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I mean, they discussed within the chapter how they're going to have to try to contend with fighting multiple legendaries at once now! I guess by commenting on it I'm technically revealing that it doesn't turn out they're lucky and actually the legendaries they think are going to be together all turn out to be conveniently alone after all, buuut I wouldn't have thought that'd be a likely assumption anyway.
I wasn't implying it's any kind of plot hole, mind (in-universe, it's not like they just happened to be there; the three sisters always hang out near each other, and the only reason the other two arrived late here was that they were still asleep when Dragoreen emerged). I was just remarking on how obviously it's not actually a coincidence, out of universe, that going to the League and getting a whole lot stronger doesn't mean they get to breeze through the rest of the plot, as much as the characters would have liked it to.
Thanks for reading! I am dying to see what you make of some of the rest of this having started at chapter 53.
Anyway, chapter 56 is here, wherein there's some setup.
Chapter 56: The Ouen Safari
Mark and May arrived at the gates of the Ouen Safari the next morning after a silent but thankfully much less tense journey. May was still obviously quiet and distracted, and Mark fidgeted awkwardly as they walked, half worried about her, half dreading saying anything to her at all.
“Maybe, uh, you should try to catch something,” he suggested carefully as they entered the gatehouse. “To replace...”
May didn’t answer at first. “You have fewer Pokémon than I do,” she said after a few seconds. “And with Letaligon leaving and all...”
Mark considered it. “That’s true,” he admitted. “Let’s go get some Safari Balls, then.”
At the counter sat a woman with long, blonde hair tied back in a ponytail, leaning casually back in her chair and looking at a computer monitor. As they approached, she stood up, adjusting her camouflage hat. “Hey,” she said, smiling. “I’m the overseer of the Safari. You registering?”
They nodded, and she entered some information into the computer. “Been here before?”
They shook their heads.
“All right,” she said. “That’ll be five hundred apiece. Pokédexes, please.” She had to enter more information after receiving the devices, then handed them back, reached behind the counter and took out two small leather sacks.
“These are your Safari Balls. The Safari employs Pokéball-suppressors that disable any other balls, so don’t even try to lob anything else at the Pokémon in there. The Safari Balls are registered to the Safari, so if you catch anything it’s sent to our PC system; you have to talk to me when you leave to get them transferred to you.” She passed the sacks to them as she went on.
“Now, the way things work here at the Ouen Safari is that we think the Pokémon should get to battle you fair and square just like everywhere else, so you can bring your Pokémon with you. What you can’t do is knock out any Pokémon you’re not going to catch. They’re here because they don’t want to get knocked around by trainers who won’t catch them all day, all right? Only battle Pokémon you’re interested in that challenge you or respond willingly to your challenge. If you break the rules, I’ll know by the time you come back here for your catches, and don’t think I’m going to hand them over to you if you haven’t been on your best behaviour. I have my contacts.” She gave them a mysterious, slightly smug grin.
“But if there are Pokéball-suppressors...” Mark began, confused.
“I’m getting to that,” the woman said, waving a hand at him. “Because of the Pokéball-suppressors, of course, you won’t be able to send your own Pokémon out and in either, so they’ll have to walk by your side. Though it’s not a requirement, I recommend only having one out per trainer at a time – if you want to switch, there are isolated, clearly marked no-suppression areas within the Safari where you can do so. The Pokémon tend to get a little antsy if they see a champion team of six lumbering around.”
They nodded. Mark looked into the sack he’d received; it was filled with something like twenty or thirty minimized balls.
“Speaking of champion teams,” the woman said as they were turning towards the exit, “aren’t you May Victoria Wallace?”
May froze, and the warden apparently took that as a yes. “Good job at the League. I hoped to see my daughter win, of course, but I’m glad the one who beat her was a girl with no superclones, at least.”
For a second May looked at her in confusion. “Robin Riverstone’s your...?” she then began hesitantly, and suddenly Mark could see the resemblance: same thick blonde hair, same focused green eyes, same confident smile.
The overseer beamed. “She’s great, isn’t she? Don’t get me wrong, it was a well-deserved victory, but you have to admit her Charizard kicked your Tyranitar’s ass.”
Mark could see the edge of May’s mouth twitch a little at the mention of Tyranitar, but she kept it remarkably well together; he didn’t think he would have detected anything strange if he weren’t looking for it. “Yeah, she was really good,” she said, nodding; she even managed a bit of a smile.
“As for what came after, I don’t make a habit of speaking ill of the dead, so let’s leave it at that,” the woman said grimly before straightening herself and looking between the two of them. “Well. I think I’ve babbled on long enough. Any questions, or are you ready to go?”
Only minutes later, they were walking around the vast grassy expanse that was the first zone of the Safari, Spirit trotting behind May while Letaligon walked by Mark’s side, looking around. He’d picked her after some thought, figuring that if she was up for it he wanted to try to spend as much time with her as he could before her release, and she seemed to be enjoying herself even if she wasn’t talking much. Though she hadn’t said it directly, Mark suspected the reason for her bright mood, one way or another, was excitement about going back; some part of him felt a little miffed that she was so enthusiastic about getting away from him, but he tried his best to ignore that part and be happy for her anyway.
“Anything in particular you want to go for?” he asked May after a while. They’d seen some wild Pokémon flitting around, but she had barely reacted to their presence.
“What?” She looked up as if snapped out of a trance. “I don’t know.”
He nodded. He felt the same way, really. If he was going to capture a new Pokémon, it should probably be one with some significant advantage against at least one of the remaining legendaries; that was all he was still training for, after all. Beyond that, he didn’t really have any ideas.
“You should catch something strong,” Letaligon said; Mark looked up, but she was looking at May, not him. “You need a powerful Pokémon to come in Tyranitar’s place. Maybe another Rock-type.”
May didn’t answer. Spirit gave Letaligon a glance that she ignored.
“I don’t know what kinds of Pokémon are in here,” Letaligon went on. “Maybe there aren’t any Rock-types. Perhaps a Grass-type? Water-types are too common for only Raichu to handle. Or a Psychic-type.”
Letaligon looked expectantly at May, but she was still silent and didn’t even look at her. After a moment Letaligon turned back to Mark, looking a little indignant. “Your team is way too weak to Rock,” she said irritably. “When I’m gone, that’s four out of six weak, two doubly. That’s ridiculous. And Ice, too – three weak, one doubly, and only one counter. You should get another Steel-type.”
