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The Quest for the Legends, now with its ILCOETH revision!

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by Dragonfree, Apr 26, 2004.

  1. Negrek

    Negrek Lost but Seeking

    [​IMG]

    I kid, I kid. :p

    I will admit that this is kind of an anticlimactic chapter to have coming straight off a year's hiatus--with all the effort that's gone into finding the male color dragons, having them show up pretty early on in the search and then all get captured in one shot feels a little , Not that I think it would have been better for you to have drawn the find-the-dragons subplot out longer; the end of the arc just didn't quite fulfill the buildup for me. All in all the chapter's kind of short, and there's really nothing here but the battle.

    picky picky picky:

    Took the ground off what? (You could just leave it at "took off" and it would be fine.)

    An oversight's something you miss; I think you mean "overview." It's also awkward to follow on with "over" right there, too. Overview of the mountains would work fine.

    There's a lot going on in this sentence--lots of adverbs and subordinate clauses. In particular "as the dark of night set in, before returning the Pokémon center" and "near-simultaneously" felt unwieldy to me. For the over-9000 level of nitpickiness, "emerging out of" is a little redundant, and "emerging from" the usual construction.

    It is a pretty image, though.

    This is a pretty convoluted sentence, with the pileup of prepositions in "down the ridge they were on in the city's direction" being particularly wonky. "At the base of the ridge?" Does it matter that it's coming from the direction of the city? And the parenthetical seems like it would work just as well as its own, subsequent sentence.

    lol nice

    It's kind of interesting that these guys are the first legendaries we've seen who've expressed any scorn for humans. The dragons' scheming nastiness is fun, especially in how they don't even care to try to be subtle about it--and how May just lies right off because she doesn't even see any point in dealing with them.

    That's a weird way to put it. Normally shudders wouldn't be on your face anyway.

    I wouldn't say "attempted"; he was successful in his swipe. What he attempted to do was hit her.

    Preeetty sure there should be a comma between "Jolteon" and "Thunderbolts."

    Man, even Chaletwo's getting really into this battle. :p

    All in all I think the battle played out well. There was some clever use of strategy, and it was nice to see the dragons employing a bit of their own counter-strategy, especially with regards to attacking the humans. Most of the previous legendaries have concentrated primarily on the attacking pokémon, but that makes sense--Volcaryu, Polaryu, and Thunderyu have never battled before in their lives and don't even know what humans are, so it makes sense that they'd lash out at the things hurting them while ignoring the ones in the background. On the other hand, the color dragons actually know about humans and training and recognize that if they can take out the trainers the battle will pretty much be over.

    Sucks to be Volcar/Thunder/Polaryu, though. You sleep for a millenium, wake up for ten minutes, then have a bunch of things come out of nowhere to hurt you and get stuck in indefinite storage.

    I definitely noticed a lot of adverbs going on in this chapter; I'm not sure if I'm just unusually sensitive to them at the moment, or if there's an uptick over your usual number. But overall you did a good job of wrangling a big battle without it becoming confusing. Like I said, this chapter felt a little lacking in substance, but there was some interesting stuff going on in the background with May's continued agitation, and like I said, I enjoyed the exchange between Mark's group and the dragons.

    Also, as I alluded to in my VM, I put together what I think is going on with the whole War of the Legends plot. I know you won't respond to most of it (although some parts you perhaps can), but I wanted to put it out there for the record in case any of it turns out to be right, for your entertainment, and so you can get an idea of how some of this stuff comes together for a reader of your 'fic.

    Anyway, like I said over VM, it's very clear to me that Mitch is currently harboring Chalenor (from the past), and I think it's likely that he's also at least a Destroyer. We'll begin with what I'm most solid on and move out to increasingly wild speculation.

    Note that I recall you saying you didn't know who the Destroyer was until 2006+, so some of your old statements are likely inaccurate for the current version of the 'fic. I will occasionally reference some of them here when they conveniently fit with my view of things (although they're not central to anything I'm saying) and otherwise regard them as filthy lies, as one does.

    Chalenor's connection with Mitch is pretty screamingly obvious. You all but come right out and say it here:

    Furthermore, Mitch's abilities indicate that he's hella possessed by some powerful psychic: he can read emotions, he can teleport, he can foretell things, etc. His weird-looking up habit may have to do with being used to having his Death Stare ability and not wanting to look directly at someone and maybe blast them to kingdom come. His eyelids acted as filters, so that wouldn't ordinarily be a concern, so an alternative is maybe it gets really tedious looking down and accidentally seeing to the other side of the planet or what have. All half-joking aside, it would make sense for Chalenor to not be comfortable with direct eye contact.

    Also perhaps worth noting:

    In the past you'd only ever described them as gray, and considering that Chalenor can change the colors of his various trappings, I'm thinking this here is a little bit of Mitchenor having the sads and having his eyes change color a little to suit. Given that he seems more distressed than sad here, I'd expect them to be green rather than blue, but eh, it seems a nice little detail.

    As for what indicates that it's past Chalenor and not one quietly rezzed by Mew or something:

    The whole "ramblings about death" thing sounds pretty similar to descriptions of Mew when it was starting to be affected by the War's power transfer, and while the second part could be referring to Mitchenor's new death-foretelling abilities, it would also fit very well with a pokémon that had experienced the horrors of the previous War. There's also the fact that Chalenor is dead, as everyone KEEPS SAYING jfc. And he is! It's just that, similar to Suicune and Entei, he found a convenient place to stick his soul. If anything he has to be dead for this all to work out.

    So, the Destroyer bit. Unlike every other legendary encountered, Mitchenor has explicitly been growing more powerful recently, rather than less:

    Bam. Destroyer.

    But there are some logistical problems here.

    First, the matter of how Chalenor ended up as Mitchenor in the first place. On the surface, it looks simple enough: Chalenor wants to escape the War, goes to the future, and finds a recently-vacated body to anchor himself to--maybe by searching for the soul-ghost of a recently deceased person. He resurrects the body and anchors his soul to it.

    But Mew suggests that there shouldn't have been a way to revive Mitch at all:

    But if Chalenor actually infused Mitch's body with some of his power, then perhaps his natural resistance to poisons allowed him to endure poison that would have killed an ordinary human--maybe he even got enough power to survive being out in the desert without food or water for as long as he was. Orrrr, given that Chalenor was a true immortal, perhaps soulbonding to Mitch let Mitchenor inherit some of that power and survive his desert vacation.

    Then there's the issue that any pokémon should snap back to the past when it's so drained of power that it can't keep the future-link open. And Chalenor did snap back: Mew found his body at the end of the last War.

    Perhaps Chalenor was the Destroyer, not the Preserver, in the last cycle--Mew lied. More on its possible motivations later, but for one it would probably make Chaletwo feel a little better to think Chalenor's the Preserver than to admit "oh btw I gave you the murder-death-eyes of the guy who previously drove everybody mad and caused the carnage you see around you, but it's cool, your life's guardian, don't worry about it." In that case, his power might never have been drained enough for him to be forced to return to the past. Return to the past he did, and die he did, in the interest of transferring his soul through that link to a host in the future.

    Alternatively, he may have been the Preserver in the past cycle, but be acting as the Destroyer in this one: in that case, he would have weakened enough that he wouldn't have been able to stay in the future, perhaps, but strong enough to hold that link open: soul anchors don't appear to take much energy, seeing as Chaletwo can't time travel anymore but is still anchored to Mark just fine. There would still be power flowing into him through that future link, so perhaps he would still be able to transfer himself through the link when he died. (Just realized how horrifying it would be for Mark to have that channel still be open while Chaletwo started going insane inside Mark's own head. *shudders* Although I guess it wouldn't be a prolonged process, just sudden power surge, sudden crazy, and then presumably Chaletwo pops out of his ball and murders Mark as he goes on a rampage. Given past-Mew's condition, the energy drain may have psychological effects, though.)

    It's also possible that he stuck himself in a soul gem in the past, then went and found it in the future and revived himself into Mitch's body (without telling Mew about it; and then his body got all mauled up during the War and Mew assumed he was killed rather than doing it intentionally). That'd be rather clever of him.

    Also, there's the matter of Mitchenor only being around for ~7 years but the Destroyer's power drain having begun at least 20 years ago. This is primarily why I say he's a Destroyer. If he's actually the Destroyer from the last war who managed to cheat death, then it's possible there's actually another one out there "assigned" to this cycle, and that one started absorbing energy earlier. Alternatively, it may be less that the Destroyer is actively draining power from the other pokémon than that their power is draining away, and eventually begins to be siphoned off into one legendary in particular--so it was kind of floating around for a while, then started to drain into Mitchenor once he appeared on the scene. It seems most likely, though, that since he's from the past, there's simply another Destroyer active somewhere. It's clearly not one of the legendaries previously captured, and based on what you've said previously it's not going to be the waraider herd, either. That leaves Mew or Mewtwo2, I think.

    Mewtwo2 suffers from the same problem as Mitchenor in that he wasn't around twenty years ago either--or at the end of the previous war at all, for that matter. It is noteworthy that he's absurdly powerful, which means that he should be drained extremely quickly, but if anything he's gotten more powerful over the course of the story. Of course, it's possible that he was just even more ridiculously powerful than we've seen, and his brokenness is actually a big come-down from what he'd otherwise be capable of. Or perhaps being kept in a pokéball as much as he has been means there hasn't been much opportunity for the Destroyer to get at him. One way or another, there's clearly something up with him. Mew I'll talk about later.

    Or perhaps the Destroyer isn't a pokémon that lived through/was resurrected from the previous War, but is one that died, and its power resides on the spiritual plane until it absorbs enough energy to start manifesting on the physical plane and finds a suitable host. That'd suck for Entei and Suicune and anybody else who assumed they'd be safe on the spiritual plane, but hey.

    As an aside (sort of): why would Chalenor take a human body rather than a pokémon body? Mitchenor has consistently spoken highly of humans, particularly in terms of their creative abilities:

    It's possible that Chalenor originally sought out a human to bond to because he was hoping that together they'd be able to think up a way to end the War. Perhaps it's more an attempt at a kind of symbolic attack on the War's structure: pokémon are bound by tradition and humans are not, so the only way to break the cycle of destruction is to take a human form/somehow appeal to the humans to stop it. The pokémon need humans to help them stop the war. Or perhaps it's to do with the fact that the legendaries always seek each other out to murder--perhaps he figured he'd be safe from the next War in a human body because the rampaging legendaries wouldn't bother him as long as he stayed out of their way. It strikes me as very interesting that Mew and Mitchenor have essentially opposite views on life: Mew's obsession with fate is a very "pokémonish" view of things, where what happens happens and it's pointless to try something different, whereas Mitchenor is much more "odds are just odds; you've just got to try and hope for the best" and obviously rather enamored of humans and their creative abilities. To some extent I think there's been an assumption from most of the characters that Chalenor and Mew would have been working together to stop the War, if they tried to do so, but given how different perspectives are, perhaps they're each doing their own thing.

    I will say, though, that the legendary pokémon, at least the war trio, have been showing a great deal of creativity and initiative. Chaletwo's plan might not be very good, but I don't think anybody could accuse it of being traditional.

    Or perhaps Chalenor was desperate and just latched onto the nearest recent body he could find, and then when he returned to consciousness/sanity had the mother of all "well, ****" moments.

    All that said, I think that Chalenor traveled forward in time and established a link with Mitch, through which he is currently draining the legendaries' power.

    Moving on from there, what does this suggest about the rest of the plot and characters?

    You've set Mew up to be very, very fishy throughout all this, particularly with regard to Mewtwo's little time-traveling escapade. It seems clear that Mew and Chalenor had some kind of plan to avoid or avert the War of the Legends in the own time, that war happened anyway, and at least Mew is convinced that the next one's coming whether they like it or not, too. The fact that essentially all the information about the war is gotten secondhand through Mew means that there are almost certainly some false assumptions in my reasoning, but it's also pretty much all I have to go on, so.

    First, what's most suspicious about Mew: the way she's treated the whole time-traveling story. This is what she told Chalenor.

    If this is true, then it means the Mew Mewtwo saw must have been one from later in the time stream who went forward in time to a point earlier than Chalenor so she could get a copy of Mewtwo's body and take it back with her. But there is literally no reason to do this, because Mewtwo was already back in her own time at that point and she could have just made a copy of him right then and there. If she'd left before Chalenor brought Mewtwo back, when there was no Mewtwo present in the past to make a copy of, then she wouldn't have even known Mewtwo existed. Which, okay, maybe she just needed any random pokémon's body for her plan. But if so, why not just make a copy of Chalenor, who's much more conveniently located in the past? Well, maybe she needs to make a copy of a legendary that exists in the future but not in their current present to prevent some kind of paradox or something (bring back future-Moltres who gets brutalized in the war, suddenly no Moltres for the future, oops paradox). There might be something to that, actually. But it still strikes me as very convoluted (and again, why not just copy Mewtwo once he'd come back to the past?).

    As an aside, I'm ruling out that Mew could have nabbed Mewtwo's body and brought it back, followed by Chalenor deciding to go and get the real thing later on in the past. This is based on the state Mew was in when she showed up at Mewtwo's pad--it's possible Chalenor wasn't as badly affected by the power drain, whether because Destroyer or otherwise, but even so, by that point he would've been aware that something was up because other legends done be going crazy, and it seems like that would come through in whatever conversation he had with Mewtwo, to where I'd expect Mewtwo to be more like, "Um, do you need help?" than "Hey bro can you show me the sweet past?"

    What rings the most alarm bells for me, though, is the fact that Mew showed up to Mewtwo alone. She shouldn't be able to time travel at all, unless she's lied by huge omission and is actually the Creator/Destroyer/Preserver of the previous cycle (only the Preserver is confirmed to be able to time travel, but why not all three?). But if she's not, then where'd Chaletwo go off to when she was copying Mewtwo's body? I suppose she could have left him idling at the curb while she nipped in to grab a snapshot, but that strikes me as strange.

    This brings us to the final question: what were Mew and/or Chalenor up to? Were they trying to stop the previous War, or were they just trying to save themselves? How might their plan have extended into the current cycle, if at all?

    One thing is clear to me: Chalenor was supposed to survive the previous War, but didn't. Mew in the prologue is obviously hugely distressed when she comes across his body, so that obviously wasn't according to plan--at least not according to her plan (see earlier notes on Mitchenor). Probably the plan had something to do with time traveling--nothing as simple as what Mark suggested, "Just skip to after the war and be okay," since I assume they know that wouldn't work, but perhaps using some resource from the future or even establishing links to people in the future the way Chalinor has. It's possible that the intended result was to try something like having Chalinor be the last one to survive the War and see whether the Destroyer/Creator could combined into one, or something. There's really not enough to go on here other than at least Mew and maybe Chalinor, in part together and prehaps also separately, had contingencies in place for the War, and they involved time travel.

    There's the matter of "insurance" in the form of Mewtwo's body. It seems most likely that Mew wanted a body around in case things went south and one of them died and was mutilated so badly they couldn't be resurrected. I'm also intrigued by the fact that the prologue indicated that one of Chalenor's eyes was totally destroyed, but the other was simply gone, gouged out of the socket. It's certainly possible that one just got dug out during the fighting, rolled off somewhere, and stayed intact, but I'm intrigued by the possibility that Chalenor actually removed it prior to the final fight and put it somewhere for safekeeping, because he'd need his death-eyes in whatever new body he took. Granted, I don't know why Mew couldn't just create a new body from scratch for him to inhabit, given her powers; I don't know why she couldn't create an army of death-eyes 'mon if she wanted to; I don't know why she couldn't recreate the old legendaries instead of creating an entirely new set--I mean, sure, they'd be different people, assuming she couldn't link their souls to the new bodies, but they were at least able to remake Vaxil, so what about all the other legendaries that apparently went extinct in the last War?

    At this juncture I also thought I'd bring up a complicating factor: the pedant in me points out that the Mewtwo in the prologue couldn't be the copy Mew brought back with it because the wound on its chest is bleeding. If it's a copy of the body and not actually alive (i.e. no heartbeat), then it can't bleed. I don't expect fourteen-year-old-you to have accounted for that, though.

    Also perhaps worth noting: if Mew had nabbed a body with the idea of reviving someone into it, then she was assuming she'd be able to snag their soul and shove it in there. It's not clear how long she was out after the end of the War, so perhaps that wouldn't have worked anyway because the souls had all dissipated. If not, though--then Chalinor's soul wasn't around for her to revive for some reason, that reason being, of course, that it was already chilling in the future.

    Then there's Mew acting strange recently. It's not clear whether her fatalism predated her current state, even considering her fairly bouncy attitude; I wonder whether it was directly caused by trying and failing so hard at escaping from/stopping the War last time. It seems likely that she cheered up for a while because, for whatever reason, she believed that their plan had succeeded even though Chalinor died and there wouldn't be a future War. Then, of course, it becomes clear that the Destroyer is at work again, and Mew slowly loses hope; they didn't manage to break the cycle after all. As for why she changed her tune in terms of telling people about the War, it may have to do with her recently having discovered that Mitchenor's alive. He's been around for seven years, and she was a captive in Rick's gym for three of those. It's quite possible that she didn't realize he was around for those first four years, since she was hanging out in Rainbow Woods, and he wasn't powerful enough for her to detect his presence, perhaps. But after she escaped, she found him soon enough (if nothing else she showed up at random for, like, five paragraphs when May was convalescing in his gym), so now she's definitely aware of what's up. Perhaps knowing that he's back finally confirmed for her that there really is nothing anybody can do to stop the War, so it's safe to let them know about it. Like, maybe she knew there was a soul gem out there, and she didn't want to risk that someone would figure things out and go destroy it before Chalenor, the destroyer, could be reincarnated into a new body? That would obviously make Mew something of a villain, but idk. To be honest, I would consider Chaletwo's explanation, that she was depressed at the end of the last War because Chalenor died, and now she's depressed again because the War's about to happen again, perfectly plausible. It's only the Mewtwo chapter that was basically a big "HMMM WHAT IS UP WITH MEW" that even makes me consider that there's something more going on with it than that.

    So why does the guardian of life have death-eyes? Well:

    Chalenor's eye-powers are the only thing that can kill the Destroyer, despite it being a true immortal. (I assume it just knocks the soul right outta its body or sommat, something that super-fast tissue regeneration wouldn't be able to fix.) So in that sense he's the only one who can stand between life and the Destroyer. Of course, there's nothing to indicate that the Preserver always has some kind of power to defeat the Destroyer, but at least in this case that's the explanation I like.

    There may also be something in the fact that Mewtwo is a clone of Mew. With the addition of Chalenor's eye-powers, he now has elements of the Creator and the Destroyer in him; how that might actually be an advantage/affect anything ever I don't know, but I think it's worth noting. That also could explain why Mew went after him as her "insurance" (so why not herself? idk but generally you aren't supposed to interact with your past/future self when you go time traveling because bad things happen).

    One way or another, it seems abundantly clear to me that whatever the resolution looks like, time-traveling shenanigans are going to play a very large part in it.

    That's all I got, then. Like I said, there are some pretty big assumptions going on here, but I'm assuming that the really big ones are okay. Like, I'm assuming that there really *is* a Creator/Destroyer/Preserver trio and that Mew wasn't covering up that, say, the Creator/Destroyer role is actually one and the same. No way to know if that's the case, but while what I've got has a lot of holes, I think some parts of it are fairly solid, and hopefully it's at least gesturing in the right direction.

    Some additional notes:

    - There's the whole "Mark's mysterious nightmares" bit that came up in early chapters. They clearly had to do with Chaletwo (or Chalenor) and were quietly dropped after he actually started on the legendary-capturing quest, so I'm taking them as either foreshadowing his destiny as Chaletwo's chosen (not that this makes any sense, because it wasn't premeditated and Chaletwo wasn't actually ~watching him~) or a dropped/aborted plot thread and not considering it further.

    - There's the animal world vs pokémon world, which I could have sworn came up again in recent chapters, but if so I completely missed it. That means the only time it was ever mentioned was when Mitch was talking to Mark shortly after Mark's resurrection. Mitch said this was important and Mark should remember it, but as it's literally never been mentioned again I'm taking it as not actually being THAT important, or important in the sense that the animal world is relevant to the plot. The little speech may have been more about Mitch's (Chalenor's) understanding of the relationship between humans and pokémon. Otherwise there are a variety of ways one could see the animal world being crucial to the plot and Mew/Chalenor's plans: stuff the destroyer in the animal world, for example, and its pulse of energy presumably won't be able to reach the other legends.

    - I'll bet there are a metric ton of unfinished sentences hiding in here. My bad.

    Another thing I'm wondering: how in the hell Mew/Chalenor/other legendaries??? figured out the whole war thing in the previous cycle. Well, I guess if Chalenor was Preserver then the Creator of that time might have told him, and then he told Mew. Or perhaps one or both of them have actually lived multiple cycles. If Mew was tearing around in such a bad state during her copy-Mewtwo trip, it would seem like it didn't learn about what was going on until very late in the game, or it would have tried to make arrangements before it was in such a bad state. Or, I suppose, it impulsively decided to go for more "insurance" after things started to get bad, but one way or another it gets me wondering.

    Also, Mark still has that clone ball in his pocket that, unlike the master ball, can be recharged (I presume) and used if necessary for ethical funtimes surefire capturing. And I believe he still technically has Mew, so if they're able to find it again he should be able to just recall it and have done.

    And dang but there are a lot of versions of Mew running around out there. Mew itself, Mewtwo, Chaletwo, and Mewtwo2. did twelve-year-old you think clones were cool

    Finally, I found this great quote from 2005:


    And so, the prosecution rests. (Literally. Is bedtime.)

    One way or another, I figure the next few chapters should be fun. I'm now hoping that Mitch doesn't show up in the next few chapters, since you've stated pretty clearly that the reveal won't happen fora while yet, so if he does, I'm probably wrong. He could be away on mysterious business! Or maybe he's still around, but Mark continues to not figure anything out. Also acceptable. Anyway, I recall you mentioning Carl's coming back; not sure whether he's one of the "familiar faces" in 66-69 or later, but one way or another I imagine that'll be a lot of fun, whether it means he'll be on Mark's case, causing trouble with Volcaryu, or just roped into going off after the waraider herd while unhappily surrounded by a bunch of preteens. Presumably you'll have Sparky reappear as well. I'm particularly looking forward to the resolution of Rick's subplot--or perhaps it'll turn out to be "plot" instead of "sub."

    Good luck with your writing! Hopefully you don't find the going as frustrating as it was for this chapter.
     
    Last edited: May 16, 2015
  2. Dragonfree

    Dragonfree Just me

    :D

    Yyyyyeah this was not a chapter I wanted to have take so long, especially just after chapter 64 took as long as it did. It probably made the search for the male dragons feel like it needed more payoff than it was really meant to. Ugh. I WILL WRITE FASTER I SWEAR.

    Thanks for the sentence nitpicks. Probably suffered from only handing this chapter off to one beta (opal was busy). I wouldn't think there's an unusual amount of adverbs in here given it went through my usual efforts these days to eliminate a bunch, but maybe returning to Mark's POV just turned up the adverb-stream to wholly unreasonable degrees somehow. I'll give it another read-over... sometime when I'm not trying to make actual progress.

    And thanks even more for the lengthy theorizing! :DDDD Reading that was so much fun.

