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 64: Hide and Seek

Chapter 64 came out on May 13th, 2014. I was twenty-four now, and the fic was just a bit more than a month away from its twelfth birthday. It had been fourteen months since chapter 63. Ouch.

This was the single longest wait for any chapter of the fic, including where I worked on multiple chapters at a time and released them all at once. That sounds pretty bizarre: after all, I'd just finished drafting the entire rest of the fic; shouldn't this have been where things speed up? But instead, things slowed down after the NaNo draft. I even made graphs:

See that sharp upward spike on the first graph, and the first really long horizontal gap on the second? That's this chapter.

Why? Well, some of it was the usual kind of just focusing on other things. But I also just spent a lot of time and care thinking about this chapter, and about the rest of the fic as a whole, as I worked on editing it. It's a May-focused chapter, and May is probably my favorite character in the fic; I really wanted to do her justice here, I didn't think the NaNo draft achieved this, and the more I reread the entire NaNo draft - something I did a lot of at this point - the more dissatisfied I was with it, and with the way May's arc played out in particular. I mulled over major changes, scenes I wanted to add, tossing around ideas; I thought, a lot, about May, and about Robin. I identified more and more issues with the draft and wrestled with how I wanted to fix them.

You can see some of the progression of my thinking in my entries on the Quest Blog and posts on my Tumblr, which I started using in the summer of 2013:

Between work and the interactive type chart that I've spent way too long making for TCoD, I've had very little writing time recently, and although posting chapter 64 today would have been nice, I've just ultimately not had any time to finish editing it.

(I like the chapter, though. It has lots and lots of May.)

I'm going to be changing so many things about what I wrote for NaNo. It spends time on silly things and doesn't do other things I'd like to do and I've changed my mind about various decisions I made. (June 19th 2013)

Chapter 64… is not getting worked on much at the moment. I've been randomly in a website mood recently, hence all the updating TCoD and now with the BOOYAH SEMANTIC MARKUP FOR MY FANFICTION thing, and when I'm not doing that I tend to be working on those Serebii contest reviews. I've been thinking about it quite a bit, though, in terms of what purpose it needs to serve for the story and how to go about achieving it, so all this time hasn't been entirely unproductive - I was dissatisfied with how the chapter progressed but I've mostly figured out what blanks I need to fill in. (September 5th 2013)

This should not be what the rest of this fic's lifetime will be like, honestly. It's just that this chapter is really hard to get right, and I really want to get it right. Mostly, on both counts, that's because of May. Normally I have it easy: Mark is a very cooperative narrator, because he is generally straightforward, quite introspective and usually honest with himself. If something is bothering Mark, I can just write "It bothered Mark that…" and it will be both an accurate representation of how he mentally frames it to himself and easily communicates information about what's going on in Mark's head to the reader. May, on the other hand, has about a billion different things going on in her head and she hates half of them and doesn't want to acknowledge that they exist or if so only in the briefest and vaguest of terms, and on top of all that Chaletwo is in her head reading her mind right now and that makes her mentally clam up even more than usual. This all makes her way more interesting than Mark (at least in my opinion), which is why I extra-specially want to get this chapter just right, but on the other hand it also means writing a chapter that mostly revolves around what's going on in May's head, like this one, takes some figuring to work out how to smoothly show the stuff I want to communicate within the rather uncooperative framework of her narration. Really interesting figuring! But also kind of time-consuming figuring, and the result of the figuring often involves some delicate tuning and long story short, I'm still working on getting it right because of all that.

Unfortunately it's not all good news for what comes after the chapter either, even though this particular issue is specific to it. I never really liked chapters 66-70 and they keep bothering me: essentially it's a five-chapter arc that as it stands could almost be cut out without impacting the rest of the fic, which is always a bad sign. I say almost because actually just cutting them out would leave a bunch of setup leading nowhere and a bit of character development for Alan would be missing and a minor loose end one of them addresses would be left hanging, but the rest of what happens in them is, right now, just setting up the rest of them and then more or less restoring to the status quo, which makes them feel pretty pointless (to me, anyway). So I want to work out a way to integrate them better with the rest of the story, too, and that will also take some figuring.

But I will soldier on no matter what. Never think the fic is dead. I couldn't quit it if I tried. (November 3rd 2013)

Rereading some of the TQftL NaNo chapters. I’m noticing for the first time that just about every other chapter seems to contain a moment where Mark mysteriously has a spark of insight where he realizes based on very little what’s really going on with [something]. Which, come to think of it, has happened in a lot of the recent actual posted chapters too. When did this weird epidemic start? At what point did my brain decide Mark was psychic? Individually they’re not so bad - I mean, they’re not totally unreasonable as inspired deductions, and they’re usually not really plot-relevant insights so they’re not dei ex machina per se - but reading a lot of them in a short period of time starts to sound hilariously parodesque.

Oh, fic. You’re so ridiculous and I love you. At least I’ve gotten some decent ideas about how to make this all less silly. (December 10th 2013)

Third draft of chapter 64 of TQftL finished (in a burst of writing prompted by having it pointed out to me that it’s been a year since I posted chapter 63, holy crap). It is so hard to revise subtlety issues. I’m not all that sure it’s actually clearer what’s going on in May’s head than in the last draft but since now my betas already know I don’t know if they can even tell me. (March 24th 2014)

There is literally just this one single sentence in chapter 64 that I’m still mulling over before I hand it off to elyvorg again. I just have this feeling like there’s something perfect I could write there that subtly but beautifully conveys everything I need, but I haven’t found it yet. (April 28th 2014)

Either way, eventually I did it, and I think the wait was worth it. This is one of my absolute favorite chapters, and all the thinking I did here really helped shape and focus the rest of the fic.

This is the first chapter for which I can compare the NaNo draft to the final version! I've dug up a version of the document from June 2013, when I had read through the draft and made some edits, but they were fairly minor edits - largely just fixing typos and phrasing, rather than adding or rewriting entire scenes. For every chapter from here onwards, I can remark on how I edited the chapter between 2013 and when the chapter was posted.

The quickest way to Acaria City was to fly. Skarmory couldn’t fly as fast as Charizard with a trainer weighing him down, so May borrowed Mark’s Charizard. It was strange flying an unfamiliar Pokémon, and despite how many battles they’d been in together, she could never quite shake the feeling that she just didn’t trust him like one of her own.

(Chaletwo didn’t comment on that, but he was probably rolling his immaterial eyes.)

May has some... trust issues, of sorts. She has a very hard time relying on other people, by default. (It hadn't occurred to me before, but this is probably because of her dad, isn't it.) So it's instinctively uncomfortable to her to leave someone she's not used to responsible for her safety. She knows in cases like this it's irrational, and it kind of bothers her, hence why she feels like Chaletwo's probably internally mocking her for it.

They reached the city in the evening and checked into a trainer hotel. Chaletwo hadn’t talked to her most of the day, which made her almost forget he was there at all; if anything that bothered her even more. She didn’t know how Mark could stand this.

“He can stand this because he doesn’t freak out over it,” Chaletwo said as she entered her room and collapsed onto the bed. “I don’t understand why you’re so tense. You know me; I know you; I already know your Tyranitar killed a boy. Exactly what are you afraid of?”

She winced. “That’s not the problem,” she said, turning onto her side.

“Then what is? Do girls your age think about boys or something? Because I assure you I’d tune that out anyway.”

“No!” She sat up in disgust. “What, is Mark thinking about girls all the time?”

“Thankfully, no.”

“Good.”

I love Chaletwo and his vague, apprehensive idea that at some point most humans develop a bizarre alien obsession with the opposite sex that he'd very much prefer to avoid.

