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 17: The Shark and the Serpent

We're on December 21st 2004 now, again a bit more than a couple of weeks after the previous chapter. I'm surprised at how relatively regular my updates were here; I've never written on any kind of actual schedule so I figured it'd be all over the place, but most chapters seem to have taken me somewhere roughly around two weeks, give or take three days or so.

When Mark exited the Gym, he noticed that May wasn’t there. Even as he continued down the road, he saw no traces of her. He just assumed she had continued to Aquarium City.

The bit where May just leaves Mark behind! She brings this up in chapter 74 as a glaring giveaway that she wasn't used to having friends. Rereading, this may make a bit more sense than I remembered: after all, this shortly follows the Taylor incident and Mark refusing to come with May to look for Mitch. Maybe May was still embarrassed and restless and just wanted to get out of this town, and it's not like they're really formally traveling together, and it'd be mortifying if she waited for him only for Mark to not want to go on with her after all.

Aquarium City was probably the town that Mark had looked forward to seeing the most when he started his journey. It was the first and only underwater city in the Pokémon world. Covered in a gigantic glass dome, the city’s oxygen came from plants specifically arranged to keep a healthy balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the air. It was first and foremost a tourist attraction; it was generally considered a dodgy place to live, mainly because the thought of living underwater with only a glass dome to protect oneself from the Gyarados and Sharpedo outside and one’s life depending on some calculations about the oxygen percentage didn’t appeal to many people. Nonetheless, the tourists loved it – especially because it had an official Pokémon Gym.

This worldbuilding about Aquarium City being mostly a tourist attraction was new in this version. Originally, I created "Aqua Town" just to make a cool elemental town to put a thematically-appropriate gym in, just like Stormy Town the town beset by constant thunderstorms and "Volcano City" in the crater of a volcano. Eventually, as I began to think more about these towns as realistic places, Stormy Town became a virtual ghost town as citizens had fled the constantly awful weather, Crater Town had geologists carefully monitoring the volcano for any sign of activity, and Aquarium City became a tourist attraction. Today I'm actually probably less inclined to rationalize it to quite this extent - a town like this would probably have to be built as a tourist attraction, but surely the people working there still live there (swimming through shark-infested waters is hardly anyone's daily commute), and then their children would be born there, be used to it, and regard it as their hometown. Surely it's not less appealing as a place to live than the town in the crater of a volcano, at any rate.

“Hey, wait!”

Mark turned around. The Mutark guy, Victor, was running after him.

“What?”

Victor looked around. “Where’s May? The girl?”

“She went on to Aquarium City,” Mark answered. “Why?”

“Oh,” said Victor, scratching his head. “Er… you know Mitch?”

“Yeah,” Mark replied, puzzled.

“Do you know what they say about him?”

Mark shook his head.

“Well – according to the rumours, he’s a psychic of sorts. They say he can foresee deaths and stuff, and, uh… are you going to join up with May again?”

“Huh?” asked Mark, not sure what Victor was getting at.

“I mean, will you meet her sometime? I need to… er, give her some tips on catching a Mutark.” His gaze darted to the sides; he was obviously a very bad liar, but Mark wasn’t the type to point that out so he ignored it.

“Well, I’ll probably meet her at Aquarium City, but to be honest I don’t know if she’s going to come with me from there or anything.”

“Right,” said Victor. “Hey, will you be attending the Pokémon Festival?”

“What festival?” Mark asked curiously.

“The festival in Green Town – the one they have every year based around Chaletwo’s arrival.”

“Oh – I didn’t know they had a festival,” Mark replied, blushing slightly. He felt stupid.

“Well, I’m going, of course – I want to see Chaletwo, he’s a Dark type – and she is likely to, since she doesn’t seem the type to miss it, so will you?”

“Of course,” Mark answered brightly. “I love Legendary Pokémon; I’d never miss that in my life.”

“We’ll meet there, then,” Victor said, holding out his hand.

“Sure,” Mark replied, shaking it.

“Good. Bye, then,” said Victor, smiling as he turned back towards Scorpio City. “See you.”

Mark had slightly disliked him earlier, but he seemed like a nice guy after all. Now Mark knew about the Pokémon festival. He looked forward to it, especially getting to witness Chaletwo’s appearance. Of course, there were probably fun tournaments and such, too…

Something seems especially clumsy and childish about this last paragraph, so I wondered if it was straight out of the UMR or something, but nope, doesn't seem to be.

