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!)

The Pokémon Festival – May 21st: Evolution

This chapter was posted January 13th, so four days. I was pretty excited about the Pokémon Festival, obviously.

This marks the beginning of the first of the fic's three specially labeled five-chapter arcs, each closing out one third of the main story. These were not a thing in the previous versions, but here, one way or another I realized the festival would be starting in chapter 21, and putting Chaletwo's appearance in chapter 25 would be a nice round number, and May 25th is also the date that Chaletwo appears, so if I had these five Festival chapters each cover a single day, the dates would all match up with the chapter numbers, and all in all I thought this was the coolest thing. I didn't expect to ever do it again - after all, there weren't exactly many more chances for the chapter numbers to line up with dates - but when I eventually wrote an outline for all the chapters up through Taylor's demise, the League wound up taking place in chapters 46-50 (though at the time chapter 50 was the actual finals), and although it wouldn't have the date aspect, it just seemed a perfect opportunity to do this again 25 chapters later. I still like how things ended up working out with these three arcs - the way they're evenly spaced, and all steadily build up towards a final chapter that's a minor climax and end of an era of the fic, works out incredibly neatly in the end. Here, it's the Pokémon Festival, leading up to Chaletwo's appearance and Mark getting killed and recruited for his quest; for chapters 46-50, it's the League, leading up to Mark and May's battle where Mark's League challenge ends and he decides he's going home after their legendary quest is over; and of course, chapters 71-75 are the search for the final legendary to stop the War, leading up to the climax of the fic.

Back in the previous versions, the Festival actually started on May 20th with the Pokémon Frenzy Tournament, but obviously the date thing meant it had to start on May 21st, and while I don't recall exactly why I decided to move the Pokémon Frenzy Tournament to the 23rd, I suspect I realized building up to it by putting the slower, less dramatic events first would work better. (That and incidentally it was originally chapter 23, and this way the Frenzy Tournament, which was still one of my favorite chapters in the fic at this point, would still be in chapter 23, which pleased me.)

Mark was nervous.

He hadn’t told May anything about where he had been; he had just claimed he had been “doing stuff”. Her being her, she didn’t question him about that. They had then spent the rest of the day reading the posters in the Pokémon Center, deciding which events they wanted to attend over the next four days and signing up for them. Mark couldn’t concentrate on anything; all he could think about was why Chaletwo would kill people for wanting to catch him – he couldn’t help wondering why only one person each year had wanted to catch a Legendary Pokémon. Even if Alan said it, and even if he was Ash Ketchum’s son and all, it just didn’t make sense. There was no way anybody who stood in front of Chaletwo with a Pokéball wouldn’t want to throw it. And if that wasn’t the reason, what was it then?

NO MARK WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT FSGHHH

He also wondered about Alan’s claim that Chaletwo “couldn’t” be evil. That made no sense either, unless Alan could read Chaletwo’s mind. And Mark just couldn’t figure out in what other way Alan could have just “known” that Chaletwo wasn’t evil. Maybe he was just biased or something… but why would he be biased with a murderous Legendary Pokémon?

YES MARK IT'S CLEARLY SOME SORT OF BRAINWASHING AND IT'S SUPER SUSPICIOUS

Whatever he started thinking, it always ended in a cold shiver running down his spine as he came to some creepy conclusion. He had not had much of an appetite for the rest of the day, and had then had a very hard time sleeping. When he did fall asleep, he dreamt nothing but glowing yellow eyes and the four pearly ghosts of the kids Chaletwo had killed. He felt no better now, as he lay awake in his bed in the Pokémon Center, his mind still revolving around Chaletwo.

This makes it day six of the journey! And this is May 21st, so Mark officially set out on the sixteenth. In the older versions, they actually got to Green Town on May 13th and we just skipped loosely over the days in between; here, I suspect I realized I wanted to write some emotional followup to the revelations about Chaletwo, and it wouldn't have felt right to move on from there to a timeskip, so I just had the festival start the next day.

