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!

(The commentary is in progress; only roughly the first half of the story has been commented. Check the Quest Blog for progress information!)

Chapter 11: The Lizard and the Mantis

We randomly return to something like chapter six's title format here. In the original, this chapter was instead titled "Depression", because I was a child who for some reason thought it was a great idea to write about mental illness when I knew very little about mental illness. In particular, I had somehow mistaken PTSD for depression, so the entire chapter was about Mark and Scyther having flashbacks and nightmares and me (and May) confidently calling it depression. It was terrible, top 10 most embarrassing child Butterfree moments, let's not talk too much about the original here because I will die. By the time of the UMR I'd realized the thing the chapter was about was not in fact depression, although I still wasn't sure what it was actually called, so I changed the title to "The rivals" as well as removing the references to depression in the actual text of the chapter (save one morbidly flippant bit where Mark sarcastically tells May that he's depressed and going to kill himself so he can see if his intrusive thoughts about death are accurate - I wonder if that inspired the suicide threat bit in chapter two of the HMMRCIG?).

This chapter was published on October 6th, 2004, eleven days after the previous chapter.

Mark was starting to feel uncomfortable again when they waited for their Pokémon to be healed. Nurse Joy had informed May that thankfully, Lapras and Skarmory would recover.

This Pokémon Center, like the one in Cleanwater City, had a pink furry carpet and red couches scattered around randomly. As Mark sat motionlessly in one, he drifted into sleep.

The dream was just a very short flash of scythes, eyes with slits for pupils, green reptilian heads, forty centimeter-long blood-covered fangs, death and a bit more blood. Then he snapped back awake, breathing rapidly.

In the original and UMR, the unnecessarily precise descriptions of Fangcat's fangs said they were thirty centimeters, not forty. I guess at some point I actually took out some measuring tape and concluded thirty was too short.

Mark calmed down upon realizing that he was in the Pokémon Center. May was just bringing his Pokémon back.

“Thanks,” he mumbled, attaching them to his belt. “Hey, I think I’m going outside for a bit… I guess I could use some fresh air, and maybe I’ll introduce Scyther properly to my Pokémon.”

She nodded, and Mark stood up, walking outside. The sun was slowly sinking into the horizon in the far west. The air was comfortably cool, although it couldn’t exactly be called fresh.

So, here the sun is setting... upon the second day of Mark's journey. On day one, he went to the library, walked to Cleanwater city with Charmander, went shopping (when he got out of the store it was stated to be six o'clock), had dinner with Charmander, then afterwards went to the Lake of Purity, spent what sounds like a long time there, witnessed Suicune as the sun set, took Gyarados back to the city, and then went straight to the hotel to sleep after stopping off at the Pokémon Center. (I guess my Icelandicness is showing with this sunset timing (sunset in early-mid-May over here is at about 10:30 PM)... although I still can't quite believe the entirety of the Lake of Purity stuff was supposed to take place after dinner? I've been imagining he spent an entire day there this whole time, but this is what I wrote, somehow.) On day two, he talked to Eevee, fought a couple of junior trainers at the gym, bought TMs, fought four more junior trainer battles, discovered Rick's cloning lab, went to the hotel to change his clothes, returned to the gym to battle Rick, went to the Lake of Purity again with May, came back and released Mew, walked with May all the way to Alumine with a stop at the Rainbow Café, and then went through the whole Mew Hunter ordeal. Needless to say, the timeline here is pretty ridiculous. You can make it slightly more reasonable by imagining there's a night between chapters nine and ten - chapter nine ends with Mark releasing Mew and then chapter ten starts with him walking down the stairs "feeling incredible", which could technically be the next morning although it doesn't sound like it - but it's not what I intended. It's not that I didn't think about how much time was passing so much as that I just way, way underestimated how long everything would reasonably take and how much downtime the characters ought to need. In particular, I was assuming for all of this that the traveling time between towns on foot was just something like a couple of hours, which is wildly unrealistic.

Let's make the timeline another thing we keep an eye on as we continue, for the heck of it.

“Go, Charmeleon, Sandshrew, Eevee, Dratini.”

The four Pokémon materialized on the ground and cried out their names.

“Um… did you know that you were stolen?” Mark asked.

“Yes, we know the whole story,” said Charmeleon. “But we’re back with you now, so does that really matter?”

