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 27: Past, Present and Future

Welcome to another one of my once-favorite chapters! This one was published on September 21st, 2005, almost three whole months after chapter 26 - but in between, I'd started the IALCOTN and written the prologue and the first three chapters of that, motivated directly by my then-boyfriend starting to read the ILCOE and thinking the beginning was boring (as many other people did). I asked in the Serebii thread if I should just focus on the revision, keep focusing on this one and not post the revision, or replace the chapters in the current thread once I'd gotten to the point where the chapters would line up sensibly, and I was leaning towards the third option myself; however, I think everyone in the Serebii thread strongly preferred the second option, and luckily, this meant I soon returned back to working mostly on the ILCOE and wouldn't publish another IALCOTN chapter until April 2006.

The three headed together towards Ruxido. This was the fourth time Mark had walked this path; by this time he was getting dead tired of it. Every bush seemed dull. What made it worse was that May and Alan were chatting excitedly while he just walked behind them, sulking and not wanting to participate for some reason he wasn’t even sure about himself.

It slowly grew darker as they entered the forest, and while battling some wild Spinarak uneventfully on the way, Mark thought of not recalling his Pokémon after battle; their company was better than none, after all. He sent out his Pokémon one by one (aside from Gyarados, of course); Leta, Jolteon, Scyther and Sandslash walked alongside him while Dragonair practiced his flying skills high above in Charizard’s company.

Wow, their company is better than none? High praise, Mark.

I did this whole thing about May and Alan really hitting it off mostly to make Mark feel left out (and to ensure he can then have a lengthy private conversation with Scyther in chapter 29 as they travel onwards), but in hindsight it's really nonobvious how they became such fast friends. May had never even met Alan before Mark suddenly wanted to go to his house just earlier. That's not to say it's implausible this could happen (I'm sure Alan would try to get to know May here since he hasn't met her before), but I didn't actually show it developing at all, which makes it weird; it looks like they're just talking animatedly and ignoring Mark immediately.

Mark wasn’t sure what to say to Jolteon and Sandslash. He realized his Pokémon did not yet know of his hopeless mission, but he figured it would be best to tell all of them about that at once, so he didn’t say anything at all. They seemed to feel there was something he wanted to tell them but was keeping to himself for the moment, and none of them said anything either as darkness fell upon the forest of Ruxido.

“It’s biting cold,” Mark finally called, shivering and wrapping his jacket around himself. “We should camp or something.”

Alan turned. “Yeah, that might be a good idea,” he replied, stopping and taking his backpack off his shoulder as he looked around. “Oh, look, there’s even a little pond over there that we can send our Water Pokémon out into. We can actually all send out our Pokémon here; there’s plenty of room. This place is great.”

I'm making this sound hilariously contrived with this "Oh! This just happens to be the exact perfect place to camp just when you suggested it!" thing. Why didn't I just have Mark suggest camping because they're in a convenient place to do so.

“I can light a fire,” Charizard suggested helpfully as the kids and other Pokémon sat down on the damp grass one by one. Alan pulled some firewood out of his bag. As Charizard’s fiery breath latched onto the wood and started slowly consuming it, Mark felt a stinging in his chest; he realized he’d have to tell them now.

He sighed. “Guys,” he said, looking between the Pokémon at his sides, “we’re no longer on a Pokémon journey.”

This is an exceptionally confusing way to begin this conversation.

Also, I guess Alan lugs firewood around in his bag? That sounds impractical.

They blinked and looked at each other. Mark had heard that Pokémon had no sense of time while in a Pokéball, so they wouldn’t be able to tell how long they had been in there.

“Then… what?” Sandslash asked hesitatingly.

“We’re on a quest to save the world.”

The Pokémon blinked again.

“Save the world?” Sandslash repeated blankly.

“From what?”

“How?”

Mark sighed and started telling the whole story about Chaletwo and the War of the Legends again. It was starting to make him sick, so engraved in his memory in its finest details. With a painful twinge in his heart, he realized that even if he succeeded at his task, he would never be the same person again.

When he finished, there was a long silence. Everybody was at this point staring into the fire, him included, finding the warm, dancing flames comforting in some way when faced with the very hard-to-swallow truth once again.

I am glad he's having some emotions now, at least! I like the emotions of this opening all in all, Mark's anxiety about telling his Pokémon and the way something's obviously hanging in the air and the way it's finally begun to sink in how monumental this is.

“How are we ever supposed to find and catch them all?” Gyarados said darkly, finally breaking the silence. “Suicune evaded me for years, even when returning to the Lake every evening. And that’s just one Legendary. This is an impossible task, Mark.”

He sighed, feeling like he was sinking into a black hole. “I know. But the other ones have been caught…”

“Maybe there’s a reason the ones that are left haven’t been caught.”

Mark didn’t answer. As much as he hated to admit it to himself, it did seem very impossible. But he had to try… he was entrusted with this…

He looked at May and Alan. Alan had a grave look on his face, clearly nervous about the task ahead; even May, who had up until now acted like the end of the world was no more worrisome than a piece of particularly boring homework, was busily examining the details of her fingernails while biting her lip.

I like that description of May.

“Well,” Mark finally said, “we’ll all need to work together in this… we should get to know each other better… how about we all tell everybody something about ourselves? Nobody has to say anything, of course… but it would be nice…”

Sandslash shrugged and looked around. There were no objections; however, as Mark looked over the group, he noticed some of the Pokémon’s reactions. Scyther stared bitterly into the fire; Mark saw he was trembling a bit. Gyarados moved his lips without making a sound. Jolteon’s ears dropped. May’s Lapras closed her eyes and looked away. Alan’s Vaporeon, Mist, just sighed sadly.

“Should I start?” Mark asked carefully. Nobody objected to that either.