So here it is, Mark learning about the Pokémon Festival that it's absurd for him to not have known about. Originally, of course, I didn't make up the festival until several chapters in, and I just grabbed this opportunity to introduce it by having Victor appear and tell him about it. It's a bit baffling, though, that I didn't realize when I started this version that Mark could and should just know about the festival from the start instead of hearing about it for the first time here. Maybe I knew by the time I got here that it was a little silly he didn't know about it - sort of like with the illegal training bit in chapter fourteen, I kind of seem to be mentioning and skipping past that fact as quickly as possible, where in the previous versions I had Victor surprised Mark doesn't know about it and make a bit more of it in general.

This conversation changed a bit in this version as a result of Victor having witnessed Mitch talking about the danger they were in at the end of the last chapter. Originally, he just randomly walked up to Mark to ask if he was going to the festival and sincerely said he could give May more advice on catching Mutark if she came too. Here, obviously Victor actually wants to meet them to talk to them about what Mitch said, so while he says largely the same things, he's visibly evasively talking around why he wants to meet them and using the Mutark thing as a pretext, which makes it a bit more fun. I'm pretty sure the main reason I made this change, and the reason I had Victor with Mitch last chapter in the first place, was that I felt like there ought to be a reason for Victor to approach Mark and tell him about the festival, which is pretty funny - of all the ridiculous things in the previous versions, somehow "A guy they meet is friendly and tips Mark off about a popular event" doesn't exactly seem like the most vital problem that needed fixing - but I guess I probably also wanted to build more tension and intrigue leading up to the festival, which is valid.

Of course, though, this version of the conversation doesn't really quite make sense - why can't Victor just tell Mark here and ask him to pass it on if he sees May, and then go to the festival himself in the hope of catching her otherwise, rather than staying quiet and arranging to tell both of them together at the festival instead? Is Victor sure it's not urgent enough that Mark should know as soon as possible, even if May's not there at the moment? And hilariously, Mark explicitly notices that Victor's clearly lying about why he wants to meet them, but then he apparently just forgets about it and cheerfully reacts to the whole encounter exactly like he reacted in the previous versions - just "Oh, he seems nice after all, can't wait to check out this festival." Way to go, fourteen-year-old me.

I like that I actually think Victor sounds pretty similar here to how he does in chapter 67, where he's also awkwardly uncomfortable and talking around something he doesn't want to say outright, albeit for a very different reason. I didn't reread this before writing that or anything, so it's cool it ended up pretty consistent anyway.

-------

It wasn’t a long way to Merville, a tiny village near the seaside. Old-fashioned houses were spread irregularly around. A lot of them seemed deserted, giving the village a glum atmosphere. A dirty shop stood just by the harbor, looking just as deserted as the empty houses but nonetheless with a big OPEN sign in the window. Above the door, it said “Underwater Equipment”.

Mark walked up to the wooden door and grabbed the doorknob. It was open. He stepped carefully inside.

A bearded, middle-aged man leant onto the counter, looking asleep. As soon as Mark came in, however, he sprang up and was instantly by his side.

“A customer! What can I do for you? Headed to Aquarium City, are you? Then you’re in the right place! We’ve got everything, all 100% organic!”

“Er,” Mark just stammered.

“You’ll need an H2Oxy 3000; these things allow you to breathe underwater,” the clerk said, reaching for a small mask-like object on a shelf. “You put it on like this,” he put it on to cover his nose and mouth, then quickly took it off again as it appeared to prevent him from breathing, “and it will work oxygen out of the water. Clever, isn’t it?”

“Are you sure it... works?” asked Mark skeptically. The shopkeeper shrugged. “It should work.”

He stuffed it into Mark’s arms and started searching for something else on the shelf.

“Let’s see... you’ll need an Aqua compass. It always points at Aquarium City.” He showed Mark a compass which, unless Mark was very much mistaken, pointed straight west, back to Scorpio City. The guy seemed to realize that too, since he shrugged again and threw it into the garbage. “Well, this spray will make you completely water-repellant.” He sprayed something that smelled like cardboard all over Mark. He coughed.

“Then there’s the Sharpedo-ward,” the shopkeeper continued eagerly, taking out a bottle containing a black, suspicious-looking liquid. “If you open it in the water, it will send any Sharpedo swimming! And there’s a special rock here to be able to sink easier. I’m sure you’ll visit again, buddy? I’m always ready at hand! Now, in total, this will be, uh…” He counted on his fingers. “…9,999 Pokédollars.”

“What?” Mark asked, nonetheless finding the guy a bit funny. “I’m not going to buy it all… I think I’ll just go with the H2Oxy-thing, and, um, do you have a Dive HM?” He put the rock and the Sharpedo-ward down.

“You already used the water repelling spray!” the man complained.

