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 70: Waraider

June 7th, 2016, the fifth chapter of the year - three months after chapter 69 was posted. While working on this chapter, I was also working on chapters 71 and 72: as I was editing the previous chapters I'd come up with the thing about Tyranitar giving himself up, and I wanted to nail down fully how all that would play out before proceeding too far.

It was, of course, very intentional that the title of this chapter is just Waraider and not The Waraider Herd.

Had another fascinating QftL dream shortly after publishing 69:

Then somehow this turned into a subplot about how May from TQftL had taken up drinking, presumably as a distraction from the whole Tyranitar murder thing, and I hadn’t noticed until she kind of collapsed in this bathroom at the mall and I went “Whoa, what’s wrong, why did that happen” and she was all irritably “Well, I kind of drank a lot at dinner” and I thought back to when we’d been having spaghetti earlier and whoa, yeah, why was she drinking beer the whole time and why did I not notice. And then Victor was also there and was like “Yeeeeah, I know the feeling, I used to drink a lot last year” and apparently he’d been through some sort of horrible trauma that I can’t remember that also flung him into rampant alcoholism. And then they bonded over teenage drinking. (Not even teenage; she’s twelve. What are you doing, brain.)

When Charizard finally caught up with Robin and Xatu, it was because they were descending and slowing down. The unicorns were an indistinct shape near the horizon; he wasn’t sure they’d be able to see them much longer.

“Is your Charizard getting tired?” Mark called as they pulled up beside her.

Robin shook her head. “I think we should let them think they’ve shaken us off,” she said. “That’s why we’re flying so low, to be less visible against the sky. The next hotspot on Ryan’s map was on Route 317, and they’ve been flying straight in that direction – I figured that’s probably where they’re going, and Xatu agreed.”

Mark blinked, his feelings of inadequacy returning. “Yeah, that makes sense,” he said. “Route 317, though? That’s pretty far.”

“They’ve got to take a break eventually, right?” Robin said. “If they think we’re gone, they’ll hopefully lower their guard and land for a bit before too long, and we can all attack them there.”

“They’re legendaries,” Mark pointed out, wary. “Are you sure they won’t outlast a couple of Charizard with riders before they get tired?”

Robin shrugged. “Well, we can’t really know, but if they do shake us off, Xatu can take us all straight to the Route 317 spot and we can hide and wait for them to get there.” She looked at Charizard, smiling. “If you’re getting out of breath, though, I have some Ethers. Won’t replace a good rest, but it’s something.”

In the draft, they didn't actually know what the next hotspot was (wouldn't Robin have checked, or Ryan brought it up?), Robin kind of monologued explaining her plan instead of them having an exchange about it, and she didn't indicate she'd talked with Xatu, which I think is a fun addition. Also, she asked Mark if Charizard was getting out of breath, rather than Charizard directly.

“No need,” Charizard huffed. “Just... maybe later.”

“Sure. Just say when.”

They flew on for a while, low. The herd had disappeared into the distance. Xatu meticulously scanned the ground below with Miracle Eye, watching for any sign of the unicorns. Charizard strained to keep up, and Mark couldn’t help but be painfully aware of how effortless Robin’s Charizard’s flight seemed in comparison.

That endurance that May talked about in chapter 64, making Mark kind of jealous too. Charizard himself is feeling kind of inadequate too! Look at him not wanting to have to take an Ether, trying to keep up anyway! It's okay, Charizard, not everyone can be Robin's Charizard.

Finally, Robin turned around. “Hey, Mark,” she said, her voice quieter than usual. “If Chaletwo doesn’t want to do anything about it, fine, but… how much do you know about how Taylor died? I just… I just want to know the truth.”

Mark saw a brief flash of glassy, staring eyes and jutting, broken ribs; he shuddered. “I… I saw it happen.”

Robin blinked and then stared, her brow furrowing. “Wait, what?”

He swallowed. “May – she wanted a rematch after the finals, so she went to Taylor’s training spot to wait for him, and I came with her, but I didn’t know that’s where we were. Taylor showed up and agreed to battle her again, and she sent out Tyranitar first, and then he… he attacked him.”

“And you just stood there?” asked Robin, incredulous.

“I… we didn’t realize he was going to… May tried to recall him but it was too late.” Mark felt a little sick; he’d never really felt like he could have done something about it, prevented all this, but it was true, wasn’t it? He wasn’t sure exactly what he should have done, but…

Robin pressed her lips together. Her Charizard looked at Mark over his shoulder, a hint of real or imagined accusation in his eyes. “And what, then you just… left him?” Robin asked, her voice tight.

Mark nodded, a growing pit in his stomach. Again he remembered the body lying on the barren ground, the way they’d tried to avoid looking at it or thinking about it.

“Remember how I didn’t want to hear another word about this?” Chaletwo said irritably. “There was nothing better they could do. You wanted to know what happened, and now you know, so drop it.”

Robin gazed at Mark for a few long seconds. “All right,” she said finally, turning around to stare at the ground ahead.

Aaaand there's Robin's confirmation that this was actually way worse than she'd imagined. Mark doesn't quite realize how bad this sounds for her.

This Tyranitar conversation was not in the draft. I feel like Mark's part is a bit awkward and I could've spent more time on it.

-------

Sitting cross-legged, May tore a fistful of dead grass off the ground, then idly snapped each blade in half until the pieces were too small to get a good grip on. They’d set up a temporary camp, if one could call it that, where Xatu had left them; they had to be ready to go with her at a moment’s notice when she returned, so they’d all sat down on the hard ground around Charlie’s tail flame, uselessly twiddling their thumbs as they waited. At least the grass was dry.

Another new scene wherein May feels bad! Honestly half of the scenes I added in editing are about May feeling bad.

“Well,” Leah said, “might as well do some more planning while we’re here. Obviously the unicorns are pretty jumpy, and we’re going to need to approach them without having to chase them off to who knows where again. If they really don’t want to be separated, they won’t leave one behind, so getting a trapper in there and trapping just one of them should be enough, but the trapper needs to be able to approach the herd and survive until we get there. So…”

“Sounds like a job for Spirit,” Sparky said. May looked up.

