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 77: Home

On June 19th 2018, the day of the fic's sixteenth anniversary and five months after the climax was posted, I finally finished The Quest for the Legends.

The NaNo draft equivalent was chapter 76 there, since the actual chapter 76 didn't get added until later. This was yet another chapter that was just very bad in the draft, and in editing I rewrote basically all of it from scratch and added a lot to it. That was part of the reason it took a while. The other part was mainly that my Habitica dailies had begun to dwindle in effectiveness; I repeatedly missed my daily QftL time during this period, for one reason or another - real-life crap, stuff that just distracted me - and this also made it harder to get into it again when I did finally manage to sit down and do the work. But ultimately, getting it up on the sixteenth anniversary was a pretty appropriate time to finish it, and though I would've wanted a bit more time to work on it, I think that timing worked out pretty well.

“It’s a soul gem,” Molzapart said as Mark turned the purple gemstone over in his hand. “I can sense it in there. Huh.”

Mark could only nod at first, numb, still in a state of shock after everything that had happened. But as he closed his fingers around the gem, the realization began to melt its way through it all, something good and warm on a small, easily comprehensible scale. Mewtwo² had cheated death. He was safe. They hadn’t killed him.

“So you can resurrect him?” Mark said. His voice was hoarse and strange.

Molzapart hesitated. “I…” He stopped, glancing away. “Well, I’d rather wait for a bit before trying, just in case the madness still lingers in its body somehow. I can feel my power returning now that it’s dead; I expect it should be safe in perhaps an hour or two.”

Molzapart’s reluctance tickled at the lump in Mark’s throat, but right here, right now, he didn’t want to confront or rebuke him, or do anything at all that’d somehow upset the fragile calm that’d descended over the area. Instead, all he did was nod. “Okay.”

Molzapart doesn't really particularly want to resurrect Mewtwo², but he can recognize how outrageously hypocritical it would be to refuse.

He straightened himself slowly, placed the gem carefully in his pocket and looked around. The others were already recalling their Pokémon from where they were strewn around the battlefield. He found Scyther fainted a short distance away – Scyther, who’d probably saved all their lives with the suicidal charge that’d shown them Mewtwo² had more control than it seemed. Jolteon was still conscious but weak, grateful to return to his ball after Mark had given his head spikes a gentle stroke. May had already recalled Floatzel, so Weavile lay on her own, eyes closed, smiling contentedly, and he scratched her head before recalling her. Dragonite had collapsed a bit further away, over where the flying Pokémon had surrounded Mewtwo²; Mark walked over to him, still in a hazy sort of trance.

Weavile got to fight the equivalent of a hundred legendaries alongside Floatzel. She's ecstatic.

As he called Dragonite back into his ball, he looked idly over to where May was kneeling on the ground by her Flygon a short distance away – and froze.

Flygon was missing a leg and part of his tail, in an unnaturally clean, straight cut crusted over with blood. His chest moved erratically as he breathed. The dirt around him was stained crimson, a few red-smeared bottles of potions scattered at May’s feet.

“Did I…” Flygon wheezed, his eyes shining and unfocused. “Did I do well?”

May clenched her fist. “Who cares?” she said. “You need a Pokémon Center.”

She pushed the button on his ball to recall him, pressing her lips together as he disappeared into red light. Mark thought back to near the end of the fight, to Mewtwo²’s increasingly forceful and uncontrollable Psycho Cuts as the Pokémon held him off. He should have realized they might not be safe anymore, but in the middle of everything, it hadn’t quite registered. “That’s… I’m sorry,” he said, shuddering.

“He was scared,” May said without looking at him, her voice empty. “He didn’t want to be here, but every time I asked he insisted he was fine.”

“That’s not your fault.”

“I know.” May squeezed the ball in her hand for a moment, knuckles white; then she minimized it and replaced it on her necklace.

I came so, so close to killing Flygon here in editing. When I was first planning my edits to this chapter the first scene was going to be them burying him. In my edits to the previous chapters, Flygon kept on being scared and reluctant to carry on and still insisting on coming because he doesn't want to be the only one to run, and I was like oh, oh no, he's going to get himself killed, isn't he. May's arc was in a place where she was having serious hangups about her Pokémon making sacrifices for her, and this was a cruel extra push that'd sort of put the lid on things for her, make her realize on some level she doesn't even want this training thing anymore, which'd ironically make her a bit more at peace with the idea of turning herself in.

Buuut then I realized I could accomplish the same thing for May just by having him permanently injured, and this'd probably work out better than a death. If Flygon dies, we need to spend time on that, on people reacting to that, even though Flygon as a character is barely significant and the reader probably wouldn't get all that much out of it. As a teenager I totally would've killed him anyway under those circumstances, but today I have a bit more restraint.

A muffled beeping sounded from her backpack. She pulled it off and took out her Pokégear; it was a text message from Leah. Everyone still here?? What’s happening?

May typed back: That was it. We stopped it. It’s fine. She pressed the send button and hesitated before turning the device off and hastily stuffing it back in her bag.

“Kids?” came Sparky’s voice, gentle and level. “I don’t know how you’re feeling after all this, but if you’d like to come back to Stormy Town with me later, I’ll cook us all some dinner while Joy takes care of your Pokémon.”

Leah is very pragmatic and when she felt this huge psychic power she went welp, okay, this is happening, time to teleport into this one secluded cave she picked out a couple of years ago and wait it out. Checking on what's going on would be cool and all, but also obviously a recipe for immediately getting very very dead (it's not like even her pretty damn good team of Pokémon is actually ever going to even slow down a mad megalegendary), and she's not planning on getting even a little bit dead if she can help it. (At one point while I was sketching out the new chapter 75, I was actually planning on having Leah and Ryan show up, but then Leah was just like "Are you crazy I'm not coming anywhere near that thing.")

But then after a little while the huge psychic power just goes away again. She doesn't know what the hell's going on, but the world also doesn't look very destroyed. Hence, texting the others.

May doesn't really want to see if Robin and Victor respond, so she just turns it off. It'd probably be nice to have some kind of followup on what's going on with them, though. (They're in Mrs. Riverstone's shelter, and were probably similarly confused when everything stopped.)

In the NaNo draft, this chapter opened at the Pokémon Center, with the kids handing off their Pokémon and then sitting down to catch their breaths:

He felt incredibly drained and incredibly relaxed at the same time: it was over, they’d gotten through it, and life was about to go back to normal – or as normal as it could possibly be after going through something like this. He doubted he’d ever be able to read about legendary Pokémon again without frightening flashbacks of battles and horrors, but he didn’t think he had to. He’d had enough of legendary Pokémon to last a lifetime.

The Pokémon Center was busy; a lot of Pokémon had been injured more than theirs in the fight against Mewtwo², something that made him feel strangely guilty, like those people and Pokémon weren’t supposed to be involved; it was supposed to be their job.

Then May asked Mark what now, he said he was going home, May said she was going to the police, and Mark extremely awkwardly exposited in narration about his expert legal opinions on what this would mean (this was the last mention of this before the end, because the draft was very bad). Finally, they got an actual call from Alan and Robin (remember, in the draft they were teamed up for the search for Mew, rather than Alan with Sparky and Robin with Victor, and Molzapart never appeared in chapter 75). May extremely awkwardly summarized chapter 75 for them:

“Alan? We’re fine.” May pressed a button to set it to speaker. “That was the War. All the power of the legendaries went into Mewtwo² and it went mad, but it didn’t go on as much of a murderous rampage as it could have because it was fighting back against it. And apparently the Destroyer was Chalenor, who was possessing Mitch, and he helped out. We figured out how to stop the War for good, but Chaletwo, Chalenor and Mew had to sacrifice themselves to do it.”

This wasn't what I'd actually written in the chapter 75 draft, but since I'd realized midway through that this was what actually needed to happen one way or another, I wrote the draft chapter 76 as if this had happened, remaining very vague about the details I hadn't worked out yet.

Anyway, then Alan suggested they all meet up, just to wrap things up and say goodbye to all this, leading into the next scene.

-------

They ate together in the empty, still officially closed restaurant with the curtains drawn. Molzapart stood awkwardly at the side with Mewtwo²’s body, glancing at it every now and then; the Pokémon that weren’t too big and hadn’t needed special treatment were scattered around the room with plates of their own food. Spirit lay low on the floor by May’s side, ears flat, restlessly digging her nose through her thick neck fur every now and then as if expecting to find the necklace hiding in there somehow. May glanced down at her in between picking at her food.

