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The professor smiles and raises a hand, halting her. "Class, allow me to introduce myself properly and put any doubts to rest. My name is Lee Henson, and I'm the first person since Newton Scamander to be certified in the handling and care of Class XXXXX creatures."
You sneak, I didn't see this in my email because of work. Damn. Well, I read it now, and I really really want to read more of this.
After a bout of some serious confusion over how this was connected to the main story (since the new chapter notification only gives the chapter without the chapter title), I think I will happily be the sixth to say that I definitely want to read more stuff like this. :D
BWHAHAHAHAHAHHA! Oh man, that was hilarious. The entire class got wipelash by the end.
Fuck the hell yes.

I have a desperate need to see more of this Harry Potter omake.

I have to know, being transported to the HP verse, did Lee's Pokémon actually pick up any special magical abilities? Is Ninetales actually a Kitsune as long as she's in this universe or is she still just a Pokémon?

Inquiring minds want to know about potential shapeshifting abilities that may have been imparted onto Ninetales, and the "applications" thereof.
I can't help but imagine a native, multi-tailed and female Kitsune taking an interest in Lee.

Not only do I genuinely like the idea, but it also makes me laugh

> Ninetales thought she'd gotten over her jealousy and possessive instincts, but very recently they've reemerged and are stronger than ever.
> Woe betides this kitsune if she decides to create a mental bond with Lee like the one Nine Tales has.
'I don't think I was ready for today…' Hermione sighs,
To be fair, I do not believe anyone of the magical community or Pokemon community would be prepared to face a living legend whose lineage can be divine at times and even if not divine can hold a well spring of power and mysticism that can and will ruin you if you piss off the wielder enough.
To be fair, I do not believe anyone of the magical community or Pokemon community would be prepared to face a living legend whose lineage can be divine at times and even if not divine can hold a well spring of power and mysticism that can and will ruin you if you piss off the wielder enough.
Unless you exclude Ash (and Brock at times) I woukd have to disagree. Ash is ok and can handle walking up to or even attempt to puch beings (Mewtwo) that are capable of world ending threats. To Ash meeting a divine being is just another sunday.
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Unless you exclude Ash (and Brock at times) I woukd have to disagree. Ash is ok and can handle walking or even attempt to puch beings (Mewtwo) that are capable of world ending threats. To Ash meeting a divine being is just another sunday.
Ask Ketchum: *meets GOD* *Tries to punch him* STOP FIGHTING MY FRIENDS!
Omake: Borne of Divinity
Amid some rolling blackouts that are making my writing notes intermittently inaccessible, I made this on an old chromebook. Enjoy.

A short Borne of Caution and Okami (2006 Videogame) crossover.

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Amaterasu, Goddess of the Sun and Origin of all that is Good, slows her sprint into a jog. Around her, the blurry, undefined greenery morphs back into trees and bamboo before her eyes.

Bamboo is good. It means they're getting closer to Kusa Village, where the demon Crimson Helm is said to be holed up. As much as she would like to make the rest of the trip before sundown, her mortal body shakes with fatigue. Her jog slows into a calm walk along the beaten dirt road, her aching paws and injured leg thanking her.

Amaterasu huffs to herself, both to catch her breath and out of annoyance. Her favored form, that of a brilliant white wolf, is fleet of foot and mighty as they come, but she knows she should be stronger than this. The terrible fog that has been clouding her memories for the last several weeks fades with an agonizingly slow pace, but she knows that during her last adventure in beautiful Nippon, one that passed over one-hundred years ago, the trappings of mortality never seemed like issues.

Just a few days prior, she felled a pack of imps seeking to ambush a courier along the road. Although she slew the demons without a scratch, one tried to flee by unfurling a body-sized kite and riding the wind.

Amaterasu jumped high, and removed the imp's head from his shoulders before he could run away and cause misfortune elsewhere. When she came back down, it was upon uneven ground. Misjudging her fall, she landed with a painful jolt up one of her hind legs. Her hip and leg have been stiff and sore ever since.

Alas, trying to rid herself of the stiffness was a fruitless effort. Mighty and varied is her Celestial Brush, a divine power that lets her draw her will into creation as if the world was a canvas, and none of her techniques were so useful as Restoration… Which failed magnificently when she tried to heal her leg. The divine power fizzled out to her bewilderment. Then she realized why.

She doesn't know what exactly she is trying to fix. Fixing a broken object like a rotted wooden bridge or a snapped fishing line is one thing, but mending something as complex as a body is another, it seems…

Her stomach growls, and the white wolf growls back.

A flash of green appears in the corner of her eyes, and Amaterasu looks up.

Standing upon her head and between her ears is Issun, her partner in this sojourn to rid Nippon of evil.

The man is tiny, no more than a few centimeters tall, wearing equally tiny robes and a beetle-like hat. Belonging to a race of sprites called poncles, Issun glows with a bright green aura of magic. Despite being a crass womanizer and self-described freeloader, the tiny artist has been her guide, her voice to humans (owing to the poncle talent of animal speak), and most loyal friend since her awakening. For that, Amaterasu feels she cannot thank him enough. She swears she knew a poncle before Issun, but the name just won't come to her past the fog in her brain.

"Jeez, Ammy," the tiny man bounces on her head. "You sound like you could eat a horse. Maybe we should stop for the night and find some dinner."

Her stomach growls once more, so she can't help but nod in agreement.

In the waning sunlight, the wolf and poncle pad along the road. It's not uncommon to find rest stops on well-trod paths, either small inns, teahouses, or unmanned hovels used as a place to sleep, so with any luck, they'll stumble upon one soon.

"At least the demons around here are laying low. We haven't seen one all-day," Issun comments, filling the silence with his pleasant chatter. "No demons, no aggravated leg." After a beat, he asks: "How is your leg doing, furball? Still hurt?"

Amaterasu snuffles and throws her head.

"Running the whole way probably didn't help, ya know," the poncle chides in reply. "I do gotta wonder about the demons, though. Did someone get to them before us? We haven't passed any monks or exorcists on the way, did we?"

The Sun Goddess silently wonders about that herself. Bands of demons roam the land nowadays, making travel perilous for people, but the road from Taka Pass to Kusa Village has been oddly quiet.

They walk for another twenty minutes as Amaterasu's sun dips further and further behind the horizon, bathing the tall stalks of bamboo around them in pink and orange. Finally, they come across a rest stop along the road, one it looks like they'll be sharing with someone else, judging from the gentle light shining out of the windows.

A pleasant, savory smell wafts by her nose from the rest stop, and Amaterasu instinctually takes a deep sniff. Immediately, her tail begins to wag and her stomach grumbles. Hopefully, the temporary companions within are willing to share what they're cooking. The smell is delicious.

Stepping up to the small shack of a building, Amaterasu noses the sliding door open and pokes her head inside. With a blink, she tilts her head at what she sees.

Sitting cross-legged by the hearth and tending to both a boiling pot and a number of meat skewers, a clearly foreign man looks up and meets Amaterasu's surprised eyes with his own. His western features are marred by a ghastly trio of claw-like scars on his face, one nearly claiming his eye, and his hair is a lighter brown than most. Much like his visage, his clothes are foreign, and Amaterasu can't hope to name the articles he wears. Even sitting down, Amaterasu can tell the man must be quite tall.

