The Quest for the Legends (ILCOEp)
The Ouen League – Chapter 50: Friendly Competition
August 20th, 10:00
MAY VICTORIA WALLACE vs. MARK GREENLET
“Huh,” May said. “That’s lame.”
Mark nodded slowly. In storybooks, the two friends who had journeyed together always faced one another in the finals of the League. To be about to battle May already just felt off and anticlimactic, especially with the knowledge that one of them would then inevitably spend the rest of the duration of the League just sitting around and watching.
He tried not to think too much about the fact that would in all likelihood be him. He had resolved to himself that in his next battle he would show that he really belonged there, as a way of making up for his poor performance and qualification by sheer luck in the battle against Michael Willows. Much of the past couple of days had been spent trying to gather all his confidence and determination for the next battle; he couldn’t simply throw up his arms in defeat now.
“Well, I guess if we ever had to train separately, it’s now,” May said to break the silence. “So…”
“Yeah,” Mark replied and nodded. He waved goodbye as she left and then made his way out of the small crowd to send out Charizard.
“We’re battling May?” asked Letaligon when Mark had broken the news to the team.
“Looks like it, yeah.”
“We’ll never win,” she said bluntly.
“Well,” Dragonite pointed out with a shrug, “I did beat Tyranitar that one time, so who knows?”
“I think,” said Sandslash slowly, “that if we are to beat her, we need to take advantage of everything we have that she doesn’t.”
“Such as what?” Letaligon looked almost offended by the suggestion; Mark found it momentarily amusing.
“Your independence,” he suggested after a moment, catching on. “You guys have always done a lot of the battling without me calling the shots. May never does that. We could turn that to our advantage somehow.”
Sandslash nodded. “What it boils down to is that you trust us to make good decisions in battle, while May micromanages her team. We could use the time that they use to wait for her order to attack on our own, and that could also speed up the battle to make it harder for her to keep up.”
“Trust doesn’t win battles,” said Letaligon contemptuously. “Strategy does.”
“Well, then we’ll put together a strategy that exploits it,” Mark responded, irritated that she seemed to insist on taking the pessimistic approach. “See if we can’t figure out a way to make it work. She’s not impossible to beat.”
“It’s not as simple as that,” Scyther said. “You’d have to order all the moves first.”
Mark jumped at hearing him speak. Scyther hadn’t really spoken at all since after the battle with Michael, when Mark had sent him out in his room without really knowing what he wanted to say. Scyther had curtly pointed out that he’d done absolutely nothing wrong and that he couldn’t help it if his presence had upset the other boy, and then he’d recalled himself before Mark had had the chance to answer. He wasn’t sure he would have had one.
“Scyther is right,” Dragonite said, snapping him out of his thoughts. “We can only improvise within the boundaries you’ve already set.”
“Well, what if I try to be quick to order four different moves, so you’ll have more choices?”
“That’s a stupid idea,” said Letaligon. “If we waste four moves on something we have a type advantage against, there’ll be nothing left when she sends out something that’s good against us.”
Mark nodded reluctantly, furrowing his brow. “What if I order one or two moves against the Pokémon you’re sent out against and save the others for soon after the next one is sent out?” He paused. “And if it looks bad against the first, I can add the third or even fourth move, since if you don’t beat the one you’re sent out against, you won’t need them later anyway.”
“I think it would be better to start with who should open the battle than thinking up what we’re going to do when it’s begun,” Scyther said, but hesitantly, as if he wasn’t sure he wanted to say it. “If memory serves me, May has at least two fairly solid counters against every one of us. There is no way to ensure we won’t open at a disadvantage.”
Mark thought quickly over it in his head – Scyther was right. His heart sank for a moment, but he forcibly pulled it up again. “Well, who is she going to open with? We need to try to think like her.”
Everyone looked at Letaligon. She straightened her neck in an almost flattered manner, pausing for a moment before she answered. “If I were her, I’d start with Tyranitar. He uses Rock and Ground attacks, and that gives him an advantage over all of us except Sandslash.”
“Well, the obvious solution to that is to start with Sandslash,” Mark said, looking over at the pangolin.
Sandslash glanced hesitantly around. “Doesn’t Tyranitar know quite a few elemental moves that could be strong against Ground Pokémon, though?”
“She would make sure of that,” Letaligon asserted confidently.
Mark shrugged. “Do you have any other ideas? You still have the best chance against Tyranitar out of all of you.”
In the end Sandslash agreed to open the battle, they discussed some possible outcomes and strategies, and Mark returned to the trainer lodge for lunch. He was surprised to find that May wasn’t there yet; she was usually more punctual than he was, and it was already five minutes past the time they usually met. He waited for her for fifteen more minutes anyway, but was about to give up when she finally came through the door, not looking to be in a hurry; in fact, she seemed almost disappointed when she saw him.
“What are you still doing here?” she asked as she came over to the table with her choice from the buffet. “I thought you’d be done eating by now.”
“I was waiting for you,” he said blankly.
May gave him a pained look. “Look, Mark, right now you’re my next opponent. Not the guy I hang out and eat lunch with. Okay? I’ll eat with you now, but get dinner by yourself. And breakfast, too, tomorrow.”
Mark just nodded, not wanting to argue even if he couldn’t quite understand the point. They ate in relative silence – he couldn’t exactly run his proposed strategies by her now, and without her starting any conversation or that to fall back on, he couldn’t think of much to talk about. When May finished eating, she stood up immediately without waiting for him to finish.
“See you day after tomorrow,” she said. “I won’t hold back just because I know you. Give it your best shot.”
She flashed him a quick smile before she turned around, blue ponytails swishing behind her, and disappeared out the door. Mark was left to finish his own food, feeling oddly lonely.
