The Quest for the Legends (ILCOE)
Chapter 45: The Ouen League HQ
Mark sighed in relief as they finally exited Champion Cave for what was hopefully to be the last time. He shuddered as the sudden warmth of the afternoon sun enveloped his body, only to have his breath taken away as he looked around.
They were halfway up the mountainside now, on a nice, slanted outcropping of rock positioned neatly in front of the cave exit. A path zigzagged down the mountain on their right. When he had taken a couple of steps forward, however, he saw what was below them – a humongous state-of-the-art Pokémon battle stadium, one that must house tens of thousands of spectators with dozens of cameras capable of following the battlers’ every move, surrounded by various buildings that ranged from a couple of smaller stadiums to a small but decorative League office building to several long, multi-storeyed wooden trainer lodges. Here and there around the whole complex stood giant raised screens and speakers, presumably to be used for announcements and to display the details of the next matches; now they were all blank, and there didn’t appear to be any people about. Around it all was a tall wire fence with one guarded gate in it, lying at the end of the path that now seemed laughably short.
Mark looked at May with a grin; he could see her eyes shine with excitement as she looked down at the main League arena, and even Spirit seemed impressed. The trainer journey, it was finally sinking in, was soon to be formally over. And as insignificant as it ought to have been, somehow Mark felt ready to put all thoughts of legendary Pokémon aside now, just while the League was going on. He hadn’t felt truly excited about being a trainer since one of his first days as one, he realized with bemusement, but now it all seemed to come rushing back. Training might not precisely have been his thing, but now that he was there, the entire journey was beginning to seem worth it, and he resolved to enjoy this and do his best, no matter what it took.
“Come on,” he said. “What are we waiting for? Let’s get down there.”
The path downwards was short and simple; they spotted some Graveler a short distance away and May even said she caught a glimpse of a Larvitar scuttling between some rocks above them, but they left them alone, too eager to get to the League HQ to waste their time fighting random wild Pokémon. They reached the gate within minutes; a bored-looking lavender-haired woman with red glasses sat back in an office chair inside the guard station on the left, moderately immersed in what looked like a cheap paperback romance novel. She looked up as they approached, put the book on the desk and leaned towards the window. “Oh, early trainers,” she said. “Hello. Are you registering for the League this year?”
“Yeah,” Mark said, curious to know how the process worked. May just nodded.
“Okay. Give me your Pokédexes, please. One at a time.”
Mark handed her his Pokédex and she briefly scanned his eye with it. She entered some information into the computer by her left side and was in the middle of handing the device back to him when she narrowed her eyes at the screen.
“Huh,” she said. “It says here you’re dead.”
Mark let out a burst of nervous laughter at the realization that he had completely forgotten about that in the excitement of getting to the League; he hoped that it could be interpreted as a natural reaction to the absurdity of the suggestion. “Well, I’m not,” he said lamely. “Obviously. I mean, I’m here, and you scanned my eye and everything.”
The woman gave him a suspicious glance, seeming to consider it for a second, but then just shrugged and allowed him to take his Pokédex back. “Must be some mistake in the system,” she muttered. “I’ll fix it.”
Mark blinked as she turned back to the computer. That was it? That was all it took to wipe out all the potential problems with being officially dead? He’d been mentally preparing for being denied participation or worse; they might have looked into why he was dead in their records, which would surely have tugged at the corners of some memories that Molzapart had buried. He glanced at May, who raised her eyebrows at him as she gave her own Pokédex to the woman.
Then again, he reasoned, it was logical of her to assume that a mistake in the system was the most plausible explanation; how likely was a twelve-year-old to deliberately fake his death, much less to do so with criminal intent that might warrant an investigation? The thought calmed him down a little; he’d been half-expecting her to change her mind, but now it didn’t seem as likely anymore. He looked back up at the guard station window; the woman had gone into a room at the back. She returned a moment later, holding something Mark couldn’t quite see at first.
“Here are your nametags,” she said, handing them one each; to Mark’s horror, his had that awful school photo on it. “You must wear them around your necks at all times, with the photo facing forward, and will not be allowed to exit the League grounds without them. Yes, put them on now, please.”
Mark reluctantly pulled the red ribbon the tag was attached to over his head; he considered turning it backwards to hide the photo, but saw the woman in the guard booth lean forward to watch and figured he probably wouldn’t get away with it. May didn’t seem any happier with hers, but she put it on with no objection.