Luckily for him, May also very much thinks the entire idea is weird and gross.

May lay back down with a sigh. There was silence.

“You still haven’t told me what –”

“Thoughts are supposed to be private,” she said between gritted teeth.

“I’m not going to blab everything you think to Mark, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

“Again, that’s not the point.”

“Then I don’t have the faintest idea what is.”

What was the point? May wasn’t entirely sure how to answer that. Thoughts were random and uncontrollable, and people should have conscious control over how they appeared to others. That didn’t mean they had anything to hide. It was just... who you were was the choices you made about what to say and do, and if somebody was reading your mind, you didn’t have a choice about anything. It was creepy and terrifying.

This is a pretty vital part of May's worldview. She thinks all sorts of things, but what matters is the things she actually does, the things she can control. It's extremely important to her that she can hide and suppress her weaknesses and fears and present a strong front and regard that as who she really is - especially now, when she's haunted by the awareness that she did actually think that she wanted Taylor to die.

That, incidentally, is the actual point and the real reason May is so particularly tense about having Chaletwo in her head right now: she's terrified of that particular thought somehow slipping past and being exposed. But she's suppressing that hard and doesn't quite know that that's why; all she knows is the revulsion she feels at the thought of having someone reading her mind.

I did not know exactly why May was quite so tense about this in this chapter when I was originally NaNoing it, and had actually been thinking that it was a little weird and seemed like it was going somewhere when it wasn't, so I should probably mess with it in editing - but then I was writing chapter 73, and I went OH, so that's what all that stuff in chapter 64 was about.

“What? Of course you can still choose what you say and do. It’s not mind-control.”

May clenched her jaw and thought about empty white space.

“If it helps,” Chaletwo said after a moment, “I don’t have to read your thoughts all the time. I can tune you out completely unless you ask for me or something important is going on.”

She shook her head. “I’m fine.”

In the NaNo draft, Chaletwo didn't answer this and the scene ended here after a brief ending line.

Chaletwo gave a long telepathic sigh. “If you insist. What do you think of our prospects without Mark?”

“We have Robin,” she said.

“She’s a whole lot better than nothing, obviously, but you and Mark did train for a couple of months for legendary battles, which she hasn’t.”

“But Robin is good at battling, which Mark isn’t, so that pretty much balances it out.”

“I wouldn’t go that far. Mark made it to the quarterfinals of the League. I realize you’re the more skilled battler, but…”

“Mark is okay,” May said firmly, “but Robin is top-notch. She’ll pick up the strategy in no time. If anything we’re better off now.”

Chaletwo sighed again. “Well, I suppose optimism is nice. Either way, you should get some sleep; tomorrow will be a long day.”

May nodded and stood up to brush her teeth, and Chaletwo didn’t speak again for the rest of the night.

The main reason for the addition of this chunk in editing was to establish clearly what May actually thinks of Robin, as a contrast to later. I also enjoy it for May continuing to put Mark down a bit, though.

-------

May had only had a vague idea about the existence of the Acaria mountains. People didn’t exactly study Ouenian geography in Johto, and while of course they’d been to the city before, she hadn’t paid much attention to the mountains in the background when they’d approached it then – she’d never been one to spend her time admiring landscapes.

But now that they were there, flying over the mountain range, she could see that, depressingly, Alan was right: the mountains seemed to go on forever, and they were so littered with cracks and holes that it was a wonder they hadn’t collapsed into a pile of rubble. There had to be thousands of caverns. Not all of them could house huge legendary dragons, of course, but that didn’t help them find those few.

May's narration in general is a lot more cynical and pessimistic than Mark's, which I hope comes across pretty clearly.

“Let’s land here and plan things out,” she shouted as they finished their initial flyover. They’d been vaguely hoping to run into dumb luck such as happening to see one of the dragons, but predictably enough, that hadn’t happened. Wisps of clouds rushed past as Charizard descended; the Acaria skies were cold and wet today. Grateful for the wool-lined coat she’d bought in Green Town in October, she clung to the Pokémon’s neck and braced herself for the landing: despite being faster than Skarmory, Charizard weren’t nearly as nimble or precise in their flight. (Well, maybe Robin’s was, given the acrobatics she’d seen him do at the League – but she wasn’t about to point that out to Mark’s Charizard.)

May comparing Mark's Charizard unfavorably to Robin's several times in this chapter just happened very organically while I was NaNoing.

Note the mention of it being cold. Throughout the chapter I mention the cold a lot in order to build up the twist. I'm pretty sure when I started writing the chapter during NaNo, though, I hadn't yet realized the bit where of course the dragons wouldn't choose to live in a place like this, and I just coincidentally imagined it being kind of cold. In editing, when I knew the twist, May's coat became wool-lined to emphasize it more.

“Right,” she said when she’d climbed off his back and recalled him. “Alan, I was thinking you could start looking around the area while I introduce our fighting strategy to Robin and her team. Take Skarmory; Charlie’s probably exhausted.”

She switched the ball she was holding with Skarmory’s and handed it in Alan’s direction. He looked annoyingly surprised, in that particularly Alanish way designed to tell her what an awful person she usually was. “Yeah,” he said. “He is. Thanks.”

“You’re welcome,” she said anyway as he took the ball and sent Skarmory out. The vulture gave May a disappointed glance when Alan explained he was going with him, which was at least grimly satisfying.

I like this bit a lot. May genuinely has grown a lot more used to thinking of the Pokémon as people, and really did just unthinkingly figure Charlie's probably tired and needs a break - and then she notices Alan reacting to that, and knows why he's reacting that way, and it stings. But rather than actually acknowledge the hurt, May bites it back and makes this sardonic jab out of it.

The bit about Skarmory being disappointed to go with Alan was added in editing, largely just because the rhythm of this bit felt off, but it's another line I enjoy; Skarmory really does like May, and I just like May taking this petty satisfaction in the fact he prefers her in this moment.

Once they were gone, she finally turned to the other girl, exhaling. Robin was still standing by her Charizard’s side and looking eagerly at May, her eyes practically sparkling with enthusiasm. She’d been wearing an excited grin since they’d set off, and apparently her cheek muscles still hadn’t tired of it. After hanging around Mark and Alan for all this time, May couldn’t quite decide whether this was a refreshing change or indicated a bizarre lack of perspective on what was going on.

People being as cheerful and enthusiastic as Robin is just wigs May out a bit. It occurs to me that May does a lot of comparing and making mental jabs at people in general, in a way that Mark obviously doesn't, and that this is probably pretty telling - she's got such a critical way of thinking about everything, and that's the light in which she judges herself, all the time.

“Well, what are we waiting for?” she said. “Send out your team so we can get started.”

I also just enjoy how May's internal commentary is rarely reflected in what she actually says out loud.

She took out her Pokéballs and May shielded her eyes from the blinding light of five Pokémon materializing. Robin had briefly introduced her Pokémon to them before they’d left, of course, but most of that conversation had gone into explaining the War of the Legends and answering their many questions, so there hadn’t been much in the way of considering battle strategy. May would have to work from what she’d gathered about how they fought from their battle at the League, at least for now.

“Well,” she said, glancing over the group, “first off, you’ll be flying Charizard, so he’s not going to be battling. I’m not taking any chances with them being friendlier than their sisters, and the last thing we want is a repeat of the Mark disaster, so he’s going to want to devote his full attention to keeping you out of their way.”

Dragoreen threatening Mark really was pretty traumatic for her and will pop up again in this chapter.

