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The Quest for the Legends (ILCOE)

Chapter 13: The Black Desert

“Hmmm… yeah, it’s definitely shorter…”

May was observing the Ouen Map at the Pokémon Center while Mark was petting Eevee, who was curled up in his arms, half-asleep.

“What is shorter than what?” Mark questioned.

“It’s shorter to go through the Black Desert to Scorpio City than around it,” May replied.

“Black Desert?” asked Mark doubtfully. “I don’t like the sound of that.”

“We’ve got our Pokémon,” May just said.

“But May… if the normal route goes around the desert, there’s got to be a reason for it, right?” Mark asked, not at all convinced.

“What could possibly happen? We’ve got strong Pokémon to fend off any wild ones, we’ve got Water Pokémon who can quench our thirst in the unlikely case of emergency, and it isn’t very far anyway…”

Suddenly she added: “You’ve got a sleeping bag, right? We aren’t going to find a hotel in the desert, you know.”

“Yeah, of course,” Mark answered, immediately afterwards realizing that this had sounded like he was agreeing.

“Come on, we should hurry,” May said and marched outside. Mark had no choice but to follow her, wondering whether she had intentionally tricked him into answering the sleeping bag question.

-------

On they walked, out of the city, into the mountains, higher and higher up. There were a few Pokémon there, but not many, and they were easily taken care of. The sky was clear and the sun shone with blazing intensity, making it rather uncomfortably hot.

“I do not look forward to walking through that desert in this,” Mark moaned. May ignored him.

They walked all day with a few stops, entering the sandy, lifeless wasteland known as the Black Desert around six o’clock.

“The ‘Black Desert’?” Mark asked, looking blankly over the yellowish-brown dunes.

“It’s just a name,” said May, shrugging. “Come on.”

The sun slowly sank into the horizon as they were on their way through the desert. It quickly got ice cold, and finally they decided to stop for the night. Charmeleon got to sleep outside of his Pokéball due to the tail flame, which made them feel safer.

“What’s so black about it?” Mark asked, lying in his sleeping bag and staring into the fire.

“Go to sleep,” May muttered.

He took her advice.

-------

When a lone Murkrow flew over the desert a short while later, he witnessed a most peculiar sight.

It was as if a stream of jet-black ink started seeping out through the dunes, covering the sand. If he had then lowered his flight, as to see what was going on, he might have noticed that the flood was in fact made of thousands and millions of relatively small creatures, black as night.

Their movements were synchronized like those of a school of fish, yet they were so many that to the Murkrow high above, it seemed like a blanket of shadow had spread out over the sand.

Had the Murkrow landed, it would have been his doom.

-------

Something was creeping up on Mark again. It was not Scyther or Fangcat; it was a new threat, shrouded in darkness. He had gotten used to these dreams the previous night, but there was something eerie about this one that sent a chill going down his spine.

All of a sudden, the dream burst into an eruption of flames. It was so burning hot that Mark found himself awake and sitting upright the next second, facing the answer to his question from earlier.

All around, a crowd of pitch-black scorpion-like Pokémon faced him with their segmented tails raised. Each had two yellow, pupil-less, evil-looking eyes on the front of its head. Two pincers snapped at the end of the foremost set of limbs. And it was so crowded that there was no sight of the sand anywhere except just near where the kids were. The Black Desert was indeed black.

For some reason, May was also awake, staring at the scorpions with the same expression of horror that Mark had. Charmeleon was still asleep, blissfully unaware of it all.

“What are they?” May whispered.

Mark didn’t answer; he just reached for the Pokédex clipped to his belt and pointed it at one of the scorpions with a trembling hand.

“Scorplack, scorpion Pokémon,” said the Pokédex in an electronically calm voice. “Native only to the Black Desert, they sleep buried in the sand during the day and come out in hordes in the night to hunt. They are actually blind, but have eye-like spots on their heads to frighten enemies. Scientists debate on whether to classify them as Bug/Poison or Poison/Dark.”

Mark closed his Pokédex, swallowing. While that was to be expected, the Pokédex had confirmed them as poisonous, and a Dark type, even if debatable, was usually only given to Pokémon that were known to occasionally ‘play dirty’ – such as by attacking humans for prey.

Well, obviously they weren’t surrounding them to congratulate them on being the millionth people to cross the desert. Mark just wondered why they hadn’t attacked yet. They were just standing still, staring at them with their fake eyes.

“Charmeleon,” he poked his partner, “we have… er, a bit of a problem.”

The lizard mumbled and grudgingly opened his eyes. Upon seeing the Scorplack, he jumped to his feet and faced them, growling.

“I think he has a point,” May said, standing up and taking four Pokéballs off her necklace. “Butterfree, Skarmory, Pikachu, Larvitar!”

“Sandshrew, Dratini, Scyther, go!” Mark shouted, releasing his Pokémon too.

Then the battle started.

As soon as the Pokémon came out of their Pokéballs, the Scorplack started crawling towards them, trying to sting them. Charmeleon did pretty well frying them before they came too near; Sandshrew had a certain resistance to poison as a Ground-type but Mark ended up recalling him because Earthquake did same as nothing in this sand. Dratini surrounded himself with a Twister, preventing the Scorplack from getting near enough. Scyther was too fast for them, swooping down and cutting their tails off to make them unable to harm the others. Thankfully, Scyther and Charmeleon were too busy to even notice each other.