Time passed at a snail’s pace for what remained of that day and the next. For all Mark could tell, May had vanished off the face of the Earth; he thought he maybe caught a glimpse of her outside once or twice, but at mealtimes he ate alone, and in the evenings she either came in before or after him. Despite May’s apparent opinion that this was helpful to battle strategies, Mark found it kind of distracting. Apparently, when his brain wasn’t thinking of May as the girl he hung out and ate lunch with, it began to think of her as a force of evil instead: the thought of losing became increasingly unthinkable, even as at the same time he began to doubt every strategy they came up with on the assumption that May simply had to have thought of it too and probably sat somewhere at that very moment with her own Pokémon figuring out a counter-strategy. Mark had a brief bout of being absolutely certain that May knew he was going to start with Sandslash and would probably open with Floatzel, and therefore he should start with Jolteon, except May would predict that too and start with Flygon, and then he probably ought to start with Charizard, who would be beaten by Floatzel again. The eventual conclusion was that he might as well stick with Sandslash.
As Mark retreated to his room after their final training session on the evening of the nineteenth, he rubbed his eyes and spent a few minutes just sitting on his bed and staring blankly at the door until one of the Pokéballs on his belt shook and opened, releasing Scyther in a flash of white light. Mark looked at him, questioningly.
“Mark,” Scyther said, “I don’t think you will win tomorrow.”
Mark said nothing.
“You were losing your last battle for a reason. We’re not strong enough, none of us. That you faced Nightmare’s trainer in the previous battle, and that he recognized me, was a fortunate accident.”
“We have strategies,” Mark replied. “You’ll improvise quicker than she can respond.”
Scyther sighed. “That’s not a solution to everything. Who says whatever we improvise will be any good? It worked for me against Nightmare’s trainer because he and his Pokémon were distracted. Beating May? It’ll be slightly better than if we didn’t do it, but it will not win the battle.”
“It could,” Mark just said. He didn’t want to give up, not here, not now, not at the urging of Scyther, who had gotten him this far in the first place. “Why are you telling me this? How do you think it’s going to help to convince me that I’ll lose?”
Scyther looked at him for a moment with a dark expression. “I know you think you need to make up for the lucky win by winning for real this time. But that’s not how it works. Even if you did beat May, it would not change anything about the previous victory. Win or lose – probably lose – you still wouldn’t have gotten this far if he hadn’t been Nightmare’s trainer or if I hadn’t tried to kill him that time. You have already been defeated. The fact your opponent failed to seal his victory by a last-minute moment of weakness does not mean you weren’t.”
Mark tried to make sense of that cryptic stance, and suddenly it dawned on him why Scyther seemed to care so much. “This is about you, isn’t it?” he said. “Your defeat, when Nightmare failed to kill you. This is your Scyther ethics again – if you’re defeated you must die, and if your opponent doesn’t do it it’s up to you to correct it. You think you can redeem yourself somehow if you get it right this time – you think to make up for an unfair victory, we need to lose.”
Scyther winced, but said nothing.
“Well, I don’t believe in that,” Mark said, feeling anger begin to seep into his voice. “I think it’s stupid how you think one mistake is the end of the world and you somehow have to suffer for it. If you get a second chance at something, you should be grateful for it and use it to show you deserve it, not try to destroy it in order to make yourself miserable again. And if you’re part of my Pokémon team, you should go along with our plan to win the next battle instead of trying to ruin it for everyone. Deal with your own issues and stop pushing them on us.”
Scyther looked at the floor and didn’t reply.
“And, well, maybe we will lose, but it won’t be because we gave up and decided we didn’t deserve to win. If you’re not willing to do your best in this battle for the sake of the team, you don’t belong on it.”
Mark took a breath, already having regrets about what he’d just said. He hadn’t meant to suggest he was somehow ‘firing’ Scyther from the team, but he couldn’t imagine trying to take it back would really help; it would retain all the potential for hurt but take away the actual edge. He looked at the Pokémon, waiting for an answer. Scyther didn’t say anything.
“I mean, it’s not that we don’t all want you on the team,” he tried, “but if you’re hurting our chances at achieving our goals, and it’s just for the sake of punishing yourself, we’ll all suffer for your beliefs. That’s not fair, is it?” He paused. “And really, why do you even want to punish yourself so much in accordance with your Scyther ethics? When was the last time the Scyther swarm did you any good? Doesn’t that rule say the only redemption is killing yourself, anyway?”
Another thing he immediately regretted saying; for moment, heart in his throat, he recalled their walk to Stormy Town and worried Scyther would attempt something right then and there. But the mantis didn’t move.
“No,” Scyther finally said, “no, you’re right. Losing the battle won’t fix anything.” And he recalled himself into his ball without saying anything else.
Mark didn’t know if that meant he had actually agreed to do his best in the battle or not, but he had a feeling it wouldn’t help to try to force him to continue the conversation, and it was about time to be turning in his Pokémon for the pre-battle examination anyway. He stood up to walk over to the office building and decided he’d try to talk to him again in the morning.
He woke up at around the right time, much to his relief. He’d been dreaming something about arriving at the battle arena only to find that May had turned into a blue Letaligon and that was why she hadn’t wanted to see him in the past couple of days.
Mark blinked sleepily on his bed, yawned, and after a few seconds stood up to get dressed and brush his teeth. A sea of vague strategies floated around in his head, obscuring everything else. He headed off to the League offices after a quick breakfast (there was still no sign of May, even though he’d have thought she would have had to get up at the same time as him) and was being taken to the battle arena by one of the receptionists when he suddenly realized he still hadn’t talked to Scyther.
He looked nervously at the lady walking by his side. He hadn’t seen her before; she was probably in her forties and had brown hair tied back in a bun, black, rectangular glasses, a large, pointed nose and a stern expression that reminded him uncomfortably of Mrs. Grodski now that he was debating if he’d dare to ask her if it was okay to stop and talk to his Pokémon. He told himself he really ought to, but his lips refused to move. What if she did say yes? She would insist on staying there for the conversation, and what would she think if he spent it trying to convince his Scyther that they didn’t deserve to lose after the previous battle and he shouldn’t kill himself? He insisted to himself that he should do it anyway, but then they were almost there, and he didn’t really have the time to ask, and then he was being ushered through the door to the trainer stand. It closed behind him with an ominous fate-sealing sort of click.
