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!

Chapter 5: The Lake of Purity

The hotel was a huge building that appeared to be entirely composed of glass from the outside. To Mark’s pleasant surprise, he found a sign outside it announcing that Pokémon trainers paid half price.

He walked inside, not sure if Charmander was allowed outside a Pokéball, but just assuming he was. An elderly lady in a blue dress sat by the counter and read the newspaper. Her huge square glasses were on the edge of falling off the tip of her nose.

“Excuse me,” said Mark. The woman looked up and observed him carefully, eying Charmander.

“Pokémon trainer?” she asked in a monotone voice.

“Yeah,” answered Mark.

“How many nights?” she asked, turning slowly to a computer standing beside her.

“One to begin with,” Mark said.

“Your ID number, please?”

Mark immediately realized that of course, he had forgotten to buy a Pokédex, and what was more, he had never actually read Pokémon Training for Dummies. Feeling stupid, he blushed and said: “Er, I don’t have one yet.”

Ah, yes, the HMMRCIG up to the ILCOE named the book Mark was going to look for at the library in chapter two but in the ILCOTEM it just became "a book about Pokémon training", only for it to be mentioned again here in a chapter I didn't revise again. I guess this doesn't create too much of a discontinuity, though, since it doesn't preclude the possibility he had a particular book in mind.

“It’s necessary to give your trainer ID before checking in,” said the woman.

“I’ll go to the Pokémart and buy a Pokédex, then, and come back afterwards,” Mark suggested. The woman nodded and sank back into her newspaper.

Despite not having read the book, of course, and not knowing that you need a license, Mark does apparently silently know that you can get a trainer ID by buying a Pokédex (...without having a license).

Mark walked outside again, closely followed by Charmander. The clouds were slowly drifting away, predicting a starry night and good weather tomorrow.

“Well, there’s always something you forget to buy,” Mark sighed. “Charmander, would you like to go into your Pokéball now, or…?”

“Yeah, maybe, I’m getting tired of walking,” said Charmander, relieved. Mark removed one of the red and white spheres attached to his Pokéball belt, maximized it by pressing the button, and touched Charmander gently with it. He was turned into red energy and drawn into the ball.

And here I've just given up and am putting him in his ball. Seriously, make him a character.

I don't exactly remember this, but it sounds distinctly like I wrote the shopping trip in chapter four, published it, then realized as I started writing this one that I hadn't made Mark buy a Pokédex and I wanted to do some super-cool worldbuilding about how much Pokédexes do in this fic, so I just declared that Mark forgot and sent him on another shopping trip.

The IALCOTN, of course, had him just get a Pokédex on the original shopping trip.

Mark went into the Pokémart, constantly reaching crazily down to check if the Pokéball was still there. He would just have to get used to it, but at the moment it was somehow really discomforting. Reassuring himself that his Pokémon was definitely still inside the Pokéball, Mark walked over to the fourth row of shelves, finding Pokédexes of various shapes, sizes and colors lined there. After a bit of thought, he picked a sapphire blue one with a white back, some red lines and signs for decoration and two flaps to fold in so that it would fit neatly into one’s pocket. After paying almost all of his money left, he exited the shop, unfolded the Pokédex and turned it on.

“Thank you for choosing Pokédex Advance, Kyogre edition,” said a voice with a British accent as if to test the sound. The screen turned light blue, and then displayed the words “Would you like to start the set-up now?”

British accents are a thing, apparently, like the "European-style dragons" in chapter two.

Mark selected ‘Yes’ and pressed A.

“Please place your right eye in front of the scanner and press A,” the screen now read, with a small picture showing with a red arrow where the scanner was placed – apparently, the Pokédex used the same tool to identify Pokémon as its owner’s iris. Mark held it up to his eye, pressed the button blindly, and as he heard a beep, he removed it, blinked a few times and looked at the screen. It showed the words “MATCHING PATTERN – PLEASE WAIT” for a second, then all sorts of information about him appeared, including his name, home address, date of birth, education, bank account number, and even, to his horror, a school photo which he looked absolutely horrible on.

“Was I drunk when they took that?” he said to himself with disgust, then looked back at the screen. The information about him had been replaced with a big “Thank you for registering your Pokédex. Your ID number is 0439522166.” Mark pressed A and now it showed the main menu, indicating that he wouldn’t need to do anything else for the set-up.

Eleven-year-olds regularly wonder if they were drunk on bad photographs, I'm sure.

Mark's school photo, though! I still enjoy this photo that's destined to haunt him in all the newspapers about his death and his nametag at the League. This was a cute gag. The bad school photo will be in the next revision.

Mark's ID number here is not just a random number smash; it's the concatenation of the ID number I had on my Gold version (04395) and the one I had on my Yellow version (22166).

I make a point of how the Pokédex is connected to some kind of database of governmental records and knows basically everything about him... but apparently it doesn't have a basic check for whether this person is actually licensed to train Pokémon, not even before assigning him the ID number that places like the hotel use to verify that he's a trainer. This entire illegal training plot point makes so little sense.

The IALCOTN, on the single shopping trip, added a whole detour about how Mark gets a Pokédex from this guy in the store (supposed to later turn up as the Champion of the Old-Timers' League) who says it's outdated and he'll have to get a new one, but Mark can't find anything outdated about it and just shrugs and uses it anyway. This was supposed to be setting up for the illegal training plot point again, in a somewhat more sensible way: Mark knows registering a Pokédex for the first time is supposed to automatically grant you a license, so he assumes he's done everything correctly, but actually this older model is from when you'd have to apply for a license separately, so it doesn't go through that process. I admire my sixteen-year-old self's efforts to take this incredibly nonsensical plot point and wrangle it to kind of sort of work a little bit, but while that version more or less successfully lets Mark off the hook, the Champion's unnecessary vagueness about why he'll have to get a new Pokédex is glaringly irresponsible, and the League's IT department still has to be juggling some idiot balls, what with apparently not having introduced any checks for valid licenses into their APIs even after making license applications part of the system. (I mean, why did they bother if they weren't going to run any checks?)

