The Quest for the Legends (ILCOE)

This is an author's commentary intended for readers who have already read the entire ILCOE. My retrospective comments on the chapter are in bold below, with some remarks within the text and then some overall thoughts at the bottom. The commentary will contain significant spoilers! Do not read the commentary on your first read-through!

Chapter 1: The Pokémon on the Road

Exactly 999 years later, it was a beautiful morning in the town of Sailance in North-West Ouen.

The trees’ branches swayed gently in the soft breeze, providing a constant, quiet rustle. The sun was rising, coloring the sky in a glorious, vibrant red. The air was comfortably warm and fresh. The only thing the scenery lacked was birdsong. That was also the only part of it that Mark Greenlet even remotely cared about.

I don't know if any of you remembered this when you read chapter 77 (if this was the version you read - this line in particular came about in the ILCOE, plus inspiring the beginning of the first chapter of the IALCOTN), but that's why the last sentence of the fic is about birdsong.

Sailance got a name in the HMMRCIG; prior to that, Mark had just lived in "a very small village". At the time I started the HMMRCIG, I was very into creating names by garbling something vaguely related; in Sailance's case, it's literally just "silence", because it's silent and dull and there are no Pokémon in it. This, of course, is not generally how places are named in the real world.

The Ouen region got a name in chapter eight of the original, however, at which time it had been announced that the still-unreleased Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire would take place in a region called "Houen" (the English localization, which spelled it "Hoenn", wouldn't be released for a while). Because "Kanto" and "Johto" sounded vaguely similar, I thought it'd be clever if the fourth region that my story was set in (I didn't think as far as there eventually being a canonical fourth region - I guess I figured by that point I'd have finished this story, right?) sounded kind of like Houen.

Mark's last name also happened in the HMMRCIG (we don't usually have family names in Iceland and I don't think anyone had one in the previous versions) and is also a garbling of something, namely of an anagram of "legendary". This wasn't an association that was actually meant to be made by anyone, mind - it was purely a crutch to help me make up a name.

He was short, thin, dark-haired, and currently on the way to school. A year ago, he would’ve been with his best friend Alex, chatting and feeling good. Now, Alex was probably somewhere with his Totodile having fun, while Mark was home in Sailance, walking alone, quiet and feeling miserable.

For a very long time I vaguely meant to have Alex actually appear at some point - at the League or at the end or something. But ultimately there wasn't really a good place for it and it never happened. Since Alex started his journey last year, he wouldn't have been participating with Mark, mind, just sort of popping up as a cameo.

Alex happened in the ILCOE - the HMMRCIG/YAR versions of this chapter just vaguely alluded to "all his friends".

Mark’s parents were over-protective. There was no question about that. Almost all the other kids had been taken to Green town last year to receive a Pokémon from Ash Ketchum. Out of the ones left, Mark was the only one who had been looking forward to it for his whole life, only to have his parents tell him that it was too dangerous. What did they know, anyway – they had lived in North-West Ouen for their whole lives and never been trainers.

The problem was that North-West Ouen had no Pokémon in it, for some reason that Pokémon experts had always debated about. The people who lived there were all lawyers or other rich people who wanted a life in peace without Pokémon and little kids asking them for a battle all day. And if there was anything that people who had lived there for more than thirty years did not understand, it was the concept of Pokémon training. Mark’s parents kept pointing out to him the possibility of getting a ‘real’ job. A programmer? How about a professional artist, since you draw so well? They would ask questions like that every time he mentioned that he wanted a Pokémon of his own, and were absolutely incapable of understanding how he felt when all his classmates and friends left.

Mark walked grudgingly into the school building. He hated it, especially the prison-like outwards appearance and that dull, lifeless, rock-gray color of it. Mark loved living things; he had since he was little, and hated gray because it was so lifeless. The corridors were even duller, even grayer and even more lifeless, which only added to the depressing feeling of the whole building. To top it all, all the students were snappy and irritated, usually because they wanted to train Pokémon, and the teachers were all snappy and irritated too, simply because of the gloomy atmosphere that never left the building.