Mark sighed, contemplating his options as he looked at the other door at the top of the staircase. He supposed he could try to send Scyther out in this cramped space and talk to him, but this opportunity for unseen pre-battle interaction with one’s Pokémon couldn’t simply have been overlooked by the League; they had to have cameras or Pokéball-suppressors or something. He looked nervously around and tried, very carefully, to maximize one of the Pokéballs at his belt in a careless manner; the button did nothing. The latter, then.
Which meant he was forced to go into battle and simply hope that Scyther had gotten over it and decided not to try to sabotage it.
He winced and walked up the stairs to step through the door onto the trainer stand. He looked over the stadium, out of habit, really; it looked just the same as it had before his previous battle. The opposite trainer stand was still empty, and he waited, leaning against the railing, looking over the audience – he had almost begun to look for May before he remembered she wouldn’t be watching him this time. His stomach fluttered: somehow, the fact of just who he was about to battle had never seemed fully real until now.
He jerked his head back to the other trainer stand when the spectators began to cheer: May was stepping through the door. She took in the sight of the stadium with a confident, sweeping glance and then looked directly towards Mark; his stomach fluttered uncomfortably again. She grinned, grabbing a Pokéball off her necklace. Mark quickly took out Sandslash’s ball and fiddled nervously with the button. Was it really best to start with him? What if May didn’t start with Tyranitar at all? Did she recognize his Pokéballs, maybe? He looked over at her – he couldn’t tell her balls apart at all. Maybe he should have tried to notice that at some point.
He peered at May on the status screen. At least she didn’t appear to be looking at what Pokéball he was holding – at the moment she was looking over the audience – and she’d seemingly already taken out what she was going to lead with before he’d even picked his ball. He was probably being paranoid, anyway – how would she tell his identical Pokéballs apart? And the status screen image didn’t show the waist – it would be hard to tell from the placement which ball was being picked, whether from there or by trying to see it directly.
May looked so casual and confident. It struck him that even if she could tell what Pokéball he’d picked, she simply wouldn’t need to resort to something like that.
I’m going to lose, some part of his brain thought frantically. I have no idea what I’m doing. She’s going to wipe the floor with me.
A sinking feeling of hopelessness washed over him, but he’d had plenty of practice dealing with that feeling in the past two days; he pushed it firmly away, remembering his whole speech to Scyther the previous night. They had strategies. They had a chance. His Pokémon were independent and quick-thinking. They could do it.
And really, they had to win. Scyther had managed to make the prospect of losing exponentially worse. It wasn’t just about justifying his presence at this stage of the League anymore; it seemed like a matter of principle, as if losing would mean Scyther was right.
“Trainers, ready Pokéballs.”
Mark jerked his head up. On the status screen, May gave a confident smirk and maximized the Pokéball in her hand. Mark hurriedly maximized his own.
“Ready, set, throw!”
The protective force field shimmered out of existence and Mark tossed Sandslash’s ball into the arena. He watched May’s ball carefully as it flew in an arc through the air and released a white shape – was it Tyranitar? – no, it was smaller – it was tiny?
Mutark, Mark realized just before the light began to fade from the kitten Pokémon along with a weird object that had materialized beside her on the arena. He glanced at the status screen close-up for a better look: it looked like a spiky, metallic ball. He looked quizzically at May; surely that wasn’t supposed to be there?
May, however, did not look surprised. She gave no immediate command, instead just looking down to watch her Pokémon. The black, catlike creature walked up to the ball and batted curiously at it, with predictable results: she let out a mewling cry of pain as drops of blood dripped from her paw. Mark looked at May in horror; she was smirking now, and it suddenly dawned on him just what she was doing.
Mutark licked miserably at her wound and then stiffened and stretched, growing to a larger, more vicious form in a matter of moments. Mark looked quickly over at Sandslash, panicking: May had been complaining that it was hard to use Mutark effectively when she didn’t become powerful until after taking several hits, but it looked like she had figured out the solution to that problem since then.
“Sandslash, Earthquake!” he blurted out.
Sandslash leapt into the air just as Mutark pricked her tail on her Sticky Barb, with unnerving deliberation this time. As the pangolin landed and created ripples of Earthquake waves, she hissed and trembled, her tail lashing around in the air; the item was now stuck to the wound, and when she tried to lick the blood around it, it pricked her muzzle and forehead as well. Mutark mrowled in pain again while Sandslash took a leap for another Earthquake, and as the pressure waves reached her, she had already grown again: she was now around three times Sandslash’s size, with formidable four-inch fangs jutting from her upper jaw, and visibly less bothered by the Earthquake than she had been before.
“Earthquake again!” Mark called.
“Mutark, Sucker Punch!” May ordered.
Sandslash was in mid-leap when Mutark bounded towards him at breakneck speed, red eyes glowing, and smacked a paw into him. He was thrown backwards in an arc, spinning, but managed to execute the attack as he came down anyway, if a bit clumsily; Earthquake ripples spread across the ground, passing under Mutark’s feet and making her shudder before she took a moment to lick the blood that was leaking off her muzzle, stiffened and grew yet again. By now she was the size of a small horse and Mark doubted she would grow a lot more even if Sandslash did inflict physical wounds.
“Use Ice Fang,” May commanded.
“X-Scissor!” Mark countered quickly.
Icicles formed around Mutark’s grossly engorged fangs as she leapt towards Sandslash with a terrifying roar. He held his claws crossed in a defensive stance as they glowed faintly green. The giant cat Pokémon knocked him down and he managed to slash at her belly before she sank her long fangs into his body, frost forming around the entry wounds. Sandslash squeaked unnervingly, but slashed with still-glowing claws at her eyes, causing her to hiss and momentarily nearly release him. He struggled to get away, but she caught him in time and bit powerfully down again until his frost-covered body went limp, the audience shouting and cheering wildly as the referees waved the match’s first red flag.
Mark held forward Sandslash’s Pokéball to recall him, his heart hammering in his chest. The battle wasn’t starting off well, and he strongly suspected that was his fault, really: he should have given his first command sooner and used a bit more variety or strategy. As much as they’d been planning to be clever, when it came to it he had just kept ordering the same old brute force offensive moves. He had to try to shake off that mental state.