As I mentioned in the commentary for chapter 2, the entire illegal training plot point is actually completely unnecessary for the story - I made up this whole elaborate new justification for Mark inadvertently training illegally sort of out of habit, and wrote half a chapter around it, without actually thinking through whether I really needed this in the fic at all. The next revision will just ditch it.

Curiously, he selected the option ‘About the Pokédex’. The voice immediately started speaking again.

“The Pokédex was invented by Professor Samuel Oak of Kanto. Its original purpose was, in Oak’s words, ‘to be an encyclopedia for the trainer to get more information about his or her Pokémon, and to automatically and safely record the data of any undiscovered Pokémon a trainer might see on his or her journey in order to tell fact from fiction when it comes to new Pokémon discoveries’. Since then, all sorts of useful features have been added to the Pokédex’s potential and now it is the only essential tool a Pokémon trainer must have, combining the various devices that have been developed in the different parts of the world for all kinds of Pokémon-related purposes. After Oak retired, the development of the Pokédex was continued by his grandson, Gary Oak, who…”

Mark found the irrelevant infodump button, I see.

Mark decided not to listen to all of it so he pressed B and the voice fell silent. Finally, to register Charmander to his ID number, he held the Pokéball up to the scanner and pressed A.

“Charmander – lizard Pokémon,” the Pokédex announced. “It is very vulnerable to water; if the flame at the tip of its tail dies, so does this Fire Pokémon.”

The screen then asked if he would like to view this Pokémon’s stats; he chose ‘No’ and it showed the main menu again, except that now it said ‘1 Pokémon caught’ in the top left corner.

Mark turned the Pokédex off and walked into the hotel again.

“Back?” the woman asked, not looking off the newspaper. Mark nodded.

“So, your ID number?”

“0439522166,” Mark said after turning his Pokédex on again to check. The woman entered it into the computer.

“Mark Greenlet?”

“Yeah,” he answered.

“You said one night?”

“Yup,” said Mark cheerfully. The woman handed him a key labeled with the number 387. Assuming that the Pokédex had handled the payment automatically, he walked up some staircases to room 387. It was small, but neat; everything in it was blue except for the walls. Blue bed sheets, blue lamp, blue carpet, blue curtains. He switched the light on.

The entire opening of the chapter up until this point has included far too much unnecessary detail about things that don't tell us anything interesting. There are a few nuggets of worldbuilding in here - Pokédexes automatically register trainers based on their iris, they've taken over the functions of other devices, trainer facilities like the hotel need you to have a trainer ID - but I waste far too many words on stuff like the inconsequential back-and-forth dialogue with the hotel receptionist, describing Mark's second trip to the Pokémart, every detail of which buttons he presses when in the whole process of setting up the Pokédex, etc. Despite the nice judiciousness of that one scene break from the beginning of chapter two, I clearly still had not properly learned the lesson that you don't in fact need to describe everything that happens; some things can and should be skipped over.

Mark flung himself on the bed and sighed, letting his mind flicker across the day’s adventures.

The Legendary Pokémon, of course, had most of his attention. He had set it as his goal to reach Green town in time to see Chaletwo. If only he could ever know what was up with its similarity to Mewtwo. Mark sighed again.

Why hadn’t he ever found decent books on the Ouen Legendaries before? And why hadn’t he found that book before?

In the YAR (and probably the HMMRCIG; I don't have an archived version of this chapter in the latter, but I strongly suspect not much changed), this paragraph said, Apparently, the Color Dragons and Waraider weren’t confirmed to exist… yet, Mark found himself somehow certain they had to be real. No reasoning whatsoever there, just Mark convinced for no particular reason that these unconfirmed legendaries must exist. I replaced it with that somewhat more sensible paragraph about the book in the ILCOE; possibly, by the time I wrote the ILCOE version I'd thought of the thing about Mark's parents pulling strings with the librarian and wanted to set it up better as a mystery that I actually planned to answer.

His stomach made a loud gurgle to protest this stupid distraction from the bare necessities of life, and Mark rose lazily up.

“Let’s get ourselves something to eat,” he muttered, knowing that Pokémon could hear the outside world from inside their Pokéballs. He went down to the hotel’s restaurant and Mark ordered a pizza for both him and Charmander to celebrate the first day of their journey after making carefully sure that Pokémon were allowed and that Charmander didn’t mind trying human food.

“By the way,” Mark asked as they started greedily attacking the pizza, “you never actually answered. Do you want to evolve?”

“Dunno,” said Charmander as Mark took a sip of his coke. “I’ve heard that Pokémon can go through a huge mental change when they evolve.”

“Yeah,” said Mark eagerly; this was exactly one of the few things in Pokémonology he found to be very interesting. “It’s because if Pokémon don’t have very defined beliefs and a determined personality, their added power after evolution can result in arrogance, the sudden realization that humans are wimps, and just an overall change in their views on the world. It depends on you, really.”

Mark sounds so enthusiastic at the idea that Pokémon can have sudden realizations humans are wimps.

“I’m not sure, I don’t want to change mentally… but I want to be strong, and to fly as a Charizard one day.”

“They say that late evolution helps in these aspects,” Mark commented. “Personality changes are usually biggest in Pokémon that evolve immediately when they can.”

“Yeah,” said Charmander absent-mindedly, watching a Pidgeotto flying outside the window. “That’s probably best, just evolving when I’m properly ready…”

He looked at Mark. “I’m a bit nervous, though. What if I just reach level 16, evolve – and turn into a completely different person?” There was worry in his voice.

“You just need to resist it, you can stop your own evolution without much trouble,” Mark said reassuringly.

“Yeah,” said Charmander, sounding more comfortable. “You’re probably right.”

