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 68: Truths

March 4th, 2016, another week! As mentioned previously, a couple of scenes that were originally in this chapter in the draft got moved over to chapter 67 in editing. The draft title was "Ryan", because in the chapter plan they were supposed to meet Ryan in this chapter. Didn't turn out that way, even in the draft!

It was well past dark when the three Charizard touched down near the temporary Crater Town Gym by the roots of Mount Fever. Mark’s Charizard and Charlie were panting in exhaustion; Robin’s didn’t show it so much, but shook his body gratefully once May had dismounted him.

“Great job, guys,” Alan said. “We couldn’t have gotten here in record time without you giving it your all. Want to rest outside your balls?”

Charizard and Charlie nodded immediately, but Robin’s Charizard shook his head. May recalled him, though not before giving him a strange look that Mark couldn’t place.

May's basically wondering if Robin's Charizard wants to just get away from them as soon as possible. Maybe Robin has told him about Tyranitar.

The temporary Gym was a rough, bare concrete building that stood out starkly on the barren ground around the volcano but nonetheless in some strange way seemed to fit right in with the landscape. A plain white sign on the simple wooden door said, ‘CRATER TOWN POKÉMON GYM’. The building was clearly far too small to house a battle arena, though; it looked like it could barely be more than two or three rooms.

Mark glanced at the others and shrugged. “Well, this has got to be it,” he said before he knocked on the door.

A moment passed before the lock clicked and the door opened. “You do realize the Gym closes at...” Carl’s familiar, stern voice began, but cut off as he recognized Mark. “Ah.”

“Hello,” Mark said awkwardly, remembering all too well that Carl hadn’t liked him too much the first time they’d met. “How, uh, is the town doing?”

Carl surveyed him silently, sparing a brief glance at May and Alan. “All right,” he answered after a second. “The inhabitants are all safe. We’re planning to found another town. You can see I’ve set up a temporary Gym. How did battling – Polaryu, was it? – go?”

“It went okay,” Mark said, uncomfortably aware that most of what he’d told Carl about Polaryu was a lie. “We caught him. Disaster averted.”

“We want to talk to you,” May cut in. “Do you have time?”

May is not interested in having this awkward small talk.

Carl looked between them, again taking a moment to answer. “As a matter of fact I do,” he finally said. “Come in.”

The inside of the building resembled a crudely rebuilt version of Carl’s Crater Town home: they stepped straight into a simple living room with a table, a couch and a television, with doors to a bathroom and a small bedroom on the right side and a corner serving as a kitchen. The only thing Mark decidedly did not remember from the night he’d spent in Crater Town was the large metal safe in the opposite left corner of the living room.

“Where do you have your Gym battles?” May asked as she looked around.

“Outside,” Carl said. “I always hated the standard, sterile, boxed-in arena. Pokémon battles belong in organic environments.” He gestured towards the couch. “Have a seat.”

Carl's Pokémon battling opinions are still strong. As I mentioned before, I think I'd completely forgotten he'd expressed this sentiment before in chapter 37 by the time I wrote this.

They did so while Carl got a chair from the kitchenette, positioned it at the opposite side of the living room table and then sat down on it.

“So,” he said. “What is it?”

May and Alan looked at Mark; he opened his mouth and closed it again. He’d spent the entire flight there thinking about what he was going to say, and yet it all seemed to have vanished when Carl had opened that door. All he could think now, as the Gym leader’s sharp, piercing gaze bored into him, was the memory of that same cold gaze, months ago, when Carl had told him, I don’t like liars. For a pathetic moment, a part of him wanted to just start weaving more of the story he’d made up for the evacuation: perhaps Chaletwo was going to mind-control all the legendaries into doing his bidding, unless they could capture them all first…

But even without Chaletwo’s appalled indignation in the back of his mind, and the knowledge that they could never keep Carl in the dark if he did join them, the idea made him shudder. Not today.

In the draft, Mark somehow just hadn't thought at all about what he was going to say to Carl, which didn't make any sense. He also seriously raised the idea of spinning more of his previous lie without at all considering that obviously they couldn't keep Carl in the dark if they did recruit him. Obviously I fixed this. I did want to strongly make the point that Mark wouldn't actually do that at this point, though, even if it weren't completely unworkable, because he really wants to come clean about the whole thing.