    I will reemphasize for the purposes of anyone getting into this theorizing that yes, I didn't nail down some of the fundamentals of what was going on until 2007, and while obviously I retrofitted the plot to match up with the events of the fic, I made no effort to ensure that I didn't say something that wildly contradicts it at some point in this thread. Please do regard all old commentary and character Q&A as extremely suspect; it could happen to still be right, but if so that's likely to be some sort of hilarious coincidence. Also, while a delightful amount of older events later turned out to fit perfectly into the plot once I'd figured it out, it may not be the best idea to read too much into even what I wrote into the actual fic back then - again, I didn't actually have any idea what was really going on at that point, so while nothing in there should contradict the actual conclusion, and there are things in there (lots of things, way more things than there have any right to be) that do now function as hints and foreshadowing even though I didn't know it at the time I wrote them, the fact something looks important or significant does not necessarily mean it is so.

    Fourteen-year-old me definitely did not account for this.

    Nothing so dramatic as destiny - it was just plain old Psychic Dreams for Everyone trying to tantalizingly hint that HEY CHALETWO IS GOING TO KILL MARK AND HE'S GOING TO HAVE TO CATCH LEGENDARIES THIS IS NOT JUST A TRAINER FIC HONEST. These definitely have absolutely no relevance (and of course, Mark's later dreams really are just weird recombinations of stuff that's been going on and that he's been worrying about, not any kind of foreshadowing).

    I don't think so, actually! You did spell Chalenor as "Chalinor" repeatedly, though. :p And mix up Chalenor and Chaletwo's names a lot, not that I blame you.

    Not that much, I think, honestly. Although twelve-year-old me did go and design superclone versions of the first 28? Pokémon in the National Dex, and fully intended to continue. Hmm.
     
    Last edited: May 16, 2015
  3. Chibi Pika

    Chibi Pika Stay positive

    Oh hey. I should probably give some indication that I've read the recent chapters. Even though it's probably pretty obvious from all the fic discussion happening on ze tumblrs. But just because it's obvious I'm still reading this fic, doesn't mean I have a get-out-of-reviewing-free card. ;P

    I must admit that it wasn't until the conversation with the male dragons that I really got a handle on why exactly Dragoreen lied in the previous chapter. Like, I get it now! She was playing the long game, looking to put her sisters in a better position after the war. But at the time my brain was stuck on, "Really? These humans just offered to go beat the s*** out of your brothers and you're delaying it??" Well yes...delayed gratification...it's a thing. >_>

    That said, I really enjoyed the conversation with the male dragons--Preciure's personality in particular was enjoyable to read. He had a bit of a pretentious and faux-elegant air to him. Almost like a Lucius Malfoy-type character.

    I had forgotten what else happened in this chapter besides the battle until I reread the chapter recently. Now I see why--not much else did happen, did it? Then again, it makes sense. We just spent an entire chapter on a fool's errand, so it's obvious you were impatient to jump into the meat of it in this chapter. And yeah, it probably would have bogged down the chapter to delay the battle further with more stuff. So while it's probably a bit convenient and quick to be resolved, I can't really fault it.

    Because yeah, the battle is pretty awesome. Whatever mess it was stuck with from the NaNoWriMo lack of planning, the rewrite was definitely worth it. The coordination of the many Pokemon involved was extremely fluid and easy to follow while being engaging and strategically interesting (especially since I've become quite the hardcore double battler lately.)

    There's an amusing sort of poetic irony in the fact that if you combine Mewtwo's earlier scolding on their lack of diplomacy with how quickly diplomacy would have worked in this chapter...the entire dragons arc could have been entirely avoided if they hadn't screwed up. If they had talked to the females to begin with, their deal would have probably involved a lot less deception, Dragoreen would have probably been just as open as Preciure ("Hey, go on getting the other Legends and then in a month or two our bros will be a pushover kthnx.")

    Oh yeah, and as a side note, I've been meaning to ask something! I imagine there won't be any IALCOTN chapters for a very long time, obviously due to the ILCOE nearing its climax. But is there anything you could share about (non-plot-essential) things that are already planned to be different in it? I'm rather curious. :) And how close are we to the climax of the ILCOE, exactly?


    Now then. I reread a bunch of chapters last week to clarify some things for that silly one-shot I'm writing (discovering a ton of holes in my premise in the process but OH WELL.) So yeah, I've got a bit of the speculation itch:


    I still think that Mew very deliberately took Mewtwo's body for a reason, and that the fact that it's a clone of her own body is entirely relevant, I just don't know why (do we know if it's possible to create a copy of the body you currently inhabit?). I therefore will go out on a limb and say that the ILCOE prologue, due to being so old, seems to confirm Chaletwo's story and portray Mewtwo having fought and died in the war, only as an artifact of having been written long before Mewtwo's recent revelation was planned. The IALCOTN prologue is deliberately more vague about it, and while 3x and 4x aren't internally consistent with each other, I'm inclined to believe the IALCOTN as being more accurate here.

    I mean...I suppose the word "insurance" and then general theme of "Legendaries are cowards who are afraid of death" could just mean that she planned to transfer herself into the spare Mewtwo body and that this would somehow help (maybe having Chalenor kill her, getting resurrected into the spare body, and using that to bypass the anchor to her original time?)

    However...I really don't wanna believe that. I feel like Mew of all Pokemon would have a more interesting goal than essentially an upgraded rehash of what the beasts were doing. (Not to mention, Chaletwo already theorized something like that, which means it is almost certainly wrong. Sorry, Chaletwo.) It also doesn't explain what her original reason for going to the future was, since she definitely didn't know Mewtwo existed before that. AND it completely fails to address Chalenor's role in this other than being the method for getting there.

    I still think Chalenor is somehow around (no theories on how), although that is entirely due to a line that I misread, and me overanalyzing your tone when constantly mentioning how dead Chalenor is. I don't think you were lying all the many, many times you said he was dead--just that there is more to it. There are a lot of dead characters in the fic who are not so dead. I also still think Chalenor is and/or was the Destroyer, but I fully admit that it's due to passages from chapters that are quite old, and couldn't possibly be intentional foreshadowing. But there is the fact that when you come up with new plot elements, they usually do not outright contradict anything from the early chapters, therefore accidental foreshadowing crops up a lot. So that's kind of what I'm banking on.

    Also...there is the fact that no one has really questioned how Mew knew the things that she told Chaletwo about the war. I mean yeah. She's survived one war. That is incontrovertible. But that doesn't automatically mean that she'd know where her power went when it was drained, or why it rebounded back all of a sudden. Chalenor being the Destroyer would clear that up--I see no reason to doubt the fact that they were indeed friends, so it's not weird that he'd tell her. And since this is a story without a main villain, I see no reason to attribute malicious intent to the Destroyer until there is actual evidence proving otherwise. Maybe the original Destroyer had malicious intent but it is long since gone, and simply set things in motion so that there would always be a new one after each war. Hell, that would even take away from the vague "guardian of life or some crap" nature of the Preserver's role if the Preserver tends to be the one who tries to stop the war. Stopping the war is preserving life, is it not?

    Wait...has Mew ever said what she was before she became the current Creator? No one would think to ask because odds are, she was just an ordinary Legend. But I wonder how common it is for one of the "big three" to have been a different member of the big three in a previous cycle.

    Or...hang on a sec...if the Preserver actually exists for the purpose of stopping the war, (and simply none of them have succeeded yet) that would make the whole war cycle more like some sort of twisted game set in motion ages ago with the sole purpose of tormenting Legendaries forever. Each cycle, there is a Destroyer to keep the game going. A Creator to make the victims for each new round of the game. And a Preserver because it's not a fun game if the opposition doesn't have some form of chance. Mew already lost the game once before, and so in her mind, it's better to not play the game at all and just let the Legendaries live their lives as normal up until the moment. That's the only way to "win." Maybe the game only exists in the first place as a punishment for the Legendaries believing themselves to be above death.

    Hot damn. I think this is my new pet theory. There is absolutely no evidence whatsoever, but I don't care.

    Now combine it with my previous theory. Suppose the previous Preserver becomes the new Creator. Or suppose the previous Destroyer becomes the new Creator. ("Is this my work?" indeed.) Perhaps the Legendary energy pulse doesn't need to "know" that there's only one Legendary left. Perhaps the Destroyer is still a true immortal when it all happens. That would ensure that there's always one left to be the next Creator (something that would have been problematic otherwise.)

    Also I just realized! The past Mew who time traveled to see Mewtwo couldn't be from right before the war--if it was right before the war, neither she nor Chalenor would've had the power left for time travel (Chaletwo has confirmed this himself) unless one of them was the Destroyer from that cycle, in which case of course they had the power.

    So, to sum up my theory, I think that the War cycle exists to torture the Legendaries for eternity, the Preserver's job is to try to stop the war, and either Mew or Chalenor was the previous Destroyer.

    Wow. That ended up a lot longer than I intended. As always, treat the majority of the questions as rhetorical, with the exception being any that have actually been answered at some point that I just forgot. I'm looking forward to--

    *Stumbles across Negrek's theory.*

    ...

    ......

    ..............................


    ...WHY THE BLOODY HELL DID I LET MYSELF FORGET ABOUT MITCH. ARGH.

    *Storms off to bash head against wall forever and ever.*

    ~Chibi~;249;;448;
     
  4. Dragonfree

    Dragonfree Just me

    :D (Horrendously late review reply, go!)

    Glad you enjoyed the past couple of chapters. I'm thrilled you liked Preciure; I had an awful lot of fun writing him, and it's always nice when that translates into reader enjoyment.

    SURE. Keep in mind that the IALCOTN was started in 2005, so while it's definitely a massive improvement over the ILCOE, some of my plans were still pretty shaky.

    If you've read Rick's character bio on the QftL site, you may know this already, but: Rick's Gym is officially themed around stone evolutions in the IALCOTN, and all the cloning is happening in secret, as indicated in chapter four. Rick also didn't actually catch any legendaries aside from Mew; he just went around finding them and collecting samples of their DNA for cloning. He has Mew fight for him transformed into an Arcanine, but feels pretty on edge about it as he sees it fighting the Clone Ball's influence and worries, in his paranoia, that it will break free and exact some terrifying legendary vengeance on him. He offloads it onto Mark after it deliberately loses their battle and tells him to get rid of it, figuring then regardless of what he does Mew's ultimate anger will at least be directed towards him instead. What he doesn't realize is that Mark has heard rumours of mind-controlling Pokéballs, saw the Arcanine behaving pretty oddly in the battle, and put two and two together. So the first thing Mark does is switch it out of the Clone Ball, and then when he sends it out it turns out to not be an Arcanine at all.

    (I may have been slightly overthinking this; Mewtwo^2 is actually the only relevant legendary clone Rick has, so I could probably cut out the entire thing about him cloning all those other irrelevant legendaries and keep it to just the actual Mew and Mewtwo^2 plus supercloning of regular Pokémon. But then again the general legendary cloning thing fits with his character and feeds the rumours nicely, plus that if we're already granting that he found a couple of legendaries and can make super-clones, it's not really even a stretch, so I'm not quite sure if I should fiddle with that or not. It also occurs to me that I may not need Rick to be trying to have Mew fight for him in the Gym, which is a weird thing to do if he's paranoid about it, but then I'd have to think of a different way for Mark to end up with Mew and releasing it, at least if I want to keep the entire Mew Hunter plot thread, which I do.)


    Mark does not stumble his way into Rick's secret cloning lab by pressing random buttons in the Gym; he's just heard rumours, which Mew confirms. Mark seeing the lab is not a thing, because that was a really stupid bit. The only real purpose it served was to have Mark conveniently overhear the scientists talking about Taylor, but 1) he will definitely learn this stuff when they actually encounter Taylor later in the story, and 2) if I do want to keep him figuring out Rick's brother has May's Quilava, which I might because it's sort of what kicks off Mark and May's relationship as traveling companions, he can do that through a combination of common knowledge, actually talking to Charmander/May, and possibly learning something from Mew if necessary.


    I hadn't quite finalized my plans for this, but the plan was for Mark to get Eevee somewhat differently. He still found him out on the road and took him to the Pokémon Center in chapter four, but in place of Mark being automatically assumed to have some kind of right to Eevee, there were supposed to be protocols for this sort of thing, where the found Pokémon would be put up for adoption somewhere. When Mark returned to the Pokémon Center in chapter seven, the nurse would let him visit Eevee in the back, and when they were there she'd start telling him about how much she'd wanted an Eevee back when she was a trainer, and eventually, although she wasn't supposed to tell trainers where any Pokémon they'd found would be put up for adoption, she'd tell him they'd arranged for him to go to an adoption center in Scorpio City and that if he got there in time he might be able to adopt him.

    In retrospect, I think this whole thing may have been a bit misguided; I was kind of fixated on the idea of shaking up the "trainer finds injured Pokémon, takes it to a Pokémon Center and the nurse just gives it to the trainer" Sue-cliché that I followed to the letter in the ILCOE, only to keep the most contrived part of it as is (happening to stumble upon an injured Eevee) and introduce meaningless convolutions before the part where he actually gets it instead. To boot, it actually introduces a new special-pleading aspect, with the nurse just happening to have personal issues that make her decide to break protocol in this one case, so it may overall be more Sueish than before. It could've been a fun subversion if I'd had him rescue Eevee and then actually not get him, but obviously that's not where that was ever going to go, and this really does nothing to make his getting an Eevee more realistic or reasonable. I like the idea of showing a little bit of backstory and characterization for a Nurse Joy, but yeeeah, this wasn't my most inspired moment. I guess the reason for all this was that I didn't start thinking I wanted to avoid the cliché until I'd already written chapter four, so how he ended up getting it was the only bit I could still change.


    Instead of Mark and May just randomly bumping into Dratini and Larvitar, May snuck a peek at some documents at Elm's lab before the start of her journey and deliberately goes off-route to a place where she knows a wild Pokémon conservation program has been releasing Dratini and Larvitar (some of whom are far too young to be trained). She takes Mark along as an awkward friendly gesture (probably in return for him telling her about Taylor and possibly also who Charmeleon is; this is why I may want to keep that bit, since otherwise I'll have to come up with another reason for her to feel indebted to him), but doesn't tell him where they're going, just that she's going to a place with cool Pokémon and he can come with. Mark only finds out trainers weren't supposed to be there from Dratini later. I still really like this change (it's probably my favorite bit of IALCOTN planning) because it turns their cheap pseudo-legendaries and the unbelievably handwavy conservation program excuse into a relevant early character-establishing moment for May, explains better how Tyranitar is so much younger than expected (Pokémon stay away from human routes until they're a bit older, so trainers don't normally stumble into Pokémon that young), provides a bit of subtle setup and foreshadowing about Tyranitar's issues, and makes him killing Taylor into a more direct result of May's questionable choices and damaging way of thinking about Pokémon.


    As I went into on Tumblr a while back, I'd planned to keep the incident where May tries to steal her Quilava back and Taylor turns it into a gambit to get Charmeleon instead (it's a helpful way to introduce Taylor's possession of Mewtwo^2 and his nonchalant use of its powers to hypnotize authorities when things aren't going his way), but instead of Charmeleon still being registered to Taylor, Officer Jenny would run a check that simply reveals he used to belong to Taylor. She would also be about to actually send Charmeleon out to have him verify who his rightful trainer is, because it is absurd for that to somehow not be part of the standard procedure, but of course when Taylor realizes that would immediately show he'd lied, he just gets Mewtwo^2 to make her skip that part.


    The reason Mark's parents didn't want him to go on a journey was supposed to still be that they didn't want him to go to the Pokémon Festival and see Chaletwo, because they worried Chaletwo would kill him. Mark's always tried to nag them about going to the festival, but they've always refused to take him there, and there's not much he can do about that. If he got a starter at the festival, though, they couldn't really stop him from attending Chaletwo's appearance. With Charmander popping up when he did, they saw their chance: if Mark were to set off now from Sailance on foot, he simply wouldn't make it to Green Town in time for the festival (which, of course, they felt no need to remind him of before he set off). Mark, of course, makes it to Green Town anyway thanks to May arranging for them to be teleported straight to Green Town from Aquarium City, thus skipping the single longest distance between two consecutive Gym towns in the entire region.

    I thought this was incredibly clever when I first thought of it, and I still kind of like it - I love that this fits perfectly even with the exact same sequence of events as the ILCOE. That said, "the exact same sequence of events as the ILCOE" understandably means there's a lot of holes there if you give it more than the briefest of glances: is there really no way for people to get a starter for their kid at any other time than the Pokémon Festival? Could they really not just talk about it with Mark on an honest level and persuade him there's a significant chance this legendary Pokémon is going to murder him and therefore he probably wants to stay away? Why does anyone go see Chaletwo if he's been reliably murdering people every year? In general, in recent years I've been more inclined to actually rethink things like the whole "Chaletwo appearing yearly at the Pokémon festival" thing - there's no good reason for that to be a thing, it serves no purpose for the story besides its convoluted role in getting Mark involved, and it creates a deluge of other problems. As adorably iconic for the fic as it is, and as awesome as the image seemed to my twelve-year-old self, it would make way more sense for the revision to do this in some entirely different way that doesn't involve Chaletwo appearing at the Pokémon Festival at all, or at least not in a predictable way. I haven't really thought about exactly how to actually do it, though, what with how I've been focusing on the ILCOE.


    The way Mark's encounter with the Mew Hunter plays out in Scyther's Story was planned as the IALCOTN version of that whole series of events. The Mew Hunter doesn't randomly decide to tell Mark his life story; Scyther tells Mark that Rob wouldn't really kill him; and instead of randomly telling Mark to battle him to get his Pokémon back, the Mew Hunter threatens to kill his Pokémon, Scyther speaks out, and May comes down to defend them as the Mew Hunter orders his Pokémon to kill them. Just some overall smoothing and making it more sensible. The dialogue in the Scyther's Story version needs a lot of work, but I'm reasonably happy with the actual series of events there.


    I feel like I had some amazing idea for how to make the Black Desert chapter more sensible (Mark should definitely be aware that this reasonably nearby place in his region is full of deadly scorpions, yet I think I thought of some way for the whole thing to happen regardless), but I can't for the life of me remember what it was at the moment. Maybe it would have helped to write some of this stuff down at some point, self.


    I used to be quite determined to make radical changes to Ouen's legendary roster, but that was before I wrote all these legendaries as characters and started to kind of love them, and it actually is narratively convenient how they group together so that an increasing amount of force is needed to defeat them, so now I don't really even know what I want to do in that regard. The Ouen legendaries are terrible Pokémon because I had no idea how making fake Pokémon works at the time and just went "Dragons! Unicorns!", but I guess I could try to spruce up their designs in a more Pokémonesque way or something.

    (Not referring to Molzapart here, though. He kind of does need to get the boot. For anyone not in the know, I had been considering replacing him with a fourth Sinnoh pixie in the IALCOTN. I might reconsider that, but however I reconsider it will almost definitely not involve actual literal Molzapart. Rainteicune should also not be a thing.)


    And Monarking is definitely getting cut and never mentioned again.


    Chapter 75. That's when **** goes down and revelations happen and everything comes together. The denouement is not very long. (Well, actually I have been considering adding a chapter; some of the denouement material should really be posted at the same time as chapter 75 even though it belongs in a separate chapter, so I'm thinking that becomes chapter 76 and gets posted with 75, while the rest goes into chapter 77 and can wait for a breather. But yeah.)


    Also your plot speculation makes me incredibly giddy. :D
     
  5. Dragonfree

    Dragonfree Just me

    Chapter 66 is here, at long last!

    As I explained when I posted chapter 65, I've been working on chapters 67, 68 and 69 alongside 66, and they're all done now. The next three chapters will be posted on the next three Thursdays after today: chapter 67 will be posted February 25th, chapter 68 will be posted March 3rd, and chapter 69 will be posted March 10th.




    Chapter 66: Doubts

    “Right,” said Robin as they ate lunch in a busy Scorpio City restaurant. “So what do we know about the Waraider herd exactly? I’ve never been super-into legendaries.”

    “They’re eight unicorns of different types,” Mark said. “Normal, Fire, Water, Electric, Grass, Ice, Psychic and Dark. Supposedly they’re always together, and the legend says they keep the balance of the world and if they’re ever separated nature will go out of whack.”

    Robin raised her eyebrows. “That doesn’t sound like a fun fight.”

    “Is that even true?” May asked, looking at Mark. “It sounds like something people would make up.”

    “They’re an elusive bunch,” Chaletwo said. “I don’t know them very well, to be honest, but the part about them keeping together is true, at least. Don’t know exactly what would happen if they were separated, but I’d guess the keeping balance bit is probably a human invention.”

    “Didn’t you and Mew create them?” Mark asked.

    “Well, in a manner of speaking. We created Waraider, but then a couple of months later there were suddenly eight of them, and we had nothing to do with that. He must have created the others himself.”

    “Huh.” Mark blinked. “Can any legendary create others?”

    “Not normally, but their powers can be unpredictable. It wouldn’t be the first time something like it has happened.”

    “Wait, so can we separate them or not?” Robin asked.

    Chaletwo hesitated before answering. “Since we didn’t create them, I don’t know how their relationship works, but they do act pretty obsessively dependent on each other. Best-case scenario, being separated will make them very, very angry, and there are a lot of ways it could be a lot worse than that. I’d rather not test it.”

    “Why didn’t you ask Waraider about the others, if they just suddenly appeared out of nowhere?” May asked.

    Chaletwo sighed. “I did, but he was confused. Young legendaries don’t have the best control over their powers. Maybe he made them by accident. Or he was just… well, you’d understand if you’d met them. They’re pretty… strange, for lack of a better word.”

    “So how are we going to capture them?” Robin asked. “Putting them in separate Pokéballs would be separating them, right?”

    “That’s the thing. See, my thinking is that any adverse effects would directly or indirectly involve something going screwy with them when the others aren’t all there, and that should mean it’ll be fine if they’re all captured simultaneously – if nobody’s left to cause any damage, there’s nothing to fear. But obviously that’s not the easiest thing to accomplish in a fight.”

    Robin stared at him.

    “Okay,” Mark said, “clearly we really don’t want a fight here, then. We want to talk to them and get them to agree to be caught, and then it’ll be easy to get them all in Pokéballs at the same time instead of having to puzzle out how we’d get it done by force. And there’s no reason to think they’d say no if we explain things to them, since they don’t have any siblings they’re paranoid about, or any reason to think Chaletwo would be lying to them, or any reason to not want the War stopped. Right?”

    “It… may not be so simple,” Chaletwo said reluctantly. “Like I said, they’re weird. They don’t like to do anything unless they all agree on it, and some of them are pretty nuts. We might get lucky and convince all of them, but I wouldn’t count on it, and if we don’t convince all of them, they’d probably rather all fight back than coerce the remaining ones.”

    “Wouldn’t the less nuts ones try to persuade the others for something like this?” Mark said, but a familiar sensation of dread was already forming in his stomach.

    “Again,” Chaletwo said, “they’re weird. They tend to operate on some strange moon logic. Don’t trust them to be reasonable about anything.”

    Alan sighed heavily, grimacing. “So, in other words, we have to assume there might be a battle, again.”

    “We should have assumed that anyway,” May said. “I’m sticking with what I suggested before: let’s contact the other legendary hunters. We need more battle strength and more information, and they would have both. And the more people and Pokémon we have, the more likely we can win this fight.”

    “Do you think we should maybe contact Carl too, then?” Mark asked hesitantly. “He did help us catch one legendary, and I’ve felt kind of bad that we never actually told him the truth about what was going on. He’d probably be a huge help, and he kind of owes us a favour for helping save his town. And we can check on whether Volcaryu’s safe.”

