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 54: Reunion

June 23rd, 2010, a few days after the fic's eighth birthday and closing in on three months after chapter 53. I was still on page one by June, though - apparently I only properly managed to kick into gear working on it on June 14th, so really most of it was written in that interval. In the meantime, I'd instead been focusing largely on other things, including several different pages for The Cave of Dragonflies and chapter thirteen of Morphic, which was published on May 31st.

They packed up silently the next morning and May led the way in the direction of the ocean. The ferry was anchored a short distance offshore; they flew over to it on Charizard and Skarmory and spent the journey back to mainland Ouen without talking.

Wouldn't they need to, like, check out, though? I seem to be assuming that they brought literally all their stuff with them and that as far as the League is concerned trainers can just disappear when they're leaving without letting anyone know.

Mark had explained what had happened to their Pokémon the previous night. Floatzel had been completely unable to understand what they were so upset about, and Mark had the feeling several others felt the same even if they didn’t voice it (Scyther had just looked at Mark, his gaze unfazed and faraway; Letaligon had been shifty and impatient, though May’s silence seemed to unnerve her enough that she didn’t complain; Mutark had spent the whole speech flicking her tail around or pouncing on flowers save for taking an abrupt interest when he got to trying to get words around the murder itself). Others, such as Jolteon, had just looked nervous and miserable. Mark had tried to reassure them that everything would be okay and they wouldn’t have to worry about it, but they’d been no less quiet and uncomfortable. Mark himself was doing his best to believe his own words, but he still couldn’t get rid of the hollow feeling in his chest or that little pang of horror in his stomach he felt when he thought about it.

It's probably for the best that I just summarized this; I'm not sure it'd contribute anything to include a whole scene about them telling their Pokémon. I would like to see how Spirit reacted, though. Come on! May's partner Pokémon! Reactions from more of May's Pokémon would be interesting here in general; Floatzel thinks nothing of it and Mutark's doing her adorable kitten from Hell thing, but what about someone like Flygon?

He was relieved when the ferry finally pulled in at the Route 308 dock around six in the evening. Only a handful of passengers were getting off, since most of the trainers from the League were heading home and even Green Town, technically closer to here than Merville, was more easily accessible via the long route than through the wild grasslands of Routes 308 and 309. Alan was waiting alone by the pier and waved enthusiastically as soon as he spotted them; they quickly made their way over to him.

“Welcome back,” Alan said as he hugged them both. “How have you been? We have so much to talk about. Hey, are you hungry? They serve hamburgers at that place across from the Pokémon Center.”

“Yeah, I’m kinda hungry,” Mark replied, and Alan marched off in the direction of the little road shop he’d pointed to. He seemed a bit on edge; Mark wondered idly what was up with him.

Alan turned to May as they walked. “You’re being quiet,” he said. “Are you still upset about the finals?”

“Yeah, I guess,” she replied without looking at him.

“Well, Taylor cheated,” Alan said. “You can’t think like that forever. You were awesome, no matter what you say. Come on, let’s get burgers.”

Alan's on edge because he's about to call out Chaletwo for keeping the origins of the Dragons of Ouen secret, but he's so here for Mark and May, which is pretty sad in hindsight.

They were the only customers. A bored-looking blonde teenage girl behind the counter was watching cartoons on the television, not having bothered to even turn the volume down. May sat down at the first table they passed and told them she wasn’t really hungry and would just have some of their fries; the boys went to place their orders at the counter.

“Has she just been like that since the battle?” Alan whispered when the blonde girl had retreated to the kitchen to make their hamburgers.

Mark’s stomach lurched in momentary panic. Should they tell him? Could they tell him? May had acted like it was all about the battle. Should he too? Could they really go on without ever telling him about it?

“Pretty much,” he said before he’d really reached a conclusion, surprising himself with how relatively convincing he managed to make it sound.

Alan sighed and shook his head, then turned to return to their table. Mark followed him, glancing at May; she was staring unseeingly at the television.

“So,” Alan said when they’d sat down, looking straight at Mark. “Chaletwo. Why the hell didn’t you tell us about Thunderyu, Volcaryu and Polaryu?”

Mark could feel the legendary’s alarm in the back of his mind. “What do you mean?” Chaletwo replied defensively.

“You know what he means!” came Molzapart’s telepathic voice, cold and harsh. “Three dragons of Ouen, huh? Funny how nobody else knew about those. Funny how I didn’t know about those, and supposedly I was working with you. I wonder how it would happen that you’d know about three legendaries sealed away somewhere that nobody else knows about.”