This entire thing regarding evolution causing drastic personality changes in Pokémon is a remnant of the really weird evolution headcanon I had back when I wrote Molzapart and Rainteicune, where the subjective experience of evolution was literally that the Pokémon found itself in a dark void, struggling against the evolved form who's trying to take their place. This was probably inspired by the anime and the shifts that occur when Ash's Charmander evolves into Charmeleon and then Charizard, but by positing that they're literally replaced by entirely different individuals, the whole thing became this bizarre ultra-dark nightmare scenario. To this day I have no idea why on earth I would've made up this headcanon; I basically always evolved my Pokémon on my games, which should have made me pretty uncomfortable with this concept, but apparently not.

Interestingly, the original version of TQftL didn't actually use that headcanon - Charmander was fine with evolving there, and although his personality did shift when he evolved, I didn't really make a big deal of it and it just sort of happened in a similar fashion as in the anime. It was the HMMRCIG that revived the concept the way you see here. I don't remember exactly what my thought process was, but I suspect I chose to bring it back in this form because of the upcoming Scyther/Charmeleon conflict - both the way that Charmeleon's significantly more aggressive personality fuels the start of it and the way it ends up resolving with Charmeleon's evolution to Charizard changing his feelings about Scyther again.

Obviously, in this version they don't literally become different people; the evolution can just have a significant effect on their way of thinking if their personality isn't very clearly established beforehand. That's an interesting enough idea and I'd probably keep it and try to do more with it, I think.

-------

After they ate, Mark suggested that they would go up to the Lake of Purity and catch some Pokémon. Charmander liked the idea, so they decided on that.

“Charmander, look around for wild Pokémon too,” Mark said, sending Charmander out of his Pokéball as he walked along the road to the Lake. Tall grass surrounded it in both directions; small bushes poked out of the grass here and there.

I wonder why Charmander was in his Pokéball in the first place. They discussed it together after eating, so clearly he was out of his ball then, and if he actually wanted to go into his ball after that, then it just becomes awfully rude of Mark to send him out again five minutes later.

“What’s that?” asked Charmander, pointing. A purple tail, curled up at the end, stuck out between the grass blades to their left.

“I think it’s a Rattata,” said Mark thoughtfully, “but I don’t really want one, they’re pretty puny…”

The Rattata seemingly took high offense to this comment, as it immediately leapt out of the grass, baring its fangs.

Mark had never really liked Rattata, but seeing one in real life, he found it kind of cool-looking. The shiny, bright purple fur of its back blended smoothly into the pure white of its belly, paws and head below the nose. Two long whiskers vibrated on either side of its face, sensing small changes in the air; shimmering red eyes full of determination stared hatefully at his face and then turned to Charmander with a low growl.

It's Describe the Pokémon time! You would not believe how many times it was drilled into the heads of everyone writing Pokémon fanfic in 2004 that we ought to be describing what all the Pokémon look like. I faithfully did this the first time any species of Pokémon appeared until, I think, chapter 37? This description in particular was one I put a lot of effort into, as it opens the first Pokémon battle of the fic and I was eager to show all my new readers that I could do cool descriptions too - I tried to make it flow by using cool verbs and everything. But fundamentally, the point was just to tell you what a Rattata looks like, because that's what you're supposed to do.

By the time chapter 37 came along, I'd realized that explaining what Pokémon look like to the reader is not generally necessary. Even if the reader doesn't know what a Rattata looks like, they don't need to know exactly what color what parts of its body are, and that doesn't tell them anything interesting about the Rattata, the way it might if I'd chosen to instead describe some individual traits that give the Rattata character or something relevant about how Mark perceives it or more vivid detail on what the Rattata is doing. Describing Pokémon like I'm trying to get a non-fan to draw it never made the story better, and to boot I hated doing it; I only did it because I'd been told you had to. Don't be like me, kids.

“Rattata!” the Pokémon cried in a high-pitched voice, leaping at Charmander, who quickly swished his tail forward into the purple rat’s face. Smacked sideways with a burn mark on its cheek, the Rattata let out a cry of pain, but nevertheless stood right up again and raced head-first towards Mark’s fire lizard.

“Dodge!” Mark shouted, suddenly now remembering that he was supposed to be giving his Pokémon orders. Charmander ran to the side, more of instinct than obedience. The Rattata followed angrily, and finally took a well-calculated leap at the lizard’s tail, biting it firmly.

“Charmander, try scratching it,” Mark suggested, Charmander already raising his claws. With an angry “Mander!”, he slashed the Rattata across the face.

“Raaat!” screeched the rat Pokémon, stepping a bit backwards as it started to wag its tail rhythmically. Charmander’s eyes followed the curled tail end; left, right, left, right…

“Don’t be distracted by it, it’s trying to catch you off guard!” Mark called. It was too late, though; the Rattata leapt at Charmander with a triumphant battle cry and tackled him to the ground. Growling, Charmander slammed his tail flame into the Rattata’s face again; he was still too inexperienced to use proper fire attacks, but the fire on his tail tip was always there. The rat Pokémon screamed in pain, but then retreated into the tall grass.

Mark shrugged. “Well, I didn’t want to catch it, anyway. At least, you did great, Charmander.”

He said the last words in an attempt to sound cheerful, but he couldn’t help thinking that his own part in this battle wasn’t big.

This battle is leaps and bounds better in the IALCOTN, where there's just so much more character in it, both from Mark and Charmander, while making the same point about Mark feeling awkwardly useless in his first battle. Here, it's fairly dull, I think, just Charmander and Rattata exchanging some attacks - but of course, it's still a huge improvement upon the previous versions. Here's what this battle looked like in the UMR:

They kept walking for a while. Then Mark saw a pokémon – a Rattata.

“Charmander, go! Scratch!”

Charmander raced at the Rattata and scratched it three times. Rattata countered with a Tackle.

“Charmander, just keep scratching until you win!”

“Charmander! Charmander! Char-man-der!” Charmander said as he scratched Rattata all over. The Rattata tried to do something but without success, and ended up just lying there, fainted.

“That was easy!” said Mark and they went on.