The dragon Pokémon nodded firmly. If he was tired after the long flight, he didn’t show it – he was breathing slowly and measuredly, each calm exhalation forming a thick cloud of mist in front of his nostrils. In a way it seemed backwards; Robin’s Charizard was considerably smaller and leaner than either Mark’s or Charlie, and while it made intuitive sense that this made him faster and more agile, May wouldn’t have expected him to excel in endurance as well. She wasn’t sure if that was genetics or if it was Robin’s doing.

She's effectively wondering about IVs vs. EVs here. Robin's Charizard also just really wants to do well for his trainer and tries not to show when he's tired, though - he does this again later in the fic.

“So, again, the dragons are all Dragon/Flying-types. They don’t look it or fight like it, but Ice attacks are always going to be the best choice. Rock and Dragon are good too – and Fairy, I guess, but none of us have Fairy-types – but Ice is more effective and obviously easier to pull off in this weather. That means Froslass is going to be the most important member of your team, and the others should do their best to try to keep them off her back.”

The sixth generation came out while I was editing this chapter, so the Fairy reference was obviously added in editing. This is the first sixth-generation reference in the fic - which, amusingly, actually precedes the first fifth-generation reference in the fic, later in the chapter. (At least I'm pretty sure the Beartic is the first fifth-generation Pokémon or move mentioned in the story.)

The ghost Pokémon tilted her head curiously, her strange blue-and-yellow eyes flicking towards May. “What about Gastrodon?”

Robin's Froslass and Gastrodon are friends. In the draft, May noticed them whispering to each other, and I kind of miss that bit, though I assume Froslass is making this comment for the same reason.

May opened her mouth. “Yes, her too, if she knows Ice moves. Stone Edge too, I guess.” Except she’s slow and can’t dodge worth a damn, so she’s not going to last very long once they see her as a threat, she thought, but didn’t say it – you weren’t supposed to say things like that. And Robin’s Machamp, though she looked almost as excited by the prospect of the battle as her trainer, would have a similarly hard time – she knew Stone Edge too, but the dragons would probably have Flying moves and Machamp were not exactly agile either.

Meanwhile, Robin’s Cacturne was looking sluggishly around, shivering. When May had first seen Robin battle, she’d used him brilliantly on a desert-themed arena, but for the same reasons he’d been excellent there, he was next to useless here. It wasn’t their fault, and definitely not Robin’s fault, but it was dawning on her that this fight wouldn’t be very suited to them. Perhaps she’d spoken too soon to Chaletwo yesterday.

May sighed, squeezing her eyes shut, trying to think of words. What would Stantler say? “Since the dragons fly and are pretty fast, agility and range are going to be key points. Our general strategy so far is to try to isolate them from one another as much as possible by luring them in different directions and keeping them there with paralysis, trapping moves or just keeping them busy, so that each dragon can only attack the Pokémon that are attacking him. This allows us to break the battle into three roughly eight-on-one battles instead of one twenty-something-on-three battle, which is better for us – Waterberg principle and all. Does that make sense?”

Robin nodded; she had obviously paid enough attention in school to know the Waterberg principle, unlike Mark and Alan, which cheered May up somewhat again. “Gastrodon can use Whirlpool,” Robin said. “So she can help with the trapping, and obviously Luxray has Thunder Wave. If we get them paralyzed, that helps Gastrodon and Machamp a lot, too.”

May glanced at Robin’s Luxray, who was lying in the back of the group of Pokémon; he let out a low, rumbling growl, and she averted her eyes again. He hadn’t seemed very sociable during the introductions either. Part of her wanted to ask Robin about it, and part of her really didn’t.

She realized belatedly that she hadn’t answered. “Yeah, that sounds about right,” she said. Paralysis helps Gastrodon and Machamp a lot, too. How discreet. She took a deep breath. “Maybe Cacturne would want to sit this one out, though. I don’t think there’s that much he can do in this kind of environment, and they’re doubly resistant to Grass attacks. But I guess that’s up to him.”

May still very much thinks in practical battling terms, but has a somewhat difficult time figuring out how to voice her concerns now that she's trying to be more mindful and not talk to her Pokémon like she did to Tyranitar. Then Robin gets at exactly what she was thinking in a constructive and positive way, not "They're slow," but "It'd help them if the dragons were paralyzed." And that sort of starts to kick off this burst of nagging jealousy in May: Robin's a great battler, but this stuff also just comes so easily to her, and slowly Robin's presence just starts to grate on May's insecurities.

“Of course I’ll take part,” Cacturne said, sounding cross. “Who do you think I am?”

“Right. Obviously.” Judging from Robin’s amused eyeroll, May took it Cacturne wasn’t really as offended as he sounded. “Well, basically in each sub-battle we’re going to want Pokémon that resist that dragon’s favoured type of attack, as far as possible. They can still use Dragon moves, obviously, but that can’t be helped. So Pokémon that resist Water should go for the blue one and those who resist Poison attack the black one. Mark didn’t think the gold one had a special favoured type, but he’s probably going to be using mostly Dragon and Flying-type moves, then.”

The bit with Cacturne is another small bit where May notices Robin's effortlessly friendly relationship with her own Pokémon.

“Huh,” said Robin, scratching her chin. “If he doesn’t have a favoured type, does he have something else instead?”

“I don’t know,” May said, sighing. “Mark was going by what he can remember of some book he flipped through once. Chaletwo doesn’t know anything about how they battle because, surprise, legendaries don’t usually spend their free time battling. Dragoreen just said he was strong defensively and that’s it.”

In the NaNo draft May just said she didn't know. I'm happy about this addition; more vague irration with Mark, and a bit of explanation for why Chaletwo and Dragoreen couldn't tell them more.

Robin pursed her lips, thoughtful.

“But since Ice is our best shot,” May went on, “we want at least something with an Ice move in each group, if we can. Mark has a Weavile, my Floatzel knows Ice Punch, and Alan’s Vaporeon knows Ice Beam. With your team, we can add Froslass – and Gastrodon – to that. Then we should try to spread the remaining Rock and Dragon moves to even it out once we’ve sorted out which Ice user goes for which dragon – there’s Mark’s Charizard, Dragonite and Sandslash, Alan’s Grovyle and my Flygon, and now Machamp. Like I said earlier, yours and Alan’s Charizard are going to be too busy carrying you, so –”

“What about your Tyranitar?” Robin asked, and May froze, her train of thought coming to a screeching halt.

(Robin didn’t know. Of course she didn’t. What the hell had she expected?)

“He’s gone,” May’s mouth said.

Robin blinked, her eyes widening in dawning concern. “Gone?”

The NaNo draft was considerably blunter about the implications here: Robin was wide-eyed and concerned, like she thought he’d died or something. That was even worse.

“Not like that. I – I just released him. It’s not important.”

“What? Why?”

For a split second May hated her more than anything in the world for not knowing when to leave it alone. Then, as she was trying to pull together a response, Robin looked down and shook her head. “No, sorry, I won’t pry. Forget it.”

Robin totally does know when to leave it alone, which is only more frustrating because then May can't even feel properly justified in hating her for it.

May opened her mouth to say that it was fine, but stopped herself; there was nowhere good the conversation could proceed from there. “Thanks,” she made herself say instead.

Robin smiled awkwardly. May tried to smile back.

“I think it would be a good idea to try to organize things a bit around the trapping moves too,” Robin said after a long pause.

“Yeah, that was the idea,” May said.

Tyranitar didn’t come up again.