Bickering legendaries, take three! I was not remotely exaggerating about 90% of Molzapart's screentime being sniping at Chaletwo.

“What?” May asked, looking between Mark and Alan and seeming utterly lost.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Molzapart said, “I guess he never told you either that he...”

“I made them,” Chaletwo interrupted. “Yes, I made them. I was young and stupid. Don’t think I don’t regret it.”

“That explains a lot of things,” May muttered.

May, of course, has been noticing Chaletwo's strange affection for the dragons for a while now. Under other circumstances she probably would've been angry here, but right now, she's got other things to worry about.

“And when were you planning to tell us that, you idiot?” hissed Molzapart. “All this time, they’ve been cleaning up your mess! They’ve made no actual progress – oh, save Suicune, whom they killed! What is this?”

“About that,” Chaletwo said. “Suicune – he didn’t die. Not really. He’s using a soul gem. So is Entei. We found him and he explained it to us. They’re both in the gems now.”

“Soul gems? Oh, what the – don’t change the subject. You made three legendaries. Why didn’t I know? Why didn’t they know?”

“Does it really change anything?” Chaletwo asked, exasperated. “I told them the dragons existed. They caught them. We don’t have to worry about them anymore. Why does it matter where they came...”

“It matters,” Alan said loudly, but quickly caught himself and lowered his voice again, “because, Chaletwo, for God’s sake, we’re on a very important mission here and we need there to be trust. How can we work together to save the world if we have to constantly wonder if there’s something you’re not telling us?”

Oh boy, truly the best timing for Alan to be talking about trust.

“I’m not hiding anything else,” Chaletwo said, with a subtle emphasis on the ‘I’ that made Mark all too aware of the irony of the situation. “And Mark knew that I made the dragons. If he’d decided to tell you, there’s nothing I could have done about it, but he didn’t.”

Mark flinched under Alan’s scandalized gaze. “What? It’s my fault now?”

“Well, why didn’t you say anything?”

Mark thought back to that moment; it felt like years ago. “Chaletwo didn’t want me to, and I guess I kind of sympathized,” he said. “Molzapart should have known, maybe, but where the dragons came from isn’t really anything that matters.”

“I agree with him,” May said suddenly. “It doesn’t change anything. We already caught the dragons. Arguing about it now isn’t helping anyone.”

May's sudden belief that this doesn't matter and isn't worth discussing because the problem's been gotten rid of definitely has nothing to do with anything that's happened lately, nope.

Alan threw up his arms in frustration the way he liked to, but Molzapart wasn’t so easily silenced by a majority vote. “Damn right, I should have known,” he said. “Yes, the dragons have been caught, thankfully, but that doesn’t change that keeping it secret was wildly irresponsible and represents both a monumental lapse of judgement and a breach of trust. Why is Chaletwo still leading this expedition again?”

“Because, Molzapart,” Chaletwo replied irritably, “you still have powers that could be of some real value if you conserve them in a Pokéball, whereas I’m currently at my most useful blabbering instructions in some kid’s head. But if you want to switch, be my guest.”

There was a stunned silence while the waitress arrived at their table with the hamburgers and gave them an odd look as she laid the food down. Mark could only imagine their conversation sounded horribly weird to anyone outside the range of the legendaries’ telepathic speech.

Shouldn't it be a pretty worrying conversation even without hearing that half of it? Really, they should not be having this conversation in a public place, loudly enough for the waitstaff to hear.

I like Chaletwo's issues about being useless, though.

Neither Molzapart nor Chaletwo spoke again even after the girl was gone. “Right,” Mark said after a moment that seemed to make it clear they’d dropped the subject. “So, uh, let’s eat?”

Alan silently picked up his hamburger and took a big bite out of it, and Mark hesitantly picked up his own. May reached listlessly for a fry, but froze when it was halfway to her mouth, staring; Mark turned around to see an image of Taylor on the screen of the still-running television.

“Controversial League Champion Taylor Lancaster was found dead on Champion Island this afternoon,” the anchorwoman was saying, and Mark’s stomach twisted itself into a knot. “Lancaster was last seen using his genetically-engineered Pokémon ‘Mewtwo²’ to teleport out of an aggressive crowd of protesters after his victory in the finals of the Ouen League yesterday. During the League, he attracted nationwide heat for his use of so-called ‘super-clones’ engineered by his brother Richard Lancaster of the Cleanwater City Pokémon Gym, especially the aforementioned Mewtwo².”

