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 53: Away

Shortly before midnight on March 31st 2010, two weeks after chapter 52, I published chapter 53... or so it appeared. In fact, what I posted was an April Fools' Day joke chapter, where Mark and May get together, Mew appears to conveniently resolve the plot (and Chaletwo's daddy issues), and instead of Taylor being murdered, he is converted to the side of good by the throb of Mark and May's true love. I already explained lengthily on the Quest Blog how this joke came about and the process of writing it, so I'll refrain from retelling all that. (However, I did do a special commentary on the fake chapter as if it were real, initially released in place of this commentary and starting out identical to it, in honour of the original fake chapter, for your amusement.)

By the time I posted the fake chapter, I had actually already finished the real chapter; I held it back for several days for the sake of the joke, which made it the first chapter of the fic ever to be withheld after being finished to my satisfaction. I had been looking forward to this one for a really, really, really long time, and the joke only made it more fun to work on. Thus, the real chapter was put up the next day.

The opportunity for this joke here was amazing, and I still love that joke chapter in all its horrendousness. However, afterwards I usually advise people to read the real chapter before they read the joke chapter, because the mood whiplash is stark, and I worry that having just read the joke version may just entirely throw off the impact of the incredibly dark and depressing real chapter, or throw it into relief that makes the darkness just seem absurd and comical too. What was it like for those of you who read the joke chapter first back then?

He caught up with May just as she was exiting the Pokémon Center; apparently she’d finished healing her Pokémon already in the time it took for him to get out. For some reason she was also holding both of their backpacks; she must have retrieved them at the trainer lodge in the meantime.

“Let’s just go,” she said without greeting him or looking him in the eye, her voice quiet as she handed him his own bag. “I don’t want to be here when the reporters start looking for me.”

I like her automatic, invisible assumption that they're both going. She knew Mark was going to come after her and want to come with her, and although she doesn't want to say she wants his company, she clearly did, if she bothered to get his backpack as well.

She was obviously upset; Mark wasn’t quite sure what to say to her and just followed behind her as she walked towards the outside gate, hurriedly flipping his nametag over to show his photo before they went through. The gatekeeper woman squinted at them as they passed; a television inside the guard booth was showing Taylor happily shaking hands with the very reluctant-looking Champion of the Old-Timers’ League.

That's it, there's Alexander's only appearance in the actual ILCOE. Clearly he is the most important character worthy of mention in the chapter plan.

(Also, look at Taylor there just going "Yay! I won!")

“Hey,” the woman called after May, leaning out of the booth, but she quickened her pace without answering and Mark had to sprint to catch up with her.

“You did great, you know,” Mark tried as May showed no signs of being about to stop; they seemed to be heading towards the mountains where they usually trained.

“No, I didn’t,” May responded irritably without looking at him. “I screwed up with Skarmory. Roosting was a terrible idea when it was using a Fighting move, but I wasn’t thinking. And Feraligatr can’t even learn Haze. I shouldn’t have believed it until I saw it.”

May's being more down on herself than she should be, with the benefit of hindsight. The Skarmory thing was genuinely a mistake, but Taylor's clones repeatedly used moves their normal counterparts wouldn't know; there's absolutely no reason Haze couldn't have been one of them.

Mark didn’t know quite how to respond to that. “Well…”

“But it’s not like it mattered anyway, because even if I’d done everything perfectly, Mewtwo² would still just have thrown Tyranitar around like a bloody bouncing ball and there’s nothing I could’ve done about it, so either way I never could have won.”

May using 'bloody' yet again.

“I’m sure everybody out there thinks of you as the real Champion,” Mark said. “I mean, Taylor basically cheated. Everybody knows that.”

“If they think that, they’re wrong!” May said fiercely, turning around. “There is no second place in a knockout tournament. Any one of the trainers he beat could be better than me. The fact I happened to be the last one to battle him is meaningless, you understand? God, learn some basic math.”

She turned quickly around again and marched on; Mark hurried to keep up with her and quietly decided not to try to start another conversation.

May's right about knockout tournaments; if chance had matched her against Taylor in one of the earlier rounds, she would've been knocked out earlier and somebody like Robin might have been his finals opponent instead. People acting like knockout tournaments have a meaningful second place has been something of a pet peeve of mine since I was a kid (this was one of the reasons I made the Favorite Pokémon Picker, after seeing another tool with the same core concept that just put the last nine Pokémon you eliminated in places 2-10 after you'd found your top favorite), and it's definitely also something May would've thought about and be peeved by.