    “What about Victor?” May suggested. “He knew a bit of what was going on, from Mitch. We could go all the way with that.”

    “Mitch himself, too,” Mark added. “And Sparky – we kind of saved his town as well, and he saw us fighting Thunderyu.”

    “Slow down,” Chaletwo said. “We can’t tell the entire region what we’re doing. We know the other legendary hunters can be trusted; let’s contact them first.” He paused. “But fine, I suppose given those Gym leaders already know something, it’d be a good idea to check on them if we can. And perhaps we could use some more help.”

    Alan looked between Mark and May, disbelieving. “So, what, that’s it? Getting Gym leaders to help us is fine? We could’ve done that all along?”

    “It’s an emergency, isn’t it?” Chaletwo said defensively. “There’s eight of them. We had enough trouble with three just earlier.”

    Alan exhaled, leaning back in his chair and folding his arms, but said nothing. Mark looked awkwardly around the table; everyone seemed to have finished eating, at least. “Well, since we seem to agree we should try to get in touch with them, what’s the best way to do that? Mitch is right here in town, at least. We could go talk to him now.”

    “Leah had a Pokégear. I saw it on her wrist,” May said. “You can look up Pokégear numbers in a directory online. We should be able to do it on the Pokémon Center computers.”

    “That sounds good,” Robin said immediately. “How about Mark and Alan go see if Mitch is around, and meanwhile May and I take our Pokémon to the Pokémon Center and try to get in contact with that Leah person?”

    May glanced warily at Robin for a moment before nodding. Mark looked at Alan; he gave a small shrug, still averting his eyes.

    “See you, then, I guess,” Mark said as he stood up and handed his Pokéballs to Robin, and Alan followed him without a word.

    -------

    The air outside was cool and calm, and Mark felt himself growing a bit less tense as he breathed it in – they really did only have two legendary encounters to go, and if they amassed several more experienced trainers, perhaps battling the Waraider herd wouldn’t be so daunting.

    Beside him, Alan sighed. “This is such a mess.”

    “What?”

    “Everything,” Alan said, his voice hard. “This has all been one huge screwup from the start. Fight all the legendaries, except we could have just explained things to them, except once we start trying to explain they won’t listen. Fight many legendaries at a time, except some math principle says it’s practically impossible. Go to the League to train, except while you’re there Tyranitar goes and murders someone. Don’t tell anyone about the plan, except now let’s call in a bunch of people who could have saved us a lot of trouble if they’d been helping us in the first place. Go to the Acaria mountains, except that was all a lie to waste our time. Then nearly get killed by some murderous dragons, just for kicks. Oh, and the entire principle behind what we’re attempting is just guesswork. Good luck!”

    “Alan,” Chaletwo responded acidly before Mark had the chance, “I’m glad you’ve found yourself in being a cynic, but at least we’re trying. You didn’t think of any of these things either. It’s not that hard to overlook some possibilities –”

    “I know!” Alan exclaimed, throwing his arms up in frustration. “I didn’t think of it either, and that makes me every bit as much of an idiot as you.”

    “Well, what do you want us to do about it? If you have better ideas, be my guest, but if you’re not planning to make any suggestions, stop complaining.”

    “I don’t have better ideas,” Alan said, his voice growing quieter. “I just… We’re so bad at this. It’s been a string of mistakes and failures, even if we’ve stumbled into some lucky victories along the way. We have no idea what we’re doing, and we’re in way over our heads. Robin could’ve died earlier and so could I, and even before that there was Dragoreen taking you hostage, and then she just… toyed with us for several weeks for her own ends, and we bought it hook, line and sinker. God, we’re the world’s worst heroes.”

    “Well, we’re not doing this to be the world’s greatest heroes,” Chaletwo snapped. “We’re doing this because it needs to be done. Is this some kind of vanity project for you? Because I’m starting to miss when you were gone, and if you don’t actually care about our mission I’m sure Robin can make up for your absence.”

    Alan looked like he’d been slapped. He stared at Mark in a mixture of anger, frustration and deep, deep hurt.

    “Alan, it’s –”

    “Sorry,” Alan said. “Just... sorry.”

    And he turned around and walked away without looking back.

    Well done, Chaletwo, Mark thought.

    “Do you think any of that was fair?” Chaletwo responded, the heat still present in his voice. “We’ve worked hard to get here, we’ve almost done it despite all the problems on the way, and now he starts complaining we’re not heroic enough, whatever that’s supposed to mean? I’m sick of him imposing his lofty standards on what we’re doing as if – as if any of that matters when we have a world to save!”

    Mark looked after Alan – he was still walking quickly straight down the street, without looking to either side – and sighed; he kind of wanted to go after him, but he didn’t know what to say, and he suspected Alan wanted to be alone for now.

    “Let’s just see Mitch, all right?” he said and headed off in the opposite direction.

    -------

    When he reached the Gym, however, it was locked. A note, scribbled in messy, jagged handwriting and hastily stuck to the door with duct tape, apologized for any inconvenience caused by the temporary closing, but provided no explanation.

    “I guess that’s a dead end, then,” Chaletwo said.

    “It’s weird, though,” Mark said. Something about this nagged at him. “I’m going to look around a bit.”

    “It’s not that important to check up with him. We already know how much he knows, and it’s enough for him to know he shouldn’t be prying into it further or telling people about it. And he’s a low-level Gym leader anyway.”

    “Yeah, we don’t need to check on him,” Mark said. “I just think we should.”

    He walked around the side of the Gym, peeking in through the windows. The ones in the battle arena showed it to be empty, but as he peered into the back room on the right side of the building, he found the light on. He knocked carefully on the glass a few times.

    A shape rose with a start from the sofa below the window. Mitch’s face came into view, his eyes wild and haunted; his gaze darted up and down the street before it fixed on Mark.

    Mitch reached over to the window and opened it, blinking blearily at the sunlight. There were dark bags under his blue-green eyes, his face sallow and pale, his silver hair unkempt and messy. “What is it?”

    “Are… are you all right?” Mark asked.

    “Yes,” Mitch said, too quickly. “How are you?”

    “I’m okay,” Mark said, hesitant. “Can we talk? I think you might be able to help us with... the thing I’m doing for Chaletwo, if we let you in on it.”

    Mitch surveyed him for a few seconds; yet again there was that strangely unnerving, tantalizing stare of his, that desperate shine in the depths of his pupils. Then he looked away again, and Mark blinked, snapped out of a trance. “I don’t think I can help you with anything. I’m sorry.”

    “Well, couldn’t you at least hear us out?” Mark said. “We’ll explain what’s going on.”

    “No. You shouldn’t tell me anything. I wish I could help, but I can’t. I’m very, very sorry.”

    His voice was tight and pleading, and it struck Mark suddenly that he sounded afraid. “What’s going on?” Mark asked, unnerved. “Why?”

    Mitch closed his eyes for a moment and took a deep breath. “You know what’s been happening to me. It’s gotten worse – a lot worse. I’m not sure what’s real anymore. I don’t need any more information to process right now.”

    Mark stared at him. “Have you tried getting help?” he asked. “Like a psychiatrist, I mean?”

    “I did once,” Mitch said, wincing uncomfortably. “It didn’t help.”

    “Locking yourself up in your Gym isn’t going to help either,” Mark pointed out. “You should see someone.”

    Mitch looked at him for a long moment, not quite making eye contact this time. “Yes, I suppose you’re right,” he murmured. “Thank you.”

    “Is there anything I could help you with?” Mark asked.

    “No, no, it’s... I can call someone.”

    Mark nodded, wary, not taking his eyes off Mitch. Chaletwo, he thought, is there something... can you feel, like, if some Psychic Pokémon’s been messing with his head, or something like that?

    “I’m not sensing any psychic interference, or anything else out of the ordinary. Whatever’s going on with him, it’s all him.”

    Well, there’s definitely something really weird going on here. Mark paused, a crazy idea taking hold in his head. What if, like, Mew were anchored to him, like you are to me, and he was –

    “If Mew were anchored to him or doing anything to him, or any other legendary for that matter, I could sense it. You’re barking up the wrong tree.”

    Behind the window, Mitch’s gaze flicked restlessly from side to side and occasionally back to Mark, but he remained silent.

    “I know it seems cold to say this,” Chaletwo said, “but he may just really be crazy. He did say he’s losing his grip on reality, and if you ask me he’s always seemed a little unbalanced. Maybe living under a fake identity has been slowly driving him mad all these years, or something.”

    He really has psychic powers, Mark pointed out.

    “Well, some humans do. And that’s another possibility – maybe he’s just a strong natural psychic, but for some reason it only started to kick in after his near-death experience, and it’s a bit overwhelming for him. In that case nobody can really help, but he should eventually reach the full extent of his powers and get used to it.”

    Mark considered it, biting his lip. Something about this still didn’t sit right with him, but he wasn’t sure what he could do about it, if anything, and if Chaletwo was confident it wasn’t some Pokémon messing with him, it had to ultimately be his own problem.

    “I’m glad you’re going to get help,” he said to Mitch at last. “Get better.”

    Mitch nodded, unfazed by the lengthy pause in the conversation. “Thank you,” he said again, giving a forced smile. “I’ll… make another attempt.”

    “Goodbye,” Mark said. “Try to do it soon.”

    “Goodbye,” Mitch said, and he shut the window and disappeared behind the back of the couch again.

    -------

    If I find Alan, Mark thought as he walked back the way he’d come, are you going to let me talk?

    “What do you mean, let you talk? When do I ever not let you talk?”

    You know what I mean. Don’t comment. I want to try to calm him down, and you probably wouldn’t help.

    “Fine,” Chaletwo said. “But can you tell him not to try to bring everyone down with his stupid pessimism?”

    He’s obviously stressed out. Stop making it worse.

    Chaletwo didn’t respond to that.

    Mark continued down the street, looking from side to side. Where would Alan go when storming off? Normally he might have guessed the Pokémon Center, but May and Robin should be there right now, so if he wanted to be alone, that wouldn’t be it.

    Instead, he just followed the street straight onwards, all the way to the edge of town. He was about to turn back when he spotted Alan sitting on a rock by the roadside a bit further ahead, hugging his knees with one arm while stroking the tall, yellowed grass growing around him absent-mindedly with his other hand.

    “Hey,” Mark said as he came up to the rock. “You okay?”

    Alan shot only a brief glance in his direction before returning his gaze to the distance ahead, where the tiny village of Merville bordered the calm ocean. For a second he was silent; then, quietly, he muttered, “I’m not sure I want to do this anymore.”

    Mark stared at him. “What do you mean, you don’t want to do this?”

    “It just... makes me feel bad.” Alan paused, still not looking in Mark’s direction. “I’m angry all the time, and everything we do just angers me more. I’m tired of pretending nothing’s wrong. I don’t want to feel this way.”

    Alan grabbed a long grass stalk and pulled at it, his knuckles white; it didn’t budge, and he unclenched his fist in defeat and let it go again.

    “Do you… do you know why you feel like that?” Mark asked after a few seconds.

    Alan paused for a long moment. “Maybe Chaletwo’s right,” he said eventually. “Maybe this really has been a vanity project for me. My dad’s always been this big celebrity hero, and I… wasn’t. On my own journey I just sort of wandered around without even the drive to participate in a League, and I didn’t feel like I’d really accomplished anything. When I came with you I thought I was finally going to do something amazing and important like him, but here we are bumbling around with no idea what we’re doing, making one stupid mistake after another, and I just... I don’t feel very heroic.”

    Mark wasn’t sure how to respond to that. He’d never really thought about what they were doing in those terms. Heroes were people in stories, people with special destinies. People who were fated to succeed.

    “And every time something bad happens,” Alan went on, “I feel like I should have seen it coming and done something about it. I think that every time, that from now on everything’s going to go right because I’m going to pay attention and spot the flaws and fix everything, but it doesn’t work. I can’t fix anything. I don’t even notice things that need to be fixed until it’s too late.” He sighed, fiddling with the grass again. “And who was I kidding? I couldn’t even be a proper Pokémon trainer.”

    “What are you talking about?” Mark said, dumbfounded. “You don’t need to take part in a League to be a proper Pokémon trainer. Loads of trainers never do.”

    Alan hugged his knees with both arms. “I had more Pokémon,” he said, quietly. “Charlie and Racko and them are the ones that stayed behind. The others wanted to go to the League. And I guess they found new trainers who did, eventually. People like you and Robin.” He grimaced, his voice turning bitter. “Or even May.”

    “There’s no shame in releasing your Pokémon when that’s what they want,” Mark said. “I released Letaligon while you were gone – even Scyther was maybe going to leave the night that you came back, even though he ended up staying. And didn’t… didn’t your dad release a bunch of his Pokémon, too?”

    Alan made a small noise of dismay. “That’s… that’s different. Letaligon wanted to get stronger and evolve and then go to fight her father. You did that for her. You took her to the League and helped her evolve and then took her back to Ruxido, exactly like she wanted. She didn’t leave because you’d failed her.” He shot a glance towards Mark out of the corner of his eye. “Even then,” he went on in a murmur, “when I was a kid and my dad told me about all the Pokémon he’d released on his journey, I always thought I could do better. I could be an even better trainer and then they wouldn’t want to leave.” The conclusion hung unspoken in the air.

    Mark stepped closer, facing Alan, his mind racing. “I… I think I get it,” he said slowly. “Sandslash once told me that most Pokémon grow up wanting a trainer who’ll just take them to the League and make them strong and then release them, and that really good trainers are the ones who can make them change their minds. I think you said something similar once too, right?”

    Alan winced silently, not moving.

    “I don’t think you should expect to change every Pokémon’s mind, though,” Mark said. “They’re… they’re not all going to want the same thing, right? It’s not a measure of how good you are; it’s about who they are and what they want. Scyther decided to come back instead of staying with his swarm, but I don’t think that means I’m a better trainer than if he hadn’t.”

    “I know,” Alan said, sighing. “Like I said, it’s something I thought when I was a kid. It’s just…”

    “And I mean, six of your Pokémon did want to stay with you. I think that makes it pretty clear you were the best kind of trainer, even if some of the others chose differently. And for the ones who didn’t want to stay, you respected that and released them. I don’t think there’s anything better you could have done.”

    “I could have taken them to the League like they wanted,” Alan replied, his voice dull.

    “But you don’t have to take everyone where they want to go,” Mark said. “I’m sure some of my Pokémon want to continue training after this, but after the League I realized I don’t want to.” Alan looked up at him in vague surprise. “Just like they don’t have to stay with you if they don’t want to, you don’t have to go to the League if you don’t want to. What you want matters too, and if you and your Pokémon want different things, you have to split up.”

    Alan stared into the distance, thinking. “Do you think I’m too self-sacrificing?” he said after a while.

    “I guess maybe, sometimes,” Mark said. After a moment of thought, he sat down on the ground beside the rock. “That’s not… it’s not exactly a bad thing, though,” he went on. “I mean, being selfless is a good thing. But you’re allowed to think of what you want, too, and you shouldn’t beat yourself up about quitting training when you weren’t into it anymore. I’m sure your Pokémon understood, even if they were disappointed.”

    Mark glanced up at Alan; he was still gazing unseeingly towards Merville, but there were tears at the corners of his eyes, and Mark quickly looked away again.

    “So,” Alan said quietly after a minute, “if I quit now, you’d understand?”

    Oh. Mark hadn’t thought of it that way around at all – but now, the answer was inevitable.

    “Yeah.” He exhaled, looking back up at Alan. “If that’s what you need to do.”

    Alan nodded slightly. “Thanks,” he said. “That actually means a lot.”

    They sat there for a few minutes more together, silent, watching the soothing waves of the ocean in the distance.

    “I didn’t know you were going to quit training,” Alan said after a while.

    Mark took a deep breath. “Yeah. Thinking back, I never really wanted to be a trainer that much, you know? I just… I just wanted to get out. I wanted to see the world and meet Pokémon and maybe see a legendary if I was lucky. And then all my friends got to be trainers and I didn’t, so I guess I kind of latched on to it. But battling isn’t my thing and it never has been. It’s been fun, and I’m glad I got to experience it once, but when this is over with I just want to go home.”

    “When I was a kid, I was really excited to be a trainer,” Alan said, something bitter and hollow in his voice. “I was so sure I could be even better than my dad and would do everything right. But then, as I failed to live up to that, I just started to hate it. I loved my Pokémon, but I couldn’t stand not being that great.”

    Mark blinked. “That’s why you quit?”

    Alan nodded, his fingers tightening around his knees. “I got my eighth badge, and then I just… I knew I wouldn’t be any good at the League and it’d just make me feel worse, and I couldn’t handle it. So I ended up quitting with nothing to show for it, after all that time and effort. And my Pokémon suffered for it.”

    “Well, again, I’m sure they understood.”

    Alan considered it, wincing. “Maybe. They said it was okay, but I never told them… I said I’d just decided training wasn’t for me, and I could tell they didn’t quite buy it. I just couldn’t… I couldn’t tell them I was betraying them for something so petty.” His hands clenched into fists.

    “It’s not petty if it’s really affecting you like that, though,” Mark said. “If quitting helped, then that was the right thing to do.”

    Alan let out a long sigh, rubbing his face with his hands. “Well, that’s the thing. It didn’t really help, did it? I feel like even more of a failure for quitting than I did before. So I guess the real lesson here is trying to run away from things doesn’t actually help me.” He shook his head. “I mean, God, I know I’d never forgive myself if I left you when you’re trying to save the world. I just…”

    “If you’re worried about us thinking you betrayed us or it’s petty, it’s not –”

    Alan shook his head again. “No, it’s not about you. It’s just the way I am. But thanks for saying that.”

    Mark looked up at him, not sure what to say. The older boy nodded slowly to himself, lost in thought, before his expression hardened, his back straightened, and he lowered his feet into the grass.

    “Really, thanks,” Alan said, meeting Mark’s gaze at last as he offered his hand. “For… for listening and making it seem like I had a choice. It helped.”

    “Do you feel better?” Mark asked.

    Alan took a deep breath. “I think so, a little. Maybe we really can do some good, in our bumbling, unheroic way.”

    “I hope so,” Mark said, smiling.

    Alan gave a wisp of a smile in return as he looked back in the direction of the town.

    “I think you should tell your Pokémon why you really quit,” Mark said, and he turned around again. “They’re your friends. They’ll get it.”

    Alan hesitated for a moment, then nodded. “Yeah. I think I will. Thanks.”

    And they walked towards the Pokémon Center together.
     
    Last edited: Feb 19, 2016
  6. Negrek

    Negrek Lost but Seeking

    I had a feeling this might pop up sometime around the eighteenth! ;)

    Given the legendary personalities we've already encountered in this story, it is pretty worrying that Chaletwo goes so far as to call them "weird." The first section does seem a little like Chaletwo protests too much, though, like you're going a bit hard on the idea that this is definitely going to come down to a fight, no question. I think it might look a bit less odd if Chaletwo just explained that they're irrational and not likely to want to resolve things peacefully and have the others accept that, rather than having people repeatedly bring up "well what about" scenarios to have him shoot down with, "No, seriously, they're weird."

    It also seems kind of strange for there to be so sudden a reversal in attitude--before it was like, trust no one, we can't let anyone get wind of what's going on! I guess essentially all the other legendaries are accounted for now, though, and Mew already knows what's up, so it doesn't matter. There's also the Waterberg principle, which Alan even mentions later, which suggests that bringing on a whole bunch of other trainers may not be such a great plan (May's statement that "And the more people and pokémon we have, the more likely we can win this fight" is, I think, straight-up incorrect, but nobody calls her on it). To me I think it would have felt like a more natural conclusion if there were some plan beyond just, "We need more firepower, who can we ask for more firepower?", especially given that in the past it's been emphasized that more firepower doesn't help much. I guess for me the reasoning here didn't feel too natural... I would have bought, for example, that they're feeling overwhelmed and don't really know what to do, so the suggestion is instead that they try talking with someone they trust who has more experience and potentially more knowledge, like e.g. Sparky. And that person might in turn suggest some additional trustworhty people they were familiar with whom it might be worth contacting to help, and/or a plan that might justify bringing in so many others, e.g. "I know it doesn't make sense to try and send a huge group of people after the herd at once, since coordination would be impossible and they'll all just get in each other's way, but if we bring a lot of trainers what we can try to do instead is tag team them, so maybe only five people are fighting at once, but whenever someone's team gets wiped out we can replace them with someone else."

    But that would change a fair amount, and I know you don't want to spend more time on the setup than you have to. It was just that some of the logic in this conversation felt flimsy--in particular that they ought to jump to bringing in more outsiders now, without even trying to talk with the herd or a more concrete idea of how they're going to approach the battle.

    You forgot your italics here.

    "Those things," perhaps?

    Not even a little gray now, eh?

    ...tantalizing?

    oh you can't deter me that easily

    Hmm, so a sudden increase in power can cause symptoms similar to what Mitch's experiencing, HMMMM.

    I assume you mean he lay back down on the couch? When I read this, it sounds more like he walked around behind the couch instead.

    Alan's introspective bit was really interesting; in particular I liked the part about him setting out to be better than his dad, where "better" meant that he wouldn't release so many pokémon because he'd be such a good trainer that they'd want to stay forever. Kind of throws a light on the conflict between the idealized "friends forever" pokémon/trainer relationship, which gets played up a lot in the real-world marketing of the franchise but I would imagine would also come up a lot in how training is perceived in the world of the story, and the more practical realization that in fact it's unlikely that the six monsters you beat up and stuffed in balls are going to have the same goals and priorities as you and/or that those goals and priorities won't shift over time. You also see that kind of thinking in real-world relationships, too, where having a relationship end is often viewed as a failure, even though the reality is that oftentimes people come together as a result of the circumstances of their lives, rather than because they're meant for each other forever, then drift apart again when those circumstances change, and there's nothing wrong with that. So I thought it was a pretty interesting and insightful discussion of how in fact there's nothing really wrong with pokémon hanging out with a trainer to get stronger, then leaving afterward, as long as what both parties want, and that in the end you won't be eternal BFFs with everybody, and that's really as it should be. This story really does quite well in setting up pokémon who have their own priorities and desires outside of their trainers' wishes and following through with that in a way that other trainerfics don't, and this conversation really sums it up. You've definitely come a long way from "you're such a great trainer because you actually care about your pokémon, oh but could you maybe not keep us in our pokéballs all the time thx." ;)

    I will admit that it kind of came out of nowhere for me here, though, I think mostly because we haven't paid a ton of attention to Alan outside of his dispute with May and he actually seemed to be in a reasonably decent mood throughout the whole dragon-finding arc. Also, Chaletwo snapping at him was a surprise, since I think they've been on pretty good terms recently, but I'm sure Chaletwo's also super insecure about his terrible plan and less responsive to criticism than usual. I imagine in any revision you'd naturally give him a bit more screentime, now that you find him more interesting and understand him a bit better, so that will hopefully work itself out by itself for the most part. But in this particular version of the story, yeah, I think the build-up to this scene was a bit unclear.

    Man, everybody's been feeling bad for quite a while in this story, haven't they? It sounds like the next couple chapters might be a bit of a nice break from that, if we're going to be getting a big ensemble going with characters like Sparky making an appearance. Congrats on getting this arc all finished up! I'll be looking forward to seeing how it plays out over the next few weeks. And happy birthday!
     