Mark shrugged. “Maybe.” Steel-types, of course, were resistant to most of the elemental types of the Color Dragons and Waraider herd, as well as to the dragons’ Dragon attacks – she might have a point there. Were there any Steel-types here? He automatically looked around; there was a Furret scuttling curiously through the grass nearby, but at the moment he didn’t see any other Pokémon looking like they might be up for a challenge.
“Maybe there are more Pokémon in the forest zone,” he suggested, pointing towards the woods off to the west. “Should we check it out?”
May gave a barely-visible nod, and they headed westwards. He guessed the forest zone was an offshoot of Ruxido, one way or another; it felt like the same kinds of trees, and Letaligon even commented that it felt like home. A couple of Mankey watched them for a moment from a safe distance before disappearing into the canopy; otherwise, the Pokémon again appeared to be staying out of their way. It was a little while before Mark realized why.
“Oh,” he said, “most trainers come here pretty early on their journeys. A lot of the Pokémon must be intimidated when suddenly two trainers stop by after the League with powerful, evolved Pokémon.”
“That doesn’t make sense,” said Letaligon. “Ambitious Pokémon should want to get caught by champion trainers.”
She’d barely said the last word when suddenly a tree rustled and a dark shape landed on the ground in front of them, wasting no time before darting at Letaligon.
She swung her head, but the Pokémon nimbly scuttled out of the way, and she cried out as two sharp claws raked across her vulnerable underbelly, drawing blood. Letaligon whirled around just as the shape stopped a short distance away, revealing itself to be a Sneasel.
“Iron Head!” Mark ordered without thinking, and Letaligon charged at the Sneasel to headbutt it, her body turning wholly metallic. It dodged again, delivering a slash to her leg now.
“Uh, Metal Burst!” he called, some part of his brain unconsciously in League-mode, and in an instant, Letaligon became a metallic reflection of the Sneasel’s attack. The catlike creature was thrown aside, hissing defensively as blood spurted from slashes on its belly; Letaligon used the opportunity while it was distracted by the pain to slash at it with the blade on her head, tossing it into a nearby tree trunk.
Mark quickly grabbed a Safari Ball from the sack the warden had given him and threw it at the Sneasel’s prone form. It dissolved into a blob of red and was absorbed into the ball; he watched it intently as it wobbled on the ground, and finally the ball stilled, the glow fading from the button.
“Another one that’s weak to Rock,” Letaligon grumbled as he picked up the ball, only to have it vanish from his hand, presumably disappearing to the Safari’s PC system.
“That’s true,” Mark said reluctantly, “but none of the remaining legendaries are Rock-types anyway. I think a Sneasel will be fine. We have five dragons to fight too, and...” He thought of Raudra and Puragon. “...well, some of them are weak to Ice.”
He automatically looked at May for confirmation that this wasn’t a terrible idea; she shrugged.
“You should catch another one,” Letaligon said stubbornly.
“Maybe if we find a Steel-type or something.”
“I’m not sure catching many additional Pokémon at once would be such a good idea,” Chaletwo put in. “The Pokémon here are relatively low-leveled; just getting one each up to par could take a while. It’s also probably harder for them to learn to work together when many new team members are being inducted at the same time. And if the, uh, Goldberg principle is right, or whatever it was that May was talking about, larger team sizes don’t help that much anyway.”
Everyone looked questioningly at May. “Then perhaps you don’t need to catch another Pokémon,” Spirit said after a moment, addressing her trainer. “Even now, you have a team of eight.”
May shook her head slowly. “No, I should catch something,” she said, looking distractedly around, and then suddenly she said, “Spirit, attack that Stantler!”
Mark turned where she was looking in surprise; there was indeed a Stantler there, watching them warily from between the trees. Spirit fired a bright cone of flames towards it, and the startled deer Pokémon leapt to the side, but then approached Spirit, horns glowing: it had accepted the challenge.
“Another Flamethrower!” May ordered, but Spirit hesitated, likely distracted by the hypnotic influence of the Stantler’s antlers. It used the opportunity to charge at her, knocking her over with a powerful tackle. Spirit was tossed into the dirt but rose quickly, shook herself and countered with a jet of flame which this time struck true. The Stantler grunted and formed a ghostly light between its antlers, which spun distracting circles around the Ninetales as she growled.
“Spirit, focus!” May called. “Counter with your own Confuse Ray!”
The Stantler was already taking advantage of Spirit’s disorientation by striking her with another Take Down attack, but the shock of the impact seemed to clear Spirit’s mind somewhat, and as she rose to her feet, she formed a ghost light of her own. It danced enticingly around the Stantler, tempting it to look away, and Spirit needed no order before she fired a third Flamethrower. The deer Pokémon staggered back, wobbling a little on its feet, and then a Safari Ball bounced off its back, popped open and sucked it inside.
The ball shook three times and went still.
May didn’t bother to pick it up; she just looked at it, fists clenched, until it vanished.
“Why would you catch a Stantler?” said Letaligon with annoyance, breaking the silence. “You have no use for a Stantler.”
Spirit looked up at May with a bemused expression, and Mark couldn’t help being puzzled as well; of all Pokémon, Stantler was one of the least Maylike he could imagine.
“It’s not about that,” May said, but she didn’t clarify what she meant at all; instead she headed off in the direction they’d been walking in. After a second Letaligon trotted after her, and Spirit and Mark had no choice but to follow.
They exited the Safari a bit later that afternoon without capturing any other Pokémon. Letaligon had mostly given up complaining and was back in her bright mood from before, and May, if still quiet, didn’t seem quite as distracted as she had that morning. The warden handed them their new Pokéballs with a smile, and once they were out and had found a convenient hill to get behind to give them privacy from the road, they sent out Stantler and Sneasel to join Spirit and Letaligon.
“Hi,” said Mark when the Pokéball light had materialized into the small weasel Pokémon. A quick Pokédex scan had earlier told them both of their new team members were female, and he supposed he recognized now that her featherlike left ear was a little smaller than on some other Sneasel he’d seen. The two newcomers exchanged vague nods and greetings with them.
“So you’re a champion?” Sneasel said after a second, looking at Mark.
After a brief moment of puzzlement, he remembered Letaligon’s words immediately preceding Sneasel’s appearance. “Oh, no,” he said quickly, pointing at May, “that’s actually her.” At Sneasel’s slightly dismayed expression, he added awkwardly, “Technically we can trade if you’d prefer?”
