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 the first chunk of the story has been commented. Check the Quest Blog for progress information!)

Chapter 14: Thief and Victim

This one's from November 13th, 2004, just over two weeks after the previous. In the previous versions, the title of this chapter was "Stealing is wrong", which I still find really funny as a chapter title.

I hadn't thought about this title in years beyond thinking it's pretty awkward, but actually, looking at this chapter again, what I was going for with it was probably the ambiguity of who was actually the "thief" and the "victim" here. That's kind of neat, even though the title is ultimately still awkward.

Mark woke up feeling very refreshed. He scanned through his memory, but didn’t remember dreaming anything at all. Well, that was relieving. The ‘nightmare phase’ seemed to be over.

“Had a good rest?”

He jerked his head upwards to find Mitch still sitting in the couch. Mark looked sleepily out of the window; judging from the bright sunshine, he had fallen asleep sometime in the night, despite having had some coke to keep him awake. Charmeleon stood on the coffee table, seemingly healthy, and while May was lying motionless on the sofa, her chest was rising and falling as it should.

“Yeah, pretty good,” Mark said, stretching.

“Any… dreams?” asked Mitch, suddenly looking into Mark’s eyes. The question had to be a coincidence, but the way Mitch looked at Mark gave it some more of a meaning.

It was Mitch. Mitch stopped him from dreaming because psychic powers. Implicitly, he also knew Mark'd been having nightmares. Because he is Mysterious.

(This was new in this version; in the original, May explicitly woke up after twenty minutes, but it was still somehow daytime when she bolted outside. Here, I managed to notice this and have them sleep until morning, so we're on day four of the journey now.)

“No, not that I remember,” he mumbled, turning away.

“Good…” Mitch said softly, also turning to look out of the window. Nobody said anything for a long time. Then finally, May’s eyes opened.

She blinked a few times and sat up. “What place is this?” she asked confusedly, looking around.

“You are in the Scorpio City Gym,” said Mitch. “The poison in your bloodstream has been neutralized, and your body will handle cleaning it up.”

“Oh.” She paused, observing Mitch for a second. Then she turned to Mark.

“What happened after we flew away on Skarmory?”

“Well,” Mark began, taking a deep breath, “we flew over here, Skarmory crashed out of exhaustion, I recalled him for you and then Mitch, the Gym Leader, appeared out of nowhere and gave you a shot with some antidote.”

“Oh,” May replied. After a few seconds, she turned back to Mitch. “Thanks.”

“It’s my job,” said Mitch and smiled that faint smile again.

“What time is it?” asked May, turning towards the window. Suddenly, she froze, and then pulled Mark’s sleeve.

“Quilava!” she hissed, before suddenly dashing out through the door. Mark shot an apologetic glance at Mitch and then followed her.

In the previous versions she yelled "Taylor!" instead. I think I probably changed this because she's only heard his name from Mark and probably didn't particularly care (in chapter 9, she just called him "that lying little idiot with my Quilava"), so realistically it'd probably take her a second to even remember what his name is.

-------

Taylor held his Blaziken Pokédex in his right hand, observing the Ouen map on the screen. Absent-mindedly, he sat down on a bench.

Wow, I think I must have only just learned the word "observing" or something. It's popped up four times now just since the beginning of chapter 13. I don't think I'm using it quite correctly either. Good job, fourteen-year-old me.

He had teleported to Scorpio City the day before and taken on the Gym Leader. His brother, Rick, had lent him the prototype Abratwo to get there. Taylor would have loved to keep it – after all, it had been very impressive – but Rick had always been obsessed with only giving him the best of the best. That was sometimes nice, but often irritating because Taylor wasn’t as much of a perfectionist as his brother. He just wanted something decent, and would rather not wait ages to get something absolutely flawless.

Then again, it didn’t matter now. He had just received the ultimate replacement.

Taylor broke into a grin as he plucked his three Pokéballs off his Pokéball belt and placed them beside him. He picked up one of the two Clone Balls, looking at it. Clones were strong. His first clone, Pikatwo, contained in his other Clone Ball, had never lost a battle.