He took a deep breath. “We, ah, we weren’t entirely truthful with you, back when we battled Volcaryu.”

The corner of Carl’s mouth twitched into a crooked half-smile. “I had guessed that much.”

So, when I was writing the NaNo draft... this was spontaneous. Carl just said this, because of course Carl didn't actually buy that whole story. Originally, I wasn't quite sure whether Sparky and Carl would actually be joining them, so I'd decided to just let this chapter play out however it did.

Mark waited a second for Carl to lunge at him with an axe or something. It didn’t happen.

This was one of my favorite lines in the draft.

“So,” he went on and was about to start explaining when he was cut off by Chaletwo.

“Ask him where Volcaryu is,” the legendary said urgently, a barely noticeable tremble to his telepathic voice. “I’m not sure we should actually get him to help us.”

“Ah,” Mark said; he thought Carl looked suspicious at the sudden interruption, but he might have been imagining it. “We... first, where’s Volcaryu?”

“In there,” said Carl coolly, pointing a thumb over his shoulder at the safe in the corner without taking his eyes off Mark. “That’s a bomb-proof safe. It can withstand any Pokémon attack and any reasonable amount of every explosive known to man, and the locks are specially made to be impossible to crack. Don’t ask me what the combination is; I set it at random and I’m quite happy to say I’ve entirely forgotten it.”

It's been bugging me for a while now how he handwaves the locks as being impossible to crack because they're specially made. What does that mean? I'd use different phrasing today.

Mark stared at the safe, then back at Carl. It struck him finally that perhaps Carl hadn’t taken Volcaryu just to make sure he couldn’t hurt anyone else. Perhaps he’d wanted to keep Volcaryu away from them.

He felt Chaletwo’s silent horror dimly in his mind: Carl didn’t intend for the dragon to ever come out of that safe, and from the looks of it he’d made pretty sure of that.

“We’re not telling him anything,” Chaletwo said, his voice shaking with cold anger. “We don’t want anything to do with this man. Get out.”

In the draft Chaletwo actually called him a psychopath. That was definitely a bit much.

Mark wasn’t so sure. Carl had seen Volcaryu’s sheer power and the dangerous madness that drove him; it wasn’t hard to see why he’d want him locked away forever. And hadn’t Volcaryu spent most of his existence locked away, kept forcibly asleep in a hidden cavern, by Chaletwo’s own doing?

The dragons were dangerous. Carl had responded to the danger as seemed appropriate to him. And if this was excessive, it was because he didn’t know the truth.

“Look, Mark,” Chaletwo said fiercely, “if you’re going to be rebellious again, I’m not backing your story, and without me it’s laughable. Why would he believe an even crazier story when you’ve already told him you’re a liar? He is not joining us. Get out of here!”

Mark glanced at May and Alan. They were looking at him, waiting; he’d asked to do the talking earlier. Part of him wanted to do as Chaletwo said and invent an excuse to leave. But…

Carl had helped them. He’d gone out of his way to give them the benefit of the doubt, even when he was sceptical. Mark couldn’t leave in good conscience without coming clean.

He took a deep breath and started again. “I’m not going to be able to prove this to you,” he began, trying to ignore Chaletwo’s wordless psychic fury clawing at his brain. “But it’s the truth. Take it or leave it.”

Carl raised his eyebrows, waiting. May looked at Mark with a puzzled frown, but didn’t comment.

Everything Chaletwo's been saying was only to Mark, so she has no idea what's going on.

“I made up most of what I told the townspeople, and I’m sorry for that. But I really am Mark Greenlet who was killed by Chaletwo. It’s not because Chaletwo’s evil; it’s because Chaletwo wanted me to help him save the world. There’s a terrible disaster coming, and to stop it we need to temporarily capture every legendary in a Pokéball. There are more people doing it, not just us – and we’ve almost succeeded. We only have two battles left.”

Carl’s eyes were steady, waiting. “Where does Volcaryu fit into all this?”

“He, and the two other dragons we told you about, really were created by Chaletwo.” There was that twitch of a half-smile from Carl again. “But he regretted it, and he knew how dangerous they were. It was him who sent me to warn you to evacuate the town. He had to wake Volcaryu because soon he wouldn’t be able to keep him asleep anymore – before the disaster, the legendaries slowly lose their powers. And we really were headed to Champion Island next to get Polaryu.”