“No,” May said immediately, her voice firm. When everyone looked at her curiously, she said, “We’re going to be travelling and training together and getting into all the same battles anyway. It won’t matter.”
Sneasel looked at her for a doubtful moment but then shrugged. “Makes no difference to me, I suppose.”
“Unless...” May started again, abruptly, “unless Stantler would rather be with Mark?” She looked unsurely at him, then at Stantler. The deer Pokémon shook her head slowly, looking confused.
“All right.” May nodded distractedly before looking at Stantler again. “So if... if something is bothering you, or you’re unhappy with anything, just talk to me, okay? You – you can talk, right?”
Stantler cocked her head. “Yes, I can talk,” she said, sounding bemused. “Are you all right?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.” May sighed, rubbing her forehead. “Mark, should we tell them about Chaletwo now, before we send the others out?”
“Right.” Mark took a deep breath and started to recount everything about the War of the Legends, both what the two legendaries had told him when he was dead and what they’d speculated and discovered since then. After some initial incredulity and Chaletwo agreeing to come out of his Pokéball for a few seconds to confirm the story, Sneasel continued to ask a lot of questions; Stantler was mostly silent, but listened intently and made occasional observations.
“So what we’re going to do now,” he said after explaining their failure to capture Raudra and Puragon, “is just to spend a while training and strategizing – or, well, first we’re going to Ruxido to release Letaligon.” He gestured towards her; she’d gotten bored, lain down and closed her eyes somewhere in the middle of Mark’s explanation of the War. “But then it’s just trying to improve our chances against those two. Then when we think we’re ready, hopefully they’ll still be there, and...” He shrugged. “We’ll try our luck.”
Sneasel nodded. “That sounds good.”
“What about the others?” Stantler asked. “Do you have a plan to find them?”
“Not really,” Mark admitted with a sigh. “We’re trying to just do this one step at a time.”
“Well, we had better get on it, then,” said Sneasel, standing up. “There’s no time to waste.”
“Huh?” Mark stared at his new Pokémon, dumbfounded, and she looked back at him as if expecting him to follow. “Wait, don’t you want to meet the rest of our Pokémon?”
“Not particularly,” Sneasel responded, in a tone that made it sound like the idea was puzzling to her.
“Well, I’d love to,” said Stantler, giving the weasel Pokémon a pointed look.
“It is important to get to know each other,” Spirit said. “It makes it easier to battle together.”
“It’s not that important,” said Letaligon, without bothering to look up when she spoke.
Sneasel turned towards her for a moment. “What’re you getting released for, anyway?” she then asked. “You’re strong.”
“I went with him to evolve and get powerful,” Letaligon answered. “Now I’m going back.”
Sneasel gave her an incredulous stare. “Instead of battling legendary Pokémon?”
This time Letaligon did look up. “What of it?” she asked defensively. “I’m strong enough.”
“You’re never strong enough,” Sneasel replied bluntly.
“Hell with strength,” Chaletwo said abruptly, irritated. “Isn’t either of you concerned about stopping the end of the world?”
Sneasel looked at Mark for a second. “Don’t kid yourself,” she said. “If the world didn’t end a thousand years ago, there’s no reason it should now. What do I care if the legendaries get replaced? All I have to do to be safe from the War is not get in your way when you rampage.”
“But the legendaries today are more powerful –”
“And that makes them accidentally blow up the planet when they just want to kill each other? I don’t buy it, pers –”
A Flamethrower suddenly enveloped Sneasel; she screeched in pain as Spirit jumped on her and pinned her down with her paw. “You insolent pest,” the Ninetales snarled, more flames licking the sides of her mouth. “Those legendary Pokémon have voluntarily watched over you and your ancestors for hundreds of generations, and you insult them? Thousands of innocent Pokémon would die in the struggle, and all you care about is saving yourself?”
“Can everybody please just calm down?” Mark said exasperatedly as Sneasel began to hiss some pointed reply; everyone looked at him. “Look, if you’re going to help us, I don’t really care about your reasons. Just... we just had a falling-out with somebody else. Can’t you be at least vaguely friendly? Please?”
Spirit released Sneasel with visible reluctance. The weasel stood up, still watching her warily out of the corner of her eye. “I don’t have a choice if I want to battle the legendaries with you, do I?”
“No,” Mark said firmly. “You can leave if you want, but if you’re going to come with us, be civil.” The Ninetales hmphed. “And you too, Spirit. You can’t just attack my Pokémon willy-nilly if they say something you don’t like.”
Mark took a breath, turning towards Letaligon. “And of course you’re strong enough,” he went on. “You wanted to get strong to defeat your father, right? That means strong enough to do that is strong enough, period. If Sneasel wants to be training and getting stronger for the rest of her life, good for her, but that doesn’t mean you have to think the same. And if you don’t care about stopping the War, for any reason, that’s fine and that’s why we’re going to take you to Ruxido so you can go and do what you want with your life. This doesn’t need to be complicated.”
He took a deep breath after the rant and felt a little sheepish as everyone stared at him, until Stantler broke the silence. “Well put,” she said. “None of us ought to be condemning one another.” There was a pause. “I’d like to meet the rest of your Pokémon,” she then continued, “but I suppose if Sneasel doesn’t, you can recall her first.”
May, who had been silent most of the conversation, suddenly spoke. “Sneasel,” she said quietly, “I think you should meet the others.”
The weasel looked unsurely at her for a moment but then apparently decided to take her word for it. “Fine,” she said and sat down in the grass with a sigh.
As Mark reached for his other Pokéballs, he couldn’t help noticing Letaligon was shifting uneasily, glancing at Sneasel but not saying a word.
Spent a while on establishing the rules of the Safari, but at least it led to the revelation the warden was Robin Riverstone's mom (which was a spontaneous realization as I wrote this inspired simply by the fact my mental image of the two of them looked pretty similar). This turned out unexpectedly significant.
It's pretty weird they didn't attempt to discuss what they wanted to do at the Safari before they literally got there, isn't it.
This chapter's a little low on substance, relatively speaking, but at least it's got some interesting character nuggets in there that'll get followed up on in later chapters. Comes out a bit better here where there are like three days between chapters and not seven months.
Chapter 57 is here! Wherein we have a little bottle episode about conversation and character development.
Contains a suicide reference.