In the draft, Alan/Robin/Victor/Leah/Ryan all joined them here, and they went over what had happened, shared stories, and toasted to the Creator, Preserver and Destroyer who had ended the vicious cycle of the War with their deaths. I miss that toast; I probably would've gotten that back in there, as well as some tribute to Mitch, if I'd spent a bit longer on the chapter, but as it was I was just thinking about too many other things I wanted to change here and simply forgot. The lack of any acknowledgement of the people who died here is pretty glaring; I guess maybe it happened offscreen, but we should at least hear it happened.

Sparky gazed at each of them in turn. “What now?” he asked, his voice quiet. “Are you headed home?”

Mark nodded, a strange flutter in his stomach, and across from him, Alan did the same.

“Home, huh?” Alan said, sighing as he leaned back in his chair. “It’ll be weird to go back.”

“I’m…” May began, glancing at Sparky as she prodded at a piece of salad. “Yeah. Something like that, I guess.”

May still doesn't want to talk to Sparky about this.

“I suppose your parents must be missing you,” Sparky said.

“Yeah,” Mark said. He thought of his mother’s face, now safe and within reach – and then another, painful thought struck him, a pang of strange emptiness in his stomach. “Or, well – Chaletwo told me the memory modification they did means they don’t really think about me anymore. So maybe they don’t.”

“They’ll remember when they see you in the flesh,” Molzapart said, a little defensively. “It’s the same thing that happened with all of you.”

Alan glanced at Molzapart before turning back to Mark. “I’m sure they do miss you. That’s just what parents do.” The corners of his mouth lifted a little; he fiddled with the hat lying on the table beside his plate. “Dad texted me earlier, this… this goofy message about how he was proud of me and believed in me.”

Mark smiled. Sparky nodded, grinning. “Ah, yes, that sounds like a parent for you. You answered him, I hope?”

“Yeah. I told him I’d be having dinner with you and he told me to have fun, with a bunch of exclamation marks. And that he’d make an even better dinner tomorrow.”

Sparky chuckled. “Oh dear. I suppose you’ll have to be the judge.”

Alan grinned. “He says that, but I don’t think he can compete with this.”

“Happy to please.” Sparky bowed with a flourish.

Just some light character banter after all those constant issues. Boy, the fic's been very heavy for a while now.

I had fun imagining how adult Ash (something hopefully closer to actual adult Ash than the way I was writing him in chapters 22/26) might text his son.

Mark finished off his plate and laid his cutlery aside, thinking. “What’s everyone going to think happened? There’s no way Mewtwo²’s power surge wasn’t felt by most of the region.”

“I’ll handle that,” Molzapart said from the corner. “I’ve talked to the human media before. There’ll likely be people who recognized the disturbance as Mewtwo²; I can tell them it happened when it broke free of Rick’s control. But that’s about all they need to know. Better not cause a mass panic.” He paused. “They’ll notice Mew and Chaletwo are gone, eventually. But it’s simpler if people don’t connect them. I expect Mitch will be filed as a missing person and that will be that.”

Mark nodded slowly. “Everything’s going to be okay, right? With… with no Creator or Preserver? Or is there going to be a Creator?”

“I don’t know that much about this,” Molzapart said reluctantly. “But I expect there won’t be a Creator exactly, no. The power that the Creator would have gained will likely be split between all the surviving legendaries.”

True legendary equality 2k20 (well, 875 AW, but)

Beneath the table, Spirit let out a faint whine. May dropped her fork with a clatter. “Spirit,” she said. “Entei didn’t care about you. He was a tool and he was using you for his own ends. Can’t you see that?”

Spirit jerked back, standing up and shaking her head. “I am… no, Entei was…” She trailed off, exhaling in a huffy sigh, flattening her ears. “I was meant to guard his soul,” she muttered.

“You weren’t meant to do anything. He plucked you away from your mom and almost killed you. It’s his own damn fault he decided to put his soul in a stupid necklace, okay?”

Spirit bared her teeth for an instant before catching herself, wincing guiltily and lying back down on the floor under the table with a sigh.

Knowing she may not be able to be there for Spirit makes it a lot harder for May to see Spirit having unresolved issues about this that she'd be leaving her to deal with on her own.

“Let her process it at her own pace,” Stantler said gently. “She needs time to mourn.”

May took a deep breath, looking down at Spirit, then at Stantler, then Sparky.

“…Yeah.” She winced like she had something bitter in her mouth. “Spirit, I’m sorry. It’s just…”

She stroked the Ninetales’ mane a few times. Spirit leaned into her hand, closing her eyes.

“I’m not going home,” May said after a few seconds of silence, staring at her plate. “I’m going to the police. I need to tell them about Tyranitar.”

Spirit’s eyes blinked open. “What? But –”

“And whatever else happens, they’re definitely going to revoke my license. So you all do whatever you want to, I guess.” Her fingers curled around Spirit’s fur.

May’s Pokémon stared at her in surprise – all except Stantler, who gazed evenly at her trainer, giving a slow nod.

“I see,” Sparky said, surveying her closely. May didn’t look up. “Legally,” Sparky went on after a moment, “it may not be permanent. You are a juvenile; you should be able to reapply for a license after you’re of age. The legal system has its problems, but people don’t suffer forever for mistakes made when they were children, so long as they’re deemed no longer at risk on reevaluation. The rest, I suppose, will depend on the testimony of your Tyranitar, and any witnesses.” Sparky glanced towards Mark, and his stomach twisted uncomfortably.

“Same thing,” May said, her fist clenched around her knife. “It’s not like you’re all going to just wait around for me for years. I don’t expect that.”

“I’ll stay with you,” Spirit said firmly.

May inhaled sharply. “I don’t… I don’t know if you can, Spirit. That’s the thing. I don’t… I don’t think they let you have Pokémon in detention, for a start, if…”

Spirit stared up at her.

“You can stay with Dad. I know you need someone right now and he’s useless, but I can’t. I’m sorry I can’t be there.” May’s voice was starting to tremble. “I’m sorry. I hate this. I hate all of this. All I ever wanted to do was be a great trainer, and I screwed it up. I should’ve recalled Tyranitar, and I shouldn’t have said that about Taylor, and I shouldn’t have even caught him in the first place, or Lapras, or Flygon. But I did it anyway, and I can’t undo any of it, and the only thing I can do to set anything right is make sure Tyranitar gets free, okay? So I have to do this. I’m sorry.”

“May—” Alan began, but before he could finish, May abruptly stood up from the table and headed for the door, Spirit looking after her in shock.

Alan let out a heavy sigh as the door slammed behind her. Sparky put his hand on the table, preparing to stand up.

“Wait,” Mark said. “I’ll… I’ll go talk to her.”

Mark really is the best person to handle this! Sparky means well, but she would not be very receptive.

None of all this happened in the draft; they just had dinner at Sparky's in the space of a summarized paragraph and then Ryan's Xatu teleported everyone wherever they were going.

-------

May was outside, sitting against the side of the Gym and hugging her knees, looking out in the direction of the mountains. It was cold, but the skies were still bright and mostly clear, a lingering memento of the success of their fight against Thunderyu.

She looked up as he approached and wiped her face with her sleeve. He sat down by the wall near her. Spirit padded up to her, tentatively, ears flat; as she nudged her trainer’s shoulder, May wrapped her arms around the Pokémon’s neck, burying her face in her mane.

Mark sat there, silent, for a little while, looking towards the half-collapsed remains of Thunderclap Cave. Beside him, May sniffled quietly a few times, until he heard her sit back against the wall again, exhaling. “How are you feeling?” he asked, turning back towards her. Spirit had laid her head down in May’s lap, and she stroked the Ninetales’s mane absent-mindedly.

May took a deep breath, without looking back at him. “I’m okay,” she said. Then, “I mean, no, I’m not okay. But I’ll live. It’s the best thing I can do and I know that. I’ve had a couple months to think about it. It was just…”

May, admitting she's not okay! What progress we've made.

She trailed off, glancing at Mark, and he nodded.

They sat silently for a moment. “Earlier,” he said after a while, “you said your dad was useless.”

May winced. “Not exactly, but you know.”

