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Standing in a circle drawn on the Dewford beach sand, up-and-coming Dark Type master Andre waits impatiently for his dopy opponent to return. In his hand, Absol's shrunken pokeball rolls between his fingers in a dance mastered during idle moments such as this.

This Ash kid is just like the rest. It's all just some piddly little sport to them, something to laugh and have fun with. People like him will never make it into the upper echelons; the Elite. Both people and Pokemon are creatures that thrive in hardship, and they magnify each other when together, this Andre knows. The joy of being bigger, being better, is beyond trainers like this kid.

The teen ceases rolling Absol's ball in his hand and presses the button, making the ball expand with a quiet whurr. Inside, he can almost feel Absol eagerly stir, still riding the high of a victory so rightfully deserved over Brawly.

Damn that beach-bum bastard. Damn Brawly for stifling him and keeping him here for so many years. It's criminal how a privileged shit like Brawly can just do whatever he wants, riding around on his borrowed power like he owns the island. Worse yet, everyone else follows him blindly, gladly giving into the manipulation of power behind a pretty-boy smile. He still fell to Andre and his team, though. After years of struggle, Absol clashed with Hariyama again, and this time the outcome was different.

Years ago, Andre regretted his choice to run away to Dewford, but now that they've overcome such an incredible obstacle? Nothing can stand in their way. They did it. Now begins their real journey, and for the first step? The maroon-haired boy turns and stares into the setting sun, knowing it's a precursor to the bright morning where he leaves Dewford behind.

He'll beat all the Gym Leaders.

He'll win Ever Grande.

He'll find and shred Henson.

Then finally, Andre will battle the one person he wants to battle above all. The man who set himself up for ruin by being a liar.

Absol will be that ruin. He and Andre have struggled together for years, and now it's time to taste the sweet fruits of their labor.

Only people who stand up and grow from adversity can truly be called strong. Who knows? Maybe this Ash kid won't be a total disappointment. Maybe he'll learn that only through struggle do you become great. There's no place for anyone who takes shortcuts or doesn't give their all in a pokemon battle.

Hearing feet shuffling through the sand, Andre turns to face the Dewford boardwalk and smirks.

Ash is approaching, still wearing a petulant glower that the Pikachu on his shoulder mirrors. Behind him follow a few other people, probably his friends. A brunette girl in a bandana who looks to be somewhere between 10 and 12 years old, a young boy in glasses, and a tanned teen roughly Andre's age.

"Ash, are you sure about this?" The girl asks, her voice betraying her nervousness as she looks at Andre. "Do you need to settle everything with a battle?"

"I think we already know the answer to that one, May." The little boy wearing glasses dryly quips. "Is this the guy, Ash?" He asks, pulling a Pokenav from his pocket and flipping it open.

Ash doesn't answer his friends, instead stepping up the edge of the ring. "Alright, Andre. I'm ready," He says, words and stance firm.

Andre can't help it. He smirks. "Hah. I have my doubts. Tell me this, who are you going to battle with? A Nuzleaf? A Corphish? Pick any pokemon you want, it won't matter." The teen crosses his arms, tapping Absol's ball with a finger. "Whatever you do, you best give it your all."

The younger trainer has the gall to smirk back. "If it's my best you want, then I choose Pikachu!"

The Electric-type leaps from Ash's shoulder into the sand-circle, landing on all-fours with his tail raised alertly. His cheeks spark with gold arcs of electricity. "Pikaaa…" The rodent pokemon eagerly bounces in place, a leer on his face.

"A Pikachu? Really?" Andre holds back a snicker. "Sure, bud. Okay."

To the kid's credit, the Pikachu looks healthy and fit. Andre can't claim to know much about the Kanto-native rodents other than their depressing tendency to get chunky when kept as pets… and how people like showing off their overweight Pikachus online. 'Honestly, the League can't do a fucking thing right. Why not use some of that grossly overblown power to take pokemon away from abusive people like that?'

"Let's see your pokemon, then." Ash challenges, crossing his arms.

Behind him, the younger boy with the Pokenav blinks and gulps. "Uh oh… Ash might be in trouble…"

"What? Why?" The girl, May, leans over the boy's shoulder to look at the little device. "Max? What's wrong?" She asks as the tanned, squinty teen leans over to look too.

Max holds his Pokenav up. "According to Battlenet, this guy Andre is one of the best trainers in Dewford! His only big loss was against Mister Henson a few weeks ago!"

Hearing Henson's name makes Andre's smirk falter, but he powers through the anger that wants to surface.

"Apparently, he's one of the few people to ever defeat Brawly's strongest Hariyama, and he's a Dark-type master. He beat a Fighting Gym with a type disadvantage!" Max blinks and readjusts his glasses. "Ash can't win this! This guy is just a bully goading him into a meat-grinder!"