“That’s stupid, I didn’t ask for it,” Mark argued. The shopkeeper sighed.

“All right then.” He handed Mark a CD case. “Your ID number?”

Mark reached for his Pokédex. “0439522166,” he read from the screen. The shopkeeper entered it into the computer and mumbled: “You’re not getting any for the way back.” Mark ignored him and walked out of the shop.

This comedic scene is extremely similar to its equivalent in the original, and given that, I think it holds up better than you'd expect. It is tropey in a way most of this story isn't - the overzealous salesman trying to sell useless junk is pretty much a stock character/joke, something I've generally not gone for - but the particulars are reasonably amusing and avoid the many pitfalls I could easily have fallen into as a thirteen-year-old trying to write comedy. The bit where I very unnecessarily feel the need to have Mark point out that the shopkeeper is funny was actually new here, even, so that's not even thirteen-year-old me, just fourteen-year-old me overcorrecting for the way that original Mark probably took this goofy shopkeeper more seriously than was realistic.

Outside, he noticed a sailor who hadn’t been there before. He was a tall, muscular man and was just standing there looking blankly into the air. When Mark came out, the sailor turned around.

“Hey. Kid. Battle?”

This sailor saying just "Hey. Kid. Battle?" made it through all three versions of this, but here, by specifying he was just standing there looking blankly into the air prior to that line, I sure made this sound weird in a way it wasn't supposed to be.

Mark shrugged. “If you want.”

“One on one,” said the sailor and threw a Pokéball into the harbor. The red energy materialized into a blue shark-like Pokémon; it had no tail, but a yellow star shape on its head.

“Sharr,” it growled.

Mark decided that Gyarados would most likely be his best bet for this; he had also not gotten to battle much lately, because pretty much only gym arenas had pools for non-amphibious Water Pokémon.

“Go, Gyarados!” The sea monster came out of the Pokéball into the calm sea. He dove into it and seemed to enjoy the water judging from the low, purr-like growls he was producing.

Ha, that's cute.

In the previous versions Gyarados was visibly annoyed about not being out much when he came out of the ball; here, I have Mark kind of preempt the complaint by noticing it himself, which is probably nice from the standpoint of making him seem to care.

“Sharpedo, Crunch!” ordered the sailor. The shark immediately lunged at Gyarados and sank its fangs into his white tail fin. He roared in pain and tried to shake Sharpedo off; it still held on. Gyarados slammed his tail against the harbor wall, Sharpedo still stuck on. Receiving a harsh blow, the shark let go off his tail. Blood oozed out, making the water slightly murkier. Mark bit his lip; he just hoped Gyarados wasn’t too hurt.

“Another Crunch, Sharpedo!” the sailor shouted, and his Pokémon darted towards Gyarados’s tail again. This time, however, the monster just let the shark bite him. He waited perfectly still, obviously in pain, but didn’t move.

“Let him go!” said the sailor desperately. Mark first wondered why; then he remembered one of the things he had managed to register in Pokémonology: Sharpedo always had to keep swimming forward so that water would flow through their gills. If they were held in place, they could suffocate…

“Return,” said the Sailor, holding out his Pokéball to recall Sharpedo. The shark disappeared in a beam of red light.

“You ought to teach your Gyarados some manners,” the sailor commented coldly. “That’s a monster.”

“Sorry,” Mark just muttered as he recalled Gyarados.

“I could sue your pants off, you know,” the sailor continued. “And have your Gyarados disposed of for breaking the Agreement.”

“I know,” said Mark miserably. He had no idea why Gyarados had tried to literally drown the Sharpedo – and he had been too stunned to recall him.

“But I’ll let you slide this time, just because I don’t have the time,” the sailor said as he turned around and walked into the village again.

Originally, the sailor also called Gyarados a monster - but he said it approvingly and added that he'd come in handy in Marge's gym. I guess here I really wanted to go for the make Mark feel bad route, but I don't think I did so very effectively. Mark doesn't seem terribly affected by the realization of what Gyarados is doing, and while I state he was too stunned to recall him, I don't really show that as it's happening.

Mark stared blankly at nothing for a few seconds before realizing what he was supposed to be doing. He released Gyarados from his Pokéball again, and took out the CD he had bought earlier.

“Gyarados, you’ll need to learn Dive so we can get to Aquarium City,” Mark explained, holding the disc forward. Gyarados touched it lightly with his forehead, and the disc’s deep blue color ripped loose from it and sank into his body. He shook himself slightly, and then nodded.

And of course, rather than write Mark being shaken and questioning Gyarados about his brutal performance in that battle, I just have him forget about it and move on like it never happened. Nicely done.

