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The Quest for the Legends (ILCOE)
Chapter 59: December
November 26th, 2011, approaching four and a half months. This is another one that just took a while because it's not that interesting and I wasn't super-motivated to work on it.
“All right,” said May. “Ready... go!”
All at once, the ten Pokémon sprang into action. Jolteon and Raichu fired two simultaneous Thunder Waves in two different directions; May’s Butterfree flapped her wings rapidly to create a tailwind behind them. Charizard and Blaziken Flamethrowered their adversary from both sides as Spirit burst into black flames; meanwhile, Floatzel and Sneasel leapt up with ice crystals surrounding their paws, expertly avoiding getting in the way of Gyarados’s Dragon Beam and Scyther’s Aerial Ace.
Skarmory and Dragonite never stood a chance.
Mark looked sheepishly at the unconscious legendary-substitutes as the smoke cleared. He always felt kind of bad about this, even though the Pokémon had all agreed it was a good idea and they rotated the legendary roles. The legendaries were powerful; it seemed fair to gang up on them.
Kind of enjoy this.
He sighed. “Okay, well done, guys. That was quick.”
May was already reviving the two fainted Pokémon with a practiced speed. “I don’t think there’s much more we can do for now,” she said. “We might as well head back to the Eastern Cliffs tomorrow and see how we do.” She hesitated a moment. “Meanwhile, we should probably contact Alan.”
Mark nodded. It was implicit in that ‘we’ that she really meant him; though they hadn’t talked to Alan for a couple of months now, neither of them wanted to test whether he was ready to talk to May yet. He walked over to her bag, found her Pokégear and dialled Alan’s number.
It took a bit before there was an answer. “Hi,” said Alan’s voice, impassive.
“Hi, Alan,” Mark said. “How have you been doing?”
“Okay, I guess,” Alan said. “You?”
“Good. We’ve been doing a lot of practicing with group fights. We were thinking we’d set off back to the Eastern Cliffs tomorrow and try our luck.”
There was a pause. “All right,” Alan said after a moment. “Just come by my place when you’re heading out and I’ll be ready.”
Mark took a deep breath. “Actually, I think it would be better if you met us now or later tonight. We’ve been preparing a lot of new strategies and we should probably get you and your Pokémon in on them. We’re on Route 311, just west of the city; you should see our campfire from the road.”
There was another pause, longer this time. “Can’t we do that tomorrow?” Alan replied eventually.
Mark looked at May; she shrugged and he had a feeling she wasn’t exactly dying to have Alan camping with them again either, so he sighed and said, “Fine. We’ll be there at ten o’clock.”
“All right.” Alan hesitated for a long second. “How’s May?” he asked finally.
She looked up; Mark waited, but she didn’t speak. “Fine,” he said instead on her behalf. “Better.”
Alan is still incredibly conflicted about May, but he does basically care about her.
There was silence.
“See you tomorrow.”
“Yeah. See you.”
And Alan hung up.
“It’s getting late,” May said after a further silence. “We should make that campfire anyway.”
They did, but the mood for conversation had largely been killed, and as they sat around the fire with their Pokémon Mark eventually took to browsing idly through his Pokédex. In the intervening months since their capture of Dragoreen, he had properly discovered for the first time how many functions it had that seemed to exist solely for statistics geeks – he could access a log of every time he had sent out his Pokémon, for instance, complete with a list of which of his Pokémon had seen the least out-of-Pokéball-time in the past month (Thunderyu, Dragoreen and Chaletwo had a large red zero, as if to scold him for never letting them out). This time, he started skimming through the list of ‘seen’ Pokémon, which for these newer models appeared to automatically record some basic data for every Pokémon that had been within a certain radius from the device.
Thunderyu was a big question mark near the end of the list, tentatively identified as an Electric/Dragon type. The only other data was a list of crazy stats. Mark looked at the intimidating entry with a mixture of pride and amusement. They’d defeated and caught that.
