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!

The Final Stretch – Chapter 72: Rick

November 26th 2016... or rather, November 27th at four AM. This is the one I was looking forward to while I was NaNoing all the previous chapters, and boy, was it satisfying to finally get here.

In the draft, this chapter opened with a talk between Mark, May and Chaletwo about their next steps, where May was very reluctant to approach Rick but gave in when Mark thought they had to at least try. In the edit, they'd already discussed this in chapter 71, so that opening scene was cut.

They flew to Cleanwater City. May was silent, staring fixedly ahead, leaning forward as if it’d make Skarmory go faster; Mark couldn’t begin to guess at what she was thinking.

Charizard sighed, and Mark patted his neck. “Getting tired?”

“I think I’ve done enough flying lately to last me a while,” Charizard said, smiling weakly.

Mark was about to ask what he meant when he stopped. They had been flying a lot. To Acaria City, then Scorpio City, then for the battle with the male Color Dragons, then Acaria again, then from Stormy Town to Crater Town, then after the unicorns… “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize,” he said, yet another new pang of guilt in his stomach; he’d had other things on his mind, but that was no excuse for not thinking of his Pokémon. “Should I get Dragonite out instead?”

Charizard shook his head. “It’s fine; I’m faster. I’ll take you there.”

“If you’re sure,” Mark said, furrowing his brow. “If it helps, I think this is our last flight in a while. We’ll probably be on foot looking for Mew.”

The Pokémon nodded. “But if you do need to fly, then…”

“Then I’ll get Dragonite,” Mark said firmly. “It’s okay. You more than deserve a rest. Thanks for everything. I mean, without you I wouldn’t even be here.”

Charizard smiled. “Without you, I wouldn’t be here.”

It took a second for Mark to even remember what he meant. Then, in a flash, he was back in Sailance on the night that he’d pulled Charmander in from the rain: that surreal moment of seeing that orange blur on the road through the rain-streaked window, his clumsy efforts to keep the little lizard’s dying tail flame alive, the fragility of the limp, warm body that would eventually grow into a dragon who would fight legendaries for him. And who’d carried him for miles and miles without him even stopping to think about it.

Something broke in the swirl of emotions that he’d barely kept at bay for the last couple of hours; tears flooded his eyes and he wrapped his arms around Charizard’s neck, leaning forward to hug him tightly.

“I’m sorry,” Mark whispered. “Whatever happens, I’m glad I met you.”

“Me too,” Charizard said quietly, wrapping his own arms around Mark’s.

May either didn’t hear them or ignored them, staring steadfastly towards the field of shimmering lights in the distance.

In the draft, the mood of this scene was pretty different. May wasn't mentioned, and Mark just sort of idly asked if Charizard was tired of flying, because he randomly thought of it. I think this conversation just spontaneously happened, more or less just to fill transitional space. The "Without you I wouldn't even be here." "Without you, I wouldn't be here." exchange just sort of happened, and it was kind of cute but pretty throwaway.

In editing, well, the mood going into this scene was a bit different, after that whole confrontation last chapter that really affected Mark but left him kind of numb - and also, something I had noticed at some point since drafting this was that there's been a distinct recurring theme to Charizard's actual scenes for a long time now: Charizard is really reluctant to bother or ask things from Mark. Over and over again - in chapter 48, 55, 70 and now here - he's been sick or exhausted but just refused to complain until prodded. And at some point I realized that the reason for this is that Charizard still feels indebted to Mark for saving his life, and guilty about the way that he acted as a Charmeleon, and he's basically constantly trying to make up for it - and "Without you, I wouldn't be here" is him pretty much explicitly stating that that's what it's about. (And then I looked at the terrible chapter 23 closing conversation and oh, God, it started there, where Scyther persuaded him out of his funk on the basis that this was a poor way to repay Mark for saving his life.) So all in all, this scene got fleshed out a bit, with Mark actually noticing and apologizing and appreciating Charizard a bit, and insisting on him finally getting a rest, and also he's in a much more fragile emotional state after the last chapter and is a lot more affected by this.

As it happened, I was also in a weird and fragile emotional state when I was editing this (for completely unrelated reasons), and I actually cried while working on it, so it has that dubious honour. I don't think that means much; I certainly don't think this is actually the most emotional scene in the fic, or anywhere close to it. It comes a bit heavy out of nowhere, very possibly because I sat down to work on it while feeling like crap, and given there wouldn't actually end up being any more actual conversations with Charizard in the fic (I may have intended to add something into chapter 77 or something and then just plain forgot by the time I was actually working on that), it probably should have had a more satisfying resolution with regards to Charizard's issues there. Like, not just Mark realizing he's been taking Charizard for granted, but some kind of realization on Charizard's part that he doesn't actually owe it to Mark to not bother him with his problems. It's sort of implied in Mark's reassurances, but we don't actually get a sense that Charizard understands this now, which ultimately leaves this arc of his hanging a bit.