  7. Dragonfree

    Dragonfree Just me

    Whoo, thanks for the awesome review! :D And happy birthday to you too.

    Hmm, I don't know about "repeatedly"? Mark says "Okay, we're not going to want a fight and there's no reason they'd want one", Chaletwo goes "Aaaactually they probably will want a fight", Mark raises one objection that's definitely the first thing I'd think of (wouldn't the ones that do want to agree to be caught take their side), and then Chaletwo says they're weird and everyone accepts that. I'm guessing you're counting Mark's initial line to be a "what about" scenario too? But at that point Chaletwo genuinely hasn't said it's going to come down to a fight at all yet; all he's said is that catching them simultaneously is hard to do in a fight. I guess Chaletwo's initial line about why they should expect a battle could be expanded to basically include his answer to Mark, though, so that Mark doesn't feel the need to ask the question; that'd get rid of that one objection.

    Note that Chaletwo agrees on the basis that the people they're talking about already know something about what's up, and even then he prefers asking the other legendary hunters, whom he already trusts - it's not so much "it doesn't matter anymore" as "okay, we really do definitely need more people to be able to pull this off, so maybe we can let these people who have already learned something anyway fully in on it."

    Ahhh, maybe I should have finished writing that worldbuilding page on the Waterberg principle. The Waterberg principle is about diminishing returns, not that more Pokémon is ever worse than fewer (I mean, I guess if you're getting to the point where the Pokémon really can't attack without hitting each other or something, you might be looking at that, but that's not really what the Waterberg principle covers). Twenty Pokémon is better than ten; it's just not quite twice as good as ten, and a ten-on-one battle goes much better for the ten than a twenty-on-two battle goes for the twenty. The point of the Waterberg principle when it was brought up was not that them having lots of Pokémon is making things worse for them, but rather that a few legendaries working together present a vastly more difficult challenge than one, disproportionate to the actual numerical increase. With the Waraider herd, they have eight legendaries working together, which is slightly more than the "ideal" number of six but still probably at least, say, four times as powerful as three legendaries. And right now, they have a total of 28 Pokémon, which is only three and a half per unicorn - there's no chance that'd work out even in the ideal situation where they've managed to separate the unicorns perfectly. They really do desperately need more people and more firepower, pretty much regardless of everything else!

    The idea, at least, was that given they definitely aren't going to be able to win a fight against the herd without a whole lot more Pokémon, and Chaletwo thinks they should expect a fight, gathering a team of people who have at least a semi-plausible chance of beating them before trying to confront the herd is a no-brainer, and if they're going to discuss strategy and approaches to the fight, surely they'd do it with the people they're bringing on. But yeah, again, they really do need more people, and the Waterberg principle does not say that that's not going to work. (Not that it wouldn't be fun if this were a battle that by its very nature can't be won with brute force and numbers and needs some sort of obscenely clever maneuvering instead. I'm just not good enough at nor interested enough in battles to orchestrate something like that.)

    I actually already fixed that. There were a couple of other minor places with italics missing for emphasis/thoughts, too. Guess I was a bit too excited when formatting this.

    Ahaha, I should hope so.

    I'm glad you enjoyed the Alan conversation. I'd definitely have liked to set it up in a more focused way, yeah, although I wouldn't say he's been in a great mood. While the final details of the last scene here didn't come together until I was editing this chapter, his actual sudden outburst in the second scene happened in the first NaNo draft (at which point it surprised me as much as you), so although there isn't a lot of him in chapters 63-65, I was aware while editing them that he was bottling up a lot of frustration with everything and tried to make that come through a little. But yeah, it'd have been a good idea to give a little bit more focus to him to set it up better for the reader, because there's not really enough currently for the reader to start to notice and wonder what's up.

    How dare Alan point out some of the things that Chaletwo's also feeling pretty insecure about and trying to ignore! >:/

    Note that Chaletwo first gets defensive when they're still at the restaurant and Alan asks why they didn't just have the gym leaders in on it all along; he only snaps when Alan then continues to go on about what failures they are after they get outside, when he's already on the defensive.

    ahahahahaha
     
  8. Sike Saner

    Sike Saner Peace to the Mountain

    Fun fact: I initially read the title of this chapter as "Donuts".
    Anyway...

    Shouldn't tease fate like that, dude. It's not a kitten. It's not going to shake its butt and jump and roll around cutely for you.

    That's probably going to end up being the wisest statement I've read all week.

    Mark, you are one hell of a good friend, let me tell you. I'm legit impressed with the way he handled Alan. It was really... respectful. That's the word. Respectful of Alan, respectful of Alan's pokémon... Far as I can tell, he resolved that matter (for now, at least) without ****ting on anyone.

    Idk. I just found it refreshing I guess. Lord knows I've seen my share of people who suck at dealing with sensitive situations.
     
  9. Dragonfree

    Dragonfree Just me

    Pfft. x3

    I'm glad you think so! I was hoping to convey that Mark's grown a bit, largely thanks to his experiences with his Pokémon on his journey. I hope I managed to strike a good balance on that - in earlier versions of the scene Mark definitely came off as too sagely.

    Anyway, as promised, here's chapter 67. It's definitely the most get-characters-from-A-to-B of these chapters, and a lot of it just feels like setup for 68, but at least you only have a week to wait.



    Chapter 67: Friends

    “No, I’ll definitely help. I’m not finding much of anything here anyway. Where are you right now?”

    “Scorpio City,” May said.

    “Right. Felix has never been there, so I can’t Teleport to it – think you could meet me in Acaria City tomorrow? I think that’s closest, anyway. Or I can come towards you and we can meet up on that route in between whose number I can’t remember. God, it’s been way too long since I was in Ouen.”

    “Acaria City’s fine,” May replied. “We were thinking of going there anyway – maybe getting its assistant Gym leader to help as well, since he already knows a bit about what’s going on.”

    Leah paused. “Wow. Chaletwo’s really gotten lax with the whole secrecy thing, hasn’t he? When it was just me, he was all ‘no one must know or there will be memory-wiping’.”

    “We didn’t exactly tell him,” May said. “You know Mitch and how he’s psychic? He knew Chaletwo was up to something, and apparently he told Victor. That’s basically all he knows.”

    “Mitch’s psychic? I thought he was just weird and lonely.”

    May snorted. “No, apparently he foresees stuff. Didn’t believe it either until he knew about Chaletwo.”

    “Huh. Anyway, I’ve also got Mary’s number – if you don’t know her, she’s the second legendary hunter and she’s pretty cool. I think she’s been looking for the Waraider herd since catching Articuno, so she might have some leads. I’ll call her too, see if she can meet us there.”

    “Sounds good. Tomorrow morning in Acaria City’s Pokémon Center, then?”

    “Yeah. Great, see you then.”

    May hung up her Pokégear and returned it to her bag. “Well, that’s that sorted. While we wait for the guys, there are some bookshelves over there, so –”

    “May,” Robin interrupted. “We should talk.”

    “What?” May turned towards Robin, her mouth abruptly dry. The Pokémon Center was mostly empty, with the few other patrons scattered around the waiting area, out of earshot. She didn’t know if that was a good thing or not.

    “I think you should go to the police.” Robin’s gaze was firm and unyielding, and May forced herself to return it. “If you tell them what really happened, they might even be able to track your Tyranitar down and have him confirm it. If he really attacked on his own, he can tell them that. It’s not fair to Rick that he doesn’t know how his brother died, or to the wild Tyranitar that people are being warned about them when they did nothing wrong.”

    She felt bile rising in the back of her throat. In a flash, she imagined the Pokémon Center on fire, people running and screaming, Robin stuck inside and –

    She took a breath, closing her eyes and opening them again. “Why would they even believe what Tyranitar tells them?” she said. “I trained him. He thought I was his mom or something. If I’d told him to lie he’d do it. It wouldn’t mean anything.”

    Robin winced, shifting on her feet, but her gaze only wavered for a moment. “Maybe, but they’re not going to just assume you did it on purpose, at least not if you come there of your own free will and explain what happened. You should have done that right away, but the longer you wait, the more suspicious it looks. You’re only making things worse for yourself. Why are you still trying to hide that it was him?”

    May gritted her teeth. “How about because we’re trying to catch some legendaries before they destroy the world?”

    “It wouldn’t have to set us back that much,” Robin said. “You’d be interrogated, but I don’t think they’d have any reason to detain you or anything if you just tell them the truth. Even then, we’re about to get more people, so if they wanted you to stay in town while they’re investigating or something, we could always go fight the Waraider herd and come back for you when –”

    “No.” Her fist was clenched so hard it hurt. Why couldn’t Robin just leave it

    “May,” Robin said, eyes still steady. “You look suspicious right now. He died just after you lost to him, killed by a Pokémon that you used to have until you suddenly released him around a similar time. That’s a pretty amazing coincidence. Don’t you think somebody might look into that at some point?”

    “They’ve got nothing. For all they know I released him because he lost and then he went off to take his own revenge. They can’t prove anything.”

    “Not prove, maybe, but somebody has got to be wondering. If they conclude you were involved and confront you, how much worse is it going to look if you’ve been trying to hide it?”

    “They’re not going to,” May said, her voice hard. “All right? They have no solid reason to think it had anything to do with me, so long as I don’t waltz in there and tell them.”

    “But I just –”

    “And even if,” May interrupted before she could finish that sentence, “even if they came after me, Chaletwo said he’d handle it. There’s nothing to worry about. Okay?”

    Robin stared at her for a long second before taking a deep breath. “Okay,” she said. “That’s fine. I was just thinking.”

    “Maybe we’ve already thought about it,” May said coldly. “Did you think of that?”

    “I guess not.” Robin looked away, finally, sighing. “Forget it. You said they had books?”

    May inhaled, unclenching her fingers to point. “Yeah. That way.”

    -------

    When the group finally entered the Acaria City Pokémon Center the following afternoon, they found Leah slumped on one of the red sofas, fast asleep.

    “Leah?” Mark said as they approached her.

    She started awake and blinked at him. “Oh, hey,” she said, rubbing the sleep out of her eyes. “You took your time.”

    “Yeah, sorry, our Pokémon were a bit out of it after the fight yesterday,” Mark said. “How are you?”

    “Fine,” she said. “So you were going to talk to that Victor guy?”

    “We’re leaving our Pokémon with the nurse first,” Mark said. “Do you want to come with us to see Victor?”

    “Sure, why not?” Leah yawned. “Oh, yeah, I called Mary, but she said when she went to the Sailance library to research them, Ryan was there – he’s the third guy, guess you haven’t met him – and he’d just been nerding over them for months and developing some formula or something? At least, she thought he seemed to have it more or less covered, so she went back to looking for Mew. So I figured we’d just go join up with him in Sailance instead. She gave me his number, and I called him, and he says he’s very close to some sort of breakthrough and thinks he can try to finish it in the next day or two.”

    Sailance. The very mention of his hometown sent butterflies fluttering through Mark’s stomach. It really had been ages since he’d been home, hadn’t it? The idea of going back seemed intangible and strange.

    “Who said you were calling the shots now?”

    “Nice to see you too, Chaletwo,” Leah said, rolling her eyes.

    “Did you not hear that we’re going to fight the Waraider herd and try to capture them simultaneously? We need more people. Ryan is good, but Mary is better, and best of all would be both of them.”

    “Oh, come on,” Leah said. “She’s in Sinnoh, and she can’t teleport anywhere in Ouen. Meanwhile, with just Ryan there’ll be three quarters of us for each unicorn, and apparently you want to get some Gym leader in on it too? If he even has any good Pokémon – aren’t they supposed to keep them low-leveled?”

    “Look, don’t you get that this is going to be the hardest battle by far? There’s eight of them, and we have to do it with precision, because if one of them faints before they should, we could have a nightmare on our hands. Perhaps the six of you could pull a victory, but we have a much smaller target here than just victory. This is going to be difficult, and frankly I’m not sure it even can be done.”

    Leah took a deep breath, folding her arms. “Remember what you said to me when I was starting out?” she said. “About it being okay to run? It’s still okay to run. If we’re not about to make it, we pull out. Mary could take weeks to get here. If Ryan really has figured out how to find them, we can take a shot before that and see how we do. Even if we fail, we’ll only be better prepared next time. There’s no reason not to.”

    “I suppose that’s true,” Chaletwo said reluctantly after a moment of silence. “But then we should definitely try to get those Gym leaders. Victor is right here in the city, and visiting Stormy Town and Crater Town shouldn’t set us back much.”

    “We’re involving three separate Gym leaders?” Leah said, raising her eyebrows.

    “They tried to get Mitch too, but apparently he wasn’t around,” May said.

    Leah whistled. “They weren’t kidding about you relaxing on the secrecy.”

    “I’m sure this is all deeply hilarious to you, but I for one don’t see the humor in it. I’d rather not involve more people, too, but we’re pretty desperate at this point, and as it happens they already know bits and pieces, so it’d be wise to keep an eye on them.”

    “All right, all right,” Leah said, waving a hand. “I’m just saying. Are we going to check out that Victor guy, then?”

    -------

    Victor stared, his gaze flicking nervously between the five of them, hand forgotten in his bowl of popcorn. “Catch… legendaries?”

    The Gym was closed during the day, but with a bit of asking around they’d gathered that Victor lived at the trainer hotel, in one of its ludicrous suites (he’d quickly assured them, face flushed, that it was Diana who’d put him up in there). They’d walked in on him as he was trying to watch a movie, and he seemed quite unprepared for having the entire War of the Legends story dumped on him.

    “Yes. We’re almost done now. It’s just the Waraider herd, which we need some help on, and then Mew, who should be harder to find than to fight.”

    “And you’re… Chaletwo, like actual Chaletwo.”

    “I could come out to prove it to you but I’d rather not.”

    “Okay.” Victor nodded mechanically. “That’s… that’s fine. Um, so you’ve been… catching all of them?”

    “Yeah,” said May.

    “And… and you think I could help.”

    “Hopefully. By the time Mark and May battled you, they’d already fought three legendaries more powerful than the unicorns are now. Can you leave your post at the Gym for a while?”

    “I… sure, I think? I mean, I’m just Diana’s assistant. She could go back to singles if she had to. But…”

    “But what? This is a matter of the fate of the world.”

    “Yeah, I get that. I just…” Victor glanced at May, then back at Mark. “Well, yeah, I guess.”

    “You don’t sound terribly enthusiastic.”

    Victor let out a nervous laugh. “Oh. Well, it’s… kind of a shock, you know? I’m fine. Just need a moment.” He took a deep breath. “Yeah. Why don’t you go on down and take a walk? I’ll have to talk it over with my Pokémon and call Diana to let her know I’ll be gone, and then I’ll meet you in the lobby when I’ve packed some things. Where are we headed?”

    “Stormy Town, then Crater Town, then Sailance,” Leah said. “I’ve got an Alakazam who teleports, but he hasn’t been to Crater Town since the eruption – the spot he memorized is somewhere in mid-air above the crater right now, so we’ll have to fly there from Stormy Town.”

    Victor nodded. “Right. Yeah, just… meet me in the lobby in an hour and I’ll be ready.”

    -------

    “Wow,” said May, blinking as she looked around at the people in the street. “That’s a change.”

    It really was. Where Stormy Town had once been dark, dreary and mostly empty, all deserted houses with boarded windows and peeling paint, it was now bright and lively, betraying little evidence of the ghost town it had been only months ago. It was cold, as expected for the beginning of February, and the sun was starting to descend overhead, but the sky was starkly clear save for a few stray clouds near the eastern horizon. At the end of the main street, the small Pokémon Center’s polished windows projected a warm and inviting light, the exterior of the building newly renovated. Only the Gym beside it looked the same as always, merely blending in better now that its colourful, radiant joy had spread over the rest of the town.

    “It’s amazing,” Alan said as he took it all in, a smile slowly forming on his lips. “I guess we really did save the town, huh.”

    Mark grinned. “Yeah, we did.”

    “Let’s get to the Gym,” May said, already turning towards it. “That’s where Sparky would be.”

    The inside of the building was warmly familiar, but this time the door to the restaurant on the left side of the entrance hall let through a steady chatter of squabbling guests. When they entered, they found the Gym leader, sporting an apron over his regular blue T-shirt, serving food to a family sitting at one of the large, wooden tables.

    Sparky turned around as the door shut behind Victor, and his face lit up when he saw them. The silver shades he usually wore rested on the top of his head, hopelessly tangled in his hair; his large, bright eyes only enhanced the youthful energy he projected.

    “Well, if it isn’t my heroes!” he said as he approached them, beaming with unbridled joy. He’d been unwaveringly cheerful before, but now he was positively glowing. “Come to look upon the fruits of your labor?”

    Mark smiled. “Not exactly.”

    “It’s great to see the town doing so well,” Alan said.

    “It’s never been better,” Sparky replied. “Everyone’s coming back and business is better than ever. I can’t thank you enough.” He gave a little bow to them, adding a dramatic flourish with his hand. “And May! I was rooting for you at the League. You truly deserve the Champion title.”

    May smiled stiffly at Sparky, but he’d already turned to Leah, Robin and Victor. “Anyway, who – no, actually, you I know,” he said, pointing a finger at Victor. “You’re the boy that Diana took in, aren’t you? Victor?”

    Victor blinked. “Oh. Yeah, I am.”

    “Pleased to make your acquaintance. And who are you two? Oh, I think I’ve battled you. I’m dreadfully sorry I can’t place your names.”

    “Leah,” Leah said, shaking his hand. “How are you?”

    “Wonderful,” Sparky said, beaming. “And you’re...”

    “Robin.”

    “...Riverstone! I should have recognized you; you were one of my favourites at the League, too. I loved your Luxray.” He eagerly shook her hand as well. “So, we’re back to the original question,” he said, looking over the group. “Why are such seasoned trainers returning here now?”

    Mark glanced around the restaurant; there wasn’t much room there for a private conversation. “Do you think we could talk somewhere?” he said, lowering his voice.

    Sparky’s face fell. “Not quite now, I’m afraid,” he said. “The Gym may not be busy this time of year, but the restaurant is. I should already be getting back to the kitchen. Do you think we could do it tonight after closing? Ten PM?”

    Mark looked to the others for opinions. Alan shrugged, but Leah hesitated. “Then we should probably go to Crater Town in the meantime, so we can head straight from here to Sailance tomorrow,” she said.

    Mark nodded. “Yeah, that makes sense.”

    “If you’d like to have some dinner first,” Sparky suggested, “I’d be thrilled to have you on the house. We’ve expanded the menu considerably since last time you were here.”

    “Oh, that sounds great,” Alan said, and everyone muttered their agreement. Mark hadn’t even realized how hungry all that traveling had made him until now.

    -------

    That evening, they talked about Leagues and Pokémon and their journeys and their hometowns – things they could discuss in public. Mark had almost forgotten how good it felt to laugh with friends about something that had nothing to do with legendaries or wars or dangerous quests.

    When they’d had their fill, they thanked Sparky and headed outside into the cold air. It was starting to get dark now, the sun slipping ever lower towards the western horizon.

    “Right,” Leah said, “I don’t think all of us need to go to Crater Town. Better send a couple of people in case anything goes wrong, but I’m thinking the rest of us can stay here and ask around town if anyone’s heard of any recent legendary sightings or something like that. So who’s going?”

    Mark swallowed. “I should go,” he said. “Carl helped us fight a legendary, but I lied to him about what was going on. I want to tell him the truth now.”

    “Fair enough,” Leah said. “Who wants to go with him?”

    “I’ll go,” Alan said. “I was there too. I’d like to talk to him again, see how the people of Crater Town are doing.”

    “I’ll go with you,” May said quickly. She glanced at the others as they looked at her in surprise. “I was with them too. It’s only right.”

    Leah shrugged. “Sure, if you want.” She detached Felix’s Pokéball from her belt and offered it to May, then to Mark when she didn’t take it. He put the ball carefully in his left pocket.

    May looked around uncomfortably, then squeezed her eyes shut and took a deep breath, turning. “Robin,” she said. “Can I borrow your Charizard? He flies faster than Skarmory.”

    Robin stared at her for a second. “Yeah, all right,” she said, half-sighing. She sent out her Charizard in a blob of white light. “Hey, buddy. Think you could fly May over to Crater Town with Mark and Alan?”

    The Charizard looked at her, grunting questioningly. “You’re not coming?”

    “Not this time.” Robin smiled. “We’re going to ask around town while they talk to Carl. You’ll be teleported back, so you’ll only have to fly one way.”

    Her Charizard hesitated for a moment, glancing at May, but then nodded and lowered his wing for her to climb onto his back.

    “Right,” Mark said, reaching for Charizard’s Pokéball. “Let’s get going, then.”
     
  10. Negrek

    Negrek Lost but Seeking

    Another chapter! It hardly feels like it's been a week.

    Haha, awww. Mitch is such the butt monkey of this fic.

    Man, I completely forgot how much I hoped to see what would end up going down with Rick. I hope (and trust) that it won't end so simply!

    The last sentence of the paragraph got away from you a bit. You could remove the "them" to make it correct, but it would still be a bit clumsy. I would probably go for something like "...or to the wild Tyranitar people are being warned about even though who did nothing wrong." That's still kind of wonky, though--might be better to break it into two sentences ("...or to the wild Tyranitar. They didn't do anything wrong, but...").

    tbh I pretty much agree with May on the whole Tyranitar thing? Confessing is obviously the moral right choice, but if she's primarily concerned with not getting into trouble... if it's actually established that her tyranitar killed Taylor, and especially that she was THERE when it happened, I can't see her getting away without being charged with involuntary manslaughter at least? I mean, it definitely depends on how much legal obligation you imagine trainers have for the actions of their pokémon, but given that they literally have the power to stop them in their tracks with a pokéball, I'd expect they'd at least be expected to try to prevent them from murdering somebody. Plus there's the fact that if they interviewed Tyranitar they'd discover he's perhaps mentally stunted, which might put May in hot water over how she treats her pokémon, not even considering Taylor's death. And if they determine that Tyranitar has seriously messed up moral judgment, I wouldn't be surprised if letting him around Taylor at all without strict supervision wouldn't be considered criminally negligent. So I could definitely see May getting in a lot of trouble if she confessed, while as it is the only evidence anyone would have that she had anything to do with it is purely circumstantial. Unless they actually find and interview Tyranitar and he lets on that she was involved, at the moment she really has nothing to worry about.

    More to the point, what would May's confession mean for Tyranitar himself? I can't imagine that a pokémon that kills a human would get taken lightly, although again it would depend on how you've decided pokélaw works in Ouen. But if May's regarded as NOT culpable for Tyranitar's actions, then he must be, and that could potentially screw up his life even more. On the other hand, if it's determined that he really didn't understand the
    consequences of his actions, perhaps he could get some kind of help for his issues. (I'm not entirely sure whether Tyranitar is supposed to have developed actual mental issues as a result of his training, or to have had them to begin with and had them exacerbated by that, or whether he's basically supposed to just be a kid. In which case maybe he could get tried as a juvenile or something, idk.) And I know that May isn't thinking of Tyranitar at all when she's resisting Robin's suggestion, but still.

    One way or another, Robin, this is not the time or the place. >:|

    I completely misread this sentence the first couple times around... I guess I really wasn't expecting it to be framed with the door as the actor rather than the guests? Not wrong as such, but it threw me a bit.