“Well, I live in Sailance, which is a town in North-West Ouen… you might have heard it called ‘Poképhobe Heaven’. I’ve always been really interested in legendary Pokémon and wanted to be a trainer, but my parents wanted to protect me from Chaletwo so they didn’t let me out. So, yeah.” He shrugged, indicating that somebody else could speak.

That's not reeeeally that informative, Mark.

Here, Mark suggests they should all get to know each other better since they're on this quest together and that's why everyone launches into backstories, but in the previous versions, he just sort of randomly asked what it's like to be a wild Pokémon. This version definitely makes more sense.

“I was a Magikarp,” Gyarados started. “Magikarp mothers lay thousands of eggs and from each surviving egg hatches one Magikarp. I was a bit darker in color than the rest, but nobody really saw that.

“I always used to hang out with the Carvanha rather than the other Magikarp. I thought my own kind was below me; the Carvanha laughed at me behind my back because they thought I was below them. When I found out, I proved myself by beating them up… I never realized the other Magikarp were so much weaker than I was until then. I found fighting fun, and I started going to the surface to tease trainers.” Gyarados smiled grimly. “I wasted their Pokémon… the expression that always came on their faces was priceless.

“But naturally, when I battled too much I ended up evolving. That was when I turned into a predator. It wasn’t really a problem at first… I could hide in the murky water, there were plenty of Pokémon and I had never really felt any compassion with my fellow Magikarp. I may have eaten my mother sometime, I have no idea. But at least I ate a bit too much for the lake. It was too closed off to suddenly have a huge predator affect the balance of life… the humans in Cleanwater City didn’t like me because I caught all their fish and destroyed the lake’s image as a tourist attraction and training spot, and they got all their best trainers to come and try to defeat me. I could just hide by the bottom and I beat the ones who dared to dive down to me.

“But then Suicune came…” Gyarados spat the Legendary’s name hatefully.

“Suicune cleaned the lake… made it so clear I was easily visible… the other Pokémon could see me and hide from the other end of the lake… the trainers could see me and have their Pokémon direct their attacks at me from the safety above… weak and hungry, one night I found a small underwater cave and managed to squeeze myself into it. I lurked there in hiding, grabbing the occasional Magikarp or Goldeen that swam past during the night, and tried to talk to Suicune… after all it was for the good of the rest of the life in the lake, so I could understand why he did it…

“But Suicune avoided and ignored me. He came back every night as to rub it in that I was at his mercy. I called, I waited, I tried everything to talk to him, but he never answered, always got around my attempts; he never told me why he had to torture me in this manner. He just didn’t care…” Gyarados’s voice trembled. “I hate him.”

“Why would Suicune do that?” Mark asked blankly. “The War of the Legends?”

Nooooo even Mark got the wrong impression about how the War works (also why isn't Chaletwo correcting him)

Gyarados sounds somewhat more sympathetic here than he did in the previous versions, where he relished how great it was when humans dumped poison into the lake and killed most of the other Pokémon (Dead fish pokémon everywhere!) and didn't include that mention of understanding that Suicune (supposedly) was doing it for the sake of the other Pokémon in the lake.

“I don’t know,” Gyarados said gloomily. “All I know is that Suicune tortured me for years.” He looked at Mark. “That’s why I ate that Sharpedo on the way to Aquarium City… I saw it as fresh prey and just couldn’t resist…”

“It’s all right,” Mark muttered. “I’m sorry.”

Gyarados sighed and started staring into the fire again, making it clear that he wasn’t about to say more. Some of the other Pokémon shifted uncomfortably. The flames still reflected off Scyther’s eyes as he sat there motionless apart from mouthing something to himself.

“I’m the son of Ash’s Grovyle!” Racko said in an awkwardly happy voice, considering what Gyarados had been saying. “And I was born in Hooooooennn, the place of all places!” He bolted up and made a salesman-like gesture with his arms. “I love it,” he then finished dramatically, sitting back down.

“Ignore him, he’s always like that,” Alan said, chuckling.

Racko sure is a person. These may be his only lines in the fic? Alan's team, for the most part, basically aren't characters.

In the previous versions, he declared that life in Hoenn was too great for words, so let's not speak of it! That definitely sounded like it wasn't actually that great, and that's what Mark took away from it, but since I wasn't about to do anything with that, it was probably better that I took that out here.

“Well,” Sandslash finally said, “Sandshrew live in groups. We used to play having mock fights and competitions about who was the fastest digger. I remember when one of my friends evolved and I became so frightened that I ran away.” He chuckled. “It was fun, but I don’t think I’d go back if I could. It was kind of… irresponsible.”

Of course, he does end up going back, having changed his mind when he returned to the Sandshrew colony in chapter 34. I'm not sure exactly when I decided on him going back, but I probably wasn't planning on it when I wrote this. Either way, I'm very happy with his ending.

Mark nodded, looking around the group yet again. May’s Butterfree finally spoke.

“Well, I don’t really remember any of my life – our brains as Caterpie and Metapod aren’t made to remember much. But Butterfree basically evolve, find a mate during the mating season, and then die. Males die right after they mate, and females die as they lay their eggs.” She sighed. “Wild Butterfree barely ever live longer than a single year.”

“That’s… sad,” Mark said. He couldn’t imagine a life that short. “Why do you even mate, if it kills you?”

Butterfree shrugged. “Different view on death. We’ll die anyway; why not ensure that our genes are passed on?”

Mark couldn’t help being slightly disturbed, but said nothing.

In the previous versions, all Butterfree said was that she couldn't remember much of her life, because when Caterpie become Metapod their brains are compressed and everything nonessential is thrown away. Here, I added this edgy thing about Butterfree dying when they mate, which everyone said was canon in the Japanese version of Bye Bye Butterfree back in the day, but actually wasn't. I blame the fandom rumour mill; it's not like I'd ever decide to write about Pokémon that die when they mate.

“Well,” said Mist heavily, “I had four siblings. We were left in the trash in a cardboard box somewhere in the city of Itsruban – it’s here nearby.”

