitement.

"Poochyena! Howl and then Bite Marshtomp!" The short, bearded grunt yells.

The muscular grunt's eyes shoot wide open when he sees an invisible shape displacing the rain behind his pokemon. "Corphish, look out behind you!"

The taller grunt's Corphish jumps to his feet and turns on a dime. His lobster claws glow a faint blue and one rises just in time to close around a three-fingered reptilian hand crackling with Dark energy. A moment later, Feint Attack's invisibility fails, and Grovyle melts back into the world. Both pokemon strain against each other, but remain in a deadlock. Grovyle's face is still cool even with the pincer crushing his forearm.

'Not making this mistake twice.' Lee smiles. "Bullet Seed!"

"Fuck! Corphish! Harden!" The grunt trainer counters with gnashed teeth.

Corphish throws Grovyle's arm to the side in a burst of strength, then lets the glow around his claws fade as his shell stiffens and shines as if polished.

Grovyle doesn't stumble at all from having Feint Attack deflected and instead whirls around in a full 360-degree turn, using the momentum given to him by Corphish. He digs his hind claws into the ground and skids to a stop with his maw open wide, then with a sound like a fully automatic pistol, Grovyle unleashes a point-blank Bullet Seed.


The seeds ping off of Corphish's hardened armor with more than a few loudly ricocheting away, leaving scuffs and scratches. Several super-effective seeds hit dead-center, cracking and denting his shell despite Harden, leaving the lobster pokemon reeling. Grovyle looses a final salvo before finally ending his attack, battering Corphish and pushing him back several inches.

Lee takes his eyes off his battle to glance at Brendan's. He's just in time to see the bearded grunt's poor Poochyena take a skull-rattling uppercut from Marshtomp, sending the canine off his paws and up into the air.

"Seismic Toss!"

Before Poochyena can fly away from the uppercut, Marshtomp's other hand shoots up and wraps around one of the Dark-type's hindlegs, stopping him cold. Then with a savage laugh, Marshtomp throws Poochyena down and spikes the unfortunate wolf off the asphalt. Poochyena hits the unforgiving ground with such force that all the air is driven from his lungs in a single explosive wheeze. Behind him, his trainer's face twists in sympathetic pain.

So far, the only injury Marshtomp has is a bite mark on his leg that is just barely bleeding.

"Damn it all, Corphish! Do something!" The taller grunt screams, dread beginning to form on his face. "Back up and use Bubblebeam! Spread it out!"

Slowly leaking ichor from his wounds, Corphish grimaces and hops backwards. He takes a breath as his mouth glows Water-blue.

'Trying to make some distance? I don't think so,' Lee shakes his head. "Detect, then close the gap with Quick Attack!"

Corphish breathes out a wide stream of gleaming, fist-sized bubbles at Grovyle. The lizard pokemon smirks and dances around each bubble, sometimes with only an inch to spare. The wood gecko's eyes, glowing with Detect, leave ghostly trails of yellow in his wake. The missed bubbles slow down as they fly and explode behind Grovyle without effect.

The Water-type strains himself to keep the Bubblebeam going, but after several seconds he begins to shake and his claws sag with fatigue. The instant the Bubblebeam begins to falter, Grovyle cloaks himself in the white aura of Quick Attack and moves as a blur of green, blowing away the water around his feet from the force.

"Leaf Blade!"

"Corphish! Move!"


The Aqua grunt's cry is half a second too late, as a Leaf Blade cruelly cuts into his Pokemon's back, cleanly cutting through Corphish's shell and drawing blood.

Corphish stumbles forward with a weak chitter, then finally falls face-first to the ground as his legs give out. He goes limp and pants harshly.

Lee grins. "Good work as usual, Grovyle."

The Grass-type crosses his arms, being just the slightest bit ginger with his bruised wrist, and shifts the twig in his mouth dismissively. Both he and Lee turn to watch the end of Marshtomp's fight.

"No no no! Shit!" The taller grunt presses his back against the door behind him when he sees his pokemon fall. He turns to his partner and shakes the bearded man's shoulder frantically. "We've gotta run!"

"Take Down!"

"Run fucking where?!" The other gangster screams back, and taking his eyes off the battle proves to be a mistake. His Poochyena freezes up in fright when Marshtomp bullrushes him like a train.

Marshtomp smashes into the dark-furred canine in a full-body Take Down, lifting Poochyena up and throwing him back-first into the side of the warehouse with a pained cry. The little wolf's head rebounds off the wall, and he falls to the ground like a sack filled with rocks, out cold.

The bearded Aqua grunt looks between Marshtomp, Grovyle, Brendan, Lee, then his knocked out pokemon with his face going pale.

With the battle over and the elation of a win quickly passing, Lee takes a single step forward with a scowl. "Both of you, on your knees with your hands up. You're finished."

