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; there are a fair few chapters left still uncommented. Check the Quest Blog for progress information!)

Chapter 15: Darkness and Poison

This one's November 28th, 2004, so another couple of weeks for this chapter. This one has a title in the same "noun and noun" format as the previous chapter, which to me makes it vaguely feel like there's supposed to be some kind of parallel between the two chapters even though there's none whatsoever.

When the two kids reached the Scorpio City Gym again, it was locked. Gyms were only supposed to be locked when the Leader was away or if some kind of a task was to be completed to collect the key, meaning that Mitch had apparently left while they were at the police station.

“Why did he just leave?” May hissed, clearly still upset about the whole encounter with Taylor and Officer Jenny.

“Really, May, nothing says he can’t leave whenever he wants,” Mark said, rolling his eyes.

“Well, I’m going to find him,” she said determinedly. “I’m not going to wait for him for ages.”

“Fine,” said Mark, shrugging. “You’ll just bring him back here, right? Then I don’t need to come.” He was getting slightly skeptical about hanging around with her too much, which was why he would rather wait.

“Whatever,” said May, turning around and storming downtown.

Amazing, Mark actually is considering not hanging out with her so much. I guess May's criminal record successfully creeped him out, although one would also kind of think her going out of her way to switch the balls so Mark'd get Charmeleon back would count for something.

In the previous versions, May's redirected anger at Mitch was even more over-the-top, and it sounded more like that was why Mark didn't want to come with her to find him:

“What’s the point with a gym if the gym leader leaves while two challengers are minding some business? He has no right to leave the gym like that when he knows of two challengers!”

“I think he can go whenever he wants, May...” Mark said, feeling embarrassed for even knowing her.

“I’m going to find him now!”

“I’m not coming with you.”

“Then fine!” May snapped. “Do you really think I care if you come or not? I’m just going to find that... that...”

“May, he saved your life...”

“All right, all right, I won’t call him anything... I’m still going to find him..”

Mark looked after her, not sure what he would do while she was finding Mitch. He didn’t have to wonder for long.

“Fancy a battle?”

He quickly turned around to find a very creepy-looking boy, most likely around thirteen or fourteen. He was wrapped in a wavy, pitch-black cloak, matching his long black hair. Contrasting with that, his face was rather pale.

“So?” asked the boy with a smile. Mark assumed from his expression that he was just a normal Pokémon trainer, even if he dressed funnily.

“Yeah, sure,” Mark said, shrugging. “It’s not like I’ve got anything better to do.”

“Great,” the boy purred. “Let’s make it a one-on-one. I want to test out the Pokémon I just caught.”

He picked a Pokéball from somewhere under his cloak. Mark noticed that it was a black and yellow Ultra Ball; the most powerful ball apart from Master Balls. The boy held it in his hand and looked affectionately at it as if in a trance.

“Challenger sends out first except for Gym battles,” Mark pointed out.

This was a rule I made up here. It feels like an arbitrary exception inserted to avoid inconsistency with all the previous battles where I wasn't thinking about this at all, but I guess it pretty much makes sense: normally, the one who wants a battle should present their hand first (the challenged can back out if they suddenly send out something obviously way beyond their level, say), but as gyms are supposed to test the trainers that enter them and accept all challenges, having the challenger send out first would be kind of funny there.

This rule, of course, gets referenced again in chapter 53, where May (challenger) sends out Tyranitar before Taylor sends out a Pokémon of his own. I can't quite recall if I'd already decided on the way that happens here and consciously made sure the rule would facilitate it, but it's likely; the original plan for Taylor's demise was that Tyranitar would murder him in their League battle, but that was also back when I was planning on an Elite Four system, and I'm pretty sure I decided to change it to an actual anime-style tournament before I even started the HMMRCIG.

“Sure,” said the boy, looking back at him. “Precious, I choose you!”

Victor didn't nickname his Pokémon until this version, but previously, he did call Mutark his precious. It sounds less ridiculous as an actual nickname.