“Cardboard box?” Mark asked blankly. “A human left you in the trash in a cardboard box?”

“Yeah,” Mist said gloomily. “Without our mother. We were barely old enough to survive on our own.”

“That’s just… cruel,” Mark said with disgust. Alan sighed; Mark noticed that May was sitting with her legs crossed, looking down at the ground while absent-mindedly snapping some grass blades in half.

“Well, at least I’m alive and well,” Mist said, stroking friendly against her trainer’s hand; he scratched her head fin with a smile. “I don’t know about my siblings, though.”

Mist and her siblings from Itsruban are one big reference to another fanfic that I started in 2003 before I got here in the original, The Second Clone. This weird little story, which never got too far, was based on a dream I had about scientists creating a Sentret super-clone, having learned from the doomed Mewtwo experiment to use a weak Pokémon as a base. The resulting Sentretwo (who quickly evolved into a Furretwo) was an insufferably arrogant little prick named Denol, and the story was about him getting caught by a trainer, getting to know his team of Pokémon including an Espeon named Mystic, and then escaping from the trainer to try to return to their homes, traveling together because coincidentally their prior homes were all in the same direction. The final chapter I wrote was about Mystic leading the team into the city of Itsruban and finding her brother Shadow, whom she despised, with a gang of Dark Pokémon; the chapter also went on to explain that they'd originally been five Eevee siblings abandoned in a cardboard box who had each picked a name based on the evolution they aspired to be, with the others having been named Pyro, Mist and Wave. I actually think originally I just reused the same appropriate name for a female Vaporeon, but then I decided this was actually Alan's Mist and the two stories were happening in the same universe. This merger worked out pretty awkwardly: the city of Itsruban is shown as a really big city in The Second Clone, and it even specifies that there are two official gyms in it, but it's nowhere to be seen on the Ouen map. One would expect there are probably other settlements in Ouen that aren't on the map, but huge cities with two official gyms would probably be there, right?

I'm pretty sure Ruxido also originated in The Second Clone and was originally brought into TQftL when I made that decision to combine these stories' universes (the first mention of Ruxido in the old versions was in the equivalent of chapter 26). Ruxido and Itsruban are names that just sound like random nonsense, but they were actually both named using the same silly naming scheme I thought up for that fic: I looked around in my room, found a random object, took the Icelandic word for it, spelled it backwards, and then tweaked it until it looked like a weird exotic-looking name. Ruxido came from "diskur" (plate) and Itsruban came from "bursti" (brush). You're welcome.

“Mother was a Flareon,” Jolteon murmured. “We had a little nest somewhere nobody would find us… one day she went out to get some food… but she didn’t come back.” He was shaking as he talked. “I had two siblings, but they wanted to wait for her. I think they must have died. But I went out to look for her… and didn’t find her… I was about to lie down on the road when I saw a human and a Charmander…”

“And I wanted to throw a Pokéball at you,” Mark said quietly, staring down to the ground. He had been such an idiot. It seemed unbelievable how little time had passed since then.

“It’s all right,” Jolteon said softly. “What matters is that I’m here now.”

That's a weirdly mature and dispassionate answer for a child who just talked about losing his mother, but. I am happy the story is reminding us of this actually good moment from chapter three, though I'm not sure how much the story has truly shown Mark grow since then - after all, it hasn't been that many chapters since he caught Leta after she screamed for help.

She just threw a ball at me while I was crying,” Lapras commented. May herself was messing with her fingernails and pretended not to hear anything. Lapras looked accusingly at her but didn’t say anything else.

More Lapras. I like this, but why does nobody comment on this.

In the previous versions, Lapras gave some more detail, which was rather over-the-top:

“I lived in the Lake of Purity with the other Laprases there,” said Lapras. “But they mocked me all the time because I was weaker than the average Lapras... I was actually crying when she found me and caught me... I still remember how much that Thundershock hurt on top of all my woes...”

I am happy I had the discernment to edit this. Lapras just not really wanting to talk about it beyond this jab feels way better.

“My past wasn’t interesting,” Skarmory said to break the uncomfortable silence that followed. “I was brought up in a nest on a cliff near Alumine, and then I flew on my first flight and got caught.”

Wow, what. Why doesn't Skarmory have issues from being caught so young. Maybe they spend a while in the nest?

Raichu shrugged. “Well, Mom used to live in Kanto. She told me she met Ash Ketchum’s Pikachu once and he saved her out of a river.”

“Oh, yeah, he told me about that,” Alan said. “He meant to release him since he was having such a good time with those wild Pikachu…”

Gratuitous anime references, go! This is obviously calling back to the events of Pikachu's Goodbye. It's extremely unnecessary and just creates more contrived relationships to anime characters for no reason. To boot, how would this wild Pikachu from Kanto even end up in Ouen? Why did I decide to keep this.

Mark was about to express his opinion on Ash’s weird tendency to release most of his Pokémon, but figured it wouldn’t be a good idea to start insulting Alan’s father now. “Well, anybody else?” he finally asked. “Pupitar?”

In the previous versions, Mark did express his opinion:

“Whoa!” Alan exclaimed. “She must have been the Pikachu Dad told me about... that one time when he was going to release his Pikachu!”

“He meant to release PIKACHU?!” Mark said in disbelief. “Seesh, how many pokémon can one person care this little about?”

“It was because he cared so much about them,” said Alan in defense. “Pikachu wanted to join a group of wild Pikachus and Dad had a really hard time deciding whether to let him or not, in the end he decided to let him go, but Pikachu came back.”

“Oh,” said Mark blankly. “Well, that’s how they always explain it...”

“He cares about his pokémon, goddamn it!” Alan said loudly. “Too much, if anything!”

