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The Quest for the Legends (ILCOE)

Chapter 34: Return to Cleanwater

They were on their way back to Stormy Town to get their Pokémon healed when they met Sparky on the road.

He looked at them with one of his amused grins. His silver shades were now appropriate for the first time: the sun was shining brightly, and nothing indicated that the town had before been eternally plagued by thunderstorms.

“Lovely weather, isn’t it?” Sparky said when none of the kids were saying anything.

“Um, yeah, I guess,” Mark replied awkwardly. Sparky raised an eyebrow, grinning even more.

“Oh, come on,” he chuckled. “We all know you had something to do with it. Or at least you can tell me why our beloved Mount Flash has lost a few of its meters above sea level since yesterday, since you happened to be positioned so close to it. I daresay all the evidence suggests that the explosions that woke up the whole town were connected to that.”

Mark looked quickly back at the mountain. Loose rocks and pebbles were still rolling down the slope, leaving behind a trail of swirling dust.

“Eh, well…”

“Or perhaps,” Sparky suggested, “you know something about the peculiar cloud formation I eyed through my window earlier? Or the intense Pokémon battle that appeared to be taking place in mid-air?”

“Oh f… crap,” Chaletwo groaned.

What should I tell him? Mark thought desperately.

“I don’t think he’d buy anything but the truth,” Chaletwo sighed. “He knows too much already, and if it’s true you woke up all the people in town… You know which bits to make up.”

Mark took a deep breath. “Well, see, we came here this morning to do some training…” He suddenly realized this wasn’t working out in an area devoid of wild Pokémon and quickly added: “…just against one another, I mean – more space here, you know – and then suddenly the mountain exploded and out came this electric dragon thing that attacked our Pokémon so we let them attack it back and finally defeated it.”

Sparky raised an eyebrow and looked around. “I don’t see a dragon anywhere. You didn’t catch it, did you?”

“We did,” Mark replied, not sure how else he could explain the dragon’s absence; he had after all already said they had defeated it, and then saying it had flown away would not make any sense. “And when we had caught it, the thunderstorm stopped, so we were thinking maybe the dragon was causing it all this time.”

Sparky surveyed him with interest. “Well, that’s strange.” Looking at Alan, he continued: “I thought your father had come here along with a team of researchers to do measurements in Thunderclap Cave, exactly because people suspected that sort of thing, and concluded that there was no sign of the presence of an Electric Pokémon powerful enough to be a cause for this kind of constant storm?”

“Well, he was wrong for once, then,” Alan said loudly. “Because you see, that thing nearly killed seventeen Pokémon, and if that’s powerful enough for you, we’d very much like to be able to get them to Nurse Joy as soon as possible, if you don’t mind.”

“Oh, of course – how very inconsiderate of me,” Sparky replied apologetically, got out of the way and then walked along by Mark’s side. “So, say, is there any way I could see this dragon you speak of?”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Mark said unsurely. “I mean, it might attack us or something…”

Sparky nodded. “Shame as it is, that does seem to make sense. Well, let’s not waste any more time on that for now, and instead let’s get your Pokémon under care.”

They hurried on the road back towards the city.

Once they entered Stormy Town, they saw something quite unusual for the town: there were people outdoors. The few remaining inhabitants all seemed to be standing on the streets, stretching their arms towards the beautiful sky in wondrous astonishment. Sparky only smiled as he watched them look questioningly at him, but strode confidently towards the Pokémon Center, the kids following his example. As they entered the familiar building once again, May handed her Pokéballs faintly to Mark and then collapsed into one of the waiting chairs.

He hadn’t really paid any particular attention to her from the end of the battle until now for some reason, but now he could see that she looked awfully pale and distraught. She sort of stared forward at nothing in particular with a blank expression on her face, like a guy in a movie Mark had seen once whose brain had been taken over by a group of evil Psychic Pokémon. He couldn’t help smiling slightly at the thought for a second, but forced it off his face, handed the Pokéballs quickly to the concerned-looking Alan and sat down beside May.

“Are you all right?”

“What?” she asked distractedly, snapping out of a trance. She looked at Mark. “Yes… yes, I’m fine…”

“You don’t look fine.”

“Well, I am,” May insisted. Mark sighed and decided not to bother her further; instead he just folded his arms on his chair and waited. May looked at Alan a couple of times, but Alan was too busy to pacing around by the counter to notice it, occasionally running his hand in distress through his messy hair while he waited for Sparky to get Nurse Joy.

“Alan, you know your Pokémon’s state is stable for as long as they’re in their Pokéballs,” Mark pointed out. “There’s no need to feel pressed for time.”

Alan abruptly looked at him. “Yeah, I know, but I’d still prefer to get my Pokémon under the hands of Nurse Joy as soon as… oh, speak of the devil.”

Sparky and Joy entered the room, both giggling at something they had been talking about. Alan looked even more frustrated at the fact Nurse Joy didn’t seem to be in a hurry at all. He thrust the eighteen minimized Pokéballs at her and she took them, still giggling. “Any that need special treatment?”

Alan looked blankly at her. “I… I think they’re all pretty severely injured, actually,” he said in a weird, high-pitched voice.

“Oh, dear,” the nurse said, rubbing her eyes. “Better get to work, then, I guess…”

She looked apologetically at Sparky, quickly organized the Pokéballs on trays and carried them into the back room.

“Don’t worry, she’ll fix them up in no time if they’re not dead already,” Sparky said cheerfully to Alan as he opened his mouth. Alan closed it again and now suddenly looked over at May.

“My God, are you okay?” he asked, hurrying over to her.

“I’m fine,” she emphasized. “That battle was just… a little haunting.”

She wiped her face quickly with her sleeve and shook her head.

“I… Do you think Lapras is going to be all right?” she murmured after a pause.