He hurled the ball forward. Mark expected something big, high-leveled and ferocious – after all, the boy had wasted an Ultra Ball on it – but he was surprised to see that the red orb of energy started taking shape into something tiny. He watched curiously as it faded to reveal an extremely cute, fluffy black kitten.

The boy looked at it, grinning from ear to ear with an expression of fascination. “Isn’t it lovely?” he asked.

“Mewww,” the kitten meowed, and then added like in a cough, “tark!”

The Pokémon looked adorably at Mark with its big, yellow eyes. He couldn’t help smiling. It was probably that boy’s favorite Pokémon, since he had wasted an Ultra Ball to catch it, named it ‘Precious’ and was now looking at it with the confidence of somebody whose Magikarp had just evolved.

“Go, umm…” Mark thought for a second. Sandshrew needed some training, and he couldn’t help not feeling like hurting ‘Precious’ too much. “Err, Sandshrew.”

As the yellow armadillo materialized a short distance from the kitten, the boy grinned even more.

“Never seen Mutark before, I take it?” he asked.

“No,” said Mark, confused.

“Well, that was to be expected… Mutark is rare…” the boy muttered, more to himself than Mark. Then his grin still widened.

“Great. Then you’ll be surprised.”

Mark didn’t like the way he said that, but it was too late now.

“Um, Sandshrew, try a Scratch.” He considered using Earthquake, but in case the boy was just overestimating Mutark’s strength, he didn’t want to hurt it too much.

Sandshrew moved in to scratch the kitten. It didn’t move or make any attempts to dodge or retaliate; neither did its trainer command it to. It just let out a meow when Sandshrew’s sharp claws sliced up the skin on its side, and as the armadillo backed away, the kitten painfully twisted its body around and started licking the scratches miserably. For a second, Mark felt sorry for it. Then he watched in amazement as it seemed to stiffen up; its eyes took an eerie, red glow, and it grew to double its original size in a few seconds. It wasn’t as cute anymore; the noticeably lengthened claws and fangs probably did it.

Sandshrew was clearly startled too, as he curled up into a tight ball. The Mutark jumped at him and started rolling him around like a ball of yarn.

Then the incredible happened. The scaled sphere started emitting a bright white glow. Mutark backed away in surprise as the ball grew and got spiky. The glow faded, and the newly evolved pangolin-like Pokémon uncurled. Sandslash attempted with little success to see the brown, pointed scales on his back that formed into his spikes.

“Oh, I never asked you if you wanted to evolve!” Mark realized suddenly.

“I don’t mind,” Sandslash replied. “I quite like this form, actually…” he added thoughtfully, examining his new, much more powerful claws.

And he did something that Mark had never thought he’d see him doing: he faced the Mutark and got his claws ready in attacking position.

Look, a little bit of attention for Sandshrew/Sandslash! It's a really abrupt and kind of unprompted personality shift, but I'll take what I can get. It's nice Mark realizes he hasn't talked to him enough, but of course it conveniently turns out Sandslash is fine with it anyway.

Mutark rolling Sandshrew around like a ball is cute.

“Interesting…” the creepy trainer said softly.

Precious, however, didn’t like this turn of events, and started hissing at Sandslash. He retaliated by slashing the Mutark with his huge claws. For a moment, the cat Pokémon backed away and licked the cuts slightly once at a safe distance; then it stiffened again and grew, and now reminded Mark more of a black Fangcat than the little kitten it had been just a minute ago.

Mark saw that obviously, this change had something to do with Mutark licking its wounds.

In the previous versions, Mark and Sandslash managed to completely fail to make this connection, and Mark forfeited when Precious had grown several times to monstrous proportions. Here, I'd realized that was a little silly and made sure Mark caught on quickly - it's just not quick enough to turn the tide of the battle back.