That's... actually kind of better. The current version just sounds like a cheap, eye-roll-worthy jab at the anime (the sort that you'll make when you're a teenager trying to distance yourself from something seen as hokey or childish, but your standards are actually shallower and more childish than the thing you're trying to distance yourself from - how inane is it to think the anime is bad because Ash respects his Pokémon's wishes to move on when they find a greater calling in life, just because you don't do that when you're playing a video game). Previously, it was pretty obvious Mark was wrong here, and also Alan's issues got to come out a bit. I guess I made this change because it's kind of out of character for Mark (he was starstruck by Ash just a few chapters ago, why would it suddenly turn out he thinks Ash didn't care about any of the Pokémon he released), but it's out of character for him to think it but not say it too.

If I were writing this today I'd probably have him make some incredulous remark about the idea he'd meant to release Pikachu in order to prompt Alan getting defensive, just in a less dickish way that doesn't suggest actually he's always thought Ash sucks. However, in the next revision Raichu would probably not be randomly that Pikachu's son. Maybe Alan'd give an anecdote about that episode in response to something Raichu said about his own wild Pikachu colony, which'd prompt that.

I'd actually forgotten the exchange about releasing Pokémon hadn't happened here when I wrote about Alan's issues in chapter 66; I thought it was neat that Mark had unknowingly exacerbated Alan's self-loathing here in this way earlier chapter, but alas, guess that didn't happen.

The blue pupa continued staring expressionlessly at him.

“He won’t say anything,” May said, speaking for the first time as she stroked her hand over the grass, still too preoccupied to look up. “He’s not very social.”

More foreshadowing! This time actually intentional.

“Oh,” Mark said. None of the other Pokémon appeared to be about to speak; both he and Alan looked at May.

“What, me?” she asked when she finally looked up. “Well, I live in New Bark Town in Johto, where Professor Elm lives. My birthday is in February so that was when I went to the Professor to receive a trainer licence, but instead of getting a starter and starting my journey right away, I worked as Elm’s assistant for two years, studying Pokémon anatomy, moves and battling. After that he gave me three starters to choose from, and I went to Ouen to get a Skarmory, but that thieving idiot Taylor stole my Cyndaquil so I decided to partake in the Ouen league instead and keep Johto for next year or something.”

Mark nodded; he had heard the last part before, but she had clearly been discussing something else with Alan earlier since he didn’t appear to know.

“Taylor? Stole your…?”

“I can tell you later,” May just said with a careless wave of her hand as she resumed her previous activity of being a human lawnmower. Alan opened his mouth, but closed it again and shrugged.

I love human lawnmower May.

There was a long silence after this. Everybody looked at everybody else.

“Scyther live in swarms,” Scyther suddenly said, not taking his eyes off the dancing flames. “There is a leader pair and the others follow them. We like to spend our time duelling… nothing is as refreshing as a good duel. Rob let Kabutops and me duel, but it’s not the same as with another Scyther. Kabutops was a good friend of mine, though…”

Ah, yes, the goof about there being a leader pair and not a single leader like we learn just a couple of chapters later. Please ignore this. This wasn't in the previous versions, which never brought up the Leader thing; I guess when I was rewriting this chapter I vaguely decided to flesh out the Scyther swarm and wrote this in before I started developing it more and it became this whole thing about the Leader being the strongest of the swarm - and once I'd come up with that concept, it no longer made any sense for there to be a pair, because there's only one who's strongest, and the second strongest wouldn't necessarily be the strongest's mate.

He suddenly seemed to realize he had wandered off the subject. “Well…” He sighed deeply.

“Like the Butterfree, we have a different view on death than humans, summarized by that saying I told you, ‘Death is not to be feared, for it is the only thing that we all have in common.’ It’s the first rule of Scyther ethics. Do not fear dying, because we will all die one day. Fear of death only leads to doing dishonourable things to save one’s own life.”

“How did you end up with the Mew Hunter, anyway?” Mark asked curiously.

Scyther sighed again. “That’s what I was about to say, actually… three years ago, I had my last duel in the wild. It was a female. I didn’t particularly like her – well, of course I liked her, but I ‘liked’ everything female I came across, so she wasn’t anything that stood out… We got into an argument, and she insulted me… a bit too harshly. So I challenged her to a duel. A serious one, not a friendly duel or mock duel. The unofficial rule is that a serious duel ends with a death, a friendly duel ends with a bleeding, and a mock duel ends with a wound.

Later I'd start calling "serious" duels "true duels", which sounds less silly; I didn't exactly indicate that "serious duel" was necessarily the actual official term here, so not technically a retcon I guess maybe.

In Scyther's Story he sounds like Nightmare did stand out a bit for him, but maybe he always said that about the female of the week.

“But well – I had nothing on her. She had the fastest reflexes I’ve ever seen and her cuts landed just where she meant them to. She was just… perfect. It would’ve been a shame if I had won by some chance and had to kill her, I realized… She had everything. I considered it an honour to let her kill me; I was ready for death that moment…” The mantis swallowed a few times.

“But… as you know… she didn’t kill me,” he finally finished in a quiet voice.

“Well, that was good,” Mark commented.

Good?” Scyther glared at Mark. “It was the most unfortunate thing that ever happened to me. It ruined my life. I was ready to die. I couldn’t imagine a better time to die. But she didn’t kill me… we both had to leave the swarm…”

“Why?”

Scyther sighed. “I told you, Mark… the first rule of Scyther ethics is not to fear death. Humans think of mercy as a noble thing, don’t they? We do not. We’re predators; we can’t feel sorry for somebody we’re about to kill. We believe that if you can’t kill without remorse, it is because you fear your own death. In a Scyther’s mindset, she did something very dishonourable by letting me live, especially with the unofficial rules of the serious duel. And I had lost; it is generally a bad thing to show weakness by losing a duel, but when the duel is of life and death, there is no way they will accept one who loses but still lives back into the swarm. The only right thing for a Scyther to do in my situation is suicide – which we believe to be a very natural thing after violating the rules of our society. But I didn’t… because I had fallen in love with her. Or so I called it… a rush of lust, I should say…” He said the last sentence with a hint of self-hatred.