Alan sighed, knelt down in front of her chair and took her hand in his. “Of course she’ll be all right,” he said. “You heard Sparky. Nurse Joy can fix them up.”

May shook her head. “No, I mean… is she going to stay with me?”

Alan inhaled deeply. “I… I really can’t say. That’s Lapras’s own decision. Don’t think about that.”

“I need a Water and Ice Pokémon in my team,” May muttered. “There are Fire and Dragon Pokémon all over the League and…”

Alan let go off her hand, stood up, turned around and grabbed his hair with his fingers again. “Oh, my God…” he groaned before abruptly turning back again.

“Look, May… stop thinking about your team for once. Stop thinking about type-matchups and statistics and technicalities. Never mind all that. It’s trivial. Didn’t you ever read… or learn… at school… God, why don’t you get it? You’re not supposed to be concerned because you need a Water or Ice Pokémon in your team! You’re supposed to be concerned because of Lapras’s feelings!”

May didn’t really react at all; she was too busy staring intently at her fingernails. Alan ranted a little more in the same direction; he looked as if he were about to have a nervous breakdown over it, but Mark couldn’t help feeling that in fact May’s Water and Ice Pokémon remark had been more of an attempt to rationalize her feelings to herself. In a distant way he could identify with her – in his mind’s eye he saw Miss Taintor sneer at his eight-year-old self’s drawings and recalled the feeling of that horrifying realization of being imperfect, of being criticized for the first time after years of blissfully believing he had nothing to be despised for, of desperately wondering just why no one had ever told him before.

Despite feeling a little sorry for her, he smiled: it was only after that, after all, that he had finally become a good artist.

And even if May seemed unredeemable, Mark was certain that Lapras had done both her and her Pokémon a big favour.

“I’m starving,” May suddenly muttered, looking up as Alan stopped to breathe. “Sparky, do you serve breakfast?”

Sparky, who had been absent-mindedly examining his own Gym poster, turned innocently around. “Oh? …Oh, yes, we do! Let’s come over to the restaurant, shall we?”

Alan stopped tearing his hair out and nodded, taking a few deep breaths. “Okay. Breakfast. Sounds good.”

Mark was just realizing how hungry he was as well.

-------

They ate a nice cooked breakfast at the Gym before returning to the Pokémon Center to wait for Nurse Joy to bring their Pokémon back. Alan appeared to have calmed down after having taken his frustration out on May earlier, and she indeed looked subtly grateful for that. They just hung around and talked half-heartedly for a couple of hours before finally the nurse walked out of the back room with the Pokéball trays.

Alan sprang up immediately. “Are they all okay?”

“Not quite,” Nurse Joy admitted. “The Scyther and one of the Charizard are in quite a serious state – they seem to have fallen down from a great height after major electric shocks from what I can see, which is a nasty combination – and Butterfree is of course a frail Pokémon and is in a pretty bad state after similar levels of electric shock although she seems not to have fallen from such a great height or to have been recalled while still in the air. I think the Vaporeon is just barely conscious; I wouldn’t really advise her to battle very seriously for a couple of days. And God, that Skarmory is pretty bad off – half of him seems slightly melted and the other half bent. I think the Sandslash broke a bone, but you know how Pokémon are – it heals at absolutely amazing speed, so he is technically okay although he’s going to have a bit of a limp today. Oh, and that Jolteon seems to be in slight shock, but physically he’s all right. I think that’s all.”

Alan stared at her in horror.

“I’ve seen much worse than that,” Joy said helpfully. “And as I said, you know how Pokémon are – they’ll all be fine by tomorrow, I should think.”

Mark quickly went over the Pokémon in his head. This meant he had Charizard (assuming Nurse Joy had meant Charlie when she mentioned “one of the Charizard”), Jolteon (if he was willing to battle), Sandslash (albeit with a limp), Letal, Dragonair and Gyarados. May had Raichu, Pupitar, Spirit and – well, did she or did she not have Lapras? And Alan had Racko, Vicky, Diamond and Pamela – and technically Mist, but she was being advised not to battle.

“Well, that’s okay,” he said when no one else said anything. “We’ll just head out on our way, then, won’t we? You can transfer the Pokémon to other Pokémon Centers, right?”

Sparky nodded and smiled. “All right, then! It’s truly been great knowing you, and I sincerely hope we will meet again and that you will be bringers of more such fortune as what you have now brought to Stormy Town. No more thunderstorms! Who would have thought?”

Mark smiled slightly. “It’s been nice knowing you, too. Thanks for the birthday party.”

“Goodbye, then,” Nurse Joy said pleasantly. “Just ask the nurse wherever you’re heading to ring up the Stormy Town Pokémon Center sometime tomorrow and I’ll update you on the status of your Pokémon and send them over, all right?”

“Goodbye, both of you,” May said. “Thanks for the badge, Sparky.”

“Bye, and uh, I hope I’ll see you again sometime,” Alan said in an attempt to be cheerful.

“I hope so too,” Sparky replied. “Unless we’re going to be too busy with all the new business we’re going to get now that the town’s weather conditions aren’t as unattractive anymore.” He grinned widely under his shades.

The kids picked up their bags and Pokéballs. “Well, bye, then,” Mark said awkwardly as they turned to exit. As they left, he looked over his shoulder and could see Sparky waving enthusiastically.

-------

Chaletwo? Mark thought once they were walking southwest on the road that went towards Crater Town. Where do we go now?

Chaletwo’s ever-present voice sighed. “Suicune,” he said. “Go through Thunderclap Cave, and then take the Route 317 shortcut to Cleanwater City. You should easily make it before nightfall.”

Mark was taken aback. But we can’t battle another legendary now! he protested. At least four of our Pokémon are seriously injured!