“Yeah, that’s what I was thinking,” Leah went on. “Ghosty Ninetales just phases out completely, reappears in the middle of the herd, gets a Mean Look in, then goes insubstantial. By the time they figure out most moves won’t hit her, we’ll have caught up.” She looked at May. “You know, I’ve got to hand it to the beasts,” she said cheerfully. “These chosen Pokémon can be pretty sweet.”

They already introduced all their Pokémon and discussed strategy offscreen, so although Leah didn't learn too much about Spirit back in chapter 51, she's fully initiated now.

May snorted. “Don’t let her hear that.”

She pulled Spirit’s ball off her necklace and dropped it on the ground. The Ninetales stretched, looked around and turned to May, questioning.

“Mark, Robin and Xatu are chasing the herd,” May said. “Once they come back to get us, we’re going to need you to go into the strong spirit spirit form, use a Mean Look to trap one of them, and then stay in the weak spirit form until we can get close. Can you do that?”

Spirit straightened. “Of course,” she said. “When are they coming?”

Her Entei powers are cool and important!

“No idea.” May shook her head. “You can stay out until then if you like, I guess.”

Spirit shook herself, thinking for a moment, but then lay down in the grass beside May, resting her head on her paws. May stroked her head, the Ninetales’ fur soft beneath her fingers. It’d been a while. Part of her wished she’d brought Spirit out last night after all, and part of her really didn’t.

Sparky was still gazing at her, his expression unreadable behind his shades. “May, could I talk to you for a second?”

She shrugged, scratching Spirit’s ear. “If you want.”

She stood up and the Gym leader beckoned her to come with him out of earshot. She was tense but not sure why; she pulled her coat tighter, folding her arms. “Is this about Spirit?”

“No.” Sparky lifted his shades. “Earlier,” he said, his voice quiet, “Robin told us that your Tyranitar killed Taylor Lancaster. Do you want to tell me what happened?”

Robin. Rage boiled up in her stomach; why had she ever trusted her? How could she have been so stupid? She glanced at Alan out of the corner of her eye, but he was only talking to Ryan, oblivious to their conversation.

She looked back up at Sparky and the searching concern in his eyes, pulling the coat tighter again. “No.”

“No?”

“No, I don’t want to tell you about it.” Robin had no right. No right at all. Who the hell did she think she was? “Is that all?”

Sparky straightened, his brow furrowing slightly. “Yes, I suppose that is all.”

May turned and sat back down by Spirit’s side before he could say anything else, burying her fingers in her mane.

Kind of wish I'd had Spirit say something here.

-------

After what felt like hours and two Ethers for Charizard, something prodded at Mark’s mind from the outside. He looked up, startled; Xatu gave him and Robin a meaningful look before pointing down with her beak. Sure enough, in a secluded valley below them, he could make out the forms of the unicorns as they grazed, oblivious to their presence.

Xatu nodded at them and dived, and the two Charizard followed suit. They landed in the mountains just on the outside of the valley, hidden from sight.

This was part of the opening scene in the draft and didn't involve Xatu, instead just being a summarized "Finally, they found the unicorns grazing in a secluded valley" sort of deal.

“Finally,” said Leah when Xatu had vanished and reappeared with the rest of the group. “Where are they?”

“Down in the valley.” Robin pointed past the outcropping of rock that was shielding them from view, speaking quietly.

“Great. We came up with a plan to trap them while you were gone, too – May’s Ninetales is going to sneak up and Mean Look them for us.”

Robin glanced at May and Spirit, who was standing by her side, but May was looking the other way.

“And then we can just fly or teleport down there, Pokémon out, according to plan, bam, done.” Leah grinned. “They won’t know what hit them.”

Leah is quite realistic and knows perfectly well it's not going to be quite that simple (as we saw in chapter 67), but she's very good at not letting things make her nervous once she's going to do them. As far as she's concerned, it's useless to waste your time worrying, and once you've worked out the practicalities and have a reasonable plan, you should act at all times like you know exactly what you're doing and everything will go exactly the way you want it to.

“No,” Alan said firmly. “First we talk to them and try to get them to agree to be caught.”

Leah looked at him, incredulous. “Seriously? You gathered eight people for this thing so you could talk to them?”

“We successfully negotiated with the female Color Dragons,” Alan said.

“Yeah,” May responded, looking at him out of the corner of her eye, “but if you remember, most of that negotiation was them trying to kill us and Dragoreen threatening to drop Mark off a cliff.”

Mark felt a momentary flash of stinging phantom pain in his ribs; he shuddered, but pushed it aside. “They deserve to at least know why we’re doing this,” he said. “It’s the right thing to do. And talking to the female Color Dragons helped us find the males, remember.”

“Except Dragoreen sent us on a six-week wild goose chase first.”

May is definitely not over this.

“Enough,” Chaletwo said. “Yes, we should try to talk to them. It probably won’t work, but not trying would be irresponsible. I’m still not sure you can actually win this.”

Leah rolled her eyes. “Well, whatever, you’re the boss.”

In the draft:

“But then why didn’t you try that first and then if that didn’t work you could start gathering...” Leah rolled her eyes. “Oh, never mind.”

Mark didn’t think that was entirely fair; if they hadn’t talked to Leah and then Ryan they wouldn’t have had any idea where the unicorns even were. He supposed they wouldn’t have had to talk to any of the Gym leaders, but he couldn’t regret doing so even if it did turn out unnecessary.

I changed this because really what Leah was saying didn't make sense, and Mark's objection was kind of missing the larger point - attempting to talk to them first when you aren't actually prepared to battle them if things go south really wouldn't have been a great idea, because if you made them mad enough for them to attack, you'd be completely outmatched, and then even if you do escape unscathed, you're going to have to find them all over again with them now knowing that you're after them.

Once everyone was ready and holding onto Felix the Alakazam, May nodded to Spirit and the Ninetales vanished. They moved carefully past the rock so they could see the herd below; the unicorns seemed at peace now, focusing on the grass they were eating instead of looking up, and paid them no notice.