Chapter 57: Three Conversations
Stantler’s antlers glowed with psychic energy as the Fangcat facing her hissed. Even after all Mark had been through in the meantime, the huge sabertoothed beast seemed every bit as menacing as the one that had killed Scyther back in the Mew Hunter’s gym. Seeing it waver on its feet and then simply slump over on its side with its eyes shut just seemed fundamentally wrong, somehow.
“Sneasel, Night Slash!” Mark ordered, and his newest team member was all too eager to comply. With dark energy swirling around her claws, Sneasel leapt at the Fangcat and raked her blades across its belly, drawing crimson blood. Fangcat twitched in its unnatural sleep but failed to wake up even as the weasel delivered another slash.
“Stantler, Stomp!” May called.
Stantler reared up on her hind legs and brought her hooves down on the Fangcat’s skull with a sickening crack, and something about the sound and the attack connected in Mark’s mind to the crunch of Taylor’s ribs collapsing under Tyranitar’s foot, the abrupt end of his scream, the corpse’s dead eyes staring emptily into the sky.
He shuddered, suddenly nauseous, and looked at May; she, too, had frozen, fists clenched, gaze fixed unseeingly into the distance.
As Stantler noticed their silence and turned her head questioningly towards them, Sneasel darted at the Fangcat yet again, slicing her bloodied claws into its side. This time the sabertooth Pokémon’s eyes flitted open and it rose to its feet with a hiss, swinging its engorged fangs towards Sneasel. She darted easily out of the way and ducked between Stantler’s legs, and as the deer turned sharply back around, the Fangcat pounced. Stantler cried out as its fangs tore into her side; May’s eyes widened and she quickly reached for Stantler’s Pokéball as Sneasel jumped onto the Fangcat’s back. While the weasel tore viciously at the creature’s shoulders, a red beam absorbed Stantler and recalled her into the safety of her Pokéball; the Fangcat crashed into the ground and didn’t get up again.
“Good job, Sneasel,” Mark said hurriedly as he recalled her. “That... that could be bad for Stantler. We need to get her to a Pokémon Center, quick.”
“But the Pokéball stops her state from...” May started to protest, but then trailed off. “Yeah. Let’s hurry.”
Mark was mildly surprised when May decided to stay in the Pokémon Center while the nurses tended to Stantler, even though they had been assured she was not in any real danger and would be fine in only a short time.
“Yes, I’m sure,” she insisted, looking distractedly around. “Look, we need Ultra Balls. Why don’t you just use the time to go to the Pokémart and get some? I’ll get rooms for us while you’re there.”
He couldn’t shake the feeling she was just trying to get rid of him somehow, but after a moment’s consideration he figured he might as well leave her alone if she wanted him to, and she was right about the Ultra Balls, so he shrugged, left the Pokémon Center and headed for the Green Town Department Store.
It felt like years since he’d first come to Green Town, before the Pokémon Festival, before the legendary capturing. He could barely remember his life without the quest on his shoulders anymore, and thinking about the fact only a few months ago he’d been here picking out events to register his Pokémon in and looking forward to witnessing Chaletwo’s appearance made it strike him harder than ever before that despite that they had somehow already caught a few legendaries, he was still just a kid with no real idea what he was doing. He’d just shown up that day, all innocence, despite warnings, and then...
The weight of everything that supposedly depended on their mission hit him like a brick, and he stopped as something occurred to him that somehow hadn’t properly occurred to him before.
“Why me?” he asked quietly, directing the question inwards. “Of all people, why pick me?”
“You were there,” Chaletwo responded with a telepathic sigh. “Out of the people who came to see me each of those five times, I picked out someone present who had Pokémon and seemed more excited than afraid of being in the presence of a dangerous legendary Pokémon. That’s all there was to it.”
“There are thousands of better ways to pick people for this than that,” Mark said.
Chaletwo was silent for a moment. “I know.”
“So why didn’t you do it differently?”
There was a moment of silence again. “It’s a stupid plan,” Chaletwo then said, bitterly. “It was a stupid plan from beginning to end. I’m not sure who I was ever trying to kid with it.”
Mark blinked. Whatever he had been expecting, this was not it.
“Mew is right. Sneasel is right. The world isn’t going to end if the legendaries die and happen to take some mortals with them. We don’t even know what happens if the legendaries are all inside Pokéballs when the moment comes. We can’t stop it. I’m not sure I ever really thought we were going to stop it. I think I just wanted something to do to pretend I was doing something about it instead of sitting around waiting to die.”
It took a second for this to sink in. “What? Don’t say that,” Mark said, but it didn’t stop the pit forming in his stomach. “We’ve come this far. We can’t just stop and give up.”
Chaletwo sighed. “I’m not saying we should. It’s just –”
“I mean, even if it’s hard, we can at least try to save you, right? And thousands of people and Pokémon would die in the struggle too if the War happened. Of course we should –”
“– I’m sorry for dragging you into this. You were in the wrong place at the wrong time and were suddenly ordered to go save the world because of it. It wasn’t fair and I don’t blame you if you want to quit.”
There was a wincing, reluctant quality to his voice, like he hated every word. Mark was stunned into silence for a second; he’d never thought he’d ever hear Chaletwo say any of this, reluctantly or otherwise.
“It’s a bit late to say that now, isn’t it?” he said pointedly after a moment. When the legendary didn’t reply, he added, “And what’s with the sudden mood swing, anyway?”
“It’s not a mood swing,” Chaletwo replied exasperatedly. “I’ve just... been thinking that maybe I should make a soul gem after all, just to be safe. I didn’t really want to face it but this whole catching-all-the-legendaries thing probably isn’t going to work, and then it’s good to have some insurance –”
“...and then it would be nice if I’d quit to give you an excuse,” Mark finished, anger seeping into his voice. “Right?”
Chaletwo responded with a sudden heat. “What is this compulsion you have to attribute everything I do to me just being a jerk? I’m sorry I pulled you into this in the first place, but I truly think you’re probably better off going home, telling your family to stay in an underground shelter or something and waiting it out. I know I used to say the legendaries were so powerful now that they’re going to destroy the whole world, but really I just kept telling myself that to justify the plan. I had no real basis for it. The world isn’t going to end. You can save yourself. Why am I the bad guy for pointing it out?”
Mark bit back at least three snappy replies that came to mind by telling himself it wouldn’t help. “What about everybody else?” he said finally. “We can’t possibly fit all the people and Pokémon in the world into a shelter.”
Chaletwo hesitated before replying. “Look, Mark, I know you have trouble with this ‘mortals die’ thing, but...”