All that various weirdness aside, I kind of like this opening and Mark just being really rattled after the conversation with Alan.

There was a knock on the door. “Mark? We have to arrive at the evolution-thingy in an hour. If you’re still asleep, wake up already, and if you’re just sitting there doing nothing, get a move on.”

Mark groaned, slowly getting up. Today there was something that had the cliché name of “The Evolution Solution”. It was for trainers with Pokémon who evolved by evolution stones; Mark had spoken to Eevee and he had decided that he was ready for evolution.

It's a shame we didn't actually get to see this. Rereading has made it a lot clearer to me that Eevee hasn't gotten that much screentime either; after getting a couple of scenes to himself early on, he's only briefly been seen since, with Scyther, Charmeleon and Gyarados hogging all the (limited) Pokémon spotlight. And of course, it has only been a couple of days since Eevee was supposedly definitely too young to evolve.

Good old May being May, though.

After Mark fastened his Pokéball belt around his waist, he hesitated, but then took Eevee’s ball. He looked at it for a few seconds. “Go, Eevee,” he then said absent-mindedly, dropping the ball onto the floor. The brown furball materialized out of red light and looked up at Mark.

“This is your day,” Mark said. Eevee just nodded unsurely.

“Are you sure you’re ready for this?” Mark asked, concerned. “We can still quit.”

“I think so,” said Eevee nervously. “Does it hurt to evolve?”

Mark recalled his conversation with Charmeleon after evolution. “Well, Charmeleon said it mainly felt amazing… but he did mention a bit of pain at one point, yes. He spoke of it like it was very little, though, so it’s probably not that bad.”

Eevee thought a bit. “I – I think I’m ready…”

“Are you sure you want to evolve now?” asked Mark softly.

Eevee swallowed, collecting his courage for a second, but then replied: “Yes.”

“All right.” Mark smiled. “I’m sure it won’t be so bad.” He paused. “Would you feel better if you got to be out of your Pokéball for a while?”

Eevee nodded slightly; Mark bent down and picked him up. His fur was so soft; Mark realized sadly that he could probably never stroke it again.

“Mark, are you coming?” came May’s annoyed voice from outside the room. He adjusted Eevee in his arms so that he could unlock the door, and opened it. May was tapping her foot impatiently.

“Finally,” she grumbled, but still took the time to smile at Eevee and stroke his bushy tail. He soon fell asleep in Mark’s arms, like he just wanted to be comfortable for his last hour of being an Eevee. Mark felt odd; he kind of wanted to quit suddenly now, but Eevee had made his decision.

Okay, this was pretty cute. I'm really glad I did at least do this scene, and again, in interacting with Eevee Mark manages to actually come off as a decent person who really cares what his Pokémon think.

I didn't remember May petting Eevee here. Even she can't resist the cuteness.

“Why aren’t you entering Pikachu, anyway?” Mark asked May thoughtfully. “Doesn’t Pikachu evolve with a Thunderstone?”

“Yeah,” May answered, “but once Pikachu evolves, it loses almost all of its ability to learn new techniques. So in the long run it’s a big disadvantage to evolve a Pikachu too soon.”

Mark hesitated before daring to ask the next question: “What does he think?”

May shrugged. “I don’t know. Haven’t asked.”

Mark wasn’t feeling nosy enough to comment on that further, besides that May had always done him the favor of not asking too much; instead, he just changed the subject. “Are we getting breakfast anywhere?” he asked in spite of himself; he wasn’t sure if he’d be able to eat much either way.

“We can pick something up at a fast food restaurant,” said May. “Then we have to be at the Green Town Stadium an hour before it actually starts so that you can confirm that you’re entering Eevee, and then… well, I don’t know what exactly happens then. We’ll find out. Somehow Eevee gets evolved, and we can relax for the rest of the day.”

“Okay,” Mark replied. He shot a glance at Eevee; he was still fast asleep, purring softly.