-------

“Where does Rick even live?” May asked as they dismounted their Pokémon in front of the Pokémon Center. She looked around restlessly, as if he might appear around a nearby corner at any moment.

Mark shrugged. “I guess we can ask someone.” He put a hand on Charizard’s neck. “First, though, they need a rest.”

Charizard smiled gratefully at him again before they recalled their Pokémon and entered the Pokémon Center.

They’d almost left again, after handing the pair of Pokéballs to Nurse Joy, when it finally occurred to Mark that she was a person, one who presumably lived here. “Excuse me,” he said, and the nurse turned back around, smiling. “Do you know where Rick lives?”

The nurse blinked. “Do you mean the Gym?”

“No, we… we need to talk to him.”

Nurse Joy frowned. “It’s number seventeen, Taillow Street, straight left from the Gym. But I don’t think he takes visitors from the public. He’s a very solitary man, especially since… you know.”

His address is just common knowledge, hence why she'd give it out so easily. In the draft, she was actually more reluctant, which I think paradoxically made it more jarring that she'd then tell them anyway.

“It’s important,” May said; she sounded cool as always, but her fists were clenched at her sides. “We need to talk to him tonight.”

The nurse peered at the two of them, probably trying to gauge if they were up to something. “Well, if you go there, I must warn you he’s in a delicate state these days. His brother’s death hit him rather hard. Please be careful with him.”

Mark wasn’t sure if she meant that for Rick’s sake or theirs, but he nodded. “Thanks,” he said, turning away from the desk. May led the way back outside, not looking at him.

In the draft, May hesitated for a bit here, not sure about this talking to Rick thing, but since here it's her insisting they have to do this and trying very hard not to think about that, I took it out.

Taillow Street wasn’t difficult to find, and though a lot of the houses looked similar – white, squared-off, flat roofs – they all had prominent house numbers. They approached the front door of number seventeen; it seemed strange that Rick lived in such an unremarkable, normal-looking home, in exactly the way that it hadn’t felt strange that the Mew Hunter lived in a room in his Gym.

I'm really fond of this last sentence for some reason.

Mark shot a glance at May. She was standing a little behind him now, pale, but gave a quick nod. He found the doorbell beside the door and pressed it; a faint ringing sounded inside the house.

A few seconds passed. Mark shifted on his feet, uncomfortable, trying to stay focused. The device that found Mew; that was all they needed. Mew – with a sudden pang of dread in his stomach, he remembered Rick throwing him Mew’s ball after his first Gym battle and ordering him to take it away. Would Rick remember him? Did he expect him to still have it?

Mark did not have this thought in the draft; I added it in editing because I realized really it should occur to him at some point, even if it doesn't actually end up having anything to do with what happens.

But before he could take that train of thought any further, faint footsteps sounded through the door, the lock clicked, and the door opened.

Rick stood in the doorway, looking more or less like he had at the beginning of that short-lived interview: his eyes wide, staring and bloodshot, his blond hair wild and unruly. He looked at Mark, then at May behind him, then back at Mark, the corner of his mouth twitching, but didn’t say anything.

Imagine being Rick today. A sudden news report about the Tyranitar who murdered his brother confessing; then a couple of kids call to tip him off that the Tyranitar had a trainer so it's not his fault; he realizes immediately that it's that girl and he always knew it; and then just as he's stewing in that, trying to work out what to do, his doorbell rings and it's her. Honestly I'm impressed at his composure.

“Um, hello,” Mark said, his brain scrambling to string words together. “Sorry to bother you, but could we possibly speak to you in private for a bit? It’s very important and concerns legendaries – we need your help.”

Rick spent a few more seconds standing there, looking between the two of them, as if he hadn’t heard anything. Just as Mark was about to repeat himself, thinking he might have zoned out altogether, the Gym leader suddenly became animated again, his mouth twitching into a polite smile as he nodded. “Come in,” he said and opened the door, walking inside without another word. Mark proceeded after him, still a bit disoriented, and May followed. She hesitated before closing the door behind them.

“Hello, Rick,” Chaletwo began. “Don’t be alarmed; this is Chaletwo, and I’m with them. I’d rather not go into detail, but we’re looking for Mew, and it’s imperative that we find him quickly. We gather a few years ago you made or obtained some kind of device to track Mew down, and we need to borrow it.”