This is one of my favorite scenes in the fic. May sets herself such high standards and tears herself down when she doesn't meet them, and it's probably never as clear as here, where she's already excoriating her own performance and viciously lashes out at Mark as he tries to tell her she did well. Characters lashing out in pointless, impotent anger obviously rooted in their own issues and self-loathing even though they try to pretend otherwise and blame whatever convenient scapegoat is at hand is somewhere in my top three favorite things in fiction; I just love it every time it happens and it's probably one of the fastest ways to get me interested and invested in a character.

This scene was spontaneous, and in fact I started writing it at the end of chapter 52, but then decided it was better off as the opening of chapter 53.

-------

May had stopped suddenly in a bit of an open area that Mark had guessed must be a spot she’d used sometime when they were training separately and announced they would camp there. He’d not felt like arguing.

Now, after they’d set up the tent, they were sitting around their campfire in silence. It was only the afternoon, but the approaching autumn was making the days get colder, and Mark was grateful for the fire. He’d rather be at the warm trainer lodge reading or drawing or watching TV, of course, but he couldn’t just leave May out here alone, and so he stayed, wondering restlessly if it would be horribly insensitive to send out his Pokémon to talk to them. (It probably would be.)

I love Mark just there, wanting to sit in solidarity with her, while she doesn't want to talk, but feeling like it'd be inappropriate to do anything.

He looked at her. She was staring fixedly into the flames, curled up with her arms wrapped around her knees to keep warm. Her expression was empty and faraway, devoid of any particular discernible emotions, but she still obviously felt like crap. He wished he could help her, somehow; it fleetingly occurred to him to give her a hug or something, but he couldn’t imagine she would appreciate the gesture.

This paragraph is where the fake chapter started going off the rails - instead of "it fleetingly occurred to him to give her a hug or something...", the fake chapter went "in the flickering firelight, she looked scared and vulnerable, and Mark felt a strange feeling rising in his chest, a longing to hold her and protect her", and from there it veered off into terrible romance writing 101, complete with May having "sapphire orbs". Since I wrote the fake chapter first, that means that was the paragraph I originally wrote, and this one is an edit of it. You're welcome.

He wondered idly what she was thinking. Was she ashamed? Hating Taylor? Blaming herself? Blaming everybody but herself?

That thought sparked something in his mind. “You’re not mad at Tyranitar, are you?” he asked warily.

She shook her head resentfully. “It’s not his fault Taylor had a bloody Psychic Pokémon that could affect Dark-types.”

Too bad Tyranitar's not here to hear this, eh?

He's effectively still in an idle, half-sleeping state in his ball, after being healed; he could in principle hear this, but he's just not on alert at this point, and humans conversing quietly would be something he'd be tuning out. (The fuzzy dream-thoughts that he's having probably involve beating himself up about not winning, wondering if he's weak after all, and how he can make May happy again.)

Mark nodded. Okay, so she was hating Taylor.

“What a cheat,” she went on, picking up a rock and tossing it angrily away. “Overpowered clones are just a nice challenge, but Mewtwo²? Why does he even bother having the other ones?”

Mark shrugged. There was silence.

“So... when’s the ferry tomorrow again?” he asked after several minutes.

“Two o’clock.”

“Shouldn’t we contact Alan and arrange a meet-up?”

“Yeah, we should.” May seemed somewhat cheered up by the suggestion and immediately reached over for her backpack; she shuffled around for her Pokégear for a moment before she found it. She pressed some buttons, and there was a loud dial tone; Mark presumed she’d set it to speaker.

“May?” came Alan’s voice after just a few beeps.

“Hi.” May actually smiled a little; calling Alan had clearly been a good idea.

I think this is mostly just a distraction. It's a little surprising May's immediately so enthusiastic about contacting Alan, though, given they parted on pretty unpleasant terms and surely there are plenty of reasons for her not to want to talk to that guy of all people right now. I guess maybe in-universe they've been talking occasionally offscreen and have been more friendly? But I'm pretty sure out-of-universe it'd just been a couple of years since chapter 42 at this point and I'd forgotten quite how poorly that ended.

You know who May should want to talk to here as a distraction? Spirit. I think I kind of dropped the ball on Spirit after the League; I got so used to her not being around thanks to her disqualification that I forgot to properly bring back her role as May's partner Pokémon. That's definitely something I'd like to do better.