Important news: Eevee purr in the QftL-verse, amazing

It's pretty silly that they manage to sign up for this event without finding out what it actually entails, and in particular that they would sign up without knowing what it entails. Surely just "~somehow~ we will evolve your Pokémon" sounds kind of dubious. In the previous versions this was actually explained: each event had a brief "more info" presentation explaining better what it was about before the festival actually began, but Mark and May didn't go to this one, because there neither of them was actually planning to enter.

Meanwhile, some May not really seeing her Pokémon as people, and Mark noticing but choosing to ignore it. Setup!

-------

“Are you signed up for the Evolution Solution?”

A green-haired woman with butterfly-shaped pink glasses asked this question politely with a smile pasted over her face. Mark was probably one of the first people to arrive; at least no line had formed yet, which wasn’t that surprising considering that even with the rule of entrants having to arrive an hour before it actually started, they were very early.

“Yeah, Eevee is entered,” he replied through the hole in the glass that separated the gray outside world from the woman’s booth. “The name is Mark Greenlet.”

The woman turned to her computer and entered something. She peered uninterestedly at the screen, and then stretched out her hand without looking at Mark.

“The entrant, please.”

Mark cautiously woke Eevee up. The Pokémon looked noticeably more content than he had before; Mark still felt a little twinge of guilt.

“Are you still positive you want to go on with this?”

“Vi,” Eevee yawned, stretching. Mark nodded slowly, taking the Pokéball and touching the Pokémon so that it dissolved into red light. As Eevee was zapped into the ball, Mark realized with sadness that he would never hold Eevee again.

A bit repetitive there - we had pretty much the exact same sentiment earlier.

The woman still waited, her chin resting in her palm as the other arm, still outstretched through the hole in the glass barrier, moved impatiently. Mark slowly minimized the Pokéball and put it in her hand; the pale, delicate fingers closed around the sphere and she looked uninterestedly at it before putting it under a tube connected to the computer. She pronouncedly pressed a key, and the ball was sucked up into the end of the tube.

“Here,” she said, fetching two buckets from under her desk and handing them to Mark through the glass. He curiously read off one of the buckets:

EVOLUTION STONES – FULL SET

“Why are you giving us the evolution stones?” May snorted from behind Mark. “Are we supposed to throw them at the Pokémon or what?”

“That’s the basic idea, yes,” said the woman coldly. May shoved Mark aside to speak to the woman directly.

“What? We’re supposed to go in there and throw rocks at our own damn Pokémon? That’s totally barbaric!”

“You might want to keep your temper a little bit until you’ve heard the full story,” the woman replied calmly. “Your Pokémon will now, with the aid of the Baton Pass technique and some of our special Pokémon, get their defensive abilities strengthened to the point that they wouldn’t feel a Snorlax stomping on them. We guarantee that to your Pokémon, this will simply be a game, and everything would be much easier if you would just look at it the same way.”

“Oh…” said May blankly. “Well, then it’s not that bad, I guess.”

“It certainly isn’t,” the woman stated, somehow not sounding convincing. “Also,” she continued as she observed her long, perfect, blood red fingernails, “as a safety precaution, we will keep your other Pokémon until the Evolution Solution is over.”

Notice May's the one to speak up here. She did this even in the original (though then they didn't find out what this involved until they were sitting in the audience). In May's mind Pokémon abuse means beating or starving or throwing things at your Pokémon, and she's perfectly on board with that being bad; she just doesn't see what she's doing as being in any way related to that.

In the previous versions, instead of this Baton Pass thing, the bucket of evolution stones just said these were "special light edition" evolution stones. It seemed pretty flimsy both that that was randomly a thing at all and that they'd be light enough to not hurt when they hit you when thrown from a distance, so here instead of handwaving the stones as being special, I just made use of some actual Pokémon abilities.

She took out two empty, white Pokéball trays from a big stack beside her and handed them to Mark and May. They took out all their Pokéballs just as a blond-haired boy sped up to them. He ran right into May’s back, and she fell over. Mark was reminded of when he himself had met her for the second time, and smiled as May stood up, muttering swear words under her breath.