Rick didn’t look alarmed at all; he only nodded vaguely, heading down the corridor ahead. Mark hesitated, not sure if they were meant to follow. The small entrance hall had a wardrobe on the left and some jackets and coats hanging from hooks on the right-side wall; they looked too small to fit Rick, and it took Mark a second to realize with a sickening pit in his stomach who they must have belonged to. He was a lot more unnerved being in here than he’d anticipated; he looked from side to side, wondering where Rick was going, his heart thumping.

Rick truly could not care less about the legendary Pokémon present at the moment. He's really not doing a great job at acting remotely normal, but Mark and May were pretty much expecting that and are a bit too busy drowning in guilt for it to be their first concern, so it doesn't quite register as a "no, something's off".

“So, did you hear about that Tyranitar?”

Mark turned towards May in alarm. She’d stepped through the inside door and looked casually around the room, as if it were a simple off-hand question, but her fists were clenched tightly at her sides, trembling. Rick grunted in response as he entered a room on the left-hand side of the corridor.

“What’d you think?” she went on, taking another step, looking in after Rick. Her fingers fiddled with the nail of her thumb as she took a deep breath. “I don’t know, I’m not sure that’s the one who did it. My… my uncle works for the Champion Island police. He says its story doesn’t match up with the evidence. They’re still looking into it, but…”

This really isn't a great story - surely Rick could verify this pretty easily. This was not terribly well thought-out on her part, just kind of a flail to try to do something.

Neither Chaletwo nor May spoke here in the draft; they just came in, Rick disappeared off into a room, and they stood there awkwardly in silence, not sure if they were supposed to be following him, until he returned. In editing I realized it was pretty off for Chaletwo to not just get to the point as soon as possible, and obviously May's story was new with Tyranitar giving himself up.

Rick reappeared through the door, holding a strange metal device – and following behind him came the tall, bony shape of Mewtwo². Mark’s stomach twisted into a knot as Rick pointed at him, his mind freezing up before he could even process what was happening. “Destroy this, silence them and then keep him away,” Rick growled.

“Rick, what are you…”

Chaletwo didn't speak here either in the draft, which was really off.

Rick also did not actually bring out the device in the draft - remember, in the draft we hadn't established that there was a device, and nobody had actually gotten around to asking about it. Rick didn't have to bring it at all, of course, but in editing I figured actually this'd be more effective if they saw him destroy the device - this way, they know they can't get their hands on it anymore and it can be reasonably written off. (It was kind of an annoying loose end in the draft that we'd established Rick had a way to find Mew but then we just never properly learn what it was and make no further efforts to find out or obtain it.) Plus, it's dramatic.

Mewtwo²’s eyes glowed blue, and the device in Rick’s hand twisted and collapsed into a useless lump of metal before he tossed it into a corner. The instinct to run as fast as he could hit Mark a split second later, but his limbs refused to move, frozen in place by some terrifying force. May, unrestrained, bolted for the door, but Rick leapt at her like a hungry predator, grabbing the collar of her jacket. She threw her hands back and the jacket began to slip off her shoulders, but before it could, he’d wrapped a muscular arm around her neck, gripped her shoulder with his other hand and pulled her back inside, throwing her against the wall of the corridor. Mark tried to scream but his mouth wouldn’t move, either, and breathing was almost impossible even as icy terror and panic clawed at his lungs, desperate for air; he heard a strange, squeaky moan emerge from his throat, too weak to be heard by anyone who could help.

Can you tell I had fun writing this paragraph

May, eyes wide open and lips pressed together, kicked desperately at Rick as he gripped her neck with both hands; he didn’t even flinch. “You killed him!” he snarled. “It was you!”

“Rick, let her go,” Chaletwo ordered. “She’s with me.”

In the draft, this was where Chaletwo suddenly had to awkwardly introduce himself. Having Chaletwo talk earlier was way better.

Chaletwo isn't even panicking here; he's just convinced that surely this angry human will stop this nonsense if a legendary tells him to.

“She killed my brother!” Rick shouted, without taking his eyes off May; his fingers tightened around her throat.

“Of course she didn’t. I’ve been with her the whole time.”

Just brazenly lying, because Chaletwo does not have time for this.

“You’re lying!” Rick bellowed. “They told me but I always knew!”

“What are you talking about? Who told you? Look, it’s…”

“That girl from the semifinals and the Acaria Gym leader!”

