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The Quest for the Legends (ILCOE)

Chapter 56: The Ouen Safari

Mark and May arrived at the gates of the Ouen Safari the next morning after a silent but relievingly tension-free journey. Regardless, May was obviously quiet and distracted and Mark couldn’t help finding it a little worrying that she hadn’t yet shown any signs of getting over Taylor’s death.

“Maybe, uh, you should try to catch something,” he suggested carefully as they entered the gatehouse. “To replace...”

May didn’t answer at first. “You have fewer Pokémon than I do,” she said after a few seconds. “And with Letaligon leaving and all...”

Mark considered it. “That’s true,” he admitted. “Let’s go get some Safari Balls, then.”

At the counter sat a woman with long, blonde hair tied back in a ponytail, leaning casually back in her chair and looking at a computer monitor. As they approached, she stood up, adjusting her camouflage hat. “Hey,” she said, smiling. “I’m the overseer of the Safari. You registering?”

They nodded, and she entered some information into the computer. “Been here before?”

They shook their heads.

“All right,” she said. “That’ll be five hundred apiece. Pokédexes, please.” She had to enter more information after receiving the devices, then handed them back, reached behind the counter and took out two small leather sacks.

“These are your Safari Balls. The Safari employs Pokéball-suppressors that disable any other balls, so don’t even try to lob anything else at the Pokémon in there. The Safari Balls are registered to the Safari, so if you catch anything it’s sent to our PC system; you have to talk to me when you leave to get them transferred to you.” She passed the sacks to them as she went on.

“Now, the way things work here at the Ouen Safari is that we think the Pokémon should get to battle you fair and square just like everywhere else, so you can bring your Pokémon with you. What you can’t do is knock out any Pokémon you’re not going to catch. They’re here because they don’t want to get knocked around by trainers who won’t catch them all day, all right? Only battle Pokémon you’re interested in that challenge you or respond willingly to your challenge. If you break the rules, I’ll know by the time you come back here for your catches, and don’t think I’m going to hand them over to you if you haven’t been on your best behaviour. I have my contacts.” She gave them a mysterious, slightly smug grin.

“But if there are Pokéball-suppressors...” Mark began, confused.

“I’m getting to that,” the woman said, waving a hand at him. “Because of the Pokéball-suppressors, of course, you won’t be able to send your own Pokémon out and in either, so they’ll have to walk by your side. Though it’s not a requirement, I recommend only having one out per trainer at a time – if you want to switch, there are isolated, clearly marked no-suppression areas within the Safari where you can do so. The Pokémon tend to get a little antsy if they see a champion team of six lumbering around.”

They nodded. Mark looked into the sack he’d received; it was filled with something like twenty or thirty minimized balls.

“Speaking of champion teams,” the woman said as they were turning towards the exit, “aren’t you May Victoria Wallace?”

May froze, and the warden apparently took that as a yes. “Good job at the League. I hoped to see my daughter win, of course, but I’m glad the one who beat her had two X chromosomes and no superclones, at least.”

For a second May looked at her in confusion. “Robin Riverstone’s your...?” she then began hesitantly, and suddenly Mark could see the resemblance: same thick blonde hair, same focused green eyes, same confident smile.

The overseer beamed. “She’s great, isn’t she? Don’t get me wrong, it was a well-deserved victory, but you have to admit her Charizard kicked your Tyranitar’s ass.”

Mark could see the edge of May’s mouth twitch a little at the mention of Tyranitar, but she kept it remarkably well together; he didn’t think he would have detected anything strange if he weren’t looking for it. “Yeah, she was really good,” she said, nodding; she even managed a bit of a smile.

“As for what came after, I don’t make a habit of speaking ill of the dead, so let’s leave it at that,” the woman said grimly before straightening herself and looking between the two of them. “Well. I think I’ve babbled on long enough. Any questions, or are you ready to go?”

-------

Only minutes later, they were walking around the vast grassy expanse that was the first zone of the Safari, Spirit trotting behind May while Letaligon walked by Mark’s side, looking around. He’d picked her after some thought, realizing he should probably try to spend as much time with her as he could before her release, and she seemed to be enjoying herself even if she wasn’t talking much. Though she hadn’t said it directly, Mark suspected the reason for her bright mood, one way or another, was excitement about leaving; some part of him felt a little miffed that she was so enthusiastic about getting away from him, but he tried his best to ignore that part and be happy for her anyway.