Mark looked at Alan; he’d stopped chewing mid-bite, now also staring at the TV screen.

“Though the investigation is still underway, it appears twelve-year-old Lancaster was killed by a large Pokémon, most likely a Tyranitar. Wild Tyranitar are known to live in the area, but police will not rule out the possibility of human involvement at this time.”

The anchorwoman looked solemnly at the camera for a moment, just long enough to seem appropriately respectful, before she continued with a professional smile: “Also don’t forget the exclusive live interview with Richard Lancaster coming up later, only on O-7! The man who has refused to speak to the press since the beginning of his mysterious and controversial career finally opens up in the wake of his brother’s tragedy! Don’t miss it.”

This was intentionally pretty outrageous, and Alan's about to comment on it - Rick's just been so withdrawn from the media that when he offers one exclusive interview for the first time they jump on it - but it may be pretty hard to believe a vaguely legitimate-looking news channel would go ahead with this and not see just how many alarm bells it should ring.

Alan swallowed as the anchorwoman started to talk about something else. “Whoa,” he said. “That’s...” He looked unsurely at May, who was pale and wide-eyed, looking like she’d seen a ghost. “I can’t believe it. I mean, nobody wanted him to win the League, but...”

Nobody spoke for a moment; in the background, the television blared with cheerful commentary on the still-ongoing Sinnoh League.

“I wonder what’s up with Rick,” Alan went on when the others didn’t say anything. “He never took an interview in his life, and he chooses now of all times to change his mind? And the media just jump on it without question to get their exclusive scoop? That’s kind of sick.”

But Alan remained glued to the screen; May, too, was staring at it as if mesmerized. Mark had a horrible feeling about this; he wanted to ask the girl at the counter to change the channel or turn off the TV, but how could he do that without explaining why? And anyway, she was watching it intently herself.

“And now, for what we’ve all been waiting for,” the anchorwoman said at last after a couple more inconsequential reports. “A world-first – O-7 secured an exclusive live interview with the mysterious Cleanwater City Gym leader, Richard Lancaster! Over to you, Heather.”

They cut to a woman standing outside a nondescript house. “Thank you, Carla. Here we have the man himself, for the first time ever in an interview – uh, let me first say, I’m very sorry for your loss.”

The camera panned to Rick. He looked terrible and not really fit for television; his hair was uncombed and messy and his expression was disturbingly haunted and restless. He didn’t respond to the reporter, instead looking unnervingly straight at the camera with bloodshot, staring eyes.

“Uh, Rick?” the reporter asked off-screen after a second.

There was still no response. Rick blinked, not taking his eyes off the camera lens, and then said quietly, “Whoever did this to my brother...”

In the middle of the flashes of sickening memories assaulting his mind, Mark couldn’t help somehow feeling sorry for the man. Rick lowered his head and closed his eyes for a moment, swallowing before he looked up again.

“...I’ll fucking kill you.”

There is exactly one spot where this fic uses "TV-unfriendly" language, and it's this line. I think this must have been planned before I started the HMMRCIG, because when I started the HMMRCIG I did this thing with giving a detailed rating summary ahead of each chapter, listing whether it had violence, gore, sexuality or profanity, and I'm pretty sure one of the reasons I did that was in anticipation of this chapter; I felt unshakably like I couldn't spring this on people without advance warning. At the time, I had never seen a movie above my age rating (my parents were pretty strict on that), what I'd read in English was pretty much limited to simple school reading, Harry Potter, part of The Lord of the Rings and Pokémon fanfiction, and I distinctly remember that strong English swearing actually made me wince a bit back then, because I genuinely pretty much didn't ever hear that kind of language, which made it feel very jarring and taboo. Even after I got used to seeing it, I didn't ever personally use anything above a 'goddamn' until I was probably sixteen - not out of any kind of moralistic prudishness (I always found it pretty silly growing up that there were just these random words you weren't supposed to say, and have always pretty much sworn freely in Icelandic), but just because it still felt a bit weird and ugly and unpleasant.