Carl considered it. He still didn’t move; he just continued to gaze at Mark, like he was trying to read the truth off his face. “Now, why,” he began eventually, “just why on Earth would you make up that silly lie you told my townspeople? The same thing but with Chaletwo cartoonishly evil instead of good? In what possible way did you think that would help your story?”

Mark blinked. “Well, I…”

“Usually liars are individuals with something to hide, who want to make their story sound better than it is. As far as I can tell, your cover story was in every way less believable and more risky than the truth, if this is it. So why lie to begin with?”

These past two lines were different in the draft:

Mark blinked. “People already thought he was evil for killing kids! How would...”

“Of which you proved you were one. If he had a real reason to kill you before getting your help – why would that reason out of your own mouth not suffice to convince us Chaletwo had good intentions?”

I expect I changed this because, well - surely it'd be possible Chaletwo was threatening him or controlling him somehow. Clearly that wouldn't prove anything.

Mark didn’t know what to say. He felt stupid now about how confident he’d felt telling that story, sure they were all buying it hook, line and sinker. “I… I couldn’t tell you the truth,” he managed after a few awkward seconds; the psychic background noise of Chaletwo’s anger, now tinged with resentful vindication, was making it hard to think. “We had to keep it secret. If the other legendaries found out we were trying to capture all of them, they’d know to stay away.”

“And you didn’t worry about the other legendaries finding out supposedly Chaletwo was trying to take over the world? You trusted my townspeople with keeping the fake story quiet; why not the real one? I cautioned the people that your tale was likely false, by the way, and so far as I know they haven’t spread it, but imagine if they had.”

Mark looked down. Why had he made up that story? Ultimately, mostly because at the time he’d really wanted to show up Chaletwo, which seemed like the pettiest thing in the world right now. “I wasn’t thinking,” he muttered.

“Yes, it’s quite plain you weren’t. That’s likely why I’m inclined to believe you; this entire story is too fraught with genuine human incompetence to be fabricated.”

In the draft, he added, If you do have sinister intentions, I commend the degree of obfuscating stupidity you’ve managed to cover them up with. But the line was just punchier without it.

For a moment there was silence, Carl’s words hanging in the air like a final judgement. Then, suddenly, Alan spoke, his voice tight.

“Then why did you give us badges and send us on our way to get Polaryu, if you thought we were lying all along?”

“That’s a good question,” Carl said, unfazed. “I knew from the start I wasn’t going to let you take the dragon, of course, particularly not when I saw you’d already caught another one. But when you immediately agreed so long as I kept it behind lock and key, it seemed to me that you clearly only wanted the dragons neutralized, not to possess them. That indicated that whatever your true motivations, they were presumably altruistic, and letting you handle Polaryu was probably for the best. I still made precautions in case I was wrong and you tried to get Volcaryu from me later, of course.” He inclined his head towards the safe.

This past couple of paragraphs was not in the draft; I added Alan asking this question because you really would have good reason to wonder about this at this point. I'm not quite happy with Carl's reasoning here, though; surely just the fact they don't want to control the dragons doesn't indicate their motivations are altruistic and they should be let go to do as they please.

I do like the idea that this means Mark's decision to not argue with Carl about him keeping Volcaryu back in chapter 38, in spite of Chaletwo's outrage at the idea, actually did serve to convince Carl of their good intentions.

“Well, we weren’t going to try to get Volcaryu from you later,” Alan said, his face flushed with heat. “We’re trying to save the world. And maybe we’re not very good at it, but you know what? We’ve almost done it anyway! We saved Stormy Town, and we saved your town. We’d been told not to tell you the truth, so Mark made something up on the spot to get you to evacuate, and it worked. We came here to ask for your help, but on second thought I’m not sure we need you.”

Alan's just finally started to believe maybe they're not that terrible at this, damn it, and he's not letting Carl bring him back down.

“What?” May hissed. “Alan, what are you –”

“No, actually,” Mark interrupted. “I… I also think we’ll probably be fine.” Alan looked at him, as surprised as May, as the psychic pressure in the back of Mark’s mind started to recede. “I think we should go. Thanks for everything.”