He looked down at the arena; Mutark was pacing restlessly around, growling. She hadn’t grown any more, even though there was still blood dripping from the slashes on her chest: he presumed that meant she was indeed in her strongest form right now. On the one hand, that meant she was very powerful already, not that that hadn’t been clear from how easily she’d taken Sandslash down; on the other hand, it meant there was no disadvantage to sending out Scyther. If Scyther was actually going to fight.
Mark hesitated. Scyther was one of his six Pokémon either way, though; one way or another, better get it out of the way. He braced himself. “Scyther, go! Double Team and then hit her with X-Scissor!”
“Mutark, Taunt and then Thunder Fang!”
Ironically, Mark thought, May might just have actually helped him by ordering that Taunt. The moment Scyther had finished materializing on the arena, Mutark growled something at him, and he responded with an angry hiss; he skipped the Double Team command entirely, instead zooming towards Mutark with his scythes raised and glowing. Scyther slashed twice across Mutark’s back before she grabbed him in her jaws, her fangs crackling with electricity as they pierced through his exoskeleton. He roared in pain, slashing madly at her side as his body convulsed.
“Keep that up, Scyther!” Mark called, not sure there was anything else he could do; Scyther would ignore any command to stop directly attacking her, and X-Scissor was the best he could do in that department. Scyther was all too happy to oblige and managed with a well-aimed hit to cut so deep into Mutark’s leg that she lost her balance and collapsed, releasing him completely. Scyther was quick to take advantage of this, despite the bluish-black blood oozing from his deep wounds; he leapt on top of her and hacked madly into her body until she stopped struggling to get up.
May recalled Mutark silently, pausing for a moment after reattaching the ball to her necklace. Finally, she picked one of her other balls, maximized it and threw it into the arena. “Skarmory, go!” she called. “Swords Dance!”
Skarmory burst out of the Pokéball in a flash of white, announcing his presence with a metallic screech before he spread his wings wide and began to spin rapidly around in the air to power himself up. Scyther, with a mad roar of blind rage, darted straight towards him without waiting for an order.
“Scyther, Brick Break!” Mark called. Under the spell of Taunt, there wasn’t a lot Scyther could do against a Skarmory, really: the best he could hope for was a type-neutral attack – not that Mark was sure he would be better off without the Taunt, with Scyther fully in control of his actions. He reached the bird, who was just finishing his Swords Dance, and gave him a punch with the edge of his scythe, but Skarmory merely recoiled slightly and screeched indignantly at the bug, seeming more irritated than hurt.
“Brave Bird!” May ordered, and just as Scyther was pressing back towards Skarmory, the bird faced him head-on. Skarmory flung himself straight into Scyther’s body, ignoring the mantis’s frantic strikes at his wings, and then simply used his weight to send both of them crashing towards the ground at a great speed. Scyther landed crushed under May’s Pokémon and gave a piercing cry of pain before Skarmory rose dizzily back to his feet and fluttered unsteadily into the air.
The metallic Pokémon landed gratefully on the ground a short distance away and settled down, folding his wings and closing his eyes to rest.
“Come on, Scyther,” Mark muttered, but the mantis was still lying sprawled on his back, bleeding and unmoving. The referees waved a red flag: he was officially out, and the audience cheered once more.
With a sigh, Mark took out Scyther’s ball and recalled him. Some part of him was glad in a twisted way that Scyther had fainted now, before the effects of the Taunt had worn off. On the other hand, if the battle kept going like this, May would completely cream him.
His obvious choices now were Charizard and Jolteon; however, he’d figured the day before that May would probably have Floatzel and had intended to let Jolteon deal with her. He took a deep breath as he grabbed Charizard’s ball. Strategy. Let the Pokémon use their independence. Order moves quickly to let them make their own judgements later.
“Skarmory, Swords Dance,” May ordered. Her Pokémon had finished resting and now began to spin around in another empowering dance, looking no worse for wear than at the very beginning of the battle.
“Charizard, Flamethrower!” Mark yelled as he hurled the ball forward, feeling stupid for spending so much time thinking that he’d given her the chance to get an extra power-up move in. As Charizard began to form, Skarmory finished his dance, and May gave another command:
“Skarmory, use a Rock Slide!”
“What?” Mark blurted out in a panic. Skarmory weren’t supposed to know Rock attacks! How did everything have Rock attacks when he had Charizard out? “Charizard, quick! Try to dodge it!”
Charizard finished materializing and apparently decided, probably wisely, that it would be difficult to try to both attack and dodge at the same time: he hovered in the air, watching Skarmory carefully as the Steel Pokémon screeched and raised several large boulders out of the ground that hurled themselves at Charizard. He managed to flick himself nimbly out of the way of the first couple, but then one struck him in the tail, throwing off his balance, and three or four others crashed into him while he was trying to regain it, throwing him towards the ground.
“Just try to Flamethrower him!” Mark called desperately as Charizard flew weakly back up, growling, and opened his mouth to fire a bright cone of fire towards Skarmory, who let out a high-pitched cry as it enveloped him.
“Another Rock Slide!”
His flight had faltered as his feathers had melted together, but Skarmory sent another barrage of rocks flying at Charizard. Again, he managed to dodge a few of them, but others hit, one tearing his wing fabric and making him cringe with pain. He retaliated on his own accord with another Flamethrower, which scorched Skarmory and bent one of his wings slightly, but still did not bring him down.
“Rock Slide again,” May ordered, and this time Charizard didn’t have the energy to dodge: stunned, Mark watched him crash to the ground, buried under several boulders, and fail to move.
This couldn’t be happening. He was three Pokémon down after only beating one of May’s. He recalled Charizard, watched her calmly instruct her Skarmory to Roost again and hated himself for the tears beginning to form at the corners of his eyes; he blinked them away. He couldn’t get himself slaughtered this badly. Not by May. Not when it would make Scyther right.
He tore a Pokéball from his belt and threw it. “Dragonite, Fire Punch until he’s down!” he shouted.
The dragon materialized and dived towards the resting Skarmory, flames circling his first. On the status screen, May frowned and looked down.
“Skarmory, Rock Slide!”
Skarmory opened his eyes just as Dragonite came zooming towards him and smashed his fist into his body, the heat allowing him to put a dent in the metal. The bird screeched in pain, flapping his wings to ascend as he prepared to attack.