Mark’s first lesson on Thursdays was Battling Strategies, a branch of Pokémonology. He sighed as he sat down in front of the classroom. What a waste of time; he would never get the opportunity to use any battling strategies. Besides, whether it was because of his rather negative opinion on the classes or because he would rather spend them drawing on the back of his school papers, he was completely lousy at Pokémonology. For tests, he desperately sank himself into the textbook and sure enough, he managed to learn the bits of the text he found the most interesting pretty well. The problem was that they always asked about the most boring and uninteresting things, such as the level at which one Pokémon approximately evolved into another. This just made him despise Pokémonology even more.

He preferred Pokémon Communication classes by far – ‘Pokémonish’, as they were usually referred to in everyday speech. He was much better at languages than learning stupid things by heart, aside from finding Pokémon’s language very interesting in general. Those few things in Pokémonology that had sunk in over the years mostly had something to do with this remarkable language of syllables, bodily expressions and voice tones anyway.

One of the very best things in Pokémonish, also, was that in exams, live Pokémon were brought to classes and the kids got one Pokémon each to stage a normal casual chat with. At the end of the class, the Pokémon each gave the teacher a report on how well the students handled the conversation. Mark was very good at it, which he was deep inside rather proud of although he didn’t like to brag. He remembered the test last year where he had discussed Pokémon rights with a Vulpix. He smiled faintly at the thought; it was probably one of the best memories of his life. The two of them had had so much in common, and they had ended up in an exciting discussion about Pokémon rights that went way past the time the exam was supposed to take. The teacher had been forced to recall the Vulpix into his Pokéball in order to get Mark to leave the classroom. Since then, Mark had been daydreaming about one day sneaking out to Green town on his own account and getting a Vulpix; this one incident had bumped the red fox Pokémon to the ‘awesome’ section of his favorite Pokémon list.

It's a bit difficult to imagine exactly how Mark and a random Vulpix had a lot in common; the biggest concerns in Mark's life seem to be school, drawing and not getting to be a Pokémon trainer, none of which would feasibly apply to a Vulpix, for one! But I always did rather like that I established the Pokémon Mark wants most of all is a Vulpix, only for the Pokémon he actually gets later to be a Charmander. Mark doesn't just get the exact thing that he wants.

But the class he enjoyed the most was Art. His Pokémon pictures received very positive comments by Miss Taintor, who was a professional artist along with her teaching. She was the type of person that was always honest and all but afraid of telling somebody basically that their pictures sucked, but she mysteriously managed not to sound mean, however bad she thought the picture was. Mark was weird when it came to criticism; he subconsciously hated being criticized at all by other people, even if he completely agreed. That could be a good thing; in fact, it had been what caused him to suddenly decide to draw all day during the summer when he turned nine. When Miss Taintor saw his art in fourth grade, she had said, as he still remembered word for word: “Big improvement, young man – if there were more students like you in this stupid school, I’d be out of a job.” Probably another one of his very best memories – being congratulated by a harsh critic felt a lot better than the constant compliments from his parents and relatives who always pretended that everything he did was the greatest thing since sliced bread, and hearing a teacher call the school stupid made him feel like they were on the same team. After that, he had started to appreciate constructive criticism – he still didn’t technically like it, but it definitely helped.

This hilariously irrelevant tangent was brought to you by me having started the HMMRCIG because I was inspired by this really great constructive review I got, and I really wanted everyone to know how great I thought it was. (In reality, I wasn't even very good at taking constructive criticism at this point - while I absolutely agreed with critiques of the previous UMR version, I argued relentlessly with more or less anyone who criticized this new version in anything but the ways I'd previously decided were its weak points. I was a very obnoxious fourteen-year-old and I'm sorry.)

He was pulled out of his thoughts by the sound of the bell ringing. Mark hated that sound; it hurt his ears. To his opinion, it should just be about as loud as the beep of his digital watch – at least everybody in the classroom could hear it quite clearly if he had forgotten to disable the alarm, and not even his own sensitive ears considered the noise too loud.

At least, he heavily stood up, and got in line with the few other kids in sixth grade who weren’t out training Pokémon. Mrs. Grodski, who taught Pokémonology, was a very grumpy old lady who wore the biggest glasses Mark had ever seen, spoke through her overly large nose and had developed a strong hatred for Mark for some reason he had never understood.

“Good morning, class,” she said sternly as everybody had taken their places standing behind their chairs.

