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I am an animal lover, but not an expert. Some of the science and biology referenced in this story might be exaggerated or stretched with creative liberty.
The echo of yet another gunshot races down the valley, forcing Lee to look up from his notebook for what feels like the tenth time in the last hour alone. 'I wonder. Is it a bad sign that I find the noise more annoying than concerning, even if it's not by much?' He looks to his side, where Grovyle, his escort for today, is frowning past his chewing twig. Both Shinx and Vulpix are napping in their pokeballs, leaving the wood gecko as Lee's sole defender for now. Each bang breaks Grovyle's meditative state, forcing him to restart with a growl.
Several days after the run-in with Magnezone and Elecktrike's addition to Brendan's team, the group ventured out of the heart of the valley towards the northern exit. Despite being a mess of aches and pains, Brendan put on a smile and gladly showered Elecktrike in affection, easing the not-so-little pup's obviously raw nerves. Anyone can see that the poor thing was shaken by Magnezone and latched onto the Birch heir. Mama Manectric's departure was as sudden as her arrival, and she vanished only minutes after urging her unsure son into Brendan's arms, bounding up the side of a plateau and disappearing like a specter.
Silently, Lee is glad that the boy and Electric-type are taking to each other so well. Though he would have been overjoyed to raise Electrike, Shinx requires too much time. It'll be weeks before the kitten breaks into a truly healthy weight range and weeks more before he feels comfortable easing her out of her physical therapy.
Now only a single day outside of Lavaridge, everyone is enjoying a break in one of the oases dotting the north end of the valley, a pleasant change from the endless rock and shrub.
By the edge of the water on a beach towel, Zinnia lays facing the noon sun with sunglasses shielding her eyes. Her cloak and usual sleeveless top have been put away, traded for a bikini to "tan up" as she said. Lee isn't sure why, as he's never seen the hue of her golden-brown skin fade at all. Beside her, Swablu sits in the soft grass, carefully preening her cloud-like wings.
Courtney is further out under a tree, leaning back into it as she quietly enjoys a book. Camerupt is resting in his ball, and in the camel's place is Mightyena, who has her head laid out in Courtney's lap. The hand not holding a book is tenderly petting the content-looking wolf pokemon.
Finally, Brendan lays in the sparse grass feet away from Lee, dozing. The boy, still horribly stiff from their run-in with Magnezone, has been resting whenever possible, mostly at Lee's insistence. At Brendan's side are Mawile and Electrike. Electrike is still a bundle of nerves and trying to relax, but Mawile...
"Mawwwww!" Mawile holds an uncomfortable-looking Electrike, her tiny hands on his cheeks. Mawile's eyes sparkle, devoid of her usual mischief. It's an almost comical sight considering Electrike is nearly a foot taller than Mawile. Just what about Electrike fascinates the Fairy-type so, Lee can only guess.
Despite the calm, though, Lee has yet to find a 3rd combatant for his team in the valley despite the trek taking over a week, and honestly? His nerves are beginning to fray over it.
Several days back, the group made a short detour to watch a herd of Rhyhorn, squat Rock-type pokemon with a resemblance to rhinos. Lee and Grovyle approached them, stopping at what the zoologist felt was a respectful distance with a pokeball rolling between his fingers, making the duo's intentions clear to the herd of Rhyhorn.
All of the pokemon watched the pair carefully, but none rose to the challenge. After a ten-minute-long standoff, the herd made their discontent apparent. Snorting, pawing at the sparse grass, a few of the large males took aggressive stances, their heads low and horns poised to gore. None were interested in being captured and the males were surely approaching without a fair fight in mind.
Lee just bowed his head and withdrew. Grovyle was disgruntled but followed after only a second of delay. Several more times through the week did Lee approach wild pokemon with Grovyle or Vulpix flanking him, and each time he walked away without a new pokemon.
There are plenty of oblivious Magikarp in the many oases and rivers they passed, but the hurdles involved with their growth and the logistics of feeding and caring for a Gyrados stopped Lee from tossing a pokeball in the water and inevitably hitting one. In the Valley of Steel, low-level pokemon are absent, so the other oasis candidates ended up being Poliwhirl, Lombre, and even a Buizel. Alas, though, all of them were so timid that they fled into the water when confronted. 'Even with a type advantage over many of the Valley natives, all of the Water-types here are ready to book it at a moment's notice... sans Magikarp. Is the power gap truly that vast?' Lee frowns and thinks of all of the other small bodies of water they passed.
The oases proved to be superb breeding grounds for many types of flora, but for some odd reason, many of them were deserted with no Water pokemon to be found. They happened upon one such empty pond, and the only pokemon there was a lone Lairon drinking deeply. 'How odd.'
The Steel-types are a dime a dozen but are also the most aggressive by a long shot. The Magnemite swiftly became pests, drawn in by the uncontrolled atmospheric charge produced by Electrike. They'd swoop and try to latch on to the oversized pup to drain him like a living battery, and by Arceus did the pooch make a panicked racket when the first one touched him. Vulpix has been pulling double-duty during night watches pelting the living magnets with Embers until they buzz off.
The Aron and Lairon roam in large herds, often led by a weathered Aggron, each one even larger than the disgruntled Alpha the group met in the Granite Cave back in Dewford. Lee couldn't even get close to one herd before the lead Aggron looked him dead in the eye and began charging a Hyper Beam in his maw. The beam, in a clear warning shot, turned a giant boulder of iron ore fifty feet to Lee's left into a puddle of molten slag. That boulder was roughly the size of a small house.
Vulpix was the pokemon escorting Lee that day, and try as she might, she can't quite hide her creeping anxiety at the thought of facing a pokemon like that Aggron. Enough bled over that Lee could imagine her face going pale under her fur.
The displaced man didn't try to approach any Lairon herd again.
'Good fuckin' God,' A realization strikes Lee as he ruminates over the last week. 'Steven Stone comes here for fun.'
"Okay, what the hell is that noise!?" Zinnia shoots up into a sitting position, nearly throwing her sunglasses off. A scowl on her face, she stands and throws her usual sleeveless black top over her bikini. "Once or twice is whatever, but it's been like an hour! Give me a break!"