May has no idea what either of them is on about.

Meanwhile, Mark's told Carl the truth, which was what he really wanted to do; if neither Chaletwo nor Alan wants to recruit him, might as well just leave him. In the draft, neither Mark nor May spoke here; Alan just stood up and they followed.

“Fair enough,” Carl said, raising his eyebrows as Mark and Alan stood up, followed by the still puzzled May. “For the record, I was frank with you for your own sake. I’m still grateful that you helped save my town, and if your story is true – the part you told me, at any rate – I wish you the best of luck with what remains.”

It's a bit weird, isn't it, how after making it clear that he's very unimpressed with Mark's competence and never trusted them, he accepts their assessment that they won't actually need any help to stop some looming terrible disaster. (Granted, they didn't actually literally tell him it was the end of the world, but one would think he'd want to know more.)

“Goodbye,” Mark said, and Carl nodded in return.

“Also, May,” Carl said as Mark opened the front door, “I watched the League finals. Great performance, as much as the outcome was a disgrace. Your Tyranitar deserved better.”

May stared at him for a second, frozen, before she hastily turned around and followed the boys out the door.

Everyone feels bad! This was also not in the draft.

This scene, the conversation with Carl, was possibly my favorite scene in the entire NaNo draft. I was in a really good writing mood that day, and the output held up way better than my usual NaNo output - as seen by the fact that it changed unusually little in editing; most of the phrasing throughout this scene is from the NaNo draft, or has had maybe a word or two tweaked. I didn't know how it'd turn out when I started it, and just let Carl do what he did, but I was really satisfied with the outcome.

Outside, in the crisp evening air, Alan took a deep breath. “I’m sorry. I just couldn’t…”

“What the hell was that?” May asked, turning an accusatory glare towards both of the boys as they walked towards where Charizard and Charlie were waiting. “Weren’t we going to recruit him?”

“We’re not recruiting him,” Chaletwo said, his telepathic voice still trembling noticeably. “Sick bastard. Locking Volcaryu in a…”

“Wait, what?” May was raising her voice. “That’s it? We’re ditching him because he put your pet dragon in a safe where it belongs?”

“He didn’t choose to be that way!” Chaletwo said fiercely, his voice tenser than Mark thought he’d ever heard it before. “When I get my powers back I was going to fix him!”

“You made it that way to begin with!” They were approaching the Charizard now, where they lay lazily by the roots of the volcano; they looked up in puzzlement as they heard May. “How is it Carl’s fault that your dragons are psychotic?”

“They never even got a chance at life!”

May's basically just lashing out because the comment about Tyranitar got her really tense and worked up.

Meanwhile, Chaletwo, being a hypocrite! It's absolutely his own fault that the dragons never got a chance at life, and he locked them up for a thousand years himself, but at least he feels bad about it, damn it.

“Chaletwo,” Alan interrupted before May could respond, his voice quiet but firm, “if you get your powers back, then you can get him out of the safe. It won’t stop the world’s most powerful legendary Pokémon. Carl can’t keep him in there forever.”

Mark felt the throbbing tension in the back of his mind starting to fade. “Yes,” Chaletwo said after few seconds, “that’s true. You’re right. He’ll be fine. I’m sorry.”

May took a deep breath. “So, are we going back in there?”

Mark’s mind stung. “I still don’t want him with us.”

Alan winced. “I’m… not sure I want him with us, either.”

Mark shrugged uncomfortably; he still sort of wanted to get Carl on their side, but he knew exactly why Alan didn’t. May’s gaze shifted between him and Alan; she folded her arms, shivering with cold, but didn’t say anything.

May knows there's no principled reason not to want him to help, but... she also doesn't really want another person asking about Tyranitar.

“We can always come back if we fail,” Mark said with a sigh. “Maybe we don’t need him, but if it turns out we do, I think we should talk to him again.”

“Agreed,” Chaletwo said, a little reluctantly. Alan nodded, while May gave a barely visible shrug.

“Let’s just get back to Stormy Town,” Mark said, and nobody objected.

