The Quest for the Legends (ILCOE)

This is an author's commentary intended for readers who have already read the entire ILCOE. My retrospective comments on the chapter are in bold below, with some remarks within the text and then some overall thoughts at the bottom. The commentary will contain significant spoilers! Do not read the commentary on your first read-through!

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

Chapter 28: Scyther's Revenge

November 14th, 2005, a bit less than two months. My pace was clearly slowing down here, but still not so bad.

There was actually an entire cut chapter between the equivalent of chapter 27 and this one in the original and UMR. The chapter began, following from the previous extra, with Mark waking up early in the morning because Scyther was moving around in his sleep; he got up for a bit and watched as the dreaming Scyther hugged Mark's sleeping bag while muttering "I hate you", tears in his eyes. Needless to say, it was ludicrously melodramatic and kind of hilarious, and I thought it was the best scene I'd ever written at the time, because of course I did.

After that, they were just setting off when Chaletwo suddenly alerted Mark to the fact that the Waraider herd had just landed on the plains behind them. He instructed Mark to approach them, alone, with no Pokémon at his belt so they wouldn't see him as a threat, and then just throw a bunch of balls at them. Mark did so; this failed miserably, and the herd flew off and destroyed almost all his Ultra Balls in the process. Mark felt very bad about himself and walked on the rest of the way back to Green Town to buy more balls, then bought a sandwich, and suddenly Mitch appeared on a bench and they had the accidentally foreshadowy conversation that I moved to chapter 26 here. Nothing actually came of this first legendary encounter in the story, and it was a bit ridiculous they'd even try something like that, so I cut it here, and the Waraider herd wouldn't make an appearance in this version until chapter 69.

While Mark was making this quaint little attempt to catch his first legendaries, his Pokémon were out roaming around Ruxido as they pleased, which is important for the events of this chapter. I remember spending a while mulling over how else I could make up an excuse for Scyther to go off on his own, if I didn't have the Waraider thing (I even made a thread on the old Cave of Dragonflies forums about it, where opaltiger helped me think through the logistics of it), and obviously eventually settled on having the kids release their Pokémon for the night instead - which meant, of course, that Scyther wouldn't be around in the morning here, so that opening scene had to go too. If I hadn't had to make this particular change, I don't know if I'd have had the sense to excise the opening scene or if I'd have kept it in some form, in which case... oh boy.

The main events of this chapter draw from chapters 32 and 33 of the previous versions... which means that after this we're no longer going to have to talk about "the previous versions"! After chapter 32 of the original, the UMR (which I'd been working on alongside new chapters of the original) caught up to it and I replaced all the chapters on the site, so only the UMR remains.

A/N: Some details of Hitmonchan anatomy nabbed from Iveechan.

Iveechan was a very well-known Pokémon artist and a loyal reader of the fic back in the day, and I also followed her fanfics; she had a headcanon about what Hitmonchan look like under the gloves and tunic and how their elemental punches draw from special gems between their knuckles, and I lifted this wholesale for my fic because I thought it was very cool.

Mark woke up to the smell of fried eggs. He opened his eyes, taking a second to remember where he was, and then sat up.

Alan and May were already up, and indeed, Alan was frying eggs on a pan on the remains of yesterday’s fire. May was repacking her sleeping bag. The Pokémon were back, some sleeping and some just standing around, perhaps engaging in conversations with one another. May’s Pupitar was now standing straight up, his eyes open, dark and staring. Mark shuddered; that creature was creeping him out more with every passing day.

Well, that's unnecessary. Come on, it's okay to be subtle!

Would've been nice to hear something less vague about what the Pokémon are doing. The whole them being individuals and all.

“Good morning, Mark,” Alan said, handing him a plate with an egg. “Hey… do you know where Scyther went?”

Mark quickly looked over the group of Pokémon again, first now noticing that Scyther wasn’t there. He froze.

“No…” he said worriedly, his heart beating hard. He wasn’t sure why he felt so suspicious – after all, he had probably just forgotten about time or something – but something gave him a bad feeling about this. He told himself to calm down and at least wait a bit, and stabbed his fork into his egg.

Again having Mark randomly just know there's something off when it really should be shocking later. Why, fifteen-year-old me. It'd be fine to have him be a bit concerned, but this is too much of a giveaway.