"Whoever that was is mocking me now..." She glowers. The dragon tamer rolls up her towel and stuffs it away in her small, space-bending bag. Her cloak is thrown back over her shoulders as she slips into her sandals again.
"You're not going to go towards the obvious gunshots, are you?" Lee asks Zinnia wearily, already knowing the answer. "Common sense should dictate that you go the other way."
'Why am I even arguing?'
The tanned woman sniffs and holds out her arm, letting Swablu flutter up and perch upon the offered limb. "I've got my pokemon," is her simple answer.
Lee sighs and stands, closing his notebook and holding it under his arm. By his side, Grovyle rises in one seamless motion. "I maintain that this is a bad idea, but Grovyle and I are coming along to make sure you aren't killed. I don't want to have to explain that one to the professor."
"Aw, Dolittle~!" Zinnia's grin is as cheeky as it is flirtatious. She raises her hands to her face like a bashful schoolgirl might, hiding cheeks that aren't actually blushing. "You do care!"
Ignoring her, Lee turns to regard Brendan, Courtney, and their pokemon. "Anyone else coming?"
Brendan makes to stand up but winces as the motion pulls at his back. Gingerly, he lays back down. "Ah... Maybe I'll skip this one..." He says, sullen.
Mawile stops her doting on Electrike long enough to pat her trainer on the arm... then she turns and opens her larger, croc-like mouth to give Brendan a wet, affectionate lick across his face with a tongue as large as a man's arm.
The grimacing boy wipes at his saliva-coated face and flicks his hand, sending the (thankfully) clear goop off into the grass. "Thanks, Mawile..."
With a small grin on his face, Lee turns to Courtney. "Courtney?"
The Magma Admin shakes her head and snaps her book shut. "I'll stay here. Dangerous to split the group unevenly." As she speaks, the woman's Mightyena reluctantly pulls herself out of her trainer's lap and stands dutifully at attention.
With a nod, Lee is suddenly struck with the realization that he'll be leaving Brendan alone with the Magma Admin. One part of him wants to stay to keep any potential foul play at bay, but the other doesn't wish for Zinnia to wander away alone. He trusts Brendan's capable team with keeping the young trainer safe, but...
Taking Vulpix's ball from his belt, Lee taps the button and pops the ball open in his hand. With a flash of light, a sleepy, irritated Vulpix is at his feet. She looks up at him, silently questioning why she was awakened.
Wordlessly, Lee offers her his thoughts, and the vixen jolts to alertness. 'Love, stay here and keep an eye on things, please? Let me know if there is anything amiss and we'll come right back. Make some sort of physical signal to cover our telepathy, okay?'
Vulpix's eyes shine, and she preemptively widens the mental pipe between them, enough for thoughts to come and go without effort, but just short of their senses overlapping. 'Of co*rse.'
Lee shakes off the short headrush that usually follows him and Vulpix melding closely. After so many times, it only takes a second for the dizziness to pass. "I'll leave Vulpix here as some extra firepower," Lee's eyes shift between the curious Brendan and ever-blank Courtney. "She'll send a signal flare up if you all need backup. Zinnia and I will come running if we see it."
Courtney nods, accepting Vulpix's presence easily, but Brendan frowns.
"Lee, Vulpix and Grovyle are your only battlers right now..." The young Birch slowly sits up, aided by Mawile gently pulling one of his arms. "Do you really want to leave her behind?"
"Grovyle is more than enough," the zoologist responds quickly, hoping Brendan's words don't bruise Grovyle's already tender ego. "Plus we have Shelgon, Swablu, and Goomy. Zinnia and I are not lacking in battle capability at all," he says, casting a look down at the wood gecko beside him.
Besides an ever-so-slight narrowing of his eyes, Grovyle doesn't react to Brendan's unintentional slight.
"M'kay," Brendan flops back down with a low groan.
Vulpix leisurely trots to Brendan's side and sits, catching Lee's eyes with her own. 'Be c*reful,' she sends to him, tilting her head when Brendan idly reaches up to scratch her ear.
'We will,' Lee's promise is silent to all but Vulpix. He looks down to Grovyle, then to Zinnia and Swablu. "Ready?"
Swablu trills on Zinnia's shoulder while Zinnia herself smiles confidently. "Ready."
Grovyle's answer is a crisp nod.
Together, the four set off away from the oasis, leaving Brendan and Courtney under Vulpix's watchful eye. The loud bangs continue to rupture the air, and after pausing to gauge the echoes bouncing off the plateau walls, the impromptu scouting party adjusts their route and ventures towards the racket. After taking a turn that leads through a dried riverbed flanked by jagged faces of rock, Zinnia turns her head to Lee.
"Good thinking, leaving 'Pix with them," the dragon tamer smiles.
Lee doesn't reply right away. "I still think Courtney isn't as twisted as we might think," he eventually says. "Somehow, I doubt she would do anything to Brendan, and even if she tried, he's got his team. I left Vulpix behind more for peace of mind than real protection."
On Zinnia's shoulder, an amused trill flits out of Swablu's beak, and Zinnia herself rolls her eyes. "Ever so dutiful," Zinnia begins, voice mockingly dull. "Ever so worried."
"Weren't you just concerned about Brendan being left alone?" Lee crosses his arms.
"I can praise initiative and make fun of you for being a worrywart at once," Zinnia grins. "Say, how far can you and Vulpix talk anyway? Uh, if you want to answer, that is." She asks, hastily amending her question afterward.
The words, don't worry about it spring to mind instantly, but Lee hesitates. 'She and Brendan are my friends. I should be more open with them.' After the self-aimed reminder, he answers; "We haven't tested exact distances, but after a few miles or so, the connection thins to almost nothing. It doesn't seem to weaken any further after that, however. I could still feel her after you took all of the girls to that spa in Mauville."
Zinnia blinks. "Wow... Really? So far?"
On her shoulder, Swablu seems equally astounded, her beady eyes widening.
Even Grovyle is surprised somewhat, glancing up at Lee with a scaly eyebrow ridge raised.
The slowly rising self-consciousness in Lee's gut is squashed. "Is that strange?"
"I'm not all that sure..." The dragon tamer admits. "I don't know much about psychic stuff." After a beat, she asks another question. "Is it always on? The telepathy?"