Volcaryu and Polaryu, since they hadn’t been caught by him, had even less information, only showing the Fire/Dragon and Ice/Dragon type classifications; a full Pokéball scan would have been required to create a stat approximation. After them, the Pokédex showed a question mark that meant Dragoreen – Dragon/Flying-type, more crazy stats – and then two question marks that had to be Raudra and Puragon.
Mark blinked at their info pages. Again, there were no stats, since he hadn’t caught them; the only data was the type classification.
And the type classification, for both of them, was also Dragon/Flying.
I only happened to rediscover this fact sometime after I wrote chapter 55, as I mentioned there. I just happened to be looking through old documents, bumped into one I'd forgotten I'd made about the Ouen legendaries, and that showed their types and abilities, which I'd completely forgotten. It made for a fun little twist for this chapter, though!
“May?” Mark said hesitantly. “Could you come over here for a second?”
She shuffled over as the Pokémon craned their necks to see over Mark’s shoulder. “This is the data the Pokédex recorded for Raudra and Puragon. Look at the typing.”
“Ah!” said Floatzel behind him, grinning in realization. “That explains a lot, yes?”
May pulled the Pokédex out of his hand and stared at it for a moment. “Oh, hell,” she muttered, her fingers tightening around the device, “yeah, it does.”
“Is it an error?” Mark asked in confusion.
“I don’t think so,” May said, shaking her head. “God, it explains everything. The Fire Pokémon did terrible against Puragon because she wasn’t an Ice-type. We were doing it all wrong. No wonder we were doing so well against Dragoreen but then barely scratched the others; she was the only one whose type we actually guessed correctly. We’re idiots.”
And Mark suddenly remembered the legend behind the Color Dragons. They had all been the same, eggs of the same mother, but they’d hatched and grown up in different locations, and they’d adapted. Raudra, the one in the volcano, had learned to use fire because fire was all around her; Dracobalt, at the bottom of a lake, had learned to use water instead. Puragon had learned to use ice, and Venoir poison. It wasn’t that they were fundamentally different, only that they’d been flexible enough in their original form to grow up using completely different moves and techniques. And their evolution had then eliminated their flexibility, setting their adapted preferences in stone forever.
He had never heard it said outright, but on reflection he thought he remembered a passage in that book he had read at the library at the beginning of his journey, where the dragons’ type affinities were called special abilities. Not types. Which was very vague, but –
“Chaletwo,” Mark said sharply, “did you know this?”
“No, but truth to be told, I’m not sure they know it themselves,” Chaletwo said. “Type classifications are a human discovery. Pokémon know what elements they’re most comfortable with and learn what they’re weak and resistant against through battling during their lives, but legendaries don’t spend a lot of their time being hit by attacks that are sufficiently powerful for them to discern a difference. The only reason I know I’m a Dark-type is that Mew couldn’t sense me psychically.”
Another foreshadowy line, establishing that you can't psychically sense Dark-types (hence why Chaletwo can't detect Chalenor with Mitch)!
“Did it actually happen like the legend says?” Mark asked, wanting to be sure of his interpretation.
“I don’t know. What does the legend say?”
“There was a dragon called Vaxil, she hid her eggs in different places, they hatched into Lidreki and adapted to their different environments, then Preciure pushed Dragoreen out of the cave, she found the others and brought them back to fight him, but on the way were distracted hating each other, and when Vaxil saw the conflict between her children she threw herself off a cliff,” Mark said, in one breath.
I like how well Mark remembers this, like an actual legendary enthusiast.
“Huh,” Chaletwo said. “Well, it’s missing some details. Color Dragons have been around for many Wars. Technically they can breed, but if they do they sacrifice their immortality and die soon after, so the last time it happened is fabled even among the legendaries. After the last War we recreated Vaxil, who had been around before, and a male called Yddri, and for some reason they hit it off. It was breeding to begin with that killed them. Yddri died immediately, and Vaxil spread the eggs around different environments like Color Dragons do, took the last couple with her and waited for her own death. I doubt she liked all the petty rivalry between her children, but she was already dying. I’m not sure she even survived to the point Preciure pushed Dragoreen out of the cave, if that even happened and isn’t just something Dragoreen told the others to justify her little crusade against her brother, but if she did, she would have been barely alive, likely delirious and immobile – which would probably be why she didn’t intervene. And the way I heard it, after the children evolved, they noticed their mother was dead, started blaming each other for it to claim their right to her cave, and at some point in the scuffle they threw her body off the cliff themselves.”