The tall, tanned teen places a hand on Max's shoulder. "Easy, Max. Don't doubt Ash now. He's the best trainer there is when it comes to turning a bad situation around." He looks up and stares at Ash's back. "He's got three league challenges and twenty badges under his belt, something Andre can't boast about."

'Three leagues and twenty badges?' When the math doesn't add up, Andre easily dismisses the claim as a lie and sneers. "False bravado for your pal will go nowhere fast." Andre uncrosses his arms and resumes rolling Absol's ball in his hand as he returns his attention to Ash. "You've heard the odds. You gonna run away?"

"As if!" Ash answers, his smirk transforming into an eager smile. "No way we're going to back down from a battle like this, right buddy?" He asks his pokemon.

"Pika!" Pikachu smiles back and sparks even more vigorously, making little beads of glass when the gold arcs coming off of him zap the sand.

Andre clicks his tongue and tosses Absol's ball up high. "We'll see how long that lasts."

Dark-type is unlike the others, a type plebeians like these don't understand. To most, dark just means the absence of light, and by association, the absence of good things like security and warmth. That's wrong. Dark is the type of raw emotion, the type of being true to oneself and not shying away from urges others cringe at. Things that are natural.

The red-and-white pokeball spins high in the air, then splits open with a pop-hiss. From the ball, white light shoots out and strikes the sand. As the light begins to fade, Absol's ghostly white form is left crouching in the circle. Just like they rehearsed, Absol rises and raises his head, and when at his full height, he snaps his blood-red eyes open and trains them on Pikachu. In the air, Andre can feel his partner's hostility.

Both the mouse and his trainer look spooked for a second before swiftly hiding it.

Dark-type is unlike the others, it's the type of violence.

And that's okay.

"Ready?" Andre asks simply, already forming a plan in his mind.

"Ready!" Ash clenches a fist.

Andre bends down and picks up a shell from the sand, then tosses it up into the air.

Ash, Andre, Pikachu, Absol, Ash's friends, and the beach-goers watching in the distance all watch the shell slowly tumble through the air, making its way back down to the ground in what seems like slow motion.

Ten feet.




The shell splashes in the sand with a soft thud.

"Night Slash!"


The commands come out at the same time, so Pikachu and Absol blur into action as one.

Absol crosses the circle as a phantasmal flicker of white, his scythe blade leaving a trail of dark purple behind him, but to Andre's astonishment, Pikachu dodges.

The mouse pokemon leaps straight up nearly thirty feet, there one moment and gone the next, leaving Absol's blade to slide through nothing. Hearing the sound of crackling electricity, Absol looks up, his eyes going wide.

The sparks wreathing Pikachu grow into an angry, snapping halo of yellow. The wind-up of the Thunderbolt takes less than a second, but both Absol and Andre are given just enough time to see Pikachu's confident smile. "Piiikaaa..!"

Absol's eyes glow bright.


A pillar of lightning shoots down so fast that it's halfway to the ground before Absol throws himself out of range. When it hits the ground, molten sand explodes out in a hail of glowing red, forcing Absol to juke around globs of hot glass lest he be forced to fight with savage burns. The Disaster pokemon is pushed all the way back to Andre's side of the circle, where he stands and waits warily.

Pikachu throws his hind legs out, somersaulting through the air and landing lightly right next to the smoldering, glassed crater left behind by his Thunderbolt. The glass groans and crackles as it cools and slowly cracks. The crater is just as big as the one made by..!

'By that explosion attack Henson's Vulpix fired off…' Andre blinks, not trusting what his eyes are showing him. 'But that Vulpix needed so much time to charge up while that Thunderbolt was instantaneous.' He rubs his eyes, but the shiny divot in the sand remains.

"Keep the momentum going, Pikachu!" Ash capitalizes on Andre's astonishment, dramatically punching a fist out as he orders; "Give him a taste of Quick Attack!"

Rather than a wispy aura, Pikachu's Quick Attack manifests as a rolling mantle of white. "Pika…" Pikachu's legs tense like coiled springs, and that's all the warning Absol gets before the electric mouse pokemon is a bullet of yellow streaking towards him, faster than any pokemon they've ever fought before. Andre is used to keeping track of his pokemon in motion, but Pikachu is little more than a formless blur that he nearly loses.

Absol's eyes shine with Detect, but even then, Andre watches his partner duck with only inches to spare. Pikachu's Quick Attack flares as he misses, then the mouse halts midair and... lets his attack fade?

Why isn't he pressing the offensive?

Pikachu lands on all-fours in the sand, turning and looking back at Ash for a new command.

"Your Absol is really fast!" Ash compliments, again wearing that stupid grin. "But it'll take more than that to come back from the defensive we've got you on! Pikachu! Thunderbolt again!"