“Sandslash, try…” he began, but was cut short:

“Precious, Bite,” the boy ordered. The Mutark leapt with amazing agility straight towards Sandslash’s white underbelly, managed to push him onto his back and as he was sprawled helplessly on the ground, the cat Pokémon sank its fangs into his body. He screeched in pain.

“I forfeit,” said Mark quickly, recalling Sandslash to the Pokéball in a beam of red light.

“Nice Pokémon,” said a familiar voice. Mark turned around to see that May had returned.

“Did you find Mitch?” he asked.

“Yeah, he was just getting himself something to eat,” she said, blushing slightly. “I was in a bad mood earlier…”

Three guesses as to why she was in a bad mood. The older versions had her spell out that it was about Taylor; it's nice to see I went for a little more subtlety here.

Mark turned back to Precious and the boy. The Mutark was now starting to shrink rapidly, back to the cute kitten that it was at the beginning of the battle.

“I like that Pokémon,” May said, directing her words at the Mutark’s trainer, who was now recalling it. “What is it called?”

“Mutark,” the boy replied. “It’s a favorite of mine too.”

“Native to Ouen, I assume?” May asked.

“Yeah,” said the boy. “And really rare too,” he added with a hint of pride. “The only way to lure it out of hiding is to have a Dark Pokémon.”

“You’ve got more Dark types?” May asked, clearly very interested.

“Yep,” the boy said proudly. “They’re my specialty. I only train Dark Pokémon.”

That explains the cape, Mark thought.

“Will a Tyranitar work?” May questioned.

“Should do,” said the trainer.

“Thanks. I’m May; you?” she asked.

“Victor,” said the boy, smiling. “I’m glad I could help.”

Mark couldn’t help thinking in horror to the moment he’d have to battle May with one of those things. With his luck, his only Pokémon left would probably be Scyther or something.

Mark, of course, eventually does get to fight May's Mutark using Scyther in chapter 50.

“Hey, let’s go to the Gym, shall we?” May said to Mark.

Mark shrugged and followed her towards the Gym.

“Bye,” May called to Victor. “Can I battle Mitch first?” she then asked Mark.

In the previous versions they go to the gym immediately and she just outright shoves Mark aside while declaring she'll go first. It always amuses me terribly that May was often less likeable when she was supposed to be a self-insert.

“Whatever,” he just replied. “Oh – I need to get Sandslash to a Pokémon Center.” He looked anxiously in the direction of the Pokémon Center a short distance away.

“You don’t mind me starting my battle while you’re there, do you?” May just asked.

“No,” Mark answered. “See you in a minute, then.”

They parted, and Mark ran to the Pokémon Center. It was smaller than those of Cleanwater and Alumine; the interior was also rather simple, with a crimson tiled floor and two benches along the walls. A few people sat there; he noticed the worried expressions on two young girls’ faces. They had probably had a nasty encounter with some Scorplack.

He went straight to the desk and handed Sandslash’s Pokéball to Nurse Joy. She bowed without words and went into the back room to examine him. It wasn’t long until she returned.

“I’ll have to keep him for the rest of today,” she explained. “But don’t worry; he will be fine.”

“Thanks,” Mark muttered. Now he didn’t have a Ground Pokémon to use versus Mitch, but he would at least get to watch May’s battle first and see what Pokémon Mitch used, which would somewhat make up for it.

He wandered into the Gym and took the left corridor, the one with the sign that said TO THE BATTLE ARENA. He turned to the right and entered a large room which was the battle arena. May, who was at his end, was in a sticky situation, to say the least.

Her yellow rodent was tangled in a net of silky, white thread. A huge, orange, spider-like Pokémon with black markings and six legs striped in vibrant yellow and violet clicked its pincers a small distance away, watching the helpless Pikachu in the web.

Ariados actually only has four legs; I was misremembering it, probably thanks to Spinarak, which does have six legs.

“Ariados, Poison Sting,” said Mitch calmly.