“Good morning, Mrs. Grodski,” the class mumbled, apart from Mark, who said his usual “Good morning, Mrs. Grumpy.” He knew it was safe; it drowned completely in the rest of the class’s murmurs.

“Today,” Mrs. Grodski announced with a frown at how tired all the kids sounded, “we will be studying up on recoil attacks. Sit down and turn to page forty-two, please.”

Forty-two! I'm so clever.

Mark sighed and opened his book as Mrs. Grodski watched him carefully, but as soon as she began talking, he silently took out his binder and started to draw a Lugia on the back of an English assignment. It was his favorite Pokémon of all; he drew it all the time. Articuno, his second favorite, was a bit trickier to draw, but that didn’t make him like it any less. He loved all the Legendary Pokémon. In fact, he was utterly obsessed with them. He had been fascinated by those ultimate beings of the world since he was little.

“And just what do you think you’re doing, Mr. Greenlet?” Mrs. Grodski’s voice snapped. He looked slowly up from his Lugia, partially covering it with his hand. Mark had a hard time hiding his laughter behind an innocent expression.

“I believe I’m drawing, Mrs. Grodski, unless I’m very much mistaken,” he said in a sarcastically polite voice. There were some snickers from behind.

“Quiet!” the teacher screeched. “And stop scribbling on your papers, least of all in my class!”

Mark grimaced at her as she returned to her desk, and made the textbook stand open on the table, shielding the binder and making him look like he was actually reading.

This is Mrs. Grodski's only actual on-screen appearance until chapter 77, which mildly surprised me here - because of some combination of the IALCOTN (where she has a somewhat bigger part) and the references to her classes peppered throughout the story, she felt like a bigger presence than that. She's a shameless cartoon stereotype here, of course, and the way Mark casually mouths off at her and people laugh just reminds me of those "and then everybody stood up and clapped!" sorts of fake inspirational stories people circulate on social media.

I'm pretty sure I very, very early on had plans to have the end of the fic involve Mark meeting her again - but at that point their meeting wasn't supposed to involve him apologizing for being a brat. Over the years, as I started to reject black and white thinking and properly see how simplistic and stereotypical Mark's point of view actually is here, I started to think more about Mrs. Grodski as an actual person - a teacher who pretty openly dislikes a student, but probably does so because he openly hates her subject, makes a very public point of ignoring her and calls her names when he thinks she can't hear. She's stuck in the same toxic atmosphere that Mark remarked on earlier, teaching a bunch of bratty kids who don't want to be there and openly hate her. She doesn't want to be there either. But chapter one Mark doesn't see any of that, because she's not a person to him, just this evil unfair monster who hates him for no reason. And then, after this entire long, messy journey where Mark had to learn a lot about empathy and nuance and how people are just generally a complicated mess - he comes back to Sailance and sees her, and suddenly she's a real person that he can understand and empathize with. Mark grew up alongside me.

-------

Finally, the day was over. The sky was now slowly getting covered with depressing clouds. Mark went to play soccer with the fifth graders as usual, not really concentrating.

It was early May. May was something that Mark subconsciously connected to the bad knot in his stomach that formed every year as he watched all the lucky ten-year-olds drive away for Green town at the end of the month to get a Pokémon. The kids he was with now would probably all leave on an adventurous Pokémon journey soon while he would be left at home, standing at some street corner and drawing the city with imaginary Rattata poking out of the dustbins, Taillow singing in the trees and maybe a lone Meowth staring hungrily at them from below.

It is a little amusing that May is something Mark associates with a knot in his stomach. (I'm pretty sure this was actually intentional.)

The ball came flying towards him and he kicked it away very hard, not bothering to aim anywhere. Stupid Pokémon! Why couldn’t they just get their butts over to North-West Ouen!

Mark felt all the unfairness of the situation load up behind his eyes and attempting to get out in liquid form.

Oh, no, you don’t, you’re staying in there, he ordered, screwing his eyes shut for a second and opening them again. He felt a strong urge to be alone.

He ended up leaving the game and going home to sulk.

The weather was now gray and gloomy, fitting Mark’s mood perfectly; the clouds were thickening up and it would likely start raining soon. He quickened his pace as he turned down his home street. When he was just about to cross it, he heard something. Something that came from the bushes his back was currently turned to.