Taylor sighed, shooting a quick glance at the normal Pokéball. He couldn’t help wondering if he should really have tricked that Quilava out of the girl. He had never even had the need to send it out. Which he was deep down thankful for, because he wasn’t sure Quilava would like him too much. After all, he had broken the Agreement by taking a Pokémon from its trainer without consulting it first – admittedly the girl hadn’t had anything against that either, but he didn’t want to risk getting scorched by Quilava’s Ember.

Ah, well, now he had two clones. Maybe he’d never have to send it out of its ball.

He smiled at the Clone Ball and attached it back to his belt, focusing on the Ouen map again.

The bit about Taylor regretting that he conned May here was new in this version; before, his characterization was pretty flat generic fanfic villain. He's still completely self-centered in his concerns - he thinks he maybe shouldn't have because he hasn't needed it, and he's only really worried about having broken the Agreement because he thinks Quilava might attack him if he ever does send her out - but this time I was actually writing him as a real character with his own mind and motivations that simply happen to be strange and self-absorbed but not malicious as such, and I'm reasonably pleased with it here; he's pretty much consistent with his later self. It's quite possible I was already planning the bit where Taylor gives Quilava back to May at the League by this point. (I was definitely already planning the bit where Tyranitar murders him, of course.) I suspect back in chapter 9 I hadn't yet started thinking about Rick much, but I know I sort of started developing the two of them at the same time since their characterizations are closely linked, so I guess by this chapter I was probably starting to get an idea of what made Rick tick too - unfortunately rather too late.

-------

“What are you doing?” Mark yelled while trying to catch up with May.

“Rick’s brother!” she hissed. “The guy with my Quilava! Taylor, you said he was called.”

“What about him?” asked Mark confusedly.

“I saw him, of course,” said May like it was the most obvious thing in the world. “He sat down at that bench over there.”

She pointed. At the end of the street they were running along, a boy with long, red hair was sitting on a bench, bent over something in his hands.

It's a bit hard to picture how she saw this bench and recognized Taylor sitting down on it through the window, but they nonetheless manage to sprint along the street for long enough for this conversation to happen without getting close enough to the bench for Taylor to notice them.

“What are you going to do?” Mark asked, puzzled, as May crouched down behind some bushes near the sidewalk.

“I’m going to get Quilava back, of course.”

Mark watched in disbelief as she crawled towards the bench like a predator to its prey. Very slowly, she extended her hand, grabbed one of the Pokéballs beside the boy and then quickly withdrew it. Mark saw her crawling back towards him.

In the previous versions, she grabbed the ball off Taylor's belt; here, I had Taylor randomly put the balls on the bench beside him in the earlier scene, presumably to make it more realistic that he wouldn't notice.

“Whoa,” he said blankly. “You just went and stole it?”

“It’s not stealing if she’s mine,” she said coldly.

“Well, technically,” Mark commented, “you traded her away.”

“But he tricked me into it,” she argued. “And Quilava never agreed.”

“You weren’t exactly thinking about that when you traded, were you?”

May’s eyes flashed. “She’s my Quilava! Professor Elm gave her to me! And I never agreed to trade her for some lousy level five lizard!”

Mark felt like he had just received an Ice Punch, but just glared at her and breathed very fast.

“Well, aren’t we going to battle Mitch?” May said, still in an angry voice. “Don’t know about you, but I’m going to get myself some Antidotes in case my Pokémon get poisoned.”

Mark reluctantly followed her as she started walking firmly towards the Pokémon Market across the street.

I love May. She is so far and away the best character here. She's just got this narrative in her head where Taylor stole Quilava and she's perfectly justified in taking her back, and Taylor is terrible and she's the victim here, and when Mark challenges her on it and suggests she might have done something wrong she's so defensive and aggressive about it. She knows she screwed up with that trade, but she can't admit it and deflects from it with toxic justifications and anger and, of course, no respect at all for her Pokémon - before transparently changing the subject.