“Who’s that?” May asked, pointing at a human-shaped shadow walking on the path they had come from. Mark squinted at it; it was too small to be an adult at the very least. He took a bite of his food, watching it with interest. As the shadow neared, he suddenly realized what it was.

A Hitmonchan.

What made him realize it was the shape of the head; the top of the forehead took a shape distantly reminiscent of a crown. However, the nearer it came, the less human it looked; it had a flat face without a nose, for example, and was not wearing any clothes (not even the standard Hitmonchan boxing gloves and tunic, which Mark found slightly odd). Some details of Hitmonchan anatomy which were rarely seen by others than the people who trained them, such as the muscular chest being creamy yellow rather than the brown that the rest of the skin and that the natural fists had red, blue and yellow jewels embedded in the knuckles, were plainly visible. Puzzling as it was, considering his lack of clothing, he was carrying a backpack.

As you can see, I integrated these anatomical details of Hitmonchan in an extremely smooth and natural way. Literally repeating phrasing from the author's note is obviously the most immersive way to do this.

This was actually done way better in the UMR:

He was naked, showing his cream-colored chest, the delicate fingers and the different-colored gems used for elemental punches. Since by law, trainers must dress their Hitmonchans up in the standard uniform (boxing gloves and a tunic), Mark presumed he was wild. But he certainly didn’t behave like a wild pokémon.

That's actually fine! Nothing egregiously wrong with this paragraph. I could have kept it verbatim here and it would've been better. But you have to describe exactly what Pokémon look like all the time, right, so obviously I had to turn it into that thing above.

“Good morning,” the Hitmonchan said politely, having stopped at reasonable talking distance from them. He looked between the kids and Pokémon, awaiting a reply.

“You’re…” Charizard started slowly, “you’re Fury from the Pokémon Frenzy Tournament.”

Fury grinned. “I’m glad you remember me.”

In the UMR, it was Scyther who recognized Fury (this took place after Scyther's murder attempt there rather than before), which didn't really make sense - Scyther never fought Fury in the tournament, and it appeared that the Pokémon were recalled and kept at the back between fights. Here, Scyther's not present, but it also just makes a lot more sense for it to be Charizard, who actually battled him.

Mark looked to the sides, confused. “Where is your trainer?”

“I am my own trainer,” Fury replied with a slight nod of his head. Mark stared at him.

“Huh? You mean you’re wild?”

“I mean exactly what I said,” Fury simply said. “I am the fully qualified trainer of myself.”

He smiled as he looked at everybody’s expressions, seemingly enjoying himself as a mystery. “I have a licence,” he then added for clarification.

“But Pokémon can’t get trainer licences!” said May, the first person to voice what everybody was thinking.

Fury smiled again. “I’m the first, but I hope many will follow in my footsteps.”

“But…” Mark stuttered, “why?”

“Well,” Fury replied, “it just so happens that I am interested in the Pokémon league, but not so interested in having a trainer. I spoke with the authorities and presented my idea, and finally convinced them that this would be an important step towards Pokémon equality. My journey is an experiment, and I hope it will go well and that they will get the league to make an exception of the six-Pokémon rule in the case of Pokémon on their own.”

“How does this work, though?” May asked, clearly interested. “Can you catch Pokémon?”

“Technically,” Fury replied. “I currently have a normal human trainer licence. But I don’t want to catch other Pokémon. I am myself and have no interest in battling unless I do the fighting.”

“What about when you faint?” Mark asked.

“I know myself better than letting that happen,” he said with a slight smile. “Besides, I’ve got a Focus Band just for safety.” He pointed to a red and yellow band he was wearing on his head. “A Focus Band is something that will allow you to survive anything without falling completely unconscious. It’s not very likely to leave you in a state to battle, but it will at least give me a chance to forfeit and heal myself.”

The Focus Band thing came about here; in the UMR, he just said he instructed trainers he battled to revive him if he did end up fainting. It's neat that I thought of this, though; it'd definitely be more practical.

May nodded thoughtfully. “You battle trainers, then, in one-on-one?”

“Yes,” Fury confirmed. “In fact, I thought perhaps one of you would like a battle?” He got a slightly mischievous smile. “I’ve found much satisfaction in trying out trainers to see how they will fare against Pokémon and trainer who are one and the same.”