This entire scene with the battling discussion was completely rearranged in editing; originally, in the NaNo draft, once Robin sent out her Pokémon, May first looked at each of Robin's Pokémon in turn and considered them for the upcoming battle, before May pretty much monologued about the strategy plan until Robin asked about Tyranitar. In the 2013 document, May looking over the Pokémon ends with this:

Finally, her Luxray, currently lying at the back of the group, would definitely come in handy – paralysis was always useful, and electricity would be neutral against them. He let out a low, rumbling growl as May looked at him, and she averted her eyes. He hadn’t seemed very sociable before – he’d initially reminded her uncomfortably of Tyranitar – but when she’d casually asked about it during a rest stop, Robin had assured her he just took a while to trust new people but was passionately loyal, sensitive and gentle and actually talked to her a lot.

Could May have told her something like that about any of her own Pokémon off the top of her head? She wasn’t sure. She’d thought she was doing fine now – Stantler and Alan seemed to think so or pretended they did – but come to think of it she still never talked to her Pokémon about anything but battling and the War of the Legends. How much would that have changed for Tyranitar, really?

“So, what do you think?” Robin said hesitantly, and May snapped her head back towards her, unclenching the fist she didn’t remember clenching.

In my further editing, I realized the lengthy dump of inner monologue was tedious and awkward, and instead I had May start talking about strategy immediately with her thoughts on the individual Pokémon spread across the conversation, and made Robin a more active participant. More importantly, though, I realized that this whole bit about Robin's Luxray reminding May of Tyranitar was pretty interesting and could be shown way more effectively instead of just dumping it here in a sentence, and I ditched the too-blunt second paragraph there entirely as well in favor of subtler bits. I do kind of enjoy that bit with Robin hesitantly asking what May thinks when she's been silent for too long, though; it shows her hoping for May's approval in a way that's lost in the final version.

-------

Alan didn’t find anything. When they’d finished nailing down which Pokémon would go for which dragon, May and Robin went flying around too, but didn’t find anything either. They returned to where they’d landed to camp, tired and exhausted with nothing to show for a day’s gruelling work.

May's so achingly angry and negative. Of course they weren't going to succeed on day one! But she hates this and the whole situation has her stressed and on edge, and it makes this really pretty innocuous and expected lack of immediate results into a stinging failure. All she wants is to just find the dragons and get away from here.

This one paragraph was in the NaNo draft, but the entire rest of this scene was new in editing.

Robin didn’t seem to have noticed, though. She was chatting enthusiastically practically the moment they were off their Pokémon’s backs, and by the time they’d heated some beans for dinner she was still at it.

Robin's enthusiasm only bugs May all the more now that she's hyper-aware that Robin knows Tyranitar's gone but not why.

“…and then the kid came back again, all sore-loser-like, saying, ‘That didn’t count, I want a rematch.’”

Alan raised his eyebrows, chuckling. “Wow. Yeah, that sounds pretty obnoxious, all right.”

May poked at her beans, hungry but not hungry, trying to work up the willpower to eat another forkful and wishing they could just eat silently.

“And Luxray just gave the guy this stare, and he kind of started to back off, but then he changed his mind and just stood there and folded his arms and told me he wasn’t leaving until I battled him again. And, you know, I have to give him some credit; it’s pretty hard to stare in the face of a Pokémon with Intimidate and not back down, but I just could not believe…”

“What’s wrong with your Luxray?” May said, before she could think better of it.

“Huh?” Robin looked quizzically at her.

“He doesn’t talk.” May forced the words out as quickly as she could, trying to ignore Alan as his gaze flicked sharply towards her in alarm. “He just growls. What’s up with that?”

Obviously Alan immediately knows why she's asking about this, and she knew he'd know and hates it, but this has been really, really bothering her - and on some level, she wants to be right that they're similar cases, to knock Robin off her high horse, to prove that she's flawed too.

Robin’s puzzlement turned into understanding, and she laughed. “Oh. Yeah, he comes off pretty cold, doesn’t he? Sorry, I should have thought to explain – he just takes a while to warm up to people. He didn’t really talk first after I caught him, either, so I was pretty concerned too, but after about a week of gentle prodding he started opening up, and now we’re basically best friends. He’s a total sweetheart once you get to know him; he just has some childhood trust issues that he hasn’t quite worked out yet, and it’s something he really needs to get through at his own pace, so I try not to get on his case for being a bit hostile to people at first. Sometimes I forget people might take it the wrong way, though. Sorry about that.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Alan said, smiling. “It sounds like you’re handling it well.”

May nodded numbly, waiting for the knot in her stomach to dissolve, but it didn’t.

Of course, May knows that this is a good thing, that there's not another Tyranitar in the making here - but that just makes this another way that Robin is better than May. Alan's really rubbing it in, too.

“Thanks; I try to.” Robin beamed. “Anyway, so like I was saying, annoying dude came back again, and despite Luxray’s attempt to scare him off, he still refused to go away. Luxray looked up at me like, ‘Say the word and I will make sure this kid never bothers you again’ – it was kind of hilarious, honestly – but I just told him straight out that I wasn’t interested and he doesn’t own me and we’re done here. He still followed me for a few minutes whining about it, but by that point I was just ignoring him completely and eventually he gave up.” She finally stopped to take a breath. “How about you guys?”

Robin talking about the hilarity of Luxray figuratively threatening to kill someone sure isn't making May feel any better.

Alan scratched his brow. “I don’t know, I think the most obnoxious trainer I ever met was probably this one boy who…” He trailed off. “Well, he was just a kid, so maybe it’s not really fair, but he approached me after he overheard me saying my last name at a Pokémon Center in Hoenn. I thought he just wanted to say hello but he ended up interrogating me about my dad and what would he think of this and that and how he was raising his Pokémon and so on for about an hour. It was awful.”

“Ouch,” Robin said. “Why didn’t you just tell him you had stuff to do?”

Alan winced. “That would have seemed kind of mean, don’t you think?”

“There’s a difference between being nice and being too polite to say no to anything,” Robin said firmly. “A lot of people don’t get that. Like, I heard people complaining May seemed rude because she was always refusing interviews before the League finals, but really it’s perfectly reasonable she wanted to use that time to train and said so. She doesn’t let people just walk all over her, and that’s a good thing. If you let random kids hold you hostage for an hour in a situation that makes you uncomfortable, maybe you could learn something from her.”

“Maybe,” Alan said, sceptical.

Robin looked at May with a grin. May stared at her rapidly cooling beans, squeezing the can, and halfheartedly tried to hold on to the remains of her appetite for a moment before giving up and putting down the can with a sigh.

Robin is just such a fan of May and so thrilled to point to her as a positive example and it just makes May nauseous.

“So…” Robin’s smile faltered at last. She hesitated before putting up a more awkward version of it. “Do… do you have any obnoxious trainer stories?”

“No,” May said, and she stood up and started to pitch the tents.

Poor Robin. She just has no idea why May's suddenly so cold. This was supposed to be her dream trip with the true Champion, and before they left May had really sounded like she liked her and thought she was pretty cool! But now May just seems irritated by her very existence, and she doesn't understand what changed.

-------

Robin broke the silence again once they’d crawled into their sleeping bags inside the girls’ tent. “I’m sure it’ll go better tomorrow,” she said. “I mean, now that I’m all initiated and we can go in three different directions from the beginning.”

Obviously, Robin noticed May was irritated they didn't find anything. A version of this line actually happened directly after the first paragraph of the previous scene in the draft. The rest of this scene, though, is another one that's new in editing, which surprised me looking at the old document; I think I must have added it relatively early, but clearly not until after this.

May wanted to believe that, but didn’t. She didn’t respond.