“Hi, Alan.”

“Mark too? Oh, awesome. I was just going to call you guys, but I seem to have lost May’s number. Where to start? Well, first of all, I was watching your battle on TV earlier – you were great!”

Her smile faded abruptly; she didn’t reply.

Shouldn't it have been fairly predictable that he'd have been watching her battle, though, especially if they were on good enough terms for May to look forward to talking to him in the first place?

“May? I mean it – I’m in the Scorpio City Pokémon Center, and there were a bunch of people here watching when it was on. Everyone was rooting for you. You should’ve heard them all crying foul when Mewtwo²’s Psychic worked on Tyranitar, or the applause when he got up and seemed to be resisting it. Nurse Joy even came and turned off the television before the award ceremony, and people cheered. Everybody knows you should’ve won.”

“Can we please not talk about the battle now, okay?”

“What?” Alan sounded honestly confused. “Um, okay, I guess? Well, we found Rainteicune and explained it to him, so he’s caught and that’s all fine now. You, um, you got Polaryu all right, I trust?”

And that's Rainteicune dealt with, never to be mentioned again.

I guess Alan's not commenting on her yelling at Tyranitar because everyone really was distracted by the sheer brokenness of Mewtwo², and even if it made him wince at the time he primarily wants to be cheering her up after her loss right now, and maybe he feels bad about how they split up.

“Yeah,” Mark replied. “But May had to use a Master Ball, so we’ve only got one left now. Also Entei, sort of – it’s a long story.”

“Huh? Uh, you’ll tell me about that when we meet up, I guess. You were going to take the ferry, right?”

“It’s at two o’clock,” May said. “Dunno when it’ll be over there exactly – make an educated guess?”

“It’s arriving in Merville, right?”

“I was thinking, though,” Mark said, “since we sort of decided to go up to the Eastern Cliffs – the Color Dragons might be there – and through the Ouen Safari, maybe we should get off on the other side of Aquarium City, on Route 308. I think I heard it lets off passengers there too.”

“Okay by me,” Alan replied. “So I’ll just be waiting for you, then?”

“That’d be nice,” May said.

“Great. I’ll see you then, I suppose. I should probably get going.”

“Bye,” Mark called.

“Bye,” May said kind of half-heartedly. She looked at the Pokégear for a moment before she turned to put it back in her bag, and then she inexplicably sprung to her feet.

“Taylor!” she shouted, and for a moment Mark was sure she’d gone mad, but then somebody with very familiar dark red hair stepped into his field of vision from where he’d been obstructed by a rock.

The fake chapter also featured Taylor appearing suddenly at approximately the same time as here, which amused me greatly - it had the exact same setup as the real thing, but got derailed from there simply thanks to the characters suddenly being twisted out of character.

“Hey,” said Taylor, in a curious but altogether not unfriendly tone, walking towards them. “What are you doing here?”

“I want a rematch,” May said with cold determination, seeming bizarrely unsurprised that he had just appeared out of nowhere.

So, the reason Taylor is here, as we're going to learn a little later, is that May took them to Taylor's training spot (which she'd discovered by chance after she and Mark split up their training; I think I really should include an actual bit where May mentions this in one of the previous chapters to set this up, but I don't think I'd hashed out the details of this in time for that), hoping that he would return there so she could challenge him again. Hence, May's not surprised to see him here. When this chapter was originally published, though, Mark didn't seem at all surprised either, even though he explicitly had no idea where they were. Negrek pointed this out in a review, and I added the last clause there, but I don't think that quick fix was quite enough to make this seem natural.

May probably figured it wasn't all that likely Taylor would actually come back here, and knew it'd sound kind of pathetic to go there in the vague hope of getting a pointless rematch, so she didn't tell Mark what she was thinking. The reason he did come back to this spot is that he was being hounded and harassed by the public and paparazzi after exiting the stadium; he sent out Mewtwo² and had him teleport them here simply to get out of the crowd. (Mark should probably have momentarily felt Mewtwo²'s psychic presence before Taylor recalled him, shouldn't he, though. That's definitely something to add in.)

Taylor looked blankly back at her. “But I just beat you.”

May gritted her teeth. “I know that. I want a rematch. Same as before, except no Mewtwo². Just your other four clones against my team of six. Okay? You’ve healed, right?”

The other boy gave her a doubtful look. “But you know you don’t get to be Champion even if you...”