“I don’t.” May glanced back at him. He hesitated. “Back when we were looking for Mew, and I was going to maybe call my parents, I noticed you never wanted to call yours. Is that…?”

May sighed, leaning back against the wall. “My dad used to be a trainer. He was pretty well known in the adult competitive circuit for a while. Then his Meganium died in a battle, just an accident, and he just… never got over it. Quit training cold turkey, and couldn’t hold down a decent job after that. My brother and I had to handle a lot of stuff on our own. He’s not bad, but he’s got far too many of his own issues to help anyone else.”

“And you didn’t want to call him?”

May fidgeted with her fingernails. “I’m not sure he’d actually do anything about it even if he heard the world was ending.” She paused. “And… he’d just start asking about my journey, and my Pokémon, and the League.”

Mark nodded slowly. May had never talked about her family, as far as he could recall. He considered asking about her mother, or her brother, but decided against it.

May actually telling Mark about her family is also progress. This had previously been established back in the spin-off one-shot Spirit (though it's fleshed out better here), but May would just never have wanted to talk about her family until this point. As I've mentioned I'd like to develop it better, though, if only for my own reference, and in the next revision it'd be nice if there were some substantial hints towards it, to make it sound less like I'm just making this up now.

“How’s Flygon? What’d Nurse Joy say?”

May was silent for a few moments. “She said he’d be okay. Flygon spend most of their time flying anyway; guess he doesn’t need his legs that much. Might have a harder time with balance because of the tail. Either way, she said he’d probably do all right in the wild if he’s released, so…” She sighed. “That’s something.”

“I hope so.”

She picked at her fingernails for a minute, avoiding Mark’s gaze. “In a way it’s a relief,” she muttered. “In a way I don’t want to do any of this anymore. Maybe I’m becoming like Dad.”

As we saw in Spirit, May always thought it was pretty silly of her dad to quit training just because one of his Pokémon died, and was pretty mad at him for it, so the idea she'd end up basically doing the same is not exactly what she wanted from her training career.

Mark shrugged slightly. “Maybe you just need a break.”

“Maybe.”

May scratched the Ninetales’ ears for a minute. Eventually, she opened her mouth again. “Spirit,” she said. “You should talk to Stantler. Just… see if she’ll stay with you in New Bark. She can probably help you sort through all that stuff.”

Spirit made a small noise of complaint, but then sighed. “I will try,” she said quietly.

“If I have to go, I’ll be back for you,” May said, her voice firm.

The Ninetales closed her eyes. “I’ll come visit,” she murmured.

They sat there for a while, looking up at the sky. Clouds were slowly gathering in the west, heralding oncoming rain.

“You should draw Chaletwo,” May said.

A strange mixture of emotions bubbled up within him at the request, something warm and nostalgic coupled with empty sadness and regret. Wordlessly, he pulled off his backpack and took out his sketchpad.

Drawing again! I really enjoyed getting the chance to do this; the entire drawing thing had been spontaneous, so I was pleased it slotted so well into this chapter too.

All he really meant to do was Chaletwo, but without thinking about it he started sketching the rest of the image still burned into his mind: Mewtwo² opposite him, Mew and Chalenor by his side, Chaletwo’s tear-stricken face tight with anguish. For a moment Mark was struck with a guilty sense of impropriety; was this how he’d want to be remembered, as a terrified wreck?

As a hero, another part of him pointed out. As someone who saved the world.

On some level he’d always had nagging doubts about Chaletwo’s motivations, whether he was really doing this for everyone’s sake or to save his own skin – whether he’d ultimately try to save himself and let the world rot. And in the end, he’d been scared, he’d lashed out, he’d protested, but he’d faced down death anyway. In a way it meant more knowing how hard that had been for him. Mark had probably never respected Chaletwo more than in this moment. Drawing it felt right.

May gave him a questioning look, and he took a deep breath and resumed. Mark still didn’t entirely understand what he’d learned about Chalenor and Mew – the reluctant Destroyer, trapped in isolation for a thousand years, and the friend who’d constructed a clumsy web of lies in his memory, desperate to see him again. But he supposed he didn’t have to. Their story was their own, and now they were gone – together.

And Mewtwo²… Mewtwo² would be okay.

You're forgetting about Mitch there, Mark. You know, the guy whose likeness you were actually drawing, whom you met several times over the course of this journey, who projected his issues about being dead all over you, and you last saw trying to deal with growing psychic powers he couldn't control before he reappeared possessed by the Destroyer who claimed he lent him his body. Anything to say about him? (Again, I literally just forgot about Mitch. This is very silly.)

I drew more or less the scene Mark is drawing, except Mewtwo² isn't shown, here in 2018. I'm glad the chapter has this moment of some emotional catharsis for Chaletwo's memory.

It's kind of sad that nobody within the story ends up learning about what happened in chapter 76. Mark has only the vague idea he could gather from chapter 75 about who Mew and Chalenor really were and why this all happened, and nobody's ever going to learn it. But Mew and Chalenor don't mind. They're probably in the afterlife that's definitely real together right now, actually talking about their issues. While eating chocolate at a hot spring. (And they invited Chaletwo in with them.)

“That’s good,” May said as he slowly lifted his pencil from the finished sketch. There was a strange, trembling heaviness in his chest as he looked at it. “Always wanted to draw like that,” she added in a half-hearted mutter.

“It’s never too late to start,” he said as he closed his sketchbook and placed it back in his bag. She looked up at him for a moment, blinking.

I like to think May actually starts drawing in her Pokémon training hiatus.

Then a sharp gust of wind blew past, and she shivered, pulling her jacket closer. “It’s getting cold,” she said. “I guess we should get back inside.”

“Yeah.” Mark stood up, hoisting his bag back onto his shoulders.

“Hey, I’m…” May began, and he looked back at her. She trailed off, looking away. “Well, no, I wish none of this ever happened. But I’m glad you were there.”

Mark smiled, offering her his hand. “Me too.”

Look at them being friends! I love them.

-------

And then it was time for goodbyes. They went over the practicalities, and Molzapart volunteered to teleport them where they needed to go.

Sparky hugged everyone, assuring them they’d be welcome in Stormy Town for a free dinner any time they wanted. He wished them good luck in their future endeavors, and offered to host Mark’s next birthday party, and gave May some hushed advice that Mark couldn’t hear.

I love Sparky.

Then it was off to the woods near Green Town. Alan gave Mark a tight hug and promised to call sometime. May fidgeted by Molzapart’s side, avoiding Alan’s gaze.

Alan hesitated a moment, looking at May. “Hey,” he said. She looked up tentatively, still guarded. “I… I really admire what you’re doing. It’s the right thing.”

May inhaled. “Yeah.”

He looked at her for a few moments, his face tight and awkward. “Well, take care,” he said at last, turning towards the road into town.

“I will,” May said, and Alan turned around in surprise. She’d straightened a bit, looking at him directly. “Thanks.”

Alan nodded, smiling a little. “I’ll call you too someday.”

He waved as he turned and headed towards his home.

May, actually willing to open up to Alan again!

-------

The next stop, then, was the Champion Island police station.

May took a deep breath in front of the steps leading up to the door, her hand tangled in Spirit’s mane. Weavile stood by her other side; she’d wanted to follow Floatzel, whatever the outcome.

“You sure you don’t want me to come in with you?” Mark asked.

“I need to do this,” she said, shaking her head. “But thanks.”

“You can tell them I was there and I’ll tell them you tried to recall him.”

She nodded slightly. “I know.”

Hesitantly, Mark spread his arms. For a moment, May blinked at him and he felt incredibly stupid – but then she wrapped her arms around him in a tight hug.

After a few seconds she abruptly pulled away. They looked at each other for an awkward moment. “Good luck,” Mark said.

She smiled a little. “Goodbye, Mark.”

“Goodbye.”

And she turned to walk up the stairs, Spirit at her side. After a quick wave and a grin to Mark, Weavile darted after her.

They are awkward but they are friends! May gets a hug!

The end of May's story is deliberately ambiguous. I could have gone into deciding and describing exactly what happens with the legal proceedings - but ultimately, I just didn't want to make it about that. The important thing is May ends up taking responsibility, facing the truth, and acting selflessly to help Tyranitar. If I went into whether she ends up in detention and for how long or whatever, instead of the main takeaway being about May's emotional journey getting to this point, it'd just end up being about whether that specific outcome is fair and whether it matches up to precisely what you as a reader would've wished for it to be, and that's just not the point here to me.