It was definitely nothing so grand as love, but I'm not sure lust is quite the word you're looking for either.

“I followed her. I hid, but kept an eye on her. I don’t know what I was planning to do, but I didn’t want to take my eyes off her. But once while she slept, a trainer found her… he caught her in her sleep… and I watched it without daring to help or even wake her up…”

Scyther bitterly screwed his eyes shut. “Cowardice. We hate it with a passion… but I let her be caught… I followed the trainer, but didn’t attack, and of course he had a Metal Coat… he did an inter-Pokéball transfer and… evolved her…” The word ‘evolved’ sounded more like a swear word than simply a term for Pokémon maturing in the way he said it.

“What do you have against Scizor, anyway?” Mark asked, having wondered about that for a while but never dared to ask.

“Everything,” Scyther said darkly. “Scyther’s evolution is an unnatural process. It can’t happen unless the Scyther is exposed to metal and his energy converted such as when being traded. Of course we met this with prejudice when it was discovered, especially since we already consider simply being caught at all to be a sign of extreme weakness. And the two things that are our pride and joy are our speed and our scythes – when we evolve, we lose both for a metal armor and pincers. To us the trade-off is far from worth it, but to a human it usually is. Do you realize just how high a percentage of trainers would evolve a Scyther if they obtained one? Thanks to Scizor’s existence, Scyther are sought after among trainers – which we do not care for – but nonetheless not appreciated in their present form and have to be mutated into scytheless freaks to be even respected. We’re brought up to loathe Scizor and everything about them. The word ‘evolution’ alone makes us twitch.”

This is really self-aware, talking about how the discovery of Scizor was met with prejudice, how it's a trade-off that's worth it to humans, how they're taught to loathe Scizor, etc. Today I'd write it more like this is, you know, an actual prejudice he himself believes in and rationalizes, like the rest of the fic indicates. The previous versions also had this, with Scyther talking about how he can't help feeling this disgust when he sees a Scizor.

In Scyther's Story I gave Scyther a pre-evolution, Descith, and Scyther and his friends are very excited about evolution - but I figured maybe they have a different word for that evolution.

An array of questions popped up in Mark’s mind, all getting in each other’s way and making his head spin. In the end he asked the simplest question:

“Well, what happened then?”

Scyther sighed. “In a moment of madness I went crazy… I broke into the Pokémon Center through the window and started slashing everything… no,” he added as he saw the look on Mark’s face, “I didn’t kill anybody. The trainer himself wasn’t even scratched – some kid got a nosebleed and that was it, I think. Then some guy took out a shotgun, I came to my senses and figured I’d better get out of there, and I went back out through the window. I cut myself a bit on the glass and a bullet hit me in the back, and I blacked out just a little outside of the Pokémon Center.

Shotguns don't fire bullets, do they? I was obviously extremely knowledgeable about guns here in my country where guns are the exclusive domain of the small, small subset of people who go hunting, who as I distantly understand it mostly do it maybe once a year because they want ptarmigan for Christmas dinner.

In the previous versions, Scyther cut two fingers off somebody; that person has been spared here. They also specified that the kid got a nosebleed because Scyther accidentally kicked them - it's a little hard to picture how a Scyther "slashing everything" results in someone getting a nosebleed of all things, but that's how. I'm kind of amazed at the lack of casualties resulting from a raging Scyther who doesn't care in a Pokémon Center full of people, though. Really, how did Scyther manage to not kill anyone.

“Then Rob found me. I couldn’t move… I prayed he wouldn’t notice me or at least become scared and run away, but he didn’t. He looked at me for a second, fiddled with the one empty Pokéball he had, and then after a pause threw it at me and caught me – I couldn’t fight the ball. I thought I was doomed to the same fate as her. But he didn’t evolve me. I found out that he liked my scythes the way they were. I had never known there actually were humans like that, but I still went through a long period of depression. How often didn’t I raise my scythe to my throat but not have the courage to take my own life… Kabutops tried to tell me that Rob wasn’t really that bad, but I didn’t listen. I was still convinced that there was no such thing as a good human.”

I like the detail about the Mew Hunter being hesitant to use the ball - it's not mentioned here, or even in this version of chapter 10 (a big oversight, I think), but that was the ball he'd made for Mew, and him catching Scyther in it was a pretty pivotal moment for him, with him ultimately deciding to save this injured Scyther rather than keep saving it for that remote chance of finding Mew again one day. Of course, that didn't count for much once Mew was actually within his sights again, but for a few years, he really had let it go to an extent, and that's how Scyther always knew him.

“Did you like him?”

Scyther chuckled.

“Like him? He’s the best damn person I’ve ever met,” Scyther said with an emphasizing but scary swing of his scythe. “He was a great man in every way. Trainers like to say with pride that they treat their Pokémon as equals; when you’ve seen Rob, you can’t help but laugh at that. He didn’t treat us as equals; it was like he didn’t even know the difference. He treated us exactly like he would treat a human friend in every possible way. It was incredible, the way he could reach his Pokémon – even Fangcat, who usually wanted to be alone and never really felt as much as one of us as the others, could spend hours on end just sitting with him and growling about her life. And he didn’t put any pressure on me when I came in. He didn’t make me battle; he didn’t even keep me in the Pokéball. He just let me stay in the Gym and take out my anger on whatever was available while he went out with his Pokémon in the evening. He caught me in a few suicide attempts… every time, he asked me why, but I never answered. When I started calming a bit down, he let me come with him and his Pokémon one evening. I found out that the place they always went to was a bar. He actually bought drinks for all of his Pokémon. He offered me some, but I thought it smelled funny and didn’t accept it. He just shrugged and let me stay there. After drinking a bit, the Pokémon started talking about their former lives, and I found out that they had all been miserable. And Rob just nodded and drank with them, and shared some of his own experiences in return.