    But yeah, unfortunately this chapter did turn out rather flat and transition-y. I mean, you prooobably could cut the entire thing without much difficulty if you felt so inclined? The bit with Robin and May you'd probably want to move rather than delete, but it's short enough that you could probably slip it in somewhere else without much difficulty. I mean, it could even go in the previous chapter--I don't know if you'd want to slap it on right at the end, since ending on the conversation with Mark and Alan gives you some nice closure, but it would fit fine e.g. right after the scene with Mitch. Other than that, I think you could pretty much skip the rest of the scenes and just have a bit of catching up once all the Avengers get assembled, as it were. Victor's scene in particular feels very extraneous, since he does nothing except express shock but ultimately agree to join in without any resistance. It's also a little weird to have everybody go to see Sparky, set up that whole scene at the restaurant, and then have them get diverted to Crater Town without actually accomplishing anything there.

    Sparky's still great, though. I'm looking forward to more of him (I presume) and Carl in the next chapter!
     
  11. Dragonfree

    Dragonfree Just me

    That is definitely one of the reasons May really does not want that to happen! But Robin knows nothing about May's treatment of her Pokémon, so none of this enters into her reasoning here. She wants to believe this was just a terrible accident that wasn't really May's fault, and she figures if that's true then that's what a proper investigation would show, right? And if it's not, well...

    The whole legal responsibility issue is something that'll be gone into a bit in a later chapter, but a trained Pokémon that commits a crime is generally considered responsible for its own actions. The trainer does, on the other hand, have a responsibility to make sure that their Pokémon know and understand the contract that they're entering into when they join a trainer and do their best to ensure they follow it, and May was clearly negligent on that front. Again, though, Robin isn't aware of the details, and her assessment that May'd get off quite easy if she voluntarily confessed to what happened would be pretty accurate in a reasonably generous interpretation of what she does know - Robin doesn't know she was there and could have stopped him, that Tyranitar had serious problems thanks to the way she'd trained him, or that May had never bothered to pay enough attention to him to know if he understood he wasn't allowed to kill people. But we, and May, know the truth isn't nearly so generous. So, yeah, May would be in quite a bit more trouble than Robin's assuming/hoping... but she's not exactly eager to tell her that.

    Regarding cutting most of the chapter, weeeell, as you know I spent quite a while mulling over exactly what I wanted to do in these chapters and what they needed to include, and all of these scenes are there for a reason beyond the A-to-B aspect - it's just those reasons tend to involve stuff like "build this up" or "set up this bit in chapter 69", so when you read just this chapter you can't really tell. Victor's scene in particular was deleted and then added back (in a considerably shortened form) when I realized actually I did want it in there. It's quite possible there could have been better ways to get the same things across, or that I could have rearranged the material somehow to make this chapter work better in its own right (working on chapters 67-69 mostly as a unit was nice overall but probably unhelpful in this particular regard), but yeah, I promise I didn't just make you read about Victor's reaction to the whole thing because I couldn't think of another way to communicate that he said yes.

    Thanks for the thoughtful review, again! You've given me some stuff to consider if/when I get here in the next revision.





    Chapter 68: Truths

    It was well past dark when the three Charizard touched down near the temporary Crater Town Gym by the roots of Mount Fever. Mark’s Charizard and Charlie were panting in exhaustion; Robin’s didn’t show it so much, but shook his body gratefully once May had dismounted him.

    “Great job, guys,” Alan said. “We couldn’t have gotten here in record time without you giving it your all. Want to rest outside your balls?”

    Charizard and Charlie nodded immediately, but Robin’s Charizard shook his head. May recalled him, though not before giving him a strange look that Mark couldn’t place.

    The temporary Gym was a rough, bare concrete building that stood out starkly on the barren ground around the volcano but nonetheless in some strange way seemed to fit right in with the landscape. A plain white sign on the simple wooden door said, ‘CRATER TOWN POKÉMON GYM’. The building was clearly far too small to house a battle arena, though; it looked like it could barely be more than two or three rooms.

    Mark glanced at the others and shrugged. “Well, this has got to be it,” he said before he knocked on the door.

    A moment passed before the lock clicked and the door opened. “You do realize the Gym closes at...” Carl’s familiar, stern voice began, but cut off as he recognized Mark. “Ah.”

    “Hello,” Mark said awkwardly, remembering all too well that Carl hadn’t liked him too much the first time they’d met. “How, uh, is the town doing?”

    Carl surveyed him silently, sparing a brief glance at May and Alan. “All right,” he answered after a second. “The inhabitants are all safe. We’re planning to found another town. You can see I’ve set up a temporary Gym. How did battling – Polaryu, was it? – go?”

    “It went okay,” Mark said, uncomfortably aware that most of what he’d told Carl about Polaryu was a lie. “We caught him. Disaster averted.”

    “We want to talk to you,” May cut in. “Do you have time?”

    Carl looked between them, again taking a moment to answer. “As a matter of fact I do,” he finally said. “Come in.”

    The inside of the building resembled a crudely rebuilt version of Carl’s Crater Town home: they stepped straight into a simple living room with a table, a couch and a television, with doors to a bathroom and a small bedroom on the right side and a corner serving as a kitchen. The only thing Mark decidedly did not remember from the night he’d spent in Crater Town was the large metal safe in the opposite left corner of the living room.

    “Where do you have your Gym battles?” May asked as she looked around.

    “Outside,” Carl said. “I always hated the standard, sterile, boxed-in arena. Pokémon battles belong in organic environments.” He gestured towards the couch. “Have a seat.”

    They did so while Carl got a chair from the kitchenette, positioned it at the opposite side of the living room table and then sat down on it.

    “So,” he said. “What is it?”

    May and Alan looked at Mark; he opened his mouth and closed it again. He’d spent the entire flight there thinking about what he was going to say, and yet it all seemed to have vanished when Carl had opened that door. All he could think now, as the Gym leader’s sharp, piercing gaze bored into him, was the memory of that same cold gaze, months ago, when Carl had told him, I don’t like liars. For a pathetic moment, a part of him wanted to just start weaving more of the story he’d made up for the evacuation: perhaps Chaletwo was going to mind-control all the legendaries into doing his bidding, unless they could capture them all first…

    But even without Chaletwo’s appalled indignation in the back of his mind, and the knowledge that they could never keep Carl in the dark if he did join them, the idea made him shudder. Not today.

    He took a deep breath. “We, ah, we weren’t entirely truthful with you, back when we battled Volcaryu.”

    The corner of Carl’s mouth twitched into a crooked half-smile. “I had guessed that much.”

    Mark waited a second for Carl to lunge at him with an axe or something. It didn’t happen.

    “So,” he went on and was about to start explaining when he was cut off by Chaletwo.

    “Ask him where Volcaryu is,” the legendary said urgently, a barely noticeable tremble to his telepathic voice. “I’m not sure we should actually get him to help us.”

    “Ah,” Mark said; he thought Carl looked suspicious at the sudden interruption, but he might have been imagining it. “We... first, where’s Volcaryu?”

    “In there,” said Carl coolly, pointing a thumb over his shoulder at the safe in the corner without taking his eyes off Mark. “That’s a bomb-proof safe. It can withstand any Pokémon attack and any reasonable amount of every explosive known to man, and the locks are specially made to be impossible to crack. Don’t ask me what the combination is; I set it at random and I’m quite happy to say I’ve entirely forgotten it.”

    Mark stared at the safe, then back at Carl. It struck him finally that perhaps Carl hadn’t taken Volcaryu just to make sure he couldn’t hurt anyone else. Perhaps he’d wanted to keep Volcaryu away from them.

    He felt Chaletwo’s silent horror dimly in his mind: Carl didn’t intend for the dragon to ever come out of that safe, and from the looks of it he’d made pretty sure of that.

    “We’re not telling him anything,” Chaletwo said, his voice shaking with cold anger. “We don’t want anything to do with this man. Get out.”

    Mark wasn’t so sure. Carl had seen Volcaryu’s sheer power and the dangerous madness that drove him; it wasn’t hard to see why he’d want him locked away forever. And hadn’t Volcaryu spent most of his existence locked away, kept forcibly asleep in a hidden cavern, by Chaletwo’s own doing?

    The dragons were dangerous. Carl had responded to the danger as seemed appropriate to him. And if this was excessive, it was because he didn’t know the truth.

    “Look, Mark,” Chaletwo said fiercely, “if you’re going to be rebellious again, I’m not backing your story, and without me it’s laughable. Why would he believe an even crazier story when you’ve already told him you’re a liar? He is not joining us. Get out of here!”

    Mark glanced at May and Alan. They were looking at him, waiting; he’d asked to do the talking earlier. Part of him wanted to do as Chaletwo said and invent an excuse to leave. But…

    Carl had helped them. He’d gone out of his way to give them the benefit of the doubt, even when he was sceptical. Mark couldn’t leave in good conscience without coming clean.

    He took a deep breath and started again. “I’m not going to be able to prove this to you,” he began, trying to ignore Chaletwo’s wordless psychic fury clawing at his brain. “But it’s the truth. Take it or leave it.”

    Carl raised his eyebrows, waiting. May looked at Mark with a puzzled frown, but didn’t comment.

    “I made up most of what I told the townspeople, and I’m sorry for that. But I really am Mark Greenlet who was killed by Chaletwo. It’s not because Chaletwo’s evil; it’s because Chaletwo wanted me to help him save the world. There’s a terrible disaster coming, and to stop it we need to temporarily capture every legendary in a Pokéball. There are more people doing it, not just us – and we’ve almost succeeded. We only have two battles left.”

    Carl’s eyes were steady, waiting. “Where does Volcaryu fit into all this?”

    “He, and the two other dragons we told you about, really were created by Chaletwo.” There was that twitch of a half-smile from Carl again. “But he regretted it, and he knew how dangerous they were. It was him who sent me to warn you to evacuate the town. He had to wake Volcaryu because soon he wouldn’t be able to keep him asleep anymore – before the disaster, the legendaries slowly lose their powers. And we really were headed to Champion Island next to get Polaryu.”

    Carl considered it. He still didn’t move; he just continued to gaze at Mark, like he was trying to read the truth off his face. “Now, why,” he began eventually, “just why on Earth would you make up that silly lie you told my townspeople? The same thing but with Chaletwo cartoonishly evil instead of good? In what possible way did you think that would help your story?”

    Mark blinked. “Well, I…”

    “Usually liars are individuals with something to hide, who want to make their story sound better than it is. As far as I can tell, your cover story was in every way less believable and more risky than the truth, if this is it. So why lie to begin with?”

    Mark didn’t know what to say. He felt stupid now about how confident he’d felt telling that story, sure they were all buying it hook, line and sinker. “I… I couldn’t tell you the truth,” he managed after a few awkward seconds; the psychic background noise of Chaletwo’s anger, now tinged with resentful vindication, was making it hard to think. “We had to keep it secret. If the other legendaries found out we were trying to capture all of them, they’d know to stay away.”

    “And you didn’t worry about the other legendaries finding out supposedly Chaletwo was trying to take over the world? You trusted my townspeople with keeping the fake story quiet; why not the real one? I cautioned the people that your tale was likely false, by the way, and so far as I know they haven’t spread it, but imagine if they had.”

    Mark looked down. Why had he made up that story? Ultimately, mostly because at the time he’d really wanted to show up Chaletwo, which seemed like the pettiest thing in the world right now. “I wasn’t thinking,” he muttered.

    “Yes, it’s quite plain you weren’t. That’s likely why I’m inclined to believe you; this entire story is too fraught with genuine human incompetence to be fabricated.”

    For a moment there was silence, Carl’s words hanging in the air like a final judgement. Then, suddenly, Alan spoke, his voice tight.

    “Then why did you give us badges and send us on our way to get Polaryu, if you thought we were lying all along?”

    “That’s a good question,” Carl said, unfazed. “I knew from the start I wasn’t going to let you take the dragon, of course, particularly not when I saw you’d already caught another one. But when you immediately agreed so long as I kept it behind lock and key, it seemed to me that you clearly only wanted the dragons neutralized, not to possess them. That indicated that whatever your true motivations, they were presumably altruistic, and letting you handle Polaryu was probably for the best. I still made precautions in case I was wrong and you tried to get Volcaryu from me later, of course.” He inclined his head towards the safe.

    “Well, we weren’t going to try to get Volcaryu from you later,” Alan said, his face flushed with heat. “We’re trying to save the world. And maybe we’re not very good at it, but you know what? We’ve almost done it anyway! We saved Stormy Town, and we saved your town. We’d been told not to tell you the truth, so Mark made something up on the spot to get you to evacuate, and it worked. We came here to ask for your help, but on second thought I’m not sure we need you.”

    “What?” May hissed. “Alan, what are you –”

    “No, actually,” Mark interrupted. “I… I also think we’ll probably be fine.” Alan looked at him, as surprised as May, as the psychic pressure in the back of Mark’s mind started to recede. “I think we should go. Thanks for everything.”

    “Fair enough,” Carl said, raising his eyebrows as Mark and Alan stood up, followed by the still puzzled May. “For the record, I was frank with you for your own sake. I’m still grateful that you helped save my town, and if your story is true – the part you told me, at any rate – I wish you the best of luck with what remains.”

    “Goodbye,” Mark said, and Carl nodded in return.

    “Also, May,” Carl said as Mark opened the front door, “I watched the League finals. Great performance, as much as the outcome was a disgrace. Your Tyranitar deserved better.”

    May stared at him for a second, frozen, before she hastily turned around and followed the boys out the door.

    Outside, in the crisp evening air, Alan took a deep breath. “I’m sorry. I just couldn’t…”

    “What the hell was that?” May asked, turning an accusatory glare towards both of the boys as they walked towards where Charizard and Charlie were waiting. “Weren’t we going to recruit him?”

    “We’re not recruiting him,” Chaletwo said, his telepathic voice still trembling noticeably. “Sick bastard. Locking Volcaryu in a…”

    “Wait, what?” May was raising her voice. “That’s it? We’re ditching him because he put your pet dragon in a safe where it belongs?”

    “He didn’t choose to be that way!” Chaletwo said fiercely, his voice tenser than Mark thought he’d ever heard it before. “When I get my powers back I was going to fix him!”

    “You made it that way to begin with!” They were approaching the Charizard now, where they lay lazily by the roots of the volcano; they looked up in puzzlement as they heard May. “How is it Carl’s fault that your dragons are psychotic?”

    “They never even got a chance at life!”

    “Chaletwo,” Alan interrupted before May could respond, his voice quiet but firm, “if you get your powers back, then you can get him out of the safe. It won’t stop the world’s most powerful legendary Pokémon. Carl can’t keep him in there forever.”

    Mark felt the throbbing tension in the back of his mind starting to fade. “Yes,” Chaletwo said after few seconds, “that’s true. You’re right. He’ll be fine. I’m sorry.”

    May took a deep breath. “So, are we going back in there?”

    Mark’s mind stung. “I still don’t want him with us.”

    Alan winced. “I’m… not sure I want him with us, either.”

    Mark shrugged uncomfortably; he still sort of wanted to get Carl on their side, but he knew exactly why Alan didn’t. May’s gaze shifted between him and Alan; she folded her arms, shivering with cold, but didn’t say anything.

    “We can always come back if we fail,” Mark said with a sigh. “Maybe we don’t need him, but if it turns out we do, I think we should talk to him again.”

    “Agreed,” Chaletwo said, a little reluctantly. Alan nodded, while May gave a barely visible shrug.

    “Let’s just get back to Stormy Town,” Mark said, and nobody objected.

    -------

    Felix the Alakazam whisked them back to the Stormy Town Pokémon Center in a blink. Leah, Victor and Robin were waiting for them on the couches inside, holding half-finished ice creams.

    “No Carl?” Leah asked, licking at her ice cream as she held her hand forward to take Felix’s ball from Mark.

    “He wasn’t up for it,” Chaletwo responded, and nobody contradicted him. May handed Robin her Charizard’s Pokéball without words.

    “Can’t have everything.” Leah shrugged. “Meanwhile, we asked around town and there are some rumours flying around about Mew appearing near Scorpio City a few weeks back, but Mew is always on the move, so odds are she’s not there anymore. There’s a good chance she might still be somewhere in Ouen, though, so that’s a lead for when we’re done with the Waraider herd.”

    She said that so casually. How were they ever going to track down a legendary who was constantly moving, with nothing narrower than an entire region to go on? Not for the first time, Mark was a bit intimidated by her confidence, but he pushed the thought aside. They could think about Mew when they got there.

    They headed to the Gym building when the others had finished their ice creams. Sparky was waiting for them just inside the entrance, leaning against the wall. “There you are!” he said, instantly springing into a standing position. “You wanted to go somewhere private, correct? Follow me.”

    He led them up the stairs where Mark remembered their bedrooms being when they’d stayed in Stormy Town. “The good thing about the off season,” the Gym leader said, “is that all these rooms are free. It’s great for movie nights. Nobody to complain if the sound is too loud.”

    Mark smiled. The unease linering in his stomach since their conversation with Carl was finally starting to fade.

    Sparky opened one of the doors on the corridor to reveal a room with popcorn strewn across the floor. “Oh, not this one.” He chuckled. “Still have to clean that up.” He shook his head at the next one as well, where video game consoles and controllers lay in a tangle in front of the television, then showed them into the third one, which was spotlessly clean.

    “So,” he said, sitting down on the bed and removing his shades. The trademark twinkle in his eyes faded and gave way to a surprising seriousness that should have felt out of place on his face but somehow seemed to belong. “What did you want to talk to me about?”

    Mark hesitated; the change had disoriented him. “Remember...” he began, intending to ask about Thunderyu, but then changed his mind. “Remember reading or hearing about Chaletwo killing a boy at the Pokémon Festival last May?”

    Sparky nodded slowly, then stopped mid-nod. “That was – that was you, wasn’t it?” he said, his brow furrowing. “I should have noticed.”

    “You didn’t notice because your memory was modified to not make the connection,” Mark went on. “Chaletwo recruited me on a mission to capture all of the legendary Pokémon before a huge disaster happens. When we caught that dragon that was in Thunderclap Cave, that was part of it.”

    Sparky was watching him intently, his eyes very open. “Oh, my,” he said. “This is much bigger than I thought.”

    “It is,” said Chaletwo; Sparky jumped. “This is Chaletwo. I’ve been guiding them along through an anchor to Mark’s brain. Only the Waraider herd and Mew are left; there’s eight of the former, and we have to fight them all at once, so we need more firepower. These kids are the team we’ve gathered so far, and we were hoping you could join us.”

    Sparky swallowed, shaking his head. “I have so many questions,” he began. “What –”

    “The disaster is caused by something that drains away their powers. They’re severely weakened by now – still powerful, but not so powerful that it’s not feasible to take them down. We can answer all your questions if you agree.”

    Sparky looked between them in silence and took a deep breath. “I’m not sure that I’m the best person to bring on for this,” he said. “Running a Gym places certain restrictions on my Pokémon – I’d wager any one of you could blow them down without much effort by now. And as you saw, I have a pretty busy restaurant to run. Someone else could likely be of more use and have less to leave behind.”

    “Well, we’re running rather short on options,” Chaletwo said, a flash of irritation throbbing in Mark’s head. “We’re talking to you because you already knew about Thunderyu, the dragon in the mountain. We’d rather not tell more uninvolved people.”

    “Electric-types would come in handy, even if they’re not that strong,” Robin put in. “Paralyzing all of them as soon as possible would be a huge help, and they’re all part Flying. I think there’s a lot your Pokémon could do.”

    Sparky gave a slow nod, still staring at Mark. He ran a hand through his hair. “I don’t know,” he said. “This sounds dangerous, and all the more so for Pokémon who have never battled anything at that level. I’d have to confer with them. But…” He shook his head, smiling wistfully. “If I know them correctly, they’ll say yes.”

    “In that case, we only need to know what you’ll say.”

    Sparky nodded again, pursing his lips in thought, closing his eyes.

    “Ah, where’s my spirit of adventure?” he said after only a few seconds, looking up. He was smiling again, the playful twinkle back in his eyes. “If we can truly help, and my Pokémon agree, I can close down the restaurant for a while and come with you. Is that enough for you?”

    Chaletwo’s relief flooded through Mark’s mind. “Yes, that’s enough. Thank you for joining us.”

    “You can stay here for free for the night,” Sparky said. “I’ll want to talk to my Pokémon alone tonight and give them until morning to think about it. But first, I want to know more. What kind of disaster is this? Why is it happening now?”

    As Chaletwo and Leah started to explain the War of the Legends, Mark couldn’t help but notice May standing in the corner of the room, quiet, picking at her fingernails.
     
  12. Negrek

    Negrek Lost but Seeking

    Ah, yeah, I was definitely approaching the situation from the point of view of somebody who actually knew the whole story.

    True. I guess what I'm saying is it doesn't really come across on the page. I think it's more a concentration issue than anything... the scenes are brief and don't overstay their welcome or anything, but there's a bunch of them together . Basically, these are scenes without much narrative tension and don't appear to do much besides move the characters around and check off some plot coupons. They're also a bit same-y in that a lot of them are just variants on "meet up with person, explain situation, ask them to join." The people they're meeting react in distinct, character-appropriate ways, and there's the subversion with them deciding not to recruit Carl, but ultimately they read a bit similar to me. It's always cool when seemingly-innocuous scenes turn out to have a surprising payoff later, but I think you might just have too many in a row, at least for me. So not necessarily cutting, but perhaps shuffling I feel your pain on trying to plan out a section like this, though.

    I will have to re-read that Victor scene and see if I can figure out what's up with it, too. :p

    If?! I never thought there was any doubt!

    No comma here.

    Chaletwo's aversion to Carl does seem a little extreme to me, given that Chaletwo did essentially the same thing as Carl in locking Volcaryu up in the volcano and forgetting about him for nearly a thousand years. (And all the other dragons have just gotten stuffed in the PC, so...) Or perhaps the fact that Chaletwo did something similar is what makes him so sensitive. From Chaletwo's sudden alarm I thought the revelation was going to be that Carl was actually a serial killer or something, not that he'd locked Volcaryu up, haha. That was my favorite part of this chapter--it was legit really tense when Chaletwo suddenly started telling Mark to get out of there, and Mark was just trying to figure out what was going on and what he should do.

    ohai Mitch

    Does he seriously just hold parties in successive rooms until he runs out of them/it's high season again and then get them all cleaned in batch? Sparky...

    Hmmm. Feelin' bad after getting reminded about Tyranitar again?

    Anyway, I did like this chapter better, even though it looks like we might not be getting more Carl (dammit). As I mentioned, I liked the section with him best; ultimately Sparky's did kind of wind up as not much more than the same "here is this thing crazy thing that is happening, can you help us with it; I am surprised and overwhelmed by what you are telling me, and I have other obligations, but yeah, probably."

    I guess if 70 is the battle, 69 should be everybody coming together to hash things out beforehand? Should be fun, and lots of potential for interesting character stuff, especially because you'll be throwing together a bunch of characters who don't really know each other and have different perspectives on this whole crazy thing. See you next week!
     
  13. Chibi Pika

    Chibi Pika Stay positive

    Hey there! Sorry it's taken me so long to get around to commenting! I have been reading the chapters as they each come out, though. And hey, the long-standing tradition of me always seeing that there's a new chapter late at night when I desperately need sleep, and staying up to read it...has been broken! Yes I actually had willpower this time! Good to see that something has changed in a decade of me reading your fics.