May’s Pokémon were doing better than Mark’s. Butterfree fluttered above, sending flurries of toxic spores down to put a crowd of them to sleep at a time, while her Skarmory, being absolutely immune to poison of any kind, dove down to drill its beak into the scorpions. Pikachu aimed bolts of lightning at some of the bigger ones, but Larvitar attempted to blow them away with Sandstorm. Meanwhile, the kids, protected by their Pokémon, hurriedly packed their sleeping bags.

But the Scorplack were too many. Pikachu, Dratini, Butterfree and Larvitar got exhausted after a short while and their trainers recalled them. Scyther, Charmeleon and Skarmory fought valiantly, but Mark could see Charmeleon panting between his Flamethrowers.

Then he got stung.

While Charmeleon was catching his breath, one of the Scorplack swung its tail and hit the lizard’s leg. He went stiff, sent a powerful blast of flames at the Scorplack and kept fighting, but clearly sweating and growing weaker by every passing moment.

“Damn you, stupid thing!”

Mark turned around to see May kick a Scorplack away. Her ankle was bleeding and had a slightly purple hue.

“You got stung?” he asked, his eyes wide.

“No, that’s ketchup and food coloring,” she replied icily.

Mark was distracted by Charmeleon letting out a weak “Chaaar…” as he passed out. He recalled him, turning worriedly back to May as the moon and stars became their only light source. Maybe it was just the bluish-white light, but she seemed pale.

“I… I think… Skarmory could maybe carry us to Scorpio City… he knows Fly…” she said weakly.

Mark nodded, recalling Scyther, as Skarmory, who had heard that, landed. Both kids quickly jumped onto the bird’s steely back, and he took off. Mark breathed out a sigh of relief as they ascended, away from the Scorplack.

Then he discovered that May was unconscious.

-------

It wasn’t that long a flight to the borders of Scorpio City. Scorpio Valley was a big valley shaped oddly similar to a scorpion, and the city was located in the tail end. It was pretty small; calling it a city wasn’t really appropriate, but it was still called that because it had a Pokémon Gym.

Skarmory was getting exhausted after flying this way with two human kids on his back, and once they reached the city, he let himself glide down into the street and collapsed. Mark shot a quick look at May; she was very pale and completely limp.

He took one of the Pokéballs on her necklace and recalled the fainted bird, left alone with an unconscious girl on a street in the middle of the night.

“Help!” he shouted into the darkness. “Can somebody help me?”

But nobody answered.

He looked desperately around; a deep purple-painted building stood nearby, with the letters GYM on the front of it. The street lamps lit up an empty main road; all the houses were quiet.

He turned back to May and was jumped when he saw a young man wearing a black cape kneeling down beside her, touching her forehead.

“Scorplack,” the man muttered and checked her pulse.

He looked quickly up at Mark, his shoulder-length silver hair flashing back.

“Where did you come from?” Mark asked, puzzled at his sudden appearance. The man ignored his question and instead introduced himself in a fast but very clear, soft voice:

“My name is Mitch; I am the leader of the official Pokémon Gym of Scorpio City and an expert on poisons. Can you tell me how long has it been since she was stung?”

“Maybe ten, fifteen minutes,” Mark answered. “Why?”

Mitch ignored his question again. “How long did it take for her to pass out?”

“Not long, one or two minutes at the most, why?”

Mitch’s big, shiny, gray eyes observed him for a second; Mark got an uncomfortable feeling like he was being X-rayed.

“Then you should pray for her life.”

Mitch picked up the unconscious girl and ran swiftly towards the purple-colored building.

It took a bit of time for his last words to sink in, but then Mark hurried after him.

-------

He entered the Gym, panting. It split into three corridors; the left one had a sign on the wall saying TO THE BATTLE ARENA. The middle one ended in a door saying DO NOT ENTER. The right one led to another door, which was open. Mark carefully stepped through it.

The room he entered looked like an ordinary living room, with a few dark brown leather couches, a coffee table and a carpet with a navy and gold pattern on the floor. May was lying on the big sofa, but he didn’t see Mitch anywhere.

Speak of the devil, Mark thought as the young man from earlier stepped through the door behind him, not seeming surprised to see Mark there. Mark was going to apologize for walking inside like that, but Mitch just walked up to May and injected something into her arm.

Then he sat down in another couch and offered Mark a seat beside him. Hesitating, Mark sat down.

“Scorplack’s poison is very interesting,” said Mitch out of the blue, not looking at Mark, but rather straight into the air. “When it gets into your blood stream, it somehow slows down all cells it reaches. The longer it is in the body, the more everything slows down. Then finally, it all stops – unless the person has gotten the antidote in time. The antidote slows down the effect of the poison, so the timing is everything. If the poison kills before the antidote has stopped it, the victim dies. If the antidote stops it too late, the victim will live, but never wake up. Otherwise, the victim will heal completely.”