They waited tensely for something to happen for a minute, nothing moving but the cold wind. Then, all of a sudden, Spirit reappeared behind Waraider, her eyes glowing.

Draft:

They waited tensely for something to happen, unable to follow where Spirit was. (Was she even truly anywhere?)

I kind of enjoy that, but it was clunky.

Again, the unicorns simultaneously raised their heads. Without even looking to see what was there, they broke into a run –

– and then Waraider ran into an invisible barrier; his legs refused to move as he strained against the Mean Look, neighing in panic, and the herd dissolved into chaos as the others stopped too, rearing and whinnying in an incoherent frenzy.

“Felix, go!” Leah called, and all of a sudden they were several meters down the mountainside, only to be somewhere else again a fraction of a second later. Everything flickered like frames in an old movie, and for a moment Mark felt so completely disoriented that it turned into nausea; he wanted to let go and make it stop, but the Alakazam’s clawed hand tightened around his, pulling him along. He caught unreal, progressively closer glimpses of Waraider turning and noticing Spirit, rushing at her with his long horn glowing white, then passing harmlessly through her insubstantial, ghostlike form, then all the others rushing towards her…

“Stop!” Chaletwo shouted when they’d gotten close enough, and in an instant, everything was normal again. Mark’s entire mind was still reeling after the experience; he would never envy this mode of transportation again. “This is Chaletwo. That Ninetales and these humans are with me. I’m sorry for trapping you, but we couldn’t see any other way to get close enough to talk to you.”

Aaand Mark's regretting being envious of Xatu before. This was new in the edit.

The way this works is basically that teleports can either be targeted towards a remembered location that the teleporter has been to before (which can be anywhere), the source of a traceable signal (which works on a similar basis), or short-distance, simply shifting by a matter of meters. It's not a line-of-sight thing - you can't immediately teleport to a distant place you haven't been to, even if you can see it, but you can shift your position just a bit.

The unicorns stopped and turned, all at once, but looked no calmer. A bluish-white one with icicles forming her wings and horn – Freezaroy, Mark recalled dimly, perhaps with Chaletwo’s help – let out a bloodcurdling scream. “No! Let us go!”

“How dare you sneak up on us like this?” snarled the Fire-type – Emphire – as her mane and tail flared up with new heat.

“This is important,” Chaletwo said. “Has Mew told you about the War of the Legends?”

“What?” asked Emphire, her eyes narrowing.

“Should Mew have told us about a war?” asked the Psychic one, or so Mark presumed from the large, purple gem resembling a third eye that she had in place of a horn. The name Mysticrown surfaced somewhere in his head. “She hasn’t mentioned it.”

“Please explain,” said Electhrone, the Electric-type.

These introductions of the different unicorns are pretty awkward and I'm not really sure how to sensibly make them less so.

“You’ve felt your powers weakening, correct?” Chaletwo said. “They’re being drained – by someone called the Destroyer. Sometime in the next few months, he will release all that power to drive the legendaries mad, and we’ll all fight each other until only one is left. The only way to stop this is if we’re all in human Pokéballs when it happens. All the others are in now except you and Mew. Please let us capture you, and we can save the world. If you don’t, then we’ll all die.”

Chaletwo, the best at diplomacy. He's actually worse at it here than in the draft.

The unicorns looked at one another and began talking all at once; Mark couldn’t follow so many simultaneous, nearly identical voices of Pokémon speech. “Who is the Destroyer?” Electhrone asked eventually, stepping closer to Mark while the others squabbled on in a chaotic chorus. His tail whipped restlessly back and forth, releasing a flurry of sparks.

“We don’t know,” Chaletwo said. “Probably some unknown legendary. It’s most likely not important, so long as you’re all captured – or, I suppose, if you prefer that, you could make soul gems and be resurrected afterwards.”

“But what about the Destroyer himself? Does he not need to be caught as well?”

“Hopefully not, because that would make it impossible.”

Yet again, even though only Electhrone had appeared to be paying any attention to their conversation, the unicorns all simultaneously stopped talking and whipped their heads around. They had to have some kind of psychic bond, Mark thought. “What do you mean, hopefully?” asked Freezaroy frantically.

“He’s just making this up as he goes along,” Emphire hissed, her mane flaring.

“Well, if the Destroyer is the only legendary left, the theory is that the same thing that normally makes it stop when there’s only one left will prevent it from happening at all. It makes sense if you think about it.”

The unicorns looked at one another again. “I think we should do it,” said Mysticrown.

“I think so too, for the sake of the world,” said the Grass-type with the leafy wings, Natruler.

“But it’s not certain,” Freezaroy objected, her eyes darting wildly from side to side at the others. “He’s guessing. You can tell he’s guessing.”

“Why did he bring all these trainers and use a Ninetales to trap us if he only wanted to help us?” Emphire hissed. “How do we know he intends to release us again, and this isn’t his ploy to take over?”

“I knew this would happen,” Chaletwo said irritably. “Look. Waraider, you’re the leader, aren’t you? Do you really think I’d make this up? Be sensible.”

Waraider, the plain white unicorn, had been at the back of the herd, not saying much, but at this, the others stepped back to clear the way for him. He took a hesitant step forward, folding and unfolding his feathered wings uneasily. “What do you think?” he finally said, looking back at the others.

He literally hasn't said anything, has he? Poor Waraider.

This started another round of squabbling neighs and whinnies. Unlike Mark, Waraider didn’t appear to have trouble following them; he didn’t ask them to slow down or speak one at a time, instead just listening to the cacophony until all of a sudden, in an instant, they went silent. “Natruler, Electhrone, Seasar, Darkhan and Mysticrown agree, but Emphire and Freezaroy don’t trust you,” he said. “What is your response?”

Obviously, Waraider doesn't have to literally listen to them because they're just the different thought processes going on within him.

“My response is screw them. You’re the leader. You can override them if you really want. They’d follow you.”

THE BEST DIPLOMAT

Waraider shook his head slowly, his gaze flicking back and forth. “I… I only mediate between them,” he said.

“If you’re not caught, you’ll die!” Chaletwo said. “You can’t tell me you don’t have an opinion on that. If you care so much about them, then make sure you’ll all live to see another day. It’s up to you, and it’s the easiest choice you’ll ever make. Come on!”