“No matter,” Chaletwo replied. “You can still try. Suicune is different. He won’t kill you if you don’t beat him. He’ll just run for it and return the next evening as usual. I know what he’s like.”

Mark was a little sceptical, but did not reply.

“All right, Chaletwo says we should go to Cleanwater City to fight Suicune,” he said aloud. Yet again, May and Alan were walking ahead of him; Alan turned around.

“Huh?” he asked quizzically. “With half of our Pokémon still recovering from the last legendary battle at a Pokémon Center? Is he nuts?”

“I’m perfectly sane, thank you,” Chaletwo said coldly. “I just happen to realize that if there is any chance we manage to get Suicune tonight, then we should get Suicune tonight. As I was saying to Mark, Suicune won’t kill you if he defeats your Pokémon, he won’t kill them, and he will still return tomorrow evening, guaranteed.”

Alan looked every bit as sceptical as Mark, but did not protest. May said nothing.

So Mark had no choice but to say what they were probably all thinking himself: “Eh, just how sure are you of that?”

“Absolutely sure!” Chaletwo replied, irritated. “Suicune is one of the traditionalist legendaries. He follows Mew like a sheep. As far as he’s concerned, cleaning the lake is what he is ‘meant’ to do, and if it is his ‘fate’ to be caught while doing so, so be it. Suicune isn’t the type to kill anybody.”

Gyarados would beg to differ, Mark couldn’t help thinking.

“Well, he doesn’t look dead to me, does he?” Chaletwo snapped. “Just do it! You already agreed to take part in it. Now trust me and do as I say. Go through Thunderclap Cave; it’s a shortcut.”

Mark couldn’t help thinking he hadn’t really agreed to do anything and Chaletwo had never presented this as a choice of any kind, but if Chaletwo picked that up from his mind at all, he didn’t respond.

“Cleanwater City sounds fine to me,” May muttered at last. “I caught Lapras at the Lake of Purity. It would be a nice place to talk to her.”

Mark looked at her. “Well, okay, I guess,” he said. “Let’s go, then.”

They walked on back towards Mount Flash on the same road as they had that morning, but this time the sun was shining brightly and there was hardly a cloud to be seen. May’s mood seemed to be getting better as well. She had released Spirit, who was now trotting along with them, and her presence seemed to cheer her trainer up considerably.

“I should really get to catching some more Pokémon,” May said randomly. “I’ve only got six, after all, and it’s always nice to have some backup, right? You need six for the League, don’t you? I’d better get a few more…”

Alan just smiled awkwardly. “Well, don’t… I mean, don’t treat them as replaceable or anything. If Lapras goes, then… having another Pokémon in her stead doesn’t just fix it.”

“I don’t think it does!” she replied defensively. “I – I just… I want a decent number of Pokémon, that’s all!”

“Stop bickering,” Mark said and sighed. “You’re like a married couple.”

“We’re not!” May shouted, her face beet red, and strode ahead of the boys in frustration. Spirit smirked and galloped after her.

Mark couldn’t help giggling.

“Oh, shut up,” Alan said and elbowed Mark loosely before hurrying to catch up with May again. Mark just shook his head, grinning, and kept on walking. He didn’t mind so much that he was last anymore. Bizarrely, he was also feeling much more at ease about the upcoming Suicune battle than he had about Thunderyu, even though reason told him he should be very concerned about the considerably reduced numbers of Pokémon they had to fight it with. In fact, he felt even mildly excited.

Feelings, he concluded, were insane.

They climbed the mountain at a steady pace and it was not long before they reached the entrance to Thunderclap Cave in roughly the middle of the hillside. The mouth of the cave was a large crack that was wide at the bottom but narrowed to nothing a few meters up the cliff. The darkness inside was decidedly eerie.

“Okay, who knows Flash?” Alan asked, looking at May.

She shook her head. “It’s an awful move,” she just said.

“Mark?”

He looked blankly at Alan and shook his head, but then realized, “Well, Charizard’s tail flame should do the trick.”

Alan slapped his forehead. “Oh, yeah,” he muttered. “I forgot your Charizard was still okay.”

Mark somehow felt a little bit guilty that Charizard had recovered but Charlie had not, but said nothing. He just took out Charizard’s Pokéball and dropped it onto the ground so that the dragon emerged. He looked around quickly, but then at Mark and smiled awkwardly.

“Nurse Joy told me you caught Thunderyu, so congratulations, I guess.” He paused for a second. “Why did you send me out?”

Alan pointed at the cave entrance. “We were just hoping your tail flame would be able to light up the interior of the ca…”

He stopped dead as a loud, threatening bark sounded from the shadowy insides of the cave. A sudden flash of light lit up the dark cave so that momentarily they could see the tunnel sloping down into total darkness; the source of the light and the bark was a small, green, doglike Pokémon with an oddly cone-shaped head and ears, which had just flashed with electric light for a second to illuminate its surroundings.

“Trike!” it barked again from the darkness and growled.

“Let me handle it,” Charizard just said and stepped towards the mouth of the cave. He let out a quiet, frightening growl before breathing a tongue of fire straight forward. The orange light illuminated the cave again; they saw the little Electrike yelp and recoil in fear before its head sparkled with electricity and a bolt of lightning rushed towards Charizard. The dragon roared in pain, his fire clearing away and leaving the cave in darkness again before he angrily fired a Flamethrower at random into the crack. The fire lit up the rocks; the Electrike appeared to have fled.

Charizard growled in annoyance but climbed into the cave, swung his tail flame to his side so that it would light up the surroundings, and led the way in.

The descent was slow; numerous times, Charizard was forced to wait with his tail flame over some particularly rough terrain while the kids attempted to cross it. Occasionally they saw a flash of light from deeper within the cave, illuminating the tunnel for a brief moment.

