The Mega Keystone in Lee's hand feels as if it weighs a hundred pounds.

For most of the previous night and the entirety of today, the shining, spherical crystal has dominated his thoughts, which have ping-ponged all over. From the terror on the volcano, to the disquieting fate that befell Aster, the darkest part of his imagination gnaws at him without regard for how it frays at his nerves.

Idly, Lee rolls the Keystone around in his hand, watching it refract the waning sunlight streaming in from the great hole in the ceiling. Along his hand and chest, rainbow light dances. 'For such a powerful little thing, it's deceptively innocent looking.'

With the day's training over, Lee and his friends are relaxing outside their hut in the center of the Meteorfall Crater, mostly at Lee's request. The last thing he wants is a lack of sunlight exposure making anyone crabby - not when the Dragon TE in the air already leaves everyone higher strung than usual.

A short ways away, a smiling Brendan and his team all lay in a bed of soft moss, soaking in the sun and resting. Even the usually jumpy Electrike is already dozing off.

'Brendan is taking the Keystone thing in stride, it seems…' Lee observes, unsurprised.

Zinnia is huddled with her five pokemon a bit further away. Noivern, Zinnia's newest capture, looks positively exhausted. Apparently being fully evolved doesn't mean that she's able to keep up with the rest of her team yet.


'That, and Zinnia was twice as brutal in her training today,' Lee lets his eyes roam his friend's pokemon, taking in all of the half-healed cuts and contusions amongst their number. 'The whole damn cave was shaking.'

Finally, most of Lee's team are in their balls, resting and waiting for dinner time. Sylveon and Shinx were both thoroughly tuckered out by the day's activities, and Octillery has been even more withdrawn than usual recently. Corviknight is roosted up on the top of the dome-like hut, quietly preening his metallic feathers with quiet rasps. Grovyle…

Lee frowns and leans back into the wall of the hut, closing his hand around the Keystone.

Around his Keystone.

Ever since the Oracle left the Keystones in their care last night, Grovyle has had a fire in his eyes and an intensity to him beyond that of any other pokemon on the team. When he moves, he does so with purpose and zeal, pushing himself even when the burn scars across his body angrily tug at his skin. Three times today Lee has told Grovyle not to overdo his training, and three times Grovyle complied… Only to forget minutes later and go right back to what he was doing.

Lee can see what's happening as plain as day, and it leaves him frustrated due to how powerless he feels in solving it.


Grovyle feels like he's falling behind.

For quite some time, there has been a clear hierarchy of strength on Lee's team. Ninetales remains at the top. Her raw power, deep bag of tricks, and typing relative to the rest of the team make it so. Even if Lee were to completely shut himself out of her mind and deprive the fox of his input, she would still be a force to be reckoned with.

Corvi is next. The great raven was a terror as a Corvisquire, and his evolution has only made him more so. His size, strength, deceptive speed, and stellar dual-typing make him a nightmare to fight. Although he suffers a type disadvantage to Ninetales, a clash between them wouldn't exactly be a foregone conclusion. Corvi is just too stubborn, too iron-willed.

Then comes Grovyle. Lee knows the Grass-type doesn't begrudge his teammates for being strong, but he does curse himself for not keeping up.

The longer they stay down here in the crater, the worse the problem becomes.

On their first day of training, Octillery won their game of keep away, and got his Thunder Wave TM as promised. The octopus was beyond delighted with his new ability to shoot bolts of paralytic lightning.

Meanwhile, Grovyle stood by, his arms crossed and his eyes narrow, but no complaint was voiced. The gecko pokemon made Siphon Blade battle-ready only a few days later, but the rain cloud over his head persisted.This content has been unlawfully taken from Royal Road; report any instances of this story if found elsewhere.

Then Shinx began to improve by leaps and bounds, going from little more than a kitten to a headache on four legs. The same tactic never seems to work on Shinx twice, and when a foe's cards are finally all laid bare, overpowering her becomes the only realistic option. A simple enough prospect now, but who knows where she'll be in a week, a month, or a year? Once again, Lee resolves to make time soon to give his baby a full cognitive test.

Grovyle is no doubt comparing her growth to his, and finding his own lacking. The sting of comparing himself to an infant is likely even worse.

Even Sylveon is beginning to ramp up. The middle-aged Fairy is shaking loose all of the rust in her joints, and improves bit by bit, day by day. Her impressive repertoire of moves aided by Pixilate means she will never be irrelevant in a fight.