Lee nods, finding himself more and more comfortable opening up about the topic. "Yeah, Vulpix and I have maintained a connection for months now. It's been a while since we've disconnected."
Idly, he focuses on the line of thoughts leading back to Vulpix. With the growing distance and the landscape between the man and fox, the psychic thread is thin. Not as thin as it can go, but thin enough that all he receives is flickers of foreign emotion. If he so wished, he can 'tug' on the line to get her attention.
Lee has read studies into mindscapes and other tricks psychics use to organize their thoughts, but without any talent in the art himself, rough imagination is all he has to go off of. Regardless, though, he's always likened his connection to Vulpix as a complicated plug fitted to an equally convoluted socket.
Months ago, telepathy with Vulpix was clunky and awkward. Feelings, urges, and images were distorted and he could only draw a human analog to her most primal emotions. It was as if some of the 'prongs' on the connection she offered weren't where they should be, and most didn't even seem to reach anything at all. Research on Psychic-types and even a bit on Ghost-types to better the process revealed precious little, as even in the modern era telepathy is still a rare thing.
So, Lee shifted his own expectations and interpretations just as he might in the zoo, no longer trying to make sense of what Vulpix offered as a human would. His 'socket' changed in response, morphing into something Vulpix could more easily grasp and connect to. More prongs sank into his mind, and so his understanding of her grew. Weeks upon weeks of daily refinement later, and the psychic plug and socket sit neatly flush.
'Wait... Where is it? Where did the seam go?'
Through his musing, Lee blindly gropes at the spot where his and Vulpix's minds touch, or at least as well as a non-psychic can. He feels along the whole connection, trying to find the nexus where he, Lee the human ends, and Vulpix the pokemon begins.
'It's gone?' His brows furrow. 'Where did it go?'
With a start, Lee blinks his eyes rapidly. He turns to Zinnia, who looks up at him with concern in her red eyes.
"You okay?" Zinnia asks, reaching a hand out to lay on his arm. "You spaced out way harder than you usually do. Is something going on at camp?"
Lee shakes his head and takes a deep breath, clearing his thoughts. "I'm fine, and nothing is going on at camp. I just ran into something I should probably talk to Vulpix about."
Zinnia gives Lee's arm a short, comforting squeeze before letting go.
There is a subtle nudge against Lee's hip, so without moving his head, he turns his eyes down to Grovyle.
The Grass-type cooly regards him with a raised brow as if to ask are you actually okay?
Lee nods. The motion is stiff but certain.
Grovyle, ever dutiful, drops the matter and returns his yellow eyes forward.
The group weaves between plateaus and around another oasis where a pair of Azumarill watch them warily, following the sound of gunshots the entire way. As they go, Lee spends the time feeling along his connection back to Vulpix, not finding the seam between them as he expected. There is a side where Vulpix resides, and one where he resides, but the middle is... He doesn't have words for it. Blurry? Blurry is close, but not right. 'When was the last time Vulpix and I disconnected? I don't remember. Slateport? No, she shut me out most of the way, but there was still a thin line.'
As they walk through a blind corner around a rock and several shrubs, they find themselves on the outskirts of yet another verdant oasis.
Lee, Zinnia, and Swablu all wince while Grovyle hisses.
Above the oasis, a Skarmory flies in tight, swirling circles, twisting and juking past speeding projectiles with a rictus of loathing carved into his face. Below him is no gunman, however.
Skarmory banks hard to the side, just barely dodging a bolt of pure black.
Down on the shore of the oasis is no man with a gun, but a narrow-eyed Octillery. The Water pokemon resembles a large octopus, with off-red skin, eight tentacles with undersides covered in pale yellow suckers, and a bulbous head fitted with two large eyes. The glaring thing separating it from its animal cousin is the narrow mouth shaped like the point of a funnel, giving the octopus pokemon the appearance of having perfectly round, puckered lips from a distance.
"An Octillery?" Zinnia questions aloud. "I thought they were ocean pokemon?"
"Some Remoraid are known to swim inland and navigate rivers. They can live in freshwater as well as saltwater." Lee recites a study he was reading several weeks prior almost without thinking. "It's only natural that some would evolve into Octillery. The nearest river is several miles back, though, so I wonder what this guy is doing here?"
The Octillery narrows its eyes more at the Skarmory circling above, sucking in a gurgling breath as he does so. Its mouth quivers, then;
A bolt of liquid ink leaves Octillery's mouth with the force of a rifle shot, breaking the sound barrier with an explosive crack. If not for its pure black color against the blue sky, Lee would have missed the attack's travel entirely.
Skarmory rolls to the side, but is a hair too slow as the ink bolt tears into his side armor with the horrendous screech of ripping metal. Blood quickly begins to mix with the splattered ink, and Skarmory looks down at the wound in disbelief.
'Was that Octazooka?' Lee wonders to himself. 'I...I don't recall how strong Octillery's signature move is supposed to be.'
Still flying high above, Skarmory's disbelief swiftly transforms into shock as the pain of his wound visibly sets in. He shivers, and the flaps of the wing on his wounded side are ginger.
Down in the water, Octillery gurgles and swells, another attack building.
Skarmory's eyes widen as he watches, and with a harsh maneuver that surely tugs at his wound, the avian Steel-type finally abandons whatever his objective is and speeds away. He trails droplets of blood and ink as he soars over a plateau and down into the safety of a valley beyond Octillery's view.
The red octopus watches his foe vanish, seemingly disgruntled if the further narrowing of his eyes is any indicator. Those eyes then turn to Lee, Grovyle, Zinnia, and Swablu. It's then that Lee notices something off about the Water-type.
'His eyes are unfocused,' Lee backs up a step as Grovyle takes a defensive stance in front of him, wrist leaves bared and ready to form Leaf Blades. 'This guy isn't comprehending what he's looking at.'
A few other things begin to paint a picture of something not quite right. 'Octillery's skin color is off. It should be a vibrant red, but he's got this odd gray tint discoloring him. And his tentacles...' Lee watches the appendages move in jerky, almost uncontrolled flails. The two tentacles oriented at his front are longer than the others, marking the Water-type as a male. 'That movement doesn't look wholly voluntary, or even pleasant. What's going on with this guy?'