Pikachu once more begins to spark violently, forks of lightning making a light show in the waning sunlight. "Pika…"

'Who the fuck is this kid?!' Andre thinks to himself. "Absol, Double Team!"

Absol's eyes narrow, and right before Pikachu can fire his Thunderbolt, flickering copies of the Disaster pokemon appear from seemingly nowhere all over Andre's side of the field. Each one wears the same impassive expression and stares down at Pikachu with thinly veiled distaste.

"...Chu?" Pikachu's Thunderbolt is withheld as the mouse pokemon looks between all the illusions with worry and confusion.

"Oh no, Not Double Team. I hate this move..." Ash looks at all the Absol clones with the same uncertainty as his pokemon. "Which one?"

'Fast enough to nearly tag Absol with detect, and strong enough to instantly glass sand, but Double Team trips them up?' Andre almost trips over himself at just how absurd this kid is. He won't call out the mistake, however, as he sees Absol slink between his illusions to get an angle on his foe.

"Ash!" The tall, tanned teen standing behind the kid cups his hands around his mouth and yells. "Don't worry about picking the right one! Sweep an attack through them all! Absol can dish out a lot of damage, but they're fragile!"

"Fuck off, peanut gallery!" Andre growls back, making the girl, May, scowl and cover Max's ears with her hands. The Dark trainer returns his attention forward. "Night Slash!"

Absol explodes into action, running from his crowd of fading doppelgangers and circling around to Pikachu's back, scythe blade in motion without any dramatic flourish.

Pikachu's ears twitch, his eyes widen, and he instinctively springs away back to Ash's side of the field, escaping with only a shallow gash along his back.

"Pikachu!" Ash exclaims, his brown eyes alarmed. "Are you alright?"

Pikachu turns to face Ash, presumably to answer, but Andre can't resist punishing the rookie mistake. "Night Slash!"

In a flash of white, Absol is in front of Pikachu just as the mouse's head is looking away. Absol growls and throws his neck out, his scythe-like horn whistling through the air and trailing with hazy purple Dark energy.


Pikachu stumbles back as Absol leaps back out of retaliation range. A weeping cut opens up diagonally across Pikachu's chest, and his yellow fur quickly begins to stain red.

"Pikachu!" Ash's anguished voice carries over the whole beach. Behind him, all of his friends gasp as one. The girl even raises her hands to cover her mouth.

Pikachu rocks back, almost falling, but shakes his head and grits his teeth, remaining standing despite the wound that would have made a pokemon twice his size pass out. "Piiika!" He exclaims, falling back to all-fours with his red cheeks sparking dangerously.

"Pikachu, are you okay to keep going?" Ash asks, this time not taking his eyes off of Absol.

Slowly, Pikachu nods. Much like Ash, he keeps his gaze forward and trained on his opponent.

"That was a dirty trick!" The Kanto-born trainer points an accusing finger at Andre, quickly making his ire rise. "Why'd you have Absol attack Pikachu when his back was turned?!"

Andre narrows his eyes, silently wondering if Ash is serious. "Matches don't pause, idiot. Double Team again!" The black-clad boy smiles nastily. "Then Swords Dance!"

Behind Ash, the tanned teen's eyes widen, though only slightly. "That's not good…"

Max looks up to the taller boy with a tilted head. "What's Swords Dance, Brock?"

The now-named Brock crosses his arms and frowns. In the light of the setting sun, the sweat on his brow is plain to all. "Swords Dance is a move that provides a huge boost to physical attack power. Not many pokemon can learn it, and even fewer can use it well. If they mess up with the boost, then they might hurt themselves. That's to say nothing about pokemon strong enough to use the move in quick succession."

May gulps. "So that means…"

"Absol just got even more dangerous," Brock trails off.

'Brock, huh? He knows his stuff.' Andre wonders where he's heard the name before, but shrugs and returns his attention to the battle.

Back in the ring, illusionary clones of Absol form all over the field, each one flickering and staring at Pikachu with a frown. Around each clone, swords made of pure shining blue begin to take form. From the ethereal swords, orb-like motes of energy flow out of them and into Absol, making the Dark-type hunch his back and growl as might floods into him. His muscles bulge, his pupils dilate, and his scythe glitters with a deadly edge.

"Go! Quick Attack into Night Slash!"

An aura of bleached white explodes from Absol's body as his Double Team fades away, and with a small, sinister smirk, the Dark-type moves. With Quick Attack on top of his natural speed…

'Nothing short of ExtremeSpeed can match him.' Andre watches his pokemon move in for the knockout as a near-invisible wisp of bone-colored fur.

"Intercept with Iron Tail!" Ash orders without any time to spare.

Even with his bleeding wound slowing him, Pikachu growls and whirls around in a circle, his flat tail shining like polished steel. His tail cuts through the air like a blade, whistling through its arc.


