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 69: Lies

And the final chapter of this batch, March 10th. I made various last-minute edits to this one in the couple of weeks leading up to it, after originally finishing the whole batch of chapters. The draft title of this one was also "Ryan". This time they were going to actually meet him, damn it!

May lay awake in her bed, arm over her eyes. Sparky had given everyone a room in the Gym; hers was next to his own, and for a long time after lying down she’d indistinctly heard him and his Pokémon talking through the wall, until eventually they’d gone quiet. Now the only sounds to be heard were the ghostly cries of wild Hoothoot outside, barely audible after she’d closed the window.

But she still couldn’t sleep.

Listening to Sparky having this intimate friendship with his Pokémon where they'll just talk to each other long into the night definitely wasn't helping her sleep.

She sighed, moving her arm and blinking blearily into the darkness of the ceiling. She reached for the lamp on her nightstand and switched it on. If only the room had some books or something. She checked the drawer to be sure, but it only had a pen and a notebook.

If she were Mark she could draw something, but she wasn’t.

May's talent is Pokémon battling, and she's spent most of her life focusing on that to the exclusion of most everything else; this is part of why she really, really, really does not want her license revoked, because it's pretty much all she has. She's used to being good at what she does, and attempting things she's bad at just feels bad and she doesn't bother. Thus, as far as she's concerned she can't pick up a notebook and pen to doodle when she's having a hard time sleeping - Mark's good at this, he can do that, she can't and that's the end of it. May's attitude towards drawing is picked up on again in chapter 77. Not coincidentally, I'd recently started drawing every day (January 2016), and this had made me think a lot about this - I spent years wishing I was a decent artist but not drawing anything, ensuring I wouldn't get any better, when all I really had to do was just keep drawing and have the patience to keep it up even when I wasn't great at it.

She closed the drawer and reached for the Pokéball necklace she’d left sitting on top of the nightstand instead. After detaching Spirit’s ball and maximizing it, she hesitated, changed her mind and took out Stantler’s instead.

She loves Spirit, but she finds herself not really wanting to talk to her about Tyranitar. Spirit judged her back when Lapras first asked to leave, and it hurt. Stantler, who's very nonjudgemental and whose opinion she cares about less, feels safer to talk to.

This is something I really regret not thinking through more thoroughly earlier and making more of, though. Spirit hasn't been mentioned outside of battle since chapter 56, and even in chapter 54 we didn't see her reaction to learning about the murder. The May in my head hadn't been wanting to talk to Spirit lately, and this was pretty interesting, but somehow, even after writing this bit where this actually comes up, when I had a perfect opportunity to think about this and insert more bits alluding to it into the preceding chapters that I was working on at the same time, I didn't. At the time I said that there wasn't really a place for it, and I suppose I can get why I felt that way - the ideal place to properly show May avoiding Spirit would surely have been prior to this arc, in chapter 64 or earlier, rather than in these chapters where they're rapidly teleporting/flying around talking to all these other people - but still, I could've at least referenced it vaguely somewhere. And of course, there really should have been more Spirit before that, too, especially there in chapter 54.

“May?” the deer Pokémon asked when she materialized, looking around. “Is everything all right?”

“Yeah, I’m fine,” May said. “I just… couldn’t sleep.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t know. It’s just one of those things.”

Yes, definitely, just one of those things, not being able to sleep is absolutely being fine, she sent you out because she's just that absolutely fine

“Why did you bring me out?”

“Somebody to talk to, I guess.” May rubbed her face with her hands. “Unless you know some amazing Stantler sleep tips or something.”

Stantler looked at her for a moment. “I could try a Hypnosis,” she said. “But if you wanted to talk, we can talk first.”

Hypnosis. Of course. She should have thought of that. She hated that she hadn’t.

If May had thought of that she could've just asked her to use Hypnosis instead of asking to talk, and it would've been so much easier, wouldn't it? But now Stantler knows she wanted to talk anyway, so the damage is done.