“At the time I just found him weird. The way he just kept going on got on my nerves, and he seemed depressing. But one day he caught me trying to kill myself yet again… he took me to a back room of the Gym, gave me a drink again and said it would do me good. I drank some and after finishing enough and talking to him for a bit, I just – broke down. And I told him everything that had happened, everything I had been thinking and feeling… and he just looked at me and nodded, not trying to fix my problems, but just feeling sorry for me… I realized that was what I really needed, I let it all out, and then he got some more drinks and started telling me the full story of himself… I realized that we weren’t that much different. We both had a passion for something that was lost, we had both attempted suicide but not had the guts, and we had both been rejected by the rest of our species, seeking company and purpose with others.

“Well, I ended up falling asleep, but when I woke up, I had changed. I think Rob just has this effect on you – after being around him for a while, you become just like him. Soon I was rambling about my feelings and drowning my sorrows in alcohol just like Rob and his other Pokémon.

Obviously, none of this is as good or positive as Scyther thinks it is - and no mention of the bit where he couldn't leave, of course.

Basically none of this whole section on his relationship with Rob was in the previous versions; Scyther only talked briefly about him at the beginning of his story, as part of his tangent about dueling with Kabutops:

“When I was wild,” Scyther said, still staring into the fire, “we used to have duels. Nothing is like a good duel. The Mew hunter let me have duels with Kabutops, but nothing is like duelling another Scyther. It was a whole lot better than nothing, though... made me stronger than the average captured Scyther... if only his desire for Mew hadn’t poisoned his mind like that, he would’ve been the best trainer I could ever get. Knew what he was doing, oh yes. Knew what our scythes are worth. Deep inside he really cared for us, his armed squad of pokémon. But I knew that when Mew was somewhere, he’d act like we don’t exist. Just grab the ball, find Mew, catch it, and then plan world domination. While Mew seemed completely out of reach... then he was a very good trainer. We were precious to him, and I knew it. Kabutops was a good friend of mine...” Scyther suddenly seemed to realize he had wandered off the subject. “Yes. Wild. Duels. I remember my last duel in the wild. She was a female. The fastest Scyther with the sharpest scythes I’ve ever seen. But she dared calling me a Scizor... there is no worse insult in a Scyther’s vocabulary.”

The bit about him planning world domination has me rolling my eyes so hard. Really, thirteen-year-old self. Really.

Either way, I think it was a good choice to focus more on that here; Scyther's loyalty to the Mew Hunter really is something kind of interesting that just seems very strange and arbitrary up to this point, and I think this chapter in its current form does make it pretty clear why he loved and respected him, in this misguided way. In a later revision, I may have some of this come out earlier, though.

“Then one day, he frantically told us all that he had found Mew again. While his excitement grew, I was filled with dread. He was a completely different person when Mew was around. He figured that he’d be best off getting you to tell him where this ‘you-know-where’ was, and cooked up a plan which he got me to participate in. I tried to make him change his mind, but he didn’t listen. He told me again and again that he had to get Mew… I slowly realized that he had changed. Nonetheless I kept trying until the last moment.

“But when I flew out that window, I just started thinking… what next? I would not be accepted back into the Scyther swarm, and I realized that I had no purpose in life anymore… the only thing that had kept me alive was my trainer, the purpose of battling for him and doing my best. And I thought of you, remembered that you hadn’t seemed too bad, and in desperation I came back to you and let you catch me.”

“And we know the rest,” Mark finished.

“No, you don’t,” Scyther said, turning to him. “I managed to focus on you, my trainer, but one day you entered me in the Pokémon Frenzy Tournament, and I battled a Scizor…”

The mantis looked back into the fire and sighed deeply. “I was prepared to kill her… just to get my revenge on the species of Scizor for existing… but then I looked into her eyes, and then I recognized her. I had always assumed she had to have killed herself or at least that she was not battling like… like that…”

“That was why you didn’t kill her?” Mark asked in realization. “Not because of the trainer?”

“The trainer?” Scyther snorted. “I’d like nothing more than see him burn in agony for the rest of his pathetic little life. But I… couldn’t kill her. I just couldn’t.”

In the previous versions, he said the reason he didn't kill her was was that it was just common courtesy to spare someone who has spared you. This didn't make any sense given Scyther morality.

Mark's lack of "Wait, what, that was her?" feels really odd - surely that's the most remarkable part of the story here, but Scyther stops short of saying it outright, so surely he'd want to confirm, right? Not just move immediately on to "Oh, so that's why you let her go."

“But why didn’t you say anything to her?” Mark asked, puzzled.

“I did,” Scyther replied. “Just before we were recalled, I said, ‘Look who’s evolved now.’”

Oh boy. This comment doesn't make any sense in this version, because Scyther never explained exactly what she'd said to insult him at the beginning of his story! He only said that she insulted me… a bit too harshly. The old versions and Scyther's Story all explained that she called him a Scizor, and that's what kicked off the duel and everything, hence why he'd fire back at her in this particular way when they meet again. I can't believe I managed to bungle this, here when this was still like my favorite subplot in the entire fic! Fifteen-year-old self, I am disappoint.

I'm pretty sure the reason I was vague about the insult here was that I'd started to think just "Scizor" as a plain insult sounded awkward, and what she'd actually said might have been something else in the same vein. Sometime around the writing of this chapter, I started to write out an extra about Scyther's duel with Nightmare, which I'd eventually scrap and then revive later as Scyther's Story; in the original document for the extra, I'd made two starts, one where she called him a "son of a Scizor" and one where she told him to "go get evolved", which'd just be the absolute most offensive way to tell a Scyther to go fuck himself (that version was likely what I actually had in mind when I wrote this, given the phrasing of "Look who's evolved now" over the previous versions' "Look who's a Scizor now"). Eventually, when I published a canonical version in Scyther's Story, though, I made use of the whole Pokémon naming worldbuilding thing: he names her Nightmare, and she fires back by naming him Scizor.