Vaxil and Yddri's names are based on... the Icelandic words for "crayon" and "pencil sharpener". You'll never take them seriously again, will you.
As you can probably guess, originally the Color Dragon backstory in chapter two was just meant to be the actual reality. I'm pretty sure Chaletwo's elaboration here was spontaneous when I got here and the inconsistency of this one legendary being able to reproduce bugged me. Essentially, Color Dragons have the ability to reproduce once, creating a new generation of diversifying Color Dragons, but this kills the parents, ensuring there can't just be endlessly multiplying legendaries. I quite liked this retcon once I'd written it; I think the bit about the human legend being inaccurate, and the Color Dragons being even more petty than expected, reinforces the themes of the fic. It also significantly influenced how I went on to characterize the Color Dragons from here, particularly with Dragoreen's manipulation in chapters 63/64.
Mark couldn’t stare at Chaletwo, so he stared at May instead.
“Well, that’s kind of horrifying,” she said, echoing his thoughts. The story of Vaxil had seemed like a cautionary tale about consequences – the children had fought, it had caused their mother’s death, and subsequently they’d decided to leave one another in peace. But the humans witnessing it had no doubt only seen the dragons fighting and then found the mother’s body on the ground, and then they’d drawn their own conclusions – probably in such a way as to make it fit into a cautionary tale about consequences, so as to have something to scare their kids with.
It shouldn’t have surprised Mark by now. It really shouldn’t. One by one, he’d seen all the legendaries they’d met turn out to be nothing like how he’d imagined legendaries as a kid, with different motives, different attitudes – not just different, but flawed. And he hadn’t even known that much about the Color Dragons as a kid, so it wasn’t as if he’d had much of an idealized image of them beforehand. But it was still the same cold shock every time to be reminded that the gods that were supposed to watch out for the world could be petty and hateful and selfish.
“Well,” he said after a pause, forcing his mind to move on, “they were spread around to different environments and adapted to them, with the evolution just solidifying it later on, right? So then it makes sense their type never changed. Raudra and Puragon just got good with Fire and Ice moves, and even if their looks now reflect that, their defensive typing doesn’t.”
It has kind of bothered me since before I even wrote this that it'd make more sense that adapting to their environment would change their defensive abilities rather than offensive, right? But I just went ahead and asserted confidently that this is how it works and I don't think anyone questioned it.
“Something like that,” Chaletwo replied. “Whatever the reason, at least this is good to know if we’re going to battle them again.”
“Yeah,” May agreed. “We go for Ice attacks whenever we can, no matter how counterintuitive. Floatzel, just be bombarding them with Ice Punch.” The sea otter grinned enthusiastically. “And Sneasel...” The weasel looked expectantly at May, who paused for a moment. “I don’t suppose you’re opposed to evolving.”
Sneasel snorted at the absurdity of the notion.
“Well, we should definitely try to find ourselves a Razor Claw, then; you’re going to be a lot more instrumental to this battle than we thought. You already learned Ice Shard anyway, so we don’t have anything to lose anymore. Sound okay?”
Sneasel nodded in satisfaction.
“Where do we get one?” Mark asked, looking at May.
“Probably at the Green Town Department Store,” she suggested with a shrug.
Someone cleared his throat behind them, and Mark turned sharply around to see Alan standing sheepishly a short distance away. “Actually, I... I’ve got one.”