He looked between them; Alan shook his head but May looked interested.

“I’d like to try,” Mark said, shrugging, mainly looking for a way to kill time while he waited for Scyther.

“Can you battle both of us?” May asked. “I’d like a try too.”

“Well,” Fury replied with a smile, “that depends on whether I feel I can battle after the first one.”

“Oh, all right,” May said thoughtfully. “Mark, you can try first.”

Nice.

“I request, by the way,” Fury added, “that because I am incapable of choosing my own weaknesses, you should pick a Pokémon that does not have a physical advantage over Fighting Pokémon.”

Mark nodded. “Sandslash?”

The pangolin Pokémon nodded back and came to Mark’s side. There was a reason he chose Sandslash: remembering Charmeleon coughing up blood at the Pokémon Frenzy Tournament, he wanted to use a Pokémon with considerable defensive abilities. He looked nervously at his Pokémon; Sandslash seemed fearless, which made him a bit more confident.

Meanwhile, Fury had taken off his backpack and opened it to reveal that that was where he kept his gloves and tunic. “I hope you don’t mind me battling tunic-less?” he questioned, pulling on his gloves. “They only require it for official battles because some people don’t like to look at naked humanoids…” He chuckled slightly and looked at the kids; they just shook their heads.

“The gloves are necessary, though,” he explained with slight resent as he adjusted them and examined them from all angles. “Without them slightly absorbing the force of the punch and spreading it around a larger area, Hitmonchan can smash skulls. Well, are we starting now?”

That "resent" as a noun is so jarring here when my English had mostly gotten better than that.

Whether Fury realized it or not (at least he had just started stretching as he said the last sentence), the news about Hitmonchan smashing skulls was not the most comfortable Mark had ever received. He glanced at Fury’s thin and weak-looking arms, finding it very creepy that they could contain that kind of muscular power. Nonetheless, he reassured himself with the fact that at least Fury did have his gloves, and replied, “Yeah, sure.”

Fury nodded, smiling, and got into a defensive fighting stance, his keen eyes watching Sandslash closely.

“Earthquake!” Mark shouted, sensing that Fury was waiting for him to start. Sandslash rose to his hind legs and smashed himself powerfully back into the ground, releasing a flurry of shock waves through the ground. However, the moment before being hit, Fury suddenly leapt up. He then turned in mid-air, kicking into a tree to jump sideways at the pangolin with his fist pulled back. This was all too fast for Mark to work it out and blurt out a command in time, but thankfully Sandslash had faster reflexes and curled into a tight ball of spikes. Icy blue energy seemed to circle Fury’s glove for a fraction of a second before he smashed it into Mark’s Pokémon with enough force to send him flying right at Mark – he narrowly managed to duck – and into a tree while the Hitmonchan landed. When Sandslash uncurled and shook himself slightly before returning to his normal position, he thankfully didn’t look that hurt; Mark owed it to the timely Defense Curl.

“Sandslash…”

Mark didn’t have the time to issue an order; while Sandslash was waiting for him to finish the instructions, Fury caught him off guard with another Ice Punch in the gut. Sandslash flailed a bit as his vulnerable underbelly was covered with frost; the Hitmonchan grabbed the opportunity to punch him again in the jaw. Sandslash staggered painfully backwards and finally lost his balance and fell helplessly onto his back, blood trickling from his mouth.

Mark painfully recalled his Pokémon, feeling a bit embarrassed by how quickly and easily Fury had won the battle. He looked around and suddenly remembered his previous worries.

“Er,” he said, “I think I’m going to go look for Scyther now. I’m getting a bit anxious.”

May, who was getting ready for her battle, nodded; Alan just shrugged casually while his expression had a small hint of worry. Fury walked up to him and held out his hand, having taken that glove off.

“Goodbye, then.”

“Yeah, bye,” Mark replied. “Thanks for the battle and all…”

“You’re too slow,” Fury suddenly said.

“Huh?” Mark asked, a bit surprised by the abrupt announcement.

“You’re too slow,” Fury repeated. “It’s what made you lose. Your Pokémon battle better without you than with; they have to wait for you to tell them an order or act on their own accord. You’re too slow making the orders.”