This ending dialogue was a lot shorter in the draft and, back to my chapter 67 disease, I pointlessly described them waking up the Charizard to tell them they weren't recruiting Carl after all. There was a nice moment of Alan whispering to Charlie and Charlie smiling, presumably because Alan had just stood up the way he did there in the face of exactly the sort of doom-and-gloom that Charlie had knocked out of him before; it didn't make any sense anymore in editing, obviously, which was a shame.

When I started editing these chapters I briefly considered having Carl come along instead of Victor, if I was better able to think of ways for him to actually contribute something interesting. But then the Victor problem solved itself, and I was happy to leave this as it was.

-------

Felix the Alakazam whisked them back to the Stormy Town Pokémon Center in a blink. Leah, Victor and Robin were waiting for them on the couches inside, holding half-finished ice creams.

“No Carl?” Leah asked, licking at her ice cream as she held her hand forward to take Felix’s ball from Mark.

“He wasn’t up for it,” Chaletwo responded, and nobody contradicted him. May handed Robin her Charizard’s Pokéball without words.

“Can’t have everything.” Leah shrugged. “Meanwhile, we asked around town and there are some rumours flying around about Mew appearing near Scorpio City a few weeks back, but Mew is always on the move, so odds are she’s not there anymore. There’s a good chance she might still be somewhere in Ouen, though, so that’s a lead for when we’re done with the Waraider herd.”

Obviously, it's not a coincidence that Mew is still persistently appearing near Scorpio City, where something feels weirdly like Chalenor.

She said that so casually. How were they ever going to track down a legendary who was constantly moving, with nothing narrower than an entire region to go on? Not for the first time, Mark was a bit intimidated by her confidence, but he pushed the thought aside. They could think about Mew when they got there.

They headed to the Gym building when the others had finished their ice creams. Sparky was waiting for them just inside the entrance, leaning against the wall. “There you are!” he said, instantly springing into a standing position. “You wanted to go somewhere private, correct? Follow me.”

He led them up the stairs where Mark remembered their bedrooms being when they’d stayed in Stormy Town. “The good thing about the off season,” the Gym leader said, “is that all these rooms are free. It’s great for movie nights. Nobody to complain if the sound is too loud.”

Mark smiled. The unease lingering in his stomach since their conversation with Carl was finally starting to fade.

Wow, that said "linering" until I corrected it just now. Well done, me. I've been keeping typos in the older chapters as part of the "oh, look at teenage me's poor proofreading" but at this point, nah, it's not cute anymore, I'm fixing it.

Sparky opened one of the doors on the corridor to reveal a room with popcorn strewn across the floor. “Oh, not this one.” He chuckled. “Still have to clean that up.” He shook his head at the next one as well, where video game consoles and controllers lay in a tangle in front of the television, then showed them into the third one, which was spotlessly clean.

There was an "...as if nothing were more natural" there in the draft, which amused me.

“So,” he said, sitting down on the bed and removing his shades. The trademark twinkle in his eyes faded and gave way to a surprising seriousness that should have felt out of place on his face but somehow seemed to belong. “What did you want to talk to me about?”

Mark hesitated; the change had disoriented him. “Remember...” he began, intending to ask about Thunderyu, but then changed his mind. “Remember reading or hearing about Chaletwo killing a boy at the Pokémon Festival last May?”

Sparky nodded slowly, then stopped mid-nod. “That was – that was you, wasn’t it?” he said, his brow furrowing. “I should have noticed.”

“You didn’t notice because your memory was modified to not make the connection,” Mark went on. “Chaletwo recruited me on a mission to capture all of the legendary Pokémon before a huge disaster happens. When we caught that dragon that was in Thunderclap Cave, that was part of it.”

Sparky was watching him intently, his eyes very open. “Oh, my,” he said. “This is much bigger than I thought.”

“It is,” said Chaletwo; Sparky jumped. “This is Chaletwo. I’ve been guiding them along through an anchor to Mark’s brain. Only the Waraider herd and Mew are left; there’s eight of the former, and we have to fight them all at once, so we need more firepower. These kids are the team we’ve gathered so far, and we were hoping you could join us.”

Sparky swallowed, shaking his head. “I have so many questions,” he began. “What –”

“The disaster is caused by something that drains away their powers. They’re severely weakened by now – still powerful, but not so powerful that it’s not feasible to take them down. We can answer all your questions if you agree.”