Mark's reaction, on the other hand, is poorly written and kind of what. Mark felt like he had just received an Ice Punch, but just glared at her and breathed very fast? That doesn't even make any sense; you don't start immediately hyperventilating when you're shocked. And in general I'm failing to really convey what Mark is actually feeling here. Is he offended on Charmeleon's behalf, shocked by the way May's talking about Quilava, just jarred by her sudden anger in general? It's actually hard to tell what I was going for.

I like how he still follows her to the Pokémart, though, even though she's not even dragging him along. Mark's shocked and unnerved, she just led them into a desert and almost got them killed, but it still never even crosses his mind to not keep hanging out with her. Oh, Mark.

-------

Taylor folded his Pokédex back together and clipped it to his belt, looking to his side. He started when he saw only his two Clone Balls there. He picked them up and attached them to his belt as he examined the sidewalk to see if his Pokéball was there. Seeing no traces of it, he looked up. Just a short distance away, he saw a familiar girl and a boy he had never seen before with her.

He didn’t know exactly what had happened, but immediately got a pretty good idea of it. He watched the two enter the Pokémon Market, and an idea formed in his head.

He grabbed his new Pokémon’s Clone Ball and smirked.

That's remarkably perceptive of you, Taylor. In a rewrite I'd probably not have him deduce this immediately like this; he's pretty oblivious most of the time, so it doesn't feel quite in character.

It's weird that he's immediately grabbing Mewtwo²'s ball, because he isn't about to use Mewtwo² except as a backup plan. The smirk also sounds a little too generic villain, but I guess it kind of is something he'd do.

-------

Mark and May, after stocking up on things at the market, walked outside to be greeted by a well-known figure: one of the Officer Jennies. She wore a police uniform, had long, teal hair, and folded her arms strictly. Beside her, slightly behind, stood Taylor.

“This boy tells me you stole one of his Pokéballs,” she said accusingly.

May turned beet red. Then suddenly she roared “THAT QUILAVA IS MINE!” as she jumped at Taylor in what was clearly an attempt to at least punch him if not bite him too. Officer Jenny grabbed her jacket and held her back.

“Quite the temper you’ve got,” she said shortly.

May tried to break loose, but Officer Jenny had a firm grip on her. She glared murderously at Taylor.

“Also,” the policewoman added thoughtfully, turning to Taylor, “Quilava? Didn’t you say it was a Charmeleon?”

“Yeah,” said Taylor, slightly nervously. Mark wondered why he hadn’t just said it was a Quilava; this way his story sounded a lot more suspicious.

“Come with me, guys,” said Officer Jenny, walking towards the police station next door and dragging Mark and May with her. Mark felt a strong burst of anger flare up in his heart; what had he done?

“I didn’t do anything!” he shouted.

“Congratulations, you’ve just used the oldest excuse known to mankind,” said the officer sarcastically as they entered.

In the previous versions, one of the multiple officers surrounding Mark and May randomly accused them of being part of Team Rocket, because I guess they're the only people who ever steal Pokémon:

“Don’t try to be funny! The boy saw you and told us the whole story. So, you’re from Team Rocket? You’re pretty young for that...” one guy said.

“What?” May asked and Mark heard on her voice that she was getting angry. “We can be thieves, but I’d never join that team stupid in my lifetime!”

“May...” Mark kicked her leg. This was just too easy to misunderstand. And then was of course the fact that he had nothing to do with it.

I enjoy Mark's reaction there in that version.

Inside, it was rather dark. A desk with a lit lamp on it was on the other end of the room, covered in papers. Mark would’ve looked around better, but Officer Jenny pushed him inside. Then she picked up a small device from the desk.

“Your trainer license?”

“Trainer license?” Mark was stunned – of course he should know that a trainer had to get a trainer license. What had he been thinking when he set off? He had been training illegally for a while, and magically gotten away with it. One of the first thoughts that shot into his head was that the Pokémon League’s trainer identification system had to be very flawed, since he hadn’t even been making an effort to hide it.