The words stung. In essence, Mark knew that; ever since he started his journey, he had felt slightly embarrassed by how long it usually took him to think of an attack. However, having that broken down to him by somebody else was another thing entirely, and it was a bit painful.

“You have potential,” Fury started again, looking into Mark’s eyes. “While you aren’t born with the reflexes and thought speed for a master trainer, your Pokémon stick with you. I don’t know you enough to be able to tell why that is, but something is there – perhaps you know. Don’t try to battle with a talent you don’t have. Change your strategy to bring your true abilities to use.”

Wow, Fury, one battle and you think you know what he's born with?

Mark stared at him, feeling oddly numb. “Thanks,” he muttered. “I will.”

Fury turned, giving him a perhaps slightly too powerful pat on the back. “Good luck,” he said and walked back over to face May. Mark waved doubtfully and headed into the forest alone.

Fury is fun, but ultimately not very meaningful as a character. It would've been neat to have him actually appear at the League, and in a way it's kind of disappointing I didn't do that, but one way or another I ended up with that idea about him writing a popular book about his experiences, potentially effecting some political change, and did that instead. It's very much an irrelevant side note to the fic as a whole, though, and his main role here is just this piece of advice he gives Mark, which he sort of puts into practice at the League. I could definitely cut him, or let him just be a cameo as a participant in the Pokémon Frenzy Tournament. On the other hand, I still think the idea of this Pokémon who is his own trainer is kind of neat. We'll see, but one way or another I don't think I'd have him just get half a chapter devoted to him specifically with little or no further significance.

-------

Scyther wasn’t too far away. Mark was surprised by how quickly he caught a glimpse of the glossy yellow wings between some trees.

He stepped off the road and almost immediately got his leg tangled in the undergrowth. While attempting to get himself free, he shouted, “Scyther!”

The mantis turned around suspiciously quickly and hid his scythes behind his back. As Mark untangled himself, he walked slowly nearer, feeling a bit uneasy.

“What are you hiding?” he asked doubtfully, looking at his Pokémon. That kind of pose was laughably awkward for a Scyther. As he heard no answer, he suspiciously came even closer and tried to walk around the mantis; Scyther turned along with him so his blades were kept out of view. By turning left suddenly enough, Mark managed to catch a glimpse of something red.

He immediately froze, feeling suddenly cold as the color drained from his face. His heartbeats doubled in speed within seconds as he looked frantically around. In between the branches of the bush right behind Scyther, he saw something white.

A shoe.

The world seemed to stop as Mark’s vision faded to reddish black; his brain protested with dizziness like the world around him was being sucked into a black hole, and he felt like he was about to faint. This horrible state lasted for an eternity of a second.

“Scyther, you… you killed someone,” Mark said weakly when the world had more or less returned to normal, backing away slightly. In sudden nausea, he bent over and threw up his half-digested breakfast.

More probably over-the-top vomiting added in the ILCOE that I'd forgotten about.

“No,” Scyther said in his usual, calm voice.

Mark raised himself up with an expression of horror and disgust, his legs trembling like jelly in an earthquake. “Don’t lie to me,” he said shakily. “There’s a body… You’ve got… you’ve got blood on your…”

“He’s not dead,” Scyther said coolly.

What do you mean, he’s not dead?” Mark screamed, explosive anger taking over his mind. How dare he be so calm, how dare he use that voice…

“He’s not dead yet… I’m letting him bleed to death… Mark, listen to me…”

“Why would I listen to you?” Mark shouted back. “Why are you killing him? Who is that, anyway?”

“It’s Scizor’s trainer,” Scyther spat with uttermost loathing. Suddenly, a wave of understanding washed over Mark. He felt a little bit calmer; squeezing his eyes shut, he replied, “Even though it’s Scizor’s trainer, it’s no excuse to kill him… We need to get an ambulance now… I think May has a cellphone… we need to go and borrow…”

Why does this calm him down at all, though.

“Do we have to?” Scyther interrupted. These four words shattered everything that was left of Mark’s former view of Scyther to pieces.

“Yes, we have to,” Mark said, trying to keep calm.