-------

When they arrived at the Lake of Purity, they found that it was crowded by tourists and trainers. Pokémon battles were going on all around; noisy Pokémon cries and their trainers’ shouts filled the air.

A huge tourist information sign was positioned near the lake itself. Mark walked up to it, recalling Charmander into his Pokéball in fear of somebody tripping over him or something.

Man, always with the recalling him. Was I trying to get rid of him when I could so I wouldn't have to write him reacting to things or something? I could've at least written it like it wasn't Mark's unilateral decision.

The sign told some useless facts about the Lake of Purity, like its size and how there were no rivers in or out of it – and then, the legend behind its purity, which was the only thing Mark was really interested in on it.

It was far longer than it had to be; it was basically an extremely dramatic description of how Suicune had saved the city, which was small then, by cleaning the lake and banishing the Gyarados that terrorized it. Since then, Suicune had raced all the way from Johto to purify the lake every night.

Mark realized that he had an extremely broad grin on his face and quickly told it to look normal. He looked back at the text. Below the legend, there were a few words that seemed especially directed at him:

This is cute and relatable. Mark being genuinely excited about legendaries is good. Back in the UMR he just said "That's interesting" and moved on.

WARNING: Legendary Pokémon possess power that no human could dream of and should never be attacked, provoked or even approached. Travelers are advised to leave the Lake before nightfall.

The warning, of course, wasn’t likely to convince many foolish people like Mark that trying to see Suicune wasn’t worth the risk. Much more effective, however, were the “Missing” reports below, telling the reader of people who had seemingly just vanished into thin air near the Lake of Purity at nighttime, the only trace being a bit of red on the dried grass blades on the bank the next day.

Mark quickly decided he could just see Suicune sometime later and turned away from the sign. The crowd was thinning, so he had some space now. Mark threw Charmander’s Pokéball to the ground and it popped open, releasing Charmander in a shower of red light before bouncing right back into his hand.

“Should we go into the tall grass?” Charmander asked, pointing at a patch of grass near the left side of the lake.

“No, I think we should try in the trees over there,” said Mark, looking towards the right. Charmander shrugged.

They walked over to the trees and Mark picked up a small rock. Not bothering to aim very carefully, he threw it towards the nearest tree-top. Disappearing into the denseness of leaves and branches, the rock apparently angered one of the inhabitants of the tree; an annoyed chirp of “Pidgeoooott!” was heard as a streak of brown and crème shot upwards and then dived down towards Charmander.

“Uh oh,” Mark muttered before issuing his command: “Charmander, dodge!”

The fire lizard attempted to duck, but the bird Pokémon grabbed him with its talons and took off into the sky.

“Hey!” Mark shouted. “Let go of my Charmander!”

The Pidgeotto grinned devilishly and flew over the lake, threatening in very clear sign language to drop the petrified Fire Pokémon into the water.

Mark knew that the pigeon wouldn’t dare breaking the Agreement by murdering a trainer’s Pokémon, but he didn’t like being taunted in this way at all. His hand moved towards Charmander’s ball.

“Pidgeotto,” he announced loudly, “come back here and face me like a Pokémon!”

The Pidgeotto made a rude sign at him, at the same time emphasizing its false threat by releasing one claw off Charmander, who winced.

I have no idea how Pidgeotto could possibly be making any kind of rude sign while flying and holding a Charmander and only lifting one claw.

“You asked for it,” Mark sighed, holding out the Pokéball and recalling Charmander into it before sending him back out with both feet on the ground. The Pidgeotto dived at Charmander again, but the lizard took both Mark and his opponent by surprise when he opened his mouth and released a cloud of silky flames which engulfed the unsuspecting bird Pokémon before it managed to turn. The pigeon’s scream of pain died down quickly as it fell to the ground with a thump, scorched black.

“Whoa, nice Ember,” Mark congratulated his Pokémon. “Good job, Charmander. Only too bad I didn’t get to catch it.”

“Sorry,” said Charmander apologetically, sounding somewhat confused at the same time. “I didn’t even know I could do that…”

“Yeah, seems like you’ve reached level seven,” Mark explained. “Charmander learn Ember around that point.”

Another wild encounter that was vastly improved in the IALCOTN, primarily by Mark actually freaking out when this Pidgeotto threatens to drop Charmander into the lake instead of breezily deciding obviously this is an empty threat because this Pidgeotto would never break the Agreement and then acting like he wasn't the rude one for throwing a rock at the Pidgeotto while it was minding its own business in its nest. (In the IALCOTN he just bumps into the tree by accident.)

Pre-HMMRCIG, this encounter took place after Mark catches Sandshrew and just consisted of a couple of attacks being exchanged. It's quite possible I moved it earlier just to get Charmander to level 7, because... in the previous revisions, Charmander somehow gained two levels fighting that one Rattata. And when I say he gained two levels fighting that one Rattata, I don't mean implicitly because he was stated to be level 5 and then learned Ember, I mean this is literally a line at the end of chapter three of the UMR:

“Level seven? That’s two levels against one Rattata. Seems incredible... anyway, we’ll need to train a lot to beat that legendary pokémon gym leader.”

It's not too bad as a wild Pokémon battle, though, all in all; the Pokémon aren't just exchanging moves, the wild one has a bit of a personality to it, the environment comes into play, and while it doesn't happen here, in the IALCOTN it's actually an emotionally intense moment for the characters. All in all, pretty likely to keep this bit in any later revisions.

“Hey, look,” said Charmander, pointing. A yellow armadillo Pokémon with shiny scales was watching them curiously from a safe distance.

“Cool, a Sandshrew,” Mark said, his expression brightening up. “Ground types are always useful, I’m going to try and catch it. Charmander, attack!”

They ran towards the Sandshrew. It curled up into a tight ball from instinct before the jet of flames Charmander fired from his mouth reached it, and the tough scales mostly repelled the heat. It showed no intentions of uncurling afterwards.