“Look what you’ve done!” she snapped at the boy. “My Pokéballs are all over!”

She started picking up the spheres that were rolling around on the ground.

“Sorry,” the boy panted. “Mine fell too.”

He also started picking up the Pokéballs while May groaned.

“Just great! Now we need to send out all the Pokémon to know whose are whose!”

“No need for it,” said the woman in the booth calmly. “We do an ID check on all the Pokémon before giving them back to you, anyway.”

“Oh… all right.” May took the nearest six balls and placed them in the Pokéball tray, handing it to the woman. She glared nastily at the boy, who was still picking up his Pokéballs, as they continued into the stadium.

This is the point where, if this were a movie, I would turn to Shadey and go "Well, that's definitely not going to be important later."

The stadium itself was medium-sized and rather plain; it had standard Pokémon arena markings and many rows of seats. There were a few people already there, but not many. Mark and May found themselves good seats, and then just sat and waited as time passed and the seats around them gradually filled up.

This whole thing was a temporary distraction from anything having to do with Chaletwo; however, Eevee had taken his place as what kept haunting Mark as he sat in his seat and waited for the Evolution Solution to start. Maybe he was just paranoid, but if he were subjected to something that was supposed to make him not feel if a rock hit him in the head, he would be very nervous and constantly afraid it would wear off or not work or something. Was Eevee feeling the same? Was he perhaps now wishing that he had just said ‘no’ when Mark asked him if this was what he really wanted? And what if the stones did hurt him?

I really like this, in particular because of the contrast to how May pretty much just accepted the woman's explanation that the Pokémon wouldn't be feeling any pain. That's enough for her, but Mark, who's a lot more emotionally sensitive and empathetic, remains unconvinced and wonders what the experience is actually like for the Pokémon.

But Mark could only wait. It seemed like ages until finally, the crowded stadium silenced and the Pokémon stepped in.

They were all kinds of stone-evolving Pokémon. There weren’t that many Eevee seeing as most would rather choose their own evolution, and Mark also noticed that Pikachu were somewhat in a minority – there were too many Ash Ketchum wannabes in the world. Otherwise there were all kinds of stone-evolving Pokémon. Some of them looked a bit nervous; others seemed just excited. Mark discovered one of the Eevee looking up at him; he wasn’t sure if it was really his Eevee, but he waved slightly anyway.

Blatant repetition of "there were all kinds of stone-evolving Pokémon" aside, this is cute.

“Well, the rules of this game are simple,” boomed a voice over the stadium. “You throw the stones at the Pokémon, and once a Pokémon evolves, it will also help throwing the stones that you didn’t hit with. The game goes on until all the Pokémon have evolved. The stones will absolutely not hurt your Pokémon, so don’t worry! You may now start throwing!”

The crowd excitedly started opening buckets. Mark wasn’t going to throw any stones; May opened her bucket, took out a lime green, smooth stone with a yellow lightning bolt shape inside it, and put it in her pocket – admittedly half of the stone was still poking out. All around them, people were throwing evolution stones down to the arena.

Sneaky of you, May. She won't participate in the event, but hey, a free evolution stone for later.

The Pokémon scattered, trying to get away from the rain of evolution stones despite knowing that in the end they would get evolved no matter what. All of the stones at first either missed and fell to the ground or hit Pokémon that they didn’t affect; the claim that the Pokémon wouldn’t be hurt was proven when a Growlithe that got hit by a Thunderstone shook it off easily. The first Pokémon that evolved, however, was a Pikachu that tripped over a Thunderstone lying on the ground. When the rodent came into contact with the mineral, it became enveloped in a white glow as it lay sprawled on the ground and grew, its ears becoming butterfly-shaped, the tail threadlike with a lightning bolt on the end, and the general shape more chubby. The glow faded, and the newly-evolved, orange-colored Raichu stood up. Some people in the crowd cheered.

