The Quest for the Legends (ILCOE)
Chapter 64: Hide and Seek
The quickest way to Acaria City was to fly. Skarmory couldn’t fly as fast as Charizard with a trainer weighing him down, so May borrowed Mark’s Charizard. It was strange flying an unfamiliar Pokémon, and despite how many battles they’d been in together, she could never quite shake the feeling that she just didn’t trust him like one of her own.
(Chaletwo didn’t comment on that, but he was probably rolling his immaterial eyes.)
They reached the city in the evening and checked into a trainer hotel. Chaletwo hadn’t talked to her most of the day, which made her almost forget he was there at all; if anything that bothered her even more. She didn’t know how Mark could stand this.
“He can stand this because he doesn’t freak out over it,” Chaletwo said as she entered her room and collapsed onto the bed. “I don’t understand why you’re so tense. You know me; I know you; I already know your Tyranitar killed a boy. Exactly what are you afraid of?”
She winced. “That’s not the problem,” she said, turning onto her side.
“Then what is? Do girls your age think about boys or something? Because I assure you I’d tune that out anyway.”
“No!” She sat up in disgust. “What, is Mark thinking about girls all the time?”
May lay back down with a sigh. There was silence.
“You still haven’t told me what –”
“Thoughts are supposed to be private,” she said between gritted teeth.
“I’m not going to blab everything you think to Mark, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
“Again, that’s not the point.”
“Then I don’t have the faintest idea what is.”
What was the point? May wasn’t entirely sure how to answer that. Thoughts were random and uncontrollable, and people should have conscious control over how they appeared to others. That didn’t mean they had anything to hide. It was just... who you were was the choices you made about what to say and do, and if somebody was reading your mind, you didn’t have a choice about anything. It was creepy and terrifying.
“What? Of course you can still choose what you say and do. It’s not mind-control.”
May clenched her jaw and thought about empty white space.
“If it helps,” Chaletwo said after a moment, “I don’t have to read your thoughts all the time. I can tune you out completely unless you ask for me or something important is going on.”
She shook her head. “I’m fine.”
Chaletwo gave a long telepathic sigh. “If you insist. What do you think of our prospects without Mark?”
“We have Robin,” she said.
“She’s a whole lot better than nothing, obviously, but you and Mark did train for a couple of months for legendary battles, which she hasn’t.”
“But Robin is good at battling, which Mark isn’t, so that pretty much balances it out.”
“I wouldn’t go that far. Mark made it to the quarterfinals of the League. I realize you’re the more skilled battler, but…”
“Mark is okay,” May said firmly, “but Robin is top-notch. She’ll pick up the strategy in no time. If anything we’re better off now.”
Chaletwo sighed again. “Well, I suppose optimism is nice. Either way, you should get some sleep; tomorrow will be a long day.”
May nodded and stood up to brush her teeth, and Chaletwo didn’t speak again for the rest of the night.
May had only had a vague idea about the existence of the Acaria mountains. People didn’t exactly study Ouenian geography in Johto, and while of course they’d been to the city before, she hadn’t paid much attention to the mountains in the background when they’d approached it then – she’d never been one to spend her time admiring landscapes.
But now that they were there, flying over the mountain range, she could see that, depressingly, Alan was right: the mountains seemed to go on forever, and they were so littered with cracks and holes that it was a wonder they hadn’t collapsed into a pile of rubble. There had to be thousands of caverns. Not all of them could house huge legendary dragons, of course, but that didn’t help them find those few.
“Let’s land here and plan things out,” she shouted as they finished their initial flyover. They’d been vaguely hoping to run into dumb luck such as happening to see one of the dragons, but predictably enough, that hadn’t happened. Wisps of clouds rushed past as Charizard descended; the Acaria skies were cold and wet today. Grateful for the wool-lined coat she’d bought in Green Town in October, she clung to the Pokémon’s neck and braced herself for the landing: despite being faster than Skarmory, Charizard weren’t nearly as nimble or precise in their flight. (Well, maybe Robin’s was, given the acrobatics she’d seen him do at the League – but she wasn’t about to point that out to Mark’s Charizard.)