Beside him sits someone even more surprising. At the man's side is a kitsune, one who regards Amaterasu warily.

The kitsune is roughly Amaterasu's size, and coated in fur that shines and glitters like pure gold. A twitch of her nose tells the Goddess that the kitsune is a female. Ruby-like eyes stare into Amaterasu's own amber orbs, but it's not the fox's eyes that Amaterasu lingers on. No, the wolf swiftly counts the fox's tails, which number nine.

Not just any kitsune, but a kyuubi. Amaterasu can't recall the last time she spoke to one. Lesser kitsune are a rare sight on their own.

…Perhaps this kyuubi is the reason the road to Kusa is free of demons?

"Hey, buddy!" Issun breaks the silence before it can grow awkward, bouncing up and down on Amaterasu's head. "Mind if we join you? We've been running all day and could use a rest."

The western man snaps out of his stupor and smiles politely, unphased at meeting a poncle. The scarred side of his face can't smile as well as the unblemished side does, and Amaterasu finds herself tempted to try her paw at healing the scars with her Brush. "Of course. Please, come in. Some company would be lovely," he says, his accent thick and quite humorous to listen to.

Stepping inside, Amaterasu noses the door shut behind her and seats herself a polite distance away from the man, relaxing her body and sore leg. Although she feels a bit bad for ignoring their new acquaintances, she watches the pot above the fire longingly, her stomach gnawing at itself.

"Hungry?" The man smiles again, pulling a packet of rice paper along with a mortar and pestle from the curious bag behind him. He opens the packet and dumps the contents, a collection of salt and spices, into the mortar to be ground up. "It'll be ready shortly, and we'll be glad to share some."

"That's mighty nice of you, pal!" Issun says. "Normally, I'd make fun of Ammy here for having a bottomless pit for a belly, but we ran all the way here from Taka Pass this morning, so lemme speak for her when I say the generosity will be appreciated."

Amaterasu wags her tail with a short bark of agreement.

"Issun is the name, and this here is Amaterasu!" Issun introduces both of them.

The man and the kitsune meet eyes for a second, a conversation seeming to play out between them in a heartbeat. The scarred westerner then turns back to them. "It's nice to meet you two. My name is Lee Henson… Or I suppose it's family name first here? Henson Lee, then," he says, giving the pot above the fire a stir.

"Ninetales is my name. I am Lee's partner and protector. A pleasure to meet you," The words falling from Ninetales' mouth are no human speech, but Amaterasu understands them regardless, as she's sure Issun does. The kitsune inclines her head and wraps her tails around her legs, seeming content to say nothing else.

Protector? So it was Ninetales who culled the demons on the road. Amaterasu smiles and barks in thanks. Selfish interests or not, the fox has no doubt saved more than one unfortunate traveler some trouble, and the Goddess can appreciate it.

"T'was no issue," Ninetales smiles in reply.

"Oh, tales, I get it!" Issun chuckles to himself, drawing a roll of the eyes from the fox. "How did a westerner and a kitsune meet, if you don't mind me asking?"

"You might say we were made for each other," Ninetales says mysteriously. "It was simply fate that we crossed paths on that sunny day years ago."

"She found me lost and alone in the woods, and decided the dumb man she found needed all the help he could get," Henson cuts in, sending the exasperated fox's mystique crashing to the ground with a smile. "I still need it, so here we are."

Issun's little green aura flares. "Huh. Small world. I did the same thing for Ammy. Poor thing would still be on the other side of Nippon, as helpless as a turtle on a fencepost if not for me."

Annoyed, Amaterasu throws her jaws and catches Issun in her mouth, letting him squirm for a moment. After a few seconds of suffering, she unceremoniously spits him out on the floor with a splat!

"Ick!" Issun gets back to his feet, his aura flaring into a furious red and burning the saliva away. "Again with the wolf slobber! You can't treat a man of my station like that!" He complains.

An elegant, cream-colored tail rises up to the kitsune's face to hide an amused smile before Ninetales sets the conversation back on the rails. "You came all the way from Taka Pass in a day, you said? We've been traveling along this road from the Pass for a few days now. You must have kept quite a pace."

Amaterasu lays down and relaxes, letting Issun speak in her stead. The conversation drifts from topic to topic lazily as the cool of the night sets in. The wolf Goddess listens to Issun boast about his painting skills, to Ninetales' wistful wishing to visit a number of locations in Nippon, but the wolf listens with the most interest to Henson, who speaks of his scholarly pursuits in things like biology, meta-biology, transformative energy theory, and sapient psychology and interrelations among other things that Nippon has no words for. Such dull subjects are boring, but it's hard not to listen when the large man's voice swells with his passion for understanding every facet of life itself. Many of the terms and words fly over her head, but it's clear as day that the man is an expert in his chosen schools.

"We do travel quite far for Lee's studies, sometimes." Ninetales nods along to one of Issun's questions. "Sometimes the locations are less than a day's travel, and other times they're far off the beaten path. Occasionally, they're… farther than we expect." She trails off, looking out the window and to the starry sky outside. "Returning home is often an experience in and of itself."

"We'll get back. We always do," Henson smiles and pulls Ninetales into a one-armed hug. The other arm is busy serving food onto a number of colorful plates made of an odd, flexible material that Henson produces from his bag.

When a plate is passed to her, Amaterasu takes a moment to let Issun gather an armful for himself before leaning down and taking a bite. The meal is simple fare, being rice, grilled eel, and assorted vegetables in a savory sauce with little in the way of presentation, but the taste! The meat is tender and flaky, the rice is soft and has absorbed the flavor of the eel and the sauce, and the vegetables round the flavor and add a pleasing texture to the mix. Eating is a mortal pleasure the Goddess is always glad to indulge in, and this meal is one for the books. As she wolfs down her food, she wonders if one of the esoteric sciences Henson studies somehow involves cooking.

Her plate empty and belly full, Amaterasu stretches out and sighs happily, relishing the simple joy of good food and company.

"Thanks for the food, Henson! It was great!" Issun once more speaks for Amaterasu and himself. "I could eat like that every night!"

"You flatter me, Issun," Henson seems pleased that his dinner went over well with everyone. "Once everyone's food settles, I was hoping to see about Amaterasu's leg."

Amaterasu's head rises off of her paws, taking in Henson with bewilderment.

"Her leg?" Issun parrots.

The westerner nods. "Yes. I noticed she wasn't putting quite as much weight on her right hindleg as the other. May I ask what happened? I'm guessing a bad trip or a long fall?"

"Uh, yeah, actually." Issun seems as surprised as Amaterasu feels. "You seem experienced on the matter."

Henson nods his head toward Ninetales. "I'm just a squishy, regular man, so Nine often has to fight for me if we get into trouble. As a consequence of my fields of study and her being my frontline defender, I've seen about every natural injury a creature in the Canidae family can experience, and a lot of unnatural ones, too. If I can help, then I'd like to."

Issun goes silent. "What do you think, furball?"

Amaterasu thinks to herself.

Henson certainly seems to know his stuff. He spoke earlier of his various sciences and experiences without hesitation or any signs of deceit. When she watches his eyes, though, she feels her own narrow.

Her Godly features are hidden from the eyes of normal humans. To most, she appears as a regular wolf, albeit with a pure white coat. None see the divine red ink in her fur, the swirling tufts on her legs, her ink-dipped tail, or any of her divine weapons, which she keeps in a telekinetic grip behind her when not in use.