For a moment it looks as if the pair might bolt, then the shorter of the two lets out a shaking sigh and drops to his knees before raising his hands high.

It only takes a growl from Marshtomp to get the larger grunt to quickly drop and give in.

Just 20 minutes later, the shipyard is lit up with the flashing blue and red lights of parked police cruisers and a single ambulance.

"-and that's about everything..." Lee recounts, watching as the now conscious dockworker is checked over by the paramedics parked nearby. He rolls Grovyle's occupied pokeball in his hand as he talks. "They complied until the first units showed up for an official arrest, one of your guys bagged 'em and tagged 'em, and you know the rest."

Standing before him and Brendan with another officer holding an umbrella for her is Slateport's Officer Jenny, who nods as she jots down Lee's statement in a PD marked notebook. "That's about what I expected..." The woman murmurs with a frown. "We've picked these two up for loitering before, but this is the first time they've really messed enough up to warrant anything other than a catch and release," she sighs and pockets her pen and notebook. "The gang affiliation and sudden willingness to get violent are worrying, too. I didn't think a radical eco group could go this far."

'It's going to get worse before it gets better...' Lee thinks to himself. 'I should shoot Professor Birch an email or something about this. He might be able to pressure his guy in the League after another run-in like this.'

"What's in this warehouse that would drive those guys to assault someone and try to break in?" Brendan crosses his arms and taps his foot. "If these Aqua guys are like that Magma gang, then they're after something for some kinda environmentalist end, right?"

The officer holding the umbrella for Jenny clears his throat. "If I may? A few of these enclosed docks are owned by Captain Stern, and may house submarines and the special deep-sea equipment to go with them. They may have been looking to steal one."

"Possible, but we'll need to interrogate them before we know for certain." Officer Jenny reaches a white-gloved hand into her pocket and withdraws a plastic bag with EVIDENCE emblazoned on the front. Inside is the thick, glass-screened device one of the Aqua thugs was using to hack the lock to the warehouse door. "What I want to know is where they got an electronic lock decrypter. These things are expensive, too expensive for low level gangsters to realistically get, and this one is bleeding edge! The door was unlocked when we disconnected it."

Lee smiles inwardly and seizes the chance Jenny just gave him. "Realistically? They have a wealthy benefactor... or Aqua is something more sinister than just a gang of disgruntled hippies. I'd keep an eye on them, officer, and spread the word to other PDs and agencies to be wary. Who knows what their ultimate goals might be."

Jenny's eyes narrow just the slightest amount. "A rather strong warning, Mr. Henson. Is there something you're not saying?"

"Lee is just a professional worrywart, don't sweat it," Brendan cuts in with a smirk aimed at Lee. "We smoked their pokemon easy, so they're probably nothing worth stressing over."

'And Brendan undoes my work...' Lee holds back a sigh when Jenny relaxes.

"Well, either way, you boys are free to go, and thank you for stepping in this evening." Jenny smiles. "You should head back to wherever you're staying the night and get a change of clothes before you two catch a cold."

"I can't believe you guys went and got into trouble without me..."

As the end credits of Lee's chosen movie begin to run, Zinnia sulks from her place laying belly-down on Lee's bed. "You could have called me or something," she grumbles, lifting her head out of her hands to look back.

Lee himself sits against the headboard, clad in a sleeveless shirt and sweats. In his lap, Shinx greedily drinks from a warmed bottle of milk held in his hand. "They weren't that strong," the scarred man replies, raising his eyes away from his pokemon to Zinnia. "No grand plans, no employing anything you taught me, just a one-two punch for Grovyle's opponent to go down, and Marshtomp brutalized that poor Poochyena like it was nothing. I think if I called you in for backup, you'd complain about having to be out in the rain for a lackluster battle."

"Maybe," she sniffs and turns her ruby eyes back to the TV.

"Maybe?" Brendan parrots from his bed, surrounded by his pokemon and bundled tightly in nothing but underwear and blankets. The shivering boy blinks incredulously and pulls the covers around him a little tighter. "I froze to the bone out there! It sucked!" He whines. "I think you would have hated it even more!"

Lee just rolls his eyes. Looking back down, he sees Shinx beginning to slow her suckling, and once she comes to a stop, he pulls the almost-empty nipple-capped bottle away from her without any protest. "All done, baby girl?" He asks, setting the bottle on the nightstand.

"Mrrrrew?" Shinx stretches out on Lee's folded legs and rolls to her side, wiggling in delight when a hand comes down to rub her full belly.

The sight alone is enough to make Lee grin. When he lightly drums two fingers on Shinx' middle, she mewls and bats at them with her paws, zapping his hand with little static arcs making quiet *pop pop* sounds.

A sleepy snort drags his attention away from Shinx over to Vulpix, who lays asleep, napping for the third time today.