“Anything in particular you want to go for?” he asked May after a while. They’d seen some wild Pokémon flitting around, but she had barely reacted to their presence.

“What?” She looked up as if snapped out of a trance. “I don’t know.”

He nodded. He felt the same way, really. If he was going to capture a new Pokémon, it should probably be one with some significant advantage against at least one of the remaining legendaries; that was all he was still training for, after all. Beyond that, he didn’t really have any ideas.

“You should catch something strong,” Letaligon said; Mark looked up, but she was looking at May, not him. “You need a powerful Pokémon to come in Tyranitar’s place. Maybe another Rock-type.”

May didn’t answer. Spirit gave Letaligon a glance that she ignored.

“I don’t know what kinds of Pokémon are in here,” Letaligon went on. “Maybe there aren’t any Rock-types. Perhaps a Grass-type? Water-types are too common for only Raichu to handle. Or a Psychic-type.”

Letaligon looked expectantly at May, but she was still silent and didn’t even look at her. After a moment Letaligon turned back to Mark, looking a little indignant. “Your team is way too weak to Rock,” she said irritably. “When I’m gone, that’s four out of six weak, two doubly. That’s ridiculous. And Ice, too – three weak, one doubly, and only one counter. You should get another Steel-type.”

Mark shrugged. “Maybe.” Steel-types, of course, were resistant to most of the elemental types of the Color Dragons and Waraider herd, as well as to the dragons’ Dragon attacks – she might have a point there. Were there any Steel-types here? He automatically looked around; there was a Furret scuttling curiously through the grass nearby, but at the moment he didn’t see any other Pokémon looking like they might be up for a challenge.

“Maybe there are more Pokémon in the forest zone,” he suggested, pointing towards the woods off to the west. “Should we check it out?”

May gave a barely-visible nod, and they headed westwards. He guessed the forest zone was an offshoot of Ruxido, one way or another; the distribution of tree species looked distinctly familiar, and Letaligon even commented that it felt like home. A couple of Mankey watched them for a moment from a safe distance before disappearing into the canopy; otherwise, the Pokémon again appeared to be staying out of their way. It was a little while before Mark realized why.

“Oh,” he said, “most trainers come here pretty early on their journeys. A lot of the Pokémon must be intimidated when suddenly two trainers stop by after the League with powerful, evolved Pokémon.”

“That doesn’t make sense,” said Letaligon. “Ambitious Pokémon should want to get caught by champion trainers.”

She’d barely said the last word when suddenly a tree rustled and a dark shape landed on the ground in front of them, wasting no time before darting at Letaligon.

She swung her head, but the Pokémon nimbly scuttled out of the way, and she cried out as two sharp claws raked across her vulnerable underbelly, drawing blood. Letaligon whirled around just as the shape stopped a short distance away, revealing itself to be a Sneasel.

“Iron Head!” Mark ordered without thinking, and Letaligon charged at the Sneasel to headbutt it, her body turning wholly metallic. It dodged again, delivering a slash to her leg now.

“Uh, Metal Burst!” he called, some part of his brain unconsciously in League-mode, and in an instant, Letaligon became a metallic reflection of the Sneasel’s attack. The catlike creature was thrown aside, hissing defensively as blood spurted from slashes on its belly; Letaligon used the opportunity while it was distracted by the pain to slash at it with the blade on her head, tossing it into a nearby tree trunk.

Mark quickly grabbed a Safari Ball from the sack the warden had given him and threw it at the Sneasel’s prone form. It dissolved into a blob of red and was absorbed into the ball; he watched it intently as it wobbled on the ground, and finally the ball stilled, the glow fading from the button.

“Another one that’s weak to Rock,” Letaligon grumbled as he picked up the ball, only to have it vanish from his hand, presumably disappearing to the Safari’s PC system.

“That’s true,” Mark said reluctantly, “but none of the remaining legendaries are Rock-types anyway. I think a Sneasel will be fine. We have five dragons to fight too, and...” He thought of Raudra and Puragon. “...well, some of them are weak to Ice.”

He automatically looked at May for confirmation that this wasn’t a terrible idea; she shrugged.

“You should catch another one,” Letaligon said stubbornly.

“Maybe if we find a Steel-type or something.”

“I’m not sure catching many additional Pokémon at once would be such a good idea,” Chaletwo put in. “The Pokémon here are relatively low-leveled; just getting one each up to par could take a while. It’s also probably harder for them to learn to work together when many new team members are being inducted at the same time. And if the, uh, Goldberg principle is right, or whatever it was that May was talking about, larger team sizes don’t help that much anyway.”