The Pikachu catches Absol's scythe on his tail.

'What the hell?' Andre watches on, lost as Pikachu and Absol each struggle to overpower the other. Absol strains his legs and neck, trembling as he pushes down on his smaller foe with all his might.

Pikachu is trembling even more, slowly losing the power struggle as Absol pushes him back. His small feet don't give him enough grip in the sand, so he loses a bit of ground each second even as he pushes back with his tail. The mouse pokemon squeaks and whines as he loses focus on Iron Tail, letting Absol slowly cut into him. Sensing the weakness, Absol pushes even harder, determined to slice Pikachu to ribbons.

"Hang in there, buddy!" Ash calls from the sideline, his face schooled into determination. "Deflect him and counter!"

Ash's voice seemingly drags more willpower out of his Pikachu, because the Electric-type cries out and swipes his tail to the side, overpowering the Swords Dance-fueled Absol just long enough to disengage. With Absol's failed attack thrown wide, Pikachu flips backward, Iron Tail aimed to brutally smash right into Absol's chin.

The Dark-type's eyes glow with Detect just as Andre taught him, so he leans back just enough for Iron Tail to tickle the short, velvet fur of his face before leaping back to a safe distance.

"Double Team and Swords Dance again!" Andre orders the instant Absol's paws touch down in the sand. 'Not bad, kid. Your Pikachu is actually pretty strong, but you're still nothing compared to Absol and I.'

"A second Swords Dance?!" Ash's eyes bug out.

Like the previous two times, intangible clones of Absol appear all over the sandy ring, hiding the real Absol in their number. Again, shining swords of blue energy manifest from thin air, then begin to fade again as they surrender their power to Absol in the form of wispy ribbons of blue.


Andre's ace finally breaks his stoic streak by leaning his head back and roaring as he absorbs the second round of Swords Dance. His red eyes gleam with unrestrained malevolence as his physical strength surges to a level even Brawly's elder Hariyama would struggle to match. The air around him even begins to distort from the heat and exhaust energy his forcefully strengthened body generates.

"We can't drag this out and there's no time to find the real one!" Ash calls, the beginnings of panic in his voice. "Hit them with Thunder!"

If Pikachu's Thunderbolts coated him in a halo of crackling yellow, then the building Thunder around him is like a dome of pure luminescent gold. The air begins to snap and spark as the unearthly charge builds, and Andre can feel the static on his skin and in his hair. The dark red bangs not covered by his hat begin to rise. "What the fuck is-"

The ring is engulfed in blinding light.

From what little Andre's dazzled eyes can see, a spear of lightning as large around as a redwood tree is thrown up into the air, rising like a breaching Gyarados at least a hundred feet up, before curving - shooting down towards the crowd of Absols vengefully.

Absol and his doppelgangers vanish in a flash of lightning before the Dark-type can even try to dodge. The Thunder attack is so violent that there is no splash of molten sand, as the sand is simply vaporized on contact.

Andre raises his arms to shield his eyes as the resulting crack of thunder generates a shockwave that throws sand everywhere. Over the ear-ringing crack, he can just barely hear a few onlookers scream in fright. '...!' So shocked is he, that Andre can barely form a coherent thought.

Slowly, the smoke clears, revealing the results to everyone.

On Ash's side of the ring, Pikachu pants in exhaustion, but still stands ready with sparks arcing from his cheeks. His wound drips slowly into the sand, making an ugly red-spot that he ignores. On the other end of the ring…

Absol's ball falls from Andre's limp fingers, falling to the sand with a soft thud.

Lying prone in a glassed divot and coated in raw, spider-webbing electrical burns, Absol is out cold. His chest rises and falls with difficulty, and the fur spared being burned off snaps and pops with left-over electricity. His keratin scythe-horn is covered in cracks and flaking, likely having been the point the monstrous Thunder entered his body through.

They lost. After the trials involved in beating Brawly, Absol was felled in one shot.

One. Shot.

"No…" Andre whispers, a terrible feeling welling up in his chest. "No…"

How did this happen? How did this happen?! Absol can go toe-to-toe with Hariyama, an Elite with a capital E! Did a common Pikachu just win?! Andre sways on his feet, struck with a sudden bout of vertigo as doubt begins to claw at him.

He's a good trainer, isn't he? He trained his pokemon well, developed strategies with them, joined them in their struggles just as they did for him, and never gave up. They clawed their way to the top of Dewford, then toppled Brawly. They're the greatest!

"Did Andre just lose?" A nearby girl in a bikini asks the man whose arm she's clutching.

There's a scoff on Andre's right. "'Course he did, he's just hot air!" An overweight man with a smug-looking Rufflet on his shoulder cuts in. Andre remembers thrashing that Rufflet and his lardass trainer at last year's Brawl. "Any good trainer could do that!"