The Octillery burbles and scowls as best as his anatomy allows, raising his primary tentacles and letting the webbing between them stretch out in a clear threat display. He then brings the tentacles down harshly over and over, slapping the muddy shore and making a great racket that flings mud around.
'There's no other pokemon around either. Did Octillery scare them away?'
"Dolittle..." Zinnia whispers, getting Lee's attention. "I always thought these guys were chill pokemon," she nods her head towards the off-red octopus as her Swablu puffs up, ready to fight. "Why is this one so hyped up?"
Lee is silent. When he does speak, he keeps his voice low, hoping to avoid triggering the aggressive Water-type a dozen yards away. "He looks ill. His eyes aren't focused, his movements are erratic, and he's discolored. That's probably why he's so aggressive."
Zinnia shifts. "Any idea what he might be sick with?"
"I'm trying to figure it out..." Lee fingers the Pokedex in his pocket, trying to find the volume wheel and turn it down before he pulls the device out. His thumb finds the volume control and turns it down to nothing, so he slowly withdraws the 'dex and flips it open. "The aggression, unfocused eyes, and involuntary movement could point to something neurological, but I have no idea if the skin discoloration is related or not. Honestly, I've never worked with cephalopods at length. Lemme think for a moment..."
'Some kind of infection? If Octillery has a wound that went septic, the infection could spread... but pokemon are intelligent enough to treat injuries, and a smart pokemon like an Octillery would know to keep a wound clean. A traditional infection or pathogen would likewise be self-diagnosed and treated in all but the most severe of cases. It has to be something Octillery wouldn't have noticed right away or something he couldn't escape...' Lee frowns and thumbs through the pokemon native to the Valley on his Pokedex, wondering if any entries might shed clues as to what the angry cephalopod is afflicted with. 'Incorrect diet, maybe? Or... something in the water?'
He stops on the entry for the Aron, specifically on their diet, when several lines catch his eye.
While omnivorous, The Aron family also requires a significant intake of iron or other ferric materials to facilitate the growth of their armor. Dietary iron does not strictly need to be pure iron (Fe), as Aron and later evolutions utilize special enzymes located in the gastrointestinal tract to separate iron from composite materials. Solids like iron oxide (Fe2O3 aka common rust) and iron sulfate (FeSO4) along with materials diffused in water (ferrous salts) provide less for the pokemon than ores or pure iron, but are acceptable substitutes.
Lee shuts his Pokedex and slips it back into his pocket, mindful of Octillery's heated gaze. He looks past the addled pokemon to the water he rests in. The pond is cloudy and clearly filled with some sort of contaminant. "I'm not a hundred percent sure, but I think this Octillery has secondary hemochromatosis."
"Homo-Chrono what?" Zinnia wrinkles her brow. "That's that movie where a guy and a Celebi go back in time and the guy falls for himself because he's a narcissist, right?"
"Hemo. Chromatosis," Lee corrects with an exasperated sigh. "That, or some other heavy metal poisoning. What kind of movies are you watching?"
Zinnia crosses her arms with an exaggerated huff. "Hey, I didn't get to pick the films, okay? Whatever my home village could get their hands on is what we watched..."
"Well, what I'm talking about is a medical condition. Iron poisoning, essentially." Lee shares a look with Grovyle, whose eyes are half-lidded in disinterest. "Heavy metal build-up in the body can cause a myriad of issues. Brain damage, organ failure, or cancer just to name a few. If acute poisoning isn't treated promptly, then your death isn't going to be pleasant." The more Lee thinks about it, the more his theory on Octillery makes sense. "Remember all those ponds we went past that were deserted?" He asks Zinnia.
She nods her head. "Yeah, do you think…?"
"They must have a toxic amount of iron salts or some other soluble metal compound in them, making them useless other than as drinking holes for Steel-types." Lee grimly finishes. "It also explains the gray color of Octillery's skin. Excessive iron build-up can cause the skin to pale or turn gray."
'I thought octopi used a copper-based protein rather than iron for oxygen transport in the blood, but I guess that's not the case with pokemon... Or maybe they do, and that just makes them more prone to iron building up in the body?' Lee tries to recall past conversations with his zoo's aquarium keeper, a bubbly older woman with a love of all things that swim. None of the half-remembered exchanges involved octopi and what happens when they get metal poisoning of all things. 'I'm pretty sure a mundane octopus would go into toxic shock and die before showing symptoms.'
"Hmm..." Zinnia hums, leveling the Octillery with a wary eye. "Do you think he was chased here and forced to hide out on the dirty water? Maybe he had no idea until it was too late?"
Lee nods, his hand falling to one of the empty pokeballs on his belt. "I could see both happening. The Steel-types certainly live at the top of the hierarchy here, and a pure Water-type would be easily bullied by the roving Magnemite and Magneton. One thing is for certain, though." He unclips the shrunken pokeball his fingers are brushing and taps the button, expanding it with a dull whine. "If he stays here, he's going to die. We need to get him out of that water and to a pokemon center."
Zinnia looks at the pokeball in Lee's hand with some surprise. "Do you intend to keep him?"
"We'll see..." Lee takes a deep breath and uses the moment to survey the field. 'Wind is dead. Most of the area is water with a loamy shore. Octillery has the home-field advantage here, he can just dive to avoid Grovyle if things look dicey, and we have no idea what his other moves are. I don't want to bank on his impairment to help us, but I think that's all I can realistically hope for... We could have Grovyle drive Octillery out of the water...' For a moment, Lee imagines Grovyle using his mastery of Quick Attack to dance across the water, not giving Octillery an inch. Before ordering Grovyle to engage, though, he calls out to the octopus.
"Octillery!" Lee raises his voice, trying to find a volume that catches attention but doesn't seem challenging. "You look sick and we want to help you! Can you come out of the water, please?"
Octillery gurgles and blinks his eyes, seemingly confused. He pauses his 'look at how big I am' display and sets his webbed tentacles down. The cephalopod pokemon regards the scarred trainer with care, or as much care as he can in his befuddled state. Just as Lee begins to hope Octillery might see reason, the irrational anger returns to Octillery's cloudy eyes and he raises his tentacles even higher.