Scyther sighed deeply. “You don’t understand, do you? I just saw him as I was returning to you, and I – I had to…”

“You didn’t ‘have to’!” Mark snapped. “You’re an idiot! Do you even realize what you’ve done? This is an attempted murder by a trained Pokémon! It breaks the Agreement! It’s…”

“I never meant to get you into trouble,” Scyther sighed. “I didn’t think that far.”

“You’re the one who needs to understand, you know,” Mark said heatedly. “You don’t kill people, no matter how much you hate them. That’s not how it works with humans. Now come into your ball so I can go get May’s cellphone; we’re wasting way too much time here and the guy is dying.” Mark cringed and swallowed as he glanced nervously at the shoe.

“That won’t work,” Scyther said slowly, first now bringing his blood-stained scythes into view. “You will have to lie about what really happened, and your story will be very hard to believe while you’re carrying a Pokémon with the victim’s blood on his scythes.”

Mark paused. “Hurry and wash up, then… I’ll wait here.” He immediately had doubts about his suggestion, fearing that somebody might come across the body with him standing there like an idiot beside it, so he added, “Well, maybe I should come with you.”

Again, he had doubts after making that suggestion. The obvious place to go would be the pond they had spent the night by, but did he really want May and Alan to know the truth either? And what if Fury was still there? They’d have to look for another spring or something, and meanwhile the trainer was bleeding…

“I know the best thing to do,” Scyther said, interrupting Mark’s thoughts. He looked sceptically at the mantis.

“I wash my scythes, and then I come back and wait here. You go to where May is and make that call. Tell them he was attacked by some wild Sneasel – they sometimes attack in the morning even though they’re mostly around at night, and they sometimes let their victims die slowly. Wait there until they come, take them here and tell them you left me with him to make sure the Sneasel wouldn’t finish him off.”

Why would Sneasel sometimes let their victims die slowly, though. Maybe this is just a prejudice that Scyther have because they've got this whole law against causing unnecessary suffering and want to be able to point to some other species they're better than because of it?

Mark almost laughed. “And leave you here conveniently alone with somebody you’ve just been attempting to murder? Nice try, Scyther.”

The mantis took a deep breath and closed his eyes. “I am not selfish enough to kill him when it is so important to you that I don’t,” he said quietly, clearly pained by what he was saying. “Now go, if you are so bent on letting him live.”

Mark stared at Scyther for a few seconds, racking his brain for any other possible solution but to his horror not finding one.

“Would you really keep that promise?” he asked softly.

“I don’t make promises,” Scyther simply said.

In the previous versions, Scyther specifically said that he doesn't make promises so he won't be forced to break any. In chapter 11 here, he similarly indicated he doesn't make promises because breaking them hurts, and the only way to avoid the hurt is not to make the promise. This mindset has to be derived from the constant guilt that he feels about violating the Code, and some decision that he subsequently made to just never commit to anything again so he won't have to feel any more guilt.

Mark stared at him with helpless terror, his mind blank. After all, had Scyther ever given him a real reason not to trust his words?

In some moment of foolishness, Mark turned around and sped back onto the road.

I mean, I guess Scyther hasn't broken his word exactly, but that's because he has repeatedly refused to promise not to hurt people, and now he just did hurt someone, and he's still refusing to make any promises, so I'm really not sure this argument holds up.

This scene is in some ways very similar to the previous versions, but also different in some respects. Here, it's Mark who thinks through different scenarios for calling an ambulance without them being implicated, but previously, it was Mark firmly insisting Scyther come with him now and Scyther making the arguments that he had to wash his scythes but Mark couldn't come with him while he did so and Mark couldn't wait with Michael either, slowly closing in on the conclusion that Mark'd have to leave Scyther with the trainer. This made it feel a lot more ominous; it really felt like Scyther was creating reasons for Mark to go away and let him kill Michael, and I rather liked that effect and am sad it's lost here.

On the other hand, the old versions also featured some more of Scyther's bizarre love-hate thing and Mark reacting ridiculously and melodramatically:

“Mark!” Scyther thundered. “You don’t understand this, do you? Half of me loves her, half of me hates her. At the moment I hate her. But the whole of me hates him, one half for evolving the Scyther I cared most about in life, the other half for making me hate her, and the whole of me for causing all of my pain since way back then. And when not a single moment passes when I don’t think about her, not a single moment passes when I don’t think about my hate for him, I loathe this human who did this to me...”