She considered just asking her to do that now, so she could finally go to sleep. But…

May exhaled. “Do you think the police are going to… to figure out it was Tyranitar?”

This has been on May's mind since the conversation with Robin in chapter 67, and Carl bringing Tyranitar up again really didn't help.

“I only know what you told me,” Stantler said after a considered pause. “What are you worried about?”

“I don’t know, Robin was…” What had she told Stantler? “They know it was a Tyranitar. But there are wild ones where it happened. They can’t say I did it just because I released a Tyranitar at a similar time. It doesn’t prove anything.”

Stantler gazed at her. May wished she wouldn’t always take so long to answer, like she had to deliberate over every word. “No,” the Pokémon said at last, “it doesn’t sound like there’s any proof it was your Tyranitar who killed him.”

“Yeah, that’s what I said.” Why would Robin even –

“But it was him,” Stantler said.

“That’s not the point.”

“I think it is.”

“No, it isn’t,” May said. “It happened, and it was my fault, but it’s done. I just want to move on, but then Robin and everyone just…”

“What did Robin say?”

May took a deep breath. At least it was Stantler. She could talk to Stantler. “She thinks I should turn myself in. That Rick deserves to know what happened. But we’ve got legendaries to hunt down, and Rick’s a bloody nutcase either way. How would that even help? It’s not going to bring him back.”

I like how throughout this conversation May asks basically all her questions while fiercely arguing for the answer she wants to be true, hoping that Stantler will just agree and allay her doubts and then she can go to sleep, right?

Stantler considered it for a moment. “It would be unwise to do anything that might hinder or delay your quest further at this point,” she said. “But after this is over, perhaps it might help you.”

“No, it wouldn’t,” May said firmly.

The Pokémon surveyed her closely. “Are you sure?” she asked. “This has clearly been weighing on you. Perhaps having it out in the open would relieve some of that weight.”

“Telling people doesn’t help,” May snapped. “It just makes them think I’m the scum of the earth. That’s not helpful.”

That's basically what May got out of her interactions with Alan and Robin on this. Robin hasn't indicated she's the scum of the earth at all, but May sure imagines it.

“You aren’t,” Stantler said.

“Yes, I know.”

There was another pause. “I think owning up to what happened and facing the consequences of your actions could help you truly move on. You could finally be free of this suffocating secret and everything that comes with it. It might be the least painful course of action for you, in the end.”

“Well, I can’t risk that,” May said. “They’d probably revoke my license at the very least, and when they do that you can’t get it back.”

She can eventually reapply, as an adult, but that sure seems a really long time away right now. I don't think I had actually nailed this down when I wrote this; at some point I did a bunch of Googling about juvenile justice systems to get an idea of what would be reasonable and fully decide how this should work, but I think that was after this. Ultimately, it was just kind of depressing and unfair if May could never train Pokémon again, when we know of course she would never let this happen again, and it felt like a more satisfying ending for her to leave open the possibility she can get her license again in the future, which from my research seemed like a pretty reasonable possibility.

Stantler tilted her head, a budding curiosity in her eyes. “Is training Pokémon important to you?”

“It’s what I’m good at.”

“You’re good at many things.”

“I’m not going to the police, okay?”

“That’s a decision only you can make,” said Stantler. Even if May could talk to her, she could still be infuriating.

May sighed, lying back down on the bed. “Try that Hypnosis. Recall yourself if it works.”

This scene was new in editing, one of many, many additions aimed at solidifying May's arc. It's another one of my favorite scenes in the fic, just because May.

-------

The lack of Pokémon, Gyms or any other strong incentive for trainers to visit meant Sailance had no Pokémon Center, so instead Felix had memorized the front of the library. The bright white building with the ornate carvings above the door evoked a strange sense of nostalgia within Mark; this library was his childhood, and it was bizarre to realize that he hadn’t been there for the better part of a year now.