“Well, you see… I’ve gotten a new Pokémon…”

It doesn't really make sense that the Pokémon heard enough through their balls to know everything about what happened with the Mew Hunter and not need any explanation, but didn't hear the bit just afterwards where Scyther approached Mark. In the original and UMR, Mark actually told them the whole story, although in those versions Pokémon were still supposed to be able to hear through their balls, so it wasn't quite consistent there either. To be fair, the way I imagine it today, Pokémon are able to hear through their balls, but they aren't always going to be paying attention, so maybe the idea was they'd stopped listening before Scyther joined, but one would think they'd be alarmed enough to listen upon hearing a Scyther's voice minutes later.

Mark felt one of his Pokéballs wobble a bit; then the two halves separated. A beam of red shot out of it and took shape into Scyther right next to Mark. As the mantis Pokémon formed, the four smaller ones backed away.

Note how Scyther knows how to break out of Pokéballs. This is a skill that Pokémon generally need to learn through significant practice, as touched on by Stantler in chapter 73; the Mew Hunter encourages all his Pokémon to learn it because he wants them to be able to freely go into or out of their balls, but most Pokémon don't know it by default. I didn't quite expect it to ever be relevant for most of the fic (while I was planning chapter 72 for a long, long time, the bit involving Floatzel breaking out obviously didn't come about until after I'd written Floatzel in, and even after that it managed to not occur to me until quite late to wonder if any of May's other Pokémon ought to have broken out well before Floatzel), so when I was editing chapter 72 I skimmed through the whole fic for the word 'ball' to make sure I hadn't somewhere written a Pokémon breaking out of its ball when it shouldn't be, but as it turned out I had indeed managed to be consistent about it! Scyther can break out of balls from the start, Gyarados learns to in order to kill Suicune, nobody else ever does (if I recall correctly; at the very least, none of May's Pokémon ever do).

“Mark…” asked Charmeleon hesitatingly, “isn’t that the thief’s Scyther?”

“Yeah,” Mark said. “He joined us.”

Charmeleon stared at him for a second, but then asked: “Erm… what the heck happened to your common sense?”

“What?” Mark asked, confused.

“Well, isn’t it obvious?” Charmeleon snapped. “You’re opening the door wide to a Pokémon that was going to kill you just half an hour ago!”

“He wasn’t going to!” Mark objected. “He even refused to battle for the Mew Hunter!”

“Who says that isn’t a part of the plan too?” said Charmeleon, eying Scyther suspiciously.

That's a bit nonsensical, Charmeleon. What plan? Like, suppose Scyther murders Mark in his sleep after gaining his trust; what exactly is the Mew Hunter supposed to get out of that? There are perfectly fine reasons to be a bit wary, but expecting all of this to be part of some sort of elaborate plot is a bit out there.

“I…”

“I can’t force you to trust me,” said Scyther just, “and really, I can’t blame you for not trusting me. I’m not used to being trusted.”

That's some word order in the dialogue tag there. It makes sense in Icelandic, I swear.

“Oh, come on,” said Mark annoyed, “just give us your word that you aren’t going to hurt anybody.”

“I don’t make promises,” said the mantis calmly. “Not to you, not to somebody who won’t believe it anyway, and not to anybody else. Breaking a promise is painful, and the only way to avoid the pain is not to make the promise.”

Mark was starting to feel a bit more skeptical about Scyther’s company now, but he didn’t want to admit defeat right away.

“See?” Charmeleon snorted. “At least he has the decency not to go behind his words – by not giving any words to go behind!”

“Let Mark decide,” said Scyther expressionlessly. “He’s heard both sides of the argument, and it’s him who we’re trying to affect. Let him be the judge.”

All of Scyther's dialogue here is new in this version - he didn't say anything in the original and UMR versions of this. Amusingly, this makes Charmeleon's point of view seem a lot more reasonable here, since Scyther refusing to even say he's not going to hurt anyone really is pretty alarming, and it comes off pretty weirdly that Mark is only a bit more skeptical before being exactly as determined to make everyone accept Scyther as in the old versions. He literally just had a nightmare about Scyther, and Scyther's being cagey about whether he's going to hurt people, but Mark can't admit defeat! It is rather human to stubbornly cling to your first decision like that, but I'd think there are limits.