In the previous versions, Mark actually didn't use the Dive HM - he just jumped in and swam with the H2Oxy and only sent out Gyarados to fend off the Sharpedo. When I wrote the original version of this chapter, I still hadn't played Ruby or Sapphire myself - they were out in the States, but not in Europe. I guess by this point it just felt natural that Dive would be used to reach Aquarium City.

“Okay, great,” Mark said nervously. “Now I need to get on your back, I guess.”

Gyarados obediently swam nearer to the bank and turned his side towards Mark. He walked unsurely to the edge of the concrete, not sure exactly how to mount Gyarados. Finally, he just grabbed the dragon’s head tightly with his arms and somehow managed to use the plates that stuck out on either side of the first segment of armor as footing while he sat in front of the first fin.

“Is this okay, Gyarados?” he asked, worried that it might be uncomfortable for the sea serpent. He just nodded slightly.

“All right…” Mark took out the H2Oxy and held it in his hand. “Be ready to dive, Gyarados… one, two… THREE!” He took a deep breath and put on the H2Oxy as Gyarados dove under the surface. Holding on for dear life, Mark felt like he was in some kind of a rollercoaster with very sub-par seats that additionally included the thrill of not knowing whether one would drown in it or not.

Okay, this made me chuckle.

He was relieved to find that the H2Oxy did work; while breathing was a bit harder than on dry land, he could manage this way. The water repel-spray apparently also worked, as he didn’t seem to be getting wet. Mark also discovered that it had been a mistake not to buy the Sharpedo-ward.

It was probably the smell of Gyarados’s blood in the water that attracted them; at least they looked like they were expecting some easy prey. There were around ten of those sharks like the one the sailor had, and they all stared murderously at Mark and Gyarados.

The dragon shook Mark off and darted at the Sharpedo. They scattered, but for some reason he kept on chasing one of them in particular and, to Mark’s great disgust, caught it. Gyarados, having locked his jaws securely around the shark’s body, started shaking it vigorously until he ripped a bit of flesh apart from the body and swallowed it. Catching the slowly sinking corpse again, he took some more. Now the scene was getting shrouded in the Sharpedo’s blood, saving Mark from having to see any more Sharpedo innards.

It wasn’t long until Gyarados appeared to have finished all that was edible of the Sharpedo, since he came swimming back to Mark like nothing had happened. Mark wanted to say something, but was unable to because they were in the water. He got uneasily on Gyarados’s back again, and they continued towards the distant light that was Aquarium City.

I mean, you could just go back to the surface and talk to him there. But I guess at least I made a point of making Mark uneasy about this, even if he wasn't that bothered by Gyarados using a potentially lethal tactic earlier.

In the original, I think this was probably the first hint of what had been going on with Gyarados in the lake - I noted that Gyarados gave him a “what, do you have any idea how long it’s been since I last had a decent meal?” look. Either that or I wrote that randomly and it prompted me to make up the whole thing about him being starved in the lake. One or the other.

The Sharpedo appeared to have learned their lesson and didn’t bother Mark and Gyarados further. He was fascinated by a group of cute, light blue seahorses called Horsea and the larger, more vicious Seadra leading them; the Horsea fluttered their tiny, wing-like fins and managed to swim very cutely that way, while the Seadra flapped its spiked fins slowly and gracefully, ready to defend the young ones. After the Horsea swam past, Mark noticed what looked like a swimming rock. Then he realized that it was a rock-like fish Pokémon.

Various Pokémonology lessons whirred past; then finally this Pokémon’s identity clunked into place. It was a Relicanth, and they were…

“Incredibly rare!” Mark mouthed behind the H2Oxy. He prodded Gyarados’s head slightly and pointed at the ancient fish. The message was understood; Gyarados darted at the Relicanth and grabbed it by the tail. The fish, however, quickly started glowing red as it summoned some large rocks from different directions that smashed into the sea monster’s head. He was knocked unconscious by the blow, and the Relicanth managed to disappear, very quickly for a Rock type.

Mark had no choice but to recall Gyarados, and now he was in trouble. This had clearly been a very powerful Relicanth to beat Gyarados in one hit and be so strangely fast. Now he had no Pokémon to Dive on, so he’d have to swim all the way to Aquarium City.

He started swimming a bit, but the lights of the city never seemed to draw any nearer. He had to rest after a short while, and discovered then to his horror that the Sharpedo had noticed that Gyarados was unable to battle. Their shadows steadily grew closer…

Originally this played out quite differently. Mark threw a ball at the Relicanth, but missed, and Gyarados dived after the ball, giving the Relicanth a chance to escape. Very uncharacteristically, Mark got super-mad at him and called him an idiot, and Gyarados recalled himself and refused to come out when Mark tried to send him out again against the Sharpedo. I can definitely see why I changed that.