I encourage you to imagine the specifics as whatever feels right to you - but I can assure you that she will be okay. She's on a path towards healing and growing, and she can reapply for her license as an adult if she feels emotionally ready to return to training at that point. She probably takes up drawing in the meantime, and develops her self-image in a way that doesn't revolve around her training talents, and she will get to hug Tyranitar.

-------

And then it was just him and Molzapart, with a couple of things to take care of.

A cold, purple glow enveloped the gem in Mark’s hand. His stomach fluttered weirdly, elated and anxious at the same time; Molzapart’s eyes were closed in grim concentration, the tip of his wing gingerly touching Mewtwo²’s body. They were in some barren off-route valley in the middle of the region; Molzapart had insisted they do this somewhere secluded.

The clone’s lifeless form lit up with the same glow, and then, abruptly, his eyes snapped open. There was no obvious transition from corpse to living being, only that sudden movement. Mewtwo² jerked upward, and Molzapart flinched, backing away.

“Are you sane?” he asked, wary.

“I…” Mewtwo² clutched his head for a moment, blinking slowly. He levitated himself to his feet, gently, and looked around, tail swishing experimentally behind him, his back straight but relaxed, his movements fluid and alive. Something about that, the contrast to every other time he’d seen this tortured creature, made Mark’s heart flutter with elation. It’d been hard to separate the straining, struggling, half-mad Mewtwo² of the battle from Rick’s dead-eyed tool and the memory of being restrained, unable to breathe, helpless as May choked – but the clone felt different now, as a being acting on his own will.

“You,” Mewtwo² said. He took a wobbly step in Mark’s direction, then another, more confident one – and fell into his arms, clumsily, his long, bony forearms wrapping around Mark. The Pokémon shook as Mark embraced him back, a flurry of emotions swirling in his mind, relief and disbelief and new pangs of sympathy as he felt the contours of the Pokémon’s spine and ribs under the thin, leathery skin of his back. How much had Rick ever let him eat?

Mewtwo² gets the hugs that he needs! He's quite new to actually moving around by his own power.

“Thank you,” said the clone’s telepathic voice, unsteady with emotion but free of strain. “I… am sorry.”

“It wasn’t your fault,” Mark said, his voice shaking with something he couldn’t quite place. Relief and gratitude flooded into his mind, then vanished as Mewtwo² carefully pulled away again.

“What are you planning to do now?” Mark asked.

“Hmm.” Mewtwo²’s blank eyes blinked slowly. They weren’t nearly as unsettling now that he looked alert and alive. “I want… a home,” he answered after a moment. “And then… explore. Learn. Make up for… all that happened.”

“Have you… have you considered looking for Mewtwo?” Mark said. “He’s the one you were created from, and… I think you might have a lot in common.”

Mewtwo² tilted his head, tail twitching curiously. “Thank you. I will find him.”

The clone kicked off the ground into a playful loop in the air, and a psychic wave of thrill and exuberance washed over Mark. He grinned as Mewtwo² experimentally levitated himself down in front of Mark, hovering a few inches above the ground.

I really enjoyed finally writing Mewtwo² as an actual character who's just a big cute kitty. Pretty traumatized, going to have to adjust, unpracticed at speaking or doing things he actually wants to do, but really just playful and happy by nature, in a stark contrast to how he's been forced to act under Rick's control.

Molzapart sighed. “The legendaries will expect you to act as one of them. We have a purpose; we must try to protect the mortals and keep the world in balance.”

“I know,” said Mewtwo², without moving aside from the gentle up-and-down bobbing of his levitating form. “I will try. Perhaps Mewtwo can help.”

“I’m sure he will.”

Molzapart grimaced. “I might also need you to talk to the humans at some point. Show them you’re not a ticking time bomb. After you killed Rick and broadcast all that power, they might have concerns.”

Mewtwo² squeezed his eyes shut at the mention of Rick. “I didn’t want to,” he muttered.

“It’s a little late for that.”

Mewtwo² shook his head, hunched over again, agitated, a nervous sense of psychic upset stabbing through the air. Mark took a deep breath. “Stop,” he said. “Stop talking to him like that.”

Molzapart turned, defensive. “I…”

“Stop. He’s been through enough. He did more to save the world than you ever did.”

Ouch, Mark. (But Molzapart did need to hear that. He's been talking very dehumanizingly about Mewtwo² this whole time. Mark, actually standing up when people do that!)

Molzapart fell silent. Mewtwo² rose slowly, a thrum of gratitude warming Mark’s mind.

“I can talk to the humans,” the clone said. “I don’t want to hurt anyone.”

Molzapart nodded without meeting his eye.

Mark sighed inwardly, but extended his hand to Mewtwo². “Did you want your gem back?” Something about the purple stone felt different now, some strange, electrifying energy gone now that it was just an ordinary gem.

“Hmm. Why not?” The clone reached his abnormally long arm out to take it, holding it between his two fingers. “Goodbye,” he said, blinking softly at Mark again. “Thank you.”

“Goodbye,” Mark said, raising a hand to wave. “I… I hope we can meet again sometime.”

Mewtwo² nodded, and then he jumped, shooting up into the air. A prick of psychic joy jolted Mark’s mind again. He watched the clone disappear as a speck in the sky, spiralling in free-flowing loops.

the happiest Mewtwo²

I also drew him with his soul gem here in 2018.

Molzapart was distracted, still looking away.

“Chaletwo wanted me to fix his dragons, didn’t he?” he muttered after a while.

“Yeah.” Mark’s heart stung.

“I gather the last one’s still with Carl.”

Mark nodded, his mouth dry.

“Then I guess we’re paying Carl a visit.”

Molzapart hasn't actually met Carl, so maybe this should sound more like it. Presumably Alan just told him about their encounters with him.

-------

For the second time, Mark knocked on the door of the temporary Crater Town Gym with butterflies in his stomach.

Carl didn’t bat an eye when he opened the door, only slightly raising his eyebrows. “You again,” he said. “Here to tell me another story about Chaletwo?”

Mark couldn’t speak, but he didn’t have to. “Chaletwo is dead,” said Molzapart, and for the first time, Carl actually blinked in surprise, pulling the door open further to see the legendary by Mark’s side.

“Interesting,” he said. “You weren’t part of the story either the first or the second time around.”

Molzapart gave Mark a side glance. “Never mind about the story. The only reason we’re here is to retrieve the dragon they let you capture.”

Molzapart is totally a bit offended Mark never mentioned him.

Carl’s gaze hardened. “I see.”

“We’re going to fix him,” Mark said quickly. “To… to not be dangerous anymore. Molzapart can do that.”

Carl didn’t move. “I think at this stage it would be extraordinarily foolish of me to take you at your word.”

“I’m afraid you don’t have a choice,” Molzapart snapped.

“Wait,” Mark cut in. “I’ll explain. All of it this time. Please listen.”

Molzapart is generally grumpy, but particularly so right now as they're trying to fulfill Chaletwo's last request, the one thing he can do to feel less bad about this, and some puny human is making it more difficult. He'd be so ready to just throw Carl into the wall and break in. But Mark goes the diplomatic route, of course.

-------

Seated on Carl’s couch with his hands in his lap, Mark recounted everything – about the War, their quest, Chaletwo. The Gym leader sat silent, head cocked, lips pressed together, throwing suspicious glances at Molzapart every now and then.

I enjoyed actually putting Carl, renowned legendary-hater, in a room with a legendary.

“I don’t know what to say,” he said when Mark had finished. Mark opened his mouth to speak, but Carl continued: “This entire plan was asinine. Recruiting a bunch of children? Refusing to get more qualified help on grounds that are waved away later? Frankly it’s a miracle you somehow bungled your way into success. Last time, you made it sound as if things were under control without my help; now it’s plain they were nothing of the sort. You could have gotten us all killed.”

Mark squeezed his eyes shut. “Okay. Sure. It was kind of a stupid plan.”

I'm sure you can all tell this is a lampshady self-callout. But it's also 100% exactly what Carl would say in this moment.

“So you’ve told him,” Molzapart said irritably from behind him. “Can we now get to the point?”