“Not this again,” Mark cut in, frustrated. “I can’t just go save my friends and family and watch the apocalypse happen to everybody else.”
“The alternative is watching the apocalypse happen to everybody including you!”
The desperation in his tone gave Mark pause; he took a deep breath, calming down a little. “Unless we catch all the legendaries and stop it, like we’re planning.”
“That’s all well and good, but I’m really starting to think that was wishful thinking from beginning to end.”
“I don’t care what you do, but I can’t just go home,” Mark said, realizing as he said it that it was the truth. “That’s the thing at this point. I don’t know what I’m doing and you shouldn’t have picked me, but because I know what’s going on now I have to try to do something about it. I can’t run away from it. And I don’t know how you can just –”
“Because I’m scared, Mark!” Chaletwo responded, a hint of a tremble in his voice. “I’ve lived for a thousand years and in a few months’ time I’m going to go mad and get torn apart and stop existing. How do mortals deal with that every day of their lives, knowing it’s just going to end? I tried to convince myself I could stop it but lately everyone has just been pointing out all the reasons it was a dumb plan and I can’t pretend anymore. I wish we could save everyone, I really do, but we can’t. You can keep trying, but...”
“But you’re going to abandon us and make a soul gem?”
Chaletwo hesitated for a long moment. “I just... I don’t want to die,” he said at last, quietly, the fight gone from his voice. For a second he seemed to be about to continue, but then he didn’t.
There was silence.
And Mark wanted to continue pushing him, but something held him back, the same something that had made him keep the origins of the Dragons of Ouen secret: in the back of his mind he could feel the naked emotion underlying Chaletwo’s words, all that confusion and fear and broken despair, and he couldn’t help sympathizing on some basic level.
He took a deep breath. “Isn’t it actually better for you to be in a Pokéball than in a soul gem?” he said. “The soul gem needs you to die and be helpless unless you get resurrected by a Psychic-type into a new body. In a Pokéball, you can be held in stasis where the Destroyer can’t get at you, keep your body and your power and it’s simple to send you out again after. Right?”
“Pokéballs are designed to open when destroyed. It’s not safe.”
“But gems are destructible too, technically,” Mark pointed out. “And the PC Storage System’s Pokéball farms are supposed to be pretty secure. I mean, they’re like bank vaults, built to withstand explosions and attacks of all kinds.”
“You have no idea what a legendary at double its full power is capable of.”
“Yeah, but they’d hardly just happen to unleash that kind of power against a human building. They’re mostly trying to kill each other, right? There’s no reason they’d go for the Pokéball farm. Isn’t a gem a lot more likely to be accidentally destroyed?”
“What’s it to you?” Chaletwo said irritably. “Why do you care if I’m in a soul gem or a Pokéball?”
Mark hesitated. “I guess it’s actually pretty good having you around,” he admitted at last. “It would be hard doing it alone. And if it were me, I’d rather be in a Pokéball.”
Chaletwo didn’t answer. After a moment, Mark sighed and walked on towards the Pokémart, leaving the legendary alone.
It took Mark a moment to realize who the teenage boy standing with his back facing towards him by the Pokéball shelves was.
“Hey, Alan,” he said, approaching him cautiously. Alan jumped and whirled around, and Mark started to regret talking to him as the older boy’s expression turned from recognition to dread.
“Mark? What are you...?” Alan looked wildly back and forth before fixing his gaze back on Mark. “Where’s... where’s May?” he asked warily.
“At the Pokémon Center,” Mark answered. “Her Stantler was hurt pretty badly.”
Alan’s face turned blank. “She has a Stantler?”
“Yeah. She caught her at the Safari.”
“Right.” Alan nodded, a few too many times. He seemed to have relaxed a little at hearing May wasn’t with him, but he was still clearly tense and awkward, and it was making Mark slightly uncomfortable.
“She stayed behind,” he said after a moment. “To wait while Stantler was being treated.”
Alan blinked. “Oh,” he said. “That’s new.”
Mark hesitated, realizing slowly what he really wanted to say to Alan. “I think she’s still pretty upset.”
Alan exhaled, looking down. “All right. That’s not really any of my business.”
“I think she might be trying to...”
“Mark,” Alan cut in, closing his eyes, speaking with a forced calmness, “out of everything, can we please talk about something other than May right now?”
“Okay,” Mark said hesitantly. “How are your Pokémon?”
“Fine. We’ve been training.”
Mark looked at him, growing more awkward by the minute, not sure what else to say.
“Was it anything else?” Alan said finally.
“Not really,” Mark replied in defeat.
“Okay. Bye, then. You’ll call.”
“All right. Bye.”
Alan smiled forcedly and hurried towards the exit, and Mark couldn’t help being kind of relieved.
May sat down on the bed in the room she’d rented for the night and looked at the Pokéball in her hand.
How were trainers supposed to do this? It felt silly, like something you saw on TV but just seemed awkward and cheesy in real life. Everything about supposed good trainers was like that: forced, weird, stupid. She’d never been able to take Alan seriously half of the time.
And yet here she was.
She sighed and dropped the ball, watching it release Stantler in a burst of white light. Stantler tossed her neck a little before looking at her trainer.
“So,” May began and felt so, so stupid, “are... are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” the deer Pokémon said. May nodded, unsure how this conversation was supposed to proceed exactly. Stantler opened her mouth again, gaze still fixed on her trainer. “But you aren’t.”
Something twitched inside May. “What are you talking about?”
“You don’t have to tell me what’s bothering you,” the Pokémon said carefully, still surveying her closely. “But don’t pretend it’s nothing – there is clearly something going on. You react strangely to seemingly innocuous things. You’ve already been to the League and battle like it, but your demeanor is awkward, like a beginning trainer. Everything about you is just a little off.”
May blinked at Stantler, unable to answer. (She wanted to protest that last part, but of course it was off. It was ridiculous. How did Mark do it and still sound like a person? She wasn’t sure if she was supposed to feel insulted. It occurred to her as she squeezed the Pokéball in her hand that she could recall Stantler to make it go away, but she knew that wasn’t going to be helpful.)
“I’m a mother,” Stantler said after a moment. “And I’ve had a trainer once before. I only want to help you. If you talk, I’ll listen and understand. That’s all.”