“May?” Robin asked again after a few minutes, most of the cheer finally gone from her voice. “Random question, sorry it’s pretty silly and you don’t have to answer, but at the League, what did you really think of me? I mean, I did lose, and almost pretty badly at that, so I get it if you weren’t that impressed.”

Robin felt like her loss to May at the League was pretty embarrassing: after all, it was nearly a 2-0, until miraculously Charizard managed to take down Tyranitar. So it was a delightful surprise to her when back in chapter 63 May was saying Robin was awesome. Now, though, with the way May's acting, she's thinking maybe May didn't actually think that much of her after all - maybe she just said that to convince Dragoreen or something. And she wouldn't blame May for that; she just wants to know.

May shifted around, still trying to find a way to be comfortable on the hard ground, irritated at that, irritated that Robin was suddenly playing humble at her after everything. “I thought you were a guy,” she muttered.

To May, of course, the battle against Robin was that one where she didn't manage to beat a Charizard with a Tyranitar, where she only pulled off the win because she'd gotten lucky at the beginning and so had one more Pokémon in reserve. The thought of that battle is humiliating, and Robin suddenly talking about "I get it if you weren't that impressed" just sounds fake and insincere - like fishing for compliments in some kind of grotesque mock-humility.

Bizarrely, Robin broke into a wide grin. “A lot of people do.”

May blinked, incredulous, not sure exactly how she’d expected Robin to react to that, only knowing this definitely wasn’t it. “Doesn’t that… doesn’t it bother you? People thinking you’re something you’re not?”

Robin shrugged, shaking her head. “Actually, I kinda like it.”

May stared at her for a moment, then turned over in her sleeping bag to face away. She should have guessed, she thought grimly. Everything about Robin was bizarre and infuriating.

Robin is eleven and identifies as a girl without having really questioned it, but I'm pretty sure in a couple of years this is going to evolve into some real Gender Thoughts. Maybe if I write more about Robin I will find out exactly what the conclusion to that would be.

(I have been feeling mildly odd calling Robin her in the commentary while aware that Robin isn't necessarily actually a her, but the character as present in the fic is only ever called her and is at least happy to be called that at this point in time, and I don't actually know yet how Robin's going to end up identifying as an adult. Do you think I ought to be calling Robin them in the commentary until (if ever) I figure it out? Or am I way overthinking this?)

This flies entirely over May's head, of course. To her, saying she thought she was a guy was just something that came to mind, as a thing she'd actually thought about Robin that was wrong, and that she kind of spitefully hoped would bother her, because it'd sure bother her if someone thought she was a guy - only of course Robin isn't even bothered by it, because somehow Robin is just perfect and invulnerable.

“So… was that the only thing you thought, or…?”

Robin no

“You didn’t almost lose pretty badly,” May said, wishing she’d stop hammering on this. “You almost won. Your Charizard beat a Tyranitar.”

She kind of meant to continue, but her mouth was dry and she felt kind of sick, and whatever Robin was fishing for, she didn’t want to give it to her.

“Okay,” Robin said after a moment, and May heard her sleeping bag rustle as she turned around. “Thanks.”

I guess that's a kind of validation for Robin, if a very confusing kind.

-------

She tried to struggle, but her limbs were limp and numb and she couldn’t breathe. Robin’s Luxray’s eyes bored into hers, his huge jaws clamped tightly around her body. Behind him, his trainer looked at her in a mixture of accusation and disappointment.

“You know,” Robin said, frowning, “I could call him back. I’m just not sure I want to.”

Then he let go, and she plummeted off the cliff, down towards where Taylor’s body lay in a pool of blood, his glassy stare filling her field of vision as an overwhelming voice called out to her –

This is another scene that's new in editing. I distinctly remember writing in a dream here that was kind of inane and being unhappy with it, then rewriting it completely later when I'd figured May's issues out better, and I really thought the original dream sequence had been NaNo proper, but apparently not. (Well, maybe I wrote one during NaNo and deleted it entirely before I wrote in this new one?)

I was really happy with this dream sequence once I had rewritten it, and I still kind of like it. There's an intentional complete lack of spatial coherence in it: somehow May's held in Luxray's jaws (Luxray should not be big enough for that), but she can also simultaneously see his eyes, and Robin, and then when she's dropped she's looking straight down. The dream itself, brief though it is, is an amalgam of basically everything bothering May at the moment:

  • Robin's Luxray, who reminds her of Tyranitar...
  • ...wanting to kill someone (her)...
  • ...while Robin judges her, having learned what happened to Taylor...
  • ...except that unlike May, Robin could call Luxray back...
  • ...only she's not going to because she doesn't think May deserves to be saved...
  • ...which mirrors May's deepest, darkest fear that maybe she didn't actually want to call off Tyranitar, either...
  • ...and then she's being dropped off a cliff, like Dragoreen was threatening to drop Mark...
  • ...and of course, Taylor's there, with his frozen stare, in a pool of blood.

It may be a bit on the nose, but I also kind of enjoy how many things it manages to allude to in not a lot of words. And of course, all in all, it's a bad time for May, to the point where Chaletwo butts in to wake her.

May’s eyes tore open, and she forcibly blinked a few times. Methodically, her mind unscrambled itself to focus on reality: she was shivering, drenched in sweat, in her sleeping bag, in their tent, in the Acaria mountains. She could hear the wind outside and Robin breathing contentedly on the other side of the tent and feel her own rapid heartbeat as it started to calm.

May is employing a technique to ground herself and forget the details of the dream by systematically focusing on real, physical details and sensations instead. Note how this isn't something she's thinking of here; she already has a strategy and turns to it immediately. This is not her first nightmare.

(Meanwhile, Robin's sleeping perfectly soundly, because of course she is.)

“Are you all right?” Chaletwo asked, and she started again as she recognized the overwhelming voice, a flash of falling, Taylor’s dead eyes – no

“Get the hell out of my dreams,” she hissed under her breath, her voice shaking with cold, before turning over on her other side and thinking determinedly of Meowth kittens.

By the time she fell back to sleep, the dream had faded into a hazy muddle.

At least May's nightmare-forgetting techniques are pretty successful. (Her voice was definitely just shaking with cold, clearly. Remember how it's cold?)

Chaletwo was legitimately concerned there; Mark's had some anxious dreams but nothing quite this intense. But May's just mortified to know he could see her dream at all. Granted, there's no way he could pick out the really relevant detail from it, but the very fact she has nightmares is something she finds humiliating - a weakness, something that makes people pity her when she's fine - and all in all she doesn't like Chaletwo being all up in whatever her brain pulls out in the night without her input, which could be anything.

-------

“All right, let’s go,” she said when she climbed onto Skarmory in the morning, grateful to be on his familiar metallic back again. Something had just seemed too organic about Charizard, with all those moving muscles constantly reminding her that she was riding a living creature with wings designed to hold it without a rider, and that if he made a mistake they would come careening down.

May's difficulties with having to rely on others again. This scene was in the NaNo draft - but there, it immediately followed the initial strategy discussion with Robin, and began with those two earlier paragraphs that eventually turned into openings for their own scenes.

“You okay in the cold, Skarmory?” she asked as he took off. She knew the answer, really – his Steel typing would offset the Flying-type weakness much like the Fire-type did for Charizard – but it seemed right to ask. He nodded and took a skilful dive to make the point. (Charizard would probably not have been able to do this gracefully, cold or no cold.)

Reminding you of that cold again, and how Pokémon that have a weakness to Ice don't do well in cold. Meanwhile, May having genuinely improved again, asking Skarmory if he's all right. (Also, comparing him to Charizard some more, because of course.)