Alan already owning a Razor Claw was purely just plot convenience so Sneasel could evolve tonight plus a nice reason for him to butt into the conversation here. Getting them a Razor Claw wasn't going to be anything interesting for the story, and it's not unreasonable for someone who's a trainer to have picked one up at some point, so eh, whatever, let's say Alan's got one.
“Alan?” Mark said suspiciously. “What are you doing here already?”
Alan sighed, not moving from where he stood; May was looking at him too, still wary, but didn’t say anything. “I’m sorry,” he said, finally. “We have something important to do. I shouldn’t compromise that just because I feel weird about it, no matter how justified.” He glanced around, his gaze finding Stantler and staying there.
“You must be Alan,” Stantler said after a moment.
“Hi,” he said with a forced smile. “You’re... you’re May’s?”
“She is my trainer, yes,” Stantler responded.
“Yeah,” he said quickly, “that’s what I meant.”
I enjoy how unimpressed Stantler is by Alan (kind of unfairly, of course; she doesn't know him, except that his departure had a nasty effect on May's mental health), and in particular how she makes this pointed correction to the way he chooses to refer to her. Obviously, that hits an especially sore spot for him.
There was another pause. “For what it’s worth,” Stantler went on, “I don’t think my trainer needs your help to feel like a murderer, so I’d appreciate if you’d move on and treat her like a person.”
Alan blinked at her; May looked like she’d been stung, but kept her gaze on him.
“Yeah,” Alan said after a second, expelling a breath. “I’m sorry about that, too. Look, I...” He looked at May, finally, his expression defeated. “I wasn’t sure if I was going to come, to be honest. But I wanted to know if you’d just bounced back to the same old, like when Lapras wanted to leave, or if you’d really changed. So I came and listened to a bit of your conversation without announcing myself and...”
There was a pause. “And?” May repeated, wary.
“And you asked Sneasel if she wanted to evolve. You weren’t even forcing yourself to do it to sound better. You just did.”
It was May’s turn to blink.
“I mean, it’s a really small thing,” Alan said quickly, “and it’s not a sure indicator of anything, but I don’t think you’d ever have done that before.”
It's extremely uncomfortable for Alan to be saying this to her face here, but it's a perfectly sound observation - she really has grown to regard the Pokémon as people, and the way she asked Sneasel if she wanted to evolve is a far cry from her previous forced efforts.
Stantler looked thoroughly unimpressed with that, and Mark kind of agreed. “You could have just asked, you know,” he said. “Treating somebody like a person doesn’t involve eavesdropping on them, last time I checked.”
Alan looked at him and kind of deflated, sighing; his shoulders sagged, and suddenly he looked very tired. “Yeah, you’re right. I just... yeah. May’s a person. Consider that filed.” He shook his head, spreading his arms out. “Well, I’m back. I’ll stop being an idiot now and just shut up.”
Alan, that's passive-aggressive.
He sat down by their fire, silently. “So yeah, I have a Razor Claw,” he said after a second. “I bought it for a friend when I was on my journey, but then her Sneasel decided he didn’t want to evolve after all. It should still be on my PC system. If you want, that is.”
Mark nodded. “Yeah, thanks. We can...”
“I want to evolve tonight,” said Sneasel immediately, looking at Mark. “If he has the item, we can do it now.”
“I’ll help,” Floatzel said enthusiastically.
Mark looked at May and Alan and then shrugged. “Fine by me,” he said. “I’m not that tired.”
Alan took out his Pokédex and an item box and retrieved the Razor Claw with a few button-presses, handing it to Mark without words.
“Thanks,” Mark said before turning to Sneasel. “Should we go somewhere where there’s more space?”
“And more darkness,” May added, speaking for the first time in a while. “Sneasel can’t evolve unless it’s dark around.”
“Yeah, that too.” Mark looked at them, hesitating. “While I’m gone, can you fill him and his Pokémon in on the strategies?” he asked, directing the question at May. She nodded wordlessly.
“All right, then. See you later.”
As he walked towards the forest with Sneasel and Floatzel, he heard indistinctly as Alan sent out his Pokémon and May started to talk about their training as if nothing were more natural. Sometimes he just didn’t get how her brain worked.
