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

This chapter was published on April 1st, 2010, two weeks after chapter 52. It's a pivotal chapter, of course, and I'd been looking forward to it for a long, long time - it was always going to be a pretty quick one.

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 meanytime.

“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.

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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; 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.

He inched shyly closer to her, feeling himself blushing; she looked at him in vague surprise, and her eyes suddenly filled with tears.

Mark was startled; he’d never seen her cry before. “May... are you okay?” he asked carefully, laying a hand on her shoulder.

She reached out with her hands, grabbing his arms tightly to pull him closer. She looked into his eyes, her sapphire orbs shining like stars in an evening sky, and whispered, “Do you think I’m pretty?”

This is where May's important body image issues really come to the forefront. She has always worried that she's not pretty enough like other girls, and without being able to cling to her battling ability as a way of coping with these insecurities, all she can think of is whether she'll ever be good enough for Mark without being Champion.

“What?” Mark asked, initially confused. “Of course you are.”

But as he looked at her, something dawned on him, slowly but surely. He noticed her sky-blue locks curling down her forehead; her finely defined eyebrows; her fair skin pale and perfect in the orange light; her full, rosy lips; and most importantly of all, she was May, somebody he’d travelled with for what felt like years now, who’d helped and guided him, been through thick and thin with him, even saved his life. Something stirred in his chest, putting a lump in his throat; he brushed a lock of her hair aside and murmured, “You’re beautiful.”

Of course, she thinks she's ugly because everyone in New Bark used to call her that all the time - but really she's very beautiful. Especially so to Mark, of course!

“Really?” Wisps of a smile crossed her lips as she closed her eyes, her long, feminine eyelashes drying her tears away as she leaned in closer.

Their lips met, and instantly, as if by the touch of a Suicune, everything became crystal clear. It felt so indescribably right. He embraced her tightly as the kiss deepened, their tongues meeting nervously for the first time. “I love you,” he breathed as they pulled away for a moment, everything swirling before his eyes. “I’ve always loved you. You don’t need to prove yourself to me by winning a League.”

I think this is probably the best paragraph I have ever written, and I'm a bit sad I haven't managed to top it since. The bit about Suicune especially just nails it.

She looked at him in surprise, blushing. “S-so you knew...” she whispered shyly.

“Deep down... I always knew.”

He planted another kiss on her forehead and held her close, one hand gently stroking her hair. They didn’t know how long they spent sitting there together, basking in one another’s glow; it seemed like a dream, or maybe a more real reality; the journey, the battles, the League all felt hazy and far away. There was only the here, the now, the two of them, together. Alone. Perfect.

This one's really good too, though. I can't pick a favorite moment in this chapter, honestly. It's so gratifying to see them finally get together after this lengthy slow burn. There may be relationship drama and love triangle angst to come, but for now, it's just them, perfect in their infinite togetherness.

“So you have found one another at last,” stated a soft telepathic voice. Mark opened his eyes slowly and saw the small, pink-furred form of Mew hovering before them.

“What do you mean?” he questioned.

“Didn’t you know that the opposite of destruction is love?” Mew smiled slyly. “Your efforts would never have stopped the War of the Legends before, but now, you may have a chance.”

“Really?” May gasped.

“Of course. Or hadn’t you realized that that was what went wrong before the last War of the Legends?” Mew shook her head heavily. “I was afraid the same would happen now. But you... you had the potential for something truly beautiful, a love that could destroy the Destroyer... forever.”

Mew and Chalenor couldn't stop the War because their love was platonic. You needed romance to stop it, and legendaries can't love romantically. This was very deliberate on Arceus's part: no matter what the legendaries tried in their selfishness, nothing they did could possibly stop it. Only once they learned to respect and be humble before other creatures, who could love one another in this special way, could they put an end to the War.

“So that was why you didn’t want to help prevent the War?” asked Chaletwo incredulously.

“At that time I thought there was no hope,” murmured Mew. “But everything is different now. If you don’t mind, I will come with you and aid you on your quest.”

“But then... it wasn’t because you hated me!” sobbed Chaletwo before he burst into telepathic tears.

“Of course not,” Mew said softly. “I have always loved you... my son.”

At that, a Pokéball at Mark’s belt popped open open and Chaletwo was released in a flood of light. Tears welled up in Mew’s sapphire eyes as she flew up to him, and they hugged tightly, for the first time in a thousand years. Mark watched their reunion with a lump in his throat, squeezing May’s shoulders a little. Finally Chaletwo could have peace.