So the decision to make this happen here was not taken lightly when I was thirteen/fourteen; it was meant to be this horrible, shocking Things Are Really Serious Now, This Guy Is Not Playing Around moment. Amusingly, I only learned years later that PG-13-rated movies in the US can get away with one or two f-words, so this actually fits perfectly into an established tradition of stories that mostly avoid very strong language except for this one line; I was completely unaware that this was an actual thing when I thought this up (we use different film ratings that pretty much ignore language, and at the time I mostly just read the subtitles anyway, so I hadn't picked up on the trend).

By the time I finally got here at the age of twenty, obviously, I was well used to English swearing; I'd already written both Scyther's Story, which had dropped a couple of f-bombs in emotional moments, and Morphic, which was full of colorful language throughout; I'd stopped doing the chapter ratings years ago; and all in all the idea of this clearly no longer seemed as unspeakably edgy and impactful as it had seemed when I was a kid. I considered dropping it altogether as just kind of a silly idea, but I was still kind of nostalgically attached to it, so it made it in, even though by this time it seemed almost quaint.

Without warning, Rick’s expression turned utterly psychotic. “I’ll find you and strangle you with my own bare hands, you hear me?” he snarled, looking straight into Mark’s eyes; the reporter stepped into the frame, wide-eyed, making a frantic cutting motion in front of her neck with her hand. “I’ll tear your...”

The image abruptly cut back to Carla the news anchor, now wearing an expression of panicked alarm. She took a second to regain her composure, then cleared her throat. “Unfortunately, the interview with Richard Lancaster has been cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances. We apologize for the unexpected profanity in this report.”

Guys, wasn't this slightly predictable, at least by the time you got there and he was looking like death and murder. Like, this guy is clearly not okay and should not be on television for anything, much less a completely unprepared live interview. You are terrible at your jobs.

A knot of irrational fear had lodged itself in Mark’s stomach. He looked quickly at May; she’d turned very pale, but didn’t say or do anything. Her eyes remained fixed on the TV screen.

“Well, that was... interesting,” Alan said after a moment. “At least that explains why Rick was willing to be interviewed all of a sudden.”

I would really think Alan should have a stronger reaction to this. I mean, surely it's pretty shocking to see a gym leader make unhinged death threats on national TV, even if he's not talking about you.

There was silence. Alan looked between Mark and May.

“Are you guys all right?” he finally asked.

“We’re perfectly fine,” May replied suddenly, stuffed the fry she was still holding into her mouth and reached for more off Alan’s plate. Mark forced himself to continue with his hamburger too, and after looking suspiciously at the two of them for a few seconds, Alan also turned his attention to the food. They finished eating silently while Mark debated with himself how much of his burger he could leave behind without making Alan ask more questions; he ended up forcing down about two thirds of it, still feeling sick. Eventually they paid up and exited the building, and Mark was relieved for the fresh air.

“So,” Alan said, “are your Pokémon all healed up? Because then we could probably just set off north now, without having to stop at the Pokémon Center.”

“No, let’s go there,” May said without looking at him. “I need to release a Pokémon.”

Huh, it didn't occur to me properly until rereading this now that the police investigation is established to be well underway before May actually formally releases Tyranitar. I'm not sure this actually makes sense; the way I've been thinking of it, the League deletes their data about trained Pokémon when they're released (probably mandated by the Agreement), but surely when there's an active police investigation, they'd be permitted to freeze at least the data that'd be obviously relevant, such as Tyranitar belonging to trainers known to be participating in or attending the League here - which, even if the data they're keeping isn't enough to match to trace evidence at the scene, should definitely be enough to figure out that Tyranitar is May's by the time he turns himself in, right?

Besides the actual logistics of whether this works out, one would really think May would have been willing to go pretty far out of her way to actually formally release Tyranitar as soon as possible. I think I may have done it in this order because I was conceiving of this as being how Alan puts together what happened, but I don't actually need him to literally watch her release him - like Robin, he's clearly going to learn that May released Tyranitar, no later than whenever they're planning out the next legendary battle.

“Wait, what?” Alan asked in confusion, but she was already walking towards the other building. He looked at Mark as if hoping for an explanation; Mark avoided meeting his eyes and hurried after May.

“You mean another one of your Pokémon asked to be released?” Alan called as he followed them inside. May didn’t answer and walked straight up to the PC by the wall. There was nobody else there at the moment; even the nurse wasn’t present at the counter.

Of course that's where his mind goes first, though.

“Tyranitar?” Alan asked in puzzlement as she quickly navigated the menus to deactivate the dinosaur’s Pokéball for good. “Was he unhappy?”

“No,” May replied without looking at him as she placed the ball on a Pokéball holder on the machine.