Nice job lampshading this and thus drawing attention to the ridiculousness of this terrible, terrible plot point, fourteen-year-old me. In the previous versions, Mark genuinely seemed like he'd just had no idea, but here I was aware enough that that was a bit ridiculous that I didn't even actually have him believably act like he's actually surprised to hear he needs a license - he just goes immediately to beating himself up for not knowing. And then, uhhhh, the League system is just flawed!

“I… I don’t have one,” he stammered.

“No license?” Jenny raised her eyebrows. “Your eye, please,” she said to Mark. He stepped up to her and she held the tool she had picked up earlier up to his eye to scan his iris.

“Mmmh,” she said. “Never done anything before, though… so apparently you didn’t get it removed… but that doesn’t change that you’re still training without a license. You’ll get away with a warning this time, but I suggest you go get a license before you get in more trouble – provided, of course, that you did not steal the boy’s Pokémon.”

It's a little ridiculous that she effectively just shrugs and sends him off to get a license whenever he gets around to it, with absolutely no attempt to ensure he actually does go get a license. (And of course, he doesn't, until he actually needs to in order to register for the Pokémon Festival! Mark could easily have kept running around without a license with no one the wiser. Brilliant security there.)

Officer Jenny turned to May, who was holding forward a trainer card. “Valid,” said Jenny after surveying it for a few seconds. “May I have your eye, please?”

May allowed her eye to be scanned too, although she clearly hated it. A loud beep was heard.

“You, on the other hand…” said Officer Jenny slowly, “you’re on record.”

“Surprise,” May sneered sarcastically. Mark’s heart suddenly realized it had some catching up to do and started pumping like crazy.

I don't think this makes any sense either. It's nice I was trying to show characters' emotional states through physiological responses, but apparently I really wasn't great at figuring out what those responses should actually be.

“Hmm… ‘assaulting a police officer’… ‘refusing to cooperate with the police’… ‘breaking and entering’…” Officer Jenny read from the device. Mark felt sick.

It's a bit weird for a nine-year-old to be able to get an actual juvenile criminal record, let alone for something like refusing to cooperate with the police. In most developed countries in the real world, you can't charge a nine-year-old with a crime at all, even as a juvenile. However, it could potentially be justified on the basis that in the Pokémon world, children are given a lot more responsibility at a younger age - it becomes a plot point later, of course, that trainers are legally responsible for ensuring their Pokémon are aware of human laws and otherwise doing what they can to ensure they follow them. Even then the reasonable conclusion would probably be that the age of responsibility would be ten, since that's when they can become trainers, though.

The policewoman laid the tool back on the desk. “When was that?”

“You,” said May with disgust, “you think a nine-year-old can’t have anything to say that you don’t know. You think that a nine-year-old’s accusations must be based on personal grudges. You think little girls with bad tempers can’t possibly be right. Something is stolen from a girl and she knows who did it, but you think her knowledge sounds too absurd and claim that the real thief will never be found. She goes on her own and takes again what is hers, and all you do is putting it on some bloody record as ‘breaking and entering’.”

She jerked this all out very fast, and Mark didn’t really get the whole thing, but from how it looked, somebody had stolen something from May when she was nine, she knew who it was but the police didn’t believe her and just forgot about it, so she took matters into her own hands, broke in and stole what had been stolen from her again. The question was mainly whether the thing that had been ‘stolen’ from her had been about as ‘stolen’ as Quilava.

Thanks for the helpful and totally necessary summary, Mark. (It's a bit silly I pose this question about whether maybe the thing that was stolen was only as stolen as Quilava was when it turns out the actual answer is 'Nah, Spirit definitely was stolen,' though.)

In the previous versions, May outright said she'd spent a month "training herself in the art of thievery" to be able to steal Spirit back. That was pretty silly and over-the-top, so I ditched it here. It's still a little tryhard that May's got this whole history with the police and has a criminal record, though.

I don't think I knew when I wrote the original what was stolen - I'm pretty sure it was just a vague something that I didn't expect to ever come up again. By this point, I knew it was Spirit, but still didn't include any indication that the stolen "thing" was a Pokémon. It kind of makes sense for May to not really make that distinction, though.