“I guess I’ll have to resort right to the ball now,” said Mark, rather loudly in order for the Sandshrew to hear him well, and then took out a Pokéball. He paused, waiting for reactions, but when there were none, he hurled the ball at the armadillo Pokémon.

The sphere hit the yellow, scaly ball, opened around the middle and the Sandshrew was transformed into pure energy before being drawn into the ball in a beam of red light.

The ball fell to the ground. First it was still, then the button glowed blue as the ball slowly started rocking to the sides. Mark watched it intensely, clenching his fists automatically as to telepathically prevent the ball from opening again. Gradually, the ball slowed down as the blue light on the button was fading…

The ball suddenly took a sharp twitch, its two halves separating again as Mark disappointedly watched the Sandshrew materialize on the ground. The armadillo Pokémon growled unsurely, realizing that just curling up and waiting was the worse option.

“Ember!” Mark ordered. Immediately, Charmander leapt forward and blasted a jet of flames from his mouth, which hit the Sandshrew before it managed to curl up again. Screaming, the Pokémon stumbled backwards and fell over.

“Let’s see how well you break out of Pokéballs after that,” Mark said, taking out a second ball and throwing it. As it hit the Sandshrew, the Pokémon was absorbed into the ball in the form of red energy before the two halves of the Pokéball closed tightly.

The ball fell to the ground and for the second time, Mark watched the button light up as the ball wobbled harshly in the grass. After a few seconds of fighting between the armadillo and the metallic sphere, the ball claimed victory; the blue light faded away and the Pokéball stilled with a ping, confirming Mark’s first Pokémon capture.

Some more Mark not actually acting like someone who sees Pokémon as people. Sandshrew is just a target to be acquired, and the fact he's obviously afraid and hiding doesn't really register, even though Mark clearly has time to think about it here and already went through the whole ordeal with Eevee. I really hadn't noticed before how wildly inconsistent I managed to be in this; Mark just flits randomly between two very different states.

This is yet another thing significantly improved in the IALCOTN, though not quite as much as I'd have liked. There, Mark and Charmander are both shaken after the Pidgeotto ordeal, but when Mark dejectedly suggests maybe they should just go home, Charmander adamantly refuses, wrenches out of his arms to look for more Pokémon, and takes out his frustration by going all out against Sandshrew (actual character!). Mark feels pretty bad watching him beat Sandshrew up, but figures he'll have to get used to it; after catching him, he then immediately sends him out to heal him and, when Sandshrew is distinctly apathetic, sheepishly asks if he doesn't mind being captured. It probably works reasonably as an inexperienced kid who just knows this is how Pokémon training is supposed to work thing, but today I'd make him more hesitant immediately - Sandshrew didn't actually fight back at all there, and with all the guilt he was feeling watching the fight, I really feel he ought to be worrying about whether Sandshrew is actually okay with this the moment the ball stills, even if he thinks this is just how it's supposed to work.

“Wow,” Mark breathed after a few seconds of silence, walking slowly towards the Pokéball and picking it up. The smooth, cold surface of the metallic sphere was wet, the grass it lay in still being covered in water after the earlier downpour. Mark got a creepy feeling when touching it; he actually felt that there was a Pokémon inside it.

He slowly took out his Pokédex and pointed the scanner at the Pokéball. Pressing a button, the Pokédex started speaking:

“Sandshrew – mouse Pokémon. It likes curling up into a ball for protection; its rock-hard scales can repel almost any physical attack. It is also an extremely fast digger.”

Again, the Pokédex offered Mark the option of viewing the Pokémon’s stats. This time he chose ‘Yes’. The screen immediately showed detailed information about his new partner; it was a young male, level nine; it even announced that he had a careful nature.

“Sandshrew, go!” he shouted, tossing the ball forward. It burst open as it hit the ground and bounced back into his hand as his newly-captured Ground Pokémon formed from a red beam where the ball had landed.

“Shrew?” asked the Pokémon, confused, scratching its head. Mark was going to introduce him to Charmander when he felt a finger tap his shoulder.

“Hey,” said a voice. He jumped, turning around. Sandshrew and Charmander looked around too.

It was a girl, probably around his age. Her most attention-catching feature was her long, blue hair; at the moment she had it tied in two weird ponytails which somehow stuck forward and outwards from her face. Her face looked rather plain, although she had an annoyed expression Mark sincerely hoped he had no part in. A dark blue sweater was visible beneath a white jacket; white shorts with an old-looking Pokéball belt covered her otherwise bare legs down to the knees.

“What are you staring at me for?” asked the girl, rather rudely. Mark felt idiotic.

Aaaaand it's May! I've got to admit, I still enjoy the fact her first proper line is her snapping at Mark for staring at her for the duration of the obligatory descriptive paragraph.

You may note the description there just sounds like in-game Kris; that would be because I didn't decide to give her a redesign to be slightly more distinct until chapter 7.

“Erm… what was it you wanted?”

“A Pokémon battle,” said the girl like it was the most obvious thing in the world, plucking one of the two balls from her belt. Mark felt rather confident; he had a level nine Pokémon after all.

Wow, a level nine Pokémon who's still injured after you just captured him two minutes ago, whom you still haven't actually talked to at all. You're going to use him in this battle? Really, Mark?

“Two on two?” Mark questioned, nodding towards his companions.

“I’d prefer one on one, actually,” said the girl, smiling the oddest smile Mark had ever seen. On her mouth’s behalf, it was a normal smile, but her eyes had a glint of something between evilness, confidence and the kind of glint he usually got when he thought about Legendary Pokémon.

Wow, evilness. Tone it down, fourteen-year-old me. (She also smiles evilly in the UMR, although it's a little later during the battle, but not in the original.)

This totally makes it sound like she was just supposed to be the obligatory rival character who's evil!! so that the main character can be more justified in hating them, but obviously, I'd already written 30+ chapters of the original before I even wrote the UMR line, so I knew perfectly well that May was going to be his flawed, edgy but ultimately well-intentioned traveling companion. Maybe it was just my vocabulary failing to come up with a better description of May looking like she's going to wipe the floor with this random kid and it's going to be great.