He jumped, twisting around immediately. Dead quiet, he waited for a few seconds. Then it happened again – a branch moved and a twig cracked.

Very slowly and carefully, his heart beating like a drum in his chest, he stepped up to the bush and pulled the branches apart. To his great disappointment, there was nothing there at all. He sighed. He had been hoping he had found the first Pokémon of North-West Ouen… maybe a Vulpix. He grinned at the thought, but then shook his head.

“Come on,” he said bitterly to himself, “stop dreaming… you’re never going to become a Pokémon trainer.”

He ran across the street. It was starting to rain.

This scene was expanded and improved on a fair bit in the ILCOE. Here's what a chunk of it looked like in the original HMMRCIG version:

But when he passed the bushes opposite his house, he heard something.

He jumped. A branch moved and a twig cracked. Mark’s heart beat faster.

Very slowly and carefully, he stepped up to the bush and pulled the branches apart. To his great disappointment, there was nothing there.

While the ILCOE version (this is technically the ILCOTEM, but this chapter wasn't changed very significantly in that) is by no means amazing, I think the progress from this to that (which is pretty typical of the ILCOE and happened in just a few months - this is April vs. August 2004) is kind of fascinating and illustrative. The HMMRCIG's prose is extremely barebones and utterly dead, just stating what happened. The ILCOE adds a bit of detail and focuses just a bit more closely on Mark's perspective and perception, and it's way better. Well done figuring this out, fourteen-year-old me.

(On the other hand, the ILCOE also made this scene even more angsty.)

-------

After a very normal, quiet dinner with his parents while watching Bravo Trainer, he sat down in the sofa in the living room, and stared outside through the blurry, wet glass in the window facing the street.

He stopped dead.

There was definitely something moving out there. Something… reddish?

The word ‘Vulpix’ instantly crossed his mind, although he knew it was ridiculous to assume that the starter Pokémon of his dreams had suddenly appeared in front of his house. Mark leapt to the front door, into his boots and pulled the door open.

There was indeed a Pokémon there, but it wasn’t a Vulpix. It was an orange, cute-looking bipedal lizard; one of those he had used to point at in picture books when he was little, announcing that it was a Fire-type in order to make his parents nod appreciatively and tell him he was really smart remembering it all.

Mark's still going on about Vulpix here and I love it.

But this was a real, living Charmander, not a picture in a book, and this fact made the Pokémon seem scary and foreign. It was lying limply on the middle of the road, and the flame that was supposed to be on the tip of its tail was merely a small, bright glow. That was still enough to indicate that it was alive.

At first, Mark just stood there like a cow, staring, but then he was knocked to his senses by the sound of a car. He ran out onto the road, picked up the Pokémon and hurried inside with it, already soaked wet by the downpour.

Mark slammed the door shut and started fanning the Charmander’s tail flame stupidly with his hand in order to revive it, with little success.

“Mom! I – I found a Charmander on the road!” he panted.

“Really?” sounded his mother’s voice absent-mindedly from upstairs. “Very nice, but why don’t you just go into your room, dear?”

“Parents,” Mark hissed at nobody but himself and the unconscious Pokémon in his arms. Then he yelled: “Aren’t you listening? I FOUND A FREAKING CHARMANDER!”

He heard his mother, clearly thinking this was some kind of a game, sigh and stand up before coming down the stairs with red, tired eyes and a cup of coffee in her hands.

Crash! She dropped the cup and it fell to the floor, shattering to a thousand pieces and spilling coffee all over.

“Wha - what is that thing?” she then squeaked, sounding like this was the first time she saw a Pokémon close-up, which is probably was.

“It’s a Charmander!” Mark snapped. “A Pokémon! And it’s dying!”

“Oh God!” she uttered out, speechless. “John!”

“Not now,” Mark’s father mumbled from upstairs, sounding half-asleep. She dug her fingers deep into her curly mess of blond hair, repeating “Oh, what can we do? What can we do?” in a panicky voice.

Mark rolled his eyes, sighed and started waving his hand again in attempts to get the Charmander’s flame burning properly again. Slowly as the tail tip dried, the flame was restored. Mark breathed in relief; half because the Charmander was saved, half because his hand was getting stiff from all the fanning.