The Raichu spotted a green, fossil-like stone with a leaf pattern in it, grabbed it and hurled it at a nearby Weepinbell. The Leaf Stone hit, and the green bell-shaped plant Pokémon started glowing white; its body lengthened and a leaf in a kind of a thread grew on its back. When the white light faded away, the Victreebel was upside-down; the Raichu helped turn it over, and then Victreebel smacked its leaf into a bright yellow, flame-like stone so that it hit a reddish brown fox Pokémon with six curly tails – a Vulpix. Mark watched it evolve, growing three more tails as the others straightened, and become a creamy yellow Ninetales.

I like the detail about the Victreebel being upside-down and the Raichu helping.

The Pokémon were evolving faster now. Mark saw an Eevee being hit by a blue stone and evolving into a Vaporeon as the Raichu who first evolved offered a Thunderstone to another Eevee. He saw two Flareon at a glance, but as far as he could see, there were no unevolved Eevee left. His stomach churned uncomfortably; his second Pokémon ever had evolved now. There was no turning back.

The Eevee being offered a Thunderstone there is Mark's - so he got one more final chance to change his mind but decided to go for it.

A weary, golden starfish Pokémon with a ruby core was finally now hit by a Water Stone; once it had changed into a purple, ten-armed Starmie, there were only two unevolved Pokémon left, both of them being chased by some of the evolved ones. One was a Growlithe who was clearly enjoying himself a lot; the other was a Pikachu who wasn’t enjoying it at all – it was in fact giving off flurries of electricity as if to fend the others off. Most of them stopped when they saw this, but some were still following it determinedly.

“That’s my Pikachu!” May suddenly realized.

Mark’s eyes widened. “The guy who bumped into you must have intended to enter his own Pikachu, and they just used a Pokédex to identify the Pokémon inside… so after the balls got mixed up, he entered your Pikachu without knowing it wasn’t his…”

I'm surprised May can recognize her Pikachu by sight from a distance, especially since we just saw Mark having no idea which Eevee was his. Mark is also amazingly quick to not only agree that it's her Pikachu (I'd be skeptical), but immediately figure out exactly how that happened.

Even if it were written better, though, this is all kind of forced; the woman clearly shouldn't have shooed them inside after the potential mixup in the first place if they don't properly verify exactly whose Pokémon are supposed to be entered, and if there was any potential for confusion surely they'd rather be safe than sorry - besides that while the Festival is consistently shown to be run in kind of a dodgy way, surely when all the Pokémon were sent out to be Baton Pass-boosted Pikachu would've asked what was going on and they'd have taken another look into it, right? It just feels kind of contrived that this situation can happen, even at an event that's kind of sleazy.

“Pikachu, come up here! It’s a misunderstanding!” May called out to her Pokémon. A few people turned around to see what was going on; Pikachu, now the only unevolved Pokémon in the arena as the Growlithe had given up just a second earlier, answered with a quick ‘Pika!’ and then hurried upwards past the first rows of seats. Once he came to the row that Mark and May were sitting in, he ran quickly past all the feet and finally jumped into his trainer’s lap, exhausted. Then he started emitting a bright white glow as Mark noticed that he had accidentally touched the Thunderstone halfway down May’s pocket.

In the previous versions, a Raichu followed Pikachu up into the stands to throw a Thunderstone at him, and while he evaded it, the stone instead hit a guy behind him in the eye and he threw it back at Pikachu. This was obviously a huge dick move on the part of both the Raichu and the guy, and I really like what I did with it here instead, where May's opportunistic decision to nab a Thunderstone is instead what directly leads to this.

Everybody’s eyes were on the blue-haired girl whose Pikachu apparently shouldn’t have been there but was still somehow evolving now. She just watched, stunned, as Pikachu grew into a Raichu like the first one to evolve.

“Rai,” said Raichu, scratching his head.