When I wrote this I focused on May's age as the reason the police didn't take her seriously, but today I'd be inclined to have her also bring up the socioeconomic status angle that she does in chapter 31 - they're poor and the thief was a rich kid from a well-respected family that's probably buddies with the mayor and the police.

“Interesting,” said Officer Jenny simply. “Tell me… did you steal the boy’s Charmeleon?”

“No,” May spat.

“Well, we’ll see about that,” the policewoman said. “Your Pokémon, please.”

May handed her Pokéballs to Officer Jenny.

“You too,” Jenny insisted, turning to Mark. He gave his Pokéballs to her too. She took a Pokédex from her belt and scanned all the Pokéballs, picking out two of them afterwards.

“Okay, this one contains a Quilava and this one contains a Charmeleon. Which of them was stolen?”

“Charmeleon,” Taylor said firmly.

It's pretty weird that Officer Jenny doesn't think more of May confessing to having stolen a Quilava when a Charmeleon was reported stolen, isn't it.

May opened her mouth, but Officer Jenny stopped her before she said anything.

“Of course, to make sure we’re not making a terrible mistake here, we’ll do a check of original trainers and ID numbers on them both.”

Mark suddenly realized what Taylor was up to saying that Charmeleon had been stolen – while a simple ID check on Quilava would prove her as May’s, Charmeleon had originally been given to Taylor and never been registered as traded. Unofficial trades were essentially illegal, partly because that way there was no way to prove the change of trainers, as the trade would never be on official records.

This, of course, means that Taylor made a wrong assumption: he figured May'd still have the Charmander he traded to her, only he'd probably be a Charmeleon by now, and figured with this gambit he'd get him back (naïvely figuring that surely since he was originally Taylor's starter, he'll be happy to be back, right?). He had no idea who Mark was or that he had Charmeleon - for Taylor, that (and the fact Officer Jenny pulled Mark in too) was an exceptionally lucky break. I'm not sure why I didn't explain this more clearly in the text here; it's probably not necessarily obvious to the reader.

“No!” he blurted out.

“No? Why not? You obviously have something to hide,” said Officer Jenny suspiciously. She pressed a button on the Pokédex.

“Quilava is registered to you, it seems,” said Officer Jenny to May, giving her the Pokéballs back. “But Charmeleon…” Jenny scanned the Pokéball and read off the Pokédex.

“It’s registered to the boy who reported the theft, Taylor.”

Mark looked at May. She was staring expressionlessly at him, and clearly understood who Charmeleon was now.

Officer Jenny put Charmeleon’s Pokéball on the desk.

-------

“You can have it in a minute,” Jenny said to Taylor. “But first, I need to record that…”

Taylor couldn’t help feeling slightly guilty as she said that. If he was getting that Charmeleon, which the boy had thankfully evolved, however he originally got it, he didn’t want to get him into any trouble, because the boy certainly hadn’t done anything to him.

But luckily, he was prepared for that.

Speed her up a little bit, he thought, looking out of the window where his new Pokémon was waiting for orders, Mewtwo².

In the previous versions, May actually spoke up after realizing who Charmeleon was to explain what had happened with the unofficial trade. Officer Jenny said maybe she should ask Taylor a few questions, and that was when Taylor had Mewtwo² stop her, simply so he wouldn't be caught. I actually kind of like that May tried to clarify, though it makes sense she doesn't do it here - after all, she doesn't trust the police, and given that, it makes sense she'd rather take matters into her own hands than plead with the police officer. However, in the previous versions Charmeleon and Quilava were also both out this whole time and just didn't say anything, which was completely ridiculous.