Waraider stared at Mark for a moment, then shifted his weight, adjusting his wings again. “I don’t…”

“And if all you do is mediate, well, as I count it the majority is for it. Even if you don’t trust me, make soul gems on your own terms. Why are you even hesitating?”

“And be at the mercy of other Pokémon to be resurrected in the future?” Freezaroy asked, her voice trembling.

Waraider closed his eyes, taking a deep breath. “We have a system. We go to the green valley and then we go to the misty plains and then we go to the edge of the large woods and then we go to the rocky field. We can’t change unless we agree.”

Waraider's actual personality in general only started to properly take shape in editing when I'd had more time to understand how the unicorns work and why; his dialogue was very wooden in the draft. Here's how this moment looked there:

“We only act when we agree,” Waraider said firmly, and suddenly their strange rigid location pattern made sense to Mark – deciding on new places to go or to go to a different one than usual would have to be an involved discussion coming to a harmonious conclusion, so however they had ended up in this cycle, they’d never been able to reconsider. “I ask again: what is your response?”

Obviously, Mark's sudden epiphany there is pretty silly; in editing, I just let Waraider's actual dialogue suggest this instead of Mark just magically figuring it out and explaining it.

Chaletwo sighed and then gave up. “If you don’t agree willingly, we’ll have to take you by force.”

“What?” said Emphire, fury blazing in her voice.

“No!” Freezaroy whinnied, rearing up in a panic.

“Then you are our enemy,” hissed the pitch-black, bat-winged one – Darkhan.

“Tough luck. We’re trying to save the world. If that means we have to mess up your… ‘system’, then too bad for your system.”

Chaletwo no this is not how you diplomacy

The unicorns’ eyes narrowed simultaneously. Waraider straightened where he stood. “We all agree,” he said firmly, “that we will not abandon one another for any reason.”

“This is it,” Chaletwo said. “Pokéballs out.”

“Wait!” Mark shouted as everyone began to send out their Pokémon. “We don’t want you to abandon one another – please, listen!”

It was Alan who spoke up here in the draft, which did also make sense, but since this chapter is going to be about Mark's moment at the end, it was stronger with him speaking here.

That said, really, guys, did none of you feel the need to say anything before this point.

But it was too late. The unicorns were grouping into a rough circle, each facing outward, head lowered, hooves stomping as Pokémon emerged all around them.

“Pokémon, divide yourselves!” Chaletwo shouted. “According to plan! Trainers, spread out!”

In the draft, Chaletwo tried to actually be of strategic help, not very successfully: “Pokémon, divide yourselves!” Chaletwo shouted. “Inflict statuses! Keep them trapped! Think about types! Trainers, spread out around them!” It sounded just a bit too silly.

Throwing his Pokéballs, Mark ran to the right, trying to remember everything they’d laid out in Alumine as four dozen Pokémon headed for their targets, rushing past in every direction, and a flurry of Thunder Waves sparkled through the air. He made a snap decision to focus on Waraider, where Jolteon and Dragonite were headed along with Ryan’s Letaligon (his heart stung suddenly), and sprinted closer to be better positioned to watch.

The draft went into a lot more detail about which Pokémon went for which unicorn, and it was just very clunky while not contributing any information the reader would actually absorb, so I just removed all that. In the draft, I also wrote this entire battle like they hadn't done any planning at all; Mark was just watching where the Pokémon decided to go, rather than thinking of an existing plan, and then went on to be surprised by some of the Pokémon that turn up. In editing, I made it so that they actually talked about this in Alumine offscreen, like sensible people.

In the draft, there was also an additional paragraph here that was far too overdramatic for the first moments of the battle:

Then, in the space of a second, everything went to hell.

Most of the unicorns were paralyzed and struggling to move, but Natruler flapped her leaf-wings, a thick wind with a strange, sharp scent to it passed over them, and suddenly they weren’t paralyzed anymore. They took off the ground in a synchronized, graceful leap; Waraider neighed fiercely, and he dived into the ground, crashing down with his hooves and sending tremors through the earth around them.

Sparky had already shouted, “Magnet Rise!” and his Magneton and Electrode successfully levitated themselves high enough to avoid being affected by the Earthquake; all of the other Electric-types were struck helplessly, even Jolteon who bravely attempted to dodge it but wasn’t used to doing it on uneven ground. Sparky had to recall his Manectric, Ampharos and Electabuzz; thankfully they appeared to be the only immediate casualties.

“Okay, no more statuses unless Natruler is incapacitated!” Chaletwo shouted. “Watch out!”

Mark couldn’t get his hopes up about that: even as Natruler was withstanding a barrage of attacks from several Pokémon, he could see her leaves glowing green and revitalizing her with photosynthesized energy. As if taking down all of them wouldn’t have been hard enough before, she had healing moves. Dread crept up on Mark again: this wasn’t possible, there was no way, they’d lose –

Again, in the draft I recounted all the particular Pokémon that were on Natruler here, including a Swellow he wasn’t sure about - in the draft, Mark had not seen Sparky's Swellow before at all.

“Try to do something about Waraider!” he called, eyes widening as the herd took off again in unison. “Or he’ll use another –”

But it was far too late to say that. Another Earthquake shook the ground, Jolteon, Raichu, Diamond and Robin’s Luxray collapsed, and Mark recalled Jolteon, biting his lip, hoping desperately that they weren’t packing more attacks that could hit all of their Pokémon without damaging each other.

He wasn’t even sure if they could do anything about Waraider. If they had to take them down at the same time, they couldn’t just knock him out and then continue with the others. If only they could...

“Felix, Disable on Waraider!” Leah shouted as she came running towards their side of the fight, and the Alakazam teleported next to her and held forward one of his spoons, eyes flashing. As the unicorn was pulling up and preparing for another Earthquake, he abruptly stopped, blinked and looked around, disoriented.

I love that I got to use Disable of all moves in my fanfic. Of course this is something Leah has figured out is actually very useful in legendary battles.