In the draft there was an extra paragraph at the beginning of this scene describing the logistics of them getting to Sailance, because I'd retained the bit from the chapter plan about how Felix hadn't been to Sailance. In the edit, I realized actually there was no real reason for this and just let them teleport.

He would have thought he’d long to go home, coming here again, but somehow, he didn’t. Home felt like part of a different world that wasn’t important at the moment, a strange world where Mark’s biggest concern had been his overprotective parents and mean-spirited teacher. But the two worlds intersected at the library, in a weird, disorienting way; he’d visited it so often to read about legendary Pokémon, staring in awe at the beautiful illustrations, and now here he was again, having fought and captured some of those legendary Pokémon. The memory seemed like an unreal dream.

“Well,” Leah said, recalling her Alakazam. “He said he’d be here. Let’s get inside.”

“Do you know what he looks like?” May asked as they stepped through the automatic door.

“Of course. I followed the news whenever Chaletwo slaughtered more innocents. He’d be a couple years older now, but he shouldn’t be hard to recognize.”

“And even if you didn’t, I’m here too.”

“Funnily enough, Chaletwo, I never thought memory was one of your best qualities.” Leah looked around. “Mark, you know this place. What floor would he be on?”

“Probably the third,” Mark said immediately. “That’s where the legendary books are.”

That's, of course, the same third floor we established so memorably in chapter two's bizarre elevator sequence.

Leah is absolutely making a jab at how Chaletwo forgot about the arrangement about coming to help Leah if she signaled him. This was identical in the draft, as was Leah talking about following the news when Chaletwo "slaughtered more innocents". I love Leah.

They crammed themselves into one of the elevators, and Leah pressed the third-floor button. Mark was gripped with an odd sense of déjà vu; for a moment he felt like he was back in the old world, like his entire journey had been an unusually vivid daydream on a particularly boring elevator ride.

The draft had an extra paragraph here:

Then the lift stopped, the doors opened, they stepped out, and it struck him properly that he was here with six other experienced trainers about to go and capture the unicorns he’d read about on that crazy day last year, and he was firmly back in the real world.

I decided it was unnecessary.

“He said he’d been doing some computer thingamajig,” Leah said as they stepped out of the lift, looking around. “Are there computers around here somewhere?”

“Behind there,” Mark said, pointing past a row of bookshelves. It was stupid, but he kind of enjoyed being the one who knew stuff for once.

Mark getting this little moment was added in editing. In the draft, instead, there was a pointless bit where Ryan wasn't at the first computers they found and Mark pointed out where there were more.

As soon as they’d rounded the corner, a boy by one of the computers jumped out of his seat. “Le... Miss Donaldson?” He was maybe fourteen, a bit chubby, with curly red hair, freckles and large, round eyes. She whipped around at the mention of her name.

“Oh, there you are,” she said, brightening. “Ryan whatshisname, right?”

I like Leah not remembering his last name and not caring if he knows it.

Meanwhile, Ryan hero-worships Leah a bit and is being excessively formal with her because of that. I gather it actually sounds odd regardless for him to actually call her "Miss Donaldson".

“Good to see you again, Ryan,” Chaletwo said.

The boy nodded, grinning. “You’re the new kid,” he said, pointing at Mark before he looked at the others, “but... whoa, Gym leaders.” His already wide eyes widened further. “League semifinalist! The Ouen Champion! That’s some group you’ve got.”

“I’m not the Champion,” May said.

“Well, not technically, but come on!” Ryan spread his arms. “That kid was a disgrace to Pokémon training, and you would’ve kicked his ass any day of the week without Mewtwo².”

This, of course, is exactly what May was determined to prove when she decided to stake out Taylor's training spot for that fateful rematch.

May pressed her lips together; Mark quickly tried to change the subject. “You said you had something on the Waraider herd?”