    Hello! o_o That's...interesting...
    Oh boy--are you going to be having some fun with Blue and Orange Morality characters? Cause I've been playing with that a bit lately and it's fun, if a bit brain-breaking to keep track of.
    I am, of course, very much looking forward to seeing where this goes.
    I was glad to see this viewpoint on how Pokemon regard the arrangement of Pokemon Training come up again. I love how...matter-of-fact it is, flying in the face of all the ~edgy~ "Pokemon Training is inherently abusive" stories.

    And of course, the whole conversation gave a lot of nice insight to Alan that he really needed.
    Oh Robin, you...poor sweet cinnamon bun. In what universe does criminal justice and bureaucracy move that fast, even in a situation where there is nothing incriminating whatsoever (which is very much not this instance, but she doesn't know that.)
    This is probably one of my favorite things about the group getting to return to Stormy Town--not just seeing Sparky again, which is always good, but actually getting to see the effects that their actions have had.

    Um...YES. Thank you, Mark. He...really hasn't done anything worse than Chaletwo himself has?
    It's...it's not on death row. This is literally no different than the other two being in the storage system RELAX CHALETWO.
    So sure you're going to get them back? I thought the best case scenario was the Legendary energy pulse dissipating.


    Only one more chapter to go until HORSE FIGHTS. I can't wait to see how badly this goes. Because even if Chaletwo is right and the balance of nature thing is just a human myth, I'm still betting that separating them will have some pretty nasty repercussions. That is...unless they really do succeed at a simultaneous capture. ;P



    Can't wait!

    ~Chibi~;249;;448;
     
    Last edited: Mar 9, 2016
  14. Dragonfree

    Dragonfree Just me

    Well, my unending QftL determination is mostly focused towards actually finishing the thing. There's absolutely no if when it comes to that. Once I've finished telling this story, I'd certainly like to improve it, and in particular to do something about the parts I find really horrendous, but that's kind of separate from my motivation to finish the ILCOE, and I expect it to have considerably lower priority in my life, especially once I'm past the really horrendous bits.

    Ahaha, you're really making me notice just how much of that there is in these chapters. I do really enjoy this kind of hypocrisy! Chaletwo may have locked them inside mountains, but at least he feels bad about it, damn it. And he was going to fix them and that was going to make it like it never happened, okay.

    Well, I imagine he cleans up every week or two, at least - even if it's not the high season, some trainers could always come by and he'd need to keep enough free to accommodate even large groups (such as this one). In between, though, rooms are there to be partied in.

    I am deeply wounded. :(

    Mark: actually possibly the most rational person here thanks to his relative lack of personal issues.

    He'd certainly like to hope he will! (To be fair, it's unlikely to just dissipate; normally the power of the legendaries lingers behind and settles into the Creator after the War instead of dissipating when they die, after all.)

    Thanks for reviewing, as always! I ended up making a bunch more edits to this chapter over the past couple of weeks. Let's hope that didn't result in anything too clumsy.




    Chapter 69: Lies

    May lay awake in her bed, arm over her eyes. Sparky had given everyone a room in the Gym; hers was next to his own, and for a long time after lying down she’d indistinctly heard him and his Pokémon talking through the wall, until eventally they’d gone quiet. Now the only sounds to be heard were the ghostly cries of wild Hoothoot outside, barely audible after she’d closed the window.

    But she still couldn’t sleep.

    She sighed, moving her arm and blinking blearily into the darkness of the ceiling. She reached for the lamp on her nightstand and switched it on. If only the room had some books or something. She checked the drawer to be sure, but it only had a pen and a notebook.

    If she were Mark she could draw something, but she wasn’t.

    She closed the drawer and reached for the Pokéball necklace she’d left sitting on top of the nightstand instead. After detaching Spirit’s ball and maximizing it, she hesitated, changed her mind and took out Stantler’s instead.

    “May?” the deer Pokémon asked when she materialized, looking around. “Is everything all right?”

    “Yeah, I’m fine,” May said. “I just… couldn’t sleep.”

    “Why not?”

    “I don’t know. It’s just one of those things.”

    “Why did you bring me out?”

    “Somebody to talk to, I guess.” May rubbed her face with her hands. “Unless you know some amazing Stantler sleep tips or something.”

    Stantler looked at her for a moment. “I could try a Hypnosis,” she said. “But if you wanted to talk, we can talk first.”

    Hypnosis. Of course. She should have thought of that. She hated that she hadn’t.

    She considered just asking her to do that now, so she could finally go to sleep. But…

    May exhaled. “Do you think the police are going to… to figure out it was Tyranitar?”

    “I only know what you told me,” Stantler said after a considered pause. “What are you worried about?”

    “I don’t know, Robin was…” What had she told Stantler? “They know it was a Tyranitar. But there are wild ones where it happened. They can’t say I did it just because I released a Tyranitar at a similar time. It doesn’t prove anything.”

    Stantler gazed at her. May wished she wouldn’t always take so long to answer, like she had to deliberate over every word. “No,” the Pokémon said at last, “it doesn’t sound like there’s any proof it was your Tyranitar who killed him.”

    “Yeah, that’s what I said.” Why would Robin even –

    “But it was him,” Stantler said.

    “That’s not the point.”

    “I think it is.”

    “No, it isn’t,” May said. “It happened, and it was my fault, but it’s done. I just want to move on, but then Robin and everyone just…”

    “What did Robin say?”

    May took a deep breath. At least it was Stantler. She could talk to Stantler. “She thinks I should turn myself in. That Rick deserves to know what happened. But we’ve got legendaries to hunt down, and Rick’s a bloody nutcase either way. How would that even help? It’s not going to bring him back.”

    Stantler considered it for a moment. “It would be unwise to do anything that might hinder or delay your quest further at this point,” she said. “But after this is over, perhaps it might help you.”

    “No, it wouldn’t,” May said firmly.

    The Pokémon surveyed her closely. “Are you sure?” she asked. “This has clearly been weighing on you. Perhaps having it out in the open would relieve some of that weight.”

    “Telling people doesn’t help,” May snapped. “It just makes them think I’m the scum of the earth. That’s not helpful.”

    “You aren’t,” Stantler said.

    “Yes, I know.”

    There was another pause. “I think owning up to what happened and facing the consequences of your actions could help you truly move on. You could finally be free of this suffocating secret and everything that comes with it. It might be the least painful course of action for you, in the end.”

    “Well, I can’t risk that,” May said. “They’d probably revoke my license at the very least, and when they do that you can’t get it back.”

    Stantler tilted her head, a budding curiosity in her eyes. “Is training Pokémon important to you?”

    “It’s what I’m good at.”

    “You’re good at many things.”

    “I’m not going to the police, okay?”

    “That’s a decision only you can make,” said Stantler. Even if May could talk to her, she could still be infuriating.

    May sighed, lying back down on the bed. “Try that Hypnosis. Recall yourself if it works.”

    -------

    The lack of Pokémon, Gyms or any other strong incentive for trainers to visit meant Sailance had no Pokémon Center, so instead Felix had memorized the front of the library. The bright white building with the ornate carvings above the door evoked a strange sense of nostalgia within Mark; this library was his childhood, and it was bizarre to realize that he hadn’t been there for the better part of a year now.

    He would have thought he’d long to go home, coming here again, but somehow, he didn’t. Home felt like part of a different world that wasn’t important at the moment, a strange world where Mark’s biggest concern had been his overprotective parents and mean-spirited teacher. But the two worlds intersected at the library, in a weird, disorienting way; he’d visited it so often to read about legendary Pokémon, staring in awe at the beautiful illustrations, and now here he was again, having fought and captured some of those legendary Pokémon. The memory seemed like an unreal dream.

    “Well,” Leah said, recalling her Alakazam. “He said he’d be here. Let’s get inside.”

    “Do you know what he looks like?” May asked as they stepped through the automatic door.

    “Of course. I followed the news whenever Chaletwo slaughtered more innocents. He’d be a couple years older now, but he shouldn’t be hard to recognize.”

    “And even if you didn’t, I’m here too.”

    “Funnily enough, Chaletwo, I never thought memory was one of your best qualities.” Leah looked around. “Mark, you know this place. What floor would he be on?”

    “Probably the third,” Mark said immediately. “That’s where the legendary books are.”

    They crammed themselves into one of the elevators, and Leah pressed the third-floor button. Mark was gripped with an odd sense of déjà vu; for a moment he felt like he was back in the old world, like his entire journey had been an unusually vivid daydream on a particularly boring elevator ride.

    “He said he’d been doing some computer thingamajig,” Leah said as they stepped out of the lift, looking around. “Are there computers around here somewhere?”

    “Behind there,” Mark said, pointing past a row of bookshelves. It was stupid, but he kind of enjoyed being the one who knew stuff for once.

    As soon as they’d rounded the corner, a boy by one of the computers jumped out of his seat. “Le... Miss Donaldson?” He was maybe fourteen, a bit chubby, with curly red hair, freckles and large, round eyes. She whipped around at the mention of her name.

    “Oh, there you are,” she said, brightening. “Ryan whatshisname, right?”

    “Good to see you again, Ryan,” Chaletwo said.

    The boy nodded, grinning. “You’re the new kid,” he said, pointing at Mark before he looked at the others, “but... whoa, Gym leaders.” His already wide eyes widened further. “League semifinalist! The Ouen Champion! That’s some group you’ve got.”

    “I’m not the Champion,” May said.

    “Well, not technically, but come on!” Ryan spread his arms. “That kid was a disgrace to Pokémon training, and you would’ve kicked his *** any day of the week without Mewtwo².”

    May pressed her lips together; Mark quickly tried to change the subject. “You said you had something on the Waraider herd?”

    “Yes!” Ryan said enthusiastically as he sat back down at the computer, beckoning them to follow. “See, about a year ago I started gathering every scrap of information about the unicorns – there have been a lot of sightings, you know, even if they’re pretty unclear – and it wasn’t long before I started seeing a pattern. Look.”

    He brought up a map of Ouen with red dots plotted onto it that Mark assumed stood for sightings. Almost all the dots were clustered together in about a dozen groups, scattered around the region.

    “See? You’d expect this sort of thing to be either restricted to one particular area or a pretty even random distribution across similar locations, but it’s not.”

    “Doesn’t that just mean they were in one place long enough for multiple people to see them?” May asked, sceptical.

    “Ah.” Ryan held up a finger. “Exactly what I would’ve thought. But the times don’t match up. In fact, if I color the spots by time, then...”

    He fiddled with menus on the screen; the dots changed to be various hues instead of red.

    “See – the spots in each cluster are different colors, far apart in time.”

    May squinted at it. “So... they keep coming back to the same places?”

    “Not only that,” Ryan added excitedly. “In the same order. I’m almost certain of it. The record is spotty, and they don’t always stay for the same amount of time, so it’s not obvious, but I’ve been analyzing this data for months and it’s uncanny. They have to be going the same round trip around the region over and over again – only it’s not a round trip, it’s a ridiculous polygon trip. Look, here’s the way I think they go.”

    He changed more options, and a wild criss-crossing web of lines connecting the clusters of dots appeared. It really wasn’t a round trip: if this was right, the Waraider herd regularly flew halfway across the region to get to a place, then flew back to another place much closer to the one they’d started at. It was bizarre.

    “How sure are you?” asked Leah, doubtful.

    “Pretty sure. I mean, if you’ve got a sighting at time X in location A, and a sighting at time Y in location B, then any sightings between X and Y are going to be from the locations that come between A and B in this cycle, except where the difference between X and Y is so big they’ve probably gone all the way around in between, or where the sighting is really dubious and probably fake. And it’s a lot of data points, and this matches up way better than chance. It’s by far the best possible match with the data. I wrote a program that worked it out.”

    “Does that make any sense to you, Chaletwo?” Leah glanced at Mark out of the corner of her eye.

    “It’s strange, but frankly I wouldn’t put it past them.”

    Leah raised her eyebrows. “Nice. So where are they now, according to your thing?”

    “Well.” Ryan rubbed his hands together. “It’s a little hard to tell, because like I said, they don’t always stay for the same amount of time, and I haven’t managed to find any sightings newer than sometime in June. But playing around with averages, at the moment they’re most likely to be somewhere around here.” He pointed triumphantly at a cluster shortly northeast of Alumine.

    “Have you checked?” Leah asked.

    Ryan’s face fell a little. “Well, no,” he said. “I’d been looking for newer data, but when you called I started working on finishing the algorithm and running it on the current dataset instead, and I just wrapped that up this morning. Besides, I was waiting for you.”

    “I guess.” Leah squinted at the map again. “That’s a pretty big cluster, though. We’ll probably have to split up searching. And we can’t Teleport, since Felix hasn’t been to Alumine, either.”

    “But my Xatu has,” Ryan said proudly. “She can get us all there in a whiff. And even if they’re not there, we travelled to all the hotspots once I’d identified them. We can search them in in order of likelihood until we find them.”

    Leah blinked. “Huh. You’re actually pretty good.”

    Ryan beamed at the compliment. “Should we get going?”

    -------

    “So how long have you been traveling with Leah?” Ryan asked. They’d split into two groups for the search after arriving in Alumine and planning things out over lunch; Mark had gone with Ryan, Robin and Sparky to explore the eastern half of the area, while Leah, May, Alan and Victor had gone west.

    “Only a couple of days,” Mark said. “But we’d met before – she sent a distress call when she was battling Entei, and we came to help her.”

    “Oh.” Ryan paused. “What’s she like?”

    Mark shrugged. “She’s pretty cool, I guess?”

    “Yeah,” Ryan said with a sigh. “I mean, she’s caught so many legendaries. I’ve only gotten a couple myself – went for the Sinnoh pixies, Heatran, then working on the herd. Seems kind of pathetic in the space of almost three years, next to her and Mary with, like, fifteen or twenty. But if we count the unicorns as mine after this, I guess I’m not doing so bad.” He chuckled nervously and opened his mouth again as if to ask something, then closed it again.

    Mark nodded, distracted. He – well, they – had caught a lot of legendaries for only having been out there for less than a year, but that was mostly because of Thunderyu, Volcaryu, Polaryu and Suicune all being in known locations and getting lucky with the female Color Dragons. He’d never have even thought of something like plotting historical sightings on a map and trying to see a pattern; next to someone who could do something like that and genuinely track down a legendary, he felt hopelessly out of his league.

    “What’s with May, anyway?” Ryan said after a few seconds. “When I watched the League I got the impression she wanted to win really badly. Isn’t she happy to be basically the Champion? I mean, of course she’d’ve wanted to actually beat him, and it’s terrible he died, but –”

    “It was her Tyranitar that killed him,” Robin said before anyone else could answer. Mark froze in his tracks. Ryan turned around in puzzlement, and Sparky stopped, giving Robin a wary look.

    “She told me,” Robin said; she had stopped too, and though her voice was slightly unsteady, she stood firm. “I think she should tell the police. They’re still investigating what happened, and it makes it look worse if she’s trying to hide it. I tried to tell her we should go to them, but she got really evasive, and –”

    “What do you mean, her Tyranitar?” Ryan asked blankly.

    “She said she’d wished death on him. She says she didn’t mean it, but her Tyranitar thought she did, so he killed him.”

    “What? But...” Ryan’s eyes were even wider than usual.

    “It was an accident,” Chaletwo said. “Yes, he died, very sad, but I’m not hearing anything more about this. She didn’t mean for him to be killed. It has no bearing on today, and going to the police won’t help anyone. Remember saving the world?”

    “What about Rick?” Robin said, unyielding. “He was devastated when his brother died. He deserves to know what really happened.”

    “No, he doesn’t! The man is insane, and he’s all the more reason not to tell the police. Remember how he was capturing legendaries before any of you, just because he could? Remember that TV interview where he went nuts? We don’t want him anywhere near our mission.”

    “This is wrong,” Robin said, shaking her head. “If it really was just an accident and not her fault, then I don’t understand why you’re all so insistent on covering it up. And if Rick’s a bit unhinged, maybe it’s not helping that his brother died and he still doesn’t know why. I mean, Taylor was his only family. He’d been raising him since he was a toddler. He needs closure and peace, for God’s sake. Have some compassion.”

    “Will it jog your memory if I remind you that interview involved him threatening to murder whomever was responsible?” Chaletwo said coldly. “We’re not telling him anything, and we’re not telling the police anything that they might tell him.”

    Robin looked away, wincing. “Look, I’m not suggesting we outright report her to the police behind her back. It’s just… I’m really not comfortable going around pretending this didn’t happen, and I think it’d be better for everyone if she just came clean and let the police handle it. And as for Rick, I mean, she said you could do something about it if they figured it out, so couldn’t you just do the same if he… tried anything? I don’t know; she just refuses to hear any of this from me, since…” She spread her arms in a gesture of frustrated puzzlement. “Well, she obviously has some sort of problem with me.”

    “If she has a problem with you, it’s probably because you’re not willing to let this go,” Chaletwo said, irritated. “Again, I won’t hear any more of this. You can worry about their peace of mind when the world isn’t ending.”

    Robin looked silently at Sparky and then back at Mark, sighing. Ryan still stood there, pale, glancing between the three of them. A second passed before Sparky spoke, wary. “This sounds like something we ought to be aware of. Can you please explain exactly what happened?”

    “It doesn’t matter what happened,” Chaletwo said. “Right now we’re looking for the Waraider herd. If you’re not with us, then feel free to leave. I don’t want to hear another word about this.”

    Mark felt a tinge of guilty hesitation in the back of his mind after the last word, but Sparky only shook his head slightly and set off walking again. After a moment, Robin threw her hands up and did the same. Ryan looked doubtfully at Mark; he sighed and followed suit, and Ryan hurried to catch up.

    -------

    May trudged silently alongside the others. She’d managed to go with the group that didn’t have Robin, but it did have Alan, and although Alan probably had nothing left unsaid to her by now, she was still wary.

    “So, uh,” Victor said after a while, “May, did you get that Mutark?”

    She nodded, glancing at Alan where he was walking beside Leah at the front of the party, but he didn’t react. Leah turned her head, though. “Didn’t you watch the League? She used one there. Gave it a Sticky Barb so it could transform right away. Pretty slick.”

    “Oh.” Victor looked away. “I missed it, I’m sorry. I only watched the finals because of all the buzz about Rick’s brother, to be honest.”

    Leah shrugged. “I never used to follow the League religiously either until I got recruited. Turns out it’s a nice place to pick up creative strategies – fun fact, I’ve ripped off more than one Champion in my legendary fights.” She grinned. “Ironically, I actually kind of missed the finals this time around. I usually listen to it on my PokéGear radio when I’m on the road, but seeing as the commentator up and left, I gave up trying to follow what was going on within the first five minutes. Just a lot of roars and growls and attack names. I read about it in the paper when I came to town, obviously, but.”

    Victor winced. “It was pretty brutal. You read about the… the Mewtwo clone? It just threw her Tyranitar around like a cheap toy. I felt kind of bad for him.”

    “Yeah, so I heard,” Leah said, raising her eyebrows. “Psychic against a Dark-type. How nuts is that?” She shook her head. “Then again, we’re a bunch of teenagers going around fighting gods, so, you know.”

    “How’s he doing, anyway?” asked Victor, turning towards May. He was trying to make the question sound more casual than it was, and May hated that she could tell. “He… seemed so determined to win. Did he take it okay?”

    Alan turned around, too. May imagined them vanishing, just blinking out of existence and leaving her alone, but that wasn’t helpful. “I released him.”

    Victor’s awkward attempt at a smile vanished, his lips tightening, too quickly. “You released him because he didn’t win?”

    She inhaled sharply. “Yeah,” she said, without thinking, and instantly regretted it. But Alan didn’t say anything. He stood there, staring at her, but his mouth didn’t open.

    “It wasn’t his fault,” Victor said. “I mean, nothing could have stood against that Mewtwo². You shouldn’t –”

    “Hey, lay off her, okay?” Leah said, turning her head. “You don’t know what happened between them and it’s none of your business. Releasing a Pokémon is hard; don’t rub it in.”

    Victor looked at May for a brief moment before averting his eyes again. “Right. Sorry.”

    Alan’s gaze, on the other hand, lingered on her for several seconds before Leah continued walking and he turned around to follow.

    -------

    Mark’s group was still wandering aimlessly across the uneven hills. There were no roads around here, or even footpaths; it was all dead, yellow grass, rocks and irregularities that made it far more exhausting to get around than a manmade road. Mark envied Ryan’s Xatu for being able to follow them with a casual series of teleports without actually having to walk.

    He was falling into a daze of repetition when Robin called, “Look!”

    He turned and caught a strange, shimmering glimpse out of the corner of his eye, but then it was gone. He blinked, squinting at the spot where it had been; there seemed to be nothing there.

    “What?” asked Ryan.

    “I’m sure I saw something,” Robin said, wary. “Like in my peripheral vision. I can’t see it anymore, though.”

    “Me too,” Mark said, looking around for a sign of the phenomenon again; everything seemed normal now. “It can’t be just a coincidence, can it?”

    “Xatu, Miracle Eye,” Ryan ordered, pointing in the direction of the place they were looking at. The bird Pokémon turned towards it, her eyes glowing red; for a moment there was that shimmering again, and then suddenly eight unicorns with folded wings, grazing lazily in the field, were visible in plain sight.

    “Xatu, send the signal, quick!” Ryan said urgently; the Pokémon’s eyes flashed red again, and all at once, the unicorns looked up. With a chorus of panicked neighs, they broke into a gallop, unfurling their wings and preparing to take off.

    Robin had already reached for a Pokéball. Her Charizard emerged in a burst of white, and she swung onto his back with a practiced ease. “Follow them!” she shouted. Mark belatedly fumbled for his Charizard’s ball and sent him out as well.

    “We found the Waraider herd,” he said quickly as the dragon emerged. Charizard only gave a brief nod, lowering his wing for Mark to climb aboard.

    “Xatu, go with them,” Ryan said. “Remember this spot, then come get us when you’ve seen where the herd went.”

    Xatu nodded, and in a sudden show of animatedness, the normally-statuesque Pokémon spread her wings and shot into the air as Charizard took off in a lurch.

    Mark looked down at Ryan and Sparky, feeling a little bad for having to leave them behind. As he gave them an apologetic smile, Leah, May, Victor and Alan appeared on the ground, holding onto Felix the Alakazam and looking wildly around.

    “They went that way!” Mark shouted. “Robin and I are going – you can come, or Xatu can get you when they land.”

    May gave a quick nod of acknowledgement. Alan looked between them and Mark, his hand hovering near his Pokéball belt, but then he relaxed it and didn’t send anything out. Mark imagined he was thinking of Charlie.

    “Charizard,” Mark said, leaning forward and clinging to his Pokémon’s neck, “we can wait for Xatu if you don’t think you can catch up with Robin.”

    “I don’t know about catching up,” he said, “but I don’t think Robin should be going after them alone.”

    And he increased his speed, zooming after the orange spot ahead of them and the indistinct shapes it was following.
     
    Last edited: Mar 11, 2016
  15. Negrek

    Negrek Lost but Seeking

    you

    didn't

    SPELLCHECK????

    Rather telling, isn't it? I'm kind of disappointed by how little Spirit the story has overall--for how important she's supposed to be to May, it feels like the two of them barely interact.

    "Strange" sense of nostalgia? Seems to be expected to me.

    I'm kind of surprised Chaletwo didn't grumble about that quip, heh.

    Wait, Leah's how old? I thought she was a fairly young kid herself, or at the least no more than a teenager. It's really weird to address a kid as "Miss" anything except in a few edge cases. It would be way more awkward than calling her "Leah."