'Why is she sleeping so much?' Lee's smile slowly falls. 'I know she insists that she's fine, and she's not ill, but what is going on? Is she not getting enough sleep at night? She's not been irritable or anything.' He mulls over the quandary. 'Maybe..?'

Slowly and with as much finesse as he can, Lee reaches across the psychic tether to his fox, then lightly touches her sleeping mind. He worms past the dull shell of sleep around her brain and peers inside.

A barrage of jumbled confusion and uncertainty not his own ricochets around his skull instantly, and Lee has to suppress a wince from the sudden headache that blooms behind his eyes. The feelings are so strong yet so vague that he cannot even assign proper words to most of what Vulpix' unconscious mind feeds him. It's like hearing a language humans cannot hope to reproduce with their vocal chords blasting at jet-engine volume, but in the deluge of psychic noise, Lee hears one thing that stands out in sharp contrast despite being near inaudible.

'Why am I?'

Lee pulls his mind away from his dreaming Vulpix' as if burned. The tiny hole in her hazy mind he gained entry with closes, leaving his brain blessedly quiet once more.

He doesn't really notice Brendan's movie come and pass, too lost in thought to care.

''Why am I?' What did she mean? Why were those words so clear?'

'Two Aquas got picked up by the cops in Slateport. They were stopped and beaten by a pair of powerful trainers before they could bust open dockside warehouse 3. They were likely after sub parts. Agents are keeping an eye on the area to acquire the sub parts for Magma's use.'

Courtney, right hand of Magma Leader Maxie, rereads the curt report on her laptop screen before standing from her desk. Slowly, the short woman paces around her office.

The Magma Admin's office is spartan at her own request, being little more than a side-cave in the hideout of Team Magma. Her desk, computer, full file cabinets, a stack of books, a bed, and a few personal effects are the only things the purple-haired admin keeps. Once Maxie's plan comes to fruition, then she can allow herself frivolous luxuries.

Courtney's blank eyes, the same hue as her hair, narrow slightly.

The attached video file showed her the battle the Aquas got into, but in reality it was more of a curb stomp. The pair of grunts were par for the course, each with a single pokemon of low to middling ability. They were no better or worse than any of Magma's foot soldiers.

But the speed at which they were flattened left Courtney with a raised eyebrow.

It took only a cursory search to find out that the older trainer, a fearsome man with an equally fearsome Grovyle, is Researcher Lee Henson.

All of his battles on Battlenet showed Courtney a curious hodgepodge of battle-styles and powerful pokemon. A Vulpix, a Grovyle, and a Corvisquire, all of whom hitting freakishly above their weight class. If the Magma admin didn't know better, she would swear that the Vulpix was some sort of pyrokinetic from the intense power and control of her Fire attacks. Despite becoming a trainer so late in life, the man has already defeated two Gym Leaders and boasts an unreal win/loss ratio. The real number of wins could be much higher, as unless one films all of their own battles, many are usually missed.

Returning to her desk, Courtney takes the worn mouse and tabs back over to Henson's Battlenet profile. The scarred, faintly frowning visage on her screen seemed to glare at her, daring her to do something.

Lee Henson is dangerous, and any one of his pokemon would cut swathes through Magma's foot soldiers. Already he's putting his nose where it doesn't belong, even if his actions today benefited Magma.

Dangerous or no, if he dares to interfere with the plan, Courtney will remove him from the picture.

The next trainer, however, interests her much more.

Brendan Birch, the son of Nigel Birch.

The boy is a prodigy, plain and simple. He dominates nearly all of his battles with a brutal cunning hidden behind a bright smile. He takes his time, and knows that sometimes ground must be given before more can be taken. His mind and his pokemon are constantly being honed by the grindstone that is Lee Henson, and only a few short months into his career, he's already toppling Gym Leaders.

The admin navigates to a saved link on her laptop, opening the Battlenet profile of young Birch. She watches the latest battle with what is reported to be his newest pokemon, a Mawile.

Once again, he plays his opponent like a fiddle.

Birch's foe, a trainer in his late teens, sends out a Torkoal, which should have been a clear indicator of who was going to win from type-advantage alone.

Less than two minutes later, Mawile wins with only minor burns to show for it. Mawile uses Attract then feigns fright at Birch's direction to lure the unsuspecting Torkoal closer despite the other trainer's commands to stay put. A sudden, critical Bite right to the head puts Torkoal out of commission.

Brendan Birch battles like she does, and such skill has taken her to the position of Admin in Magma.

They are alike, and thus both can help change everything for the better of humanity. Both can help make Maxie's plan to save the world a reality.

Slowly closing her laptop, Courtney stands and throws the red hood of her uniform over her purple hair.

"...There are arrangements to be made..." She mutters to herself, her feet guiding her to her Leader's office.