“Dad told me that in Thunderclap Cave, the Electric Pokémon have evolved to know Flash from birth and use it to see around,” Alan told them. “If they get lost, they just use Flash for a quick look at their surroundings, go however far that allowed them to see, and then Flash again. They have also evolved a photographic memory to save energy between individual uses of the move. Then many other Pokémon in the cave have evolved to depend entirely upon waiting for an Electric Pokémon when they need to see. It’s pretty amazing.”

“Really?” May asked with interest. “Then what sort of Pokémon are the others? Just the typical cave stuff, or…”

She recoiled backwards after realizing she had stepped on something too smooth to be a rock. Charizard quickly swung his tail forward to reveal a startled little Pokémon. It looked like a bug with a brown shell and a massive round head which May had apparently stepped on; it screwed its shiny black eyes shut at the light of the fire while snapping randomly at the air with its jagged mouth.

“A Trapinch!” May exclaimed in delight. “I’m catching it! Go, Butterfree, and use a Sleep Powder before it gets away!”

She threw a Pokéball, and her butterfly emerged in a bright shower of light.

“Piiiinch!” the Pokémon screamed and ran for it into the cave.

“Charizard, follow so Butterfree can see!” May hissed, running after the Trapinch with her two Pokémon. Charizard clumsily dashed after them, his legs not made for running; the boys followed hesitantly.

They were in luck: the Trapinch, without an Electric Pokémon’s Flash to guide it, had stumbled into a dead end, bumped into the wall and was cornered when Charizard’s tail flame illuminated the scene.

“Piiiinch!” the Pokémon shrieked and ran at May’s leg, clamping its powerful jaws around her ankle.

“Youch!” May’s mouth curled into an expression of disgust as she attempted wildly but unsuccessfully to shake the Trapinch off her. When she realized it was holding on strongly as ever, she changed her strategy and began to kick at the cave wall, smashing the Trapinch repeatedly into it.

“Stop it! You’re hurting it!” Alan shouted, horrified.

“It’s hurting me too, isn’t it?” May snapped, but stopped it anyway. “Butterfree, Sleep Powder! And don’t get any on me!”

She held her leg out, and the butterfly Pokémon flapped her wings while May turned in the other direction and held her breath. Sparkly, green dust sprinkled over the horrified antlion Pokémon, and within seconds it was fast asleep, its eyes peacefully shut and its legs limp.

“Oh, damn it,” May muttered as she recalled Butterfree. “Its jaws aren’t loosening.”

“We’ll have to pry it off, I guess,” Alan said, sounding a little worried. “Mark, help me with this.”

The boys knelt down and grabbed the Trapinch’s jaws to try to force them apart, but they wouldn’t budge. May’s leg was bleeding a little underneath the jagged edges of its mouth.

She slapped her forehead. “Oh, of course. This is a much easier way. I should have thought of it before.”

And she plucked a Pokéball off her necklace and dropped it at the Trapinch so that it dissolved into red energy and was absorbed into the ball.

She cringed in pain and examined the bleeding teeth marks on her ankle as the ball wobbled on the ground and stilled with a soft ping. “Nasty. Hey, Alan, will you get some bandages out of my bag?”

She reached for the Pokéball with Trapinch, minimized it and reattached it to her necklace while Alan opened the blue bag slung over her shoulder and browsed through its contents. He quickly found a box of bandages and applied a few to May’s ankle while Mark looked around in the light of Charizard’s flame. Spirit was standing there calmly as usual, looking at her trainer with an inscrutable expression; behind her, the path split into two tunnels and at least one of them, he could see in the short-ranged light of Charizard’s flame, split again.

“This place is like a maze,” he said. “How are we going to know which way to go?”

“Easy enough,” Spirit said and smirked before turning semitransparent and dashing into the nearest wall.

“You show-off,” May said and smiled as she stood up. “Thanks, Alan.”

“Don’t mention it, but uh…” Alan asked hesitantly, “exactly what is Spirit doing?”

“Oh, she likes to do that when people get lost. She just runs through the walls to find the exit and then tries to trace the way back in solid form. It’s not that efficient – back home, we were once stuck in Ilex Forest for two hours even with her running around back and forth between Goldenrod and me. In the end she got so exhausted from keeping herself in spirit form that we needed somebody else to help me.”

But just as May was giggling at the thought, Spirit reappeared in one of the tunnels; Mark couldn’t help thinking she looked slightly offended that May had actually told them that story.

“The way out is not long,” she said. “Follow me.”

They followed Spirit and Charizard ahead in silence; they saw the occasional flash of electricity, but the Pokémon appeared to have mostly noticed their presence by now and reached the general consensus that they were best left alone. They walked on in silence for a while.

May sighed. “Well, I got that Trapinch,” she said in an attempt to start a conversation. “It won’t be of much use against Suicune, though…”

“A Pokémon’s value isn’t measured in…” Alan began.

“Yes, I get it already!” May snapped, interrupting him. “Love your Pokémon and all that! No need to beat it into my head! I’m just trying to say that Trapinch isn’t going to be a big help in that battle, okay? And don’t say any Pokémon can beat any Pokémon, because that’s not how it works and you know it. Stop being so politically correct, will you?”

Alan opened his mouth, but closed it again in defeat.

“Thank you,” May said shortly, but was just turning around when a sudden flash of bright electrical light momentarily illuminated the entirety of room they were in. She gasped in astonishment: they had just entered a gigantic chamber full of magnificent stalactites and stalagmites, often joined into great columns of many meters tall reaching from floor to ceiling.

“That’s awesome,” Alan breathed in the darkness. “Dad told me about this, but I never saw it for myself.”