“Dragonite, Thunder Wave!” Mark called, the only thought in his mind stopping May’s Pokémon from executing another attack. The rocks that had buried Charizard before obediently began to rise in response to Skarmory’s command, but Dragonite sent a wave of crackling electricity at the Steel Pokémon’s body, and as it set in, Skarmory’s muscles stiffened up and the boulders dropped back to the ground with a heavy rumble.
Dragonite used the opportunity while Skarmory was fully paralyzed to deliver another well-aimed Fire Punch, and the vulture was sent bounding backwards, unable to use his wings to soften his fall. He crashed into the wall under May’s trainer stand and flopped from there to the ground, where he finally managed to regain control of his body and fluttered unsteadily up again.
May gave Dragonite a glare. “Brave Bird!”
Skarmory, straining against his paralysis, used all his remaining energy to throw himself at his opponent. Dragonite was ready to receive him with yet another Fire Punch, but even as Skarmory screeched with pain and appeared to lose consciousness, he crashed into Dragonite’s body at full power and sent both of them bounding backwards. As they lost momentum, Dragonite managed to fly up and away from Skarmory, and the metal bird crashed into the ground, clearly fainted.
As May recalled him, Mark smiled grimly, oddly cheered by Skarmory’s defeat. He looked at Dragonite, who looked quite battered after that last attack, and decided to use May’s own tricks against her. “Dragonite, Roost!”
As Dragonite curled up on the ground to rest, May threw another Pokéball into the arena. “Go, Floatzel!” she shouted. “Bulk Up!”
The sea otter materialized on the arena, cackling with excitement; on a string around her neck hung the large chunk of Never-Melt Ice that May had excavated in Champion Cave, ready to power up her Ice attacks. She crouched down to the ground, focusing to tense her muscles as her two tails swished impatiently behind her.
Mark looked back at Dragonite, about to order an attack, but the dragon had already stood up, his bruises apparently fully healed, and fired a Thunder Wave towards his opponent. Floatzel opened her eyes too late to try to avoid it and cried out in annoyance as the paralyzing electricity set into her body. May frowned.
“Dragonite, Thunderpunch! Make it count!”
Floatzel tried to jump up, but her body stiffened halfway through the movement and she remained awkwardly on all fours on the ground, letting out a whine of protest as Dragonite dived towards her with electricity crackling around his paw. He socked her in the jaw with it and she was thrown aside, finally regaining her ability to move in time to land the right way up. She snarled indignantly at Dragonite as she rose, laying her paw on the ice-encased crystal around her neck momentarily before leaping up with a vengeful shriek to punch him in the gut. He cried out as he bounded backwards from the impact, a coating of frost forming on his belly; he shivered for a moment but then zoomed back towards her, undaunted, and she ran towards him with a cry of glee.
They met in the middle; Dragonite, being bigger and having longer arms, drove his electrified fist into Floatzel’s belly first, and as they were knocked away from one another again she managed to hit his side with her icy paw, though with less power than she might have otherwise. Dragonite shivered at the layer of frost it left on his skin, panting.
“Roost!” Mark called, and Dragonite curled up on the ground to heal himself.
“Floatzel, Bulk Up!” May ordered.
Floatzel let out a cackling laugh, crouching down to tense her muscles again, but then cried out in frustration as her paralysis kicked in for a second time. She growled angrily, struggling to move. Mark glanced at May on the status screen; she looked positively livid, gritting her teeth in disbelief with a fist clenched on top of the railing as she watched, and now the sight of it filled him with triumphant glee.
“Thunderpunch!” Mark shouted as Dragonite stood up, took off and dived towards the rigid Floatzel, sparks flying around his fist.
“Dodge it and get in the pool!” May hissed.
Floatzel managed to stand up and evade him, darting towards the pool on the right side of the arena. She slipped gracefully into it, instantly deflating her floating tube to sink under the water. Naturally, Dragonite followed as Floatzel circled around on her back at the bottom of the pool, grinning up at him through the distorting water.
The dragon pulled back his electrified fist and dived in after her, but he hesitated momentarily as he entered, probably shocked by the cold, and Floatzel was quicker in the water even despite being paralyzed. She whipped around behind him, touched her Never-Melt Ice and smashed her fist into his body, her cold paw forming a trail of ice behind it. Dragonite shivered as he floated up to the surface, a chunk of ice rapidly growing around one of his wings and tilting him awkwardly in the water.
“Again!” May commanded.
“Try to use a Fire Punch to melt it, Dragonite!” Mark called desperately, worried that Floatzel would attack him again before he could. But again, her paralysis saved him: before she could attack, her body went rigid and she sank like a rock to the bottom of the pool, her eyes widening in panic.
Mark looked uncertainly at May as the water around Dragonite’s paw boiled and he brought it carefully around to his wing where it quickly began to melt the ice. Surely Floatzel, being a mammal, was in danger of drowning if she couldn’t come up to breathe? May’s hand moved to her necklace, fiddling with one of the Pokéballs, but she didn’t take it out to recall her. There were mutterings in the audience as Mark looked back at Floatzel’s image on the status screen; her eyes darted wildly from side to side as a flurry of bubbles rose from her nostrils.
Dragonite, now fully rid of the ice, dived down and picked Floatzel up in his arms, carrying her up out of the water. May, who had now taken the ball off her necklace and maximized it, quickly minimized it again. As Dragonite surfaced, Floatzel gasped for breath and coughed violently; her paralysis was beginning to fade. Immediately, ice crystals began to gather around her still-stiff paw as her face twisted into horrified disdain for her savior.
“Dragonite, look out!” Mark yelled, and the dragon looked down, electricity suddenly crackling around his paw before he used it to punch Floatzel down to the ground. She thrust her paw forward a moment too late, screeching in pain and rage as sparks flew around her falling body. She was silenced when she hit the ground, knocked out either by the impact or as a belated effect of the Thunderpunch.
“Roost,” Mark called, his stomach fluttering: although he was still a bit shocked, his brain was now quite caught up with the fact that Dragonite had now taken down two of May’s Pokémon much like Skarmory had and he was about to heal himself and render much of the damage he’d taken void. “You rock, Dragonite!”