“That being said, I hate to say this, but I don’t think you’re lying,” Carl went on. “Whatever else you are, you aren’t a good liar, and I doubt you could have convincingly fabricated and delivered every ridiculous detail of this. I’ll consider your story a warning of the fallibility of legendaries, but I believe you, for now.” He shot a brief glare towards Molzapart. “Besides, I expect the bird can and will do what he pleases regardless of what I think.”

Carl Does Not Like how powerful legendaries are. That's pretty much the reason he distrusts them; nobody should have that much power, and if they do, the potential for misuse of it is staggering. It took eleven Pokémon to take Volcaryu down, and that was a low-tier legendary, weakened. Molzapart is one of the most powerful in the world. He knows that any effort to keep Molzapart from getting what he wants would be futile, and that's exactly why nobody should have that kind of power.

“I don’t have time for your condescension,” Molzapart said coldly. “If you have nothing else to say, we’ll take the dragon and leave.”

Carl wasn’t looking at him, instead focusing on Mark. “So this fixing of the dragon that you mentioned,” he said. “What, precisely, does that entail?”

Mark looked at Molzapart; he wasn’t actually sure exactly how this would work. “Well,” he began, slowly, “when Chaletwo made them, he made them obsessed with killing each other, so it’s all they can think about. He’d remove that from them and make them… normal, I guess?”

“That’s not enough,” Carl said, his eyes boring into Mark’s. “If that’s all they’ve known, they have never learned morality or restraint. This might revert them to the minds of children – but children can be extraordinarily cruel. They will need guidance and oversight, someone who can rein them in and keep them under control, for years, while they mature. Have you prepared for that? Or did you again fail to think things through?”

Mark stared at him, face flushed, opening his mouth to answer.

“I’ll do it,” Molzapart said before he could say anything, sounding like he hated every word. Mark turned towards him, blinking. “Chaletwo wanted me to fix the dragons. That includes this. I’ll raise them, keep an eye out for them and make sure they don’t harm anyone. You have my word.”

Molzapart, to-be dragon dad!

Carl raised an eyebrow, not moving. “Fair enough that you say that,” he said. “But you haven’t given me much reason to trust your word.”

“You don’t have a choice!” Molzapart snapped. He looked away, wincing, before reluctantly facing Carl again. “Chaletwo died for this,” he said, quieter. “His last wish was to fix the dragons – to have him make me fix the dragons.” He glanced at Mark, grimacing. “If I’m left here – at least I can do this.”

Carl surveyed him with interest for a moment. “I see.” Slowly, he stood up from his chair. “Well, as you say, I don’t have a choice, do I? The safe was meant to be indestructible, mind you, but I suppose that wouldn’t account for you.”

Carl finally recognizes a glimmer of humanity in Molzapart's words, which is pretty interesting to him. Still doesn't like this one bit, but it does actually sound like he intends to keep his word, which is something.

“You suppose correctly.” Molzapart’s eyes glowed; the metal of the safe in the corner warped and twisted, and with a sweep of his wing, the door tore off its hinges and crumpled into a lump on the floor. Carl watched with the same grim expression as the Ultra Ball inside levitated into the air and towards Mark. He took it carefully, looking at Carl.

“I suppose we’re done here,” the Gym leader said, folding his arms. “But know that if any legendary attacks my town again, we will be prepared. I don’t trust your competence, for obvious reasons.”

“You won’t have to worry about that,” Molzapart said, coldly. “I’ll handle it.”

“So I’d hope.” Carl moved towards the door, opened it, and gestured for them to leave. With a ‘hmph’, Molzapart teleported outside.

Mark nodded slightly to Carl as he made his way towards the door.

“Thank you for telling me the truth,” Carl said; Mark stopped and looked up at him in surprise. “It’s plain you didn’t need to be here.”

“I wanted to,” Mark said, numb.

“It was a dumb plan and you should’ve questioned it,” Carl went on. “But you’re a kid. The immortal deities don’t have that excuse. It’s on them.”

Mark took a deep breath. “Molzapart’s going to do his best. I think it’ll be okay.”

“That’s very optimistic,” Carl said. “But fair enough. I’ll be prepared anyway. I never trusted legendaries.”

“They’re…” Mark paused, trying to gather his thoughts. “They’re just people. They’re not perfect, but they’re not evil either. They’re just… trying.”

Carl raised his eyebrows.

“Thanks for listening,” Mark said without waiting for an answer, stepping back through the door. “Tell your townspeople I said hi.”

People and their many imperfections all the way down!

None of this was in the draft; it was just vaguely mentioned that once Molzapart thought he'd be able to fix the dragons, he said he'd talk to Mark.

While I was working on this in editing, though, the first version of it included Carl wanting to actually see Volcaryu fixed:

They stepped outside. The skies were gray and cloudy, the light of the evening rapidly diminishing. Carl watched Mark with a wary intensity, his hand hovering around the Pokéballs at his belt.

Mark looked at Molzapart, who nodded. With butterflies in his stomach, he dropped the ball onto the ground and watched as it popped open and a large white shape emerged out of it.

Volcaryu formed lying in an awkward position on the ground, but instantly planted his arms on the ground to push himself up – only to be levitated into the air and flail there, growling and hissing madly. Carl glared at the dragon from where he stood, not moving.

“Be still,” Molzapart muttered as Volcaryu squirmed, and then the dragon froze, his eyes widening as they glowed with a bright blue. For a second he hung there, stiff; then, he squeezed his eyes shut, blinked rapidly, shook his head, struggling again.

“Volcaryu,” Molzapart went on. “That’s you. I need you to nod if you can understand me.”

The dragon stopped, startled, and then gave a wary, confused nod.

“I am Molzapart.” The legendary hesitated. “You were made by someone called Chaletwo, but I’ll be taking care of you from now on.”

Volcaryu blinked. “Chale…two?”

“He’s dead now,” Molzapart said. “His last wish was for me to remove a mental block he’d placed on you and help you adjust. Will you be calm if I release you?”

“Block…?” Volcaryu’s eyes were wide. “I remember two others. I was going to kill them but I don’t know why. Did Chaletwo…?”

“They are your brothers, Thunderyu and Polaryu. You shouldn’t fight. That’s why I removed the block.”

Volcaryu stared at him. “Was he bad?”

Mark’s heart stung. Molzapart exhaled slowly. “No. He wasn’t perfect, and he made a lot of mistakes, but he did his best. He died saving the world.”

The dragon nodded, squirming in the air again. “Put me down.”

“Only if you’ll be calm and come with me. Don’t hurt anyone or touch anyone.”

Volcaryu nodded vigorously. Slowly, he descended back towards the ground, landing gently on his feet. He blinked crimson eyes at Carl, curious.

“I suppose we’re done here,” the Gym leader said, folding his arms.

“You won’t have to worry about him again,” Molzapart said. “Any of them. I’ll handle it.”

Carl nodded slowly. He turned towards Mark. “Thank you for telling me the truth.”

Mark nodded. Volcaryu tilted his head questioningly at Carl before Molzapart touched a wing to Mark’s shoulder and they teleported away.

(While I was working on editing the last several chapters, I kept a cuts document where I'd stick anything I was about to rewrite from scratch; otherwise I wouldn't still have this.)

Reading this again, I enjoy the sort of callback to the final scene of chapter 76 here with Molzapart explaining Chaletwo to Volcaryu - something of a sense of things coming full circle. Maybe I should've kept it. The reason I didn't was that I didn't quite like it enough; most of this is technically repeat information just explaining stuff we already know to Volcaryu, it feels a bit too similar to the Mewtwo² scene, and while I wrote it this way because it was how I first conceived of the scene once I'd decided to include it, as I was writing it Carl just didn't really want to watch them fix Volcaryu at all and while I could just about get him to do it, it didn't feel great. Ultimately it just seemed like something that'd been a nice idea in theory but didn't play out well. But maybe I could've improved it instead of removing it. Who knows, maybe it'll be in the next revision in some form.

-------

The next stop was the plains outside of Ruxido.

A large, lone oak tree stood on a hill overlooking the woods. In the grass below the hill, Mark could just make out the glint of blades here and there, giving away the otherwise-camouflaged Scyther. Against the tree, though, sat two indistinct shapes, red and green.