May looked away and couldn’t help thinking that the last thing she needed right now was a mother to nag and pretend she knew better how to solve her problems than she did – but it struck her that Stantler and Sneasel had never been told about Taylor, and that seemed unfair when all the other Pokémon knew, and that probably meant she should tell her (right?).
She took a deep breath. “There... I used to have a Tyranitar,” she said and already regretted starting. “He killed someone and I had to release him.”
Something changed in Stantler’s expression, something May couldn’t work out because she wasn’t a Stantler. “Who?” she asked gently.
“Taylor Lancaster. He was... he was a cheating git. He kind of deserved it.”
“Nobody deserves to die,” Stantler said.
“I mean, I didn’t want him to kill him,” May clarified, quickly. “Tyranitar just thought I did, because... because he was too young, or something. I didn’t know. He never talked.”
Stantler tilted her head, waiting.
“I... I think I screwed him up.” She regretted saying it, just like she’d regretted it when she’d said it to Alan, just like she hated thinking about it at all. “But I didn’t know. I was just trying to be a competitive trainer, and he never talked and never told me he was just a little kid. How was I supposed to know he’d turn out...?”
Her voice faded. It was a sorry excuse. She made a lot of excuses for a lot of things but this was the one thing she couldn’t really make excuses for.
“Why do you think it was your fault?” Stantler asked.
“Because Lapras left, too.” Why was she telling Stantler all this? “I thought that was just because she was too sensitive and couldn’t deal with having a trainer, but then Tyranitar...”
She trailed off. Stantler nodded slowly, looking a little wary.
“I’m not... I’m not abusive,” May said, hearing her voice waver a little and struggling to stop it. “I don’t want to hurt anyone. But I’m not like Mark or Alan. I don’t go around... I’m not here to make friends. I just want to train a powerful team. Is that wrong? What am I supposed to do? Pretend to be someone I’m not? I keep trying to do everything good trainers are supposed to do but it just feels stupid.”
Stantler looked thoughtfully at her for a few seconds. “Why did your Lapras leave?”
“Because she was –”
May stopped and took a breath. No. That wasn’t it. She knew that.
“Sometimes I got angry when she didn’t do well. And there was a time when she wanted to be recalled but I told her to get another attack in, so she got hit by a Thunder. She was always nervous about getting hurt. I guess she hated battling from the beginning, but I didn’t know. I swear I didn’t know. She never told me.”
“Did you ever ask?”
At first she wanted to blow it off as a stupid question, but then she realized it was cutting deep somewhere, and she couldn’t say anything; she shook her head slowly.
“I think that’s your problem,” Stantler said after a few seconds. “It wasn’t that you didn’t make friends with them, or ask them if they were all right after they got hurt, or do enough of the things you think good trainers are supposed to do. It was that you didn’t get to know them and think of them as people. That’s what matters in the end.”
May stared at the deer Pokémon, alternative scenarios flashing through her mind: if she’d found out Lapras didn’t like battling immediately, released her, found a different Water Pokémon; if she’d talked to Larvitar, picked up on the baby-talk, treated him like a confused child instead of a fighter. Things would have been different. Things could have been...
She looked abruptly away, and Stantler just waited, silent.
“What was your old trainer like?” May asked after a long while, not looking up.
“A boy,” Stantler replied, something changing in her voice. “He was a nice enough kid. Didn’t talk much.”
May nodded numbly. If not for the time that Mark had wanted to have everyone share stories of their past, she wouldn’t have even known if any of her Pokémon had had trainers before.
“One day,” Stantler continued suddenly, looking away, “he hanged himself in a tree in Ruxido. We never found out why.”
May looked up in a jolt. Suddenly everything Stantler had been saying made a lot more sense. “I’m... I’m sorry.”
Stantler sighed. “It was years ago,” she just said.
They were silent for a few seconds.
“Mark must be getting back,” May said finally, standing up. “I should get out there and check for him.”
Stantler nodded. “That’s a good idea.”
May raised the Pokéball she was still clutching and hesitated. “Thanks,” she then said, and it didn’t feel as stupid as she’d thought it would.
Look at me subtly retconning exactly why Chaletwo supposedly picked Mark originally, because originally it made no sense at all.
The PC in this universe is just transferral to a different place, namely the Pokéball farms mentioned.
It's very unclear where this chapter is happening in the timeline exactly; there's been some kind of timeskip but it's not obvious how long it is, and any interpretation creates a bit of an inconsistency. It's overall something I'd like to smooth over a bit.
First May POV in the actual fic! Prepare for more of those going forward.
This is a little bit of a funny chapter all in all - makes me think of a TV show bottle episode, with the sort of detached, disconnected feel - but I do enjoy the content of it.
Chapter 58, wherein Letaligon finally returns to complete her mission.
Chapter 58: Sins of the Mother
Letaligon materialized from her Pokéball in a burst of white light and looked quickly around the small Pokémon Center room before relaxing.
“Are we in Green Town?” she asked.
“Yeah,” Mark said. “We can go out to Ruxido in a moment, if you like.”
She nodded. “Great.”
Mark bit his lip. He’d hoped she would at least show some sign of wanting to discuss things, but it seemed she still just wanted to get out. He sighed and sat down on the bed. “Can we talk, just for a bit?”
“I’m not changing my mind about leaving,” Letaligon said warily.
“I’m not trying to make you change your mind.”
Letaligon shifted, still on guard. “So what do you want?”
Mark took a deep breath. He knew this was almost definitely pointless and not really any of his business, but he couldn’t simply leave it alone without one final attempt. “Are you still sure you want to kill your dad?”
“I have to,” Letaligon said insistently.
“But you don’t,” Mark said. “You decided you had to, but you could just go and find another herd where you’ll never have to see him again.”
“You don’t understand,” Letaligon responded without looking at him. “I have to. If I don’t kill him it’s all pointless – going with you, evolving, everything.”
Mark sighed. He’d feared she’d say something like that, but all the same he’d clung on to the hope she could be persuaded, which was probably silly. Pokémon killed one another. They were a different culture who governed their own, and once she was gone she would go and do what she wanted to do with her life and he would move on. That was all.
“It doesn’t have to be pointless,” he said anyway. “You’ve grown up. You’ve gotten strong. You’ve –”
“Just let me go,” Letaligon said desperately. “It’s none of your business what I do when I’m out of your life.”
That was it, then.
Mark nodded and recalled her silently back into her Pokéball, then stood up to exit the room with a looming sense of dread hanging over his head.