“Right,” she said when she’d climbed off his back and recalled him. “Alan, I was thinking you could start looking around the area while I introduce our fighting strategy to Robin and her team. Take Skarmory; Charlie’s probably exhausted.”
She switched the ball she was holding with Skarmory’s and handed it in Alan’s direction. He looked annoyingly surprised, in that particularly Alanish way designed to tell her what an awful person she usually was. “Yeah,” he said. “He is. Thanks.”
“You’re welcome,” she said anyway as he took the ball and sent Skarmory out. The vulture gave May a disappointed glance when Alan explained he was going with him, which was at least grimly satisfying.
Once they were gone, she finally turned to the other girl, exhaling. Robin was still standing by her Charizard’s side and looking eagerly at May, her eyes practically sparkling with enthusiasm. She’d been wearing an excited grin since they’d set off, and apparently her cheek muscles still hadn’t tired of it. After hanging around Mark and Alan for all this time, May couldn’t quite decide whether this was a refreshing change or indicated a bizarre lack of perspective on what was going on.
“Well, what are we waiting for?” she said. “Send out your team so we can get started.”
She took out her Pokéballs and May shielded her eyes from the blinding light of five Pokémon materializing. Robin had briefly introduced her Pokémon to them before they’d left, of course, but most of that conversation had gone into explaining the War of the Legends and answering their many questions, so there hadn’t been much in the way of considering battle strategy. May would have to work from what she’d gathered about how they fought from their battle at the League, at least for now.
“Well,” she said, glancing over the group, “first off, you’ll be flying Charizard, so he’s not going to be battling. I’m not taking any chances with them being friendlier than their sisters, and the last thing we want is a repeat of the Mark disaster, so he’s going to want to devote his full attention to keeping you out of their way.”
The dragon Pokémon nodded firmly. If he was tired after the long flight, he didn’t show it – he was breathing slowly and measuredly, each calm exhalation forming a thick cloud of mist in front of his nostrils. In a way it seemed backwards; Robin’s Charizard was considerably smaller and leaner than either Mark’s or Charlie, and while it made intuitive sense that this made him faster and more agile, May wouldn’t have expected him to excel in endurance as well. She wasn’t sure if that was genetics or if it was Robin’s doing.
“So, again, the dragons are all Dragon/Flying-types. They don’t look it or fight like it, but Ice attacks are always going to be the best choice. Rock and Dragon are good too – and Fairy, I guess, but none of us have Fairy-types – but Ice is more effective and obviously easier to pull off in this weather. That means Froslass is going to be the most important member of your team, and the others should do their best to try to keep them off her back.”
The ghost Pokémon tilted her head curiously, her strange blue-and-yellow eyes flicking towards May. “What about Gastrodon?”
May opened her mouth. “Yes, her too, if she knows Ice moves. Stone Edge too, I guess.” Except she’s slow and can’t dodge worth a damn, so she’s not going to last very long once they see her as a threat, she thought, but didn’t say it – you weren’t supposed to say things like that. And Robin’s Machamp, though she looked almost as excited by the prospect of the battle as her trainer, would have a similarly hard time – she knew Stone Edge too, but the dragons would probably have Flying moves and Machamp were not exactly agile either.
Meanwhile, Robin’s Cacturne was looking sluggishly around, shivering. When May had first seen Robin battle, she’d used him brilliantly on a desert-themed arena, but for the same reasons he’d been excellent there, he was next to useless here. It wasn’t their fault, and definitely not Robin’s fault, but it was dawning on her that this fight wouldn’t be very suited to them. Perhaps she’d spoken too soon to Chaletwo yesterday.