“Guys,” Mark said decisively towards his Pokémon, “I want all of you to come over here and accept Scyther as one of you.”

The mantis offered his right scythe for a handshake, but Mark’s four much smaller Pokémon just flinched, apart from Charmeleon, who glared at Mark like he couldn’t believe this. Nobody moved, until finally – much to Mark’s surprise – Sandshrew walked nervously forward. He glanced anxiously at the raised scythe, but decided not to come near it so he just nodded and sat down.

Scyther and his handshakes. I was kind of surprised to see that wasn't in the previous versions - looks like I introduced it here. In that case, I probably already had in mind that the Mew Hunter had taught him to shake hands, in accordance with his way of basically regarding his Pokémon as humans. Later, Scyther's Story would show that.

Originally, Sandshrew had already evolved here, and Mark noted maybe Sandslash was encouraged by knowing Scyther had already gotten along with a Sandslash before. Here, that reasoning isn't there, but I suppose I intended this as part of Sandshrew gaining confidence after learning Earthquake and fighting at the gym - though of course, that's way too quick and underdeveloped.

“Great. Anybody else?” Mark asked, smiling.

He was even more surprised when Eevee tilted his head and approached the giant bug. He even raised his right front paw to touch the top of Scyther’s blade. He smiled faintly, moving his arm slightly. Eevee jumped, but showed no signs of regret when he took place beside Mark.

Dratini then slithered forward. His black, beady eyes looked curiously up at the bug’s reptilian head, and what could only be a cute little smile appeared on his face. Scyther nodded slowly, and the dragon crawled to Eevee’s side.

Now only Charmeleon was left, and he showed no signs of being about to come over. He just gave Scyther a nasty glare, folded his arms and then turned his back firmly towards the rest of the Pokémon, flicking his tail flame.

“Fine,” said Scyther matter-of-factly. “We’ll have it your way, then…”

And he also crossed his bladed arms and turned his back towards Charmeleon in the exact same manner.

“Oh, come on,” Mark sighed, but the two Pokémon didn’t move.

And thus begins the Scyther/Charmeleon rivalry, my first character-centered subplot! It's not a great one - it ultimately only really comes out in a few chapters before being resolved pretty abruptly, and there's no great depth to it. But I think it did me and the fic a lot of good that it happened: it was the first time I sort of wrote characters' own motives and personalities clashing in a way that drives events, and was definitely a turning point in getting me to really start trying to give Mark's Pokémon real personalities and motivations. As a result, I owe a lot to my fairly random decision to do this here, and this whole thing still holds a lot of nostalgia for me, particularly this image of the two of them with their arms crossed and backs turned to each other.

“Mark!”

May came out of the Pokémon Center and eyed Scyther and Charmeleon curiously before turning to Mark.

“Hey, there’s supposedly a decent, cheap restaurant in town called The Gamesharked Skarmory. I’ve been given directions, and I’m going there now. Are you coming?”

“Yeah, sure,” Mark said, recalling his Pokémon and trying to act like there was nothing wrong. He was thankful that May wasn’t the type of person to ask questions.

Ah, the Gamesharked Skarmory, the most fourth-wall-breaking of restaurants. Oddly, I was quite sure I made it up for the original, but now I can't find any mention of it there for some reason, whether in this chapter or elsewhere. It's possible I originally wrote it in, then changed my mind and removed it before publishing it, but brought it back here? Or I'm just completely misremembering things and it only happened here. I was really sure this was a mythology gag, though.

-------

After the meal, May told Mark that the Pokémon Center offered cheap accommodation for trainers. Mark noticed that she seemed to be obsessed with everything being cheap, but didn’t mention that. They just walked back to the Pokémon Center and checked in.

May's stinginess getting some clumsy attention drawn to it.

Once Mark was alone in his room, he undressed, put on his pajamas and, after a bit of thought, sent out his five Pokémon small enough to fit in the room. He noticed Charmeleon starting to growl at Scyther, but interrupted quickly:

“Hey, now we’re just going to sleep, all right? No arguing, insulting, attacking, or anything of the sort.”

Scyther and Charmeleon nodded, and lay down on the floor with the other Pokémon. Mark made carefully sure that they weren’t going to do anything before closing his eyes.