The dragon Pokémon smiled wearily as he curled up on the ground to heal himself once more. May, now pale and focused, recalled Floatzel and took out the next ball.
“Tyranitar, I choose you! Ice Punch!”
The great dinosaur roared as he emerged from the ball, to the great delight of the audience. Wisps of sand immediately began to swirl around him, stirred up by his presence on the battlefield. Mark noticed he had a yellow band with what looked like red eyes on it tied around his head and wished he hadn’t always skirted over the hold item section of the League Pokémart; it seemed May had been to it quite a few times since the last battle of hers he’d watched.
As Tyranitar made his way across the arena, Dragonite opened his eyes again, stood up and opened his mouth to release one more Thunder Wave. The paralyzing attack sparkled through the air despite the interruption of the building sandstorm and hit Tyranitar, who grunted as the electricity stiffened his muscles. He kept going nonetheless, if at a slower and jerkier pace, as Dragonite ascended into the air, his fist crackling with electricity.
May watched the dragon with irritation. “Hell with it. Just hit him with a Stone Edge.”
Dragonite dived, but he was just a bit too late: sharp rocks tore out of the ground below him and sent him flying up, but he quickly recovered despite the bleeding gash the sharp rocks had opened on his belly.
“Ice Punch now!” May shouted as Dragonite descended and delivered his Thunderpunch. Tyranitar roared in pain and flung his own fist into Dragonite’s face, icicles forming as the dragon was thrown back and crashed into the ground, unconscious.
“You did a fantastic job, Dragonite,” Mark muttered as he recalled him. His heart was still racing; they weren’t quite even, but they were a hell of a lot closer, in a way he couldn’t have imagined before.
Since Sandslash was gone, the best he had for dealing with Tyranitar was Letaligon. He picked her ball, threw it into the arena and called, “Letaligon, Iron Defense!”
“Tyranitar, Focus Punch!”
As Tyranitar closed his eyes to focus, Letaligon formed fully. For a moment she looked intimidated by her opponent, but that was quickly gone from her expression as she turned her body fully metallic. Mark couldn’t remember just what Focus Punch was, but it was probably a Fighting-type move and he figured Letaligon needed all the defense she could get.
When he opened his eyes again, Tyranitar roared and ran towards Letaligon with a sudden astounding speed; Mark watched it in puzzlement as Letaligon ran away with a screech and the huge dinosaur seemed to be somehow catching up with her as white energy gathered around his fist –
Suddenly, he stopped with a grunt. Sparks leapt across his body as his paralysis blocked his muscles. A loud clang rang out above; Mark looked up to see May rubbing her fist, apparently having punched the metal railing of her trainer stand, while glaring straight at him with the same utter hatred she usually reserved for Taylor. For a moment, it kind of disturbed him; then he realized he ought to be taking advantage of the situation.
“Letaligon, Iron Tail!” he called. Her tail glowed white as she swung it at Tyranitar’s immobile form, hitting the blue center of his stomach. He grunted in pain but still couldn’t move. Letaligon, seeing her chance, smashed her tail into him again.
“Earthquake!” May ordered.
Tyranitar finally regained control of his muscles, and with a deep roar, he stomped a foot on the ground, sending ripples of pressure across it. Letaligon trembled violently as they passed under her.
“Metal Burst!” Mark blurted out, not entirely sure if it was a good idea to waste her third move yet, but it was a generally useful move anyhow. Ripples of illusory steel spread across the ground in a mirror image of Tyranitar’s attack, and his great body shook as they hit him. Letaligon followed it up with yet another smash of her tail, this time producing a visible crack on his blue belly; he roared in pain, the flow of sand around him jerking as if in sympathy.
“One more Iron Tail!”
Tyranitar produced yet another Earthquake, almost knocking Letaligon off her feet. Her legs shook like jelly afterwards, but she still managed to strike him one more time in the belly with her tail. Tyranitar doubled over in pain, clutching his stomach, and Letaligon finished the job with a powerful strike to his head, after which he collapsed forward.
As May recalled him wordlessly, Letaligon composed herself. She was doing better than Mark had thought she was; the trembling of her legs had suggested she was on the verge of fainting, but Mark guessed the Iron Defense had saved her. Now that she had gotten a moment’s rest, she didn’t look too bad, at least as far as Mark could see through the still-raging sandstorm. She tossed her head, looking at May, who was picking her next Pokéball. May paused for a moment after maximizing it, looking at Letaligon, and suddenly grinned.
Mark didn’t think that was a good sign, but pushed it out of his mind for the moment.
“Blaziken, go! Sky Uppercut!”
“Letaligon, Earthquake!” Mark countered quickly.
The giant humanoid chicken materialized on the arena, flames flaring up around his wrists as he cried towards the sky. The last remnants of the sandstorm were still whipping around him, making him scowl in irritation before he charged towards his opponent, clenching one talon-fist. Meanwhile, Letaligon reared up on her hind legs and smashed into the ground, sending a flurry of ripples across the ground towards Blaziken. The chicken Pokémon took a great leap while spreading the winglike feather crests on his hea, avoiding most of the attack, but Letaligon quickly smashed her paws into the ground again to catch him as he landed. He grunted in surprise as he was thrown off balance, and Letaligon used the opportunity to thicken the steel coating of her body with another Iron Defense just in time before Blaziken regained his balance and reached her. He gave her a powerful punch in the jaw, and she stumbled back but remained conscious nonetheless and without warning reared up to create yet another Earthquake.
May clenched her first on the status screen, annoyed. “Heat Wave, Blaziken!” she called as her Pokémon collapsed on all fours, disoriented by the Earthquake ripples. As he heard the command, he looked up and managed to take a leap; freed from the ground-based attack, he took a deep breath and expelled it as a wave of superheated air that rippled towards his opponent. Letaligon quickly smashed her paws into the ground once again before closing her eyes and bracing herself for being hit; her entire body glowed a dangerous orange, melting and distorting as she screamed in pain, and Mark watched in horror as she crumpled to the ground, already reaching for her Pokéball to recall her. Blaziken, who had landed on the ground and been caught in the middle of Letaligon’s Earthquake, collapsed on the ground, shivering even as the ripples died down.