May sighed, squeezing her eyes shut, trying to think of words. What would Stantler say? “Since the dragons fly and are pretty fast, agility and range are going to be key points. Our general strategy so far is to try to isolate them from one another as much as possible by luring them in different directions and keeping them there with paralysis, trapping moves or just keeping them busy, so that each dragon can only attack the Pokémon that are attacking him. This allows us to break the battle into three roughly eight-on-one battles instead of one twenty-something-on-three battle, which is better for us – Waterberg principle and all. Does that make sense?”
Robin nodded; she had obviously paid enough attention in school to know the Waterberg principle, unlike Mark and Alan, which cheered May up somewhat again. “Gastrodon can use Whirlpool,” Robin said. “So she can help with the trapping, and obviously Luxray has Thunder Wave. If we get them paralyzed, that helps Gastrodon and Machamp a lot, too.”
May glanced at Robin’s Luxray, who was lying in the back of the group of Pokémon; he let out a low, rumbling growl, and she averted her eyes again. He hadn’t seemed very sociable during the introductions either. Part of her wanted to ask Robin about it, and part of her really didn’t.
She realized belatedly that she hadn’t answered. “Yeah, that sounds about right,” she said. Paralysis helps Gastrodon and Machamp a lot, too. How discreet. She took a deep breath. “Maybe Cacturne would want to sit this one out, though. I don’t think there’s that much he can do in this kind of environment, and they’re doubly resistant to Grass attacks. But I guess that’s up to him.”
“Of course I’ll take part,” Cacturne said, sounding cross. “Who do you think I am?”
“Right. Obviously.” Judging from Robin’s amused eyeroll, May took it Cacturne wasn’t really as offended as he sounded. “Well, basically in each sub-battle we’re going to want Pokémon that resist that dragon’s favoured type of attack, as far as possible. They can still use Dragon moves, obviously, but that can’t be helped. So Pokémon that resist Water should go for the blue one and those who resist Poison attack the black one. Mark didn’t think the gold one had a special favoured type, but he’s probably going to be using mostly Dragon and Flying-type moves, then.”
“Huh,” said Robin, scratching her chin. “If he doesn’t have a favoured type, does he have something else instead?”
“I don’t know,” May said, sighing. “Mark was going by what he can remember of some book he flipped through once. Chaletwo doesn’t know anything about how they battle because, surprise, legendaries don’t usually spend their free time battling. Dragoreen just said he was strong defensively and that’s it.”
Robin pursed her lips, thoughtful.
“But since Ice is our best shot,” May went on, “we want at least something with an Ice move in each group, if we can. Mark has a Weavile, my Floatzel knows Ice Punch, and Alan’s Vaporeon knows Ice Beam. With your team, we can add Froslass – and Gastrodon – to that. Then we should try to spread the remaining Rock and Dragon moves to even it out once we’ve sorted out which Ice user goes for which dragon – there’s Mark’s Charizard, Dragonite and Sandslash, Alan’s Grovyle and my Flygon, and now Machamp. Like I said earlier, yours and Alan’s Charizard are going to be too busy carrying you, so –”
“What about your Tyranitar?” Robin asked, and May froze, her train of thought coming to a screeching halt.
(Robin didn’t know. Of course she didn’t. What the hell had she expected?)
“He’s gone,” May’s mouth said.
Robin blinked, her eyes widening in dawning concern. “Gone?”
“Not like that. I – I just released him. It’s not important.”
For a split second May hated her more than anything in the world for not knowing when to leave it alone. Then, as she was trying to pull together a response, Robin looked down and shook her head. “No, sorry, I won’t pry. Forget it.”
May opened her mouth to say that it was fine, but stopped herself; there was nowhere good the conversation could proceed from there. “Thanks,” she made herself say instead.
Robin smiled awkwardly. May tried to smile back.
“I think it would be a good idea to try to organize things a bit around the trapping moves too,” Robin said after a long pause.
“Yeah, that was the idea,” May said.
Tyranitar didn’t come up again.
Alan didn’t find anything. When they’d finished nailing down which Pokémon would go for which dragon, May and Robin went flying around too, but didn’t find anything either. They returned to where they’d landed to camp, tired and exhausted with nothing to show for a day’s gruelling work.