Lee stares at Grovyle's back as the Grass-type stands on a boulder a dozen yards away, his arms crossed and his eyes closed as he soaks in the sun. Being one of Lee's first three pokemon, Grovyle knows much of the meta-lore Lee has to share…

… Such as the existence of Sceptilite, spurring him into such recklessness down in the training chamber.

Warm fur cuddling into his side eases Lee out of his funk. Turning his head, he spies Ninetales settling down next to him.

'Worry not about everything today, Beloved,' the fox begins, casting a critical eye toward the rainbow-hued bauble in Lee's hand. 'Grovyle… If he cannot shake what bothers him in a few days, I will aid you in addressing him.'

Lee smiles. 'Thank you, Nine.'

The vixen smiles back, warming Lee. 'Think naught of it,' she says, before returning her eyes to the Keystone. 'What a curious little thing. I can only wonder if my kind has a Megastone out there. Were I to evolve once more, what would I become?'

For a moment, Lee tries to imagine what a Mega Ninetales would even look like, but fails. To him, his fox is already perfect the way she is. 'Who knows? The world doesn't have the limitations of a videogame, so it's entirely possible there's a Ninetalesite.' Lee wraps Ninetales in a half-hug as he rolls the sparkly catalyst between his fingers. 'According to Zinnia, the stones are essentially training wheels, so even if there isn't, maybe you could go Mega anyway?' He gives the Keystone a stare as he musters many of the fond memories he's shared with Ninetales thus far, filling his chest with warm, bubbling love. 'Activate!'

A split second after that, Lee remembers Zinnia's grave tale about Aster, and her fate after trying to mega-evolve her Salamence before both of them were ready. His stomach drops to his toes.

The Keystone sparkles with a faint light in its center… That begins to rapidly build, bathing both himself and Ninetales in a radiant glow.

'No no no!' Lee clamps his hands around the Keystone, but the light won't stop! 'Wait! I take it back! Stop!'

Ninetales stumbles away as everyone turns to look at the commotion. Just like with Maxie's Camerupt, a shell of solid light builds around her like an egg, and her wordless alarm tears into Lee.

Something goes terribly wrong.

Lee can feel it. On the other half of his connection to Ninetales, on the other side of his soul, her being is twisted. The expected pain is absent, replaced with a horrible numbness as Ninetales' mind warps into something Lee can't make heads or tails of, into something utterly alien.

'What have I done?'

Inside the shell, Ninetales screams.

The shell explodes outward with a great shock wave, sending fragments that dissolve into rainbow light in every direction, and blinding everyone with a flash.

Lee rubs his eyes and fights the sudden bout of nausea that threatens to topple him over. Standing unsteadily, he blinks the stars from his eyes and looks towards his partner.

Horror greets him.

Standing where Ninetales was is something, something that makes him sick to look at, but he cannot hope to look away. The creature stands upon two human-like legs, roughly the same stature as Lee. Arms ending in delicate hands hang limp, stopping near the thing's hips.

The more Lee looks, the worse things become.

Ninetales' beautiful tails remain, but they're an unfitting parody on this being. They don't belong. The same can be said for the fox ears on the top of its head. Much of its pale skin is covered by a too-small robe seemingly fashioned from Ninetales' fur, and that robe does nothing to hide the doorway-wide hips or enormous bust of the monstrosity.

Its face is flat, with high, razor-like cheekbones and full lips. Ninetales' warm ruby eyes are gone, replaced with predatory chips of frozen blood.

"No…" Lee shakes his head and steps back. He blinks his eyes and bites his tongue, but the flash of pain doesn't dispel the image before his eyes.

Ninetales Mega-Evolved into...

...A generic fox girl.

"Oh, Lee!" Ninetales cries, leaping into the shocked man's arms and burying one of his arms in her cleavage. "Isn't this wonderful!? Now that I have a form acceptable to mainstream audiences, we can finally have a painfully awkward romance where neither of us communicates like adults to cause all sorts of cheap drama!"

Lee tastes bile.

Ninetales pauses, touching a finger to her chin in thought. "Or maybe I can get irrationally angry over nothing and freely abuse you while you remain a wet noodle for the next one hundred chapters, then we can suddenly come to an understanding for an unsatisfying conclusion!"

The world begins to spin.

"Or…" Ninetales smirks and breasts boobily at him. "I can be a 2D cardboard cutout waifu who exists only to look pretty for you, and we can constantly have poorly written, bed-breaking sex because that's how real relationships work, right?"

The scream that rips from Lee's throat is long and anguished.

Never do mass audience appeal.