“You know the drill,” she said to Alan and Robin once they were all airborne. “I say Alan continues west from yesterday, Robin goes east and I go further north.”

The others nodded and diverged, and she took a deep breath as Skarmory flew out over the area she and Robin had been exploring the previous day. It was a frustratingly small portion of the overall landscape, but at least this time she was alone.

The "but at least this time she was alone" was added in editing, emphasizing how Robin's one of the big sources of stress for May right now. (Remember, in the NaNo draft the previous three scenes weren't there, and I hadn't really gotten into that whole aspect of it, which turned out to be hugely important.)

She’d memorized the shape of a large crack where they’d left off yesterday, and once they were past it she squinted at the various unexplored shadows and openings beyond. “Start by flying over high,” she said to Skarmory. “Then we can see what’s most promising and prioritize.”

On the first overhead scan, she picked out two or three locations that seemed like fairly large caves; then they did a second pass flying lower past those areas she couldn’t see very well from above. There were a lot of caverns, but most of them were probably too small to house a legendary dragon. She made a mental note of the most plausible candidates, and when they’d covered everything, she told Skarmory to return to the biggest of them.

They landed on a small outcropping by the cave entrance, and she recalled him for now. If they found anything, better if Skarmory wasn’t crawling around inside the cave where he could barely move.

“Charizard, go,” she said, taking his ball out of her pocket and throwing it. “This is the biggest cave I’ve found so far. Could you light the way?”

The difference between the two is that Skarmory can't really attack without some maneuverability, so he's pretty useless in a cramped space, whereas Charizard is able to light things up and attack from a stationary position on the ground.

Charizard nodded and swung his tail out in front of him, proceeding cautiously by her side. The cave appeared to be something of a tunnel, leading into the mountain; it narrowed as they went on, but from a rough estimate she figured it was still just wide enough for something Dragoreen’s size to crawl through. Be here, she thought. Just be here and we can be done.

(Not done with Robin. Or Chaletwo. Or Tyranitar.)

That one time that I said there was literally one sentence that I was still working on before I could publish this chapter? It was this line. I had a very specific feeling here that I wanted to convey somehow: May's trapped and suffocating and desperately wants to just find the dragons and be done here, and she's clinging to that idea even though really she knows it isn't going to solve anything. I still feel like there's a better line I could put here, but I ended up going with this one, this brief, hollow parenthetical acknowledgement that it isn't going to be done at all, without elaboration. It is blunter than I'd have liked, but the way it sounds more irritated than anything else like this made it just passable enough.

In the NaNo draft, none of this thought process happened; they just went into the cave.

They weren’t there, of course. The tunnel just kept on narrowing. She went on anyway until Charizard pointed out it was getting too narrow even for him; then she sighed and they turned and trudged all the way back out. The next candidate turned out to be very shallow and obviously empty, and the one after that seemed promising at first but turned out to end in a massive Woobat nest.

These three duds before the cave with the Beartic were added in editing, just to intensify May's mood.

May didn’t have much hope for the fourth. It looked barely big enough for a dragon to get through. But as Charizard lifted his tail once they’d climbed through the entrance, it turned out to be a considerably bigger cavern, and on the left side, a wide tunnel led into the darkness.

“That looks pretty good,” Charizard said. May nodded wordlessly and entered it, the Fire Pokémon following hastily behind.

The tunnel narrowed a little as they continued inwards, but not by much. Shadows danced on the rough walls on every side, creating a constant illusion of movement; at first, startled Zubat occasionally screeched overhead and made them jump before flying out through the tunnel, but as they went deeper, even they disappeared. The cave became stark and empty, each dimly flickering section of wall the same as another; her feet hurt from the walking, her eyes hurt from squinting into the darkness.

These three paragraphs were also added in editing for imagery and atmosphere; during NaNo I just went straight from just wide enough for something Dragoreen's size to crawl through to "Do you also hear something?", because I am particularly bad at writing this sort of thing and just skipped it.

“Do you also hear something?” Charizard asked suddenly.

“What?” She stopped and waited, holding her breath; without the noise of their footsteps, she could hear a deep, barely audible rumbling somewhere ahead – like the breathing of some large creature somewhere in the depths of the tunnel.

Overwhelming relief was the first thing she felt. She let out the breath she’d been holding, reaching up for her Pokéball necklace. “Okay, this could be it. Be ready.”

May's relief here was also added in editing, since it connects back to her earlier wishful sentiment about how they'd be done if she could just find the dragons.

“Shouldn’t you get the others?” asked Chaletwo, and she jumped.

“Just… when I’ve made sure, okay?”

They walked slow, measured steps along the tunnel, her heart pounding in her ears. She could hear the breathing clearly now, slow, calm breaths, like the creature was asleep. That meant it should be easy to confirm it was there and then get out. The tunnel was wide enough for Charizard to spread his wings, but not the dragon. They could see it, bolt, and then call the others. Easy.

She insists on going in to check because she desperately wants it to be real and just needs to find out as soon as possible, and then justifies why that totally makes sense. Also added in editing; in the NaNo draft she just went in, considered getting the others but decided against it because it'd just be too crowded (but really because I wanted her alone in there).

May rounded a corner a second before Charizard. Her breath caught as she made out the indistinct outline of a large shape lying on the cave floor, but it seemed smaller than she’d expected, and a lot rounder in shape. Then the flame swung around the corner, illuminating... thick white fur?

A Beartic. Yet another wasted trip just to find some stupid wild Pokémon. Frustration and disappointment and rage reached a boiling point somewhere in the back of her mouth.

Fifth generation acknowledged!

“Charizard, Flamethrower,” she said; he looked at her in puzzlement. The huge polar bear Pokémon was stirring, probably awoken by the sound of her voice. “It’s waking up. Just do it.”

Note the awoken by the sound of her voice; she ordered the attack before it was even awake. She could have walked away here without being threatened in any way. This is pure her taking things out on this random Beartic that dares not to be a dragon.

She stepped backwards as the Beartic rose to its hind legs with a deep roar, swiping at Charizard with one of its paws. He shuffled back as well, breathing in deep, and then released a bright cone of flames from his mouth. It hit the polar bear square in the chest, and it roared in pain, dropping back down to all fours. Charizard turned and started to flap his wings.

“No! Another Flamethrower!” May ordered, but Charizard just looked at her and shook his head, taking off as the Beartic charged towards him. She tore Skarmory’s Pokéball off her necklace instead and threw it. “Steel Wing! However many it takes!”

In the draft there was a line earlier where May noted Skarmory would be able to spread his wings and fly in here; I changed the context around it so it didn't fit in anymore.

Skarmory came out with his wings glowing and smashed into the Beartic. May watched with clenched fists as he swiped across its body again and again, streaking its stark white fur with dark blood and drawing raw roars of pain from its throat, and then recalled him when she was sure it wasn’t moving anymore. She was left in cold darkness, her breath shaking.

“Wow,” said Chaletwo, and she jumped. “That was brutal.”

This is described a lot more brutally than I'd generally describe a Pokémon battle, because that's the point of it, and May had Skarmory keep up a relentless onslaught the whole time, giving it no chance to surrender and going on for longer than he needed to. But I may have gone a bit too far; I think some people took it to mean she'd had Skarmory murder the Beartic. It's just fainted and will be fine. This should be clearer.

“It was a wild Pokémon!” she snapped. “I battled it! That’s what trainers do!”

“May,” Chaletwo said; she took a deep breath. “This is not normal. You’re coming unhinged. Please calm down.”