“Oh,” said May blankly. “No more attacks for you, I guess.”

May could be so strange. Mark knew that if there was one thing he would not care about if this had happened to his Pokémon was whether it would learn some attacks or not.

“Well,” May sighed, “guess this event isn’t going to be any longer.”

“It looks like all the Pokémon have evolved – and we even got to see an interesting twist at the end! We would like to wish you all to return any evolution stones you may not have used at the entrance. Goodbye, and enjoy the rest of the Pokémon Festival!” came the booming voice.

Wow, a Pokémon who wasn't meant to be entered got entered and evolved because of your terrible organization, what an interesting twist.

-------

“The name is Mark Greenlet – I’d like to get my Pokémon.”

The same woman from earlier sternly handed Mark his Pokéball tray. He attached the balls carefully to his belt; then he had to move out of the line. May had already gotten her Pokémon sorted out, and they walked off.

“What did Eevee evolve into, anyway?” May asked curiously.

“Didn’t check yet,” Mark admitted, blushing. He stopped and took out Eevee’s Pokéball. He took a deep breath.

“Go.”

Mark dropped the ball. A beam of red light shot out of it and took shape into something with a catlike head, long rabbit-like ears…

And covered in spikes.

In other words, a Jolteon. He's still looking at the light forming from the Pokéball (described as red rather than white like it should be - I spent a lot of the fic thinking the Pokéball light was always red, when actually it's white on sendout and red on recall), so he sees Jolteon's actual shape before he'll be able to see the color. I thought "covered with spikes" would straightforwardly establish that he's a Jolteon, but then I got some comments being confused about it, calling it a cliffhanger, and in one case even getting mad that I'd go with the cliché of getting a mixture of all three original Eeveelutions (?!), so clearly it wasn't obvious enough.

I'm surprised May's not having a word with the organizers for mixing up her Pokémon with the other guy's; that is definitely a thing she would do.

This event sounds like I made it up in order to evolve Eevee, but in fact, since Eevee'd evolved back in Cleanwater City in the original, that wasn't the motivation for it at all - instead, the idea of people throwing evolution stones at Pokémon to evolve them was just an event I thought up for the festival. I imagine the idea of May's Pikachu getting mixed in there came about simply because he was the only remaining stone evolution in their parties, but May in practice wouldn't go out of her way to evolve him until he'd learned all his natural moves, therefore he must get entered by mistake.

Today I think this all works out to be a bit lacking in actual stakes. If I'm going to have a Pokémon get mixed into a forced evolution event by mistake, surely it shouldn't be one who's not really a character (we have only seen him a few times briefly in battle) and belongs to a trainer who only really cares insofar as it affects his ability to learn moves (and mind, it's not like he or May is really going to be suffering in the rest of the fic for not having learned the last couple of moves on his move list, though it's eventually mentioned he has trouble with Magnet Rise and May never manages to teach it to him, which I think was intended to be an indirect consequence of his early evolution). This could've made for decent actual drama if it were happening to Eevee! But in order for that to happen, I'd have to write some sort of mix-up again, and I'm not sure if I could actually pull that off in a way that'd feel satisfactorily natural. Overall I'm inclined to think I may just skip this event altogether - it's the sort of idea I found really cool when I was twelve but wouldn't miss terribly today. The main reason to keep it, aside from the nostalgia factor, would be that it's an excuse to show a bit more of how May thinks of Pokémon as a contrast to Mark.

Mark was good in this chapter, though (aside from that one bit about how anyone who stands in front of Chaletwo with a Pokéball would want to throw it; who is this alien and what have you done with Mark the actual human being). Once again, Eevee brings out the best in him, and bits like him being concerned about what the event is like psychologically for Eevee even after being assured it shouldn't be physically painful are starting to establish his strong sense of empathy - and in the meantime, he's actually being anxious about the whole Chaletwo thing without me waving my hand to go never mind, he's fine now because Mitch. Overall, I feel like we're starting to head in the right direction, slowly.


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