“Yes, I bloody know that!” May snapped. “Are you going to battle me or not?”

May's never particularly cared about the Champion title in itself; she just wants to prove to herself that she could beat his other clones. Taylor can't comprehend why someone would want such a rematch at all and is just very confused.

Taylor shrugged. “Uh, sure?” He paused. “But then you send out first. You’re the challenger.”

May nodded shortly and they each stepped back a bit to form a clear area between them. Mark made himself comfortable where he was, which gave him a decent view; though he wasn’t quite sure why she was bothering, it actually would be interesting to see if she could beat him with Mewtwo² out of the picture.

Yeah, Mark should really be more confused here by why Taylor is there and how May knew he would be here, rather than just casually preparing to watch this battle.

“Tyranitar, go!” May called after a moment of thought, and the dinosaur materialized in front of her with a powerful roar.

Taylor grinned, clearly not in any hurry to get out a Pokéball of his own. “I remember this guy,” he said. “You’ve got to admit, it was pretty funny when Mewtwo²...”

Tyranitar cut him off with a low, threatening growl as he took a few steps closer.

“Heh.” Taylor looked up at the towering figure of the Pokémon, taking a nervous step back. “Easy there.”

Mark wondered idly if Taylor had ever been this close to a large, real Pokémon that wasn’t mind-controlled by a Clone Ball in his life before. Tyranitar took another step towards him, and Taylor shuffled back so fast he tripped over a rock and fell onto his back; May seemed to be enjoying the spectacle immensely.

Taylor also falls onto his back in the fake chapter, albeit for very different reasons. I was having a lot of fun with these parallels.

“Get him off me!” Taylor yelled in a panic, crawling frantically backwards as Tyranitar continued to advance towards him. “Get him off me!”

“Fine,” May said, rolling her eyes. “Tyranitar, get back here.”

But Tyranitar didn’t get back there. He took one more step towards Taylor, who was screaming in terror by now, and another, and then lifted his foot high above the boy’s body.

May’s eyes widened, her hand fumbling for the Pokéball she’d already attached back to her necklace.

There was a sickening crack as Tyranitar’s foot thrust down through Taylor’s ribs, instantly silencing his scream. Dark blood trickled out from underneath his body, quickly turning into a puddle of red.

This very pivotal paragraph feels rather flat, which is unfortunate.

In the originally published version of the chapter, Tyranitar just stepped on him; then Negrek, who unlike me was dedicated enough to look up exactly how much force it should take to break human ribs, informed me that just the force of gravity on Tyranitar's weight should not be enough, so I edited to add some momentum.

At the bottom of the HMMRCIG document, there are a couple of snippets of scenes that I wrote way, way, way ahead of time, the first one being a version of Tyranitar killing Taylor that I probably put there in 2004 or 2005. It... sure is a thing:

“Tyranitar, what do you think you’re doing! Stop it! Tyranitar! TYRANITAR, NO!”

With a roar, the great dinosaur brought his huge foot down on Taylor’s body. A sickening crunch was heard as Taylor’s scream was suddenly silenced. All that was left on his face was a horrified, frozen stare.

Dark blood trickled out from under his body.

In just a split second, May’s face had lost all traces of the bad-tempered, cold-mannered girl that Mark had known her as for so long, instead replaced by the sheer wide-eyed terror of a child in a situation that she is not yet mature enough to handle. Her normally stone-cold eyes shone with fear and horror.

Mark saw tears forming in her eyes and silently running down her cheeks, and for a split second he was stricken by a strange urge to put his arms around her, help her, comfort her. But he couldn’t move, despite how horribly alone he suddenly felt. He felt how much he missed his parents and how nice it was when he was little to be able to crawl into his mother’s lap and be cared for.

The sound of Tyranitar ripping an arm off Taylor’s body and starting to chew on it snapped him back to reality. May looked away.

“Tyranitar, return,” she said in a hoarse, faint voice completely unlike her normal one, weakly reaching for a Pokéball at her belt and pointing it at the dinosaur while looking in the other direction.