Scyther inhaled sharply as he stared towards the tree. “I never thought I’d make it back,” he whispered, his voice trembling with emotion. He turned to Mark. “Thank you. For everything you’ve done for me. It was more than you know.”

“Thank you for what you did at the battle with Mewtwo²,” Mark said.

Scyther looked away, a wisp of a smile on his face. “I thought I’d die there. I was ready. But at the same time, I realized I didn’t want to. And it was the best feeling in the world.”

The third time Scyther has been faced with the prospect of an immediate death, but the first where he didn't want it to happen. We've come so far!

Mark nodded, a lump in his throat.

“Goodbye,” Scyther said. “I’ll never forget you.”

“Try to be happy,” Mark said, willing himself to smile. “And – if you bump into Letaligon – please make sure she’s okay.”

Scyther nodded and turned before taking off the ground and zooming towards the tree, letting out an elated, whooping cry. All around, heads poked out of the grass, watching him curiously.

The green shape at the tree rose instantly and flew out to meet him. The red shape stood, leaning against the tree, and raised a pincer in greeting.

Mark turned back to Molzapart, and they vanished.

I sort of want to write about Scyther bumping into Letaligon, seeing how she's doing.

So, way, way back in the day, Scyther and Nightmare got together in the epilogue. Molzapart was supposed to use his Devolution Beam technique to devolve Nightmare back into a Scyther, and then I guess obviously she'd be in love with him and they'd live happily ever after. I even wrote this ridiculously eye-roll-worthy bit where Scyther waxes poetic about pheromones and put it at the very bottom of the Word document, where it still is (I've been physically unable to look at that for a long, long time).

Obviously, I realized long ago that it was Scyther and Scyther society in general that needed to get over their prejudice against Scizor, rather than her who needed to change back into a Scyther, and also that they barely know each other and she certainly doesn't know him enough to have developed a romantic interest in him given she definitely didn't reciprocate at the time of the duel. But they did manage to connect a bit back in chapter 60, so who knows how things go in the future. (Scyther is still pretty smitten with her, at least, but he would now be respectful and not obnoxious about it and take no for an answer.)

-------

Sandslash wanted to return to the Lake of Purity.

Molzapart waited in the woods while the two of them walked along the bank of the lake. The brilliant colors of sunset reflected across the still water; Mark couldn’t help but think back to his first fateful night here as Sandslash told him stories of his old Sandshrew buddies – silly competitions, back-and-forth pranks, weird hijinks.

The Pokémon shook his head, chuckling. “Initially I didn’t want to come back. They were a childish lot and I wasn’t very close to anyone. But when I visited, back when we came here to capture Suicune, it was… nice. I used to be small and scaredy and they kind of ignored me, but suddenly I was the grown-up and everyone wanted to know about what I’d been doing with my trainer. I liked telling them stories and showing them moves and answering questions. Teaching them.”

Mark smiled. “It’s weird to think of you being scaredy.”

“It’s weird for me, too,” Sandslash said, looking out across the lake. “I gained a lot of confidence on this journey, didn’t I?”

“Yeah,” Mark said. “Same.”

Of course, this'd be a lot more meaningful and earned if Sandslash had more presence as an actual character and this development were shown as something more than just Sandslash suddenly maturing and becoming more confident when he evolves. Oh well. I'd do it properly in the next revision.

They walked on in a pleasant, comfortable silence. The sun was disappearing behind the trees, shadows stretching out across the lake; the dark cloud bank from the northwest was moving in rapidly, promising a change in the weather.

And then, just as he was thinking he’d have to say goodbye and turn back, the excited cries of a troop of Sandshrew surrounded them. Sandslash grinned as the tiny figures rolled into him in bursts of giggles, examined his claws with awed gasps, and started asking him how many legendaries he’d fought.

Mark stepped back, smiling. Sandslash looked up and raised a paw to wave, laughing as one of the Sandshrew climbed onto his head.

As Mark turned around and headed back for where Molzapart was waiting, he could still hear the echoes of their conversation:

“Diggerclaw, Diggerclaw!”

“Did you fight the whole Waraider herd, Diggerclaw?”

“We did,” Sandslash said, chuckling. “And we saved the world.”

I still enjoy this a lot.

Also, Sandslash having a nickname with the other Sandshrew, as the Pokémon name worldbuilding dictates.

-------

Finally, Molzapart teleported Mark into the alley next to the Sailance library. They looked at one another, boy and bird, human and legendary.

“Thank you for all you’ve done,” the legendary said.

“Thanks for taking us everywhere,” Mark said.

“It was the least I could do.” Molzapart looked away, uncomfortable. “I’ll raise the Dragons of Ouen as best I can. You gave me all the legendaries you held, correct?”

“Yeah.”

This doesn't quite make sense; if the legendaries haven't been released and are still in Pokéballs that belong to Mark, he should only be able to have six of them out of the PC at a time.

I guess the legendaries that he has should only be Thunderyu, Dragoreen, Raudra, Puragon and Waraider, so they can all be out of the PC. But later Mark's going to be sending out Charizard, Dragonite and Jolteon, which he can't do with only one slot left. Maybe by that time Molzapart's already released some of the legendaries? But all in all this is pretty shaky.

“Good. I’ll handle releasing them safely, explaining why we did it when necessary, and picking up the ones the others have. In an emergency I can perform a memory modification. You won’t have to worry about them.” He took a deep breath. “All in all, you can return to your life as it was. No one has to know your part in any of this unless you choose to tell them. I’d advise you not to tell too many people.”

Mark nodded slowly.

Mark returning to his normal, quiet life without being known as a hero or whatever was something I quite wanted here, and it was one of the reasons I ditched the Cleanwater City setting of chapter 75.

“I think that’s all,” Molzapart said. “If you ever need me, I’ll be keeping an eye out.”

“Thanks,” Mark said. He was oddly numb; the fact it was over and he was going home still seemed unreal, like it wasn’t really happening. “Goodbye, then. Take good care of the dragons.”

Molzapart nodded, grave. “Farewell, Mark.”

And then he was gone. The first drops of rain were falling from the sky, and Mark blinked. The world seemed to zoom in suddenly, locking into place in a new order. He was here, back in Sailance, and the rain made it real.

Shivering, he fished his raincoat out of his bag, put it on, and set off walking the familiar route towards his home.

The school building was gray and dull as ever as he approached it, the fenced-off schoolyard empty. As he passed by the front entrance, though, a figure was stepping out of the door, opening an umbrella, and something made him stop.

“Mrs. Grodski?” he said.

His teacher lifted the umbrella, looking at him. “Greenlet?” she said disinterestedly – and then her eyebrows scrunched. “Wait. No, you –”

She stared at him, hard, before looking away and sighing. “Never mind.” There was something intense and upset about her gaze still; there were bags under her eyes, her whole face gaunt with exhaustion. Mark wasn’t sure if she’d changed or if she’d always looked like that and he just hadn’t noticed. A strange mixture of emotions battled in his head; the monster she’d seemed like back then, how absurdly trivial all of that seemed now, the realization of how disorienting Molzapart’s memory modification might feel from the inside. He shifted on his feet as Mrs. Grodski shook her head and walked down the steps, preparing to head the other way.

As I mentioned back in the chapter one commentary, I intended from probably very early in the ILCOE to have Mark bump into Mrs. Grodski here, and over time my conception of how that'd play out evolved from a simple "she acknowledges his League performance" to "Mark realizes with his newfound power of empathy that she's an actual human being". The NaNo draft did the latter in an extremely blunt and abrupt way:

She seemed awkward and shifty, even uncomfortable, and it struck him suddenly how cartoony she had seemed to him when he was taking her classes, as if she existed purely to make him miserable and had no human emotions whatsoever. It felt bizarre and alien now to remember how much of his time he’d spent despising her: wasn’t she just a woman trying to do her job? Why had he been so hostile? How much of her hostility had been in response to his, or that of the other kids who had banded together to hate her?

Even aside from the preachy random epiphany here, it was just a bit wrong that it sort of acts like she was just completely innocent in all this (teachers should be able to deal with bratty kids without developing petty grudges against them). As I was reworking it with more care here, I also realized the memory modification really should be visibly affecting her too, and that was probably better angle from which to come at Mark's newfound sympathy for her.

“Listen,” he blurted out. “I’m… I’m sorry I was such a brat.”

She turned around, blinking warily at him, fingers tense around the handle of the umbrella, as if she expected this was some kind of prank.