Next to Waraider, Darkhan kicked the two Weavile fighting him away and released a pulse of dark energy that struck Felix and knocked him backwards; Emphire, beside him, followed with a rush of superheated air, radiating far enough outwards to hit not only the Pokémon in front of her but also those surrounding Darkhan and Freezaroy. Weavile collapsed, charred and limp; Mark recalled her, looking a bit enviously at the other Weavile, Leah’s, who was charging into Darkhan with another Ice Punch, energetic as ever – he supposed it was inevitable Leah’s team was far tougher than theirs, but that didn’t make him feel any more useful.

Another bit where, in the draft, Mark had no idea whose this Weavile was until Leah appeared to ask if she was okay. Unfortunately, this means we no longer learn that her Weavile's name is Sheena.

Above, Dragonite was Thunderpunching Waraider, aided by Pamela’s Thunderbolt; Felix unleashed powerful Psychic attacks, and Ryan’s Letaligon fired tricolored beams from the points of his mask, stomping his feet impatiently as he flexed his claws. Waraider was in no hurry to get closer to him; he tore himself away from Dragonite, his long horn starting to glow, and then rushed back into him as the dragon headed for him again – Horn Drill, Mark realized too late to say anything as the horn pierced Dragonite’s belly, his eyes widened, and his body drifted downward like a deflating balloon. Mark quickly recalled him and ran around to the group fighting Freezaroy.

All three Charizard were surrounding the Ice unicorn in the air, supported by Spirit and Leah’s Arcanine. They were moving sluggishly, though, almost struggling to keep themselves aloft – Icy Wind, he realized with a pang of discomfort as Freezaroy flapped her wings and produced another blast of frigid air. “Just get down on the ground!” he called; they had to be able to focus better on attacking without having to try to fly as well.

Charizard gave him a quick glance before descending clunkily to land, followed by Charlie. Robin’s Charizard stayed stubbornly in the air, but Mark supposed he was doing better than the others anyway; he was still circling Freezaroy nimbly, firing Flamethrowers whenever he could get one in.

Robin's Charizard being very stubborn and reluctant to show weakness again.

Now that she was no longer surrounded in the air, however, the Ice-type was free to withdraw higher away from him. She flapped her wings powerfully as he started to follow, producing a rush of ice and snow that threw him down, straight into the other two Charizard. They tumbled back in a pile of orange, growling.

You know your fic has the correct amount of Charizard when they can tumble in a pile of orange.

“Willow, Heat Wave!” Leah shouted, and her Arcanine blasted a wave of heat against the Blizzard, giving the Charizard time to untangle themselves. Charlie didn’t stand up; Charizard managed to crawl to his feet, but was panting and exhausted, and Mark could tell he wouldn’t be standing for long.

“Try a Flare Blitz!” Mark called, and Charizard used the last of his strength to leap up, wreathed in flames, and launch himself at Freezaroy from the side. She neighed in panic, trying to stay aloft as he tackled her out of the air, but failed; they crashed into the ground together, and when she tried to scramble to her feet, eyes wide and shining, Charizard had lost consciousness.

“Good job,” Mark muttered as he recalled him. Leah’s Arcanine used the opportunity to leap onto Freezaroy’s struggling form to stop her from standing up; Spirit and Robin’s Charizard Flamethrowered her from where they were standing. They appeared to be doing okay for now.

Mark moved left, to where Sandslash, Flygon, and Robin’s Gastrodon were still fighting Electhrone using coordinated Rock Slides. The Electric unicorn flapped his wings rapidly, forming a powerful blast of wind that sent Flygon careening backwards in the air and even knocked Mark off his feet. Thankfully the ground was grassy and soft; he stood up quickly, and Flygon had recovered with reasonable ease too. At least these three were doing –

From the left came a blast of water that sent Sandslash flying towards the hills. Mark looked back, bewildered, to find Seasar moving unhindered to attack the Ground-types. All of Sparky’s Electric-types were gone.

Mark winced but made a snap decision and sprinted to get to Sandslash. The pangolin had rolled a short way off to the side from where he’d hit the hill. Mark quickly turned him over, and he opened his eyes weakly.

“Are you okay?” Mark asked. “Do you think you can still battle?”

“Probably not,” Sandslash replied, his voice pained. “If that’s all right.”

“Of course. You were doing great.” Mark tried to smile as he took out his Pokéball and recalled him.

The only one of his Pokémon that remained was Scyther, then. He looked over and spotted the mantis Pokémon still in the air near Natruler, delivering quick Aerial Aces in between zooming around to avoid any attacks; Mark hurried over there. Natruler didn’t look very hurt, probably thanks to those healing moves, but she did look exhausted, and she’d given up flying in favour of staying on the ground. She wasn’t paying much attention to Scyther at all, instead staring down Leah’s Venusaur, who stood bruised and battered in front of her in the middle of a circle of destroyed vines and roots, panting, his eyes still blazing with determination as he produced two more vines from the base of his flower with a groan of effort. The vines never reached their target; Natruler beat her wings heavily to produce a Hurricane, and the Venusaur gave a great roar as the fierce wind uprooted him and sent him tumbling back.

“Tiberius, come back,” Leah said, running up to him and gripping his Pokéball. Mark looked around; her Ariados had been assigned to Natruler too, and the legendary was still covered with loose strands of silk, but the spider Pokémon was nowhere to be seen now, so Mark assumed he had fainted, too. May’s Skarmory, Ryan’s Xatu and Sparky’s Swellow were still there, though, the former two circling around in the air and diving in to attack whenever they got the chance, Xatu standing defiant behind where the Venusaur had been and producing sharp bursts of wind with her wings.

Just as he was thinking they were doing pretty well, Electhrone rushed in from the right, electricity crackling in the air around him. Mark looked back at where he had been in a panic: both Flygon and Robin’s Gastrodon seemed to have gone down, probably largely thanks to Seasar, who was now wrapped in a sticky, sparkling web and being bombarded by Electric attacks from Ryan’s Galvantula. They had too few Pokémon left by now to be able to keep the unicorns separate from each other, and it was unravelling their battle plan.