Besides the Tyranitar completely ignoring May very obviously wanting him not to do this, there's the instant launch into two incredibly over-the-top melodramatic paragraphs about lost innocence, followed immediately by Tyranitar ripping off Taylor's arm and starting to eat it. Holy mood whiplash, Batman. I remember I wrote that there, and couldn't wait to get here in the actual story - but then long before I ever got here it'd become one of those bits of old writing that I knew was there at the bottom of the document but was just physically averse to rereading; I genuinely didn't even remember how it went after the first line at all before I looked at it again for this commentary. (In particular: in the Quest Blog post where I explained the origins of the idea for the fake chapter, I remembered the bit that inspired it just being some nebulous time that I was thinking about this scene - but no, actually rereading this, it was definitely that line about Mark's strange urge to hold May that made me go "Oh dear, this sounds kind of shippy, wouldn't it be hilarious if I made a joke chapter where this leads into terrible romance" - even the phrasing in the joke chapter is still pretty similar. But by the time I actually wrote the chapter, and the Quest Blog post, I hadn't actually reread this in so long that I didn't even remember that this was that particular iteration of the scene.)

The old version also obviously shares some phrasing with the real thing in the actual moment of the murder: the sickening crunch, Taylor's scream instantly silenced, dark blood trickling from underneath his body. That one's simply because these were words that I had churning away in my head all those years for this scene. I think part of why it ended up kind of flat is that I'd been thinking over these particular words for so long, and they carried so much mental weight for me, that I couldn't quite accurately judge their impact put in context anymore.

“Oh, God.” Mark looked away, trying to restart his brain and fight back his nausea. May was staring frozenly at Tyranitar, one hand still clutching her Pokéball necklace. The Pokémon looked over at her, like he was waiting for something.

“Wh... why would you...” she asked weakly.

There was a pause. “You said he should die,” Tyranitar said in something that sounded like genuine confusion. “You said to show him we’re...”

Mark stared at him in limp disbelief. Tyranitar lowered his head ever so slightly, looking at May. “You’re not happy?” he asked, his unpracticed, still-childish speech somehow making it worse.

I wish I'd made Tyranitar's speech more hesitant, made it sound more unpracticed; he seems to speak jarringly well here for the second time he speaks ever.

May told Tyranitar to come back up there - but not like she particularly meant it, and only when Taylor yelled at her about it. After everything May has said regarding Taylor, he was pretty firmly convinced that even if she was giving in to him now, really Taylor needed to die and she'd be glad if he was gone. Tragically, if May had actually told him again, more firmly, to stop and come back, he probably would've listened - but she just saw him ignoring the initial command and then tried to go for the Pokéball instead, which she didn't manage in time. None of this had to happen.

“You just murdered...” May covered her mouth and turned away as if she were about to throw up, but she didn’t; she just took a few shaky breaths and didn’t turn back around again. Still watching May carefully, Tyranitar lifted his foot and put it down beside Taylor’s body (Mark made every effort not to look at it but there it was and oh God).

“I don’t understand,” the Pokémon muttered after a moment. “I thought you’d be happy and then you wouldn’t be mad that I lost.”

May whirled back around to face him. “I’m not mad that you lost, okay?” she said, her voice unnervingly close to breaking. “It wasn’t your fault. It was just Mewtwo². That’s why I challenged him to a rem...”

Her voice died abruptly and she quickly turned her back to him again, her shoulders shaking. Tyranitar’s gaze stayed on her. “You said he should die so I...”

“Well, you can’t just kill people,” she said as she turned around yet again, an almost hysterical anger entering her voice now. “Do you have any idea what you’ve done? What kind of trouble we’re in?”

Tyranitar hung his head miserably but said nothing.

“We have to talk to the police,” Mark muttered numbly from where he was sitting.

“The police? We can’t talk to the police! What are we going to tell them? ‘My Tyranitar decided completely on his own to kill this guy I have every reason to have a grudge against and there was no way I could have stopped him even though I had his Pokéball’?”

Mark looked away, unable to answer.

“Or are they going to ask Tyranitar himself, and he’ll tell them I said he should die?” May paced off towards a nearby rock and leaned against it with one hand for a little while as she rubbed her forehead. Tyranitar glanced uncomfortably at Mark.

May finally turned back towards him. “Look, we have to get the hell away from here before somebody finds us here with the body, okay? Help me pack up the tent. We don’t want any evidence that we were here.”

On a normal day, it would have unnerved him how quickly she was planning a cover-up, but as it was, he just stood up and got to work, finding some strange comfort in being told what to do. Everything was back in their bags within minutes, and then it was just putting the fire out, throwing the half-burnt sticks off in different directions and covering the ground where it had been with loose gravel.