Henson is looking directly at the Divine Reflector above her back, a mirror imbued with holy sunfire that has struck down many a demon as a bludgeon. The man isn't quite so regular, now is he?

Yet, that matters not when she looks deeper. The man fidgets under her gaze, but does not shrink away or hide. No, his intention to help simply for the sake of helping is as true as can be. If there is one thing that Amaterasu can trust, it's motives that mirror her own, as arrogant as it may sound.

With a pleased, affirmative bark, the Sun Goddess lets the flames around her divine reflector fizzle out before she sets the weapon gently against the wall. She trots up to Henson, who smiles back.

"Okay!" He begins. "Let's get this show on the road. Can you present your side with the injured leg to me? Issun? Can you sit somewhere else for a bit? I may need Amaterasu to take an unstable position and don't want you getting hurt in the process."

Issun bounces away, over to Ninetales, where he bounds up and perches upon the kitsune's head instead. The fox frowns, visibly displeased, but she doesn't knock the poncle away

"Let's get started," Henson murmurs, taking his hands and feeling up and down Amaterasu's leg.

Henson's experience immediately becomes apparent. The tips of his fingers ghost across her leg with featherlight touches, pausing over areas where the soreness is most prevalent without so much as a twitch from Amaterasu. The hands move up her thigh and to her lower back, where he gently runs a pair of fingers from the top of her pelvis to the base of her tail. If Henson weren't a professional healer and a human to boot, then this feels like it might be too lurid to allow.

"Hey, I can hear your teeth grinding," Amaterasu can hear Issun whisper to Ninetales. "What's got your tails in a bunch?"

"Nothing, bug," the fox hisses, just as quiet.

…Apparently, Ninetales does not appreciate this…

"And this was caused by a bad fall?" Henson questions, his face set into a mask of focus. "Did you land with your body parallel to the ground?"

Amaterasu shakes away the awkwardness with a whine and looks over to Issun.

"Kinda?" The poncle provides from his place atop Ninetales' head. "She was twisted a little bit, and that leg hit the ground before the other."

"Alrighty," Henson mutters. "Amaterasu? Do you have any kind of abilities that would provide passive accelerated recovery from physical injury? Like a healing factor or regeneration?"

The wolf nods. She's always healed quickly. That's why she's been so mystified and frustrated with this persistent ache.

"Okay, Then I have a good idea what's going on." Henson smiles. "I've seen this happen a few times with Ninetales and a few others. It looks like you have a factor fault."

"Factor fault?" Issun crosses his tiny arms. "You've been talking in nothing but jargon all night, Doc. Maybe explain this time?"

"Sorry," Henson blushes, looking away and faintly embarrassed. "A 'factor fault' is medical shorthand back where I'm from used to refer to a category of injuries caused by healing factors incorrectly repairing a prior injury. Things like a bone breaking, then healing back together crooked before it can be properly set, or torn muscles accidentally bunching up and healing together in a big mass."

Amaterasu feels her hackles rise. Ugh! That sounds ghastly! And she has that condition?! She looks over at the man with no small amount of horror, hoping that he's wrong.

"Thankfully, it looks like Amaterasu's case is nothing to be worried about," he smiles. "I didn't feel any misshapen bones or anything of the like, so this is probably just a case of compacted connective tissue in the upper thigh from axial overload." He presses the back of his hand to Amaterasu's thigh once more, before taking her ankle in his other hand and gently lifting her leg a few centimeters. "Her hip wasn't dislocated, but I imagine she probably has some trapped fluid from a bit of transverse overload if she landed at an angle. We can fix both in one go, thankfully."

"Well, what are you waiting for?" Issun bounces impatiently. "Fix her up!"

"Aasir, I thought I would never need to do this one, but you ended up being right again…" Henson mumbles to himself before slapping a pleasant smile back on his face. "Okay, so what I'm going to do is this…"

Henson lifts her hindleg and scooches closer so he can place it over his shoulder, leaving her inner thigh against the back of his shoulder blade. "I'm going to 'hug' the meat of your thigh here, as my hands-" With his arms on either side of her leg, he presses his palms against her lower back, just above the base of her tail, "-push down right there on your hips. Using my body as a leverage point, I can both squeeze and pull your leg, freeing the compacted connective tissue and the fluid in your hip."

…Okay, now this has to look like a compromising position. The wolf does her best to hide how embarrassed she feels. Ignoring the daggers being stared into the back of her head is a bit harder. Harder still is ignoring how uncomfortably hot the room is getting.

"Ready?" Henson asks, looking totally oblivious to the fact that his face is so close to what lies under her tail. "Your leg is going to sting, and your hip is going to feel a pinch. Three, two, one…" He clenches his arms together, pushes down on her hips, and leans his body back. "Just grit your teeth and keep your balance!"

Amaterasu winces, feeling a sharp flare of pain followed by-


An absolutely heavenly surge of relief.

Amaterasu would look back and ruminate on that night a number of times throughout her and Issun's journey. The noise that came out of her mouth when Healer Henson popped her hip was… embarrassingly indecent. Borderline lewd, even.

That's probably why Ninetales spewed a furious stream of flames from her maw, scorching the ceiling black and scaring the life out of everyone. It was nothing Amaterasu's Celestial Brush couldn't fix, but it was not an occasion any of them would remember as one of their more dignified moments.

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Well now this was a fun one poor Ninetales getting all Jealous but she should know by now she is irreplaceable in lee's heart and mind.
"You might say we were made for each other," Ninetales says mysteriously. "It was simply fate that we crossed paths on that sunny day years ago."
Ha got a good laugh out of me with that as the air smug must have been palpable.
…Okay, now this has to look like a compromising position. The wolf does her best to hide how embarrassed she feels. Ignoring the daggers being stared into the back of her head is a bit harder. Harder still is ignoring how uncomfortably hot the room is getting.
Ooof yeah I can hear the steaming kettle noises from here.
Honestly I'd like to see continuations of some of these omakes at some point. Especially with Fuggmann hinting at them being connected.
"Sometimes the locations are less than a day's travel, and other times they're far off the beaten path. Occasionally, they're… farther than we expect." She trails off, looking out the window and to the starry sky outside. "Returning home is often an experience in and of itself."

"We'll get back. We always do," Henson smiles and pulls Ninetales into a one-armed hug.
Act 2: Chapter 16
NOTICE: This chapter might rankle a few chains, so the next one is coming soon, probably in just a few days.

Want to support me? See https://www.patreon.com/fuggmann on the place of patrons or https://subscribestar.adult/fuggmann on the place of subscribed stars. I have goals on there that help my writing along and make it a richer experience for everyone. As thanks for donating, patrons get to see updates a few days early and suggest edits to the final draft before it goes live. If you want to keep up-to-date on releases, use discord code hive-of-degeneracy and opt in to the fic-updates role for a ping.

"Hands up! Pokemon League!"

'Is that really the best I could come up with?' Lee grimaces inwardly as he and his pokemon, along with Brendan and Zinnia's teams all pour out into the courtyard of the volcano's visitor center. "Toss away any pokeballs and get on your knees!" he yells at the top of his lungs.