She wanted to make an icy retort, but couldn’t. No, it wasn’t normal. There was no reason to waste time fighting the Beartic at all.

“Is this because of the reading your mind thing? Because at this point I’d be relieved to switch to Alan’s head instead.”

Chaletwo was way more perceptive and sympathetic than he should should have been here in the draft. May also had some extra unsubtle "Why was she being like this? Why now?" All in all, a large improvement.

She shook her head firmly in the darkness and forcibly unclenched her fists. A flickering light appeared in her peripheral vision; she turned to find Charizard carefully making his way back towards her.

“Are you all right?” he asked quietly.

“Yeah,” she said and walked over to him. Wordlessly, he turned around and they headed towards the exit.

“I’m sorry I left you behind,” he said after a moment, without looking at her.

“I’m...” May winced. “Sorry I was trying to make you battle.”

May does not enjoy apologizing.

“It scared me,” Charizard muttered. “How angry you were.”

May didn’t say anything.

“How long is it going to take for Mark to heal?” Charizard asked when they finally reached the cave exit.

“Mrs. Riverstone said maybe six weeks.”

Here, on his third day of being with her, he was already thinking of when he could have his real trainer back. She wasn’t even surprised and it still stung.

This was also annoyingly unsubtle in the draft, with May explicitly wondering why she wasn't getting better.

I kind of wish I'd expanded this exchange a little, or explored May's interactions with Charizard a little more otherwise. With all her commenting on him I think it would've been fun if she'd actually gotten to know him a bit better.

-------

There was nothing in the other caves either, except a lone Froslass that retreated into the wall when she approached. After another long and fruitless day, they had dinner at their camp site, let their Pokémon mingle and train for a while, and retreated to their tents again.

May couldn’t sleep. She curled up in her sleeping bag trying to keep warm, looking at Robin’s wild hair sticking out of hers, the Beartic’s roars still ringing in her ears. Eventually, she whispered, “Robin?”

“What?” the other girl said sleepily without turning around.

“My Tyranitar,” she began; her mouth was dry. “He... it was him who killed him. Taylor.”

She chooses to tell Robin here for a few reasons. She's genuinely pretty unsettled at the fact she beat up that Beartic, and it's just making her afraid of her own emotional state and what it means about her as a person, which makes it nag at her even more that she's hidden this from Robin - telling her seems like it'd be the right thing to do. But also, if she just tells Robin and gets it over with, she can stop feeling this constant tension about whether Robin's going to find out and when and how she's going to react - and on yet another level, the fact Robin obliviously admires her because she has no idea is the worst kind of constant reminder that she doesn't actually deserve anyone's admiration, and in a sort of self-destructive way she just wants Robin to find out and stop admiring her.

A second passed before Robin turned over in her bag. “What?” she said again, blinking at May. “He...”

“He thought he was doing it for me. I didn’t want that. He just...” May pressed her lips together, wishing she hadn’t started. She barely even knew Robin. How did she know she wouldn’t take it to the police or worse?

“You didn’t tell him to attack him, did you?” Robin’s eyes were wide and alarmed. Maybe that was better than starstruck.

“No, he just... he misunderstood.”

Robin pushed herself upright. “Misunderstood what?”

“I...” May wanted to go away, out of this tent, out somewhere where she could be alone and not hear her voice shaking. “I said he should die, but not... I didn’t mean it. It’s just how people talk.”

She doesn't actually want to have a conversation about this, though, especially not about this part. Telling her was in no way a thought-out decision.

“Have you told the police? Aren’t they still investigating it?”

“We’re trying to save the world,” May said. “That… that has to come first. I just… I just thought you should know.”

The whole legendary quest has been a very convenient excuse to just keep going without thinking about that, hasn't it.

Robin looked at her for a few seconds before slowly lying down again, facing the other way.

May turned away too, clutching at her sleeping bag.

There were a few more lines to this conversation in the draft:

Robin looked at her for a few seconds before slowly lying down again, facing her this time. “Wishing death on people is a bad way to go through life, even if you don’t mean it,” she murmured. “My mom always says the way you think has consequences even when you don’t intend it to.”

“I wasn’t wishing death on him,” she said.

“Tyranitar must have thought you were.”

I actually like May trying to insist she wasn't wishing death on him and Robin going "Tyranitar must have thought you were", which in that version would've absolutely stuck hard with May. But ultimately I just really didn't like that first line with Robin going straight to this sort of platitude after being told something like this; it just didn't feel right, and ultimately what the Robin in my head actually wanted to do here was just turn around and process this and spend some time trying to figure out how she actually feels about it. Maybe in the next revision I'll work the latter two lines back into the dialogue somehow. (Maybe in a later chapter.)

-------

Over the next couple of weeks, they alternated training sessions and searching for the dragons. The former progressed quickly, Robin’s team being quick learners who were obviously used to trying on different strategies; the latter was nothing but disappointment after disappointment. Caves upon caves turned out empty, and the mountains started to seem familiar, mundane and limited.

Robin didn’t mention Tyranitar again. May didn’t attack any more wild Pokémon.

“We’ve been over the entire mountain range by now,” Alan told Dragoreen after two more excruciating weeks. “They could still be lying low somewhere, but at this point we think they’re probably not here anymore. Do you have any idea where they might have gone? If not we’re going to have to exhaustively search every mountainous area in Ouen. It could take some time.”

Don't really like this line. "It could take some time"? Well, yeah.

The dragon considered it. “How long have you been looking?” she asked at last.

“A month,” May said. “We’ve covered everything that looks big enough.”

Dragoreen closed her eyes, thinking, her mouth curling into a frown. Stray snowflakes settled on her body and she irritably shook them away.

Dragoreen herself is not enjoying this environment.

“They’re here,” she said, finally. “Keep looking.”

“Really?” Chaletwo asked, sceptical. “How sure are you? We can’t afford to waste more time here if we’re going to have to look blindly around the entire region.”

“I know,” said Dragoreen firmly. “I can feel it. They’re here. You must have overlooked something.”

Dragoreen, of course, knows that they're not going to have to look blindly around the region once she decides to tell them where her brothers actually are, so she knows they can afford to wait a bit longer than Chaletwo thinks.

May pressed her lips together, nodding curtly before she recalled the legendary. Robin and Alan glanced at her and then each other in silence.

“Well,” she said. “Let’s get back to work.”

This little exchange with Dragoreen was another scene added in editing, to pace it out and have a bit more setup before the twist happens.

-------

They spent another week going over some areas again with a fine-toothed comb, checking caves that weren’t easily visible from above and ones that were probably too small. It felt futile, pointless. May felt she knew the mountains like the back of her hand now; every day was the same trudge through the same caves leading to the same nothing. At least she’d stopped being disappointed and angry: by now all she felt was dull apathy.

“Dragoreen,” she asked the evening of the twentieth of January, her teeth chattering in the cold, “are you absolutely certain they’re still here? Could they have moved somewhere or seen us coming? Are they evading us somehow? We’ve looked in every cave and there’s nothing.”

Dragoreen shook her scaled body, crouched low to conserve heat. “How long has it been?” she asked.

Hey, did you know Dragoreen doesn't like it when it's cold

“More than five weeks. Mark’s almost recovered. If they’re not here, we need to move on soon.”

The dragon surveyed her for a few seconds, tilting her head. “Perhaps I was mistaken,” she said eventually.

“Mistaken?” May stared at her. “What do you mean, mistaken?”

“Perhaps they weren’t here. It may have been the mountains of Scorpion Valley that they were in.”