Half-burnt sticks lying around would totally be easy to find and suggest somebody was there, though, even if they're scattered.

I was enjoying writing May's reactions here and the progression of thoughts she goes through a lot, and it'd probably be fairly similar today. I also like Mark just sitting there completely numb while she freaks out and then just going along with her efforts to cover it up - that fatal passivity of his again, in its death throes.

May stared over the area for a moment and then nodded. “I think this is the best we can do,” she said quietly. Taylor’s body was still lying there on the blood-soaked ground, jarringly out of place alone in the barren landscape. Neither of them had been able to bring themselves to touch it.

“Are we going back to the trainer lodge?” Mark asked, the thought of being around other people strangely nauseating.

May shook her head. “We’ll camp somewhere else.” She spent a moment seemingly lost in thought before she finally looked up at Tyranitar. “You need to go away.”

What's Tyranitar been doing this whole time while they were cleaning up, though? I should totally have said something about that.

He looked back at her, uncomprehending. “Not with you?”

“No, not with me.” She looked down. “I’m releasing you. Go and find some wild Tyranitar to live with.”

The Pokémon stared at her. “But I won’t…”

“It doesn’t matter,” May said, her voice shaking a little but still firm. “You killed someone. I don’t know if they can trace it back to you somehow, but if they can, I can’t still be carrying you around. Wild Pokémon don’t get prosecuted.”

Tyranitar looked mortified. He stared at May for a moment longer and then let out a bone-chilling wail before he turned around and fled, eventually blending into the rocky landscape and disappearing from sight.

I wish I'd done his exit better too; this is faaaar too abrupt and flat.

Mark turned to May and noticed with a jolt that there were tears running down her cheeks as she stared after Tyranitar. As she realized he was looking at her, she quickly wiped her face with her sleeve and then turned around, heading off without a word.

Something compelled Mark to take one last look at the body before he followed her. The boy’s face was frozen in horror, his frightened stare now fixed forever on the sky above; he didn’t look like a League Champion, or a dangerous opponent, or a cheating scumbag. He just looked like a scared little kid who would never get to walk or talk or laugh or do anything again.

This is still a paragraph that I'm fond of, although I think it could be tweaked.

Writing Taylor for the League chapters, as unknown to everyone I was actually building up to this, was pretty interesting. He had to be infuriating, make you root for May to beat him and empathize with how much she hates him to some degree - but when we got here, you had to be able to reflect and see that he really was just a kid. Almost all of Taylor's actual scenes at the League are geared around showing this: there's not really any actual sinister intent to anything he does, only this bizarre obliviousness to the shadiness of what he's doing. He doesn't have a real mean-spirited bone in his body; he just really wants to take part in the League and become Champion and doesn't properly understand why everyone hates him for it. And then, here, he's just being pretty friendly, is confused by May's request for a rematch but indulges her anyway, and his last words are just screaming in fear at this approaching, threatening Tyranitar that you probably didn't initially take any more seriously than May did at the time. Obviously he's not very good at understanding and empathizing with other people, to say the least - but I hope by the time you got here it was pretty clear that he didn't deserve this.

Mark shivered and ran to catch up with May.

-------

She led the way to another reasonably open space where they silently set up camp all over again and made a new fire. They sat around it without saying a word for a long while.

“Where are we?” Mark asked at last, mostly just to say something.

“It’s my first training spot,” May answered without looking at him. “Then later I switched to the one where I trained for the finals.”

Silence. “I thought that was where we were before.”

May shook her head. “That was Taylor’s.”

Mark looked uncomprehendingly at her, his brain still largely frozen. “Taylor’s?”

“I was hoping he’d come there,” she said. “So I could get a rematch.”

Taylor’s greeting echoed in Mark’s mind: What are you doing here? They’d been there waiting for him, ambushing him in his own training spot. Something about it made him start to laugh; he felt sick for doing it.

There was more silence for a while.

“He was such a selfish, incompetent, cheating little git,” May said quietly, her voice unconvinced and empty of vitriol.

This particular line was also something I had churning in my head for years and years.

Something broke within Mark. It was a curious feeling: in a flash every nauseating detail of everything that had happened hit him like a freight train, and then he found himself heaving over a puddle of vomit, not remembering properly how it even got there. May was watching him, not saying anything.