Every Magma grunt's eyes shoot to them, with some being more startled than others. Three of the grunts even cave to the demand, raising their hands and dropping down to their knees with looks of fright painted on their faces. Of the three, two of them can be no older than sixteen.

The others?

One grunt takes a pokeball from his side and throws it at the ground, where it pops open and releases a furious-looking Golbat. "Golbat, get ready!" the henchman orders.

As if hearing the pop of a starting gun at the beginning of a race, the rest of the grunts all shake themselves from their stupor and seize their own pokeballs. Their orders all overlap each other as each one scrambles to ready themselves and their pokemon. In a multitude of flashes, pokemon of all sorts take shape at their trainer's feet. Lee spies several Poochyena, a Zubat, a Numel, a Koffing, a Mankey, and others. Two of the older-looking grunts, who must be lieutenants, have a Machoke and a Lairon.

Ninetales bristles and lowers herself, taking position in front of Lee. On either side of her, a growling Shelgon and manically grinning Marshtomp do the same for Zinnia and Brendan. Lee only spares a second to look behind him, seeing Grovyle, Octillery, and Corvisquire standing ready to jump into the fray.

The grunt with the Lairon blinks and slides forward a bit, his hurt eyes focused on Zinnia. The man is rather unremarkable appearance-wise, sans the cyan hair Lee can see under his hood. "Hey, Zena, babe? What are you doing?!" he demands. "You're one of us! Is this some kinda joke?!"

'Zena? Is this the guy Zinnia was catfishing?' Lee looks between Zinnia and the Magma goon.

Zinnia scoffs at the lieutenant. "You got played, dolt. Try thinking with the head on your shoulders, and maybe you wouldn't have been strung along or found yourself in a gang." She shakes her head. "You and your friends need to give up before you get hurt."

Lee doesn't miss how Brendan flinches at Zinnia's examination.

The grunt retreats back a step, seeming to be genuinely distraught. Beside him, his Lairon's blue eyes narrow, and a growl rattles from his metallic throat. "Well…" The lieutenant blinks his eyes, and his disappointment is replaced with fury. "Fuck you, then! Lairon, get ready! Boys, step up!"

Another grunt steps forward with his spitting-mad Mankey on the lieutenant's left, and on that grunt's left, the grunt with the growling Poochyena takes position. Another steps out of the crowd to join his fellows, a calm Meditite on his heels. The three grunts step forward, with the Mankey poised to take on Ninetales, Poochyena on Shelgon, and Meditite on Marshtomp. The rest all back up a dozen steps with considerable haste, whooping and hollering for their fellow gang members.

"Kick some ass!"

"Make Magma proud!"

"Fuck 'em up!"

'They really do intend to fight us one-to-one…' Lee blinks at how surreal it feels. 'I could have sworn this was going to turn into an uncontrolled brawl.'

Ninetales snarls at the Mankey across from her, who screeches back in blind anger. 'They're afraid of a full-scale conflict, and rightly so,' she says, her thoughts dark as she stares down her foe. 'They have no idea what they're up against.'

The lieutenant off to the side, the one with his tense Machoke, takes a radio from his belt and lifts it to his lips. Amidst all the noise from the Magma members and their pokemon, the lieutenant's message is lost even to Ninetales' sharp ears, but it can't be good.

'He's probably calling Courtney and Tabitha…' Lee grimly realizes. For a second, he's tempted to have Ninetales rip the radio away from the man, but stops himself, fearing that might constitute an attack on the trainer and turn the whole situation into a bloodbath.

Shelgon and Marshtomp take their places on either side of Ninetales. From Shelgon's throat rolls a deep growl that reverberates from within his shell, while Marshtomp wordlessly raises his fists.

The chatter of the grunts and the cries of their pokemon fall quiet. The heated air of the volcano top fills with uneasy tension, one looking for any excuse to explode like a spring wound too tight.

Ninetales' Drought begins to make the sunrays unpleasantly hot, and Lee has to resist the urge to pull on the collar of his shirt. Keeping his head still, Lee turns his eyes to the left.

Zinnia meets his nervous gaze with red eyes practically blazing with resolve. That firm, assured belief that everything will turn out fine takes the edge off his nerves.

To the right…

Brendan refuses to meet Lee's eyes, instead looking away with guilt for some reason. The boy's attitude does nothing to settle the twisting within the older trainer's stomach.

The Mankey across from Ninetales snorts and lowers himself. Behind him, his sweating trainer's lips finally part. "Mankey! Kara-!"

The rest of his words are drowned out as all three battles erupt at once. Shelgon rolls into a ball and charges his foe, while Marshtomp bellows and fires a spear of rushing white water from his mouth. As Ninetales snarls in wordless fury, Lee pulls her mind closer and tries to steady his pounding heart.

Mankey bounds forward at his trainer's command, his hairless fist glowing with enough power to turn a boulder to powder. Jumping high, he screeches and zooms downward with all his body weight behind his attack.

Together, Lee and Ninetales devise a counterplay, exchanging telepathic messages at lightning speed.

The monkey-like Mankey is stopped dead when Ninetales ducks his strike and latches her teeth around one of his ankles, drawing a shrill shriek of pain from him. The fox then throws her neck, releases her jaws, and dashes her smaller foe across the rocky ground like a child trying to destroy glassware. Before the winded Fighting-type can stand up and recover at his trainer's frantic urging, Ninetales leaps to him, stomping a front paw onto his stomach, then hovers her open mouth mere inches away from Mankey's face. The wavering heat mirage pouring from her throat is a dead giveaway of what is about to befall Mankey.

Mankey screeches and drives his fist into Ninetales' lower jaw in a flash, even faster than Ninetales can attack, but the vixen hardly budges from the strike, merely redoubling her hostile glare in reply. No, from the hardly-painful phantom impact on his own chin, Lee can tell the strength difference between the two Pokémon is simply too vast to overcome. Mankey was finished the moment he stepped up.

A split-second later, the Magma grunt's Mankey is bathed in a point-blank Flamethrower. The roar of the fire covers any sort of agonized sound that Mankey is surely making, and despite the monkey pokemon being a true enemy, Lee feels his burn scars tingle in sympathy. The flames are a mercifully cool orange rather than white, but many of the spectating Magma goons still cry out in alarm and shuffle backwards from the heat.

Ninetales cuts off her attack after a mere few seconds, then leaps backward closer to Lee, her stance remaining low and her tails fanned out threateningly.

On the blackened ground, Mankey, covered in blistering red burns and wheezing, doesn't even try to get back to his feet. Behind him, his grunt trainer is staring at Ninetales in open terror, shaking so badly that he can hardly raise his pokeball. "R-Return!" He cries, pointing the pokeball into the cramped fighting area.

In a flash of red, the wounded Mankey is recalled into his pokeball.

Cradling the ball in his hands, the fearful Magma member pushes his way behind his stunned fellows, hiding himself away.

'Well, that didn't make me feel like a bully or anything.' Lee thinks, with Ninetales the only one to hear his sarcasm. He scans the crowd of Magma goons, seeing their smirks and jeers gone, replaced with fearful realization. The only noise that isn't from fighting is Corvisquire's mocking laughter, trumpeting like a grating, rusty horn behind them.

'Is Ninetales that scary?' Once more, Lee wonders if his ideas of normality are skewing.