She was quiet as she walked between Mark and May on the way towards Ruxido, her head lower than usual, her steps heavier, and he couldn’t help noticing it, saddening as he realized that there was no way she would let him so much as ask her what she was thinking.
Ever since catching her, ever since seeing her father reject her and hearing her agree to come with him so that she could be strong, Mark had wished he could help her – and at first he’d thought helping her just meant training her so that she’d evolve. But it had never been clearer to him than now that ultimately he hadn’t really helped her at all, and now, much as he hated to admit it, it was too late.
When they reached the edge of the forest they stopped. Letaligon took a few steps forward, towards the trees, and then turned around to look at them; she seemed almost startled when Mark detached the six Pokéballs from his belt and dropped them, like it had never crossed her mind to say goodbye to the rest of his team, but she said nothing as the light faded away.
Mark took a deep breath. “So this is goodbye,” he said awkwardly. It was weird, too weird; though he should have had more than enough time to get used to the idea he’d have to release one of his Pokémon, he still couldn’t get rid of the feeling that he’d failed her, that this wouldn’t be happening if he’d just done something better.
Scyther was the first to get to the point. “Good luck,” he said simply. “It’s been an honor fighting alongside you. Your father won’t know what hit him.”
“Yeah, good luck,” May said with a slightly skewed smile. “You’re strong. You’ll be fine.”
Letaligon shifted, looking between the two of them as if to respond, but still said nothing. Sandslash, Dragonite and Charizard were muttering their own goodbyes; she only nodded distractedly, glancing between Mark, May, Scyther and the forest, like she wasn’t sure what to say to them and just wanted to leave as soon as possible so she wouldn’t have to say anything at all.
Jolteon was standing a little back, looking down; Mark had figured he’d take her leaving the hardest and now wished, with a twinge of guilt, that he’d had the presence of mind to talk to him about it first. “I’ll miss you,” Jolteon said in a small voice, still not meeting Letaligon’s eyes. “Thanks for... for being my friend.”
He looked up at her at last; his eyes shone with tears as he stepped up to her and, after another moment of hesitation, rubbed his head gently against her leg. Again Letaligon seemed startled; she looked miserably down at Jolteon, shaking her head a little, and then said, quietly, “Goodbye.”
“Goodbye,” Jolteon said and took a step back, his ears drooping. Letaligon started to turn around, towards the entrance to the forest, and then abruptly looked at Mark.
“Will you come with me?” she asked, her voice uncharacteristically pleading.
“What?” Mark asked in confusion, hesitating. “And watch you...?”
“No,” Letaligon said quickly. “Just until I’ve found them. For safety. Maybe they’ve... maybe they’ve moved.”
It had the air of a hastily assembled excuse, but Mark didn’t care; if for the first time she actually wanted his company, he wasn’t going to turn his back on her. “Okay,” he said and nodded. “Until we find the Letaligon herd.”
For the first time as far as Mark could remember, Letaligon seemed very nervous. She carried herself with a weird stiffness, glancing back and forth as they headed deeper into the forest, and he couldn’t help getting the feeling she was more wandering aimlessly than heading anywhere in particular. Regardless, he didn’t comment, just following silently along by her side, wondering what he could say to reassure her.
“I hate him,” Letaligon said suddenly, her voice trembling, though it had regained the iron determination that had been so jarringly absent earlier. “You don’t know how much I hate him. You couldn’t understand. You keep saying I shouldn’t kill him but you don’t know anything.”
Mark hesitated. “Maybe not,” he admitted.
“He was a monster to my mother, not just me,” she went on, not looking at him. “You didn’t watch him, every day, treating her like...” She trailed off. “She was his mate. He should have loved her. But he didn’t. And she couldn’t leave him because he was the leader. The leader has a right to a mate.”
Mark shuddered. It was dawning on him that he really hadn’t understood her situation very well. He’d somehow imagined she could just as well simply leave and avoid a confrontation to begin with, but if it was about her mother as well, it didn’t seem so simple. Part of him wondered why she hadn’t ever brought it up before, but come to think of it she’d never been very willing to talk about the reasons behind it to begin with.
“You could still take your mother and leave the herd,” he suggested.
“If I don’t kill him it’s all for nothing!” she insisted, and he shut up. They’d been through this part already.
For a minute they walked on, Letaligon shifting a little more than usual. Then, without warning, she muttered, very quietly, “I don’t know if I can beat him.”
Mark stared at her. “No, don’t think like that,” he said quickly. “You’re strong. You heard May and Scyther. You were in the League and you did brilliant. Pokémon in the wild almost never grow to those kinds of levels.”
“He’s a Letaligon,” she pointed out, the softness of her voice somehow unnerving. “He’s been a Letaligon for years. I’ve only been one for a month.”
“You evolved late, that’s all,” Mark said, but even then he started to wonder: if there was a herd of wild Letaligon, they had to be high-leveled, and the only way they could be so high-leveled in Ruxido, where most of the Pokémon weren’t that powerful, was if they regularly fought one another even far past the point where they could defend themselves against any local threat – so why would they stop training after they evolved? Their progress would be slow, but with years of time...
“If I don’t win, he’s going to kill me,” she said, still not looking him in the eye.
And it struck Mark, finally, finally, that maybe this wasn’t just a matter of whether she would become a murderer, but of whether she would be murdered.
“Letaligon,” he said carefully, “if you’re having second thoughts, we can still go back –”
“Shut up, Mark,” she snarled with a sudden ferocity, jerking her head back towards him. “All you ever want is to tell me I’m wrong.”
She quickened her pace in the opposite direction, and he hastened to keep up with her. After a moment, she said, in a tone of forced conviction, “Shiny armor is heavy. I’ll be faster than him. And I beat a Letaligon at the League while I was still a Letal.”
Mark was beginning to try to formulate some kind of a reply when she stopped abruptly, looking around. For a second she stood there, one leg forgotten in the air, all senses on high alert; then, just as suddenly, she straightened and let out a loud, hollow, metallic-sounding cry.
There was silence, and then there was an answer, a similar cry from deeper within the forest. Letaligon listened to it, tensing, and hesitated for a long second before she made off in the direction of the sound.
Mark sprinted unthinkingly after her, only barely keeping up as he tried to avoid the trees; thankfully, as they reached a clearing, Letaligon slowed back down to a halt, and he only just had time to catch his breath before noticing the other Letaligon that was approaching the other side of the clearing.
“Mother,” whispered Letaligon, her gaze distant.