Robin didn’t seem to have noticed, though. She was chatting enthusiastically practically the moment they were off their Pokémon’s backs, and by the time they’d heated some beans for dinner she was still at it.
“…and then the kid came back again, all sore-loser-like, saying, ‘That didn’t count, I want a rematch.’”
Alan raised his eyebrows, chuckling. “Wow. Yeah, that sounds pretty obnoxious, all right.”
May poked at her beans, hungry but not hungry, trying to work up the willpower to eat another forkful and wishing they could just eat silently.
“And Luxray just gave the guy this stare, and he kind of started to back off, but then he changed his mind and just stood there and folded his arms and told me he wasn’t leaving until I battled him again. And, you know, I have to give him some credit; it’s pretty hard to stare in the face of a Pokémon with Intimidate and not back down, but I just could not believe…”
“What’s wrong with your Luxray?” May said, before she could think better of it.
“Huh?” Robin looked quizzically at her.
“He doesn’t talk.” May forced the words out as quickly as she could, trying to ignore Alan as his gaze flicked sharply towards her in alarm. “He just growls. What’s up with that?”
Robin’s puzzlement turned into understanding, and she laughed. “Oh. Yeah, he comes off pretty cold, doesn’t he? Sorry, I should have thought to explain – he just takes a while to warm up to people. He didn’t really talk first after I caught him, either, so I was pretty concerned too, but after about a week of gentle prodding he started opening up, and now we’re basically best friends. He’s a total sweetheart once you get to know him; he just has some childhood trust issues that he hasn’t quite worked out yet, and it’s something he really needs to get through at his own pace, so I try not to get on his case for being a bit hostile to people at first. Sometimes I forget people might take it the wrong way, though. Sorry about that.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Alan said, smiling. “It sounds like you’re handling it well.”
May nodded numbly, waiting for the knot in her stomach to dissolve, but it didn’t.
“Thanks; I try to.” Robin beamed. “Anyway, so like I was saying, annoying dude came back again, and despite Luxray’s attempt to scare him off, he still refused to go away. Luxray looked up at me like, ‘Say the word and I will make sure this kid never bothers you again’ – it was kind of hilarious, honestly – but I just told him straight out that I wasn’t interested and he doesn’t own me and we’re done here. He still followed me for a few minutes whining about it, but by that point I was just ignoring him completely and eventually he gave up.” She finally stopped to take a breath. “How about you guys?”
Alan scratched his brow. “I don’t know, I think the most obnoxious trainer I ever met was probably this one boy who…” He trailed off. “Well, he was just a kid, so maybe it’s not really fair, but he approached me after he overheard me saying my last name at a Pokémon Center in Hoenn. I thought he just wanted to say hello but he ended up interrogating me about my dad and what would he think of this and that and how he was raising his Pokémon and so on for about an hour. It was awful.”
“Ouch,” Robin said. “Why didn’t you just tell him you had stuff to do?”
Alan winced. “That would have seemed kind of mean, don’t you think?”
“There’s a difference between being nice and being too polite to say no to anything,” Robin said firmly. “A lot of people don’t get that. Like, I heard people complaining May seemed rude because she was always refusing interviews before the League finals, but really it’s perfectly reasonable she wanted to use that time to train and said so. She doesn’t let people just walk all over her, and that’s a good thing. If you let random kids hold you hostage for an hour in a situation that makes you uncomfortable, maybe you could learn something from her.”
“Maybe,” Alan said, sceptical.
Robin looked at May with a grin. May stared at her rapidly cooling beans, squeezing the can, and halfheartedly tried to hold on to the remains of her appetite for a moment before giving up and putting down the can with a sigh.
“So…” Robin’s smile faltered at last. She hesitated before putting up a more awkward version of it. “Do… do you have any obnoxious trainer stories?”
“No,” May said, and she stood up and started to pitch the tents.
Robin broke the silence again once they’d crawled into their sleeping bags inside the girls’ tent. “I’m sure it’ll go better tomorrow,” she said. “I mean, now that I’m all initiated and we can go in three different directions from the beginning.”