“Yes!” Ryan said enthusiastically as he sat back down at the computer, beckoning them to follow. “See, about a year ago I started gathering every scrap of information about the unicorns – there have been a lot of sightings, you know, even if they’re pretty unclear – and it wasn’t long before I started seeing a pattern. Look.”

He brought up a map of Ouen with red dots plotted onto it that Mark assumed stood for sightings. Almost all the dots were clustered together in about a dozen groups, scattered around the region.

“See? You’d expect this sort of thing to be either restricted to one particular area or a pretty even random distribution across similar locations, but it’s not.”

“Doesn’t that just mean they were in one place long enough for multiple people to see them?” May asked, sceptical.

“Ah.” Ryan held up a finger. “Exactly what I would’ve thought. But the times don’t match up. In fact, if I color the spots by time, then...”

He fiddled with menus on the screen; the dots changed to be various hues instead of red.

“See – the spots in each cluster are different colors, far apart in time.”

May squinted at it. “So... they keep coming back to the same places?”

“Not only that,” Ryan added excitedly. “In the same order. I’m almost certain of it. The record is spotty, and they don’t always stay for the same amount of time, so it’s not obvious, but I’ve been analyzing this data for months and it’s uncanny. They have to be going the same round trip around the region over and over again – only it’s not a round trip, it’s a ridiculous polygon trip. Look, here’s the way I think they go.”

He changed more options, and a wild criss-crossing web of lines connecting the clusters of dots appeared. It really wasn’t a round trip: if this was right, the Waraider herd regularly flew halfway across the region to get to a place, then flew back to another place much closer to the one they’d started at. It was bizarre.

“How sure are you?” asked Leah, doubtful.

“Pretty sure. I mean, if you’ve got a sighting at time X in location A, and a sighting at time Y in location B, then any sightings between X and Y are going to be from the locations that come between A and B in this cycle, except where the difference between X and Y is so big they’ve probably gone all the way around in between, or where the sighting is really dubious and probably fake. And it’s a lot of data points, and this matches up way better than chance. It’s by far the best possible match with the data. I wrote a program that worked it out.”

I always enjoyed that Ryan's approach to getting legendaries is to do it with math. Odds are for his previous efforts he just looked up sightings in the hope of seeing if they regularly hung out in one particular place, or if they'd been steadily traveling in some particular direction, but then when he did it for the unicorns he saw this weird mess and got a bit carried away analyzing the data and figuring out exactly what's going on. The idea for this came about before the chapter plan, I think - I wanted to show different ways that the legendary hunters approached the quest, and I loved the idea of someone actually finding them with a systematic approach like this.

I believe the bit about how the pattern of sightings makes no sense was spontaneous here, and I didn't yet know what it meant, but it was one of the things contributing to me figuring out Waraider's deal. In the chapter plan, the unicorns were going to travel in a pattern, but I didn't write anything in particular about what the pattern was like; I think the primary reason I made it strange and nonsensical was that if they went around in a simple pattern, Ryan would hardly have had to spend so much time figuring it out.

“Does that make any sense to you, Chaletwo?” Leah glanced at Mark out of the corner of her eye.

“It’s strange, but frankly I wouldn’t put it past them.”

These two lines were new in editing, showing a bit more of Chaletwo's kind of condescending handwaved view of the unicorns.

Leah raised her eyebrows. “Nice. So where are they now, according to your thing?”

“Well.” Ryan rubbed his hands together. “It’s a little hard to tell, because like I said, they don’t always stay for the same amount of time, and I haven’t managed to find any sightings newer than sometime in June. But playing around with averages, at the moment they’re most likely to be somewhere around here.” He pointed triumphantly at a cluster shortly northeast of Alumine.

“Have you checked?” Leah asked.

Ryan’s face fell a little. “Well, no,” he said. “I’d been looking for newer data, but when you called I started working on finishing the algorithm and running it on the current dataset instead, and I just wrapped that up this morning. Besides, I was waiting for you.”