“Okay, now please hand me your Pokémon.”
May looked suspiciously at her. “Why?”
“They have to be inspected for illegal power-ups or signs of abuse. You will be able to retrieve them at the League offices tomorrow morning by showing your nametags.”
May recalled Spirit, and then they both took all their Pokéballs handed them to the woman; Mark felt oddly exposed and vulnerable at the idea of walking off without the familiar weight at his belt, and couldn’t shake off a paranoid feeling that he might somehow never get them back. Nurse Joy never seemed like a stranger – perhaps that was why they all strived to look identical, he mused to himself.
“Your rooms are 309 and 310,” the woman went on. “This is also on your nametags, and you will need to use the tags to unlock the rooms. You are in the third trainer lodge, the one just left of the main arena. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served on the bottom floor of your lodge. Maps of the area are on the backs of your nametags; you can also ask the staff for directions. Enjoy your stay and good luck.” She smiled thinly, pressing a button so that the gate opened with a creak and motioned to pick up her book again.
“Thanks,” Mark said to the woman before following May through the gate.
After leaving their bags in their rooms – they were small and simple, but reasonably neat – they took a nice tour of the area, peering at the tiny maps on their nametags and eventually managing to make sense of them and locate and examine every place of interest. They ran into a couple of trainers – Mark thought he recognized a girl he had briefly talked to at the Cleanwater City Pokémon Center way back at the beginning of his journey – but it was clear that they were still among the earlier arrivals. May suggested that some of the people who were there already were probably out training, which made sense. Just around the time they had explored to their satisfaction, there was an announcement over the PA that dinner was being served in the trainer lodges, and they headed to the long building by the left side of the main stadium.
The bottom floor of the trainer lodge mostly consisted of the dining hall, lined with long tables that were almost eerily empty now, with a buffet on the right side of the room; a boy and a girl had already arrived and were sitting at a table pretty far away. Mark and May ended up seating themselves at the table nearest to the buffet and ate there in relative silence (the food was nothing special, but not bad either) while the television in the nearest corner of the room provided a steady background noise of news anchors’ voices.
The word ‘Suicune’ snapped Mark away from his food. He quickly concluded the source could only be the TV and jerked his head towards the screen while mentally blocking out all other sound.
“…the legendary Pokémon. The cause of its death is currently unknown, but investigators say that it bore battle wounds of varying, but not fatal, severity. Many inhabitants of Cleanwater City have expressed worry about the fauna of the Lake of Purity, supposedly purified daily by Suicune, and Water Pokémon around the world have been very upset at the news…”
Some footage of the dirt that was already collecting in the water of the Lake of Purity and interviews with some people followed; Mark was too numb to register them properly. The programme had caught May’s attention as well, and she looked at him, biting her lip.
They’d found Suicune.
Thinking about it, it was always inevitable that the corpse would eventually be found; they hadn’t exactly hidden it well, and once it started to decompose, the smell…
Mark forced his mind away from that train of thought, though not in time to save his appetite; of course, he would probably have felt physically ill even without the unpleasant image of rotting Suicune-shaped flesh in his head. He pushed his plate a bit farther away and then, after a moment, laid his cutlery side by side on it.
“This is bad,” Chaletwo muttered inside his mind. “If the other legendaries hear about this, they’ll become suspicious immediately.”
“There’s nothing that can trace it back to us, is there?” May asked quietly.
“No,” Chaletwo replied. “Shouldn’t be. But if the legendaries hear of it, they’ll be more careful, especially with all the other legendaries disappearing in the past years.”
Mark hadn’t really thought about that before; of course the other kids were working on capturing the legendaries too, and the other legendaries couldn’t be presumed not to have noticed their disappearance. In fact… “Why haven’t they put together two and two and figured people are out systematically catching them already?” he asked, keeping his voice down.
“For all I know, they might have,” Chaletwo said. “Could explain why the others have been having such a difficult time of finding the ones that remain.”
Mark didn’t reply, his mind drifting back to Suicune with a horrible pang of guilt. While he shouldn’t reasonably have felt any better about it while nobody knew, this still made it worse. A dead legendary Pokémon – he could only imagine his own reaction a year ago if he had heard the news. He’d have been shocked and horrified, wondering who would ever do such a dreadful, blasphemous thing and why. He’d have pictured criminal organizations wanting to upset the balance of the world, madmen like Rick or the Mew Hunter – and, he realized with resentment, he’d most likely have suspected the Gyarados from the lake, acting in revenge. He’d just not have imagined somebody with the full power to prevent it would also be present and not do anything – much less that this person could be someone like him.