Mark suddenly remembered what he had witnessed this morning. He remembered Scyther’s tears and the way he had hugged the sleeping bag while he said “I hate you”. His pity returned.

“Love?” he whispered. “Can love be this lethal? Can extreme hate and a murder be caused by... love?”

Mark was still shocked, but he wasn’t angry at Scyther anymore.

Why would this make you not angry anymore, Mark, seriously.

All in all, I do like that here I put a lot of effort into Mark feeling actual emotions about this and yelling at Scyther. The dialogue itself isn't great, and it does bug me that he so casually accepts the idea that he'll just have to lie to everyone about what happened, and that his reasoning about trusting Scyther at the end is so poorly justified, and it's pretty weird that Mark doesn't even think about trying to help, check on the guy, see how bad it is. But otherwise, Mark's more or less acting like a person. He's clearly horrified and angry and distraught.

Scyther, on the other hand... man, there's no sense of him having an actual thought process here. At times he seems guilty or aware he's done something he shouldn't, other times he sounds patiently exasperated with Mark not getting why this was perfectly justified even though he doesn't really go on to try to persuade him of that, then he says he won't kill him if it's so important to Mark. It's not really clear at what point in the conversation he changes his mind on killing him. All in all I just can't properly tell where Scyther's head is at throughout any of this, even though I wrote the damn thing. This would be so much better just rewritten to show properly what Scyther is thinking and the progression of his inner conflict in some consistent and sensible way. Say, he knows abstractly from the start that Mark would disapprove, but the force of his revulsion and his utter lack of giving a damn that this is Nightmare's trainer (because he should not give a damn), and the reminder that not only is he causing unnecessary suffering, he could be getting Mark in serious trouble as well, kind of shocks him out of it and starts to put that guilt back in his head despite all his exhortations to himself about never letting himself feel guilty again.

There is also a glaring logical problem with all this, though: Michael is clearly unconscious, so why hasn't Scyther just killed him? The reason he cited for why he wasn't dead yet was that he was letting him bleed out, and all in all it's strongly suggested that Scyther thought a quick death was too good and wanted to torture him (which is definitely what I was going for). But he's unconscious at least now, so what was the point, to Scyther, of continuing to just stand there and let him bleed instead of finishing the job? There's also the issue of if Scyther was actively torturing him while he was still conscious, wouldn't he have been fighting back, sending out his Pokémon? Even if Scyther was able to prevent him from sending out Pokémon, wouldn't there be signs of a struggle, blood all over Scyther instead of just on his scythes? In chapter 49 I just went with saying Scyther had knocked him unconscious pretty much immediately (hence why he can dismiss the Scyther he thought he saw a flash of as a confabulation and accept the official explanation that it was a band of Sneasel), which sidesteps this latter problem - but if he's not conscious to feel any pain, then what's the point of trying to make him die slowly in the first place? I guess maybe Scyther didn't mean to knock him unconscious, and was waiting for him to wake up? That's definitely not what I was going for, but I could just about make it work that way, I suppose.

As I understand it, though, bleeding out isn't exactly painful anyway and mostly involves a state of panic and anxiety and elevated heartrate followed by headache, lightheadedness and unconsciousness. I'm sure it's plenty distressing, and it sounds delightful to read about, but is it what a Scyther bent on revenge would go for as a truly punitive death? (I guess maybe if he didn't mean to knock him out, he was going to do a lot more once he woke up, but Mark found him before that could actually happen. That's totally not consistent with his stated intentions here, though.)

This whole chapter is probably in theory skippable, for the purposes of the next revision. I already went into Fury, and Scyther trying to murder this kid doesn't have nearly the repercussions that it should - it's obviously a large contributing factor to why Michael has such a bad PTSD reaction during their League battle, but I could make that work with just the established backstory, and aside from that, it barely even affects the conversation Mark and Scyther have in the very next chapter. But I'm more inclined to keep it (with significant adjustments, obviously) and just actually have it be more visibly meaningful for Mark and Scyther's relationship, and Scyther's arc in general, going forward. As it is I think it's kind of a missed opportunity - this should be a hugely important dramatic event! It could be that!


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