“I guess.” Leah squinted at the map again. “That’s a pretty big cluster, though. We’ll probably have to split up searching. And we can’t Teleport, since Felix hasn’t been to Alumine, either.”

“But my Xatu has,” Ryan said proudly. “She can get us all there in a whiff. And even if they’re not there, we travelled to all the hotspots once I’d identified them. We can search them in in order of likelihood until we find them.”

Leah blinked. “Huh. You’re actually pretty good.”

Ryan beamed at the compliment. “Should we get going?”

This is like the greatest moment of Ryan's life.

This scene is largely pretty similar to the draft, bar various phrasing edits (Ryan's descriptions of what his thing does, in particular, were all rewritten completely - I didn't change how it works, but originally the way he described it was even more awkward and difficult to understand).

-------

“So how long have you been traveling with Leah?” Ryan asked. They’d split into two groups for the search after arriving in Alumine and planning things out over lunch; Mark had gone with Ryan, Robin and Sparky to explore the eastern half of the area, while Leah, May, Alan and Victor had gone west.

“Only a couple of days,” Mark said. “But we’d met before – she sent a distress call when she was battling Entei, and we came to help her.”

“Oh.” Ryan paused. “What’s she like?”

Mark shrugged. “She’s pretty cool, I guess?”

“Yeah,” Ryan said with a sigh. “I mean, she’s caught so many legendaries. I’ve only gotten a couple myself – went for the Sinnoh pixies, Heatran, then working on the herd. Seems kind of pathetic in the space of almost three years, next to her and Mary with, like, fifteen or twenty. But if we count the unicorns as mine after this, I guess I’m not doing so bad.” He chuckled nervously and opened his mouth again as if to ask something, then closed it again.

In the draft Ryan was a bit more obvious about his crush on Leah, and Chaletwo commented that he was glad not to be in his head anymore. As much as I enjoy Chaletwo's deep distaste for human hormones, I ditched it because it was giving more attention to it than it deserved. I also just like the way it completely flies over Mark's head now.

Mark nodded, distracted. He – well, they – had caught a lot of legendaries for only having been out there for less than a year, but that was mostly because of Thunderyu, Volcaryu, Polaryu and Suicune all being in known locations and getting lucky with the female Color Dragons. He’d never have even thought of something like plotting historical sightings on a map and trying to see a pattern; next to someone who could do something like that and genuinely track down a legendary, he felt hopelessly out of his league.

Mark feeling kind of inadequate next to everyone else is going to be a running theme in this chapter and the next; I felt it was a nice way to build up to the moment where it turns out to be Mark and his empathy and desire for peaceful conflict-resolution that actually leads to them getting the unicorns. (Ryan totally deserves a lot of the credit, though.)

“What’s with May, anyway?” Ryan said after a few seconds. “When I watched the League I got the impression she wanted to win really badly. Isn’t she happy to be basically the Champion? I mean, of course she’d’ve wanted to actually beat him, and it’s terrible he died, but –”

“It was her Tyranitar that killed him,” Robin said before anyone else could answer. Mark froze in his tracks. Ryan turned around in puzzlement, and Sparky stopped, giving Robin a wary look.

“She told me,” Robin said; she had stopped too, and though her voice was slightly unsteady, she stood firm. “I think she should tell the police. They’re still investigating what happened, and it makes it look worse if she’s trying to hide it. I tried to tell her we should go to them, but she got really evasive, and –”

“What do you mean, her Tyranitar?” Ryan asked blankly.

“She said she’d wished death on him. She says she didn’t mean it, but her Tyranitar thought she did, so he killed him.”

“What? But...” Ryan’s eyes were even wider than usual.

“It was an accident,” Chaletwo said. “Yes, he died, very sad, but I’m not hearing anything more about this. She didn’t mean for him to be killed. It has no bearing on today, and going to the police won’t help anyone. Remember saving the world?”

Chaletwo, the most sensitive. He's so tired of this being an issue. A mortal died! Why is everyone so hung up on this?!