Mark’s heart was hammering as he threw out his final Pokéball. “Jolteon, go! Thunderbolt!”
“Blaziken, Mach Punch!”
But even though Mach Punch was a fast attack, Blaziken was still recovering from Letaligon’s final move, and when Jolteon materialized, he was already beginning to crackle with sparks. With a cry of “Jooolt!”, he fired a bolt of lightning towards the rising Blaziken, and the bird screamed as electricity surged through his body, sending him collapsing onto the ground again as he twitched and convulsed, his red plumage scorching and smoking.
The referees waved a red flag, and May reluctantly recalled Blaziken. Mark stared at her in disbelief: unless he had counted something incorrectly, the battle was down to a one on one, and Jolteon wasn’t hurt or tired at all!
But there was that disconcerting smile of hers again. She tossed her last ball confidently into the arena and shouted, “Go, Flygon!”
The crowd went wild.
Mark was struck with that sinking feeling again as the dragonfly Pokémon emerged, but refused to give up now that they’d gotten this far.
“Jolteon, Shadow Ball!” That was the TM he had finally found for Jolteon as a backup move against Ground-types. Jolteon wasn’t very skilled with it yet, but it was somewhat more powerful than Swift anyway.
“Earthquake!” May ordered.
The white glow faded from Flygon’s body; Mark noticed that he, too, had an item hanging around his neck, a strange, glowing, purple orb that throbbed rhythmically, almost like a beating heart. The Dragon-type let out a cry, beating his diamond-shaped wings powerfully towards the ground, and the pressure sent ripples spreading towards Jolteon.
“Wait, try to dodge it!” Mark shouted quickly, though Jolteon appeared to have thought the same: he was still not charging the Shadow Ball, instead crouching low and focusing on the approaching Earthquake waves. He jumped, landed between two waves, leapt up again, narrowly avoided one that passed just as he landed, took one more leap straight towards Flygon – he’d dodged it completely! Mark’s heart took a leap; even May’s face on the status screen looked kind of impressed.
Jolteon hissed at Flygon and crouched down, producing an orb of shadowy energy in front of him before sending it flying at May’s Pokémon. The dragonfly recoiled, shuddering.
“Sand Tomb!” May called. Flygon spun circles around Jolteon in the air, and the ground underneath him crumbled to dust in his wake. Jolteon cried out in surprise as his paws began to sink and the fine sand whirled up all around him, battering him and obscuring his vision. Another Shadow Ball began to form inside the vortex and shot towards Flygon, knocking him back, but the Sand Tomb was already sustaining itself and didn’t waver even as Flygon was hit.
“And now, Earthquake!”
Mark’s mind raced – the Sand Tomb had obviously been intended to prevent Jolteon from dodging, but was there a way to try to counteract it somehow? “Agility!” he realized as Flygon flapped his wings to create another Earthquake. Jolteon took a blindingly fast leap and managed to break free from the vortex of sand and dart away towards more solid ground, where he nimbly skirted between the ripples again, though he was caught by the final wave and tripped. He stood quickly up again and began to charge another Shadow Ball.
This time May only looked furious. “Flygon, Supersonic!”
Mark noticed now, for the first time, that Flygon looked considerably more hurt and worn out than he ought to, but didn’t really dwell on the thought. The Pokémon halted in the air, stopping to breathe for a moment before his wings vibrated to produce a high-pitched noise only barely audible to human ears. Jolteon shivered in discomfort, but managed nonetheless to fire the Shadow Ball he’d been preparing.
“Earthquake!” May shouted.
“Try to avoid it with Agility again!” Mark called quickly.
As the Earthquake ripples came speeding towards Jolteon, he once again leapt to try to avoid them, but the Supersonic had disoriented him; he only very clumsily dodged the first ripple but landed awkwardly and had to spend a moment regaining his balance, and in that moment the next ripple approached. As it passed under him, he trembled and shivered and any further dodging efforts were doomed. He stood there crouched low on the ground, shaking, for a second after the final ripple passed.
“Try to get a Shadow Ball in!” Mark shouted, flicking his gaze towards Flygon, and realized then that May’s Pokémon was on all fours on the ground, exhausted and drawing in deep breaths. The orb still throbbed around his neck, and now that he thought about it, it had glowed every time Flygon had attacked...
A Life Orb, dawned on him suddenly. He’d heard of that item – it powered up a Pokémon’s moves by imbuing them with some of the Pokémon’s own life force. Which meant Flygon really was as hurt and weak as he looked. One more Shadow Ball might...
...but of course May wouldn’t use an item like that without insurance, would she?
He looked quickly back at Jolteon. He had stood up, but was stumbling, clearly still confused. He began to form a Shadow Ball, but Flygon was already lying down, folding his wings, closing his eyes...
“Quick Attack!” Mark shouted in a sudden burst of inspiration.
Jolteon darted towards Flygon in a yellow blur and tackled him, but Flygon just looked up and cried indignantly before closing his eyes again and being wrapped in a faint blue glow. Jolteon, who seemed to have shaken off the confusion now, began to charge a Shadow Ball by Flygon’s side, but when it hit, the Dragon Pokémon had already healed himself.
May’s Pokémon took off the ground and flapped his wings for yet another Earthquake. Jolteon tried to dodge, but after all the dodging and darting around, he was too exhausted to keep up the necessary speed; he was knocked down by the third ripple to approach him and from there simply collapsed in exhaustion.
“You were great, Jolteon,” Mark said quietly as he took out the ball to recall him, his voice drowned out by the explosion of cheering from the audience. The battle had been lost when the Quick Attack had failed to bring Flygon down, and even that had been a faint hope. In a way he was just glad Jolteon hadn’t had to strain himself any longer.
He looked across the arena at May as she was declared the winner, and she grinned and waved at him before turning around to exit the trainer stand.
Mark took a deep breath. He was out. And yet, somehow he didn’t quite mind.
He met May again in the Pokémon Center, where she had already settled comfortably on a couch to wait for her Pokémon to be healed. Mark handed his own to the nurse and came over to her.