Scyther suddenly leapt at him, his scythes raised. Mark gasped, only to discover that the mantis was lying peacefully on the floor, fast asleep.

“Stupid dream,” he muttered, turning around.

Fangcat snuck up on Charmeleon and prepared to sink her fangs into his unsuspecting body; he was turned around with his arms folded and didn’t see her…

Mark woke with a start, finding that this was also a dream.

“Darn it,” he mumbled. He dug his face into his fluffy pillow. Suddenly, he had no face and was throwing a black and red Pokéball at Mew…

Knowing in the dream that it was a dream, he broke out of it by forcing his eyes open. He screwed them shut again, staring at the blackness on the back of his eyelids. Two bright yellow eyes opened in the dark and he woke up yet again, his heart stinging uncomfortably.

He waited, and waited. Mew started laughing manically, threatening to kill Eevee. Mewtwo² lay dead in a pool of blood on the floor, but the Mew Hunter was trying to resurrect him by muttering old sayings. Mark ordered Scyther to kill May because she was trying to steal Charmeleon.

Mark knew it was all a stupid dream, but let it all happen in his head without waking up. It was somehow relieving to let all of this day’s happenings mix up into something insane.

The first appearance of Mark's dreams in the fic! Here, I wrote some random dreamish mixtures of what's been happening, similar to the later dreams I describe, along with the randomly prophetic ones. In the original, these ominous foreshadowy dreams were described like this:

At first, it was just the nightmare he’d been expecting, more reliving the day, more feeling death, more Fangcats and Scythers and more blood, but after that, he saw two yellow eyes, felt horrible pain, and then he woke up, all sweaty. His pokémon were all still asleep. Then he fell asleep again. He had another such dream, but then he was with Mew in front of him, and threw a pokéball. Mew was absorbed into the ball, and he saw himself taking the ball, but he had no face. Then a roar found its way through the dream and Mark woke up to see Scyther awake. It apparently had a nightmare, too. Scyther had seen itself killing Mark, Fangcat, the feeling of the fang through its body, and then it had seen itself attacking various pokémon, but Mark wasn’t there. The other pokémon didn’t have a trainer either. They both went back to sleep, had more nightmares that were all something like that, and kept waking each other. It was a terrible night.

This really surprised me when I happened to reread this paragraph some years back: apparently, even the first time I wrote this I was already planning a lot of way later stuff. Specifically, Mark's dream about the yellow eyes is obviously foreshadowing his death at Chaletwo's hands (eyes). Mark throwing a Pokéball at Mew when he has no face was hinting at his quest to capture all the legendaries, when he's technically dead (that's what the no face bit is about); in this version I specified the ball he threw was a Clone Ball because of the Clone Ball he's carrying, which I'd by now decided would eventually be used to capture Mew, though obviously it isn't actually going to be Mark who uses it. And Scyther's dream about fighting a bunch of Pokémon with no trainers, which doesn't appear in the ILCOE, is referring to the Pokémon Frenzy Tournament in chapter 23. I guess after thinking up the previous chapter I really started to eagerly plot later happenings to look forward to.

-------

A young man stared out of the window at the stars. His gray eyes reflected their light.

“Emotions…” he muttered out of the blue. “Strong ones… fighting to keep them inside… interesting…”

He blinked.

Oh, hey, Mitch, I had completely forgotten you were here.

This bit was not in the original; I added it in here to be more dramatic and mysterious. I never quite sat down and decided exactly how Mitch's powers work, so I guess here he can just sort of randomly sense the emotions of people from a different town a desert away (and they don't get drowned out by the emotions of everyone else nearby). Since at this stage I didn't have any actual idea what was up with Mitch, I was just writing whatever sounded cool and mysterious, more or less.

Mitch's eyes are described as gray here. Make a note of that for later.

-------

Charmeleon lay on the floor, pretending to be asleep. Mark wasn’t mumbling in his sleep anymore; he had most likely fallen into deep sleep.

Mark is being stupid, he thought grimly. Does he have any idea what a Scyther could do in the night? Especially one who can break out of Pokéballs by himself…

And that bug is acting all arrogant, trying to be the wise one, trying to look good… but I see right through him… if Mark doesn’t want to believe me, fine…

I’ll show that overgrown mantis one day… I’ll show him…

With a grin, he closed his eyes. He dreamt not the happenings of this day, but a plan for the future.