'They can surrender any time they wish,' Ninetales snorts in reply. 'Until then, they receive no quarter.'

Lee hazards a look over to Zinnia's fight, watching as an unharmed Shelgon bashes his namesake shell into the head of the Poochyena who dared enter the ring with him. Poochyena yelps like a puppy unfairly struck, then stumbles, bleeding profusely from a split in his skull. He stands for only a second more before he collapses, going limp and breathing in gasps. Before the blood pooling around his head can grow to a worrying size, Poochyena is frantically recalled by his trainer, a middle-aged grunt.

Satisfied, Lee glances over at Brendan's skirmish.

Marshtomp plays his fight slow at Brendan's direction, harassing Meditite at range with Water Gun, and parrying physical blows with his large hands when Meditite dares to close the distance. Marshtomp looks as fresh as can be, smirking throughout the battle, while the panicking grunt's Meditite is flagging, becoming sluggish as his stamina wanes.

"Meditite, H-High-Jump Kick!" The Magma member with Meditite can only be sixteen at most, as his voice cracks nervously halfway through the command.

The sweating Meditite leaps high up into the air, his little humanoid body covered in a faint aura of blue. At the apex of his jump, one of his short legs shoots out and he races down at Marshtomp like a javelin.

"Now," Brendan orders with unusual apathy.

As Meditite races down, Marshtomp remains still until the absolute last second, then one of his arms blurs into motion and knocks Meditite's kick wide. Meanwhile, he clenches his hand into a fist glowing with a slight outline of white, then drives it into the still-falling Meditite's solar plexus like a battering ram.

Lee can actually feel the shock wave produced from the brutal blow, which stirs some dust on the ground.

Meditite can do nothing but rasp through his winded lungs, his hands grasping Marshtomp's thick wrist for support as his eyes bug out from the gut punch. When his grip becomes limp, he falls from his place suspended on the mudfish's fist, hitting the ground in a heap.

"Don't just stand there!" The lieutenant with the Machoke yells at his stunned compatriots. "Someone else get in there and start fighting immediately! We have to hold out!"

From the nervous crowd, three more frightened grunts are pushed forward, figuratively thrown to the wolves by the men behind him. With no other choice, the trio shares a look as each one reluctantly takes a ball from their belt.

'Here we go again,' Lee mentally clicks his tongue.

The new trio, this time with a Zubat, a Machop, and a Rockruff, fare no better than their predecessors. Within a handful of moves and barely a few moments, the second round ends just as the first did. The grunts recall their wounded pokemon and push their way through the throng of bodies behind them, seeking refuge behind the other gang members. The third round passes, and then a fourth, each one draining the gangsters ranks more and more. The lieutenant with the increasingly twitchy Machoke beside him quickly grows pale as he realizes his forces are being chewed through.

"C'mon!" Zinnia taunts with an unsettlingly wide grin. "Give up!"

"You don't have to hurt your pokemon like this!" Lee chimes in as well. "You'll get a shorter stint in jail if you cooperate!"

Brendan remains silent.

The morale of red-clad gangsters is in total freefall, as even the lieutenants are looking unsure at this point. It's become evident to them all that winning simply isn't going to happen. Just as the next three reluctant gang members step forward, a loud, angry voice cuts through the silence.

"Why the hell are you all wasting yourselves like this?!"

The crowd of grunts rapidly part, allowing a pair of figures entrance.

On the right is a large, rotund man, both broad and tall, clad in the signature red uniform of Magma. Squinted eyes upon a round face open enough to peer at the gangsters around him with disapproval, which is enough for many of the Magma grunts to bow their heads. On his belt are four pokeballs, one of his large hands hovering above them.

Beside the large man is a much more familiar face.

There, next to the large man, is none other than Courtney. The woman's face wears its usual apathetic expression, which is partially shaded by the red hood pulled over her head. Her hoodie, skirt, and sneakers have been discarded, instead replaced with Magma's distinctive uniform.

"Admin Tabitha! Admin Courtney!" The cyan-haired lieutenant who fell for Zinnia's false affections bows his head, a look of dread upon his face. "We've been trying to stall as best we can, but-"

"You were engaging." Courtney's matter-of-fact voice interrupts the lieutenant, her magenta eyes raking over Zinnia and Shelgon, Lee and Ninetales, and stopping on Brendan and Marshtomp. "Didn't follow training. Fighting when you should be dodging." Courtney shakes her head. "Foolish."

"How many of you are no good to Magma anymore? Twelve? Fifteen?" Tabitha shakes his head with an annoyed sigh, as if having a dozen agents disabled is just an inconvenience. "The rest of you, back off and go guard the TE extractor by the volcano. You're breakwaters, not fighters! Remember that!"

The Magma grunts don't need to be told any more, as all of them quickly break away and retreat to the mouth of the volcano, their footsteps a staccato on the rocky ground. Lee watches their backs for a second, then looks at the large monolith of machinery at the lip of the volcano. 'Did he say 'TE extractor?' On a volcano? I thought that thing was supposed to awaken Groudon?' Lee grimaces, realizing they need to stop this now. "Hold on! What's all this about using TE up here? We're on top of a volcano! If you upset the balance of the Fire TE in the magma, who knows what could happen!? Are you trying to induce an eruption?!"

Zinnia tenses up, while Brendan just remains stony-faced.

Tabitha raises an eyebrow and stares down at Lee, as if he were a child asking an asinine question. He cracks a grin, then throws his head back and laughs. "Ahyahya! An eruption? What do you take us for? Something as crude as inducing a volcano eruption wouldn't require so many men and so much equipment!"

Lee feels his nerves unravel a bit at the awful implications of such a line.

"You're with the Pokemon League, I understand?" Tabitha continues, crossing his arms and staring them down, seemingly unfazed by Ninetales, Shelgon, Marshtomp, and the gaggle of pokemon in the rear. "I've got bigger Qwilfish on their way to be fried, so I don't have time for you. Recall your pokemon, toss their pokeballs down, and surrender. That's the only way I can promise you won't be hurt."

Ninetales bristles, and Lee is forced to take a second to feed her calming, telepathic whispers to keep her temper in check.

"Somehow, I doubt that promise is worth much…" Lee retorts, his glare mirroring Ninetales' to hide his faltering resolve. "Your friends weren't much trouble for us, and even if you're ten times better than they are, this is still a three on two fight. I think you're the one who should be surrendering."

"Three on two?" Courtney's lips quirk in amusement. "No."

"No?" Zinnia's eyes narrow. "Already called for backup, huh? You gang types are all the same."

"No," Courtney shakes her head again, and instead looks to Brendan, her smile growing.

Brendan clenches his fists and grits his teeth. His molars grinding together makes enough noise to draw both Lee and Zinnia's attention. "I…"

"Brendan?" Zinnia blinks. "Kid, what's wrong?"

Brendan stares down at the ground, his eyes shadowed beneath his hat. Behind him, Breloom and Mawile refuse to meet the eyes of anyone. Mawile especially, considering the tears prickling hers. Marshtomp, meanwhile, forces his usually smiling face into an unnatural, almost painful-looking rictus of neutrality.

Brendan then takes a deep breath, one that comes out shakily. "Lee? Zinnia?" He asks, his voice quiet. "Courtney told me what Magma is doing. She told me weeks ago. What they're doing, how they're doing it, and where they want to be when everything is said and done. These guys… Are looking really far ahead, and Courtney needs me to help."