More vomiting! I think this one makes sense, because Mark's having a flashback to something sensibly nauseating while under acute stress. When I'm under great stress, it just dials my nausea baseline way low, to the point where I'll start to retch just thinking about the wrong thing; I expect if I'd just seen someone gorily murdered, that'd probably have been plenty to set it off.

He wiped his mouth and sat back up a bit further away. “You went there to his own training spot,” he said, trembling. “And he came, probably to escape the angry mob that must have been assaulting him outside the stadium... and then...”

I'm still really fond of the way Mark has this delayed reaction here as this just pushes him over the edge and he finally dares to think through and voice just how messed up everything that just happened is.

She looked away without answering.

“And what’s with Tyranitar? He’ll kill people because he thinks it’ll make you happy? To make you not mad at him? What the hell? How did he get to thinking like that?”

“I don’t know!” May almost shouted, sounding broken and desperate. “I just don’t know, okay?”

“Well, I know,” Mark went on, his voice rising. “He’s probably really young and just didn’t know any better than to live for pleasing you and take you literally when you cheerfully tell everyone Taylor should die in a fire, and you’ve never given him enough thought to even see it, let alone correct it – but really, for God’s sake, he never said a word in his life until today, and nobody wonders if there’s anything wrong with him?”

Nobody had wondered. Neither had he. Neither had Alan. He was sure May would immediately seize upon that, but she didn’t. She just sat there, looking away, saying nothing, and that deflated his bubble of anger a little. He took a deep breath, feeling slightly calmer but not really any better.

“It doesn’t matter anymore,” May said shakily after a moment. “He’s gone.”

May would really, really like to be able to just get rid of problems and make them not matter anymore.

Mark wanted to argue with that, to tell her of course it still mattered because they had made him that way and failed to do anything about it, but he couldn’t admit that to himself, not now. “Somebody is going to find out,” he said, his voice flat. “We’re not going to just walk off and get away with this.”

May looked up, her gaze steeled. “Why not?”

“We’re just kids!” He tried to fight back the tears, but they formed anyway. “We’re not criminals. How are we supposed to pull off a perfect cover-up? We’ll get caught. It’s murder. We’ll...”

We did not do this!” May interrupted him heatedly. “This is not our fault!”

“What’s your point? You said yourself we can’t tell the police what really happened because it sounds too implausible that we didn’t have anything to do with it. We might as well...”

“First of all, you had nothing to do with it,” she said, cutting him off, but she didn’t follow it with anything; she stared at the fire, curled up against the cold, and Mark suddenly didn’t want to say anything either.

May was absolutely going to continue there, but then it just sinks in and she can't. This is a line I'm fond of.

Silence lay thick for a few tense moments.

“Do you want to tell the police?” May asked quietly.

She was right. Mark had nothing to do with it and there was no reason he ought to fall under suspicion for anything. He had nothing to lose by going to the cops. And wasn’t it May’s fault more than anyone else’s, anyway?

Wasn’t it the right thing, really?

I'd basically forgotten May was for just a moment willing to tell the police here. Agh, I love her so much.

“If I may intrude,” said a telepathic voice, making Mark jump; he’d forgotten Chaletwo even existed. “Nobody’s calling the police on anyone here. I realize this is a big deal for humans and I can’t pretend to really understand how you feel right now, but... we need you. We need both of you. You can’t let this get in the way of your mission. I hate to say this, but mortals die. It was an accident. It was nobody’s fault. Deal with it and move on. You have more important things to worry about than the death of a boy you never liked anyway.”

One wonders why you didn't speak up at any previous point here, Chaletwo. I guess the idea was he butts in when Mark's actually starting to consider going to the police because that would impact their mission, but it's kind of unreasonable he didn't think any part of what's just happened warranted comment until just now. It's kind of tough because I think more or less anything he might have to say before this would probably kill the mood completely, though. Maybe we can say he just doesn't know what to say to emotionally distraught humans and was just sort of there twiddling his thumbs awkwardly waiting for them to stop feeling bad until he felt he had to step in.

Mark stared at the fire, a growing pit in his stomach. May was looking at him, her face pale.

“And if the police seem to be connecting it to you, Molzapart or I should be able to do something about it in an emergency. This is not the end of the world.”

“Molzapart,” Mark realized, glancing at May. “What if he just performs a mass memory modification? Makes everyone forget about Taylor? Then maybe...”

“Unfortunately, that was the compromise we made to be able to send him with Alan,” Chaletwo replied with a sigh. “He’ll have gotten too weak for something of that scale by now. But like I said, if suspicion falls on you, we can fix it.”