    I liked Ryan's little data analysis on the Waraider herd's movement. He does indeed seem a bit more competent than Mark's group at this catching-legendaries thing. XD

    Perhaps you meant "slightly?"

    Someone has a little crush, eh?

    Chaletwo is just so done with these kids and their drama.

    It's usually just "with practiced ease," no article.

    Sparky has that swellow, though? I know Mark isn't aware of it, but it strikes me as strange that Sparky wouldn't follow, if only because, like Charizard, he thinks the kids shouldn't be going after the herd by themselves.

    Would read better as "looking around wildly" imo.

    This was a nice chapter. I would say either this or the first of the set (66 iirc) would be my favorite out of the block; like I said, a few of the scenes in the past couple chapter felt a bit same-y, and those two did more to obviously advance the plot and character narratives. This one also looked super short when I loaded it for some reason, but ultimately it didn't end up feeling that way. It still seems crazy that everything's going to wrap up in just seven more chapters, especially considering that my impression is that at least two-three of those are probably going to be all battle. The May-Tyranitar thing is certainly turning out to be a more significant thing than I expected, and it feels like there's still a fair amount to resolve there. It'll be interesting to see how it all shakes out in the end.

    It was fun having these weekly updates for a while. I don't know when you're expecting Chapter 70 to drop, but I'll be there for that too, of course.
     
  16. Dragonfree

    Dragonfree Just me

    Funny story: Word noped out on even trying to spellcheck TQftL years ago. After a certain number of Pokémon/place names that it considered misspelled, it just sort of threw its hands up and went "IF YOU'RE GOING TO HAVE SO MANY ERRORS, THEN I GUESS I'M JUST NOT GOING TO TELL YOU ABOUT THEM ANYMORE." (It's still making grammar checks, though, and helpfully underlining a lot of sentences involving May in blue because it's convinced I mean "may" the verb.) Since then I've occasionally decided "Right, I'm going to add all those Pokémon names to the dictionary so Word can spellcheck again" and started doing that, but I've never managed to add enough for it to actually drop back below the level where it'll do spellchecking again. So yeah, all my spellchecking is manual, and has been for a long time. Usually that goes pretty well, though! (That said, my betas have picked up some pretty silly typos - in chapter 66 I managed to write "self-sacrifing", missing two consecutive letters, and not notice in all the times I proofread.)

    Yeah, I kind of wish I'd had a bit more of them earlier on, especially since it'd add a bit more meaning to moments like this one; there hasn't really been a place for it more recently. Definitely something I'd like to do in the revision.

    She's fifteen/sixteen. I was going for him being excessively and awkwardly formal with her because starry-eyed admiration, but because Icelanders don't use honorifics outside of extremely limited contexts like invitations or refer to people by their last names in any situation whatsoever, I don't actually have any instinctive sense of exactly how weird something like that sounds beyond what I've managed to pick up from fiction. So yeah, it's entirely possible I misjudged this! I've never felt like I have any real idea what I'm doing when I use honorifics or last names; by all means try correct me on it.

    Mark would have to be aware of the Swellow by this point, actually; they strategized after the first scene with Ryan. But Swellow definitely isn't big enough for a person to ride on her back, even if she's bigger than in that picture I drew. I like to imagine HMs give Pokémon the temporary strength to carry their trainers even when they otherwise couldn't, but it's still not comfortable or convenient for sustained flights. Given Xatu can get them in a matter of seconds if anything happens, having more people flying along isn't terribly pressing, anyway - it's nice to have two so they can have each other's back, but odds are a third wouldn't be necessary.

    Thanks for yet another review! Chapter 70's coming along nicely and I don't expect it to take too long. Chapter 71, on the other hand... I'm actually developing this bit I'm going to add enough to be thinking maybe I should add a chapter to fit it all in (well, that or I combine some of the existing chapters). We'll see how that all ends up.
     
  17. Negrek

    Negrek Lost but Seeking

    Don't you keep it all in one mind-meltingly huge 300+-page document? I'm honestly pretty impressed that Word still loads that, whether or not it agrees to do a spellcheck for you. You generally do manage pretty well, it's true. Obligatory tut-tutting and reminder that there are other spellchecking implementations out there, though. :p

    Yeah, I figured you wanted Ryan to sound kind of awkward there; to me it just didn't read as the kind of mistake a modern kid would likely make. It makes him sound like he's a servant/lower class person talking to someone higher class, which is the only instance I can think of when a kid would address another kid as "Miss," so it's old-fashioned sounding and a bit weird--like, perhaps okay if you want Ryan to generally be rather socially clueless and read a lot of faux-medieval fantasy, but I don't think the option would really occur to most kids. Unfortunately there aren't really any polite forms of address I can think of for kids talking to other kids; everybody just uses everyone else's first name (or nickname), without any titles, unless the kid goes by their middle/last name, etc. So I don't know if there's an easy drop-in replacement for the dialogue... I would probably go with him stammering, or use some physical description to indicate that he's flustered.

    Mulling this over definitely made me appreciate all the weird unspoken rules there are about register even in a language where we're supposedly pretty casual about that sort of thing. Started out with, "Well nobody even calls girls 'Miss' anymore really, well unless they were being sarcastic or making fun of her or I guess or if they knew her well and were teasing, but anyway even in those cases you use the first name and not the last name--except no, hang on, if the speaker were older..." Not something I even generally bother to think about aside from the occasional "wait **** how do I address this e-mail" moment. And something I play with a fair amount in my own writing without thinking about it, given e.g. the bajillion and one different ways people address Nate.
     
  18. Sike Saner

    Sike Saner Peace to the Mountain

    Chally's got a point there.

    ...did I seriously just call him Chally

    Yeah I suppose plummeting to splatsville wouldn't help anyone catch anything, now would it.

    I snrfled. XD

    I don't wrestle with insomnia often. But next time I do, I'm gonna be wishing I had a stantler around now, pfff.

    Now how in the heck did I manage to forget pokémon can do that?

    OH SNAP. Looks like May might get her mind made up for her...

    PFFF GOSH

    And there's another Challypoint™ for the pile.
     
  19. Dragonfree

    Dragonfree Just me

    Negrek
    More like 824 pages. It takes a while for it to save. :p


    Sike Saner
    Pfwahahaha. I don't think he'd approve.

    To be fair, I'm not sure if it's been in canon exactly or if a lot of other people do it... but it's definitely a thing in TQftL.

    Thanks for reading! It's always lovely to see you pop in.


    Anyway, chapter 70! It will in all likelihood be followed by an extra. I've already written a good chunk of 71 (it's being mostly rewritten from scratch, pretty much), but there's still plenty left; don't know exactly how long that will take.




    Chapter 70: Waraider

    When Charizard finally caught up with Robin and Xatu, it was because they were descending and slowing down. The unicorns were an indistinct shape near the horizon; he wasn’t sure they’d be able to see them much longer.

    “Is your Charizard getting tired?” Mark called as they pulled up beside her.

    Robin shook her head. “I think we should let them think they’ve shaken us off,” she said. “That’s why we’re flying so low, to be less visible against the sky. The next hotspot on Ryan’s map was on Route 317, and they’ve been flying straight in that direction – I figured that’s probably where they’re going, and Xatu agreed.”

    Mark blinked, his feelings of inadequacy returning. “Yeah, that makes sense,” he said. “Route 317, though? That’s pretty far.”

    “They’ve got to take a break eventually, right?” Robin said. “If they think we’re gone, they’ll hopefully lower their guard and land for a bit before too long, and we can all attack them there.”

    “They’re legendaries,” Mark pointed out, wary. “Are you sure they won’t outlast a couple of Charizard with riders before they get tired?”

    Robin shrugged. “Well, we can’t really know, but if they do shake us off, Xatu can take us all straight to the Route 317 spot and we can hide and wait for them to get there.” She looked at Charizard, smiling. “If you’re getting out of breath, though, I have some Ethers. Won’t replace a good rest, but it’s something.”

    “No need,” Charizard huffed. “Just... maybe later.”

    “Sure. Just say when.”

    They flew on for a while, low. The herd had disappeared into the distance. Xatu meticulously scanned the ground below with Miracle Eye, watching for any sign of the unicorns. Charizard strained to keep up, and Mark couldn’t help but be painfully aware of how effortless Robin’s Charizard’s flight seemed in comparison.

    Finally, Robin turned around. “Hey, Mark,” she said, her voice quieter than usual. “If Chaletwo doesn’t want to do anything about it, fine, but… how much do you know about how Taylor died? I just… I just want to know the truth.”

    Mark saw a brief flash of glassy, staring eyes and jutting, broken ribs; he shuddered. “I… I saw it happen.”

    Robin blinked and then stared, her brow furrowing. “Wait, what?”

    He swallowed. “May – she wanted a rematch after the finals, so she went to Taylor’s training spot to wait for him, and I came with her, but I didn’t know that’s where we were. Taylor showed up and agreed to battle her again, and she sent out Tyranitar first, and then he… he attacked him.”

    “And you just stood there?” asked Robin, incredulous.

    “I… we didn’t realize he was going to… May tried to recall him but it was too late.” Mark felt a little sick; he’d never really felt like he could have done something about it, prevented all this, but it was true, wasn’t it? He wasn’t sure exactly what he should have done, but…

    Robin pressed her lips together. Her Charizard looked at Mark over his shoulder, a hint of real or imagined accusation in his eyes. “And what, then you just… left him?” Robin asked, her voice tight.

    Mark nodded, a growing pit in his stomach. Again he remembered the body lying on the barren ground, the way they’d tried to avoid looking at it or thinking about it.

    “Remember how I didn’t want to hear another word about this?” Chaletwo said irritably. “There was nothing better they could do. You wanted to know what happened, and now you know, so drop it.”

    Robin gazed at Mark for a few long seconds. “All right,” she said finally, turning around to stare at the ground ahead.

    -------

    Sitting cross-legged, May tore a fistful of dead grass off the ground, then idly snapped each blade in half until the pieces were too small to get a good grip on. They’d set up a temporary camp, if one could call it that, where Xatu had left them; they had to be ready to go with her at a moment’s notice when she returned, so they’d all sat down on the hard ground around Charlie’s tail flame, uselessly twiddling their thumbs as they waited. At least the grass was dry.

    “Well,” Leah said, “might as well do some more planning while we’re here. Obviously the unicorns are pretty jumpy, and we’re going to need to approach them without having to chase them off to who knows where again. If they really don’t want to be separated, they won’t leave one behind, so getting a trapper in there and trapping just one of them should be enough, but the trapper needs to be able to approach the herd and survive until we get there. So…”

    “Sounds like a job for Spirit,” Sparky said. May looked up.

    “Yeah, that’s what I was thinking,” Leah went on. “Ghosty Ninetales just phases out completely, reappears in the middle of the herd, gets a Mean Look in, then goes insubstantial. By the time they figure out most moves won’t hit her, we’ll have caught up.” She looked at May. “You know, I’ve got to hand it to the beasts,” she said cheerfully. “These chosen Pokémon can be pretty sweet.”

    May snorted. “Don’t let her hear that.”

    She pulled Spirit’s ball off her necklace and dropped it on the ground. The Ninetales stretched, looked around and turned to May, questioning.

    “Mark, Robin and Xatu are chasing the herd,” May said. “Once they come back to get us, we’re going to need you to go into the strong spirit spirit form, use a Mean Look to trap one of them, and then stay in the weak spirit form until we can get close. Can you do that?”

    Spirit straightened. “Of course,” she said. “When are they coming?”

    “No idea.” May shook her head. “You can stay out until then if you like, I guess.”

    Spirit shook herself, thinking for a moment, but then lay down in the grass beside May, resting her head on her paws. May stroked her head, the Ninetales’ fur soft beneath her fingers. It’d been a while. Part of her wished she’d brought Spirit out last night after all, and part of her really didn’t.

    Sparky was still gazing at her, his expression unreadable behind his shades. “May, could I talk to you for a second?”

    She shrugged, scratching Spirit’s ear. “If you want.”

    She stood up and the Gym leader beckoned her to come with him out of earshot. She was tense but not sure why; she pulled her coat tighter, folding her arms. “Is this about Spirit?”

    “No.” Sparky lifted his shades. “Earlier,” he said, his voice quiet, “Robin told us that your Tyranitar killed Taylor Lancaster. Do you want to tell me what happened?”

    Robin. Rage boiled up in her stomach; why had she ever trusted her? How could she have been so stupid? She glanced at Alan out of the corner of her eye, but he was only talking to Ryan, oblivious to their conversation.

    She looked back up at Sparky and the searching concern in his eyes, pulling the coat tighter again. “No.”

    “No?”

    “No, I don’t want to tell you about it.” Robin had no right. No right at all. Who the hell did she think she was? “Is that all?”

    Sparky straightened, his brow furrowing slightly. “Yes, I suppose that is all.”

    May turned and sat back down by Spirit’s side before he could say anything else, burying her fingers in her mane.

    -------

    After what felt like hours and two Ethers for Charizard, something prodded at Mark’s mind from the outside. He looked up, startled; Xatu gave him and Robin a meaningful look before pointing down with her beak. Sure enough, in a secluded valley below them, he could make out the forms of the unicorns as they grazed, oblivious to their presence.

    Xatu nodded at them and dived, and the two Charizard followed suit. They landed in the mountains just on the outside of the valley, hidden from sight.

    “Finally,” said Leah when Xatu had vanished and reappeared with the rest of the group. “Where are they?”

    “Down in the valley.” Robin pointed past the outcropping of rock that was shielding them from view, speaking quietly.

    “Great. We came up with a plan to trap them while you were gone, too – May’s Ninetales is going to sneak up and Mean Look them for us.”

    Robin glanced at May and Spirit, who was standing by her side, but May was looking the other way.

    “And then we can just fly or teleport down there, Pokémon out, according to plan, bam, done.” Leah grinned. “They won’t know what hit them.”

    “No,” Alan said firmly. “First we talk to them and try to get them to agree to be caught.”

    Leah looked at him, incredulous. “Seriously? You gathered eight people for this thing so you could talk to them?”

    “We successfully negotiated with the female Color Dragons,” Alan said.

    “Yeah,” May responded, looking at him out of the corner of her eye, “but if you remember, most of that negotiation was them trying to kill us and Dragoreen threatening to drop Mark off a cliff.”

    Mark felt a momentary flash of stinging phantom pain in his ribs; he shuddered, but pushed it aside. “They deserve to at least know why we’re doing this,” he said. “It’s the right thing to do. And talking to the female Color Dragons helped us find the males, remember.”

    “Except Dragoreen sent us on a six-week wild goose chase first.”

    “Enough,” Chaletwo said. “Yes, we should try to talk to them. It probably won’t work, but not trying would be irresponsible. I’m still not sure you can actually win this.”

    Leah rolled her eyes. “Well, whatever, you’re the boss.”

    Once everyone was ready and holding onto Felix the Alakazam, May nodded to Spirit and the Ninetales vanished. They moved carefully past the rock so they could see the herd below; the unicorns seemed at peace now, focusing on the grass they were eating instead of looking up, and paid them no notice.

    They waited tensely for something to happen for a minute, nothing moving but the cold wind. Then, all of a sudden, Spirit reappeared behind Waraider, her eyes glowing.

    Again, the unicorns simultaneously raised their heads. Without even looking to see what was there, they broke into a run –

    – and then Waraider ran into an invisible barrier; his legs refused to move as he strained against the Mean Look, neighing in panic, and the herd dissolved into chaos as the others stopped too, rearing and whinnying in an incoherent frenzy.

    “Felix, go!” Leah called, and all of a sudden they were several meters down the mountainside, only to be somewhere else again a fraction of a second later. Everything flickered like frames in an old movie, and for a moment Mark felt so completely disoriented that it turned into nausea; he wanted to let go and make it stop, but the Alakazam’s clawed hand tightened around his, pulling him along. He caught unreal, progressively closer glimpses of Waraider turning and noticing Spirit, rushing at her with his long horn glowing white, then passing harmlessly through her insubstantial, ghostlike form, then all the others rushing towards her…

    “Stop!” Chaletwo shouted when they’d gotten close enough, and in an instant, everything was normal again. Mark’s entire mind was still reeling after the experience; he would never envy this mode of transportation again. “This is Chaletwo. That Ninetales and these humans are with me. I’m sorry for trapping you, but we couldn’t see any other way to get close enough to talk to you.”

    The unicorns stopped and turned, all at once, but looked no calmer. A bluish-white one with icicles forming her wings and horn – Freezaroy, Mark recalled dimly, perhaps with Chaletwo’s help – let out a bloodcurdling scream. “No! Let us go!”

    “How dare you sneak up on us like this?” snarled the Fire-type – Emphire – as her mane and tail flared up with new heat.

    “This is important,” Chaletwo said. “Has Mew told you about the War of the Legends?”

    “What?” asked Emphire, her eyes narrowing.

    “Should Mew have told us about a war?” asked the Psychic one, or so Mark presumed from the large, purple gem resembling a third eye that she had in place of a horn. The name Mysticrown surfaced somewhere in his head. “She hasn’t mentioned it.”

    “Please explain,” said Electhrone, the Electric-type.

    “You’ve felt your powers weakening, correct?” Chaletwo said. “They’re being drained – by someone called the Destroyer. Sometime in the next few months, he will release all that power to drive the legendaries mad, and we’ll all fight each other until only one is left. The only way to stop this is if we’re all in human Pokéballs when it happens. All the others are in now except you and Mew. Please let us capture you, and we can save the world. If you don’t, then we’ll all die.”

    The unicorns looked at one another and began talking all at once; Mark couldn’t follow so many simultaneous, nearly identical voices of Pokémon speech. “Who is the Destroyer?” Electhrone asked eventually, stepping closer to Mark while the others squabbled on in a chaotic chorus. His tail whipped restlessly back and forth, releasing a flurry of sparks.

    “We don’t know,” Chaletwo said. “Probably some unknown legendary. It’s most likely not important, so long as you’re all captured – or, I suppose, if you prefer that, you could make soul gems and be resurrected afterwards.”

    “But what about the Destroyer himself? Does he not need to be caught as well?”

    “Hopefully not, because that would make it impossible.”

    Yet again, even though only Electhrone had appeared to be paying any attention to their conversation, the unicorns all simultaneously stopped talking and whipped their heads around. They had to have some kind of psychic bond, Mark thought. “What do you mean, hopefully?” asked Freezaroy frantically.

    “He’s just making this up as he goes along,” Emphire hissed, her mane flaring.

    “Well, if the Destroyer is the only legendary left, the theory is that the same thing that normally makes it stop when there’s only one left will prevent it from happening at all. It makes sense if you think about it.”

    The unicorns looked at one another again. “I think we should do it,” said Mysticrown.

    “I think so too, for the sake of the world,” said the Grass-type with the leafy wings, Natruler.

    “But it’s not certain,” Freezaroy objected, her eyes darting wildly from side to side at the others. “He’s guessing. You can tell he’s guessing.”

    “Why did he bring all these trainers and use a Ninetales to trap us if he only wanted to help us?” Emphire hissed. “How do we know he intends to release us again, and this isn’t his ploy to take over?”

    “I knew this would happen,” Chaletwo said irritably. “Look. Waraider, you’re the leader, aren’t you? Do you really think I’d make this up? Be sensible.”

    Waraider, the plain white unicorn, had been at the back of the herd, not saying much, but at this, the others stepped back to clear the way for him. He took a hesitant step forward, folding and unfolding his feathered wings uneasily. “What do you think?” he finally said, looking back at the others.

    This started another round of squabbling neighs and whinnies. Unlike Mark, Waraider didn’t appear to have trouble following them; he didn’t ask them to slow down or speak one at a time, instead just listening to the cacophony until all of a sudden, in an instant, they went silent. “Natruler, Electhrone, Seasar, Darkhan and Mysticrown agree, but Emphire and Freezaroy don’t trust you,” he said. “What is your response?”

    “My response is screw them. You’re the leader. You can override them if you really want. They’d follow you.”

    Waraider shook his head slowly, his gaze flicking back and forth. “I… I only mediate between them,” he said.

    “If you’re not caught, you’ll die!” Chaletwo said. “You can’t tell me you don’t have an opinion on that. If you care so much about them, then make sure you’ll all live to see another day. It’s up to you, and it’s the easiest choice you’ll ever make. Come on!”

    Waraider stared at Mark for a moment, then shifted his weight, adjusting his wings again. “I don’t…”

    “And if all you do is mediate, well, as I count it the majority is for it. Even if you don’t trust me, make soul gems on your own terms. Why are you even hesitating?”

    “And be at the mercy of other Pokémon to be resurrected in the future?” Freezaroy asked, her voice trembling.

    Waraider closed his eyes, taking a deep breath. “We have a system. We go to the green valley and then we go to the misty plains and then we go to the edge of the large woods and then we go to the rocky field. We can’t change unless we agree.”

    Chaletwo sighed and then gave up. “If you don’t agree willingly, we’ll have to take you by force.”

    “What?” said Emphire, fury blazing in her voice.

    “No!” Freezaroy whinnied, rearing up in a panic.

    “Then you are our enemy,” hissed the pitch-black, bat-winged one – Darkhan.

    “Tough luck. We’re trying to save the world. If that means we have to mess up your… ‘system’, then too bad for your system.”

    The unicorns’ eyes narrowed simultaneously. Waraider straightened where he stood. “We all agree,” he said firmly, “that we will not abandon one another for any reason.”

    “This is it,” Chaletwo said. “Pokéballs out.”

    “Wait!” Mark shouted as everyone began to send out their Pokémon. “We don’t want you to abandon one another – please, listen!”

    But it was too late. The unicorns were grouping into a rough circle, each facing outward, head lowered, hooves stomping as Pokémon emerged all around them.

    “Pokémon, divide yourselves!” Chaletwo shouted. “According to plan! Trainers, spread out!”

    Throwing his Pokéballs, Mark ran to the right, trying to remember everything they’d laid out in Alumine as four dozen Pokémon headed for their targets, rushing past in every direction, and a flurry of Thunder Waves sparkled through the air. He made a snap decision to focus on Waraider, where Jolteon and Dragonite were headed along with Ryan’s Letaligon (his heart stung suddenly), and sprinted closer to be better positioned to watch.

    Most of the unicorns were paralyzed and struggling to move, but Natruler flapped her leaf-wings, a thick wind with a strange, sharp scent to it passed over them, and suddenly they weren’t paralyzed anymore. They took off the ground in a synchronized, graceful leap; Waraider neighed fiercely, and he dived into the ground, crashing down with his hooves and sending tremors through the earth around them.

    Sparky had already shouted, “Magnet Rise!” and his Magneton and Electrode successfully levitated themselves high enough to avoid being affected by the Earthquake; all of the other Electric-types were struck helplessly, even Jolteon who bravely attempted to dodge it but wasn’t used to doing it on uneven ground. Sparky had to recall his Manectric, Ampharos and Electabuzz; thankfully they appeared to be the only immediate casualties.

    “Okay, no more statuses unless Natruler is incapacitated!” Chaletwo shouted. “Watch out!”