Either way, even if I didn't want to commit to precisely what she'd actually said to him, I could still have had Scyther mention during his explanation of Scyther's hatred of Scizor that that was what it was about, in order for this line to make sense. There was no excuse for this.

“And nothing more?” Mark asked incredulously. “Even when you were in love with her and all that?”

“She’s a Scizor,” Scyther spat. “And she ruined my life – I hate her for not killing me that day.”

The mantis Pokémon stared at the flames once again. “And it wasn’t love,” he added quietly.

This last line is a bit melodramatic. But at least Scyther's actually hating Scizor now and not just talking about how all Scyther are brought up to do so.

There was a very long silence after this. Everybody looked at Scyther, but he didn’t appear to notice; his eyes were fixed at the campfire and his face showed no expression.

“Um,” Alan said hesitatingly, “perhaps we should go to sleep. We have a lot of walking to do tomorrow.”

“Right,” Mark said. “Um, so…” He took out his Pokéballs.

“Wait a second, Mark,” Sandslash said. “Remember what I suggested to you on the twenty-fifth?”

Mark racked his brain and found it quickly.

“Oh, right, about letting you have some time outside your Pokéballs?”

Sandslash nodded. “I think we would all like to get some time to stretch – we can just make sure to be back by morning.”

Mark smiled. “Of course you can. Just be careful in case there are powerful wild Pokémon here somewhere.”

All of Mark’s Pokémon seemed to be happy to hear those news; Leta looked a little nervous, but Jolteon, who was beside her, nudged her with his head and assured her that he’d be watching her.

I have no idea if this is what I was thinking when I wrote this, but - they're in Ruxido, so it'd make sense Leta's worried she might bump into her father (or her mother, who'd inevitably try to get persuade her to stay). I do like the relationship between Leta and Jolteon.

Speaking of Leta, she pretty much vanished for this entire chapter. Maybe she wouldn't really want to share at this point - but if I were writing this today I'd absolutely have Mark try to get her to share. After all, she's his newest Pokémon, and Mark knows she has some stuff going on - wouldn't he want to know more? I'm pretty sure when I was writing this I just plain forgot about her, because obviously she wasn't in the previous versions of the chapter. (Dragonair, who also pretty much disappears for this chapter, did get to speak in the previous versions.)

(Leta being present here now does present a little bit of a problem, though: ultimately, the fic'll necessarily nail down that any given trainer can only have six Pokémon out at a time, since otherwise it'd be way too easy to just swarm the legendaries with hundreds of Pokémon. One of Mark's Pokémon is going to have to get left out for any campfire conversation like this.)

“Can we stay out of our balls too?” Lapras asked, turning her head to May. She made some kind of a shrug with a faint mutter of, ‘Yeah, I guess.’ Alan let his Pokémon go too as the kids prepared their sleeping bags. Mark watched the Pokémon head deeper into the woods one by one. After he had gotten into his sleeping bag, he saw Scyther slowly stand up and fly off between the trees. The buzzing of his wings quieted soon and only the hoots of the Noctowl were to be heard anymore.

Pupitar, who was of course immobile, just lay beside May’s sleeping bag, his eyes closed. Mark noticed her arm wrap around the cocoon in her sleep.

Pupitar, of course, has no interest in going off on his own, even if he could; he just wants to be with May. And she shows him an unusual degree of affection because she really is fond of him (for his potential to become the strongest member of her team... which is also why she has such high standards for him), which only fuels his obsession with her and pleasing her. While the earlier line where May explained Pupitar doesn't speak and isn't very social was there in the previous versions, this one was new. I do think it would've been cool to actually show more of Pupitar; the little bit in chapter 26 where she's annoyed with him as he's fighting a Beedrill was a good addition, but I definitely could've done more in that vein.

So, the Pokémon backstory chapter... by which I really mean the Scyther and Gyarados backstory chapter, because who are we kidding. The other Pokémon backstories are pretty much shallow, meaningless filler with very little thought to them. The other actually meaningful, interesting bits here aren't actually backstories: Lapras hints at her dissatisfaction with May, and May explains that Pupitar doesn't talk.

In itself that's perfectly understandable, of course; Scyther and Gyarados are the Pokémon with backstories that are relevant to previous and later events, and it'd have been ludicrous to make up extensive, elaborate backstories for the other Pokémon that then don't go anywhere. (In the previous versions, I actually made a point of having all the Pokémon talk here, even Alan's, and it was pointless and distracting; I do appreciate that I tried to cut it down a little here.) But I've grown to dislike the way that this chapter makes a point of presenting this as this equal sharing time when it's so ludicrously transparent that Scyther and Gyarados are the ones with actual fleshed-out stories that matter and the rest are throwaway. It feels like one of those anime screencaps showing a group of blankly smiling, bland background people in simple, regular clothing, except there's this one girl standing among them with bright green hair and an elaborately overdesigned outfit. Spot the protagonist.

Another issue is that this is also very transparently an infodump chapter. The heavy focus on just having everyone tell their stories rather than interacting or talking about those stories in any very substantial way hurts it; everyone just sort of listens, Mark asks a couple of questions just to break up the monologue and to prompt them onward, and then they move on to the next person, rather than the chapter presenting much of a real conversation about what's being said. Something like that can work okay, but it becomes very unnatural when things that should warrant comment just get sort of silently left there, like Lapras's critical remark about May and Scyther talking extensively about his suicidal feelings.

In the next revision, I might just have Scyther and Gyarados talk about their pasts separately sometime when they choose to trust Mark with them (there's technically no real need for May or Alan or the other Pokémon to hear their stories first-hand). But either way, a chapter of campfire conversation where Mark tries to get everyone to get to know each other better is still a cute idea and would probably happen; it'd just probably be more focused on actual interactions and back-and-forth conversation rather than a series of monologues of obviously uneven importance. The Pokémon whose backstories don't matter might bring them up during the conversation, but hopefully in the service of something other than just me being able to proudly proclaim that all my Pokémon characters have backstories. It'd be interesting to see May's Pokémon share more about their views on training and trainers, perhaps compared to Mark's. Alan actually being bothered by Lapras expressing dissatisfaction, May shutting him down, Lapras remaining relatively silent for now before she finally gets fed up for good later. A bit more of May interacting with Pupitar. It could be great.