"I was afraid of that..." Lee sighs. "Ready, Grovyle?"
The Grass-type's eyes sharpen and he lowers his stance.
"Swablu, Zinnia, be ready to jump in if needed," Lee turns to the pair.
Zinnia smirks and Swablu tweets an affirmative note. "Hogging the glory?" Zinnia teases.
Lee rolls his eyes. "Grovyle, feel him out. Circle and Bullet Seed!"
In a blur of green, Grovyle rushes out along the right perimeter of the pond, his clawed feet tearing at the loose soil. He opens his mouth, his throat glowing a bright green before a burst of nearly-sonic seeds erupts from his maw with a loud ratatatatatatatatat!
Octillery jukes away from the shore and ducks back unto the water as expected, letting the Bullet Seeds ineffectively hit the water and throw bursts of muddy mist up.
Grovyle skids to a stop, watching the water his foe vanished under carefully.
Several air bubbles rise to the surface as the muddy water churns, and the instant a bulbous head begins to rise out of the murk, Lee barks a new order.
"Detect! Then Seed Sniper!"
Octillery's head pokes up, mouth puckered.
Grovyle sidesteps a supersonic bolt of ink that pulverizes a boulder behind him, eyes aglow. Several rock fragments bounce off of his back, but that distracts him none. His mouth snaps open again, this time launching a single large seed back at the octopus.
Octillery is far too slow to dodge and the super-effective attack drills him in the forehead, tearing at his skin and knocking his head back as if punched by a Machamp. His soft, water-filled body goes limp for a moment, and Lee's breath hitches, wondering if the attack was too much. A moment later, the octopus burbles in pain and paws at the seed with his tentacles, dislodging it and dropping it into the water with a plop. A second later, he retreats under the rippling surface, leaving a cloudy splotch of blood on the surface of the water.
Huh. His blood is red like a mammal's. I guess he uses iron-based blood then.'
Grovyle stands tense as the surface bubbles again.
"Grovyle, try to herd him out of the water! Bullet Seed just to his left!" Lee nervously fingers the pokeball in his hand, hoping both a concussion and metal poisoning keeps Octillery from realizing the plan.
Grovyle's jaw snaps open. Ratatatat!
Bullet Seeds violently impact the water just to the left of the bubbles, and Lee can almost imagine Octillery's distressed flailing as the bubbles move away from the attack, closer to the shore.
Once more, Grovyle fires off a bombardment of hard-shelled seeds from his mouth, sweeping his fire along the still submerged Octillery's flank and startling the octopus into moving inland. Twice Grovyle needs to pause for a moment to catch his breath, but it's never long enough to let Octillery form a plan. Finally in the shallows, the red octopus has no choice but to surface and scuttle to the shore with nearly limp tentacles.
Lee winces as he beholds the Water-type.
Octillery's entire forehead is an ugly bruise with a twisted patch of missing skin in the center. The pokemon's eyes roll in their sockets, panning around in open panic. Octillery gurgles as if to charge up an Octazooka, but all that comes out of his mouth is a dribble of ink and saliva.
"We just want to help you, bud!" Lee calls, guilt for harming an obviously unwell pokemon prompting the words. "Just come on out and let us treat you!"
Octillery pays Lee no mind, but when a final burst of Bullet Seeds splatters sandy mud just inches away, Octillery flinches and rushes back to the water.
"Head him off!" Lee's words fly nary a second into the water pokemon's flight.
Still on the right side of the oasis, Grovyle's maw opens once more, and out pour seeds glowing yellow like tracer bullets. Ratatat!
This time, Octillery braves the barrage, being struck several times with painful smacks. His watery flesh sizzles as the Bullet Seeds dump volatile Grass energy into him, but the octopus ignores them to dive into the water and vanish with a splash. There are no bubbles or movement under the water, even after waiting a full minute.
Lee sighs and rubs his forehead. "Damn it..." He looks up at the harsh Hoenn sun, now aware that he's been sweating even more than usual in the excitement of the battle. Part of him wishes Vulpix was here to dull the hot sunlight with Drought.
Grovyle slowly walks back to Lee's side, keeping his eyes trained on the water. Once he's returned to Lee, the wood gecko pokemon bows his head in apology.
"It's not your fault, pal," Lee reaches down to rub Grovyle's head, feeling the cool, smooth scales rasp against his calloused fingers. "We had no idea Octillery would be willing to walk right through a super-effective attack."
Grovyle still rolls the twig in his mouth around, visibly discontent.
Lee turns his eyes to Zinnia and Swablu. "Any ideas?"
Swablu shrugs her little wings as Zinnia rubs her chin. "Maybe you could..." she trails off, looking at the water with bewilderment. "What the hell?"
Lee and Grovyle follow her eyes, watching a blue glow beginning to light up the heart of the oasis. Lee's heartbeat pounds in his ears as he feels his heart jump. "Grovyle!" He snaps "Be ready!"
Grovyle growls, his eyes already glowing yellow with Detect.
The blue glow brightens, then without any warning, the surface of the oasis slowly turns into muddy slush, then freezes solid with a noisy CRACK!
Under the ice, the blue glow fades down to nothing.
For a moment, the oasis is silent, then Lee lets his jaw drop as an ice-chilled breeze wisps over his sweaty body. "Really? This guy knows an Ice move and pulled it out to trap himself in a toxic pond?"
Grovyle tentatively steps closer to the ice, one of his wrist leaves lengthening and glowing with the power of Leaf Blade. His arm blurs and chops at the ice, only for his blade to barely sink several inches in. With a frown, he yanks his blade free as he clenches his jaw, then with an echoing BANG, he shoots the ice with a Seed Blast.
Bits of ice chip away, but most of the seeds are stopped dead with several ricocheting and skipping across the surface of the frozen oasis. One bounces far enough to land just inches away from Lee's boot.
Kneeling, Lee picks up and rolls the perfectly smooth orb composed of nothing but seed shell in his hand, trying to think of some way out of the new predicament. "Well, shit," he mutters, dropping the seed. "As much as I don't want to, I think I'm going to have to call Vulpix for this one. Even then, it's going to take some time to melt all of this."