For a moment, Lee listens on, lost, then Brendan's words piece themselves together into a grim picture. Lee feels his jaw drop, and even Ninetales' burning fury abates in her surprise. "Brendan, what are you saying?" Lee shakes his head. "You're not saying what I think you are, are you?"

"Magma is trying to save the world," Brendan continues, his voice gaining strength. "They want to reshape the land, make the world more sustainable for everyone. There are places like Orre that are totally barren, or Ransei, where people and pokemon are always fighting over land and resources. Heck, didn't you say your home was so isolated that it had no pokemon? There are a lot of places that aren't as nice as Hoenn, places that were dealt a bad hand by nature, but that can be fixed!"

Brendan looks up, and Lee does not like the determined glint he sees within those brown eyes.

"Courtney says Magma has the will and the means to fix all of that, to send the world into a golden age." Brendan's eyes narrow. "I… I want to help with that."

'What kind of drivel was Courtney feeding to him?' Ninetales digs her claws into the rocky ground, her frustration bleeding over to Lee. 'Is Brendan so smitten that he's taken leave of his senses?!'

"Brendan, are you listening to yourself!?" Zinnia looks just as shocked as Lee feels. "Magma are terrorists! You can't honestly believe that they're doing this for selfless reasons, are you? They're going to pull the rug out from under you! Whatever the hell you were told, it was all lies! That's all these criminal fucks can do! Lie!"

Brendan's face contorts into a scowl. "Like how you and Lee lied to me?"

"What?" The Dragon Tamer asks, incredulous. "What have we ever lied to you about?"

The boy's entire visage darkens. "You knew who Courtney was for weeks, but never told me a thing! I had to learn about it from her! Not only did she have the nerve to tell me who she was, she told me about Magma's plans!"

Tabitha snickers to himself, staying the hand hovering over his pokeball-laden belt. "Oh, quite the soap opera we've got going on here! Keep going! I want to see how it ends!"

Lee flashes back to that night shortly before Corvisquire's return, when Brendan and his pokemon returned to the hotel sullen and withdrawn. Neither the boy nor his pokemon spoke a single word that night. 'Son of a bitch…'

Zinnia seems equally as shocked, sharing a brief look of alarm with Lee.

"Brendan…" Lee struggles to form words. "We knew from the beginning, yes-"

Courtney's small smile falls, something that Ninetales notes and wordlessly's relays to Lee.

"-but we didn't keep it to ourselves out of a sense of maliciousness or anything," Lee assures as calmly as he can, thinking quickly about how to turn this around. "We wanted to keep our cover and see what Courtney's motive was as we attempted to extract information from her. You-" Lee stops himself short, nearly saying 'You're a kid. You shouldn't be worrying about criminals.' Such a sentiment would surely set Brendan off in this high-tension moment. "It… It wasn't an issue of trust; it's just the more people who know a secret, the harder it is to keep, understand? And… and what about your dream? You want to be the regional champion, right? You can't do that if you're on the League's most-wanted list!"

Brendan scowls and crosses his arms, but the set of his shoulders falls some. "This is bigger than my own dreams…" He mumbles. "I want to do the Birch name proud, and this goes way beyond being a champion."

Lee curses under his breath and tries to think of a different approach. Maybe spin the blame around on Courtney? "Unless my eyes were playing tricks on me…" Lee turns and directs a smoldering glare at Courtney, who twitches, but otherwise remains impassive. "Someone seemed a bit shocked that we came clean. Any reason for that?"

Tabitha quickly steps in when his fellow admin's scheme develops a wrinkle. "Okay, this has stopped being entertaining," the taller of the two admins takes a pokeball from his belt, drawing the eyes of everyone. "If you aren't going to surrender, then we'll have to do this the hard way."

Beside him, Courtney palms a pokeball of her own.

"Brendan…" Zinnia growls, her eyes flashing in warning. "Don't you dare side with a bunch of terrorists."

"You don't have to fight, Brendan… Just stand back." Courtney regards the boy with gentle eyes. "We… Won't make you do it."

Brendan's earlier resolve seems to be faltering, as he looks between Lee and Zinnia, and Courtney. The boy tries to catch the eyes of Marshtomp with his own, but the mudfish Pokémon steadfastly refuses to look away from the ground.

Lee bites his lip, mind racing. Realization strikes him like a blow to the head, and he silently curses himself. Was Courtney playing off of Brendan's infatuation the entire time? Her motive for traveling with them couldn't have been Brendan, could it? The dilemma is shelved, though, in favor of the crisis currently unfolding before him.

Courtney and her team themselves are daunting foes, professional criminals with the skill and the grit to match. They alone would present a serious hurdle. If Tabitha's skill as a trainer and the might of his pokemon match Courtney and her own pokemon, then this was going to get ugly. If Brendan decides to switch sides…then winning might be nigh on impossible.

Even with Ninetales, Shelgon, and everyone in reserve, it's his and Zinnia's eight pokemon versus at least ten of equal standing. A child he may be, but Brendan is a trainer few can stand up to, even this early in his career.

'Beloved, you're shaking,' Ninetales doesn't dare take her eyes off of the Magma admins, but Lee can feel her attention is focused on him. 'You needn't worry. We've come too far to fail.'

'Nine, if there's one thing I know to be absolutely true, it's that failure can strike anytime,' despite his sardonic reply, Ninetales' words steady the zoologist, as does the phantom feeling of a furry muzzle pressed into his neck. He rubs the spot with a clammy hand. '…Do I say it? Tell Brendan about Groudon and what Magma's real endgame is? It might snap him out of it, but it would paint a permanent target on our backs.'

The golden vixen flicks one of her tails. 'I believe the time for being concerned for that has already passed… '

Lee growls and looks at Courtney once more.

She has the gall to smirk at him, and a surge of vindictiveness rises up within Lee.

"Before this fight breaks out, I want to ask something. Brendan?" Lee begins, turning his narrowed eyes to the Birch heir. "Did Courtney explain just how they're going to move all of the land around?"

The young trainer shakes his head in a negative. "She said they have the means, though, and that she would explain when the time came. I trust her!"

Lee winces at the declaration. "Brendan, listen to me. Courtney, and Magma are keeping you in the dark. If you knew what their exact methods were, I don't think you would be so agreeable."

"The drama keeps going. I should adapt this and sell it to a TV station for big bucks," Tabitha laughs once more, his jovial tone utterly infuriating. Rolling his chosen pokeball in his hand, he says: "Go on, scarface. Let's hear your conspiracy theory."

An irritated growl finds its way out of Lee's throat. Taking a second to silently wave goodbye to the prospect of a peaceful life, he continues. "Magma doesn't have any crazy super tech or anything, far from it. You're smart, so think about it for a moment, Brendan. Think about the unearthly amount of power needed to shift continents. Think of all the ecological restructuring and terraforming that would be needed afterward. Think about the massive civil unrest, assuming there isn't outright anarchy. There is no humanly possible way to accomplish all that, let alone maintain order afterward, so Magma isn't using a human way."

Brendan blinks, and Lee can see a bead of sweat trail down his face. In the corner of his eye, he can see Tabitha's smile falling and Courtney's eyebrow rising.