“Congratulations,” he said as he sat down.
May beamed at him, all traces of her annoyance during the battle gone. “Thanks, Mark. Disappointed?”
He considered it. “No, not really,” he said, truthfully. “I think I knew I’d lose, deep down. You’re better than me. You’ve always been better than me. I just told myself we had a chance so I could do my best and encourage my Pokémon to do their best, and they did. It went great, all things considered. For a moment I even honestly thought I could win.”
“They did do their best,” May agreed with a nod. “Jolteon was great. So was Dragonite. And Letaligon. Even if you got really lucky with the paralysis thing.”
“I’ll tell them when they’re healed,” Mark replied, smiling. “I’m sure they’ll appreciate it.”
“And speaking of paralysis, Floatzel is going to be furious that Dragonite saved her.”
Mark chuckled. “Seriously, though, she had me worried for a moment.”
May nodded distantly, looking away. “Me too.” She paused and looked at Mark. “Tell him...” She trailed off. “No, never mind.”
He didn’t press it. He looked past her and saw the nurse at the counter waving to catch his attention, then pointing at May. “I think your Pokémon are healed.”
“Okay,” she said, looking quickly around to confirm it before she stood up. “Thanks for the battle. It was fun.” She smiled and looked like she meant it. Mark suspected she’d think of it very differently if by some miracle he had actually won.
He smiled back anyway. “You’re welcome.”
After Mark had retrieved his Pokémon, the first thing he did was head off to his room and send out Scyther.
“How did it go?” asked the mantis when he had materialized, his expression neutral.
“We lost,” Mark said, giving his Pokémon a searching look.
Scyther nodded slowly. “I suppose that was inevitable.”
At least he isn’t chuckling with glee, Mark thought dully. “So... what? Feel like we’ve fixed it?”
Scyther shook his head. “I think you were right. I’d rather fight to win than feel obligated to lose for the rest of my life.” He paused for a moment. “The truth is that fighting for you is the only thing that gives me joy and purpose anymore. If I must lose that to follow the Code, screw the Code.”
He winced as he said it, but Mark knew he meant it. “I appreciate it,” he replied. “I hope it’s what will make you happiest.”
Scyther looked uncertainly around as if debating whether to say something. “Did Nightmare... did she battle?” he muttered at last.
“Yeah,” Mark said.
Scyther looked up. “Did she seem content with it? Battling for a trainer, being an exile from the swarm, being a...?”
Mark thought back to that battle, to the Scizor’s playful Swords Dance and smug avoidance of Hypnosis. “Yeah,” he replied. “She seemed to be enjoying herself.”
Scyther nodded once. “If she can be happy like that, I can too.”
Mark smiled at him. “I hope you will.”
He sent out all his Pokémon later, outside at their familiar training spot, where there was comfortable room and privacy for all of them. He recounted the progression of the battle, with interjections from the one who had been fighting at each point, and relayed May’s compliments to Jolteon, Dragonite and Letaligon.
“And honestly, you were all great,” he continued. “Sandslash, it was my fault I didn’t give you an attack sooner or more varied moves. I’m sorry. Scyther, you were forced to blindly attack a fully-grown Mutark and then a Skarmory, who has an overwhelming advantage against you even without you being Taunted. You did great for the circumstances. And Charizard, you may technically have had a type advantage, but Skarmory had gotten a couple of Swords Dances in and had an extremely effective attack against you; you couldn’t have been expected to win on brute force, and you did a fantastic job dodging what you could. We were never going to become Champions, but you more than showed you were worthy of being there in the top eight, and that’s what matters most. I’m really proud of you. You’ve all grown a lot stronger and learned new moves and skills – the legendaries won’t know what hit them.”
He cracked a smile as some of the Pokémon chuckled at that. “And, well, while we’re still here, we won’t let that time go to waste. We’ll root for May to get as far as she can, and for Taylor to be beaten. Maybe we can help her train, or train for the legendary battles ourselves. Maybe I could hang around at the library and see if I can find anything about sightings of the remaining legendaries. And then, when the tournament is over...” He eyed Letaligon. “Well, first we’ll take Letaligon to Ruxido, since that’s what she wants. And then we’ll head off and look for the legendaries. We’ll find them, we’ll capture them, we’ll prevent the War of the Legends.”
The Pokémon all nodded or muttered in agreement.
“And then...” He took a deep breath. “Then I’m going home.”
They looked at him in surprise – more, Mark hoped, at the context of this revelation than its content.
“I’ve been to the League now and done better than I ever dared to hope. Again, you’ve been fantastic all the way. But I’m done being a trainer. The only reason I wanted to in the first place was that everyone else was one. I’ve never been any good at it. Even though it’s been fun – sometimes –” He saw Charizard smile. “Well, it’s just not something I’d want to do for a living or for many years. I have a mission now, which I’m going to complete to the best of my ability, but when that’s done, my journey is over. It’ll probably be a while, but when that time comes, you’re going to have to choose what you want to do. You can stay with me in Sailance if you want, but I can also take you back where I caught you, or wherever you like.”
They were silent, looking uncertainly at one another; all except Letaligon, who was pawing impatiently at the ground, clearly feeling she was no longer being addressed.
“You don’t have to make that choice now. I just want you to know about it and have thought about it by that time. I’ll go along with whatever you choose. Again, it’ll probably be a while, and I’ll do my best as your trainer until then. This is just a... a forewarning.” He looked between his Pokémon. “Okay?”
They nodded one by one. Mark saw Scyther look emptily straight ahead and thought back to his earlier words about how battling for Mark was the only thing he lived for; he felt a pang of guilt in his stomach and hoped that he would find something to live for before that.
“Well, it was nothing else for now. I’m sorry if I’ve let you down.” He paused. “Want to get back in your balls, take a nap, what?”
They all preferred to return to their Pokéballs now, though Jolteon, Letaligon and Sandslash wanted to sleep outside their balls. Mark walked alone back to his room, feeling sadness at what he couldn’t help somehow perceiving as a betrayal of his Pokémon, but also a tingly sort of excitement, like an era of his life had come to an end and a new one was about to begin.
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