Zinnia steps forward, drawing an inquisitive trill from the bird pokemon on her shoulder and a raised eyebrow from Lee. She gives Lee a cheeky grin. "Rather than openly advertise your telepathy to miss Magma, let's have Swablu shatter the ice with Hyper Voice," she says, her grin growing. "I've always wanted to try this!"
"Lemme guess, you saw it in a movie?" Lee's voice is dry, but inwardly he's somewhat curious if such a thing would work.
"Fearow Flotilla vs Pidgeyman 2!" She giggles. "Okay, cover your ears, everyone! Swablu! Get to the center and use Hyper Voice, point blank!" Her hands fly to her ears.
Lee plugs his ears with his fingers as Grovyle walks back to his side, reptilian paws already pressed against his earholes. Lee catches his pokemon's eyes and drops a hand to tap the gecko's pokeball, but Grovyle declines the unspoken offer with a shake of his head.
Swablu flutters from Zinnia's shoulder and lands daintily on the center of the pond's icy cap. She taps a spot with her beak, then takes a deep breath that puffs her tiny body up.
Out of Swablu's beak comes a screech of such horrendous volume that the ground rumbles, making pebbles dance at everyone's feet.
Even with his ears covered, Lee winces. The noise does more than hurt his ears, he can feel it in his bones, but his wince is for Grovyle, who has his eyes screwed shut as his sensitive ears take a headache-inducing beating. 'Stubborn lizard...'
Swablu holds the note for three seconds before the ice begins to groan. At five seconds, there is an audible crack, one just barely heard over the terrible screech of Hyper Voice. Then at ten seconds, just as Swablu's voice begins to give out, there is a great cra-cra-cra-crack!
The solid cap of ice shatters like glass, breaking into several large, cloudy floes with smaller shards dispersed in between. Swablu takes to the air with an alarmed chirp as the spot she was standing on crumbles away, falling into the warmer water below and melting.
Lee lets his hands fall and watches the ice bob in the oasis. "Huh," he begins. "I half expected that to not work."
"Fearow Flotilla vs Pidgeyman 2 had a total budget of like twenty-thousand credits. They did all their stunts and stuff with no special effects," Zinnia quips. "So of course it would work!"
Before Lee can comment on how bad an idea it is to pull tactics from B movies, the water between two ice flows begins to bubble, making everyone snap to attention.
Slowly, almost lethargically, Octillery crawls out of the water and into a sheet of ice, settling into a rather pathetic-looking pile. The octopus is still slowly bleeding from the skinless, bruised patch on his head, and he looks as if he can barely focus on anything going on around him. His eyes flutter, passing over Swablu, who is hovering overhead. He tries to raise his head and aim his mouth, but when the effort is too much, he goes limp.
"Oh, man..." Zinnia frowns. "Either Hyper Voice shook the fight out of him, or Octillery was already on his last legs when we got here."
"Maybe both..." Lee sighs and readies his empty pokeball. "At least he surfaced." Without any fanfare, he taps the button on the ball in his hand, feeling it vibrate and confirming the auto-return feature is enabled. "C'mon, Octillery. Let's get you some help." Lee winds up his throw and lets the ball fly towards the limp Water pokemon.
The lobbed ball flies in a gentle arc, hitting Octillery and snapping open as it rebounds off of the octopus's springy body. Octillery's whole form is engulfed in red light before the pokemon is sucked inside as a wriggling mass of energy. The pokeball then falls to the ice, weakly shaking as the barely-conscious Octillery inside fights. A few tense seconds pass, but the ball clicks and goes still. Then as if picked up and thrown by an unseen hand, the pokeball rises and shoots back towards Lee.
The zoologist plucks the ball out of the air before immediately pointing it at the ground and tapping the button, making the ball snap open. "Grovyle, stand by in case he needs to be restrained." Lee orders as Octillery takes form at his feet. Lee doesn't bother looking, already knowing his gecko is in position as he kneels and shrugs his backpack off.
Octillery cracks open his eyes, taking in the human above him before reaching up and wrapping a tentacle around Lee's wrist. Even so weakened, Octillery's grip is still akin to a grown man squeezing with intent to harm.
"Just take it easy, okay?" Lee murmurs gently, ignoring the slimy tentacle trying to crush his wrist. With his free hand, Lee unzips his backpack and digs inside, silently thanking Silph Co for adding a sorting feature to their already miraculous bottomless bag. Through the clutter inside, Lee's berry case rises to the top. He wastes no time popping it open and withdrawing his last Sitrus berry. "Here, this'll make you feel a bit better."
Octillery's grip lessens at the sight of the yellow fruit, but his foggy eyes are still distrustful.
Smiling calmly, Lee slowly sets the berry down. "All yours. Eat up. I bet you're exhausted huh?"
Lee can see the thoughts running through Octillery's swimming head, and as the sickly octopus lets his wrist go, Lee backs up to give him space.
For a long moment, Octillery just stares at the fruit, then with visible effort, he raises his head and reaches a tentacle out, snatches the Sitrus, and brings it to his mouth. His conical 'mouth' opens a bit wider, and Lee can't help but be surprised to see an octopus beak hidden within. Still casting doubtful looks all around, Octillery nibbles the berry, then begins scarfing it down in great bites, letting yellow pulp and juice run down his front. Before he's even halfway done with the food, the bruise on his head begins to shrink and the patch of missing skin begins to heal over.
As Octillery finishes the last bite, Lee clears his throat.
Octillery's eyes snap back to him, but the pokemon still sways unsteadily.
"You're sick, pal," Lee raises Octillery's ball. "We're going to get you to a place to help you, okay? After that, you're free to go if you want. Just hang tight. Return."
Before Octillery can protest or retaliate, he's drawn back into the pokeball as a flash of red. Standing up, Lee gives the button of the pokeball a long press, locking it so the delirious pokemon inside can't let himself out. The ball buzzes once in confirmation, so Lee shrinks it and clips it back to his belt.
"Thanks for the help, everyone," the zoologist smiles at Grovyle, Zinnia, and Swablu, who has settled on Zinnia's shoulder again.
Grovyle crosses his arms and nods once, but Lee can see his lips rise a little from the praise.
"No prob at all, Dolittle," Zinnia grins as Swablu beams happily. "Here's hoping that floppy sea spider is grateful enough to stick around. I know that kinda messes up your plans of a Vaporeon, but..."