"Hey, isn't that kid Ash Ketchum? Professor Oak's golden boy?" Another spectator, a boy in swimming trunks asks no one in particular.

"Yeah! Way to go, Pikachu!" Ash runs into the ring, the glassed sand crunching under his shoes. He scoops up Pikachu with a joyful laugh, and Pikachu, despite the hard battle, musters enough energy to smile and nuzzle his trainer.

Max, Brock, and May run up to the boy and his Pikachu, each one wearing their own smile. "Great battle, guys!" Max cheers. "I thought he had you for a second, there!"

"He almost did," Ash admits, setting Pikachu down gently and shrugging off his backpack. The Kanto-born trainer unzips his bag and pulls a Hyper Potion from inside, uncapping it and giving it a shake. "If we didn't start working on Pikachu's defense a few weeks ago, that Night Slash might have ended the match." His piece said, Ash gingerly sprays down Pikachu's wound, making the flesh hiss and knit back together.

Andre just watches numbly. Slowly, he bends back down and takes Absol's ball before mechanically recalling his unconscious pokemon. The cheers for Ash and the jeers shot his way fall on deaf ears, and before anyone can say anything further, he turns and starts the walk to the Pokemon Center.

"Hey, Andre! Wait!" Ash's voice calls out to him.

His walk speeds up to a jog, then to a run, then to a sprint. He clutches Absol's ball to his chest protectively, as if to shield his partner from any more harm.

The powerful, unevolved Pikachu, the outrageously expensive potion, being called Professor Oak's 'golden boy'...

That bastard. That rat bastard Ash is just like them. Just like Henson and Brawly.

Andre's eyes sting and his vision blurs, but he keeps sprinting so Absol might be treated faster.

It's not fair.

The ragged, frightened, panting Kirlia can only brace herself as the persistent orbs of darkness close in, as she's too frazzled to focus on Teleporting like her trainer frantically commands.

Standing across from a young woman trainer in one of Mauville's outskirts battlegrounds, Lee watches Corvi, who is hovering above the field, cackle as his newly mastered attack homes in on the hapless Kirlia.

The young woman commanding Kirlia, a fairly unremarkable trainer with her brown hair in a high ponytail and wearing a school uniform approached Lee for a battle as he and Brendan explored Mauville. Zinnia wasn't with them, having taken herself and all the female pokemon sans Shinx off for a "Girls' day out." Considering how rare the occurrence of a challenge is, Lee shrugged and took the schoolgirl's offer.

Kirlia proved to be a tricky foe, dodging around with expert short-range teleports and dragging Corvi out of the air and painfully into the ground with Confusion. That changed when Lee had Corvisquire break out Pursuers. Since she was forced to keep dodging lest she be struck by the unknown and very persistent move, Corvisquire was free to divebomb her with Pluck and Steel Wing at his leisure. Now coated in welts and cuts, Kirlia only needs one stiff breeze to be felled.

"C'mon Kirlia, one more Teleport!" The young woman orders, looking at the closing in Pursuers with trepidation.

"Corvi, stop them! Speed up Pursuers!" Lee calls up to his crow in reply.

Corvisquire screeches and spreads his wings, wispy tendrils of black flaring off of him.

The Kirlia screws her eyes shut and begins to glow with a cloak of ever-shifting colors, but falters as the hissing Pursuers surge and close in faster. Before she can move, it's too late.


The black and purple orbs smash into her like freight trains, each exploding and releasing a small cloud of caustic Dark-type energy that slowly dissipates. Kirlia is thrown harshly to the ground from the fusillade of explosions, where she groans and doesn't attempt to get back to her feet.

Once it's clear Kirlia is down for the count, Brendan, who stands at the side of the arena as the referee, calls the match. "It's over!" He waves his arms in front of his chest in an X shape. "Kirlia is unable to battle! Corvisquire and Lee are the winners!"

A few onlookers waiting for a battleground to clear up politely applaud the victory, and although most are too far away for Lee to properly make out what their conversations are about, he can see that the unveiling of Pursuers has caused a bit of a stir.

The young woman trainer - who Lee is embarrassed to admit he forgot the name of - recalls her Kirlia with a despondent sigh. Once the Psychic-type is safely tucked away in her ball, Kirlia's trainer walks to the middle of the battleground to meet Lee for a handshake. "Wow! That was some battle! Your big old crow here sure packs a punch!"

At Lee's side, Corvisquire puffs out smugly.

Lee gives her a smile as he clasps her hand and gives it a firm shake. "Thank you. He's been working extra hard and it certainly shows. Your Kirlia's Teleport is well refined. We had to break out a secret technique to break the rhythm there."