“Hey, wait,” said Mark, looking at Charmander and Sandshrew, “this isn’t fair. You’ve seen both of my Pokémon, but I haven’t seen either of yours.”

“Fine with me,” said the girl, shrugging, as she grabbed her two Pokéballs, maximized them into either hand and threw them both to the ground. Two Pokémon formed in a flash of red light.

One was a huge butterfly, with a wingspan of around one meter. Its body was dark blue with a tint of purple; two bright red, compound eyes almost covered the top of the head, but the mouth was light blue with two miniscule fangs in it. In the same shade of light blue were two tiny arms and long feet. Broad, silkily whitish-transparent wings fluttered in the breeze; a fine system of dark veins covered their delicate surface.

The other Pokémon was a giant, metallic vulture; it stood considerably taller than its trainer on two narrow, yet powerful-looking legs. Talons that looked like they could crush bones to dust with little effort dug into the ground. It all shone in various shades of gray except for the bright red, peculiar, sword-like wing feathers. A long, sharp beak extended from its pointed head.

Mark felt even more confident seeing the girl’s Pokémon. Both her Butterfree and Skarmory were vulnerable to fire attacks, so Charmander should beat whichever Pokémon she chose.

I like this cute overconfidence based on types, though it may be a little over the top.

“Sandshrew, come back,” he said, holding out Sandshrew’s Pokéball and pressing the button. A red beam shot out of it, hitting the armadillo so that he dissolved into red light, and shot back into the ball.

The girl examined Charmander, and not taking her eyes off him, she took out one of her Pokéballs and returned her Butterfree into it. The two Pokémon left took their places and nodded towards each other.

“Skarmory, fly up!” commanded the girl loudly, suddenly speaking very fast and basically in a completely different tone of voice.

“Skaaaa!” screeched the vulture in a high-pitched, raspy voice before it clumsily took off from the ground. As it ascended, it gained better control of its flight and then rather gracefully circled above its trainer’s head, watching Charmander.

“Man, are you slow?” said the girl impatiently. “Stop staring at Skarmory like that.”

On one level I'm thinking he wasn't even staring that long, but on another level I'm just incredibly tickled at May being so firmly insistent that description is not in fact a free action. I'm pretty confident some of this was just me making jabs at these paragraphs of description I didn't really want to be writing.

Mark blushed, envying the girl of being able to focus properly on the battle; he was too fascinated by the Pokémon themselves to concentrate.

“Uh, Ember!”

Before Charmander could do anything, the girl grinned devilishly. “I doubt anything less than a Flamethrower is going to hit Skarmory up there, you know.”

Mark slapped his forehead and took a deep breath. Why couldn’t he just think for once? That girl had probably paid more attention in each Battling Strategies class than he had ever done counting all of them together.

“Skarmory, peck it and then pull up, quickly!” the girl ordered. The steel bird obeyed instantly, swooping down at the fire lizard. Charmander automatically released a small cloud of flames from his mouth, but the Skarmory dodged the fire skillfully without much trouble and then jabbed its long beak into Charmander’s stomach before shooting upwards again. The lizard tumbled over, almost setting fire to the grass but quickly stomping on it to put it out as he rose up again with difficulty.

“No, wait, Charmander – try lying low, and then the Skarmory can’t get to you without crashing!” said Mark, getting a strategic idea. The girl smiled triumphantly as Charmander crouched down.

“I hope you will remember from now on that you should always take into account the possibility of TM moves,” she announced before ordering in the Pokémon battle voice: “Swift!”

“Ska-a-a!” the steel vulture cried, flying high above Charmander and releasing a flurry of small, sharp metallic feathers from its body. Charmander was bombarded by them, getting cuts all over his back. Moaning, the lizard attempted to stand up, but failed. Mark felt terribly sorry for him, but he found a certain determination that made him want to at least try as hard as he could in his first trainer battle.

“I can keep this up for however long you like,” said the girl calmly as her Skarmory released another blast of razor-sharp feathers. “You can just as well give up.”

Mark shook his head, not liking this girl at all.

The girl sighed, rolling her eyes. “Another Swift, then.”

Her Skarmory nodded loyally, preparing to shake off more steel feathers. Mark opened his mouth, just to say something, got a sudden idea and blurted out as quickly as he could:

“Melt them!”

Charmander used his last strength to lift his head; he spewed a cloud of flames upwards, enveloping the feathers, and for a moment, it seemed like Mark’s plan was working.

Then, white-hot, but not melted, the feathers all fell through the fire, visibly tearing up Charmander’s flesh like knives. He cringed in pain; Mark looked down, unable to watch what terrible torturing he was putting his friend through.

This is incredibly awkwardly written, but man, this is so me. Hi I am Butterfree and I like to write about PAIN AND TORTURE.

“You think a small Charmander’s Ember is hot enough to melt Skarmory feathers?” asked the girl, raising her right eyebrow. “Man, you need to study.”

No words were necessary; Mark just silently recalled the badly cut Charmander into his Pokéball, accepting defeat.

“Well – anyway, I’ve got loads of training to do now, I’m planning to challenge the Gym leader tomorrow…” said the girl, recalling her Skarmory – as Mark noted especially – without any compliments at all. She looked at him as if wondering if it would be appropriate to say goodbye, but then just turned swiftly around and hurried towards the city.

“What level is that Skarmory of yours, anyway?” Mark called after her.

“Seven,” she shouted back, disappearing behind a hill.

Mark stared, feeling more than ever that he was completely lousy.

May's first appearance is not that bad, considering! She's confident and rude and condescending, way more competent than Mark and makes him feel stupid, but it also hints delightfully at her social awkwardness, with that little bit about her appearing to be wondering if it'd be appropriate to say goodbye. I didn't remember that being in here at all, but I'm extremely tickled it was.