Mark was basically panicking when suddenly, what seemed at first to be another Gyarados shot forward and started fighting the sharks off. The Sharpedo quickly realized that they didn’t stand a chance and disappeared.

Mark’s savior now turned gently around. It was not a Gyarados, but it was another sea serpent – this one had a more draconic head, and a sleeker, darker body. Nothing at all could be read from the expression in its deep, black eyes.

Then it neared him, and came close to his face. It tilted its head slightly while examining him thoroughly; he hardly dared to breathe through the H2Oxy. Then, slowly and gracefully, it turned its side towards him in what was clearly a gesture for him to mount it.

The monster blinked. Mark guessed he didn’t have much of a choice, whatever the Pokémon’s intent was; the Sharpedo could come back if he tried to swim by himself. Trembling, he wrapped his arms around the creature’s scaly neck; there was something so comfortable and motherly about it that he felt safe if he only held on to it well enough…

The dragon shot quickly through the water, so smoothly that Mark barely felt it. He lost all sense of time clinging on to the creature’s neck, but after some amount of time, they came to a halt. The gigantic glass dome that covered Aquarium City was ahead; beautiful lights from the inside illuminated the sea next to it and just two meters away was the entrance to the tube that led inside.

Mark went off the monster’s back and dragged himself exhaustedly in through the door. Suddenly he remembered that he had never heard of this Pokémon before; he quickly took his Pokédex off his belt and pointed it out at the sea serpent.

“Monarking, monster Pokémon. This very rare, aquatic Pokémon is said to be somewhat magical and is highly intelligent. They said to occasionally help humans whose lives are in danger.”

He slowly put the Pokédex down. The Monarking outside the glass gave him a slow nod, and then swam away. Mark lost sight of it as it blended into the color of the ocean around it.

And there's Monarking ex machina. Originally this was absolutely intended to be some kind of hook for later, but of course, I didn't yet have any idea what I'd do with it later, and ultimately I never did. Monarking is a pointless one-scene wonder and would not be in the next revision.

Monarking was originally created as the final-stage Water starter of a set of five(!) elemental starters that I created at the beginning of 2003. At that stage, though, its ability ("Characteristic" was the original fan translation of the Japanese term for abilities before R/S were released in English) was "Fearsome" which gave all of its moves a chance of causing the opponent to flinch, and all in all it was supposed to be pretty scary and intimidating. When it appeared in the original version of the fic, the Pokédex description did reflect that a bit:

“Monarking, monster pokémon. This fearsome pokémon is said to be somewhat magical and highly intelligent. It’s a mystery what causes it to trust some people and hate others.”

However, by the time I wrote the ILCOE I'd just ditched that part completely and instead described it as comfortable and motherly and making Mark feel safe, which is amusingly antithetical to its original description. (To be fair, the arbitrary "Look, Mark's trusted and even actively helped by this fearsome Pokémon that trusts only some people!" was a bit eye-roll-worthy.)

The actual Monarking scene is less bad than I thought, though; I'm doing better than usual with the emotion, I think.

All in all, this is an unusual chapter. Apart from the Victor conversation at the beginning (which was its own chapter in the previous versions), it sort of has the feel of an episode of a show, where the main character has to travel somewhere and so I insert some filler events involving a couple of characters of the week just to flesh out that journey. I think this is literally the only place in the fic where I do this in quite this way. There are places with individual fillery events that could be excised entirely without any noticeable impact on the progression of the story (usually battles), and plenty where I describe things that didn't really need more than a summary, but nothing like this almost entire chapter where the events feel largely made up just to have something happen here. I think that's kind of neat, actually - for a kid writing a trainer fic it'd be entirely reasonable to emulate the anime with its episodic structure, but I really was mostly writing a continuous progression of events as the characters progressed through the region at a breakneck pace, to the point that a chapter like this sticks out a bit.

In the middle of the pretty much filler, the one thing that's potentially not is the establishing of a bit more about Gyarados and Mark feeling apprehensive about him, so rather than actually skipping over the journey, that's probably what I'd focus on in the next revision. It could probably be pretty interesting if they actually talked a bit - maybe Gyarados doesn't want to tell him about Suicune yet, but surely while the two of them are alone together Mark'd have some questions and their relationship could develop a bit, and actually addressing his brutality a bit instead of having it just happen and having Mark silently uncomfortable would make it a lot more interesting.

I've got to admit I'm kind of tempted to keep the shopkeeper, though.


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