“What?” Mark’s heart skipped a beat. Robin. Victor. “What do you mean, they told you?”

“They said it had a trainer!” May made a small, choked sound, struggling in his grip. “She was the only trainer with a Tyranitar at the League! I checked the records!”

“That doesn’t mean – and why would you even believe kids knocking on your door claiming inside information? How would they even –”

“She lost to him!” Rick roared. “She lost to him and she had a Tyranitar! I knew it from the start!”

Obviously, before the change to chapter 71, Robin and Victor didn't tell him - he was convinced it was May purely because she had a Tyranitar and lost to Taylor at the League, yet for some reason hadn't done anything about this conviction that he'd apparently had ever since it happened. As I already discussed, this was really flimsy and I was unhappy with it; then I realized that if Tyranitar gave himself up, Robin and Victor could tell him - not actually that it was May (they're not that reckless), but just enough to seem to confirm what Rick basically wanted to be true the whole time.

What they specifically said to him was probably along the lines of that they saw photos of when Tyranitar was taken in, recognized him, and remembered having battled him before, but couldn't recall who his trainer was - something that'd sound reasonably safe and not point to May specifically. And Rick just nodded and said thanks, already so convinced it must be her that he didn't even try to confirm it with them.

“Well, your wild, outrageous guesswork is wrong. Now let her go!”

“Make me,” Rick growled. May’s face was turning unnervingly purple, her struggles becoming feebler.

“I’m not physically here right now, but believe me, you don’t want me angry with you. Let her go right now!”

Chaletwo, you don't just tell him you can't actually stop him.

I actually looked up how long it might take to lose consciousness when strangled, and then timed how long it took me to say the dialogue that takes place here at the speed I was imagining, in order to make sure it made sense May stays conscious through all this. I'm not going to look all that up again now, but if I recall correctly, that research indicated someone very skilled with a choke hold could get someone unconscious very quickly, but Rick is not skilled and strangling with two hands would take longer, and all in all I think based on what I found I approximated it'd take about forty seconds for May to pass out, and the dialogue that takes place while he's strangling her clocks in at a bit less than that. Cheerful fanfic research!

Rick didn’t even respond this time; he only continued to throttle May, gritting his teeth. Mark strained to move, but nothing budged, every muscle in his body on fire, blood pulsing in his ears, his mind fuzzy, praying to every force in the universe for some kind of help, please, please

A blinding white light burst out of May’s necklace, and Rick’s momentary distraction became a roar of pain as Floatzel materialized with her teeth locked around his right arm. May collapsed, gasping for breath, as Rick unthinkingly released his grip on her. “Kill it,” he growled as Floatzel scratched madly at him with her paws; she yelped as Mewtwo² squeezed its two fingers together and an invisible force pressed in around Floatzel, twisting her limbs back with a horrible cracking sound –

Another Pokéball hit the floor, releasing Spirit. As Rick threw the limp Floatzel away like a deformed ragdoll, he ordered, “Kill it too.”

“Destiny Bond!” May wheezed, her voice raspy and hoarse; Spirit’s eyes flashed, and as she too succumbed to Mewtwo²’s power, it collapsed with her in a burst of black flame.

And there's that Destiny Bond. I do think the way this is written still makes it sound pretty instant and foolproof, despite my efforts in chapter 65 to make it not that broken. I'd probably spend a bit more time on this moment in the next revision, making it explicit that Rick is still distracted and not quite paying attention and Mewtwo² acts anyway.

Mark crumpled to the floor as the force holding him in place abruptly vanished; he reached for the first Pokéball on his belt, threw it and screamed, “Help!”

Weavile emerged as he stumbled to his feet and grabbed frantically at May where she was coughing on the floor. He took her hand, shaking, and pulled her towards the door. As the Pokémon materialized and eyed Floatzel’s body on the floor, she let out a screeching hiss and leapt at Rick as he was grabbing for Mark; he yelled out as her frost-coated claws sliced into the side of his face.

Mark opened the door and was starting to pull May through when he realized she was pointing Pokéballs at Spirit and Floatzel. His heart stopped for a second in a sickening fear, then started again as both of them dissolved into red energy and were absorbed into their balls. They were still alive.

As I mentioned in the commentary for chapter 10, this is actually an inconsistency - in that chapter, Scyther's Pokéball dissolves into thin air when he dies, so the fact Spirit and Floatzel's balls were still there should by itself have made it clear they were alive. In Scyther's Story and by extension the IALCOTN, I changed it so that the ball just stops working on a dead Pokémon, and that's what I was remembering when I was writing this - specifically, I also remembered the dissolution thing, but thought I'd made the change in the ILCOE.