“What about Rick?” Robin said, unyielding. “He was devastated when his brother died. He deserves to know what really happened.”

“No, he doesn’t! The man is insane, and he’s all the more reason not to tell the police. Remember how he was capturing legendaries before any of you, just because he could? Remember that TV interview where he went nuts? We don’t want him anywhere near our mission.”

“This is wrong,” Robin said, shaking her head. “If it really was just an accident and not her fault, then I don’t understand why you’re all so insistent on covering it up. And if Rick’s a bit unhinged, maybe it’s not helping that his brother died and he still doesn’t know why. I mean, Taylor was his only family. He’d been raising him since he was a toddler. He needs closure and peace, for God’s sake. Have some compassion.”

And yeah, here's Robin bringing up Rick specifically again and being familiar with the particulars of Rick and Taylor's family situation. Maybe this is well known - Megan did infodump about this to Mark in chapter four - but I wrote it thinking of her as previously invested. That aspect was new in the edit here, obviously.

“Will it jog your memory if I remind you that interview involved him threatening to murder whomever was responsible?” Chaletwo said coldly. “We’re not telling him anything, and we’re not telling the police anything that they might tell him.”

Robin looked away, wincing. “Look, I’m not suggesting we outright report her to the police behind her back. It’s just… I’m really not comfortable going around pretending this didn’t happen, and I think it’d be better for everyone if she just came clean and let the police handle it. And as for Rick, I mean, she said you could do something about it if they figured it out, so couldn’t you just do the same if he… tried anything? I don’t know; she just refuses to hear any of this from me, since…” She spread her arms in a gesture of frustrated puzzlement. “Well, she obviously has some sort of problem with me.”

“If she has a problem with you, it’s probably because you’re not willing to let this go,” Chaletwo said, irritated. “Again, I won’t hear any more of this. You can worry about their peace of mind when the world isn’t ending.”

Again, Robin's noticed the way May's acted towards her and is pretty sure by now that yeah, May's got issues with her in particular, for some reason. That in particular was new in editing, and all in all Robin's more frustrated here than in the draft, having made an attempt to talk to May about this and at this point clearly beginning to seriously suspect, though she doesn't quite want to say it, that this wasn't as purely innocent and accidental as they keep acting like it was.

Robin looked silently at Sparky and then back at Mark, sighing. Ryan still stood there, pale, glancing between the three of them. A second passed before Sparky spoke, wary. “This sounds like something we ought to be aware of. Can you please explain exactly what happened?”

“It doesn’t matter what happened,” Chaletwo said. “Right now we’re looking for the Waraider herd. If you’re not with us, then feel free to leave. I don’t want to hear another word about this.”

Mark felt a tinge of guilty hesitation in the back of his mind after the last word, but Sparky only shook his head slightly and set off walking again. After a moment, Robin threw her hands up and did the same. Ryan looked doubtfully at Mark; he sighed and followed suit, and Ryan hurried to catch up.

In the draft, Sparky actively took Robin's side here, but it didn't really make any sense when he should be pretty confused here, not knowing most of the story - he had to ask to hear more first. Chaletwo also didn't tell him to feel free to leave; I like that addition, and how Chaletwo realizes he went too far but doesn't correct himself.

-------

May trudged silently alongside the others. She’d managed to go with the group that didn’t have Robin, but it did have Alan, and although Alan probably had nothing left unsaid to her by now, she was still wary.

Another new-in-editing scene! Agh, she just doesn't trust anyone. Alan's words from chapter 55 are still fresh in her mind, and even just being here in a group with him has her on edge.

“So, uh,” Victor said after a while, “May, did you get that Mutark?”

She nodded, glancing at Alan where he was walking beside Leah at the front of the party, but he didn’t react. Leah turned her head, though. “Didn’t you watch the League? She used one there. Gave it a Sticky Barb so it could transform right away. Pretty slick.”