“Why would you release him? You’d better not be blaming him for losing against Mewtwo², because...”

“I know that wasn’t his fault,” May said, her voice shaking a little. “He had to go. I couldn’t keep him around.”

Alan looked blankly at her, then at Mark, then back at her, and then all of a sudden his eyes widened. “Wait,” he began. “Wasn’t Taylor killed by a...”

He looked desperately at Mark, his eyes begging for some innocent explanation. Mark couldn’t bring himself to lie; with a pang of guilt, he looked away.

Alan took a horrified step back. “You... oh, God.”

“It was an accident,” May said, finally turning away from the computer. Her voice was still shaky, but she kept her expression remarkably calm. “I didn’t like him, but I would never, ever actually want somebody dead, okay?”

As we're going to learn much, much later, she is telling herself this but it's not entirely true.

“Accident?” Alan repeated, sounding truly worked up. “How does your Pokémon accidentally attack the boy who beat you in the League finals? What is wrong with you?”

"Sounding truly worked up" is pretty weak here, isn't it.

“It wasn’t their fault,” Chaletwo said with a telepathic sigh. “The Tyranitar attacked him of his own accord. She tried to recall him but was too late. Now, as I said to them, you have more important things to think about than this boy. This isn’t a big deal.”

“People being murdered is a big deal!”

Alan looked at Mark with his fists clenched, his breath shaky; his expression asked a hundred accusing questions. The look of betrayal in his eyes alone made Mark avert his gaze, unable to face him.

“Sorry, Alan,” said Molzapart reluctantly after a second, “but I have to agree with Chaletwo. This doesn’t affect your mission. There’s no benefit in dwelling on it.”

“But what about the police?” Alan protested. “What about Rick? We were just watching him threatening his brother’s murderer on live television!”

“As I told them, directing the police’s attention elsewhere if they start connecting the dots shouldn’t be too hard,” Chaletwo said. “And how could Rick possibly know what happened or who was involved? He doesn’t even know it wasn’t a wild Tyranitar. He was just angry and wanted there to be a culprit.”

That's awkwardly worded, since it's not like a wild Tyranitar wouldn't technically be a culprit. But since the justice system doesn't punish wild Pokémon for stray crimes against humans, the usual public perception is that whether a human is involved is a significant question, and people are used to being focused on that and, if there is human involvement, the responsibility of the trainer. Generally, when wild Pokémon kill a human, it doesn't involve terribly satisfying motivations; either the wild Pokémon is hunting for food (and hasn't gotten the memo that humans aren't particularly tasty - predator Pokémon are built to get nourishment from other Pokémon, and humans, originating in another world, are simply not very nutritious for them and taste like it), or the human just really pissed off the Pokémon. Meanwhile, when a trained Pokémon kills a human, the vast majority of the time it's either the Pokémon attacking its own trainer for mistreatment of one kind or another, or acting on behalf of its trainer and whatever motivations they have for murder. So Rick does specifically want there to be a human culprit, someone who attacked Taylor with purpose and malice, and not just some chance encounter with a wild Tyranitar that he provoked.

Alan took a deep breath and shook his head. “You are unbelievable,” he said. “We’re just supposed to carry on like nothing happened?”

“Preferably.”

Alan looked at Mark, then at May, his expression wretched and miserable. “I guess we don’t have a choice,” he said finally, turning away. “Come on. Let’s go.”

As they followed him out of the building and headed north, Mark couldn’t help having the creeping feeling that Alan would never trust them the same way again.

A pretty short chapter, but a few separate significant things happen here: Alan and Molzapart confront Chaletwo about not telling them about the dragons, Rick makes the threat, and Alan learns about Taylor's murder. I'm not particularly fond of this one overall; Chaletwo's issues are fun, but there are a lot of little logic problems here, I think I could be writing Alan better all around, and I feel like the ending bit feels like a bit of a rehash of the end of chapter 53, going over the same issues but with Alan instead - I think I could probably do this in a less repetitious way.

The chapter plan was Chapter 54: Mark and May meet Alan again and see Rick threatening Taylor’s murderer on live television; Alan doesn’t realize it was them until May tells him that Tyranitar is gone. Didn't include the bit about confronting Chaletwo in here; I don't think I knew that'd happen when I was writing the chapter plan, since the bit in chapter 42 where Molzapart presses Chaletwo on what they've been doing all this time was almost definitely spontaneous.


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