“Little help here?” Mark called as Electhrone Thunderbolted Skarmory and Natruler blasted a Hurricane towards Scyther.

Ryan, who was standing near Waraider, looked up. “Letaligon, Galvantula, stop the Electric-type!”

Electhrone had managed to Thunderbolt Skarmory again, sending him crashing; May came running from Waraider’s end to recall him, shouting, “Stantler, follow me!” The deer Pokémon was followed by Ryan’s Letaligon, while Galvantula shot a last ball of electricity towards Seasar for good measure before crawling in from the other side.

Another Thunderbolt from Electhrone shot Swellow out of the air just before a Spider Web hit the legendary and pulled him back towards the ground. The Letaligon charged at him, smashing his glowing body into him with a Giga Impact; Stantler followed with her antlers shimmering like a mirage, striking the Electric unicorn with a Zen Headbutt that sent him reeling, shaking his head.

In the draft, here was when Mark found out Swellow belonged to Sparky:

“Swellow, are you all right?”

Mark looked quizzically around to find Sparky behind him, recalling the bird Pokémon sadly into a Pokéball.

“You have a Swellow?” he asked, dumbfounded.

Sparky smiled. “She was the first Pokémon I caught on my journey. I couldn’t leave her behind just because I became a Gym leader. Though she spends most of her time outside her ball, doing her own thing.”

“Stop talking and try to help!” May hissed, and Mark turned his attention back to the fight.

Again, I kind of enjoyed this, but it just didn't make any sense that Mark wouldn't know what Pokémon everyone has by now, and May has a point there about them talking about this while the battle is going on.

Mark looked quickly back at Scyther; he was zooming at Natruler again, but this time she managed to meet him head-on with another Hurricane, and he was blasted back, crashed into the ground and tumbled over a few times before coming to a standstill. When he didn’t rise again, Mark recalled him. That was it, then. He was out of the fight. He exhaled, trying to calm his nerves as he stepped back to continue to watch.

Sparky had knelt down by his Swellow’s side, gently patting the back of her head before he recalled her and stood up, giving Mark a weary smile. Ryan’s Galvantula was repeatedly shocking Electhrone, but he’d managed to take down Xatu now too, and with Scyther out of the way, that left nobody dealing with Natruler. Mark jerked his head up at the Grass unicorn; she was flying towards Emphire, gathering a swirl of leaves in front of her.

I added in this bit of Sparky and Swellow in editing instead.

“Look out!” Mark called, sprinting around to the other side of the battle. Robin’s Charizard seemed to have fainted, but Spirit and Leah’s Arcanine rushed to meet Natruler with Flamethrowers; that left a severely charred and injured Freezaroy to rise shakily to her feet, and Natruler managed to unleash the Leaf Storm anyway. Mist and Floatzel took the worst of it, and both of them gave in to unconsciousness. Alan was already there and recalled the Vaporeon, biting his lip.

Meanwhile, Ryan’s Walrein shot an Ice Beam at Natruler’s right wing. The ice formed a clump around her leaf-feathers that sent her spiralling into the ground, and Walrein and Leah’s Tentacruel resumed Hydro Pumping Emphire, who was snarling and hissing as she tried to form a Hurricane with her wings.

Leah’s Arcanine rushed back to attack Freezaroy. Spirit was starting to look very tired; she panted, her head low. “You need to stay in the game,” Mark said quickly to her. “If you faint, they could all run off. Just try to be in the weak spirit form if you can.”

Spirit nodded wordlessly and faded into a ghostly, semitransparent form – just in time, because Seasar had managed to untangle himself and blasted a Hydro Pump at the Arcanine that might otherwise have hit Spirit as well. The giant dog Pokémon shook her cream-colored fur, gathered electricity in her mouth and leapt to bite the Water-type, again leaving Freezaroy alone. The Ice-type hurried to join Electhrone, shooting an Ice Beam at Galvantula; Electhrone had managed to take down Stantler as well, Mark realized, and May was instead running over to him.

“Floatzel, come back,” she said, recalling the sea otter, who was still lying fainted in the grass. “Spirit, yeah, that’s good, stay in spirit form.”

May looked up at Mark. “This isn’t going too well,” she said, and Mark had to anxiously agree. Out of Victor’s Pokémon, only his Absol was still fighting Mysticrown, and she looked on the brink of unconsciousness; though the unicorn had suffered a lot of slashes, she, like Natruler, was using Hurricane to make up for her Psychic attacks’ ineffectiveness. While Robin’s Froslass was blowing an Ominous Wind Mysticrown’s way, Darkhan hit her with a Dark Pulse, and she fainted with a shriek – in fact, all the Pokémon that had been attacking Darkhan were gone, with Robin’s Machamp still lying face-down on the ground nearby as her trainer dashed towards Froslass. No one was attacking Waraider anymore, either – and he landed rearing next to Victor’s Absol and took her down with a Stomp.

They were all hurt, though, and tired – even Natruler had exhausted her healing abilities. Maybe, just maybe…

In the draft this sounded jarringly confident, coming from Mark: But the unicorns were all hurt. They were all tired. It was worth a try.

“Let’s just go for the Pokéballs!” May shouted, maximizing an Ultra Ball in her hand. “We’re not going to weaken them much more than this! If any break out, just send out the others immediately and run!”

“I’m not sure that’s…” Chaletwo began, but Leah apparently agreed with May because she pulled out an Ultra Ball almost immediately, and when she’d done it everyone else did as well.

I enjoy this dynamic.

“Three, two, one... go!” May called, and eight Ultra Balls soared towards eight unicorns.

Seven of them simply bounced off, as if they’d hit inanimate objects, and judging from the panicked bafflement in the back of Mark’s head, that was not what Chaletwo’d had in mind.

The eighth sucked Waraider in, and as his whinny distorted and faded and his body dissolved into translucent red, the eyes of the others all glazed over with the same empty, terrified rage. Swirling energies radiated chaotically from them, blazing in different colors, enveloping the few Pokémon that remained; the grass underneath their feet blackened and crumbled as they reared, whinnying, and began to dash off blindly in different directions – but they hit an invisible barrier at a certain distance from the still-surviving Spirit. As they were knocked back from nothing, their cries became even more frenzied; black flames surrounded them, the earth trembled, the sky darkened –

“Do something!” Chaletwo screamed, and Mark didn’t know what to do –

And then the Ultra Ball that was wobbling on the ground popped open, releasing Waraider again in a burst of white. The others calmed instantly without even looking his way; the flames disappeared, the ground was still, the sun was bright.