“Oh.” Victor looked away. “I missed it, I’m sorry. I only watched the finals because of all the buzz about Rick’s brother, to be honest.”

Victor doesn't usually watch the League.

Leah shrugged. “I never used to follow the League religiously either until I got recruited. Turns out it’s a nice place to pick up creative strategies – fun fact, I’ve ripped off more than one Champion in my legendary fights.” She grinned. “Ironically, I actually kind of missed the finals this time around. I usually listen to it on my PokéGear radio when I’m on the road, but seeing as the commentator up and left, I gave up trying to follow what was going on within the first five minutes. Just a lot of roars and growls and attack names. I read about it in the paper when I came to town, obviously, but.”

Victor winced. “It was pretty brutal. You read about the… the Mewtwo clone? It just threw her Tyranitar around like a cheap toy. I felt kind of bad for him.”

I enjoyed being able to reference the commentator's strike again here. Victor's understating how he felt about Tyranitar, still reluctant to rock the boat.

“Yeah, so I heard,” Leah said, raising her eyebrows. “Psychic against a Dark-type. How nuts is that?” She shook her head. “Then again, we’re a bunch of teenagers going around fighting gods, so, you know.”

“How’s he doing, anyway?” asked Victor, turning towards May. He was trying to make the question sound more casual than it was, and May hated that she could tell. “He… seemed so determined to win. Did he take it okay?”

Alan turned around, too. May imagined them vanishing, just blinking out of existence and leaving her alone, but that wasn’t helpful. “I released him.”

Victor’s awkward attempt at a smile vanished, his lips tightening, too quickly. “You released him because he didn’t win?”

He was basically bracing himself for hearing this when he asked.

She inhaled sharply. “Yeah,” she said, without thinking, and instantly regretted it. But Alan didn’t say anything. He stood there, staring at her, but his mouth didn’t open.

“It wasn’t his fault,” Victor said. “I mean, nothing could have stood against that Mewtwo². You shouldn’t –”

“Hey, lay off her, okay?” Leah said, turning her head. “You don’t know what happened between them and it’s none of your business. Releasing a Pokémon is hard; don’t rub it in.”

Victor looked at May for a brief moment before averting his eyes again. “Right. Sorry.”

Alan’s gaze, on the other hand, lingered on her for several seconds before Leah continued walking and he turned around to follow.

May genuinely thought Alan was about to correct her there and reveal what really happened, after her unthinking lie. But that's not really where Alan's mind is at. After his conversation with Mark in chapter 66, where he finally managed to properly articulate his feelings to himself and introspect more deeply, he's better able to sympathize with May instead of seeing her as an embodiment of his failures, and seeing her choose to lie that she callously released Tyranitar for losing the battle rather than talk about what really happened, it kind of makes it real for him how much this is tearing her apart - reminds him of how he released his own Pokémon telling them he just wasn't interested in going to the League, despite their disappointment, rather than explaining the real reason.

Meanwhile, Victor makes a feeble attempt to stand up for righteousness and justice, sort of, until Leah shuts him up. Leah's being perfectly genuine there; people part ways with their Pokémon for all sorts of reasons, and it's often emotionally difficult, and as far as she's concerned it's just never anyone else's business.

Initially, when I added this scene, I was mostly just going to try having Victor ask about Mutark and see how that played out, but then of course it got around to Tyranitar and then I realized wow hey this has been bothering Victor, hasn't it, and then the entire cascade of Victor realizations happened.

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Mark’s group was still wandering aimlessly across the uneven hills. There were no roads around here, or even footpaths; it was all dead, yellow grass, rocks and irregularities that made it far more exhausting to get around than a manmade road. Mark envied Ryan’s Xatu for being able to follow them with a casual series of teleports without actually having to walk.

Put a pin in this bit, it'll be referenced again next chapter.

He was falling into a daze of repetition when Robin called, “Look!”