“Thunderbolt!” May hissed. Pikachu started charging voltage in his cheeks as Mitch’s spider Pokémon leapt into the air, turned its abdomen towards Pikachu and fired a small dart from the stinger on its backside. It hit the mouse Pokémon, and he let off a bolt of lightning in retaliation. Ariados ran to the side with surprising agility, dodging it.

May looked at Pikachu. His cheeks were sparkling weakly.

“Poisoned,” she muttered and plucked a Pokéball from her necklace. “Pikachu, return.”

She paused, seemingly in doubt. Finally, she took one of the Pokéballs and maximized it.

“Go, Larvitar!”

The small green dinosaur May had caught at the Lake of Purity materialized as she threw the ball into the arena. Larvitar looked determinedly at the spider, muttering his name.

“Rock Slide!” May shouted, clenching her fist. The little dinosaur’s horn glowed bright white, and then rocks started firing from it into the air. They levitated there for a second.

“Larvii!” The rocks pummeled down towards Ariados and crushed the spider under them.

“Return, Ariados,” Mitch said expressionlessly, picking a new Pokéball from his belt. “Venomoth, you have my trust.”

He hurled forward a Pokéball, which exploded into a flash of red light that formed into a lavender moth-like creature with big, shiny blue eyes on its spiked head.

“Larvitar, another Rock Slide,” May said icily. Her Pokémon obeyed, firing another array of rocks into the air and hurling them at the moth. It narrowly avoided them.

“Sleep Powder,” said Mitch slowly.

“No!” May exclaimed as the Venomoth flapped its wings eagerly, releasing a cloud of golden dust. Larvitar’s eyelids started dropping as the powder engulfed him.

“Don’t fall asleep!” May hissed through gritted teeth. Larvitar’s eyes snapped open, but dropped again before he lolled to the side, fast asleep.

“Darn it,” May said loudly, kicking the air.

“Venomoth, Psybeam,” said Mitch.

Venomoth’s eyes glowed as the Pokémon fired a multicolored beam of energy towards the little dinosaur. Being asleep, he just rolled slightly to the side.

“Now, Larvitar, just WAKE UP!” May hissed, but her Pokémon just lay there and slept.

“Another Psybeam,” Mitch ordered, and his moth Pokémon’s eyes took a glow again before firing another beam at Larvitar.

“Return,” May muttered, recalling her sleeping Pokémon and taking another Pokéball from her necklace. “Go, Skarmory.”

Mitch nodded with a faint smile. “You know what you’re doing.”

By which he means... she sent out a Pokémon with a type advantage, as her third and final Pokémon. I am still doing a terrible job of making May actually good at battling instead of just saying she is; her strategy here so far has consisted of "recall a Pokémon the moment it gets poisoned" and "spam Rock Slide, then ineffectually rage when her Pokémon is put to sleep".

In the previous versions, Mitch enumerated her mistakes, and it really pissed May off, and when she sent out Skarmory she herself declared that this was a wise decision. It was a bit silly, especially since it was still presenting type advantages as if knowing them was impressive, and obviously it didn't exactly help present May as a good battler, but it did result in a little bit of a character dynamic there, and losing that here in favor of just generic battle was a shame.

“Damn right,” she replied, giving Venomoth a glare. “Skarmory, Drill Peck it into oblivion!”

The steel vulture gave a metallic cry in response, took off and darted towards the moth Pokémon, spinning at high speed. As he hit the Venomoth, it was thrown into the wall, but still with plenty of energy left.

“Sleep Powder,” Mitch said. The moth released a cloud of golden powder again.

“Whirlwind,” May spat. Skarmory started flapping his wings at high speed, producing a gust of strong wind which blew the powder back at Venomoth. The moth, having no eyelids, simply got a strange dazed look in its eyes as its wings flapped slower and slower. Finally, it started falling.

“And now, Drill Peck it while it’s defenseless,” May ordered. Her Skarmory dove down and nailed the sleeping moth Pokémon against the wall with his beak.

“Return,” Mitch said slowly, recalling his Venomoth. “Beedrill, I choose you.”