I was mentally preparing to cringe all throughout Scyther's story here, but nah, apart from the inevitable excessive use of ellipses, it's okay. I like the focus on Rob. The main reason I was dreading it is that everything about Scyther in the previous versions was really bad, past the point of cute kid writing with amusing morbidity sprinkled in and and into some oh god why territory. I did an admirable job editing it here, considering he was my favorite character and I wouldn't have put it past me to keep a bunch of awful cringeworthy stuff that I should've known better than to do here because of that. It seems that despite this I did manage to successfully identify and excise all the big what aspects of it and mostly just keep the stuff that vaguely holds up, or at least holds up to about the same degree that anything else in the fic does. Thank you, fifteen-year-old me.

To start with, while Scyther here establishes that his shallow and ill-advised crush on Nightmare wasn't really love, we weren't that lucky in the previous versions. Instead, Scyther proclaimed that he absolutely does love her, ~but he hates her too~ (so tragic! so deep!), and talked at length about some bizarre, elaborate theory on how emotions work that I apparently had when I was thirteen (because let's not kid ourselves, it's absolutely me and not Scyther thinking I've nailed down the truth of human psychology):

Scyther paused, then coninued, “Everyone has a sense of emotion. It means the ability to understand people’s emotions, yours and others’. If it’s strong, you have an easy time understanding emotions, otherwise not. Females have a stronger sense of emotion than males on average, but of course it really varies. Your sense of emotion is split up in two; the negative part and the positive part. If your positive part is weak, you’re for example likely not to understand when you’re in love. If your negative part is weak, you’ll have a hard time understanding why you dislike someone or something. My sides are both pretty strong, but the negative one is significally stronger. So when there’s someone like her around, whom I feel very strong feelings for on both sides, in fact, too strong for me to fully understand them, I’m confused. Sometimes I will despise her, sometimes I’ll feel like abandoning the Scizor hate, freeing her from the trainer and then we could live happily together. But seeing as my negative sense of emotion is stronger, I always have this prickle of hate, and as much as I’d like to love her, I can’t help hating her sometimes. At the moment I love her, but who knows what I’ll think of her tomorrow? It can change overnight.”

Thirteen-year-old me was pretty much the last person who should have been writing about love anywhere. I had never even had a crush, was pretty determined to die alone, and hated romance in general. I made an exception for Scyther because he also hated her and the purpose of this whole thing was to make him miserable, and thus this didn't actually mean any kissing or 'I love you's, just a lot of incomparable angst - but this meant I managed to seriously write at length about Scyther being in love with this other Scyther after dueling her once, and wishing to live happily ever after with her only he can't because of this hatred he also feels, and this is all rooted in his strong sense of emotions did you know I have solved psychology, and all in all this is the deepest most tragic character, according to me, the world's least romantic thirteen-year-old. Clearly a recipe for greatness, right.

But that wasn't the end of it, oh no. In the original, this was the first chapter that had an extra after it - and unlike the extra that now goes with this chapter, that extra was a piece of freeform poetry about, naturally, Scyther's negative sense of emotions overpowering the positive over the course of the night, because this is clearly how psychology works. Extra 1: Switching Sides reads like a parody of angsty teenage love poetry and I am so mad at my thirteen-year-old self for making me have to show this abomination to you fifteen years later. Why. I think this may be the actual worst thing I have ever written, by God. I think. I managed to make myself reread it once but now my eyes just refuse to lock onto the words.

The extra that now goes with this chapter, 'Guilty', is thankfully not any kind of attempt to rework that; instead, it's just a proper retelling of one of the moments Scyther talked about in the chapter, where Rob catches him in a suicide attempt, pours him a beer to make him feel better, and gives him some strange, backwards advice about why he shouldn't kill himself even though everything is horrible and life isn't worth it. (It cuts off abruptly before Scyther actually starts to tell him his backstory.) This scene would later be retold again in chapter XXXIV of Scyther's Story, with identical dialogue. Originally, though, it was written by hand on paper in a flash of inspiration on the plane home from a family vacation in Switzerland, before this chapter came out. I thought it was some of my best writing at the time, but today, man, that prose is so stilted.

Ignoring that, though, the content is all right, I think. In Scyther I finally had a suicidal character where it wasn't a throwaway thing for drama points in this one chapter, someone who's actually struggled with wanting to die and feeling that he's worthless and deserves it for a long time, not just because of this one thing that happened but because of this whole messed-up unhealthy suicide-glorifying society that teaches that you're worthless and deserve to die if you commit certain transgressions, and even though he finds some questionable ways to cope with it, none of them magically make him okay. And the extra actually shows Rob obviously genuinely caring about him in his own misguided way, which probably helps, what with how bad his only actual on-screen appearance in the fic was at showing that.

Heavy personal disclaimer here: I have never been suicidal. The idea is honestly kind of alien to me; I have never even experienced not strongly, actively wanting to live for as long as possible. It's just not a place my brain goes, even in my darkest moments. It has been fascinating to me in fiction since I was a child precisely because it seemed so intensely strange and awful and heartbreaking that people could be driven to that point. Thus, it's not actually for me to judge my efforts to write about it, except to the extent that even I can recognize the badness of stuff like the final scene of chapter 23 by now. So if you have the personal experience that I don't, please do tell me how you feel about Scyther; he's not my favorite character anymore, but I still care about his story a lot and I want to get him right.

In any case, I hope you do like Scyther, because this is the first in a stretch of three consecutive chapters that revolve increasingly around Scyther. Strap yourselves in.


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