Not exactly true, as Corvisquire could have just used Scary Face to slow Kirlia down, or Taunt to halt the teleporting entirely, but the crow has been so eager to use his new move in a live battle that Lee didn't have it in him to let the opportunity go.

"Say, what was that crazy Dark move that you used?" The young woman asks as she, Lee, and Corvisquire move off the field so other trainers can take their place. "I've never seen something like that."

Lee mulls over telling her as they get to a safe distance away from the field and watch two more trainers step up to battle. One is a boy around fifteen or so years of age who sends out a fluttering Dustox, and the other is a young blonde girl who releases a surly-looking Gligar. 'There is forever a camera watching every Pokémon battle around here anyway, so there's probably no harm in telling. It'll get out sooner or later.' Mind made up, Lee explains. "Pursuers is actually a custom move created by Corvisquire and me. It has homing capabilities similar to Swift, and trades its speed for better tracking ability and a Dark typing."

The girl blinks and lets her mouth fall open a little bit. "Holy..! A completely brand-new move? That's wild! Do you think I can get a TM of it? I don't have a ton of money, but I'll pay what I can."

Lee gives her a confused, sidelong look. "A TM of a custom move?" He asks, suddenly remembering that he doesn't know the process that creates TMs. "Sorry about my ignorance on the subject, I'm from way out in the sticks."

The schoolgirl nods, apparently accepting the excuse with ease. "Yeah, how do you think new moves get circulated around? If a pokemon or a trainer makes a new move, you can usually get places like Devon or Silph Co. to make TMs if they get a cut of the profits. Lots of trainers make a killing selling limited runs of their powerful pokemon's moves."

It takes a moment to sink in, but Lee can suddenly feel his wallet weigh more. 'Really now? Powerful and custom moves can make a mint? Well, my struggles to find an Eevee might be over here soon.' The zoologist pulls the spike of greed back in with a more sobering thought. 'Assuming the cut that the manufacturer takes to make and distribute the TMs isn't huge.' He clears his throat. "That gives me a lot to think about," He glances down to Corvisquire, and Lee doesn't need any mind-reading to know the scowl on his face is from the thought of his special move being marketed. Lee levels the Kirlia trainer with a smile. "Ah, Pursuers is kind of a signature move made especially for Corvisquire here, so I don't think that one's going to be sold anytime soon, if ever. I am working under Professor Birch as a researcher focusing on moves and alternative training styles, though, so I'll probably bring something to market eventually. Look for TMs made by Lee Henson's team if you're interested."

That makes the girl's face light up. "Sure thing!" She glances up at the noon sun and hums. "I gotta get back to class. Thanks for the fun battle!" She waves and trots off.

As the girl takes off, Brendan walks up to Lee's side, taking her place. "You know, it never really struck me that you could make some crazy money selling TMs." The boy comments. He takes off his white beanie and runs his fingers through his sweaty brown hair. "If you ever make any crazy TMs, can I get a friend discount?"

Lee chuckles. "I'll make sure you and Zinnia each get free copies."

Brendan replaces his hat and pumps his fist with a grin. "Heck yeah! You're the best, Lee!"

"I try," The scarred man smiles and withdraws his phone from his pocket, checking and finding no notifications. "Any word from the girls?"

"Nope." Brendan shakes his head. "Zinnia said she was taking them to some kinda spa that caters to trainers and pokemon. I dunno how long something like that takes."

"Hmm," Lee noncommittally hums in reply. It's a little odd that a tomboy like Zinnia would be interested in something so traditionally girly, but on the other hand, what girl of any species doesn't like being pampered every once in a while? 'She's still trying to get back into Vulpix's good graces I suppose.'

The relationship between Lee's starter and the Dragon Tamer has been icy ever since their confrontation in Slateport. Zinnia's apology, no matter how abrupt it was, came off as rather genuine to Lee, but Vulpix isn't of the same opinion. She's only regarded Zinnia with annoyance at best since then and has been doing a magnificent job holding a grudge. 'I should step in… Or should I? Zinnia came off more hurtful than intended and doesn't really know the full story, but she did apologize. I don't want Vulpix to forgive her just because she mistook my intervention as an implied order…' Lee grumbles. 'I almost prefer when my chief-concerns were not getting mauled in the lion exhibit because I smelled like a horny tiger. Yet again the women in my life are out to give me gray hairs.'

Like the schoolgirl that Lee battled just several minutes prior, Brendan looks up at the midday sun with a hand shielding his eyes. "I'm getting kinda hungry. Wanna head to the Mauville mall? They've got a huge food court to check out."

Lee glances down at Corvisquire. "I could eat. What about you, bud?"

Corvisquire eyeballs his pokeball hanging from Lee's belt, and for a moment, Lee expects him to peck the button and return himself. After several seconds of indecision, the Crow Pokémon sighs and nods.