Charizard swung his tail quickly towards one of the columns and the source of the previous flash of electricity was revealed: a Manectric stood beside it, bared its fangs at them and growled, its pyramid-shaped mane sparkling with electricity.

“Spirit, Flamethrower!” May yelled.

The Ninetales leapt out in front of them, opened her mouth and breathed out a swirling tongue of flames, but the blue dog quickly shielded itself behind the column while charging up electricity. Just as Spirit stopped to breathe, it jumped out again and fired a bolt of electricity at her. She growled in pain as the electricity singed her fur, but quickly shook the ash off; flames formed in her mouth as she leapt around the column and breathed a blast of flames straight at the Manectric. It yelped in pain as it was scorched by the fire, but shook it off quickly and countered with a Thunder Wave before leaping to the other end of the column again to growl at Charizard.

Spirit tried to jump after it, but the paralysis made her clumsy and instead she crashed harshly into the column of rock. The Manectric used the opportunity to turn quickly around and fire a powerful Thunderbolt at her.

Spirit lay there weakly and didn’t move; Mark wasn’t sure if she was on the verge of fainting or just fully paralyzed, and had no time to think about it before Charizard shot a Flamethrower at the dog Pokémon. It leapt quickly out of the way and the fire instead engulfed Spirit; Mark was worried for a second, but then looked at May and saw she looked perfectly calm.

“She has the Flash Fire ability,” she said to Mark as Spirit, unharmed but glowing with an orange aura, rose painfully up. “Fire just powers her up…”

The tired Manectric crouched down, growled and leapt at her, but miscalculated the jump by an inch and landed right on the column, where it dropped back down to the cave floor. It stood up, but just as it got to its feet, Charizard swung his tail with a roar, smashing it into the dog Pokémon’s body and, at the same time, the column.

It wasn’t a particularly strong column. It had been hit by blasts of fire and electricity and rammed powerfully by three different Pokémon, and now it cracked.

As Charizard’s tail passed, it took the column with it. Mark watched in panic as it collapsed and some of the ceiling with it; the kids and the Pokémon scattered in disorganization around the chamber while chunks of rock smashed into the floor. It took a little while after the last pieces had settled before anyone dared to move.

“You guys all okay?” Alan asked from somewhere in the darkness and Charizard moved his tail flame to illuminate him. They all confirmed they were fine.

“So where’s the exit to this room, Spirit?” May asked shakily.

“This way,” Spirit said, fading back into solidness from the spirit form, which she seemed to have narrowly managed to get into while too paralyzed to escape the rocks. Mark thought he could just barely make out her ghostly white form still emitting just a slight glow where she was; then she breathed out a small flame to show herself, illuminating her form with orange light, and he figured he must have been imagining it. He began to walk carefully across the room after Spirit by the light of Charizard’s tail flame.

There was a loud bonk and an array of swear words.

Charizard quickly swung his tail flame in the direction of the sound; May had tripped and fallen headfirst into the floor. She rubbed her head painfully, drying some blood off her forehead with the back of her hand before pushing herself to her feet.

“I’m fine,” she emphasized and Charizard momentarily turned his flame away from her. Then she let out a yelp of fear.

“What is it?” Alan called and hurried over. Charizard once again moved his tail flame in May’s direction. She was staring in horror down at what she had tripped over. Mark’s heart skipped a beat.

It was the limp body of the Manectric, half-crushed beneath a large chunk of rock. The blood that May’s leg was drenched in was not her own, but originated in a large puddle at her feet.

Alan stopped dead in his tracks. “Oh, God,” he just said.

“Is… is it dead?” Mark asked quietly, unable to think of anything else to do or say.

“I don’t know,” May just said in a broken voice. “Oh, God. Damn it.”

Mark approached carefully, not sure what he was planning to do if he was even planning to do anything at all. May walked unsteadily around the Pokémon to its head, which was facing towards Mark.

Its eyes flicked open, glazed over; he could see its furred chest rising and falling irregularly as it struggled to breathe. It took a look at them, one of pure hatred, and uttered with difficulty three words in its language:

“Let me die.”

“If I capture it, we can maybe get it to a Pokémon Ce…” May began, but was cut off by a low, intimidating growl.

“I don’t want your help, human. Let me die in peace.”

The Manectric closed its eyes; its irregular breathing slowed down, and then it stopped.

May took a couple of steps back away from it. Mark could see her shiver even from where he stood.

“I should have caught it anyway,” she muttered.

“No, it’s… if it didn’t want… I… oh, God,” Alan replied incomprehensibly.

Mark just couldn’t think of anything to say. His mind seemed numb; he looked again at May’s bloodstained clothes and felt a little nauseous all of a sudden. They had watched the Manectric die. They had been unable to do anything about it – or just unwilling?

“Trike?” came a little squeak from the darkness. Mark watched with dread as a tiny version of the Pokémon they had first seen when they entered the cave stepped carefully into the light of Charizard’s flame. The Electrike pup looked at them hesitantly through large blue eyes, sniffing the air, but apparently came to the conclusion they were not dangerous; it winced as the smell of blood wafted through its nostrils and then unsteadily approached the Manectric’s body. It instinctively searched the dead Pokémon’s underbelly for a nipple and found one, but just poked it with its nose, sensing that something was not right.

“Oh, God,” Mark said limply. “It… she was a mother.”

The Electrike poked its mother with its muzzle but got no response. It tried again.

“Hey, there, little guy,” Alan whispered, taking a careful step towards the Electrike. It backed fearfully away and gave its mother another desperate prod. “I don’t think your mommy is coming back.”

It understood the words, but did not comprehend their meaning. It gave Alan a puzzled look and its mother another push.

“She’s dead. She won’t stand up.”