Lee waves her off and shoulders his closed backpack once more. "I can live with two Water-types. Water is a good type, all things considered. Let's worry about that later, though. I've got a sick pokemon to deal with."
As they all get ready to march off, Lee pauses, then shrugs off his bag once more. From inside of it he pulls a bottle of water that he uncaps. He offers the bottle to Grovyle, who gratefully pours half of the contents down his throat before returning it to Lee, who then drinks the remainder and silently curses the Hoenn sun under his breath. Ignoring Zinnia's raised eyebrow, he jogs over to the thawing oasis and dips the now empty bottle in, collecting some of the water inside before capping it.
The trip back to the temporary camp is quick and devoid of any stops. One roving Graveler spoiling for a brawl tries to stop the group, but a Leaf Blade from Grovyle carving into the wild Rock-type's armor forces a hasty retreat from the aggressor. Once Vulpix is in range for clear communication, Lee reaches out to her and feeds her a replay of the last hour and some change.
As they step back into camp, Lee wastes no time with any niceties. "Brendan! Courtney!" He calls, cupping his hands around his mouth. "Recall any pokemon who aren't escorting you and pack up! We've got a pokemon in bad shape and we're double-timing it to Lavaridge!"
Courtney stands as if bitten by something, her placid face hardening at Lee's tone. In a flash, she recalls her Mightyena with a pokeball in one hand and releases Camerupt from a ball in her other hand. As the great camel materializes, he shares his trainer's severe expression. Without needing to be told, he begins to trot over to Brendan to carry the still injured boy.
Brendan, however, blinks and slowly sits up, aided by his Mawile holding his arm. "A pokemon is hurt that bad?" He looks between Grovyle and Swablu with confusion. "What happened? You got enough stuff back in Mauville that you could be a walking pokemon center."
Lee grimaces, remembering how his conscience nagged him into buying nearly a thousand credits worth of supplies before they set off into the Valley. The only thing they've used is water, painkillers for Brendan, sunscreen, and MREs on nights where firewood was sparse. "That gunshot noise?" Lee begins. "It was an Octillery. The poor guy was trapped in a toxic pond and wasting his energy taking potshots at other pokemon. I'm ninety percent sure he's got some sort of heavy metal poisoning which is not something I can treat in the field. I fed him a Sitrus which should keep him stable for now, but I want to get him to a real pokemon center, one that can run an analysis on the water sample I have and get a more certain diagnosis." He crosses his arms, mirroring Grovyle as Vulpix trots over and leaps up to rest along his shoulders. "Sorry for the rush, but I want to get Octillery treated before he suffers some sort of permanent condition."
'For all I know, it's already too late and he's going to have some sort of complication…
The grim thought prompts a mental shushing from Vulpix, who touches her cool nose to one of Lee's scars. 'Don't dw*ll on what *ou can't contr*l,' she sniffs.
The news plants a determined frown on Brendan's face that looks comical considering his youth. With a grunt, he stands on wobbly legs and clambers up on Camerupt's back, between the volcanos. Brendan then paws at his belt and takes Mawile and Electrike's pokeballs in his hands. "Return! Erm..." He stops short and looks at his backpack that's still on the ground. "Electrike? Could you get my bag, first? My back is killing me and I really don't wanna get down again..."
The green and yellow pup looks down at the ground, spying Brendan's one-strap backpack. Gingerly, almost unsurely, he picks it up in his teeth and walks to Camerupt's side, timidly meeting eyes with the larger pokemon for only a moment. With a tremble, he rises on his hind legs, planting his front paws on Camerupt's side as he offers Brendan the backpack.
Brendan's grin is almost blinding in how bright it is. "Thanks, Electrike. You're the best!" He says, bending down just enough to take the offered backpack and stroke the large pup across his head.
Elecktrike's stubby tail wags slowly. Behind him, Mawile holds her cheeks with her hands and giggles, gushing over something. Both pokemon are swiftly recalled into their balls after that.
Lee readies Grovyle's ball and looks down at the Grass pokemon. "Take a rest, Grovyle. We need you in top shape in case things go sour. We've been setting a nice and easy pace until now, so if a local gets upset about us making a quick march through their turf..."
Grovyle's eyes harden as he too imagines what could happen.
"Yeah, that's why I want a rested Grass-type on hand," Lee nods. "Return."
Grovyle is recalled in a flash of red.
Lee looks around at everyone.
Courtney hasn't said a word. She just stands ready by Camerupt and Brendan. Her narrowed eyes tell Lee just how seriously she's taking the situation.
Brendan himself gives Lee a thumbs up and a wide smile. "Let's go!"
Zinnia hooks the thumb of her left hand into her belt and taps a foot. In her right hand, her hand-drawn map is already bared. "Ready when you are." On her shoulder, Swablu tweets in agreement.
Finally, Lee shares a short look with Vulpix. In a tenth of a second, a full conversation passes. "Right," Lee begins. "Zinnia, take point. Vulpix will psychically scan ahead and forewarn us of anything amiss. Let's be in Lavaridge by morning."
As he rapid-fire trades thoughts with his starter, Lee privately wonders if he should bring up the strange lack of a termination point between his psyche and Vulpix's. After a moment, he discards the thought. 'It can wait until we're out of the Valley.'
Verdanturf, Covisquire decides, might be his favorite human settlement... In Hoenn, at least. Nothing quite compares with the artistry of Olde Galarian. Castles built to repel invaders and still bearing the scars of glory long past have always fascinated the corvid pokemon. Each mark tells a story of struggle, a story of a time the field of honor was littered with more than broken dreams.
Inside these grand forts and citadels hid luxury and finery without equal. Art, in Corvisquire's mind, can take many forms. The art of battle is of course the greatest. There exists no greater beauty than when two foes with everything to lose pit their skills against one another in honorable combat. Some might frown on Corvisquire's understanding of honor, but if his life has taught him anything, the version of honor venerated in fables and tales long past is outdated. Modern combat requires modern tactics.
'Chivalry is for the old and the dead...' Corvisquire muses from atop his street light perch. 'And I intend to be young forever.'