Rick tore the mad Weavile off his bloodied face and threw her to the floor; she sprang up again with a hiss, ice circling her claws, and delivered an Ice Punch to the side of his head. He staggered back against the wall, hands reaching blindly out towards Mark and May before he collapsed, unconscious, blood trickling down the side of his face.

Mark recalled Weavile as May crawled to her feet, and together they stumbled outside and made a run for the Pokémon Center.

This chapter is actually possibly the least rewritten NaNo chapter bar chapter 63, although it probably doesn't sound like it. The opening scene with Charizard was rewritten, and I made those various tweaks and additions mentioned - but most of the whole Rick scene, where I'm not making changes to what happens, is pretty intact phrasing-wise, which has otherwise only really been the case with scenes here and there. It makes sense; again, this was the chapter I'd been really looking forward to when I started NaNoing, I was in a great writing mood when I finally got to it, and overall I just liked the outcome enough to not want to mess with it too much.

Today, though, although I think the buildup of tension works out pretty well, I feel like I could have phrased some things more intensely when it came to the actual action, which feels a bit detached. I'm not very good at constructing punchy sentences generally, but I could probably improve it at least a bit today.

Despite that, this remains one of my favorite chapters, and the Rick visit is one of my favorite scenes - rather predictably, of course, if you know me and my tastes. I honestly have no idea when this came about; it must have been fairly early, but it definitely came after Taylor's death. I'm not sure if it came before or after the Mewtwo² climax - I can imagine myself thinking of those in either order. But I remember, at some point, being on vacation abroad, near a beach, thinking up possible future scenes involving May, and this might have been one of the things I thought up there (and the only one to actually make it into the fic)? If so, I think the most likely vacation for that would've been France in the summer of 2003, which is older than I would've guessed otherwise but might check out.

Originally it really was just conceived as a cool exciting scene (by my standards). I'm pretty sure I meant to have May successfully fight Rick off? But over time, as I grew up, it evolved into something a lot more horror-themed, which makes sense, being a scene where a grown man strangles a twelve-year-old. This was one of those scenes that I'd just think about and play through in my head in idle moments for years and years before it finally got written, and it's difficult to recall exactly when each refinement to it was made.

Chapter plan: Chapter 72: They return to Cleanwater City through Rainbow Woods. They don’t know how to approach Rick; Alan suggests they talk to him, explain everything and hope he agrees with it, but May doesn’t want to, even though there seems to be no way for Rick to know her Tyranitar killed Taylor. She suggests they break into his Gym and try to find records or something of the like. When they do, Rick catches them and recognizes May; it turns out he had convinced himself long ago that she purposely murdered Taylor in revenge for her loss. Mad with grief, he sends out Mewtwo² and makes it immobilize the boys while he grabs May and tries to strangle her. Floatzel bursts out of her ball to defend her, biting Rick’s arm to make him momentarily release May; this distracts him long enough to allow May to send Spirit out while Mewtwo² knocks Floatzel out, and she uses Destiny Bond. This takes Mewtwo² down as it attacks Spirit, which allows the boys to move; they send out more Pokémon in a panic to keep Rick off them while they escape. Again, Alan was originally supposed to be there, although I honestly can't remember anything he was ever going to say or do for the actual Rick scene; he really was completely extraneous and I didn't miss him after deciding to cut him out of these chapters. Also, note how they actually broke into Rick's gym, rather than visiting his house. I'm not sure when that changed exactly; I think I remember picturing the bit with Rick opening the door and staring at them for a while before I wrote it.

I think precisely how this plays out with Floatzel bursting out of her ball, which lets May send out Spirit who uses Destiny Bond, was something I worked out while doing the chapter plan, having previously had a vague idea that Spirit should save them, then Floatzel. I'm fuzzy on the details, but I'm pretty sure I remember coming up with this particular sequence as I was writing the plan.

In the editing process, I waffled over whether to move the bit at the Mew Hunter's gym in chapter 71 over to this chapter; obviously, I ended up not doing so. I think this does leave the chapter feeling pretty short; it really is just one pretty short scene with another short scene tacked onto the beginning. But I'm not sure it would've been better with the Mew Hunter stuff here, either; it would've given it a distinct feel of being about two unrelated things, and it would've left chapter 71 pretty short - and as much as I appreciate chapter 71's split-up scene, it probably wouldn't have felt like much happened in it. Meanwhile, I absolutely did want to end this chapter here - chapter 73 is a breather chapter, and the pacing would've felt off if we went on from this to that, I think.


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