    Mark couldn’t get his hopes up about that: even as Natruler was withstanding a barrage of attacks from several Pokémon, he could see her leaves glowing green and revitalizing her with photosynthesized energy. As if taking down all of them wouldn’t have been hard enough before, she had healing moves. Dread crept up on Mark again: this wasn’t possible, there was no way, they’d lose –

    “Try to do something about Waraider!” he called, eyes widening as the herd took off again in unison. “Or he’ll use another –”

    But it was far too late to say that. Another Earthquake shook the ground, Jolteon, Raichu, Diamond and Robin’s Luxray collapsed, and Mark recalled Jolteon, biting his lip, hoping desperately that they weren’t packing more attacks that could hit all of their Pokémon without damaging each other.

    He wasn’t even sure if they could do anything about Waraider. If they had to take them down at the same time, they couldn’t just knock him out and then continue with the others. If only they could...

    “Felix, Disable on Waraider!” Leah shouted as she came running towards their side of the fight, and the Alakazam teleported next to her and held forward one of his spoons, eyes flashing. As the unicorn was pulling up and preparing for another Earthquake, he abruptly stopped, blinked and looked around, disoriented.

    Next to Waraider, Darkhan kicked the two Weavile fighting him away and released a pulse of dark energy that struck Felix and knocked him backwards; Emphire, beside him, followed with a rush of superheated air, radiating far enough outwards to hit not only the Pokémon in front of her but also those surrounding Darkhan and Freezaroy. Weavile collapsed, charred and limp; Mark recalled her, looking a bit enviously at the other Weavile, Leah’s, who was charging into Darkhan with another Ice Punch, energetic as ever – he supposed it was inevitable Leah’s team was far tougher than theirs, but that didn’t make him feel any more useful.

    Above, Dragonite was Thunderpunching Waraider, aided by Pamela’s Thunderbolt; Felix unleashed powerful Psychic attacks, and Ryan’s Letaligon fired tricolored beams from the points of his mask, stomping his feet impatiently as he flexed his claws. Waraider was in no hurry to get closer to him; he tore himself away from Dragonite, his long horn starting to glow, and then rushed back into him as the dragon headed for him again – Horn Drill, Mark realized too late to say anything as the horn pierced Dragonite’s belly, his eyes widened, and his body drifted downward like a deflating balloon. Mark quickly recalled him and ran around to the group fighting Freezaroy.

    All three Charizard were surrounding the Ice unicorn in the air, supported by Spirit and Leah’s Arcanine. They were moving sluggishly, though, almost struggling to keep themselves aloft – Icy Wind, he realized with a pang of discomfort as Freezaroy flapped her wings and produced another blast of frigid air. “Just get down on the ground!” he called; they had to be able to focus better on attacking without having to try to fly as well.

    Charizard gave him a quick glance before descending clunkily to land, followed by Charlie. Robin’s Charizard stayed stubbornly in the air, but Mark supposed he was doing better than the others anyway; he was still circling Freezaroy nimbly, firing Flamethrowers whenever he could get one in.

    Now that she was no longer surrounded in the air, however, the Ice-type was free to withdraw higher away from him. She flapped her wings powerfully as he started to follow, producing a rush of ice and snow that threw him down, straight into the other two Charizard. They tumbled back in a pile of orange, growling.

    “Willow, Heat Wave!” Leah shouted, and her Arcanine blasted a wave of heat against the Blizzard, giving the Charizard time to untangle themselves. Charlie didn’t stand up; Charizard managed to crawl to his feet, but was panting and exhausted, and Mark could tell he wouldn’t be standing for long.

    “Try a Flare Blitz!” Mark called, and Charizard used the last of his strength to leap up, wreathed in flames, and launch himself at Freezaroy from the side. She neighed in panic, trying to stay aloft as he tackled her out of the air, but failed; they crashed into the ground together, and when she tried to scramble to her feet, eyes wide and shining, Charizard had lost consciousness.

    “Good job,” Mark muttered as he recalled him. Leah’s Arcanine used the opportunity to leap onto Freezaroy’s struggling form to stop her from standing up; Spirit and Robin’s Charizard Flamethrowered her from where they were standing. They appeared to be doing okay for now.

    Mark moved left, to where Sandslash, Flygon, and Robin’s Gastrodon were still fighting Electhrone using coordinated Rock Slides. The Electric unicorn flapped his wings rapidly, forming a powerful blast of wind that sent Flygon careening backwards in the air and even knocked Mark off his feet. Thankfully the ground was grassy and soft; he stood up quickly, and Flygon had recovered with reasonable ease too. At least these three were doing –

    From the left came a blast of water that sent Sandslash flying towards the hills. Mark looked back, bewildered, to find Seasar moving unhindered to attack the Ground-types. All of Sparky’s Electric-types were gone.

    Mark winced but made a snap decision and sprinted to get to Sandslash. The pangolin had rolled a short way off to the side from where he’d hit the hill. Mark quickly turned him over, and he opened his eyes weakly.

    “Are you okay?” Mark asked. “Do you think you can still battle?”

    “Probably not,” Sandslash replied, his voice pained. “If that’s all right.”

    “Of course. You were doing great.” Mark tried to smile as he took out his Pokéball and recalled him.

    The only one of his Pokémon that remained was Scyther, then. He looked over and spotted the mantis Pokémon still in the air near Natruler, delivering quick Aerial Aces in between zooming around to avoid any attacks; Mark hurried over there. Natruler didn’t look very hurt, probably thanks to those healing moves, but she did look exhausted, and she’d given up flying in favour of staying on the ground. She wasn’t paying much attention to Scyther at all, instead staring down Leah’s Venusaur, who stood bruised and battered in front of her in the middle of a circle of destroyed vines and roots, panting, his eyes still blazing with determination as he produced two more vines from the base of his flower with a groan of effort. The vines never reached their target; Natruler beat her wings heavily to produce a Hurricane, and the Venusaur gave a great roar as the fierce wind uprooted him and sent him tumbling back.

    “Tiberius, come back,” Leah said, running up to him and gripping his Pokéball. Mark looked around; her Ariados had been assigned to Natruler too, and the legendary was still covered with loose strands of silk, but the spider Pokémon was nowhere to be seen now, so Mark assumed he had fainted, too. May’s Skarmory, Ryan’s Xatu and Sparky’s Swellow were still there, though, the former two circling around in the air and diving in to attack whenever they got the chance, Xatu standing defiant behind where the Venusaur had been and producing sharp bursts of wind with her wings.

    Just as he was thinking they were doing pretty well, Electhrone rushed in from the right, electricity crackling in the air around him. Mark looked back at where he had been in a panic: both Flygon and Robin’s Gastrodon seemed to have gone down, probably largely thanks to Seasar, who was now wrapped in a sticky, sparkling web and being bombarded by Electric attacks from Ryan’s Galvantula. They had too few Pokémon left by now to be able to keep the unicorns separate from each other, and it was unravelling their battle plan.

    “Little help here?” Mark called as Electhrone Thunderbolted Skarmory and Natruler blasted a Hurricane towards Scyther.

    Ryan, who was standing near Waraider, looked up. “Letaligon, Galvantula, stop the Electric-type!”

    Electhrone had managed to Thunderbolt Skarmory again, sending him crashing; May came running from Waraider’s end to recall him, shouting, “Stantler, follow me!” The deer Pokémon was followed by Ryan’s Letaligon, while Galvantula shot a last ball of electricity towards Seasar for good measure before crawling in from the other side.

    Another Thunderbolt from Electhrone shot Swellow out of the air just before a Spider Web hit the legendary and pulled him back towards the ground. The Letaligon charged at him, smashing his glowing body into him with a Giga Impact; Stantler followed with her antlers shimmering like a mirage, striking the Electric unicorn with a Zen Headbutt that sent him reeling, shaking his head.

    Mark looked quickly back at Scyther; he was zooming at Natruler again, but this time she managed to meet him head-on with another Hurricane, and he was blasted back, crashed into the ground and tumbled over a few times before coming to a standstill. When he didn’t rise again, Mark recalled him. That was it, then. He was out of the fight. He exhaled, trying to calm his nerves as he stepped back to continue to watch.

    Sparky had knelt down by his Swellow’s side, gently patting the back of her head before he recalled her and stood up, giving Mark a weary smile. Ryan’s Galvantula was repeatedly shocking Electhrone, but he’d managed to take down Xatu now too, and with Scyther out of the way, that left nobody dealing with Natruler. Mark jerked his head up at the Grass unicorn; she was flying towards Emphire, gathering a swirl of leaves in front of her.

    “Look out!” Mark called, sprinting around to the other side of the battle. Robin’s Charizard seemed to have fainted, but Spirit and Leah’s Arcanine rushed to meet Natruler with Flamethrowers; that left a severely charred and injured Freezaroy to rise shakily to her feet, and Natruler managed to unleash the Leaf Storm anyway. Mist and Floatzel took the worst of it, and both of them gave in to unconsciousness. Alan was already there and recalled the Vaporeon, biting his lip.

    Meanwhile, Ryan’s Walrein shot an Ice Beam at Natruler’s right wing. The ice formed a clump around her leaf-feathers that sent her spiralling into the ground, and Walrein and Leah’s Tentacruel resumed Hydro Pumping Emphire, who was snarling and hissing as she tried to form a Hurricane with her wings.

    Leah’s Arcanine rushed back to attack Freezaroy. Spirit was starting to look very tired; she panted, her head low. “You need to stay in the game,” Mark said quickly to her. “If you faint, they could all run off. Just try to be in the weak spirit form if you can.”

    Spirit nodded wordlessly and faded into a ghostly, semitransparent form – just in time, because Seasar had managed to untangle himself and blasted a Hydro Pump at the Arcanine that might otherwise have hit Spirit as well. The giant dog Pokémon shook her cream-colored fur, gathered electricity in her mouth and leapt to bite the Water-type, again leaving Freezaroy alone. The Ice-type hurried to join Electhrone, shooting an Ice Beam at Galvantula; Electhrone had managed to take down Stantler as well, Mark realized, and May was instead running over to him.

    “Floatzel, come back,” she said, recalling the sea otter, who was still lying fainted in the grass. “Spirit, yeah, that’s good, stay in spirit form.”

    May looked up at Mark. “This isn’t going too well,” she said, and Mark had to anxiously agree. Out of Victor’s Pokémon, only his Absol was still fighting Mysticrown, and she looked on the brink of unconsciousness; though the unicorn had suffered a lot of slashes, she, like Natruler, was using Hurricane to make up for her Psychic attacks’ ineffectiveness. While Robin’s Froslass was blowing an Ominous Wind Mysticrown’s way, Darkhan hit her with a Dark Pulse, and she fainted with a shriek – in fact, all the Pokémon that had been attacking Darkhan were gone, with Robin’s Machamp still lying face-down on the ground nearby as her trainer dashed towards Froslass. No one was attacking Waraider anymore, either – and he landed rearing next to Victor’s Absol and took her down with a Stomp.

    They were all hurt, though, and tired – even Natruler had exhausted her healing abilities. Maybe, just maybe…

    “Let’s just go for the Pokéballs!” May shouted, maximizing an Ultra Ball in her hand. “We’re not going to weaken them much more than this! If any break out, just send out the others immediately and run!”

    “I’m not sure that’s…” Chaletwo began, but Leah apparently agreed with May because she pulled out an Ultra Ball almost immediately, and when she’d done it everyone else did as well.

    “Three, two, one... go!” May called, and eight Ultra Balls soared towards eight unicorns.

    Seven of them simply bounced off, as if they’d hit inanimate objects, and judging from the panicked bafflement in the back of Mark’s head, that was not what Chaletwo’d had in mind.

    The eighth sucked Waraider in, and as his whinny distorted and faded and his body dissolved into translucent red, the eyes of the others all glazed over with the same empty, terrified rage. Swirling energies radiated chaotically from them, blazing in different colors, enveloping the few Pokémon that remained; the grass underneath their feet blackened and crumbled as they reared, whinnying, and began to dash off blindly in different directions – but they hit an invisible barrier at a certain distance from the still-surviving Spirit. As they were knocked back from nothing, their cries became even more frenzied; black flames surrounded them, the earth trembled, the sky darkened –

    “Do something!” Chaletwo screamed, and Mark didn’t know what to do –

    And then the Ultra Ball that was wobbling on the ground popped open, releasing Waraider again in a burst of white. The others calmed instantly without even looking his way; the flames disappeared, the ground was still, the sun was bright.

    Waraider stared at them, his gaze wild and frantic and very confused. The only one of their Pokémon left standing was Spirit, who looked back and forth, still insubstantial. The other unicorns didn’t move or attack; they stood still where they were, their faces blank.

    “Why don’t Pokéballs work on them?” Leah shouted, her eyes wide. “Why didn’t they even go in?”

    “I don’t know!”

    “How the hell are we going to catch them if we can’t use Pokéballs? Are they even Pokémon?”

    “How am I supposed to – I didn’t make them! Just… just do something!”

    Waraider’s eyes locked onto Mark’s, pleading desperately for an explanation. The frantic voices around him seemed distant and distorted. His mind raced to decipher what all of this meant, his heartbeat thumping in his ears.

    The Pokéballs didn’t work. So… they weren’t Pokémon. Not real, living Pokémon, at any rate. Waraider was, but not the others.

    The moment Waraider had gone into that ball, their individuality and character had simply vanished – they’d been identical, blind, unravelling forces of nature. As if their souls were gone, had been sucked into the Pokéball with Waraider.

    They’d had different views and opinions, but they’d all talked at the same time, noticed things at the same time, had the same knowledge, like they had a psychic bond – or perhaps like they were all, somehow, the same person. Like… like they were just different voices in a single individual’s head.

    Mew and Chaletwo had only created one unicorn.

    Mark snapped back to reality, dizzy as he tried to make sense of it all. “Waraider,” he said, “exactly where did they come from?”

    Waraider looked from side to side, at where the rest of his herd was standing, curiously still and quiet. “They were… they were always there,” he said, in a weak, trembling neigh.

    There was a moment of silence. “What?” Chaletwo said. “What are you talking about? We only created you. The others appeared a few months later. I asked you about them, remember?”

    “We were always there,” said the other unicorns, simultaneously, in an eerie chorus.

    Waraider shook his head, his eyes shining with fear and doubt and confusion. “They were… I think they…”

    “Listen,” Mark said, hoping desperately that he was on the right track, “they’re… I think they’re just you. They’re like manifestations of different aspects of you and your power, not real separate individuals. Is that… does that make sense?”

    “They’re real,” Waraider said, taking an unsteady step back, glancing frantically at the others. “What do you mean, they’re not real?”

    “We’re real,” they said, but their voices had lost all of their organic individuality now, instead droning unconvincingly as a hollow, robotic legion. Waraider flinched, backing away, his ears pinned back against his head, and turned to Mark again, staring.

    “What’s going on?” he asked, pleading. “What happened to them?”

    Mark hesitated. Everyone was staring at him – Leah in bafflement, Ryan open-mouthed, Victor with a curious kind of surprise. And Sparky, a grin of realization spreading across his face, gave him a nod of encouragement.

    “I…” A frantic jumble of information poured into his brain from Chaletwo, something about how unconscious manifestations of power were conditional upon expectation – “I guess they become less real when you start to doubt that they are?”

    Waraider stared back at the rest of his herd. They stood stiff, unmoving, and then began to flicker and distort, like images from a broken projector.

    His eyes widened. “No!” he screamed. “Stop! What are you doing?” He rushed towards them, but they showed no reaction. “Freezaroy? Natruler?” He stopped in front of the Grass-type’s blank gaze, extending his muzzle gingerly out towards hers – and then flinched back as it simply went through her, as if she weren’t there.

    “I don’t understand! Please!” Waraider turned his head back towards Mark, tears streaming from his eyes, before letting out a desperate, whinnying scream and diving straight through to the middle of the group, where he met no resistance but air.

    Shaking with heaving, shuddering breaths, his eyes closed, Waraider stood still as the flickering forms of the other unicorns silently walked towards him and vanished as they simply joined together with his body. At the end, he was alone. Just like he always had been.

    “Waraider?” Mark said carefully, feeling everyone’s eyes on him again.

    “Why?” asked Waraider, his voice small and quiet.

    Mark paused, trying to work out what to say. “Do… do you remember where they came from now?”

    Waraider hesitated, tossing his head uncomfortably. “I… I always heard them,” he muttered. “They kept disagreeing, and I tried to make them all happy… but I didn’t see them, not at first.”

    “And then…?”

    “Then I…” Waraider squeezed his eyes shut. “They were there. They just were. They were always there. Why wouldn’t they be…?”

    “It sounds,” said Chaletwo cautiously, “like you unconsciously manifested different aspects of your personality to function as separate beings. How did you do that?”

    Waraider stared at him. “I… I don’t know.” He hung his head. “Can I get them back?”

    “Well,” Chaletwo said slowly, “you should be able to… hear them, or whatever it is you did before they gained physical form. Nothing’s changed; you’ve just realized they weren’t really there.”

    The other legendary flinched at his words, but stood still, closing his eyes. “They’re still there,” he muttered.

    “Great,” Chaletwo said. “The point is, you’re you. There’s only one of you. You can listen to the… the others if you want, but actually they’re irrelevant and the choice is up to you. So will you let us capture you to stop the War?”

    Waraider shuddered. “They’re not… they’re not irrelevant.”

    “What he means is,” Mark said before Chaletwo could speak, “they can help you sort out what you think, but you don’t have to make them all happy.”

    Waraider looked at Mark, hesitating. “But… Emphire and Freezaroy didn’t want to.”

    “Well, they… told you about some concerns that you have,” Mark said carefully. “But if you decided you want to do it anyway, you’re not betraying them, because they’re you.”

    The legendary gave him a long, searching look. “So… if I agree… you’ll release us – me – after?” he mumbled.

    “Of course. You have my word.”

    Waraider’s eyes flicked around, as if he were looking to the others for opinions. “Can I trust him?” he asked quietly after a moment, looking back at Mark – it took him a second to process that Waraider was asking him.

    He opened his mouth and then hesitated with a pang of doubt. For a moment it occurred to him that he’d only trusted Chaletwo from the start because he was a legendary, and that after everything he’d experienced in the past months, that seemed like the worst possible reason to trust anyone. Could he actually vouch for him in good conscience? What if they couldn’t actually trust him? What if somehow he’d been duping them all along, for his own reasons? Would they have any way to know?

    In the back of Mark’s mind, Chaletwo’s indignant annoyance couldn’t mask the flickering, stinging hurt. It felt like all the times Mrs. Grodski had called him hopeless, like his parents not trusting him out on a journey, like Letaligon leaving.

    Mark took a deep breath. “Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, I think we can trust him. We’ll make sure.”

    Waraider exhaled and nodded, closing his eyes again. “Then… I agree.”

    “Thank you,” Mark said, warm relief trickling down his spine. He pulled another Ultra Ball out of his pocket and held it forward.

    “Thank you,” Waraider said, and he reached his head forward to touch the ball before his form transformed into red energy and disappeared.
     
  20. Negrek

    Negrek Lost but Seeking

    horse fight horse fight etc.

    Ehhh it is possible to break ribs in such a way that they come up through the skin, but I don't think it would be that dramatic (especially because Taylor's wearing clothes, they'd have to stab up through the clothes as well to be seen) from a case where one side of his rib cage got crushed. Or maybe I'm just rolling my eyes, several years later, at that one fic where a cyndaquil gets flung backward into a tree and this somehow makes its ribs all get broken and stick out, to great pathos.

    That dialogue reads oddly stiff to me without the contraction. And based on your description of Chapter 71, I'm guessing Sparky's not gonna let this slide.

    May still hasn't told Spirit about the Tyranitar stuff, has she?

    Wow, Chaletwo is... really not doing so well with the negotiations, there. I'm kind of surprised nobody stepped in to try and take control of the situation or ask him to tone it down a little. Like, Sparky for example seems like he would be a much better character for this kind of thing, and I feel like you could maybe utilize him a little more in this mini-arc... he has more focus than the other recruited trainers, but it's still not much. I kept forgetting Victor, Ryan, and to a lesser extent Leah even existed until their names popped up. But anyway, it looked like the negotiations were going pretty well until Chaletwo started getting impatient and, like, serously, bro, it's not like the War is tomorrow, you can give them a little space instead of pressing them to decide right this very second. You even know where they'll go if they decide to try running.

    You had almost the exact same sentiment earlier in the chapter when Mark was considering Robin's charizard. Actually, polishing this comment up I realize this sentence is talking about Leah and not Robin (I get them confused a lot this chapter), so it's not quite as bad, but it's still enough of a close parallel that it made me think, "Wait, didn't you already say that?"

    aww chaletwo aww

    It's been interesting to see more of a focus on Chaletwo in the last few chapters; it feels like you've been focusing much more on him and his relationship with Mark recently (where by "recently" I mean since approximately the League arc, so the past five-six years or so :p). Part of that has to do with the prominence of the Taylor subplot, which like I think I said earlier has really been adding a lot of interest to the latter part of the story... driving the majority of the interpersonal conflict. I don't know how prominent it was in your original plan, but I think that it's a real boon to the narrative and is crucial for bringing the character development to a head. Plus I'm still hoping to see more of Taylor's brother whose name momentarily escapes me. I mean, we've gotta do something to wrap up the weirdness of M22, right? (He can kill immortals, right? He's so powerful he can overcome psychic immunity, he's so powerful he can overcome death immunity, too, he can take out the Destroyer and end the War okay I solved it the end.)

    This strikes me as a clumsy sentence. Is it necessary to specify that he reached "his head" forward? The "before" seems unnecessary because the flow of the sentence logically indicates when events happen, and again, do you need to specify "his form" was transformed into red energy? Something like, "and he reached forward to touch the ball, transformed into red energy, and disappeared" would read smoother, I think. (You can tell when I've been doing line edits on my own writing.)

    The battle dragged a bit for me, perhaps because there wasn't a lot of back and forth to the fight--at least from what we saw of Mark's POV, they seemed to be losing the entire time, so it was kind of just a slow burn into the eventual recall and hail-Mary capture attempt. The fractured nature of the battle also prevented there from being a sense of the bigger picture or much in the way of individual arcs--we don't see any of the pokémon's struggles for more than a couple of attacks, so it's hard to generate interest for anybody's struggles in particular. It also gave me a bit of time to wonder why Mark doesn't, say, recall Charizard and then send him out again immediately to counter the stat drop from icy wind, or use that moment he spent talking with Sandslash to instead spray him with a full restore and send him on his way. (Can't remember whether or not recall/healing items will actually do that for you according to the rules of this story, but it was a thought I had.) It's not an awful battle, but I think for the last legendary fight it works out to be a bit of an anticlimax.

    I pretty much knew what was up when the first set of ultra balls didn't work on anybody but Waraider, but I think you did a nice job of alluding to what was going on before that point and getting the characters to slowly realize what was up afterwards. Waraider's own coming to grips with what's going on was well done, I thought. Not a lot of time to really showcase how messed up he is, and I assume we aren't going to see anything substantial out of him after this, if anything at all, but still. It worked for what space you had.

    This is the part where I went into what I thought you might write about for the extra, but since you made it explicit I guess there's nothing more to say! I'm looking forward to the meltdown that it sounds like Chapter 71 is going to be, and there's some exciting stuff more or less on the horizon, too. I'm sure the confrontation with Mew and Mitchenor will be great, and whatever happens with Taylor's brother, and I'll be interested to see what happens with Chaletwo, too. Does he survive the war? Does he get to resolve some of his issues and look forward to a happy life on the other side? Die tragically and/or heroically? (I'm... also pretty much assuming that most of the humans survive, but I suppose that isn't a given, is it?) Should be fun!
     

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