In the original, the final paragraph of this chapter gave some sudden omniscient insight into Charmeleon's thinking:

But Charmeleon’s dislike for Scyther wasn’t what it thought. Charmeleon had managed to convince itself it was because it wanted to protect Mark from Scyther because Scyther wanted to kill him. But deep down, Charmeleon knew very well that Scyther didn’t want to kill Mark. Charmeleon was jealous. Charmeleon felt like it was all Scyther’s fault that the man didn’t give Mark his pokémon to fight. Charmeleon had wanted to be the pokémon that fought Fangcat. I’ll show this Scyther, Charmeleon thought, I’ll show it...

On the one hand, I'm tickled that already this early in the original I was consciously writing a character lying to himself about his motivations. That's definitely something that would go on to be a theme I enjoy a lot and use in a lot of my writing. On the other hand, that sure is some telling instead of showing, and it feels very random and kind of out of character for Charmeleon to be jealous of Scyther for... getting to fight the Fangcat that literally killed him. It'd make more sense if Charmeleon was particularly competitive and obsessed with battling and proving himself to be the best to the point that he'd get angry about any lost opportunity to fight, but that's never been the case here, so... why? In the UMR I expanded upon this slightly by saying he wanted to be the hero by fighting Fangcat, but that too isn't really a character trait Charmeleon has been showing in any useful sense. So these hidden motivations were kind of out of nowhere and ultimately made way less sense than his pretty sensible surface-level objections to Mark taking this villain's Pokémon under his wing without thoroughly examining his motives.

While in this version of the chapter I cut out the bit explicitly spelling that jealousy out to the reader, and you could say Charmeleon's thought process here somewhat suggests he's not entirely motivated by genuine concern, what with ranting about Scyther being arrogant and wanting to show him, I don't think I managed to convincingly show it here at all. It still doesn't really make sense for him to be jealous, and I haven't really added in anything to make that make more sense, only here it's less noticeable because I don't actually make it explicit that that's what's supposed to be going on at all. I'm not sure if I actually intended his motive to still be that he wishes he'd gotten to be the hero in the Mew Hunter's gym or something else specifically, or if I didn't have a specific motive in mind at all; all I know is Charizard still vaguely references having been jealous in chapter 23. Maybe we can look out for any further signs of what I was thinking exactly in Charmeleon's behaviour as the subplot continues.

The larger overall point of this chapter used to be, as you might notice in the passage about the dreams above, that Scyther was also traumatized by the experience - both having to threaten Mark and his death by Fangcat - and the two of them dealing with that together helped both of them get over it and bond a little, because I guess depression PTSD is something you just get over in a night. Here, that bit is lost - I imagine with my understanding of Scyther's character by now it just didn't really make sense to me anymore that Scyther would be traumatized by this and be open about it - and with it a lot of the focus on the actual PTSD symptoms that were the main focus originally; this version of the chapter is more about Scyther and Charmeleon's budding rivalry than about Mark suffering mentally as a result of the last chapter's trauma. I think that's a bit of a shame - despite the miserable execution, it's kind of cool that after the big exciting chapter where the main character is threatened at scythepoint, twelve-year-old me wrote a whole chapter about him suffering trauma symptoms in the aftermath. By downplaying Mark's trauma to a few nightmares that he seems to brush off fairly easily, I think the ILCOE really lost something that was pretty interesting about the previous versions.

I'm not 100% sure what I'd do with this in the next revision, but I'd like to try to linger a bit more on Mark recovering again, and tie it more to how he feels about Scyther. Like, Scyther approaches him after the Mew Hunter ordeal and desperately tells him he has nothing to live for in the wild, and what can Mark do but accept, knowing rationally that Scyther just turned on his trainer whom he loved to help him? But instinctively Scyther still just makes him nervous; he tries to introduce him to his Pokémon but is internally quivering, and Charmeleon sees that and objects only for Mark to shut him down because he still feels indebted to Scyther and he will not kick him out when he has nothing. And then maybe Mark spends time talking to Scyther because he wants to try to understand him so he can feel more comfortable with him because he's Mark, and that makes Charmeleon feel ignored and dismissed and like suddenly this deeply suspicious Scyther is all Mark cares about, and thus he develops this resentment. Something like that.


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