Mark smiled. She hesitated for a second, glancing sideways. “You made it pretty far at the League, didn’t you?” she said, sighing. “Good work. I suppose I underestimated you.”

Mark blinked – and then, without meaning to, he burst out in a disbelieving grin. “I guess you did.”

She squinted at him for a moment, like her brain was fighting, grasping for purchase on a slippery surface. “I… I think I wasn’t quite fair to you,” she said. “I’m not…” She squeezed her eyes shut. “I regret that.”

This really has to be very confusing. Somehow she's feeling this intense guilt over how she treated this particular kid and she doesn't quite understand why.

Mark stared at her. The confused muddle of feelings in his chest was starting to settle into pity. “It’s… it’s all right, Mrs. Grodski.”

She took a deep breath, her expression softening as she looked at him. Slowly, her shoulders sagged, her fingers seemed to just slightly loosen their grip on the handle of the umbrella. “Welcome home, Greenlet,” she said. “Take care.”

“I will,” Mark said, smiling at her. “Have a nice evening, Mrs. Grodski.”

“You too,” she said. She looked at him for a second more before she shook her head, turned, and headed off in the other direction.

Positive human interaction! Old grudges laid to rest!

-------

A strange sense of déjà vu hit him as he turned into his home street. The rain, the rivulets of water draining from the road, the bushes in front of his house – for a split second, he half-expected something small and orange lying on the pavement, breathing raggedly, a faint flame curled against the side of its body. But that was a long time ago.

These gardens, the houses, his house: it’d been so long since he’d seen any of them. Everything was nostalgic and new at the same time, familiar and yet different: new decorations in the neighbor’s windows, a blooming flowerbed, a newly-painted fence. Life had gone on without him, the slow progress of time and change continuing.

The steps up to his house were smaller than he remembered. He lifted a hand and rang the doorbell.

It was his mom who answered it. The door opened and she stood there, and instantly, with a sudden, powerful ache in his chest, Mark realized how much he’d missed her. Her default polite smile changed to a warm, happy one as she saw him; then her brow furrowed, and her eyes widened, and her lips parted in shock.

“Hi, Mom,” Mark said, a strange lump in his throat. Tears welled up in her eyes, and she pulled him in close and hugged him tighter than he thought he’d ever been hugged.

“You... you were dead and I forgot,” she whispered in shocked confusion, clutching his coat as if he might otherwise simply float away. “How could I forget?”

“It’s okay, Mom,” Mark murmured, his voice muffled against her tear-stained shoulder. “I’ll explain everything.”

The one singular scene in this chapter that actually plays out pretty much like it did in the draft. I'd had this particular moment in my head for a long, long time.

-------

In the back of his mind, Mark had wondered if they’d believe him. But he needn’t have worried: after realizing they’d forgotten their son’s funeral, his parents were willing to entertain whatever he told them. They listened to him talk with rapt attention, for hours, hardly interrupting; maybe later, when they’d slept on it and recovered from the shock, they’d interrogate him, but for the moment all they cared about was having him back, alive.

This was pretty similar in the draft, and was almost definitely inspired by The Neverending Story, another one of my favorite books as a kid, where the protagonist returns home at the end after being missing for a couple of days and tells his dad about the incredibly fantastical adventures he was having in the meantime while inside of a magical book, and his mundane, down-to-earth dad who's usually very distant and doesn't take much of an interest in him just listens intently to the whole story. It was always pretty striking to me as a kid.

He introduced them to Charizard and Jolteon and Dragonite in the garden. Maybe they wouldn’t have agreed to let them live there under other circumstances, but as it was, they simply accepted it. His mom tearfully thanked them for taking care of him, his dad silent and awkward, nodding at the Pokémon like he wasn’t sure what to say to them. Dragonite wouldn’t be staying long, of course – he’d only wanted to have a place to return to when he travelled the world. Charizard had said he might go with him sometime, but for the moment he wanted a break to just rest and recover.

Jolteon was content to be a pet. For now, at least, he’d seen enough of the world for a lifetime.

The three of them are the Pokémon who had no significant lives in the wild to return to - Jolteon's mom presumably dead, Charizard raised as a starter, Dragonite recently released from a conservation program. In the draft they all just wanted to stay with Mark, but really, how much is there to do for them in Sailance? Jolteon'd be content staying there, but the dragons'd probably want to stretch their wings a bit.

In the draft, Mark mused on what would've happened if he'd died (presumably thinking of the final confrontation with Mewtwo²), and concluded maybe the three of them would've banded together on their own. It was a cute thought, but a bit out of nowhere.

It was hours past his bedtime by the time the conversation was winding down, Jolteon snoozing peacefully in his lap, Charizard and Dragonite dozing off sat against one another in the garden. Normally, Mark knew, his parents would have sent him to bed by now, and although he’d journeyed across the whole region, he imagined they’d balk if he asked to go out again now – besides, he was pretty exhausted himself.

“I think I’ll get some sleep,” he said, yawning, gently lifting Jolteon and placing him on the couch. “You… you didn’t throw away my stuff or anything, did you?”

They hadn’t, of course, because they’d forgotten he was dead. Mark apologized to them for probably the twentieth time that night; he wasn’t sure it would ever be enough.

-------

He slept until the afternoon. He’d almost forgotten how good it was to sleep in an actual bed.

After dragging himself to his feet and eating the breakfast-slash-lunch that his dad cooked for him, though, he told his parents he had to go to the beach, and was smothered with hugs and ‘take care’s that would have irritated him a year ago but seemed kind of sweet now. Jolteon followed him outside; Charizard and Dragonite were lazing around in the shadow of the garden’s trees, talking.

They could have flown, but the beach was only a short walk away; Sailance was by the shore, and their house was on the sea side of town. In the movies he’d watched as a kid, beaches were always hot, yellow and crowded with people, but this one had black sand and cold winds, waves crashing mercilessly against huge rocks and banks growing with faded grass. He’d always liked this beach for what it was; he’d used to come here to draw sometimes, imagining Lugia sleeping at the bottom of the ocean, forever just out of reach.

This paragraph is fairly similar to the draft and is shamelessly inspired by my childhood memories of the beach I grew up living near. I like the bit about him coming there drawing Lugia.

Today the wind was light; the rain had cleared up since yesterday, and the rocks were warmed by springtime sun. He sat down on a weathered boulder with Jolteon, looking out at the ocean for a moment, before he took out his last Pokéball.

“Gyarados, we’re here.”

The sea monster emerged in the water, stretching his fins. “So this is your hometown,” he said in a low rumble.

“Yeah.” Mark smiled.

Gyarados looked around, then glanced at the gems on his neck. “I suppose the Ninetales was devastated.”

Mark nodded silently. He really should’ve done this while he was still with Molzapart, shouldn’t he – gotten him to teleport them to the sea first and revive Suicune immediately. But he couldn’t entirely regret it.

“We’re going to have to resurrect Suicune,” he said.

Gyarados grunted. “I know.”

“Other than that, all that’s left is for you to decide what you want to do. You can stay around here, and I’ll come and bring you some food when I can. Or you can go, wherever you want.”

“I promised to serve you forever, didn’t I, back at the lake,” Gyarados said.

Mark winced. “You shouldn’t have promised that.”

Finally addressing this!

As I mentioned in the chapter 75 commentary, I think we're missing a bit more of a resolution for Gyarados between chapter 55 (his last onscreen appearance) and here.

Gyarados chuckled. “You’re right. It was a stupid promise. You don’t need me anyway, do you?” He paused. “I always did want to swim the ocean. Be free. That’s what I really wished for.”

“Then that’s what you should do.”

Gyarados gave a slow nod. “What about Suicune?”

Mark took a deep breath. “I think you can handle it,” he said. “If you find a legendary, or a strong Psychic Pokémon, see if they can do it. There have to be plenty of them in the ocean.”

“So you trust me.” Gyarados’s lips curled in amusement. “What’s to stop me just not doing it? Keeping him trapped and helpless at my mercy, forever?”

“Nothing.” Mark’s gaze didn’t waver. “But you know what that’s like. You’re better than that.”

Gyarados smiled, looking off into the distance. “I wouldn’t want to carry him forever anyway.”

“You won’t destroy the gems either.”

Gyarados let out a rumbling sigh. “No, I won’t.”