He was only barely out of sight when there was a hiss out of a bush by his side; he turned wildly around, heart jumping into his throat, before it registered that it had been Scyther’s voice, saying his name.
“You scared me,” he muttered as the mantis stepped out. “What is it?”
“Sorry,” Scyther said quietly, looking uncomfortable. “There’s just something I have to do.”
“All the time we’ve been here,” Scyther went on, looking him in the eye, “I’ve been trying to forget. I was going to let go of the Code and the swarm and my life in the wild. But it’s hard and I can’t. I can’t just leave again. I have to go and find my swarm.”
Things felt strange and surreal all of a sudden; flashbacks of Letaligon assaulted Mark, but this time, after going through that with her, he was oddly calm. “Will you be coming back?” he just said.
Scyther shook his head slowly. “I don’t know. The swarm isn’t going to want me back, but maybe...” He was silent for a few moments, his gaze distant. “If I’m not back by dawn,” he said eventually, “don’t wait for me. Tell them all goodbye and that I loved battling with them. That goes for you too.” At the last sentence, he inclined his head to Floatzel and Sneasel; they both just looked faintly puzzled.
“All right.” Mark’s mind still felt strangely detached, frozen. “Whatever you do,” he heard himself saying, “I hope you choose what makes you happiest.”
Mark is such a good. (Also, look at Floatzel and Sneasel sharing in this moment of bafflement at Scyther's sentimentality! They really are made for each other.)
Scyther nodded; there was a tinge of genuine gratitude in his eyes. “Thanks for everything,” he said, and before the fact Mark might never see him again had even properly begun to sink in, the mantis had dashed off between the trees and out of sight.
Aaand here we're just setting up for chapter 60 so that can go straight into Scyther's POV.
It's a little funny how they've been right here training for a couple of months now and Scyther's only now choosing to go back to his swarm. I justified it as him trying to forget until they were about to set off again, but in reality, the reason for this was simple: Scyther's return to the swarm couldn't happen until some time after the end of The Fall of a Leader, and Part VII of that explicitly takes place during this winter. Kind of awkwardly, though, this means that during all the high drama of Shadowdart's slow descent into tyranny, Razor was actually right there and just didn't actually visit.
When I was doing the Scyther's Story rewrite for NaNoWriMo 2010, I talked about this issue on the Quest Blog. At that point, I was hoping to solve it by finishing this rewrite, where the whole process of teaching the adolescent Scyther before their First Prey was supposed to be greatly compacted to only take a few months rather than the kind of ridiculous full year it had originally been established as, and then modifying the relevant time indicators in The Fall of a Leader to match, to ensure that the end of it could take place in the autumn. However, I didn't manage to finish the rewrite, and ultimately, instead I just had them spend enough time here near Ruxido for it to work out.
(The reason I didn't simply move chapter 60 later in the fic: there's not really any good reason for them to return to Ruxido again after releasing Letaligon; it would've just been clumsy and got in the way.)
The chapter plan was: Chapter 59: They spend a while (until November or so) staying in Green Town and training variously in Ruxido and Route 217, advancing their techniques for taking on multiple Pokémon at the same time; Sneasel evolves into a Weavile after Mark realizes all the Color Dragons are weak to Ice attacks; Scyther, who has been uneasy and quiet, wishes to see how his friends in the swarm are doing. I changed the month named there a few times; I ended up on December, so that it could sensibly be said that it was winter when Shadowdart died, but apparently I never changed it again on the plan. I think I added in Sneasel's evolution here after realizing the thing about the Color Dragons' types. Remember, Alan leaving was never in the chapter plan, so Alan returning wasn't in here either, and like I said the expanded backstory of the Color Dragons was spontaneous.
This is a very transitional chapter, just establishing the timeskip and the reveal about the dragons plus setting the stage for the following chapters. But I like some of the character interactions here, and Mark's continuing crisis of faith.
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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!