May wanted to believe that, but didn’t. She didn’t respond.
“May?” Robin asked again after a few minutes, most of the cheer finally gone from her voice. “Random question, sorry it’s pretty silly and you don’t have to answer, but at the League, what did you really think of me? I mean, I did lose, and almost pretty badly at that, so I get it if you weren’t that impressed.”
May shifted around, still trying to find a way to be comfortable on the hard ground, irritated at that, irritated that Robin was suddenly playing humble at her after everything. “I thought you were a guy,” she muttered.
Bizarrely, Robin broke into a wide grin. “A lot of people do.”
May blinked, incredulous, not sure exactly how she’d expected Robin to react to that, only knowing this definitely wasn’t it. “Doesn’t that… doesn’t it bother you? People thinking you’re something you’re not?”
Robin shrugged, shaking her head. “Actually, I kinda like it.”
May stared at her for a moment, then turned over in her sleeping bag to face away. She should have guessed, she thought grimly. Everything about Robin was bizarre and infuriating.
“So… was that the only thing you thought, or…?”
“You didn’t almost lose pretty badly,” May said, wishing she’d stop hammering on this. “You almost won. Your Charizard beat a Tyranitar.”
She kind of meant to continue, but her mouth was dry and she felt kind of sick, and whatever Robin was fishing for, she didn’t want to give it to her.
“Okay,” Robin said after a moment, and May heard her sleeping bag rustle as she turned around. “Thanks.”
She tried to struggle, but her limbs were limp and numb and she couldn’t breathe. Robin’s Luxray’s eyes bored into hers, his huge jaws clamped tightly around her body. Behind him, his trainer looked at her in a mixture of accusation and disappointment.
“You know,” Robin said, frowning, “I could call him back. I’m just not sure I want to.”
Then he let go, and she plummeted off the cliff, down towards where Taylor’s body lay in a pool of blood, his glassy stare filling her field of vision as an overwhelming voice called out to her –
May’s eyes tore open, and she forcibly blinked a few times. Methodically, her mind unscrambled itself to focus on reality: she was shivering, drenched in sweat, in her sleeping bag, in their tent, in the Acaria mountains. She could hear the wind outside and Robin breathing contentedly on the other side of the tent and feel her own rapid heartbeat as it started to calm.
“Are you all right?” Chaletwo asked, and she started again as she recognized the overwhelming voice, a flash of falling, Taylor’s dead eyes – no –
“Get the hell out of my dreams,” she hissed under her breath, her voice shaking with cold, before turning over on her other side and thinking determinedly of Meowth kittens.
By the time she fell back to sleep, the dream had faded into a hazy muddle.
“All right, let’s go,” she said when she climbed onto Skarmory in the morning, grateful to be on his familiar metallic back again. Something had just seemed too organic about Charizard, with all those moving muscles constantly reminding her that she was riding a living creature with wings designed to hold it without a rider, and that if he made a mistake they would come careening down.
“You okay in the cold, Skarmory?” she asked as he took off. She knew the answer, really – his Steel typing would offset the Flying-type weakness much like the Fire-type did for Charizard – but it seemed right to ask. He nodded and took a skilful dive to make the point. (Charizard would probably not have been able to do this gracefully, cold or no cold.)
“You know the drill,” she said to Alan and Robin once they were all airborne. “I say Alan continues west from yesterday, Robin goes east and I go further north.”
The others nodded and diverged, and she took a deep breath as Skarmory flew out over the area she and Robin had been exploring the previous day. It was a frustratingly small portion of the overall landscape, but at least this time she was alone.
She’d memorized the shape of a large crack where they’d left off yesterday, and once they were past it she squinted at the various unexplored shadows and openings beyond. “Start by flying over high,” she said to Skarmory. “Then we can see what’s most promising and prioritize.”