Lee sets his face into a grim scowl. "Magma is up here on this volcano for one purpose: they intend to awaken Groudon and try to leash it like a rabid dog."

Lee was sure he could hear a pin drop on the volcano's summit.

Zinnia stares at him, expression unreadable.

Courtney's eyes widen, wider than any of them have ever seen before.

Brendan looks lost, as if he can't process what he just heard.

Tabitha is no longer smiling. He isn't even looking at Lee any longer. No, instead he's directing a hostile, borderline murderous glare at Courtney, who shrinks away as soon as she notices.

"Do you really think Magma can control a legendary pokemon? A god?" Lee quietly continues, feeling the eyes of his pokemon on his back. "There is some truth in every legend, and the legend of Groudon is as real as the earth we stand on. No one seeking out that much power does so with good intentions, Brendan. Everything you've been told is simply too good to be true."

"This conversation is over!" Tabitha declares, his face set into a severe frown. He draws back his arm, pokeball in hand.

Courtney mirrors him, her brows furrowed and her grip on her pokeball shaking.

Ninetales and Shelgon tense, with Lee and Zinnia following suit. Behind them is a cacophony of hisses, growls, trills, and screeches from the gathered pokemon. Everyone freezes in place, however when a voice calls out from behind them.

"Oh? I hoped to speak a bit longer."

Slowly turning his head behind him, Lee feels his blood run cold.

Hovering above the Mount Chimney visitor center, on a square, translucent pane of purple energy, a man stares down at the gathering below through his thickly-rimmed glasses. At his side, a black, doll-like pokemon hovers midair, unnervingly still.

'A Claydol,' Lee thinks, as he remembers the odd Psychic and Ground type pokemon. Like its name suggests, the pokemon resembles a bulbous doll fashioned from black clay, perhaps a bit over five feet tall. Situated all around its head in a circle, eight unblinking red eyes stare in every direction, making its visage an unpleasant one to behold.

"Leader Maxie…" Courtney breathes reverently, her eyes locked on the new arrival.

"Fuck me…" Lee swears to himself.

The man, Magma Leader Maxie, stands tall and slender. His severe face is pale, angular, and aristocratic, fitting perfectly with the aloof expression on his face. Much like Tabitha and Courtney, Maxie wears the signature red outfit of Team Magma. What rattles Lee the most, however, is the look in the man's eye.

Nearly every foe he and Ninetales have met thus far in their journey gave them their due caution, even if slight or unintentional. Zinnia, Roxanne, Brawly, Tyson, Wattson, Moore, each one of them met the man and fox as equals.

Maxie's eyes stare down at everyone coldly, as if pondering how best to step on an insect.

'Love?' Lee begins. 'Did you hear him approach?'

'… No, no I did not.' Ninetales admits reluctantly. Lee feels her reach her mind out towards Maxie and his pokemon, only to withdraw as if spooked. 'I… I cannot feel his nor his Claydol's mind. It's as if they aren't even there.'

The hairs on the back of Lee's neck stand up.

"Leader Maxie!" Tabitha speaks up. It doesn't take a genius to see that his smile is merely a thin mask, one poorly hiding a deep anxiety. "We were just-"

Maxie holds up a single hand, palm out, and Tabitha's jaw snaps shut. The tall man folds his arms behind his back and takes a step forward, seemingly about to tumble off of his platform, only for another pane of psychic power to appear under his foot without a sound or even a flash. He continues his walk leisurely, descending upon glass-like that appear under his feet. The Claydol at his side - the one presumably creating the stairs - descends with him, remaining deathly still as it does so.

As his feet finally meet the rocky ground, Maxie turns and regards Brendan, ignoring Marshtomp sliding in front of the boy defensively. The barest hint of a smile flits across Maxie's lips. "So, you are the one Courtney sings praises for," he begins, prompting Brendan to blink and absently point to himself. "Yes, my boy. You. The heir to Nigel Birch was sure to be a trainer of great consequence, but you go beyond that. After seeing you and your pokemon in action, I believe I understand it all now. You and Courtney are quite alike, you know. Such steady pragmatism is a quality sorely lacking in today's world." Maxie says, each word smooth, unhurried, and woven with cloying respect. "It would please me to welcome you into the ranks of Magma personally, after all is concluded here."

"Brendan," Zinnia growls, looking between the boy and Maxie in disbelief. "Don't you-!"

She's cut off when Claydol hums threateningly, rattling the ground with a deep, horn-like sound.

"I will be with you in a moment," Maxie gives Zinnia a raised brow and nothing else, returning his attention to Brendan a moment later. "My boy, could I ask a favor of you?"

The young Birch needs a moment to compose himself. "…What sort of favor?"

"May I ask you to defend the extractor with Courtney and Tabitha?" He asks, turning his eyes to the machine in the distance, which is surrounded by a perimeter of lower-ranking Magma thugs and a ring of pokemon. "Aqua is on the way to crash the party as they would say, and your expertise is sorely needed."

"L-Leader Maxie," Tabitha finally finds his voice once more, though he fingers the pokeball in his hand with obvious trepidation. "Are we not enough to keep the volcano secure?"

Maxie smiles once more, but there is no warmth within it. "Resources embedded within Aqua advised that my dullard counterpart Archie may be with the raiding party, hence my arrival."

Courtney's face loses all of its color while Tabitha's transforms into picture-perfect horror. "What?! That madman is coming here?!" Tabitha both looks and sounds as if the incarnation of death itself flashed before his eyes.

'Archie, the leader of Team Aqua?' Lee ponders to himself, watching with a sinking gut. 'Madman? Is he really that frightening?' With a gulp, he mentally reaches out to Ninetales. 'Nine, use telepathy and tell Corvisquire to run for backup. Have him hit the Lavaridge Gym, the Pokemon Ranger station, and the police department. Tell him to use Extremespeed from the get-go so no one has time to react to him leaving. This has officially spiraled out of control.'

'Very well…' Ninetales sighs, and from the corner of his eye, he watches Corvisquire stiffen on his feet. From the gritting of his beak, Lee already knows what the corvid's opinion on such instructions are, but regardless, he shifts his wings and takes a deep breath.

Everyone's heads turn to Lee when Corvisquire vanishes in a sonic crack, becoming a shadowless blur that is gone over the side of the mountain in an instant.

Maxie recovers the fastest, once more seemingly unfazed. "Should we be concerned about that, Mister Henson?"

'Of course he knows my name…' Lee steels his nerves and meets Maxie's apathetic gaze. "He lost his nerve and ran away to hide. He does that sometimes," he lies smoothly.

"Hmm…" Maxie hums, his eyes trailing the path that Corvisquire took through the air. "I see." Rather than comment on it further, he turns and gives Brendan a smile. "As I was saying, my boy, can you please aid Courtney and Tabitha? It will also give me ample time to speak to your friends here."

Brendan hesitates. Like he did a number of times back on the lift, he looks towards his pokemon for answers, only for none of them to be willing to meet his gaze. "Mister Maxie?" He begins slowly and unsurely. "This... Lee and Zinnia are still my friends, so you'll let them go, right?" As he says that, Brendan looks at all of them pleadingly. "I…" He looks to Courtney again and gulps. Watching the normally unflappable boy falter is such a surreal experience. "I didn't want this to turn into such a huge deal, and… and…"

Lee swallows the incredulous words on his tongue, not wanting to set off Maxie's Claydol. Looking at Zinnia, she appears to be just as frustrated. 'What kind of hooks did Courtney set into Brendan to make him do this? Surely he can see this is a mistake!' He telepaths to Ninetales. 'His dream, his friends, his family? Does he know what he's giving up?'