And there's our twist for this battle. I'm very fond of this moment; it's basically identical to the draft, with minor rewording. I had imagined something like it even before I figured out Waraider's deal, but it became way better once I had. One day I want to draw this.

Waraider stared at them, his gaze wild and frantic and very confused. The only one of their Pokémon left standing was Spirit, who looked back and forth, still insubstantial. The other unicorns didn’t move or attack; they stood still where they were, their faces blank.

The latter two sentences there were new; I guess I figured we needed the context established more strongly, that the battle isn't still going on in the background or something.

“Why don’t Pokéballs work on them?” Leah shouted, her eyes wide. “Why didn’t they even go in?”

“I don’t know!”

“How the hell are we going to catch them if we can’t use Pokéballs? Are they even Pokémon?”

“How am I supposed to – I didn’t make them! Just… just do something!”

Waraider’s eyes locked onto Mark’s, pleading desperately for an explanation. The frantic voices around him seemed distant and distorted. His mind raced to decipher what all of this meant, his heartbeat thumping in his ears.

The Pokéballs didn’t work. So… they weren’t Pokémon. Not real, living Pokémon, at any rate. Waraider was, but not the others.

The moment Waraider had gone into that ball, their individuality and character had simply vanished – they’d been identical, blind, unravelling forces of nature. As if their souls were gone, had been sucked into the Pokéball with Waraider.

They’d had different views and opinions, but they’d all talked at the same time, noticed things at the same time, had the same knowledge, like they had a psychic bond – or perhaps like they were all, somehow, the same person. Like… like they were just different voices in a single individual’s head.

Mew and Chaletwo had only created one unicorn.

In the draft, this whole thought process didn't happen; Mark just instantly, magically figured out the whole deal after Leah asked why Pokéballs didn't work on them. Needless to say, this was one of the first things I knew I was going to have to do properly in editing. I do like how it came out in the end; Chaletwo's flustered panic is something I enjoy as well.

Mark snapped back to reality, dizzy as he tried to make sense of it all. “Waraider,” he said, “exactly where did they come from?”

Waraider looked from side to side, at where the rest of his herd was standing, curiously still and quiet. “They were… they were always there,” he said, in a weak, trembling neigh.

There was a moment of silence. “What?” Chaletwo said. “What are you talking about? We only created you. The others appeared a few months later. I asked you about them, remember?”

“We were always there,” said the other unicorns, simultaneously, in an eerie chorus.

Waraider shook his head, his eyes shining with fear and doubt and confusion. “They were… I think they…”

“Listen,” Mark said, hoping desperately that he was on the right track, “they’re… I think they’re just you. They’re like manifestations of different aspects of you and your power, not real separate individuals. Is that… does that make sense?”

“They’re real,” Waraider said, taking an unsteady step back, glancing frantically at the others. “What do you mean, they’re not real?”

“We’re real,” they said, but their voices had lost all of their organic individuality now, instead droning unconvincingly as a hollow, robotic legion. Waraider flinched, backing away, his ears pinned back against his head, and turned to Mark again, staring.

“What’s going on?” he asked, pleading. “What happened to them?”

Mark hesitated. Everyone was staring at him – Leah in bafflement, Ryan open-mouthed, Victor with a curious kind of surprise. And Sparky, a grin of realization spreading across his face, gave him a nod of encouragement.

“I…” A frantic jumble of information poured into his brain from Chaletwo, something about how unconscious manifestations of power were conditional upon expectation – “I guess they become less real when you start to doubt that they are?”

Waraider stared back at the rest of his herd. They stood stiff, unmoving, and then began to flicker and distort, like images from a broken projector.

His eyes widened. “No!” he screamed. “Stop! What are you doing?” He rushed towards them, but they showed no reaction. “Freezaroy? Natruler?” He stopped in front of the Grass-type’s blank gaze, extending his muzzle gingerly out towards hers – and then flinched back as it simply went through her, as if she weren’t there.

“I don’t understand! Please!” Waraider turned his head back towards Mark, tears streaming from his eyes, before letting out a desperate, whinnying scream and diving straight through to the middle of the group, where he met no resistance but air.

Shaking with heaving, shuddering breaths, his eyes closed, Waraider stood still as the flickering forms of the other unicorns silently walked towards him and vanished as they simply joined together with his body. At the end, he was alone. Just like he always had been.

Ouch, Mark.

“Waraider?” Mark said carefully, feeling everyone’s eyes on him again.

“Why?” asked Waraider, his voice small and quiet.

Mark paused, trying to work out what to say. “Do… do you remember where they came from now?”

Waraider hesitated, tossing his head uncomfortably. “I… I always heard them,” he muttered. “They kept disagreeing, and I tried to make them all happy… but I didn’t see them, not at first.”

“And then…?”

“Then I…” Waraider squeezed his eyes shut. “They were there. They just were. They were always there. Why wouldn’t they be…?”

“It sounds,” said Chaletwo cautiously, “like you unconsciously manifested different aspects of your personality to function as separate beings. How did you do that?”

I mean, if it was unconscious, he probably can't tell you that. But I guess Chaletwo is mostly just being kind of impressed.

Waraider stared at him. “I… I don’t know.” He hung his head. “Can I get them back?”

“Well,” Chaletwo said slowly, “you should be able to… hear them, or whatever it is you did before they gained physical form. Nothing’s changed; you’ve just realized they weren’t really there.”

The other legendary flinched at his words, but stood still, closing his eyes. “They’re still there,” he muttered.

“Great,” Chaletwo said. “The point is, you’re you. There’s only one of you. You can listen to the… the others if you want, but actually they’re irrelevant and the choice is up to you. So will you let us capture you to stop the War?”

Waraider shuddered. “They’re not… they’re not irrelevant.”