Dragoreen isn't even trying very hard to be convincing here, is she? She makes a token effort to present it as an honest mistake, but she pretty much knows they're going to figure out what's up.

“What?” Chaletwo said, not even trying to hide his frustration anymore. “You told us several times that you were absolutely sure. You said they were here. What changed?”

“Maybe they weren’t,” Dragoreen said, looking down thoughtfully. “No, I think it was the Scorpion mountains.”

“This is ridiculous,” Chaletwo said. “You were very insistent that we keep looking here a week ago.”

“Apparently not.” Dragoreen shivered. “Now get me out of this cold.”

SHE DOESN'T LIKE COLD, BECAUSE SHE'S A DRAGON, LIKE HER BROTHERS

May pointed the Master Ball at her and pressed the button, wordlessly, before turning around. What words could there be? The dragons weren’t here. They’d never been here. It was all for nothing. Of course it was. Why would a bunch of dragons, doubly weak to Ice, choose to live in such a cold place anyway?

That last thought gave her pause, a niggling sense of dread creeping up on her. Something was wrong. Something was very wrong. This hadn’t made any sense from the beginning. Dragoreen had been knowingly lying to them. Why would she lie?

I'm pretty sure this bit was actually spontaneous when I was NaNoing - I knew Dragoreen was lying about them being here, but I think May just made that "Why would a bunch of dragons choose to live in such a cold place anyway?" comment as part of her way of thinking - this angry, reproachful jump to the idea this was obvious all along and she should've figured it out - only then I realized wait, she really does have a point there. That means I think Dragoreen not liking the cold actually originated without me having realized this was actually totally a hint that the male dragons wouldn't be here all along.

As heat rushed to her face, May hurled the Master Ball at the nearest rock, as hard as she could throw it; it popped open and the dragon reemerged in a burst of white light, pressing her wings against her sides.

“You knew,” May said; she wanted to scream and kick and punch, but she didn’t even have the energy, only helpless anger that trembled too audibly in her voice. “You were trying to waste our time so they’d be weaker by the time we get there and capture them. You deliberately sent us here so that we’d...”

Dragoreen looked coolly at her, a wisp of a smug grin playing around the edges of her mouth.

“Ice Punch!” May said, throwing another ball; Floatzel came out hissing, her paw already on her Never-Melt Ice. Dragoreen didn’t even try to dodge or counterattack as Floatzel smashed her fist into her jaw.

Huh, I guess in editing I decided to switch to the sixth-generation "Never-Melt Ice" spelling. I actually seem to have find-and-replaced it in the whole Word document, even, but never changed it on the site. The inconsistency is a bit jarring.

“Where are they?” May clenched her fists tighter than she thought she’d ever clenched them. “Where are your brothers really?”

“I told you the truth earlier,” Dragoreen said calmly. “I have no interest in delaying you so long you won’t get them at all.”

May stared at her; her lack of remorse or defense was the most frustrating part of all, like a wall of calculated indifference that made it impossible to even hurt her back. “Ice Punch her again,” she said coldly, and Floatzel obediently socked Dragoreen in the jaw again. The legendary only shook her head.

“I would be angry, too,” she said. “But you gain nothing by punishing me. My goals were not the same as yours before; now they are. Go and capture them.”

May felt tears in her eyes, bitter, hateful tears, made worse because Dragoreen was right. There was nothing to do but to continue on their way.

She recalled Dragoreen again and Floatzel with her, sending out Skarmory instead. “Come on,” she said. “Let’s get the others.”

Dragoreen never expected to get away with this, only that they wouldn't figure it out for long enough to delay them a bit. I didn't really want Chaletwo talking over this last bit and figured he's just kind of speechless for a bit and May's saying everything that needs to be said, but in hindsight, that doesn't quite feel like a satisfactory explanation; of course he'd want to say something to Dragoreen himself immediately.

I would've kind of liked to see Floatzel's own reaction to the command to punch Dragoreen, and May's reaction to that in turn; obviously, Floatzel's all for pointlessly attacking someone purely to lash out where Charizard wasn't, and it feels like kind of a lost opportunity that I don't really attempt to draw a comparison or otherwise tie this back to some of the chapter's previous events in a more substantial way.

The chapter plan here just said Chapter 64: They go down Route 317 to Acaria City and search the mountains there; something happens; they realize the dragons aren’t there. Another "Something happens" chapter! Essentially, the plan was that I'd figure out when I got here what should happen in the chapter, depending on how things developed; I didn't expect just futile searching to hold anyone's attention for a full chapter, even though I did want them to spend some time searching in the wrong place, but there was enough opportunity for character stuff to be happening, or else just conversations about the central mystery, that I figured I could lean on that to make an interesting chapter out of it. That essentially ended up being what happened, even though the chapter ended up quite different from what I was imagining there, where there was no Mark injury and no Robin.

When I wrote the chapter for the NaNo draft, I was pretty much just letting things play out; I sent May, Robin and Alan off to the Acaria mountains (but flying rather than walking), knowing they'd search for a while but not find anything, and then watched what happened. At that point, that was: May being really antsy about having Chaletwo in her head; introducing Robin's Pokémon team; strategizing where Robin asks about Tyranitar; May searches a cave where she finds a Beartic and tries to have Charizard beat it up, then Skarmory; May, unable to sleep, tells Robin that her Tyranitar killed Taylor; they keep searching for five weeks; and then Dragoreen finally tells them she was mistaken and May realizes she was lying to them the whole time.

In the NaNo draft, Robin then didn't do much of anything for the rest of the fic. She and May got along fine, she had six extra Pokémon for the battles, then abruptly in chapter 69 she spontaneously told Ryan and Sparky that May's Tyranitar had killed Taylor and opined that they should go to the police and this coverup is wrong, then that led to nothing whatsoever (May wasn't even present for this conversation, so it couldn't have influenced her eventual decision to go to the police, and none of the people who were present actually mentioned it again). I knew already as I was writing the draft that the entire way this was playing out wasn't right, but I had no time to actually get it right, and so I kept writing and left it at "I'll fix it in editing."

Essentially, with chapter 64 and that bit in chapter 69 and mulling over what was going on in May's head here, I realized Robin should be having a much bigger effect on May than I'd managed to think through while rushing through the draft - I'd written in the seeds of it in chapter 64, while in her head, but not managed to properly follow up on them. Robin also should have been significantly more affected; in the draft the bit in chapter 69 was incredibly abrupt, but obviously what ought to have been happening was this steadily nagging at Robin the whole time, and Robin actually confronting May about it, and this in turn seriously affecting May and the rest of her plot.

So, in editing, the biggest thing I did here was to expand the Robin element and explore the effect she in particular has on May more deeply, setting the stage for later edits to later chapters - which I still hadn't entirely worked out my plans for, mind, but I had some idea. I kind of wish I had also found a way to add more of May interacting with Chaletwo and Charizard, both characters she doesn't interact with that much in the chapter even though the interactions that do happen are interesting and feel like there'd be more to explore there. Also, I wish I'd included more of Alan! This has a pretty big effect on him, too, as a particularly humiliating instance of them just completely failing in their hero efforts, but we don't really see enough of him here to get a sense of it.

As I mentioned, though, this is still one of my favorite chapters. The primary plot events here are just Robin learning about the murder, time passing, and Dragoreen telling them where the male dragons are for real, but mostly it's just a character study of May, the way that she thinks and her insecurities and how everything is affecting her, setting up the rest of her arc. I'm a fan of character study, particularly of characters with issues and a lot going on under the surface, and all in all this chapter is just very me. I can recognize that there are things that could have made it better, but it doesn't make me any less fond of it.


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