Where Lee expected burning fury in Ninetales aimed squarely at Brendan, her earlier vexation is gone, and in it's place is a storm of conflict, one that grows the longer she thinks of the events playing out before her. The vixen shifts her eyes between the boy and Courtney, her own thoughts in disarray. Finally, she says: 'Emotions and logic often… do not walk hand in hand.'

There is a brief moment, less than a second, where Lee's mind goes to a dark, impulsive place and considers the pros and cons of asking Ninetales to slay Maxie. A mere flex of the vixen's telekinesis, and the man's head would be removed from his shoulders, utterly pulverized. Magma may spiral out of control with no leader, thus halting their insanity in its tracks. As quickly as it came, the plot is discarded with haste borne of self-disgust. If Maxie died, they would be left with his grieving and enraged pokemon to deal with, not to mention the other Magma members. And even if they managed to get away from such a mess, then the law would surely come down on them for circumventing due process.

'Shit…. Not that it would have been that easy anyway.' Lee grimaces and steals a glance at Claydol, who is surely offering Maxie some kind of unseen safeguard.

"There is no need at all for violence," Maxie soothes, cutting Brendan's stammering off. "I will do everything in my power to see them home safely. They need only promise to be fair during our negotiations."


Maxie adjusts his glasses, pushing them up the bridge of his nose as he nods. "Indeed. Magma, as of yet, still requires secrecy. Before your well-informed friends are sent on their way, I wish to see about compensating them for their silence. You understand, don't you?"

"I do…" Brendan murmurs.

"Come with me, Brendan," Courtney smiles and beckons the boy to her side. "You… made the right choice. Magma will take care of you."

A smile tries to rise on Brendan's face for the first time today, but it dies and leaves him only appearing more divided with himself. After a second that seems to stretch on and on, Brendan and his pokemon slowly walk to the Magma Admin's side, falling in step as she and Tabitha turn and begin the walk to the lip of the volcano. Even from such a distance, Lee can see Marshtomp's knuckles turn white as he and the rest of Brendan's pokemon drag their feet.

When Courtney wraps an arm around Brendan's shoulders, Zinnia explodes.

"What kind of fucking superhero bullshit did you feed him?!" The tanned woman screams at Courtney's back, her voice so loud it echoes off of the buildings and the mountains surrounding Mount Chimney. Lee and Ninetales both flinch at the volume. Even Shelgon regards his trainer with surprise.

"Do you feel good, you bitch!? Do you feel good manipulating a kid like that!?" The Dragon tamer continues her tirade. "How many other people who don't know any better have you fucked over?! How many of them were kids?! You fucking freak! You're not going to get away with this! I'm going to break you over my fucking knee, you scrawny, pink-wigged whore! If I find out you did anything worse to him, I'll make you regret ever being born!"

Despite all the curses and threats, Courtney doesn't look back. She doesn't so much as waver in her steps.

Zinnia is forced to take a breath, then she shifts the focus of her frustration. "Brendan!"

Brendan looks back, his eyes wide.

"You had better hope I die on this volcano, because if I get my hands on you after this, then you're going to… going to…" Zinnia loses steam, her shoulders slumping. To Lee's alarm and Ninetales' uncomfortable surprise, the woman's eyes are prickling with tears. "I thought we were friends, you little shit…" She finishes in a weak whisper. She pulls her cloak around herself, seeming to shrink.

Courtney leans her mouth down to Brendan's ear, whispering something that no one else can hear. Slowly, Brendan turned his shaken visage forward, continuing to walk with the pair of Magma admins.

"Feeling better?" Maxie asks dryly, unbothered by the piercing glare Zinnia strikes him with. "As I said, I would speak to you two to see how we can resolve this little wrinkle. I meant what I said earlier, there is no need for us to fight."

Zinnia sneers, once more all piss and vinegar. "Really?"

"Really," Maxie reaches his hand up and rubs his chin, staring at Lee, then Zinnia. "Of course, young Brendan keeps company as excellent as himself. To travel and brave Hoenn as a trio means you all must be quite friendly with each other. Magma always has more room for such individuals, so-"

"Stuff it!" Zinnia snarls like the dragons she trains, both Shelgon and Tyrunt mirroring her. "You already know the answer to that!"

Maxie frowns. Despite being on top of a volcano, the air seems to chill. "Very well… Then we are left with only one option." He glances at his Claydol, who has remained utterly impassive the entire time. "Magma can suffer no leaks, and you, my friends, are indeed the worst sort of leak: powerful, knowledgeable, and connected. If you wish to be let go with no violence, then memories of your time here must be wiped and memories of young Brendan must be altered. Claydol is an expert of such arts-" he waves a hand to his Pokémon "-and I promise you that minus a few hours' time from your perspective, you will leave here unmolested."

Ninetales growls, and Lee feels her wrap her mind around his in a bristling, protective shield. 'Is he actually serious?!' She says to Lee, aghast. 'Absolutely not!'

Lee can't quite hide how disturbed he is by how casually Maxie offers such an invasive and potentially identity-shattering procedure. Once more, he is reminded that psychic pokemon are more than light shows and floating objects. He doesn't need to look at Zinnia to know what her answer is going to be.

"Well?" Maxie asks, raising an eyebrow. "I would prefer an answer sooner rather than later."

'So much for negotiations…' Lee gives the taller man a hard stare. "Maxie… You're under arrest for suspected terrorist activities. Come quietly."

Maxie sighs. "Pity."

In a flash of movement, a pokeball is launched from his hand. The ball snaps open midair, and the air becomes sweltering.

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Well, seems things are up shit creek. Hopefully Aqua can run interference soon, even if Lee probably loathes getting helped by criminals, the enemy of my enemy is my friend, right? I don't envy Lee's job after this, he's going to have to inform Birch and that's going to be a doozy.
Oh shit...

Welp. If Aqua clashes against Magma, Lee might be able to stall Maxie's Camerupt (assuming he still has it as his primary) long enough for Archie shows up with the orb, after which I imagine the Police would prolly call in the Elite 4 considering the fact that Legendaries are at risk of becoming active.

Should they awaken and clash again... something tells me Rayquaza won't be quite as amenable as in the show. (Also, RIP Brendan's license)
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Well, I certainly see why you say this chapter might rock the boat a bit.

The worst thing is that I actually see all of this happening; a young child, feeling betrayed, makes a bad decision and trusts the first sympathetic figure they meet, without really understanding their motives or the context. I hope this gets resolved sooner rather than later, because even reading about this kind of manipulation leaves a bad taste in my mouth. You see more than enough of that kind of story in real life without needing to see it in Pokemon too.

I am curious about how the reaction to this will be from the authorities. I already had reservations about them deputizing trainers who haven't hit elite level yet, but now that the son of the region's professor has been taken? That's a bad look on any and every level. Magma just got a crazy amount of leverage on Birch, not to mention whatever their plans for Groudon is (and Aqua's own plans, for that matter) and I just can't imagine the response can be anything less than warlike.

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