Chaletwo's believed that Mew hates him for a thousand years - Mew never showed up to his softball games, told him he was her least favorite creation, etc. - but really Mew just believed that there was no way a love as pure and perfect as what Mark and May have could possibly exist, and therefore tried to ensure Chaletwo had no hope either and wouldn't be disappointed. Finally resolving all of Chaletwo's issues here was incredibly gratifying; his true role was always meant to be as the comic relief, and I wish it hadn't taken so long to let him serve his true calling, so to speak.

Note how Mew and May's eyes are both described as sapphire, hinting at the secret connection between them, though of course that won't be revealed for a while.

“What’s going on here?”

They all looked up to see Taylor emerging from behind a rock, a smug expression etched on his face. “Haha, a bunch of lovebirds,” he mocked, pointing at the four of them and laughing snidely. “Losers.”

“You don’t know anything about love!” May declared with calm confidence. “Your heart has shrivelled into a lump of coal, unable to feel love or compassion. I feel sorry for you.”

Now that Mark has confessed his love for her, May is finally without the chains of her insecurities and can speak with true confidence in her convictions. She has finally realized that love and compassion are the most important things in the world - after Mark, of course.

“Yes,” agreed Mew. “She’s right. Open your heart to the love around you, and you might find peace at last.” There was a short pause before she added, “And Chaletwo is not my boyfriend.”

“Yeah, totally,” sneered Taylor and rolled his eyes.

Mark wanted to protest, but he was cut short by a curious feeling of elation as warmth seemed to spread all through his body. He looked at his hands to find they were bathed in a strange, pink glow; May was looking fearfully at her own, similarly glowing hands.

Something pure and primal within him simply knew that it was the essence of love itself.

Love is important, but it's also scary. Despite May's realization, she's still fearful of the essence of true love, in a way that Mark isn't, because he's a boy.

He squeezed May’s hand tightly, and together, they both looked up at Taylor, heat building up within their bodies. The other boy gasped as a pink glow overtook his body, too; his eyes closed and his body was lifted a few inches off the ground, the glow pulsing like heartbeat. For a moment there was nothing but the steady throb of concentrated love synchronizing between the three of them; then, abruptly, the glow disappeared and Taylor tumbled to the ground, landing on his back.

“Oof,” he muttered, rubbing his head; then, as in realization, he slowly looked over at Mark and May with an expression of surprise.

“I... I can feel it,” he whispered. “I can feel... love...”

This is probably the most interesting twist in the story. Who could believe that a villain would be redeemed by the power of love, and turned into a good person? I bet you expected them to simply defeat him, but no!

Mew smiled in satisfaction as Taylor beamed at them. “How can I thank you? You’ve brought me life and happiness at last. I will never forget it.”

“It’s okay,” stated May, smiling back at him. “As long as you’re sorry.”

“Oh, and my poor Pokémon!” Taylor gasped. “I must free them from those horrible balls.”

With that, Taylor sent out all of his clones and made Feraltwo stomp on all the Clone Balls so that they were destroyed. The clones all cried with happiness, especially Mewtwo².

Okay, this might be my favorite paragraph. The sheer emotion of all those clones finally released from their imprisonment really packs a punch. Especially Mewtwo².

“Why don’t I join you?” suggested Taylor. “I can help you take down the legendary Pokémon! It will be great!”

“Sure!” answered Mark and May in unison, and as the sun set, they were all laughing and telling stories together by the campfire, looking forward to the continuation of their adventures.

What a lovely chapter! Finally we've truly set the stage for the rest of the story. Mark and May's relationship finally blossoms, as well as subtly setting up the Taylor love triangle with the synchronizing glow of true love (and Alan, in turn, being unable to get over being left out of the love throb like everything else in his life); we finally learn how they're going to defeat the Destroyer once and for all; Chaletwo can finally don his pimp outfit next chapter; and Mew's joined the gang, ready to awaken May's true destiny. Much as I love how all of that plays out, I don't think any of the remainder of the story can quite top this chapter for me; I think I truly reached my peak here, April 2010.

The chapter plan for this chapter said Chapter 53: Mark and May finally smooch, Mew tells them why romance is the most important thing in the world, Taylor gets love-throbbed and releases all his clones, and they all cry with happiness, especially Mewtwo². As you can see, I just nailed the phrasing there right from the start.


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