And art can take more traditional forms. The magnificent painted ceiling in the Hammerlocke Cathedral back in beautiful Galar left him speechless as a chick. How many hours did the artist spend, and how long did he hone his skills to see such a moving piece borne? The divine visage of Arceus was captured to such a degree that only seeing Him in person could be better.
...Modern art, however, is just plain mystifying. How is a mangled bit of car frame painted green 'art'? Putting junk on a pedestal and giving it a confusing name like Tired Sunkerns Aren't Fireproof doesn't make it art, it's just stupid.
His Steel Wing rent the offensive sculpture in the town park down to bits one night a week ago, and the city council is still in a great hubbub about finding the culprit. Most blamed "no good teenagers."
Now minus the stupid eyesore, Verdanturf is Corvisquire's favorite town in Hoenn. The humans live with nature rather than on top of it, the buildings are quaint but tasteful, and the land is rich with food and fresh air. Here during the twilight hours when everyone is heading home, the town is pleasant to behold.
'Though, I could do with a proper contender to fight...' Corvisquire clicks his beak in annoyance. 'Like a sword left in the rain, I feel the rust forming on my skills, and I'm so close to evolution, too.' He grips the streetlamp in his talons roughly in his irritation, making the paint chip and the metal below squeak. 'None of the weaklings around me can give me the push I need. I need only fly that fool trainer back to Littleroot then my obligations will be over and I can wash my talons of him.'
"Wally, there he is!" a squeaky voice calls below, breaking Corvisquire from his brooding. Looking down, he bites back a sigh.
Below him are a diminutive Ralts and a green-haired brat of a human child. The Ralts is pointing up at him as the child gapes like a moron.
'These two again...' Corvisquire's eyes narrow as he remembers the pair stumbling upon him a week prior, and how he had to exercise his mercy to save the stupid boy from his own traitorous body.
"Wow... that's a big bird..." Wally, the child mutters.
Corvisquire narrows his eyes even further, and Wally seems to realize he's already on thin ice as he gulps.
"M-Mister Corvisquire?" Wally calls up to him, gray eyes nervous. "Can we talk to you?"
For a moment, Corvisquire debates his options. He could just leave. He could hurl an insult and tell the pair to begone, or he could-
"We brought you a present, a-as thanks for saving me!" The boy calls up, raising a wicker basket in his hands that escaped Corvisquire's notice until now.
Inside the basket is an assortment of berries. Some are of the mundane variety, but he spies some he enjoys like Cheri, Oran, Persm, Mago, and even his favorite; succulent, mouthwatering Pecha berries.
'Perhaps I can bear them for a few minutes.'
Corvisquire flutters down from his perch, landing on the street with a click of his talons, and the boy seems taken about by his stature. The green-headed brat is only a foot taller than Corvisquire.
"O-Oh..." Wally looks down at the now meager-looking basket. "If I had known you were this big, I would have brought more..."
Corvisquire rolls his eyes and looks to Ralts. "What do you want?"
Ralts twiddles his fingers. "Oh... We just wanted to thank you. Wally..." Ralts tears up slightly.
'Oh, here we go...'
"Wally almost died because I wasn't a good pokemon for him. You were so calm and knew what to do and...and...!" Tears run down Ralts' face now.
'And I wanted to turn you into pulp. You seem to forget that, fool.'
"Ralts, is something the matter?" Wally sets the basket down and drops to a knee, setting a hand on Ralts' head. "What's wrong? Are you hurt?" He reaches into his shirt pocket and pulls out a handkerchief, dabbing at his pokemon's tears. "Please tell me, Ralts..."
"I know I can't make you do anything, but I know you're a good pokemon, s-so can you teach me to be a good pokemon too?" Ralts hugs Wally's arm as he asks. "Please?"
The first thing Corvisquire wants to do is laugh. Laugh until he's hoarse. The request is just so absurd and the little idiot's assumptions are so wrong that it's pure comedy.
"I..." Ralts hiccups as he forces his emotions down. He looks up at his trainer, eyes red and puffy. "I want to be a good pokemon for you, Wally, but I don't know how."
Wally smiles. "You're already a good pokemon, though..." Wally murmurs.
Corvisquire stops, his mirth gone as he hears the trainer clearly and directly reply to Ralts. "Fool," Corvisquire drills his eyes into Ralts, who freezes. "Do you know how to use telepathy?"
Ralts seems to debate hiding behind Wally but stops. "I'm not very good at it," he admits quietly.
'Telepathy is not just a skill, it's a hallmark of potential...' The raven pokemon looks between the boy and the tiny Psychic-type, an idea hatching. 'Never have I met a telepath without the finesse for greater skills, greater heights.' Unbidden, he recalls the past telepaths he's clashed with.
'That blasted Mr. Rime serving as the First and most Faithful of Dusan Durrinshire, dashing foes across jagged, invisible walls with a smile on his stupid face.'
'Espeon, that damned, smug banshee of House Mourn. Psychic screaming is no proper technique. How I would love to give you another scar so your left ear matches the right.'
'And finally... ' The final image is the most vivid, and in his mind's eye, Corvisquire sees a pair of brown, burning eyes, smoldering with hate for a perceived betrayal. No matter how damning the imagined eyes are, Corvisquire stomps upon the guilt that wants to bubble in his chest. Of all his foes, Vulpix remains one he's yet to beat, and her powers aren't even matured.
The brown eyes change, morphing into red gems that shine with a hellish, vengeful hue. The fur framing them transforms from dull orange to radiant gold.
Never would Corvisquire admit that under the guilt, there was a thrill of fear at the image.
"Hmm..." The raven hums to disguise his thoughts, and like a favored chick, his idea hatches into something magnificent. 'None of the weaklings of Verdanturf can challenge me, can push me to evolve, but I care not for leaving this town quite yet. So, rather than finding a worthwhile foe... What if I manufacture one?'
"You wish to learn from me?" Corvisquire purrs, relaxing.
The sudden shift, one even the human perceives, catches both the boy and pokemon off guard.
Corvisquire struts up to the basket, plucking a delectable Pecha from the top. He tilts his head back and bites down, savoring the sweet pulp and juice. With another bite, the Pecha is in his gullet. "If mentorship is what you want, I can be convinced..." the raven smiles nastily.
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