Here, as I was writing Taylor more sympathetically, he's not about to be caught at all; he just decides to stop Officer Jenny from writing Mark up for this because all he wants is his Charmeleon and he doesn't actually want this random kid who genuinely didn't do anything to get in trouble because of him. I really like that, but on the other hand, there's a pretty glaring problem with the idea Taylor was about to completely get away with this: Officer Jenny makes no attempt to confirm with Charmeleon who his trainer is, which should obviously be how this process actually plays out. The plan was for the IALCOTN to have her be about to release Charmeleon to clarify this once and for all, and for Taylor to use Mewtwo² to make her skip that part - however, it occurs to me now that that'd mean losing this really nice moment of Taylor doing something genuinely unexpected and unusual for his kind of role in the story. Maybe that happens first, and then after that Jenny's about to write Mark up and Taylor stops her again.

-------

Suddenly, Officer Jenny stopped in her tracks. Her eyes went all funny, reminding Mark somewhat of (he shivered a bit) Rick’s Legendary clones.

Such effective description, wow. (Also, Mark reacting more strongly to the brainwashing of Rick's legendary clones than he ever did when he was actually fighting those clones.)

“Here,” she said, taking the Pokéball off the table. Mark stared miserably at it as she handed it to Taylor.

“Please,” he pleaded, “you’re making a mistake! That boy, Taylor, he…”

But Jenny ignored him completely. She then almost mechanically shoved Mark and May outside, closing the door. There was nothing more he could do.

They walked silently back towards the Gym. May had taken a funny interest in her fingernails as she held them close to her face and examined them. Mark just felt horrible.

Ah, May fiddling with her fingernails. She's done this since chapter 30 of the original! It's not super-subtle, but I'm always a fan of nervous gestures.

“Taylor has Charmeleon,” he muttered miserably, not exactly expecting an answer.

“No,” said May after a moment of silence. “He has Quilava. I switched the Pokéballs on the desk.” She opened her palm to reveal a minimized Pokéball she appeared to have been clutching since she took it.

“You going to take him back or something?” Mark said in a horribly shaky voice.

“No,” she answered, handing the Pokéball to him while staring in the other direction. “I… threw him away… he’s not mine…”

Mark took the Pokéball, covered in sweat from May’s hand, and attached it back to his own belt. He knew both of them were thinking about the same thing: Officer Jenny’s eyes.

You sure, Mark? May sure seems to have some other things on her mind. (Also, a thank you would've been nice. May just gave up the Quilava she's been obsessively wanting to get back in order for Charmeleon to be able to stay with you.)

I would never have guessed, but I think this may actually kind of be my favorite chapter so far? In my memory this was that ridiculous chapter with the illegal training subplot and the Officer Jenny not bothering to ask Charmeleon who his trainer is, but on a reread, this is mainly a chapter about May and Taylor, and it's honestly probably the best character writing I've done up until this point. May gets some backstory, she's flawed and genuinely morally ambiguous, she's got her own internal narrative and justifications and rationalizations and defensiveness going on, but ultimately she can't let an innocent party suffer for her misdeeds, even as she has a hard time fully facing up to them. Meanwhile, Taylor isn't super-well written and his scenes are awkwardly infodumpy, but I took this boring, stereotypical rival character and actually gave him some semblance of original personality and motivations, and had him actually save the main characters' asses simply because he doesn't want to hurt anyone - so long as he gets what he wants.

In the IALCOTN, I was planning to keep this incident for the purposes of properly introducing Taylor and his use of Mewtwo², but naturally, I'd ditch the whole bit about Mark's illegal training (I'm amused at how here I really seem to have been trying to spend the absolute minimal amount of time on it). Today I'd also excise May's unnecessarily edgy criminal record and stick with just her hostility towards the police - she probably still took matters into her own hands when the police were unhelpful back in New Bark, but there's no need for it to be on record since there are ultimately no actual repercussions to that. Taylor's murder is plenty serious without her having some kind of record from when she was nine.

In the next revision I'd also want to expand Taylor's scenes and make them generally better. I might actually have the chapter open with Rick and Taylor talking on the phone and Rick giving him Mewtwo² - I think the fic could really use more of Rick and his relationship with Taylor, which we didn't get to actually see at all in this version, and it could actually show the stuff that Taylor's first scene awkwardly infodumps here.


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