At first it mystified Mark how this seemed to have a meaning to the Electrike unlike Alan’s previous way of putting it; the Pokémon stared up at him in disbelief, but the puzzlement was gone. Then he realized that a wild Pokémon would be bound to have an idea of death early on; he recalled when he had found Jolteon as an Eevee and again felt a little nauseous as he realized maybe something like this had happened to Jolteon’s mother.

“Here, why don’t I just take care of you instead?” Alan asked softly. “You’ll be okay. Trust me.”

The Electrike looked sceptically between its dead mother and Alan and then growled.

“It’s okay,” Alan repeated. “You still need somebody to take care of you, right? I don’t want you to die too.”

The Electrike looked sadly at its mother and considered it. “Trike trike,” it muttered; it was clearly too young to speak proper Pokémon speech yet.

“I’m just going to make sure you get food and shelter, all right? No battling or anything – you’re too young and I quit training, anyway. Just relax. I won’t hurt you.”

Alan was now squatting on the ground and extended his hand; the Pokémon backed away.

“Come on,” he said desperately. “You’re going to die if you’re alone! Your mother died because she refused our help!”

Mark could see that Alan immediately regretted having said the last bit. The Electrike barked loudly at Alan and growled with newfound conviction now that it knew its mother had preferred death over human help, but then it turned quickly around and sped back into the darkness.

“No!” Alan yelled, but the Pokémon had vanished like it had never been there at all. He waited for a second as if to see if it would come back.

“We… we killed them,” he muttered at last.

“It’s not our fault,” May said shakily, avoiding having to look at the Manectric’s body. “The column collapsed, and if that Electrike didn’t want to be helped, that’s its own business.”

Nobody said anything for a while.

“Come on,” May finally said. “Let’s go. No point staying here.”

“Are we just going to leave her like that?” Alan asked unsurely, wincing as he looked at the dead Pokémon again. “I mean… shouldn’t we bury her or something?”

“This is nature,” May said in an unusually harsh voice. “You think wild Pokémon normally get buried when they die? At least this way she’ll be of some use if some other Pokémon in the cave need some easy food. Maybe that Electrike can eat her while it’s still too young to hunt on its own, if her body doesn’t have too much sentimental value. We have no business doing anything with her. Let’s just go.”

“But…”

“I… I think I agree with May,” Mark finally said, swallowing a lump in his throat. “Let’s get out of here as soon as possible. There’s nothing we can do for her… I mean… whatever we do won’t bring her back to life.”

“Chaletwo!” Alan suddenly yelled, looking wildly at Mark. “Chaletwo! You can resurrect people, right?”

“Not if their bodies are crushed like that,” Chaletwo’s voice answered with a sigh. “It’s sad that Manectric died and all, but you kids really have more important things to think about. You have to get to Cleanwater City before sunset. Just go.”

Alan winced hopelessly, clearly not satisfied with this conclusion but not too keen on arguing with Chaletwo. “I guess,” he muttered.

Charizard spared a long look at the dead Manectric, but said nothing before they continued the walk through the cave after Spirit’s lead. Spirit was admittedly still paralyzed and they had no Paralyz Heals, so she was occasionally having some trouble moving. They walked in silence now, all battling spirit gone; they saw a few wild Pokémon that illuminated the cave with the occasional bright Flash, but they were all small and did not pursue a battle, intimidated by the sight of Charizard and Spirit.

At last they saw light and climbed out of a wide crack in the other side of the mountain.

They admired the view. Rainbow Woods hugged the roots of the mountain below; past that, Cleanwater City stretched out over most of the area with Routes 301 and 302 on either side, Sailance just barely visible in the distance to the northwest, and the Lake of Purity southwest of the city, also surrounded by the beautiful forest.

“So yeah,” May said finally. “We’re out.”

Alan nodded stupidly.

“Yeah,” May repeated, staring transfixed at the lake in the distance before suddenly snapping out of her trance and looking at Mark. “So are we going to continue?”

Mark nodded dully. “Well, no use lingering here.”

It was a rather uneventful walk. While Thunderclap Cave had had Pokémon, this part of Rainbow Woods seemed to have extraordinarily few, most likely because Pokémon in the area could so easily simply move a bit south to an area of the forest they felt more comfortable in. They saw a couple of Pidgey, but they seemed wary and nervous, suggesting that they had only ventured into this area of the forest in daring hopes of finding more food where there were fewer Pokémon to compete with. The kids arrived in Cleanwater City around five o’clock, tired, hungry, still in shock and generally not at all up for fighting another battle of epic proportions in a couple of hours.

“Chaletwo,” Mark moaned when they had signed into their rooms at the hotel and were all resting in Mark’s room with a few packages of fast food, “are you sure we can’t just do this tomorrow?”

“You can try again tomorrow if necessary! There’s no need to delay the battle before even trying it. You beat Thunderyu, and Suicune can’t fly. Of course you can do this.”

“We only have two thirds of the Pokémon we had this morning, for Christ’s sake!” Alan said hotly. “There’s no way we can do this and it’s putting ourselves and our Pokémon in unnecessary danger!”

“You have a chance,” Chaletwo insisted. “And I told you nobody’s going to die, okay?”

Alan opened his mouth to say something, but abandoned the plan midway through and just closed his mouth again.

“Well, then finish eating, at least, and then get over to the lake. Hurry up a little.”

They ate their food nervously and then headed outside; Spirit had been healed at the Pokémon Center when they had first arrived in the city so her sleek and graceful movements were back and she repeatedly trotted ahead of them on the road before waiting for them, walking for a moment by May’s side and then dashing ahead again. They watched nervously as the sun moved slowly but steadily down in the western sky ahead of them.