On the first overhead scan, she picked out two or three locations that seemed like fairly large caves; then they did a second pass flying lower past those areas she couldn’t see very well from above. There were a lot of caverns, but most of them were probably too small to house a legendary dragon. She made a mental note of the most plausible candidates, and when they’d covered everything, she told Skarmory to return to the biggest of them.
They landed on a small outcropping by the cave entrance, and she recalled him for now. If they found anything, better if Skarmory wasn’t crawling around inside the cave where he could barely move.
“Charizard, go,” she said, taking his ball out of her pocket and throwing it. “This is the biggest cave I’ve found so far. Could you light the way?”
Charizard nodded and swung his tail out in front of him, proceeding cautiously by her side. The cave appeared to be something of a tunnel, leading into the mountain; it narrowed as they went on, but from a rough estimate she figured it was still just wide enough for something Dragoreen’s size to crawl through. Be here, she thought. Just be here and we can be done.
(Not done with Robin. Or Chaletwo. Or Tyranitar.)
They weren’t there, of course. The tunnel just kept on narrowing. She went on anyway until Charizard pointed out it was getting too narrow even for him; then she sighed and they turned and trudged all the way back out. The next candidate turned out to be very shallow and obviously empty, and the one after that seemed promising at first but turned out to end in a massive Woobat nest.
May didn’t have much hope for the fourth. It looked barely big enough for a dragon to get through. But as Charizard lifted his tail once they’d climbed through the entrance, it turned out to be a considerably bigger cavern, and on the left side, a wide tunnel led into the darkness.
“That looks pretty good,” Charizard said. May nodded wordlessly and entered it, the Fire Pokémon following hastily behind.
The tunnel narrowed a little as they continued inwards, but not by much. Shadows danced on the rough walls on every side, creating a constant illusion of movement; at first, startled Zubat occasionally screeched overhead and made them jump before flying out through the tunnel, but as they went deeper, even they disappeared. The cave became stark and empty, each dimly flickering section of wall the same as another; her feet hurt from the walking, her eyes hurt from squinting into the darkness.
“Do you also hear something?” Charizard asked suddenly.
“What?” She stopped and waited, holding her breath; without the noise of their footsteps, she could hear a deep, barely audible rumbling somewhere ahead – like the breathing of some large creature somewhere in the depths of the tunnel.
Overwhelming relief was the first thing she felt. She let out the breath she’d been holding, reaching up for her Pokéball necklace. “Okay, this could be it. Be ready.”
“Shouldn’t you get the others?” asked Chaletwo, and she jumped.
“Just… when I’ve made sure, okay?”
They walked slow, measured steps along the tunnel, her heart pounding in her ears. She could hear the breathing clearly now, slow, calm breaths, like the creature was asleep. That meant it should be easy to confirm it was there and then get out. The tunnel was wide enough for Charizard to spread his wings, but not the dragon. They could see it, bolt, and then call the others. Easy.
May rounded a corner a second before Charizard. Her breath caught as she made out the indistinct outline of a large shape lying on the cave floor, but it seemed smaller than she’d expected, and a lot rounder in shape. Then the flame swung around the corner, illuminating... thick white fur?
A Beartic. Yet another wasted trip just to find some stupid wild Pokémon. Frustration and disappointment and rage reached a boiling point somewhere in the back of her mouth.
“Charizard, Flamethrower,” she said; he looked at her in puzzlement. The huge polar bear Pokémon was stirring, probably awoken by the sound of her voice. “It’s waking up. Just do it.”
She stepped backwards as the Beartic rose to its hind legs with a deep roar, swiping at Charizard with one of its paws. He shuffled back as well, breathing in deep, and then released a bright cone of flames from his mouth. It hit the polar bear square in the chest, and it roared in pain, dropping back down to all fours. Charizard turned and started to flap his wings.
“No! Another Flamethrower!” May ordered, but Charizard just looked at her and shook his head, taking off as the Beartic charged towards him. She tore Skarmory’s Pokéball off her necklace instead and threw it. “Steel Wing! However many it takes!”