Out of the ball he threw came a bee-like Pokémon with two cone-shaped stingers on its forearms. It tilted its head, staring at Skarmory with red, compound eyes.

“Drill Peck,” said May, smirking.

“Agility,” Mitch countered. As Skarmory dove down to attack Beedrill, it zoomed out of the way. It then started circling the arena at amazing speed that the metallic bird could never keep up with.

“All right then…” May said thoughtfully, “try flying up somewhere in the middle of the arena.”

Skarmory swooped upwards, and hovered there high above the bee Pokémon.

“And now…”

“Beedrill, Fury Attack.”


As Beedrill started buzzing up towards Skarmory, he released a flurry of metallic feathers that bombarded the bee on the way up. It was thrown downwards, being very light and delicate, and got pinned down by feathers.

That's a little more actually strategic, I guess - putting Skarmory in a better position to rain down Swift, which is particularly effective against a light opponent like Beedrill that doesn't have the momentum to power through the onslaught. I'm not entirely sure I buy this, but I'm at least attempting to show her doing something actually clever.

In the previous versions, Skarmory actually beat Beedrill with Whirlwind, also due to its light weight: it simply splatted it straight into the wall.

“Beedrill, return,” said Mitch as May also recalled her Skarmory. Handing May a small object, he turned to Mark.

“Your turn.”

The previous versions split these chapters differently - the encounter with Victor was its own chapter while Mark and May's gym challenges shared one. That honestly made a great deal more sense than this, particularly since a detail in this chapter (Sandslash being left at the Pokémon Center) affects slightly how the next plays out, without being recapped, and the reader wouldn't necessarily remember why Mark's not using Sandslash. I'm pretty sure the reason I did it this way here was just that the Victor bit was pretty short and didn't really warrant its own chapter, but then I could've included Mark's battle too (or skipped May's, honestly; there's nothing really interesting in that battle that we need to see, and with Mark taking Sandslash to the Pokémon Center while May went to the gym, I had the perfect excuse to just leave her battle out but didn't).

Obviously, the reason the Victor chapter happened originally was simply as a vehicle for introducing my latest amazing fake Pokémon, Mutark. Unlike Fangcat and Scorplack, Mutark was actually created for the fic, and I never drew it in Paint like the previous two - not that it especially needed to be drawn, since what I was picturing was literally just a small black cat. With the recent introduction of abilities in the third generation of Pokémon, the first thing I thought of making was, of course, a Pokémon that GROWS AT THE TASTE OF BLOOD, which would be represented in-game by an ability that raises all of its stats (and changes its sprite) when it's hit by a contact move.

The Victor chapter served as the fic's first acknowledgement of the third generation in more than just that way, as at the end he sent out the rest of his team, showing off some Hoenn Dark-types. (Then he had a Houndoom rather than a Cacturne, though; looking back at that, I think I may actually originally have intended the Houndoom to be his starter, as a Pokémon not native to Hoenn, and then the rest of the team would've been caught on his Hoenn-based journey - but later I went on to forget whatever backstory I'd come up with for him originally and make up a new one, where Ferocious the Mightyena was his first Pokémon.) I'm not sure exactly how much of a role I expected him to have when I first wrote him in, but I probably meant for him to appear again right from the start, since I bothered to give him a name and a full team and all. It's possible he was already planned to end up as assistant gym leader in Acaria City, something that wouldn't actually be shown in the fic until chapter 40.

If I were rewriting this today, I'd primarily be paying a lot more attention to Sandshrew. In theory I like the idea of a timid, scaredy Pokémon developing self-confidence on a trainer journey; I just didn't spend any real time developing it and making it believable. This could be such a nice little moment if I'd actually been writing Sandshrew as a real character throughout. And him then getting badly hurt immediately afterwards, and Mark actually worrying about him, talking to him about it, and generally dealing emotionally with that could be great. This is what everyone wants from their Pokémon fanfiction, right, excising battles in order to have more characters talking about their feelings, right? Right??

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