Mark took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, feeling a bit better. May, on the other hand, didn’t look like she felt better at all; she was motionless, her empty gaze still fixed on the fire.

“And before you ask, no, I couldn’t have resurrected him. The body was too damaged.”

The image of Taylor’s crushed body and wide, staring eyes flashed across Mark’s mind; he shuddered before something struck him that he had been too numb to register while they were there. “Should we have taken his Pokéballs?” he asked. “I mean, because of Mewtwo²?”

“Pokéballs transmit signals that can be tracked,” May said without looking at him.

“I doubt they’d release him, anyway,” Chaletwo said. “Odds are Rick will take him back and he’ll be as safe as the other legendary clones in the Cleanwater Gym. Which is to say, not perfectly safe, but it can’t be helped, and at our best estimates the start of the War should be well before the start of the next high season of trainers, so there shouldn’t be a lot of Gym battles going on around that time.”

At this stage, chapter 75's confrontation with Mewtwo² was still meant to take place in the Cleanwater Gym, after the pulse happens to take place while Rick is having a gym battle, so Chaletwo was very literally pointing out but dismissing the possibility of exactly what would actually happen. Obviously, it ended up being a bit less on the nose.

Well before the start of the next high season of trainers. Mark had always known there was a deadline, but hearing it stated like that made it all too real.

He sighed. They really did have more important things to worry about. And paralyzing as it was to think about it, there was nothing more they could do about Taylor. He was dead. Tyranitar was gone and would hopefully be better off in the wild with others of his kind. They would not be suspects.

“Chaletwo’s right,” he said, not quite sure to whom. “We have to move on. We have no other choice.” He looked at May and clenched his fist unconsciously. “We’ll take that ferry tomorrow, meet up with Alan and go to the Eastern Cliffs like we planned. Everything is going to be fine, and then we can just forget this ever happened.”

I feel like this is just a bit too easy for Mark as it is.

May just continued to stare into the flames, not saying a word.

NARRATOR: Everything was not, in fact, fine.

Unsurprisingly, I love this whole twist and the murder subplot a lot, and it turned out to be not only the real turning point in May's arc, but also basically one of the main driving events of the entire rest of the fic - it only became more important as I went on, growing significantly more entangled in everything in the last few years as I worked on edits to the NaNo draft. I'm not quite as happy with the execution of this chapter as I used to be, though; I'm still fond of the first scene and a lot of Mark and May's reactions in the aftermath, but the actual moment of the murder and Tyranitar's departure feel flat and rushed, as does the end, and I think I could do them significantly better today.

As I've said before, Taylor's demise was one of the oldest things I had planned for this stage of the fic. Originally, when I still envisioned the League as the weird Elite Four system I'd devised, the battles would take place in private, locked rooms the way they do in the games, and after Tyranitar beat Mewtwo², he was supposed to advance towards Taylor and kill him. Later, after I'd decided on the tournament system for the HMMRCIG, I decided this didn't make any sense and envisioned it'd instead happen during a private rematch after the finals. I'm not sure if I only changed this after changing my plans for who'd win, or if I initially thought of the rematch as being initiated by Taylor - it at least makes way more sense for May to initiate it, what with being a very sore loser.

I can't remember what I originally meant to do with Tyranitar killing Taylor, though. I really don't think I'd properly thought up the whole thing about him being a child; he was just supposed to be very angry on May's behalf and I guess decided to kill him. I have always been repelled by stories where conscious, deliberate killing is genuinely portrayed as justice, so I strongly expect the idea there was not simply to give Taylor his just deserts, even though at the time he was still meant to be a pretty straightforward villain; I would definitely have envisioned Tyranitar killing him to be a bad, horrifying thing. But exactly where I meant the story to go with it from there, I'm not sure; this was not at a stage where I understood much about character arcs and development. This is particularly confusing since I'm pretty sure I meant the League to be the end of the fic at the time, or at least towards the end, instead of there being 25 chapters of legendary hunting and painstaking character development remaining. I guess I just wanted to traumatize May before the end, so she wouldn't just win and be happy, because we can't have that, right.

The chapter plan said Chapter 53: Before they leave Champion Island, May and Taylor battle again; Tyranitar kills Taylor and is released. I don't think I'd decided on the precise timing of this when I wrote the chapter plan (that is, on the rematch being later the same afternoon as the finals).


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