His eyes drifted back to his plate, and he knew he couldn’t finish eating. “I’m not hungry,” he said with a sigh, stood up and walked towards the stairs. He wasn’t sure if he wanted May to follow him or try to convince him to come back, but she didn’t.
Mark walked up to the second floor, found room 309 and slid the side of his nametag into the electronic lock to open it. The first thing he did when he entered was to pull the nametag off and throw it on the stool beside his bed; then he threw himself onto the mattress with a deep sigh.
Suicune. Why did they have to find Suicune just as he was beginning to manage to push the entire legendary deal momentarily out of his mind so that he could participate in the League like he’d always wanted to?
“I don’t like the idea of you forgetting about it entirely, you know,” Chaletwo commented after a short silence.
“Who asked you?” Mark muttered and turned onto his side.
He lay there for a little while, letting his thoughts wander, and was dozing off when there was a knock on his door.
“What?” he called.
“Can we just go for a short walk or something?”
The speaker being May of course didn’t surprise him; it was the suggestion itself that made him blink and sit up. “What? With you? Why?”
He stood up, walked hesitantly to the door and opened it.
“Don’t forget your nametag,” was all May said. He hurried to the stool to retrieve it and reluctantly put it back around his neck. He followed her cluelessly down the stairs and out the door.
“So uh, what are we doing?” he asked finally as May continued onwards in a straight line; all that was ahead of them was empty ground and then the fence.
“Mark,” May said, slowing a bit down but not looking at him, “when will you stop angsting about Suicune?”
“Huh?” Mark stopped, taken aback, and she wheeled around to face him.
“You need to get over that already. What use do you think it will be to go to your room and brood about it? Gyarados killed Suicune, yeah; Pokémon kill each other all the time, and if he hadn’t done that we’d have been in a load of trouble. I’m not saying it wasn’t shocking or anything, but there’s no need to have a breakdown every time Suicune is mentioned. They can’t trace it back to us, okay? The news doesn’t change anything that we can control. Just get over it and focus on what we’re doing now, which is training for the League. And for future legendary battles.”
Mark took a deep breath. She had a point, of course, about it not being any use to brood about it, and it was not as if he didn’t hate thinking about it in general. “Okay.”
May nodded. “Great. So next time you get all worked up about Suicune, just try to keep it in, okay?”
Mark closed his eyes, feeling uncomfortably like he was being lectured by his mother. “Okay.”
“Great. Let’s get back; it’s cold out here.”
They walked back to the lodge in silence. May was about to open the door when a boy’s voice called out, “Hey!”
They turned around. Before Mark had even identified the red-haired boy who was hurrying around them, May’s knuckles had tightened around the doorknob and her expression contorted into disgust.
“Here,” Taylor said, thrusting his clenched hand towards May. “Take it.”
She looked blankly at him, her surprise momentarily repressing her hatred. “What?”
“Take it,” Taylor repeated, inclining his hand towards her again. “I don’t want it.”
“What is it?” May asked, staring at Taylor’s fist.
“It’s that Quilava of yours,” Taylor said, unclenching his fingers slightly from the minimized Pokéball he was holding. He looked briefly down and then back up at May. “Look, I’m sorry I tricked it out of you, all right? You can have it back.”
May just stared at him, her expression extremely skeptical, and Taylor sighed, looking briefly away but not moving his hand. “Look,” he finally said, “I’ve got six Pokémon. That Quilava is weak. My brother won’t send me another decent Pokémon because he says I’ve got six already. If I give it to you and tell him it escaped or something, I can get a full team, right? So just take it – please.”
May just stood there in befuddlement for a second; then she snatched the ball from his hand. Taylor turned around without words and walked nonchalantly towards one of the trainer lodges on the other side of the main stadium.
“That… that lazy, cheating, spoiled brat,” May said as she stared after him, but her voice had none of the ferocity that usually characterized it when she talked about Taylor. “I can’t believe it.”
“Well, he gave you her back.” Mark shrugged. “That’s a good thing, right?”
Taylor disappeared through the door of his own lodge and May spent a second with her eyes still fixated on the same spot. “Yeah,” she said absent-mindedly as she turned away and opened the door to their lodge.
They ended up just saying goodnight and going straight to their rooms so that they could wake up early.
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