"All right then, let's get going," Lee hides his surprise as best he can and gestures for Brendan to lead the way.

The walk from Mauville's outskirts to the city proper doesn't take very long, but considering that Mauville is by far the largest city in all of Hoenn, getting to where you want through the throngs of people is the time-consuming part. As they walk along a nature trail that leads into a corporate park near the mall, Lee is given some time to mull over the last few days.

Lee, Brendan, Zinnia, and their pokemon arrived in Mauville three days ago after responding to the Pokemon Ranger ABP with little fanfare. They found a middle-of-the-pack hotel near the center of the city and just a few minutes walk from a Pokémon Center and the local Gym. Upon visiting the Gym, both Brendan and Lee were disheartened to find that the wait time for a gym match was sitting at a full week.

Wattson, the elderly Electric-type master and Gym Leader of Mauville, is apparently a very busy man. On top of his duties as Gym Leader, the apologetic receptionist at the Mauville Gym explained that Wattson is part of the Mauville city council, the head electrical engineer of the local power plant, and part of the Board of Directors for a local construction firm that replaced the now-defunct Greater Mauville Holdings. As such, he can only respond to a handful of challenges per day.

Without much in the way of recourse, Brendan and Lee scheduled their battles and have been training their teams ever since.

"Hey, Lee?" Brendan starts, pulling Lee away from his thoughts. The boy looks up at him. "Do you think you can teach me about pokémon nutrition?" He asks.

"I'd be happy to, but that kind of came out of nowhere." Lee replies as the nature trail around them slowly transitions into a sidewalk leading through Mauville's corporate district. Lee takes a look at the tall, shiny office buildings around him, silently lamenting for the poor souls stuck in corporate positions when the option of being a pokémon trainer exists. He shudders and silently thanks his past self for disregarding his father's advice and taking zoology over business. "Why do you want to learn?"

"Take a look at Corvisquire," Brendan points at the black and blue bird, who turns and gives him the stink eye. "He was a pretty normal height when you caught him, but now he's pushing three feet tall and some change. It's normal for pokemon to grow a bit before they evolve, but that's a lot of growth."

Lee meets Corvisquire's eyes and notes with some surprise that the Crow Pokémon is indeed tall enough to peer over Lee's beltline, and at exactly six feet tall with his boots off, Lee isn't short. 'I could've sworn he came up to my thigh just a few weeks ago.' He thinks, silently frustrated that Corvi's reluctance for a physical has prevented any proper recordkeeping on his pokémon. 'I'll need to make good on Corvi's promise to cooperate for a physical sometime soon. It shouldn't be terribly hard to schedule a time.'

Looking again, Lee can see the budding signs of evolution on Corvisquire now that Brendan has pointed them out. The crow's blue plumage is darkening to a metallic ink-blue. The bottom half of his beak is slowly turning black while the top half is on its way to the same ink-blue, almost purple as his plumage. A helmet-like ridge has been becoming more and more prominent over his eyes in the last few days, making his scowl even more striking.

While Brendan and Zinnia's aces are clearly their strongest pokémon, it's hard to put a label of 'strongest' on any of Lee's. 'Vulpix isn't a battle prodigy like Grovyle, and isn't concentrated piss and vinegar like Corvisquire, but her raw power, adaptability, and telepathy with me present enormous hurdles for anyone to overcome.'

'Grovyle, meanwhile, is a savant destined to be a Legend. His supernatural awareness of his own body, instincts sharper than any razor, and hyper competency that he applies to all of his techniques puts him on even footing with Vulpix and Corvisquire despite suffering a type disadvantage against them both.'

'And Corvisquire…' Lee pauses. 'Corvisquire puts so much passion and emotion into his training and fighting that he's a veritable force of nature. Add in his natural intelligence, and you got a scary pokemon. If he's only got weeks until he evolves, then I think he'll undoubtedly be my most powerful pokemon afterward.'

It's a strange thought to consider, as Lee thought that the mantle would always rest with Vulpix. 'Again, this isn't some anime, Lee. Your first isn't always your best, though there's nothing wrong with that.'

Lee mentally touches the tiny psychic line tethering him to Vulpix, almost visualizing a thread as thin as a fishing line leading into the city. This is the furthest he's ever been away from her…

He gets a tiny tug of acknowledgment back from the distant fox.

…That's okay, though. She's still there.

"I guess you're right," Lee answers Brendan after a moment. "Corvi is beefing up. I'm not sure how much of it is my work and how much of it is his impending evolution. Regardless, I'll be happy to teach you, Brendan." Lee raises a hand before the grinning boy can celebrate. "There is a lot that goes into the study of nutrition, so be prepared for that. There's a lot of math, learning how to cook, learning how to identify the best ingredients and foodstuffs for your pokémon, intimate study on the biology of your pokemon, monitoring what goes in, monitoring what gets burned, and monitoring… What comes out. Yes, I do mean that in a gross way."