“Suicune arrives at the northwestern bank of the lake,” Chaletwo told them as they walked. “And you should not get yourselves seen, so it would be best for you to go into the forest about there and wait there until everybody is gone and then get ready to take on Suicune. Oh – he might just dip a paw in the lake and then run away, which might be a problem. Any of your Pokémon got Mean Look?”

“I do,” said Spirit, who was at the moment walking alongside May.

“So does Vicky,” Alan replied, “but does that mean they’re going to be in some particular danger?”

“No, no,” Chaletwo said distractedly. “Both of them can turn invisible, right? It’s best if you kids hide in the forest with your Pokémon inside their balls so Suicune won’t notice anything while Spirit and Vicky wait somewhere closer, invisible. Then when Suicune is purifying the water, they pop out, work together to trap him with Mean Look as quickly as possible and then immediately you jump out, send out your Pokémon and bring him down. Sound like a plan?”

Alan shrugged, not seeming overly impressed. “I guess so.”

When they arrived at the lake, the tourist crowd was already beginning to thin, but it was nonetheless easy to sneak unnoticed into the forest.

“Why does the forest have to be so dense in here?” May complained, disentangling her foot from the undergrowth for the umpteenth time. As she shook her shoe out of the wiry roots, she suddenly froze.

“Wait a minute,” she said. “What’s that?”

“What?”

Then Mark saw it too: he caught a glimpse of something hiding behind a tree not too far by that moved.

The end of a leek stuck out from the side of the tree.

“Farfetch’d,” Mark and May realized at the same time. Alan came up to see what they were looking at.

“Spirit, Quick Attack!” May suddenly shouted, startling the brown duck Pokémon to fly clumsily up from the ground just as the Ninetales dashed towards it at amazing speed and tackled it back down to the ground.

“Flamethrower now!” May ordered. The Farfetch’d quacked and slapped Spirit in the side of her face with its leek so that it managed to make another attempt to fly up, but she quickly breathed a plume of fire that scorched its feathers and sent it crashing back into the ground, seemingly already defeated.

May looked at it.

“Going to catch it?” Alan asked.

Mark saw her upper lip quiver slightly in something close to disgust. “No,” she said. “Farfetch’d are really we…”

She stopped there, squeezed her eyes momentarily shut and then inhaled. “They’re rare,” she corrected herself. “It’s better for the species if… you shut up, Mark,” she added in a hiss as he began to giggle at the much too obvious attempt to evade Alan’s ever-watching political correctness alarm. Alan, however, either didn’t notice or pretended not to; his face was now beaming with some mixture of pride and encouragement.

“Come on, Spirit,” May just sighed and they went on.

The sun was rapidly approaching the horizon and already most of the people by the lakeside were gone. The kids waited just inside the forest and watched some of the last tourists leave.

“Isn’t it amazing how easily you can forget about the existence of your Pokémon while it’s in its Pokéball?” May suddenly muttered. “I need to talk to Lapras. Can’t I go down to the lake and send her out?”

“I think everybody’s gone, pretty much,” said Mark, watching a couple of women on the other side of the lake recall their Pokémon and begin to walk towards the city. They couldn’t see anybody else in the area.

“Okay,” May replied, walked the few meters down to the lakeside and reached for her Pokéball necklace.

Then she stopped.

“Um…” she began forcedly, “maybe it would be nice if we… you know… we caught quite a few of our Pokémon by this lake, didn’t we? Maybe they’d like to… dunno, see their families again or something? Just while we’re here?” She looked questioningly between Mark and Alan.

“That’s a great idea, May!” Alan said happily, sending her another beaming smile. Mark suppressed a giggle.

“Well, yeah, it’s not a bad idea,” he concurred, shrugged and took out his Pokéballs. He took a last quick look at the other side of the lake; the two women were gone and there was nobody in sight anymore. “Go, everybody!” he declared and threw his Pokéballs along with the others.

As the Pokémon materialized on the bank – with the notable exception of Gyarados who of course appeared in the lake – May hesitated before taking out her last ball.

“Lapras, go.”

The giant turtle appeared in the water and looked around before turning to her trainer and waiting for her to say something.

May sighed, opened her mouth, closed it again and sighed again.

“What do you want, Lapras?” she asked finally. “Should I release you or… try to be a better trainer or something?”

Lapras looked around the lake again and shivered uncomfortably. “I never liked it here,” she just said.

“So then you’ll stay with me?” May asked, perhaps a bit too quickly.

Lapras swallowed. After a long silence, she answered: “No. You’ll take me somewhere else, maybe to the sea, and release me there.”

May’s gaze flickered from Mark on her left to Alan on her right and she nodded slowly. “What about until then?”

Lapras took a while to think about it, glancing insecurely between Mark, May, Alan and her own reflection in the lake.

“I won’t battle for you,” she then reiterated what she had said in the morning. “But I understand I may be needed in the legendary battles. I will fight then, but not for your gain.”

Mark could tell from the awkward expression on May’s face that the words stung, but she managed herself pretty well regardless. “Okay, then,” she said quietly. “Then that’s what we’ll do.”

There was a second of silence as May and Lapras looked momentarily into each other’s eyes.

“Thank you,” said Lapras softly, dissolved into red energy and disappeared back into her Pokéball, which May shakily replaced on her necklace.

Alan patted her on the back. “Cheer up,” he said. “My dad had to release a lot of Pokémon who wanted to go, and you know what he became. Well, granted,” he added as an afterthought, “I don’t think any of his Pokémon actually made the choice to leave out of dislike for him per se, but… having to release a Pokémon isn’t the end of the world.”

May took a deep breath. “I’m fine,” she insisted for the third time that day. “Really. Stop worrying about me.”