“Is she going to die?” Mark asked quietly.

“Maybe,” said Mitch slowly, still looking into the air rather than into Mark’s eyes.

“How are the odds?”

“Bad,” said Mitch simply. “If she fainted in one or two minutes, it must have been a strong Scorplack. Ten or twenty percent, I guess.”

“That’s awfully little…” Mark said with a horrible knot in his stomach.

“Odds are meaningless,” said Mitch calmly. “Imagine you’re holding a hundred-faced die. I walk up to you and say, ‘Give me ten thousand Pokédollars, throw the die and if you get hundred, I’ll pay you back a million’. You’d never take the offer. What are the odds you’ll get exactly hundred? It’s very unlikely that you’d be achieving anything except losing ten thousand Pokédollars. And as we all know, it’s just as unlikely that you’ll get ninety-nine, or ninety-eight. In fact, the odds for each side are so small that you’d never bet on one of them. Still, you can somehow throw it, and be positive that as unlikely as it is, you will get one of them. We could repeat it with a die that has a thousand faces, or a million. What are the odds that a mass of carbon can stand up and walk of its own accord? Almost none, yet you see the proof that it happened all around you. Do not think about odds. Odds are an illusion.”

Mark had never thought about it that way. He couldn’t think of an answer, so he said nothing. Neither did Mitch; he just kept staring at nothing.

“Does it hurt to have that poison in your body?” Mark suddenly asked.

“Not really,” Mitch said, still like he was speaking to the air. “It’s not comfortable, but doesn’t exactly hurt.”

“So, it’s a painless thing to die from?”

Mitch smiled faintly. “Those who know that are all dead, I’m afraid.”

“How do you know what having the poison in your body feels like, then?” Mark questioned.

Mitch nodded slowly. “I was just a kid, having just gotten my starter, a Venonat. We went into the desert, I stayed there for a bit too long and ran into one Scorplack that was a bit early, didn’t know it was dangerous and therefore didn’t watch out. I got stung, I caught it, and I fainted while I was walking back to Scorpio City.”

“But you were alone, weren’t you?” asked Mark, puzzled. “Who saved you?”

Mitch took his time answering this question; he peered at the starlit sky out of a window in the ceiling for a while, still with that faint smile on his lips.

“Nobody,” he finally answered. “I should be dead.”

Mark decided not to ask more about this.

“When will we know what will happen to her?”

Mitch stood up. “I left a sample of her blood in the research room. It should be ready now; wait here while I go to see the results. But you might find out before me. If she moves, she’s getting better. If she stops breathing, she’s dead.”

And he left Mark alone with May.

“Oh, please,” he muttered, “not this! Why can’t I have a normal journey without a Gym Leader giving me Mew or a madman threatening to kill me or somebody dying or deranged Pokémon or stupid nightmares?”

“It must be your fate to have difficulties,” said a soft voice inside his head. He jerked his head upwards to find Mew floating there. The pink creature’s eyes were filled with sadness.

“Mew! Just who I needed! Can’t you heal her?”

“No,” answered the Legendary Pokémon. “Scorplack’s affiliation with the element of darkness prevents psychic powers from affecting anything having to do with them.”

“But if she dies, you can just resurrect her, can’t you?” Mark questioned.

“She would merely die again, as the poison remains in her blood,” said Mew.

“Oh. Why are you following me?” Mark mumbled.

“I do not follow one person,” Mew said calmly. “I come when I feel that I should.”

“Really?” asked Mark dully.

“And now I feel I should leave,” said Mew before disappearing in a flash of purple.

There was a reason for that feeling, at least; Mitch entered just a second later.

“Good news,” he said. “She will most likely make it. She got the antidote in time. How do you know her, anyway?”

“Eh, we ended up going through the desert together, goodness knows how… it was her idea,” he quickly added.

“You didn’t get stung at all?” Mitch questioned.

“No, my Pokémon held them back…”

He suddenly realized what he had forgotten. His face went pale.

“Charmeleon! He also got stung! Quick, give him some antidote…”

Mark took out the Pokéball and sent out his unconscious lizard on the floor. Mitch bent down and examined him, then injected some of the antidote into his arm.

“Will he be okay?” Mark asked worriedly.

“Pokémon are stronger than many people give them credit for,” said Mitch with a smile. “One sting from a Scorplack won’t kill any decent Pokémon. Humans, however…”

He trailed off, but then started again.

“Amazing, isn’t it? Pokémon are superior to us, but we’re the ones who ‘own’ them. And there’s a reason for it. Pokémon, while quite matching our intelligence, lack one thing. It is creativity. On their own, Pokémon only use battling techniques passed down generation by generation. Taking two things we know and figuring out that we can make something new out of them, that is our specialty, and that is exactly what they can’t do. This is why they seek our company in the first place. We can teach them things that seem obvious to us, but their brains have never been built to understand. Even Alakazam, with an IQ of 5000, will battle far better with a human’s aid. We need each other…”

For a moment Mitch seemed to be in deep thought. Then he absent-mindedly picked Charmeleon up and placed him on the coffee table.

“Well, now we just have to wait. Want a drink?”


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