“What he means is,” Mark said before Chaletwo could speak, “they can help you sort out what you think, but you don’t have to make them all happy.”

Chaletwo, still the best at diplomacy (he's genuinely trying!). But this time Mark is going to actually interrupt and shut him up.

Waraider looked at Mark, hesitating. “But… Emphire and Freezaroy didn’t want to.”

“Well, they… told you about some concerns that you have,” Mark said carefully. “But if you decided you want to do it anyway, you’re not betraying them, because they’re you.”

The legendary gave him a long, searching look. “So… if I agree… you’ll release us – me – after?” he mumbled.

“Of course. You have my word.”

Waraider’s eyes flicked around, as if he were looking to the others for opinions. “Can I trust him?” he asked quietly after a moment, looking back at Mark – it took him a second to process that Waraider was asking him.

He opened his mouth and then hesitated with a pang of doubt. For a moment it occurred to him that he’d only trusted Chaletwo from the start because he was a legendary, and that after everything he’d experienced in the past months, that seemed like the worst possible reason to trust anyone. Could he actually vouch for him in good conscience? What if they couldn’t actually trust him? What if somehow he’d been duping them all along, for his own reasons? Would they have any way to know?

In the back of Mark’s mind, Chaletwo’s indignant annoyance couldn’t mask the flickering, stinging hurt. It felt like all the times Mrs. Grodski had called him hopeless, like his parents not trusting him out on a journey, like Letaligon leaving.

Mark took a deep breath. “Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, I think we can trust him. We’ll make sure.”

Being able to feel Chaletwo's emotions helps. Mark can't entirely 100% trust that Chaletwo'll do the right thing - but there's a genuineness that Mark can relate to in the way that Chaletwo unconsciously responds, and he knows that's real.

Waraider exhaled and nodded, closing his eyes again. “Then… I agree.”

“Thank you,” Mark said, warm relief trickling down his spine. He pulled another Ultra Ball out of his pocket and held it forward.

“Thank you,” Waraider said, and he reached his head forward to touch the ball before his form transformed into red energy and disappeared.

This entire conversation was rewritten, too. Mostly, originally it was just very stilted and awkward, more Mark just far-too-confidently explaining Waraider's issues to him. It was considerably shorter, Waraider got way fewer lines, and in the end he just sort of instantly decided to trust Chaletwo. All in all, I had the whole last bit of this chapter earmarked as something I needed to rewrite.

After the chapter was published, I wrote an accompanying extra, featuring Waraider as a young legendary still coming into his powers, with an appearance by young Chaletwo. As I was writing it I lamented that I hadn't written that first, before publishing the chapter; really getting into Waraider's head properly brought to light the way that the other unicorns serve as coping mechanisms for him, and I would've written this last conversation somewhat differently if I'd written the extra first - he's not quite as upset by their loss as he should be, considering he'd basically convinced himself they were his friends, and clung to this desperately in his loneliness. Apart from that, though, I'm reasonably happy with the ending bits.

I'm not entirely happy with the extra itself - I think I kind of would've had to spend a bit more time on it. The Pachirisu isn't enough of a character and we don't spend enough time developing their initial conversation or more properly introducing Waraider's thinking - ultimately I think it just comes out kind of goofy when he uses the Earthquake and instantly thinks he's killed her, and we don't care enough by the time they meet again and the other unicorns drive her away. It could've been cute, but I don't do it well enough to make it work well as a story, I think. But it does decently show Waraider's deal, I suppose, and I do enjoy Chaletwo's appearance a lot - this younger, more careless, less neurotic version of him, even more condescending towards Waraider than his modern self, too arrogant and incurious to bother properly finding out what Waraider is even talking about or notice or care about his obvious discomfort. I can believe that this is the Chaletwo who made the Dragons of Ouen.

There's something pretty neurodivergent-ish about Waraider, isn't there - social difficulties, rigid routine, people think he's weird and dismiss and avoid him. I wasn't going for this, but I did notice it as I was writing him, especially the extra. I hope he's at least pretty sympathetic and it's clear the way Chaletwo treated him was wrong and boneheaded of him, but I've still got a background worry that he comes out as kind of an unfortunate stereotype, which isn't what I wanted him to be. If you have an opinion, let me know.

Unlike chapter 65, this battle plays out almost exactly like it did in the draft; there are phrasing improvements, some better descriptions and of course those various bits I've discussed where Mark originally had no idea what Pokémon everyone had and nothing had been planned, but the actual battle choreography is almost identical. I basically read through the chapter, figured it was passable enough, and kept it pretty much as is, because rewriting such a huge battle would've been a nightmare and I'd basically decided I'd only do it if I absolutely had to.

I got some reviews, which I agreed with in hindsight, pointing out that they're losing from the start. It takes only a couple of paragraphs before Natruler is healing all the unicorns' status effects and they're doing those joint Earthquakes, and from there there's just never a sense that the kids have any real chance in hell - they're just slowly continuing to lose for several pages. At the same time, we're pretty much only seeing a series of brief flashes, because Mark keeps looking towards different parts of the battle - I did this deliberately to an extent, to convey how chaotic it is, but it leaves the reader without much to properly sink their teeth into, no real sense of the kind of back-and-forth that'd create real gripping tension. In the next revision I'd try to get more mileage out of the strongest Pokémon - Leah's and Ryan's - and allow the story to spend some time watching what they're doing, hopefully something interesting and strategically impressive, to make the battle more interesting, with brief chaos in between.

In the meantime, the last pieces are in place for the Tyranitar developments next chapter! All that was of course new in editing.

Chapter plan: Chapter 70: When they meet up again, the boys explain what happened and they chase after the unicorns on Flying Pokémon, reasoning that if the unicorns do fly in a pattern, they know where they’re going next, and therefore they’ll probably fly there in a straight line; they fly after them and eventually, sure enough, find them grazing in a secluded valley, where they land and fight them, eventually managing to capture them all. No all of them being one person, of course, because I didn't think of that until NaNo - the only kind of twist I was planning for this battle was that thing where some of them would not be captured and the disastrous effects that begin to happen as a result of their separation.


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