Then she turned to all the Pokémon. “Okay,” she announced, her voice trembling a little bit at first but otherwise sounding normal. “We’re going to try to battle Suicune in a little while, but now, if you were caught here, this is your chance to go back to where you used to live or something. Just be sure to be back in…” she looked at her watch, “half an hour, okay? Then we’ll go over strategies and such before Suicune actually appears…”

“Jolteon, are you all right for this battle?” Mark asked his Pokémon quietly. “You don’t need to take part if you don’t want to…”

“I’ll fight,” he replied. “It’s scary, but we have to do it, don’t we?”

Mark nodded. “Okay, then. So now you have half an hour… why don’t you just relax and try to enjoy yourself or something?”

Jolteon responded with a nod and trotted off with Letal; Dragonair was already in the air practicing his flying skills and Sandslash had presumably gone to see the Sandshrew he had grown up with. Mark felt somehow alone with only Gyarados and Charizard by his side now that almost all the other Pokémon had left; only Spirit stayed with May, who was stroking her absent-mindedly, and all of Alan’s Pokémon had appreciated the fresh air and disappeared into the woods somewhere.

“Mark.”

He looked up. It was Gyarados; the sea monster’s eyes flickered back and forth in visible discomfort.

“I hate this place. I hate Suicune. Do I need to take part in this battle?”

Mark was slightly taken aback by the question; he had figured Gyarados would in fact particularly like the opportunity to fight Suicune.

“Well, if you don’t want to,” he said, “but why don’t you want to fight Suicune? You seemed pretty enthusiastic about it before.”

Gyarados stared at the woods where Suicune would come out. “I know, but I don’t want it now. Can you be without me?”

Mark honestly thought the situation looked pretty hopeless. Gyarados had an extremely powerful attack that he had been hoping would perhaps be able to make up for the fact they had considerably fewer Pokémon to fight with this time. But ultimately, he had just been watching May have to release a Pokémon because she had forced it to fight battles it didn’t want, and he wasn’t planning to have to repeat that episode.

“Well, I think it will be a pretty hard battle without you,” Mark finally replied, “but if you really don’t want to, that has to be up to you, I guess.”

For a moment Gyarados seemed to smirk; then in an instant, that expression was gone.

“Thanks,” he said, and like Lapras, he recalled himself into his Pokéball.

Mark sighed; May and Alan were talking as they so often did, so the only one he had left to talk to was Charizard. In fact, now that he thought about it, he found it funny Charizard was sitting there staring into the air rather than flying with Dragonair.

“Anything bothering you?” he asked, sitting down beside his Pokémon.

Charizard sighed. “I killed that Manectric.”

“It wasn’t your fault,” Mark said immediately.

“It’s not that,” Charizard said slowly. “It’s more that… I didn’t feel bad about it. I mean, not instinctively. My conscious mind did, but there was also something just telling me ‘Fresh meat’.” He shuddered. “Sorry. I was raised in captivity. I’m not used to hunting, but the basic programming is still there. I guess it creeps me out a little bit.”

Mark nodded, but the subject of the dead Manectric still made him feel an uncomfortable sting in his heart. Neither of them said anything for a while.

“Well,” Charizard said slowly, “I guess I’ll just go with Dragonair, then.” Mark nodded again and watched his first Pokémon take off and join Dragonair in the air. He looked at his watch; it had been twenty minutes now. He saw Sandslash already approaching from the other bank where he had been. For some reason he felt butterflies in his stomach at this point. Second legendary battle in one day. And it was rapidly approaching.

The Pokémon gathered back with their trainers and Chaletwo got ready to make his speech.

“Okay, then,” said the telepathic voice in their heads. “It’s time for the second legendary battle. Some of you got very hurt this morning, but this time there will be no air chases and no electricity, which ought to make things a little easier for at least some of you.

“The basic idea is much the same as against Thunderyu. Remember that Suicune is very powerful. However, the fundamental difference lies in that Suicune is not dangerous. He will not kill you. He will not attack your trainers. Most of all he would like to avoid having a battle at all, but of course that means we have to force him into one. For this, we need Victoria the Misdreavus and Spirit the Ninetales to make a joint effort to trap him with Mean Look before the battle itself begins. The plan is that they will wait, invisible, while Suicune arrives, and only after they have trapped him will the trainers send the rest of you out, at which time you need to be quick to rush in and distract Suicune, because if he manages to beat both Victoria and Spirit to unconsciousness, he will no longer be trapped and will be sure to have escaped from our grasp within seconds. Like this morning, you need to think for yourselves some; your trainers can only think about one or two of you at a time.

“Remember teamwork and cooperation. Together you can hopefully bring Suicune down. If not, you can try again tomorrow. Try not to get yourselves injured too much. Don’t do anything too bold. We have time here.

“And Mark – like last time, keep your eyes on Suicune so I can see what’s going on, all right? Now, let’s get you all recalled except Spirit and Victoria, and then we’ll just wait.”

Mark looked nervously at the others as he recalled all of his Pokémon. In a few seconds of flashing red light, only the Ninetales and the Misdreavus remained out.

“Okay, both of you turn yourselves invisible and wait there just by the edge of the lake. Suicune should be arriving any moment now. Kids, get into the forest there by the sides.”

Mark backed away on one side and May and Alan on the other, disappearing behind the trees. Again, Mark felt butterflies in his stomach as he watched Spirit and Vicky fade away and disappear entirely from sight. Now it was just waiting.

“Kids?” came Chaletwo’s voice suddenly. “Just making one thing clear. In the case Suicune does defeat all your Pokémon… you run for it, understand?”

“I thought you were ‘absolutely certain’ Suicune wouldn’t attack us,” Alan replied with some mixture of disdain and terror.

“Well, I am,” Chaletwo said shortly, “but you can never be too careful.”

It was getting cooler with the evening. Mark shivered, perhaps from cold or perhaps from fear.

With an increasing feeling of dread, they waited for nightfall.


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