Everyone looked questioningly at May. “Then perhaps you don’t need to catch another Pokémon,” Spirit said after a moment, addressing her trainer. “Even now, you have a team of eight.”

May shook her head slowly. “No, I should catch something,” she said, looking distractedly around, and then suddenly she said, “Spirit, attack that Stantler!”

Mark turned where she was looking in surprise; there was indeed a Stantler there, watching them warily from between the trees. Spirit fired a bright cone of flames towards it, and the startled deer Pokémon leapt to the side, but then approached Spirit, horns glowing: it had accepted the challenge.

“Another Flamethrower!” May ordered, but Spirit hesitated, likely distracted by the hypnotic influence of the Stantler’s antlers. It used the opportunity to charge at her, knocking her over with a powerful tackle. Spirit was tossed into the dirt but rose quickly, shook herself and countered with a jet of flame which this time struck true. The Stantler grunted and formed a ghostly light between its antlers, which spun distracting circles around the Ninetales as she growled.

“Spirit, focus!” May called. “Counter with your own Confuse Ray!”

The Stantler was already taking advantage of Spirit’s disorientation by striking her with another Take Down attack, but the shock of the impact seemed to clear Spirit’s mind somewhat, and as she rose to her feet, she formed a ghost light of her own. It danced enticingly around the Stantler, tempting it to look away, and Spirit needed no order before she fired a third Flamethrower. The deer Pokémon staggered back, wobbling a little on its feet, and then a Safari Ball bounced off its back, popped open and sucked it inside.

The ball shook three times and went still.

May didn’t bother to pick it up; she just looked at it, fists clenched, until it vanished.

“Why would you catch a Stantler?” said Letaligon with annoyance, breaking the silence. “You have no use for a Stantler.”

Spirit looked up at May with a bemused expression, and Mark couldn’t help being puzzled as well; of all Pokémon, Stantler was one of the least Maylike he could imagine.

“It’s not about that,” May said, but she didn’t clarify what she meant at all; instead she headed off in the direction they’d been walking in. After a second Letaligon trotted after her, and Spirit and Mark had no choice but to follow.

-------

They exited the Safari a bit later that afternoon without capturing any other Pokémon. Letaligon had mostly given up complaining and was back in her bright mood from before, and May, if still quiet, didn’t seem quite as distracted as she had that morning. The warden handed them their new Pokéballs with a smile, and once they were out and had found a convenient hill to get behind to give them privacy from the road, they sent out Stantler and Sneasel to join Spirit and Letaligon.

“Hi,” said Mark when the Pokéball light had materialized into the small weasel Pokémon. A quick Pokédex scan had earlier told them both of their new team members were female, and he supposed he recognized now that her featherlike left ear was a little smaller than on some other Sneasel he’d seen. The two newcomers exchanged vague nods and greetings with them.

“So you’re a champion?” Sneasel said after a second, looking at Mark.

After a brief moment of puzzlement, he remembered Letaligon’s words immediately preceding Sneasel’s appearance. “Oh, no,” he said quickly, pointing at May, “that’s actually her.” At Sneasel’s slightly dismayed expression, he added awkwardly, “Technically we can trade if you’d prefer?”

“No,” May said immediately, her voice firm. When everyone looked at her curiously, she said, “We’re going to be travelling and training together and getting into all the same battles anyway. It won’t matter.”

Sneasel looked at her for a doubtful moment but then shrugged. “Makes no difference to me, I suppose.”

“Unless...” May started again, abruptly, “unless Stantler would rather be with Mark?” She looked unsurely at him, then at Stantler. The deer Pokémon shook her head slowly, looking confused.

“All right.” May nodded distractedly before looking at Stantler again. “So if... if something is bothering you, or you’re unhappy with anything, just talk to me, okay? You – you can talk, right?”

Stantler cocked her head. “Yes, I can talk,” she said, sounding bemused. “Are you all right?”

“Yeah, I’m fine.” May sighed, rubbing her forehead. “Mark, should we tell them about Chaletwo now, before we send the others out?”

“Right.” Mark took a deep breath and started to recount everything about the War of the Legends, both what the two legendaries had told him when he was dead and what they’d speculated and discovered since then. After some initial incredulity and Chaletwo agreeing to come out of his Pokéball for a few seconds to confirm the story, Sneasel continued to ask a lot of questions; Stantler was mostly silent, but listened intently and made occasional observations.