Skarmory came out with his wings glowing and smashed into the Beartic. May watched with clenched fists as he swiped across its body again and again, streaking its stark white fur with dark blood and drawing raw roars of pain from its throat, and then recalled him when she was sure it wasn’t moving anymore. She was left in cold darkness, her breath shaking.
“Wow,” said Chaletwo, and she jumped. “That was brutal.”
“It was a wild Pokémon!” she snapped. “I battled it! That’s what trainers do!”
“May,” Chaletwo said; she took a deep breath. “This is not normal. You’re coming unhinged. Please calm down.”
She wanted to make an icy retort, but couldn’t. No, it wasn’t normal. There was no reason to waste time fighting the Beartic at all.
“Is this because of the reading your mind thing? Because at this point I’d be relieved to switch to Alan’s head instead.”
She shook her head firmly in the darkness and forcibly unclenched her fists. A flickering light appeared in her peripheral vision; she turned to find Charizard carefully making his way back towards her.
“Are you all right?” he asked quietly.
“Yeah,” she said and walked over to him. Wordlessly, he turned around and they headed towards the exit.
“I’m sorry I left you behind,” he said after a moment, without looking at her.
“I’m...” May winced. “Sorry I was trying to make you battle.”
“It scared me,” Charizard muttered. “How angry you were.”
May didn’t say anything.
“How long is it going to take for Mark to heal?” Charizard asked when they finally reached the cave exit.
“Mrs. Riverstone said maybe six weeks.”
Here, on his third day of being with her, he was already thinking of when he could have his real trainer back. She wasn’t even surprised and it still stung.
There was nothing in the other caves either, except a lone Froslass that retreated into the wall when she approached. After another long and fruitless day, they had dinner at their camp site, let their Pokémon mingle and train for a while, and retreated to their tents again.
May couldn’t sleep. She curled up in her sleeping bag trying to keep warm, looking at Robin’s wild hair sticking out of hers, the Beartic’s roars still ringing in her ears. Eventually, she whispered, “Robin?”
“What?” the other girl said sleepily without turning around.
“My Tyranitar,” she began; her mouth was dry. “He... it was him who killed him. Taylor.”
A second passed before Robin turned over in her bag. “What?” she said again, blinking at May. “He...”
“He thought he was doing it for me. I didn’t want that. He just...” May pressed her lips together, wishing she hadn’t started. She barely even knew Robin. How did she know she wouldn’t take it to the police or worse?
“You didn’t tell him to attack him, did you?” Robin’s eyes were wide and alarmed. Maybe that was better than starstruck.
“No, he just... he misunderstood.”
Robin pushed herself upright. “Misunderstood what?”
“I...” May wanted to go away, out of this tent, out somewhere where she could be alone and not hear her voice shaking. “I said he should die, but not... I didn’t mean it. It’s just how people talk.”
“Have you told the police? Aren’t they still investigating it?”
“We’re trying to save the world,” May said. “That… that has to come first. I just… I just thought you should know.”
Robin looked at her for a few seconds before slowly lying down again, facing the other way.
May turned away too, clutching at her sleeping bag.
Over the next couple of weeks, they alternated training sessions and searching for the dragons. The former progressed quickly, Robin’s team being quick learners who were obviously used to trying on different strategies; the latter was nothing but disappointment after disappointment. Caves upon caves turned out empty, and the mountains started to seem familiar, mundane and limited.
Robin didn’t mention Tyranitar again. May didn’t attack any more wild Pokémon.
“We’ve been over the entire mountain range by now,” Alan told Dragoreen after two more excruciating weeks. “They could still be lying low somewhere, but at this point we think they’re probably not here anymore. Do you have any idea where they might have gone? If not we’re going to have to exhaustively search every mountainous area in Ouen. It could take some time.”
The dragon considered it. “How long have you been looking?” she asked at last.
“A month,” May said. “We’ve covered everything that looks big enough.”
Dragoreen closed her eyes, thinking, her mouth curling into a frown. Stray snowflakes settled on her body and she irritably shook them away.
“They’re here,” she said, finally. “Keep looking.”