That having been said, her competence here is largely just down to the fact she's got a Skarmory and she taught him a TM. Mark actually comes up with an attempt at a strategy (making Charmander lie down low enough for Skarmory to be unable to get to him without landing); May just has an inherent advantage because of the Pokémon she has. That's a bit backwards. In general I wasn't great at actually showing May using strategy, and I guess this is the first example of that.

In the IALCOTN, this battle happens a bit earlier (before the Pidgeotto encounter, so before Charmander even learns Ember), and there's a stronger sense that Mark just doesn't really know what he's doing at all - he tells Charmander to "Well, do something?" May clearly starts out trying to go easy on him, but then when Charmander gets slightly creative and smacks Skarmory with his tail flame, she stops that, reverts to Swift and then pretty much immediately tells Mark he might as well forfeit because Charmander isn't going to be able to hurt Skarmory. Although it's not a huge change, I think it makes it work out a lot better - she still doesn't show much actual strategy, but there's a clearer sense that he's just way beneath her level to the point she doesn't have to really try.

Either way, Mark loses his first trainer battle spectacularly and feels completely useless, which I like. Can you believe that before the HMMRCIG, Mark actually won this battle? There's a weird thought.

It's pretty glaringly hypocritical of Mark to recall Charmander without saying anything and then five seconds later make special note of how May also doesn't say anything before recalling Skarmory. Sadly I'm not sure that was intentional.

He sent out Charmander, who was still bleeding, and took one of the Potion bottles from his bag. Carefully, he sprayed it on the lizard’s scratched skin, muttering constantly about how extremely sorry he was. The wounds slowly started to close right before his eyes.

“This feels good,” Charmander said in relief. “Kinda tickling, but cooling and pain-easing. And pain is an inevitable result of any battling, so don’t worry about it.”

After a few more seconds, there were barely any traces of the cuts left. Mark looked up to find that he was alone with Charmander.

The clouds in the west were blood red, but it quickly faded into the purple and finally dark blue of the evening sky.

I shouldn’t be here, Mark immediately thought, glancing at the missing reports on the tourist information sign and imagining his photo and name on it. Panicking, he looked at the lake.

The air chilled as a graceful, dark blue shadow rushed out from the forest to the right. The elegant, catlike shape stopped at the bank of the lake, to be illuminated by the moonlight which now flowed out after a cloud passed above.

If it's already dark enough for the moonlight to be significant, Mark definitely should have noticed the sun was setting a while ago.

The head, which now was to Mark’s horror staring straight at him, belonged to a darkish blue feline. White, diamond-shaped spots covered the slender body. A crown-like crystal shape grew backwards out of its head. Two long, pearly white ribbons floated in mid-air by its sides, rippling gracefully like the ocean’s waves. A long purple cloak which appeared to sprout from the base of its neck moved in similar soft waves.

“Suicune,” Mark whispered, forgetting all about the missing reports; all that mattered was that he was right now looking at a Legendary with his own eyes. By his side, Charmander also stared, stunned, at the Legendary Pokémon.

That one moment seemed to last for hours. Then Suicune did what Mark could’ve sworn was a small bow or nod, and then a white paw carefully touched the water’s surface. Instantly, Mark saw the purification spread out with the ripples. As suddenly as it had come, the graceful Pokémon sped back into the woods.

At that exact moment, a much more terrifying shape rose from the lake.

A dark blue, scaly monster or dragon, rising high above them, staring at Mark with terrifying, red eyes with the whites visible all around them, and a gaping, fanged mouth…

The Gyarados’ roar drowned Mark and Charmander’s screams, but as Mark was preparing to turn away, he quite clearly heard English coming from the monster:

“No! Don’t leave!”

The Gyarados’ voice sounded desperate, almost terrified.

“You – you can speak human?” Mark croaked.

“Yes, but that’s irrelevant. What matters is that you stay here, understand?”

Mark slowly came a few steps forward, blindly obeying the beast without thinking about the possible consequences.

“No, don’t come so near.”

He stopped, confused.

“Step back!” the Gyarados ordered.

“Why?” Mark asked, puzzled and terrified at the same time.

“DON’T TEMPT ME!” the monster hissed.

Figuring that at least he could barely be worse off that way, Mark took three steps backwards.

“Tempt you how?”

“I don’t want to lose you like the others before I even started explaining myself.”

“What others?” Mark asked, nevertheless having a strong feeling about who they were. The Gyarados didn’t answer; just jerked its head towards the tourist information sign with a pained expression. Mark felt sick.

“Look, that doesn’t matter now. The only thing that matters is getting me out of this place.”

“What…”

“I need to get out of Suicune’s reach!”

“Suicune’s?”

“SUICUNE IS A DAMN MURDERER!”

That's a bit dramatic, Gyarados. Suicune clearly hasn't killed you yet.

Mark was convinced that this Gyarados belonged in an insane asylum. “I don’t understand…”

“It doesn’t matter! What you do is catch me and get me to a Pokémon center. You must not tell anybody where you found me. You must never mention what happened here to anybody. If you just do that, I will serve you with all my might forever. Agreed?”

“But…”

“There’s no time for questions!” the Gyarados hissed. “Just do it!”

Mark backed away.

“PLEASE!” The giant sea monster lowered its head to the bank with a few odd coughs, then looked up again, its eyes full of water. “Please…”

Mark stared open-mouthed at this turn of events. They were likely to be crocodile tears, of course, but the desperate tone in the Gyarados’ voice throughout the conversation made them look a lot more real.

After all, it could barely hurt…

“O – okay…” Mark said doubtfully, taking out a Pokéball and throwing it as well as he could at the sea serpent’s body. All of its gigantic shape was transformed into bright red energy which was then sucked into the ball as it bounced back to land on the bank. The ball didn’t wobble; the monster wasn’t showing any resistance at all. Instead the button’s blue glow immediately faded away and the ball pinged.