Brendan cringes. "Oh."

"Oh," Lee nods knowingly. "Think on it for a bit before giving me a final answer."

'I still haven't figured out what I'm going to use to feed Corvi when he becomes a Corviknight. That's a lot of pokemon to keep fed. If worse comes to worst, I might have to send him hunting on his own as I figure something out.'

In his pocket, Lee's phone begins to ring, making anxiety suddenly boil in his gut. Taking it out, he glances at the screen and bites his lip.

Incoming call

Prof. Birch

Accept / Deny

"I've got to take this. Sorry, Brendan." Lee taps 'accept' with his thumb and lowers the call volume down to almost nothing so Brendan can't unintentionally eavesdrop. Raising the phone to his ear, he lets out an uneasy breath. "Hello. Professor."

"Hey, Lee. Is now a good time to talk?"

"Yeah, that's fine," He looks over to Brendan, silently telling the boy to keep going as he slows his own pace. Looking around, Lee spots several office workers loitering around outside of their office buildings and notes the depressing lack of pokémon out and about. None of them are close enough to overhear as he walks towards central Mauville through the corporate park.

Brendan smiles and nods, keeping his pace going and letting Lee fall behind.

"Good." Lee can almost hear Nigel's smile. "So, I've got in contact with a group of specialists who specifically treat patients who hold sensitive intelligence. They are accredited by the Johto League and approved by the Hoenn League to practice here. They really are the best of the best, as they treated the soldiers in the Kanto-Johto skirmishes years back."

"Really?" Lee ponders aloud, wondering if the not-war was really so violent as to require specialists of such caliber. Pokewiki said there were few casualties and the whole conflict was over and done in just a few months. "Are they bound by some sort of oath to not repeat what they've heard? Or an NDA like you talked about?"

"An oath? Paperwork? Try something a little more potent." Nigel murmurs, a strange weight to his words. "They aren't bound by just an oath, but a psychic compulsion. These therapists have submitted themselves to the implanting of mental blocks made by powerful Psychic-types specifically so what they learn can't get out. They can't speak it on accident, on purpose, or even if forced because the compulsion will stop them in their tracks."

The hairs on the back of Lee's neck stand up as an icy unease spreads throughout him. "That's…" He stops, at a loss for words. "I…" He stops again. In the back of his mind, Lee knows that the existence of Psychic-types means that there's more than just lifting things and tossing them with your brain. There are plenty of more subtle, unsettling things a psychic can accomplish.

If a mental compulsion can stop something like involuntary speech… Then what else can it do?

"It's some heavy stuff, I agree." Lee can hear the sound of Nigel shifting around in his chair. "But I felt that going all out is warranted here, both for your privacy and, well, there are some things that the world doesn't need to know."

Lee nods along, running his tongue over his dry mouth. "Yeah, I one-hundred percent agree there. What's the damage for the bill?"

"Don't worry about that. The League is splitting the bill with your insurance." Nigel verbally waves him off. "You'll be seeing Miss Mable Lane and her Xatu, both of whom have the blocks and are fully accredited. They'll be Teleporting to meet you for sessions. She's available tomorrow if you'd like to start then."

Instantly, Lee considers pushing it off. This is too much to dump on someone. He's proven that he's not a danger to himself or his Pokémon, so he can deal with it himself. Maybe he can-

Then a sharp pain to his knee makes Lee hiss and look down. What he sees makes him stop.

Corvisquire pulls his beak away from Lee's leg, looking up at him with equal parts disgust and disappointment. Disgust is a common enough emotion to see on the avian, but the disappointment stings something fierce.

'He can probably hear everything despite the volume being so low, and when he saw the doubt on my face… Man up, Lee.' Lee gulps and steels himself before raising his phone back to his ear. "Professor? How early can this therapist show up?"

"How does 10 AM sound? She'll be in one of the Pokemon Center meeting rooms. I'll get you the details in an email once I have them."

"I'll be there. Is there anything else?" Lee doesn't look back down at Corvisquire, half-fearing that he'll find yet another judgmental expression.

"Nothing else that can't be an email. Thanks for agreeing to this, Lee. It takes someone brave to admit they have problems that need to be fixed." Nigel's voice is gentle. "You're doing the right thing, don't doubt that. I know your pokemon in particular will be happy to see you well and whole. Have a nice rest of your day, okay?"

"Same to you, Professor," Lee says goodbye and hangs up. Finally looking back down at his side, Corvisquire looks back up at him with something resembling neutrality. "Thanks for not letting me be a pussy, Corvi. I don't know what I would do without you and the rest of the team."

The crow just huffs and bounds along as Lee jogs to catch up to Brendan.