In the draft, Victor's third post-recruitment line of dialogue was just him stating the thing about the legendaries being weaker now, what with him having misunderstood that at first. Obviously, Chaletwo could and should have just said this without him commenting, as he does here. God, draft Victor was so pointless.

Sparky looked between them in silence and took a deep breath. “I’m not sure that I’m the best person to bring on for this,” he said. “Running a Gym places certain restrictions on my Pokémon – I’d wager any one of you could blow them down without much effort by now. And as you saw, I have a pretty busy restaurant to run. Someone else could likely be of more use and have less to leave behind.”

“Well, we’re running rather short on options,” Chaletwo said, a flash of irritation throbbing in Mark’s head. “We’re talking to you because you already knew about Thunderyu, the dragon in the mountain. We’d rather not tell more uninvolved people.”

Chaletwo's getting a little desperate here because they didn't get Carl on board, and he's still upset about Volcaryu in the safe.

“Electric-types would come in handy, even if they’re not that strong,” Robin put in. “Paralyzing all of them as soon as possible would be a huge help, and they’re all part Flying. I think there’s a lot your Pokémon could do.”

This was May's line originally (or a different line saying basically the same thing, rather), but at the moment she's still thinking about Tyranitar and not really paying attention to the conversation.

Sparky gave a slow nod, still staring at Mark. He ran a hand through his hair. “I don’t know,” he said. “This sounds dangerous, and all the more so for Pokémon who have never battled anything at that level. I’d have to confer with them. But…” He shook his head, smiling wistfully. “If I know them correctly, they’ll say yes.”

“In that case, we only need to know what you’ll say.”

Sparky nodded again, pursing his lips in thought, closing his eyes.

“Ah, where’s my spirit of adventure?” he said after only a few seconds, looking up. He was smiling again, the playful twinkle back in his eyes. “If we can truly help, and my Pokémon agree, I can close down the restaurant for a while and come with you. Is that enough for you?”

Chaletwo’s relief flooded through Mark’s mind. “Yes, that’s enough. Thank you for joining us.”

“You can stay here for free for the night,” Sparky said. “I’ll want to talk to my Pokémon alone tonight and give them until morning to think about it. But first, I want to know more. What kind of disaster is this? Why is it happening now?”

As Chaletwo and Leah started to explain the War of the Legends, Mark couldn’t help but notice May standing in the corner of the room, quiet, picking at her fingernails.

Time for some more May feeling bad next chapter!

In the draft, Sparky didn't talk about having to confer with his Pokémon at all, because during NaNo I apparently just go right back to not realizing that they should be relevant.

What I was going for with this scene was some hope and things looking up again a little after things didn't go so well with Carl, for everyone except May who has bigger problems to worry about - but ultimately I don't think it's a good or interesting enough scene for that to quite justify it. I love the remnants of Sparky and Joy's movie and game nights there, but actually listening to them tell Sparky about the War doesn't tell us anything new; I'd have to go a lot harder with the state of the group's general mood and how this changes it in order to make this scene make sense as a worthwhile part of the story, but I'm not sure it'd really add that much even then. May's opening scene in chapter 69 even already implies that they conversed with Sparky and he had to talk to his Pokémon before making a decision.

Chapter plan: Chapter 68: The boy, who has been after the Waraider herd for a while, has some leads on their whereabouts: by tracking down reported sightings of them throughout hundreds of years, he has concluded that they seem to travel around Ouen in a regular pattern, but since only some sightings are precisely dated and located, he has only an incomplete idea of precisely how the pattern is and is unable to accurately predict where they will be next and when. His best guess is that they’ll be somewhere around Alumine. This basically just ended up being chapter 69; in the original chapter plan they didn't visit Sparky and Carl at all, remember, but this chapter ended up being taken up by that. The plan was not remotely material for a whole chapter, though, so as so often, I'm glad I did not stick to the plan.

All in all, I think chapters 67 and 68 would definitely be one more focused chapter in the next revision, one way or another. I'm still fond of this chapter for the Carl scene, but the actual running around gathering team members isn't actually very interesting in itself, and although I made a lot of very sound decisions removing unnecessary cruft from these chapters, I think I could have gone further.


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