At this point I'd already come up with the Chosen plot, though I didn't actually get there in the UMR - Spirit's first appearance would've been in chapter 37, but I started the HMMRCIG after chapter 36 (figuring, extremely optimistically, that I could just do this rewrite real quick and it'd probably only be a few months before I'd get back to this chapter that was going to blow everyone's minds, right). I'm not entirely sure why I decided to make the Chosen speak human in the HMMRCIG - it may have literally been just a "let's make them more special!" thing - but it was intended from the start as part of that. I don't think there's any actual good reason it ought to be a thing, though, soooo I expect I'll ditch it in the next revision. The IALCOTN didn't, probably because I had yet to work out exactly what I was going to do with the Chosen so I wasn't sure if I'd end up having something important hinge on it.

Prior to the HMMRCIG, Gyarados just burst out of the water after Suicune appeared, Mark was immediately determined to capture the legendary Gyarados that disappeared, and then he simply battled him and captured him after weakening him normally (though he first had to catch Gyarados's attention by calling him a Magikarp and asking if he'd learned Tackle yet). Charmander actually evolved after this battle. The legend of the lake involved the Gyarados terrorizing the Pokémon of the lake, which scared all the fish away from the human fishermen, the humans dumping poison into the lake in the hope of getting rid of him, and then Suicune starting to clean the lake after a woman prayed for help, which resulted in the Gyarados mysteriously disappearing. Before I came up with the Chosen, I assumed Suicune had simply chosen to throw Gyarados under the bus for the sake of all the other life in the lake, which was pretty reasonable of him, but Gyarados (who was just a regular Gyarados and hadn't killed any humans) grew to despise him because Suicune persistently refused to actually talk to him when he kept begging him to stop cleaning the lake.

He carefully walked over to the ball like the Gyarados could suddenly burst out of it, then bent down and had to collect his courage before touching it.

He turned around, to Charmander.

“Incredible, isn’t it, how such a large Pokémon can fit into such a small ball?”

Charmander looked puzzled. “Uh, now that you mention it,” he answered, “yeah, it’s kind of weird. Why are you suddenly asking about that?”

“It’s just…” Mark paused, trying to think of the right words for how weird he felt knowing he was holding a huge monster in his hands. “Oh, let’s just go down and get him to a Pokémon center. Or her? Wait…”

He took his Pokédex out of the side pocket of his pack and pointed it at the Pokéball.

“Gyarados – atrocious Pokémon. Evolving from the weak Magikarp, Gyarados are known to sink ships on occasions. They are among the Pokémon that have dragon-like powers but do not have the genetical structure of a true Dragon Pokémon.”

The statistics appeared on the screen upon Mark’s command.

“OK, it’s a he, at least. Level 20… I’ll probably crush the Cleanwater City Gym with him…”

“Are you sure? The guy uses Legendary Pokémon, remember…”

Mark shrugged. “Perhaps. But Gyarados is a strong Pokémon, and… holy Miltank!”

“What?” asked Charmander, seeing that what shocked Mark so much was something the Pokédex said, and he wasn’t tall enough to see the screen.

“Just look at those stats! They’re much higher than what an average Gyarados is supposed to have. And look at this picture of a typical Gyarados – if you compare the color of the armor to the one I just caught, mine is much darker…”

“Odd,” said Charmander simply, not that interested. “Shouldn’t we go down to town and get Gyarados healed like he asked?”

Mark just shrugged, still with his mind on Gyarados’ odd qualities.

Mark's fourth Pokémon: a sparkly-special legendary extra-powerful Gyarados, whom... he also rescues, in a slightly less direct manner.

This chapter is at least pretty eventful once we get past the tedious opening. Mark and Charmander finally go out and do some actual Pokémon training; Mark catches Sandshrew; Mark battles a trainer who will be one of the main characters (and loses badly); Mark actually sees a legendary; and a frantic, desperate Gyarados who's murdered multiple people persuades him to capture him as well, ranting about how Suicune is a murderer. As usual none of this is terribly well executed, but there's some sense of intrigue with what's up with this Gyarados and why he's got such a beef with Suicune, and although the characterization of Mark is all over the place here, I do like that the chapter tries to make a point of him not being that great at this and feeling pretty inadequate.

The HMMRCIG's change to Gyarados begging Mark to just take him away from Suicune definitely made this chapter significantly more interesting, I think, but there's a fair bit of fridge logic here. Are we really to believe that literally everyone who's been by the lake at sunset has ended up approaching Gyarados and getting eaten, rather than just running for it or listening while staying a safe distance away? (After all, one would expect that if any of them had made it back to town and said hey, Suicune ignored me completely but there was this Gyarados yelling at me in perfect English, the information sign wouldn't still be assuming the Gyarados had been banished and Suicune killed those trainers.) Does it really make sense that Gyarados has repeatedly lost control of himself and chomped down on trainers who could've helped him - does he not have the ability to delay gratification just for the time it would take them to catch him in a Pokéball and bring him back to town? Why doesn't he explain himself at least slightly better than this, such as by mentioning that he's starving and needs food? I'd definitely be fiddling with this in the next revision.

Chapter six of the IALCOTN, equivalent to this one, was the last chapter I completed of that version before I shifted my focus entirely towards finishing the ILCOE, so from this point on I won't be able to use that as a point of comparison. It's a shame; a lot of the IALCOTN's changes were really on-point, and it's been fun to compare things like how much more solid my grasp of characterization was in the IALCOTN. But this is as far as I got with that, and while I'll definitely remark on some of the things I'd planned to do in the IALCOTN later, this is our final goodbye to that version.

This was also the last chapter I wrote of the HMMRCIG before I started the YAR, although I don't have the original HMMRCIG versions of this chapter or the last. And the ILCOE was started after chapter six of the YAR, so after next chapter, it'll just be the ILCOE, the UMR and the original. This may mean I comment more on how things went pre-HMMRCIG, which I'm sure will be fun because the pre-HMMRCIG was pretty batshit sometimes (a lot of the time).


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