“So what we’re going to do now,” he said after explaining their failure to capture Raudra and Puragon, “is just to spend a while training and strategizing – or, well, first we’re going to Ruxido to release Letaligon.” He gestured towards her; she’d gotten bored, lain down and closed her eyes somewhere in the middle of Mark’s explanation of the War. “But then it’s just trying to improve our chances against those two. Then when we think we’re ready, hopefully they’ll still be there, and...” He shrugged. “We’ll try our luck.”

Sneasel nodded. “That sounds good.”

“What about the others?” Stantler asked. “Do you have a plan to find them?”

“Not really,” Mark admitted with a sigh. “We’re trying to just do this one step at a time.”

“Well, we had better get on it, then,” said Sneasel, standing up. “There’s no time to waste.”

“Huh?” Mark stared at his new Pokémon, dumbfounded, and she looked back at him as if expecting him to follow. “Wait, don’t you want to meet the rest of our Pokémon?”

“Not particularly,” Sneasel responded, in a tone that made it sound like the idea was puzzling to her.

“Well, I’d love to,” said Stantler, giving the weasel Pokémon a pointed look.

“It is important to get to know each other,” Spirit said. “It makes it easier to battle together.”

“It’s not that important,” said Letaligon, without bothering to look up when she spoke.

Sneasel turned towards her for a moment. “What’re you getting released for, anyway?” she then asked. “You’re strong.”

“I went with him to evolve and get powerful,” Letaligon answered. “Now I’m going back.”

Sneasel gave her an incredulous stare. “Instead of battling legendary Pokémon?”

This time Letaligon did look up. “What of it?” she asked defensively. “I’m strong enough.”

“You’re never strong enough,” Sneasel replied bluntly.

“Hell with strength,” Chaletwo said abruptly, irritated. “Isn’t either of you concerned about stopping the end of the world?”

Sneasel looked at Mark for a second. “Don’t kid yourself,” she said. “If the world didn’t end a thousand years ago, there’s no reason it should now. What do I care if the legendaries get replaced? All I have to do to be safe from the War is not get in your way when you rampage.”

“But the legendaries today are more powerful –”

“And that makes them accidentally blow up the planet when they just want to kill each other? I don’t buy it, pers –”

A Flamethrower suddenly enveloped Sneasel; she screeched in pain as Spirit jumped on her and pinned her down with her paw. “You insolent pest,” the Ninetales snarled, more flames licking the sides of her mouth. “Those legendary Pokémon have voluntarily watched over you and your ancestors for hundreds of generations, and you insult them? Thousands of innocent Pokémon would die in the struggle, and all you care about is saving yourself?”

“Can everybody please just calm down?” Mark said exasperatedly as Sneasel began to hiss some pointed reply; everyone looked at him. “Look, if you’re going to help us, I don’t really care about your reasons. Just... we just had a falling-out with somebody else. Can’t you be at least vaguely friendly? Please?”

Spirit released Sneasel with visible reluctance. The weasel stood up, still watching her warily out of the corner of her eye. “I don’t have a choice if I want to battle the legendaries with you, do I?”

“No,” Mark said firmly. “You can leave if you want, but if you’re going to come with us, be civil.” The Ninetales hmphed. “And you too, Spirit. You can’t just attack my Pokémon willy-nilly if they say something you don’t like.”

Mark took a breath, turning towards Letaligon. “And of course you’re strong enough,” he went on. “You wanted to get strong to defeat your father, right? That means strong enough to do that is strong enough, period. If Sneasel wants to be training and getting stronger for the rest of her life, good for her, but that doesn’t mean you have to think the same. And if you don’t care about stopping the War, for any reason, that’s fine and that’s why we’re going to take you to Ruxido so you can go and do what you want with your life. This doesn’t need to be complicated.”

He took a deep breath after the rant and felt a little sheepish as everyone stared at him, until Stantler broke the silence. “Well put,” she said. “None of us ought to be condemning one another.” There was a pause. “I’d like to meet the rest of your Pokémon,” she then continued, “but I suppose if Sneasel doesn’t, you can recall her first.”

May, who had been silent most of the conversation, suddenly spoke. “Sneasel,” she said quietly, “I think you should meet the others.”

The weasel looked unsurely at her for a moment but then apparently decided to take her word for it. “Fine,” she said and sat down in the grass with a sigh.

As Mark reached for his other Pokéballs, he couldn’t help noticing Letaligon was shifting uneasily, glancing at Sneasel but not saying a word.


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