“Really?” Chaletwo asked, sceptical. “How sure are you? We can’t afford to waste more time here if we’re going to have to look blindly around the entire region.”
“I know,” said Dragoreen firmly. “I can feel it. They’re here. You must have overlooked something.”
May pressed her lips together, nodding curtly before she recalled the legendary. Robin and Alan glanced at her and then each other in silence.
“Well,” she said. “Let’s get back to work.”
They spent another week going over some areas again with a fine-toothed comb, checking caves that weren’t easily visible from above and ones that were probably too small. It felt futile, pointless. May felt she knew the mountains like the back of her hand now; every day was the same trudge through the same caves leading to the same nothing. At least she’d stopped being disappointed and angry: by now all she felt was dull apathy.
“Dragoreen,” she asked the evening of the twentieth of January, her teeth chattering in the cold, “are you absolutely certain they’re still here? Could they have moved somewhere or seen us coming? Are they evading us somehow? We’ve looked in every cave and there’s nothing.”
Dragoreen shook her scaled body, crouched low to conserve heat. “How long has it been?” she asked.
“More than five weeks. Mark’s almost recovered. If they’re not here, we need to move on soon.”
The dragon surveyed her for a few seconds, tilting her head. “Perhaps I was mistaken,” she said eventually.
“Mistaken?” May stared at her. “What do you mean, mistaken?”
“Perhaps they weren’t here. It may have been the mountains of Scorpion Valley that they were in.”
“What?” Chaletwo said, not even trying to hide his frustration anymore. “You told us several times that you were absolutely sure. You said they were here. What changed?”
“Maybe they weren’t,” Dragoreen said, looking down thoughtfully. “No, I think it was the Scorpion mountains.”
“This is ridiculous,” Chaletwo said. “You were very insistent that we keep looking here a week ago.”
“Apparently not.” Dragoreen shivered. “Now get me out of this cold.”
May pointed the Master Ball at her and pressed the button, wordlessly, before turning around. What words could there be? The dragons weren’t here. They’d never been here. It was all for nothing. Of course it was. Why would a bunch of dragons, doubly weak to Ice, choose to live in such a cold place anyway?
That last thought gave her pause, a niggling sense of dread creeping up on her. Something was wrong. Something was very wrong. This hadn’t made any sense from the beginning. Dragoreen had been knowingly lying to them. Why would she lie?
As heat rushed to her face, May hurled the Master Ball at the nearest rock, as hard as she could throw it; it popped open and the dragon reemerged in a burst of white light, pressing her wings against her sides.
“You knew,” May said; she wanted to scream and kick and punch, but she didn’t even have the energy, only helpless anger that trembled too audibly in her voice. “You were trying to waste our time so they’d be weaker by the time we get there and capture them. You deliberately sent us here so that we’d...”
Dragoreen looked coolly at her, a wisp of a smug grin playing around the edges of her mouth.
“Ice Punch!” May said, throwing another ball; Floatzel came out hissing, her paw already on her Never-Melt Ice. Dragoreen didn’t even try to dodge or counterattack as Floatzel smashed her fist into her jaw.
“Where are they?” May clenched her fists tighter than she thought she’d ever clenched them. “Where are your brothers really?”
“I told you the truth earlier,” Dragoreen said calmly. “I have no interest in delaying you so long you won’t get them at all.”
May stared at her; her lack of remorse or defense was the most frustrating part of all, like a wall of calculated indifference that made it impossible to even hurt her back. “Ice Punch her again,” she said coldly, and Floatzel obediently socked Dragoreen in the jaw again. The legendary only shook her head.
“I would be angry, too,” she said. “But you gain nothing by punishing me. My goals were not the same as yours before; now they are. Go and capture them.”
May felt tears in her eyes, bitter, hateful tears, made worse because Dragoreen was right. There was nothing to do but to continue on their way.
She recalled Dragoreen again and Floatzel with her, sending out Skarmory instead. “Come on,” she said. “Let’s get the others.”
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