He turned and caught a strange, shimmering glimpse out of the corner of his eye, but then it was gone. He blinked, squinting at the spot where it had been; there seemed to be nothing there.

“What?” asked Ryan.

“I’m sure I saw something,” Robin said, wary. “Like in my peripheral vision. I can’t see it anymore, though.”

“Me too,” Mark said, looking around for a sign of the phenomenon again; everything seemed normal now. “It can’t be just a coincidence, can it?”

“Xatu, Miracle Eye,” Ryan ordered, pointing in the direction of the place they were looking at. The bird Pokémon turned towards it, her eyes glowing red; for a moment there was that shimmering again, and then suddenly eight unicorns with folded wings, grazing lazily in the field, were visible in plain sight.

Mysticrown has a move that basically raises the whole group's evasion, in game terms.

“Xatu, send the signal, quick!” Ryan said urgently; the Pokémon’s eyes flashed red again, and all at once, the unicorns looked up. With a chorus of panicked neighs, they broke into a gallop, unfurling their wings and preparing to take off.

Robin had already reached for a Pokéball. Her Charizard emerged in a burst of white, and she swung onto his back with a practiced ease. “Follow them!” she shouted. Mark belatedly fumbled for his Charizard’s ball and sent him out as well.

“We found the Waraider herd,” he said quickly as the dragon emerged. Charizard only gave a brief nod, lowering his wing for Mark to climb aboard.

“Xatu, go with them,” Ryan said. “Remember this spot, then come get us when you’ve seen where the herd went.”

Xatu nodded, and in a sudden show of animatedness, the normally-statuesque Pokémon spread her wings and shot into the air as Charizard took off in a lurch.

Mark looked down at Ryan and Sparky, feeling a little bad for having to leave them behind. As he gave them an apologetic smile, Leah, May, Victor and Alan appeared on the ground, holding onto Felix the Alakazam and looking wildly around.

Not quite making it obvious here why Mark "has to" leave them behind, am I. It was probably more obvious when all the logistical talk in chapter 67 was there. Either way, though, really they only need to send a couple of people.

“They went that way!” Mark shouted. “Robin and I are going – you can come, or Xatu can get you when they land.”

May gave a quick nod of acknowledgement. Alan looked between them and Mark, his hand hovering near his Pokéball belt, but then he relaxed it and didn’t send anything out. Mark imagined he was thinking of Charlie.

“Charizard,” Mark said, leaning forward and clinging to his Pokémon’s neck, “we can wait for Xatu if you don’t think you can catch up with Robin.”

“I don’t know about catching up,” he said, “but I don’t think Robin should be going after them alone.”

And he increased his speed, zooming after the orange spot ahead of them and the indistinct shapes it was following.

Charizard's line there sounds weirdly like he's suspicious of Robin for some reason, but that wasn't the point here, just that he thinks it's safer to have more people.

I enjoy this chapter. On a plot level, they just meet Ryan and go out to find the Waraider herd, but in the meantime the May subplot is bubbling away, and there's some Leah being Leah.

The chapter plan said Chapter 69: All five of them teleport to Alumine and they split into two groups in accordance with Mary and the boy’s two Teleporting Pokémon, with Mark and the boy searching in one place but May, Alan and Mary in another. Eventually Mark and the boy find the herd, but by that time, some wild Pokémon has just knocked out the others’ Psychic-type, and the help call is lost. When they don’t arrive, Mark and the boy are forced to recall their Pokémon and watch the herd escape. The first half of the chapter, of course, was in the chapter 68 chapter plan. Here, we've got eight people instead of five and no Mary, but Mark and Ryan being in the same group and May, Alan and the most experienced legendary hunter being in the same group was retained, and I changed how the final scene actually plays out. The original plan was basically going for a complication so that they don't just find and get the unicorns straightforwardly; I don't remember exactly what my thought process was when I wrote the actual thing during NaNo, but I imagine I felt it was simpler and more exciting if the others did make it there and the unicorns had just already taken off by that point.


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