Ah, the time-honored tradition of comically useless, incompetent adults. There wasn't really much I could do with Mark's parents in chapter 77 without breaking their established characters, such as they were, which was a shame. The next revision will make them more vaguely realistic people. That being said, within the parameters of that sort of setup, this scene genuinely amuses me even now. The bit where Mark's relieved half because Charmander's not dead and half because his hand hurts is amazing.

(While funny, it's also possibly the beginning of the way I think I failed a lot at making Mark actually come across as an empathetic person who cares for a long time.)

“Is… is it okay?” his mother asked carefully as Mark shook his entire arm to loosen the hand muscles.

“Yeah,” he said and smiled. “But I think it needs rest. Er… I guess you should go and get some old cloth so I can put it in my bed, otherwise it’ll burn the house down.”

His mother went back upstairs and got some old clothes of Mark he didn’t fit into anymore. He took them to his bedroom and placed them in the corner of his bed, laying the Charmander gently on top of them. The tail flame burned peacefully. Mark wondered who originally had the idea of making clothes flame-proof; it had always seemed very pointless to him, but now it sure came in handy.

AMUSING TQFTL TRIVIA: This bizarre bit of worldbuilding originated as me using the wrong English word and then, when a reader or two scratched their heads over it, inexplicably doubling down on it and trying to turn it into a clever meta joke about the way Ash kept getting burned by his Charizard, rather than admit that I was just bad at English.

Actually I can think of several other things in this fic that happened because of some form of me doubling down and making up stuff rather than admit I'd made a mistake or not thought something through, which is hilarious. I was terrible.

He picked up the book about the Johto Legendary Pokémon on his desk and started to read, keeping an eye on the lizard. He was starting to calm down and think reasonably. Of course, this Charmander wasn’t wild. It obviously was trained. Charmander were very rare Pokémon from Kanto, how would one suddenly be in Ouen, let alone the North-West part? Its trainer was probably looking for it. Maybe he’d get a reward for finding it? Or maybe, just maybe… it had been released on purpose?

Mark grinned, looking forward to next morning.

Oh, chapter one. As you can see, this chapter just dives right into a huge wall of exposition, rambling about Mark's opinions on stuff for at least seven chunky paragraphs before anything actually happens. This was not a great idea; while I suppose it establishes Mark's character, it's mostly establishing him as being extremely long-winded, grumpy and self-pitying, and meanwhile, the actual narrative has ground to a screeching halt the moment it was out of the gate. The later IALCOTN version definitely had the right idea in restructuring the first chapter into a conversation with Mrs. Grodski, which got all the relevant information across and established his character much more concretely in far fewer words, instead of immediately dumping all this internal monologue on the reader.

I did pour my heart into these descriptions of his school life, though, and melodramatic as they are, I kind of enjoy some of these bits in their own way. The dynamic where the kids are irritated because the fact they're there means they're not training Pokémon, and the teachers are too because the general atmosphere is so resentful and bleak. Mark trying to study for tests and retaining the interesting bits only for the test to ask boring, annoying rote memorization questions. Mark's habit of drawing in class. I kind of hated my school when I wrote this, which probably shows - my issues were pretty different from Mark's (my grades were always good and the teachers liked me, and I still had my best friend, but I was bullied), but the general effect of finding the school building unpleasant to be in and the general atmosphere suffocating and oppressive was definitely something I felt, and all in all it's probably not a coincidence that the revision I started in 2004 suddenly focused significantly on Mark being miserable at his school (which had never been mentioned in the prior revisions).

Mark's drawing hobby, like most of the rest of his actual personality, was new in the HMMRCIG, I'm pretty sure. Stuff like that is a large part of why I've said that I'm glad I kept starting the fic over up to this point, but also glad that I then stopped and stuck with it to the end. The UMR version was pretty unsalvageable and I don't think anything good would've come of it if I'd just kept on writing that, but when I started the HMMRCIG I'd developed my writing just enough to make something that could be built on - some shaky semblance of actual characterization, worldbuilding, etc. - and that was probably the right point to press on and finish rather than get stuck in a loop rewriting the beginning every time I was getting dissatisfied with it.


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