Mark sat in silence for a moment as Gyarados gazed out at the vast stretch of ocean before him. The wind ruffled his hair. There was no deadline, no worries. He could just sit here, as long as he liked.

“I figured you’d prefer this,” he said. “Over having yet another legendary dictating your fate. Molzapart probably only heard about you maybe once, from Alan, sometime while we were at the League. I don’t think he remembered. But if he realizes you’ve still got Suicune before you can get him resurrected, he’ll probably try to find you.”

Gyarados chuckled. “Thanks. I’ll keep that in mind.”

He swam a few experimental circles in the ocean water. Mark watched him dive and resurface, shaking the water out of his fins.

“Goodbye,” he said, bowing his head towards Mark. “Thanks for getting me out of that lake.”

“Goodbye, Gyarados,” Mark said, smiling. “Good luck out there.”

“I’ll be traveling too,” Dragonite said. “Maybe we’ll run into each other again sometime.”

Gyarados nodded slowly. “Mmm. I think I’ll come back here someday, too. Maybe when Suicune is gone.”

“I’ll be on the lookout,” Charizard said.

Jolteon nodded, eyes shining. “Goodbye.”

“See you around,” Gyarados said. And with that, he turned around and dived into the sea.

Mark watched him go with the others until the ripples in his wake disappeared. It really was a nice day. Charizard lay on the rocks in the sun, the tip of his tail flicking idly back and forth, the flame burning peacefully. Dragonite sat in the sand, looking out at the calm ocean. Jolteon lay leaning against his side, eyes closed.

He took his bag off his shoulders, pulled out his sketchpad, and started to draw Charizard. Distantly, from the trees in the direction of the city, he could just hear the first Taillow song in Sailance in a long, long time.

Callback to the opening of chapter one! I drew this on the anniversary of the ending.

In the draft, Mark didn't release Scyther and Sandslash earlier, or leave Weavile with May - instead, he brought all of his Pokémon to the beach here to ask them where they wanted to go. Since Gyarados was the only one who'd actually want to be released here, though, only Gyarados got an actual on-screen goodbye, and instead most of this scene was a dull conversation where each of the Pokémon says what they want to do. Before I started editing this chapter I knew that this was focusing on exactly the wrong part of this - and it didn't make any sense either, to boot: why would Mark not check with his Pokémon what they want to do and where they want to go before he goes home and the convenient teleporting legendary leaves him? They should just have this conversation off-screen, before Mark goes back to Sailance, and instead we'd get to actually see the part where he takes them there, which made this entire chapter way more evocative and satisfying.

This also meant that in the draft, the whole consideration of whether Mark should've released Gyarados earlier, when Molzapart was around, didn't happen, whereas here it becomes a notable thing. I didn't initially realize this when I was rewriting this, so when it did occur to me I paused - and then realized actually, you know what, it'd be a nice moment if Mark just deliberately decided to give Gyarados this chance to set his own course without a legendary's input.

It'd been the plan for many, many, many years to end the final chapter with Gyarados's release; I always used to say that the last word of the fic would be "sea", refering to the bit where Gyarados disappears into the sea. It ended up having a couple of paragraphs after that, but it's still fundamentally the same scene.

The emphasis changed, though. As originally envisioned, I'd pictured this moment where Gyarados wants to be released as a very heavy emotional moment for Mark - having once upon a time, back in the backstory chapter, denounced Ash for releasing so many of his Pokémon, Mark'd finally have to experience one of his own Pokémon wanting to be released, and realize of course there's only one answer he can give to that. But by the time I actually got here, Mark had already released Letaligon and nearly Scyther, so obviously it wouldn't have that meaning anymore. (I don't think I'd even thought up the Chosen thing yet when I decided on this ending. God.)

That said, originally that wasn't supposed to be the end end... because the fic was going to have an epilogue. I confidently talked about the epilogue for years before I finally decided to ditch it - in fact, even during NaNo 2012 I left room for the possibility I'd end up writing an epilogue, though by that point I was pretty sure there probably wouldn't be.

I first envisioned the epilogue very early, definitely before the HMMRCIG - probably sometime in 2003. The 2003 epilogue wasn't going to be a narrative thing at all - it'd just be me speaking with my authorial voice, clearing up some loose ends. Specifically:

  • I'd clarify where everyone ended up - the main characters, Mark's Pokémon, etc.
  • Then, I was going to say that Mark and May would never meet again. This was purely in order to definitively sink that ship, just in case anyone dared think there was any chance the main boy and main girl were going to get together in a thing written by me. May and Alan would meet again in some capacity, though, while I'm not sure I ever finished deciding if Mark would meet Alan again. This was, of course, before the murder subplot, or at least before that had anything resembling consequences, so May just went home at the end. (Today, I'd say all three of them are almost definitely going to meet again. They probably get lunch and hang out and reminisce about their adventures.)
  • Finally, drumroll, I was going to dramatically build up to the Great Question, the bit you've all been waiting for: who is Alan's mom?? And the answer would be... her name's Melinda or something. What, you thought he was going to marry one of the girls that he met when he was ten? Pssh, not in the real world he won't. Real people don't meet their partners when they're ten years old. They met when he was twenty-one and you wouldn't know her. Take that, shippers!

You may be able to tell that my thirteen-year-old self was very mad about shipping. Like half of the reason I was looking forward to finishing at this stage was just for that take that moment.

A while later, I read another fanfic with an epilogue, and that was actually a narrative thing, so I went oh no, I guess this is what epilogues are supposed to be like, I'll have to change it. So I figured the epilogue would show Alan going home and one way or another I'd squeeze in a mention of his mom's name, which I'd just check on Bulbapedia to make sure there had not been some character of the day in the anime named that that you could think I was referring to. Sadly I wouldn't be able to clarify that Mark and May never meet again, but oh well. It was presumably at this stage of my epilogue plans that I wrote the terrible Scyther bit; I was sort of going to jump between POVs for this epilogue iteration, showing each Pokémon's POV.

In the end, of course, I just fit all the actually interesting or relevant information that was once designated for the epilogue into this chapter, and there was no need for an epilogue of any kind. I did a poor job communicating my shifting endgame plans to readers, though; not only were there people who believed the fic was only 76 chapters after I'd maintained this for years and thought it was over without properly ending, others asked about the epilogue after this one came out. I am sorry.

Chapter plan: Chapter 76: Mew explains fully what’s going on. Because Chalenor told them his skull, buried in what is now Sailance, was what was still inducing the War of the Legends, they go there, dig up the skull and destroy it forever. Mew dies, hoping to be reunited with Chalenor once again in another life. Mark says goodbye to May and Alan and finally heads home, confronting Mrs. Grodski on the way. Mark takes all his Pokémon to the seashore, since the journey is over; they make their choices. Gyarados wishes to leave. As I've previously mentioned, I was still planning the skull thing by the time I started NaNoing in 2012.

Looking back, I suspect a lot of people probably expected this fic to have a pretty grim ending. Morphic sure was grim, as were the Scyther spin-offs, and given my tastes in general, I wouldn't blame anyone for expecting a lot of death and devastation and angst. But this story was always meant to have a pretty happy, satisfying ending. I never planned to kill any of the main characters or make them suffer too much. There's some catharsis and closure for everyone, and the end just generally has a sense of peace and hope to it. There are a few deaths, but only a few, and none of the really cruel variety (I mean, Chaletwo's is cruel for him, but narratively I hope it's a pretty satisfying conclusion to his arc). And that's how it was always meant to be. Ultimately this is a fundamentally hopeful and optimistic story with dark moments. I am capable of this! It's not all doom and gloom all the time! Everyone feels bad but then in the end they're okay!

Honestly I'm not sure I ever could have made this story turn out any different. A story like Morphic is fundamentally cynical in its nature, but this isn't that kind of story, and as much suffering as I crammed into it, it wouldn't have felt right to me to end it in that kind of bleak, harrowing way. Mark just had to get home and live a peaceful, happy life. May goes through so much, and has to face a load of consequences, but ultimately her end is hopeful too.

I love dark endings, but above all I love satisfying endings (I'm a lot less fond of the anticlimax thing as the actual end of a story). Whatever happens needs to feel right as the end of this story, whatever that is. This was the ending that felt right to me here, and I hope it's pretty satisfying to you all as well.


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