“Hope!” called the newcomer as she came into full view, her voice trembling with fearful disbelief. “You came back!”
“Mother,” Letaligon said again, shakily, and took a few hesitant steps towards her, but she needed no more, because the other was already bounding across the clearing to meet her. As they met in the middle they crossed their necks and nuzzled gently at each other for a moment, their species’ equivalent of a hug; Letaligon closed her eyes, but her mother kept a wary eye on Mark.
“That’s your trainer, isn’t it?” she asked softly as they stepped back from one another. “Has he been kind to you?”
Letaligon nodded slightly and Mark felt a little warmer.
“You’re leaving again, then?” her mother said, keeping her voice level, but Mark could see the worry in her eyes.
“No,” Letaligon said quietly. “I only went to evolve. I’m back now.” She hesitated for a moment as her mother nuzzled her again. “Where’s... where’s Father?” she then asked.
Her mother looked in her eyes, shaking her head slowly. “Vigor’s dead,” she said. “Your sister evolved and deposed him, months ago. She’s leader now.”
Mark’s heart stung weirdly as Letaligon stared at her. “My father’s dead?” she repeated in incomprehension.
The older Letaligon looked at her for a moment, eyes sorrowful, and then murmured, “Hope, he wasn’t your father.”
Letaligon blinked, stiffening. “What do you mean?”
“You aren’t shiny,” her mother said softly. “Didn’t it ever occur to you to wonder, as you grew up?”
“But you said it could happen,” Letaligon insisted, sounding puzzled. “You said sometimes shiny Letaligon have –”
“Do you remember my friend, Power?”
Letaligon stared, stunned into silence.
“You have his eyes,” her mother went on, her voice gentle and quiet.
There was a long pause. “So...” Letaligon finally began, swallowing, “so all those times he refused to call me his daughter... he was right?”
Her mother’s eyes widened at the anger in her voice and she took a horrified step back, shaking her head. “Of course it wasn’t right for him to treat you like that – but –”
“Why?” Letaligon asked, her voice shaking as she raised it. “Why would you...”
“It was a moment of weakness!” her mother said, pleadingly. “Please understand. I didn’t choose Vigor. He chose me and he’s the leader; I couldn’t say no. But I was Power’s mate before I was Vigor’s, and sometimes I just...”
“You lied,” Letaligon said, trembling. “All that time, you said that... you said sometimes shinies have Leta that aren’t...”
“They do,” her mother said. “Even shiny mothers can give birth to Leta that aren’t shiny, sometimes. But I had to lie; he would’ve killed us both if he’d known for sure, and you were just a Leta – you couldn’t have understood, then. Don’t you see?”
For a long moment they looked at one another, Letaligon’s gaze staring and disbelieving, her mother’s sad and concerned.
“Hope,” the older Letaligon murmured, “please come home. I’m sorry for how you feel, but I did it for you, because I love you. Vigor is gone and we can’t change it, but Power will be a better father to you than Vigor ever was.”
There was a moment where Letaligon looked miserably at her mother, and then something just died in her eyes; the fire that had driven her for as long as Mark had known her faded into a dull emptiness. Mark’s heart wrenched and he wanted to call out to her, say something, help her somehow this last time he had the chance to, but any words he could begin to formulate got stuck in his throat; he didn’t feel like he could interfere in their conversation.
“Mom,” Letaligon finally whispered, her voice wavering, and then she just hung her head, making strange strangled noises that it took Mark a second to recognize as sobs.
“Hope, it’s not that bad,” her mother began cautiously, her voice betraying her confusion; she had no idea what was actually wrong, and it finally hit Mark that Letaligon would never tell her, or tell anyone; he really was the last person who could offer her any kind of understanding.
“Letaligon,” he found the strength to say, but she didn’t look up. He approached her slowly, and after a moment of alarm, her mother backed away from her, still keeping a cautious eye on him.
“Letaligon,” he said again, quietly, as he placed a careful hand on her neck, remembering his conversations with Scyther, “life is what you make of it. When things don’t work out like you thought they would, you can find a new purpose. You’re safe, your mother’s safe, and your father can’t hurt you anymore – you can put it all behind you now, if you just let yourself.”
“Just leave me alone,” she said, her voice still shaking. It stung, even after all this, but Mark forced himself to nod and step away.
Letaligon’s mother glanced anxiously at him before turning to address her daughter again. “Come with me,” she said gently. “You’ll feel better tomorrow.”
Letaligon nodded vaguely without looking at her, and as her mother turned to walk back in the direction she had come from, she followed behind her, head low.
Mark was frozen for a moment before he realized that this was truly it. “Goodbye, Letaligon,” he called belatedly after her, unable to think of anything better to say. “Try to be happy –” – and his voice broke on the last word, because in a sweeping moment it hit him hard that she probably wouldn’t listen to him, any more than she had ever wanted to listen to him, and she really might spend the rest of her life not even trying to find her drive again.
As he cut off, she turned her head around, looking at him, and for a moment her expression turned to sorrow and confusion as she hesitated –
– but then her mother noticed her stopping, her eyes hardened again, and she turned away to follow the older Letaligon into the forest, disappearing between the trees.
Mark waited a few seconds, just in case she changed her mind and came back, before he turned back in the direction he hoped led to Green Town.
He wasn’t sure what, but something in that final look she had given him had sparked a shimmer of hope that maybe she would take his last piece of advice to heart after all.
Letaligon society: possibly even more fucked-up than Scyther society.
I didn't actually realize when I originally wrote chapter 22 that Vigor believed she literally wasn't his daughter, but at some point when I reread it, it was just wildly obvious that that was what he really meant, and that he was probably right. Welp.
This chapter is kind of the purest distillation of my anticlimax aesthetic. Truly love to just have a character's entire arc be about her obsession with killing her father only for it to turn out her father is long dead by the time she gets back to do it. I can't explain exactly why this appeals to my brain but it just does.
Chapter 59, wherein we timeskip and do some setup for what's coming.
Chapter 59: December
“All right,” said May. “Ready... go!”
All at once, the ten Pokémon sprang into action. Jolteon and Raichu fired two simultaneous Thunder Waves in two different directions; May’s Butterfree flapped her wings rapidly to create a Tailwind behind them. Charizard and Blaziken Flamethrowered their adversary from both sides as Spirit burst into black flames; meanwhile, Floatzel and Sneasel leapt up with ice crystals surrounding their paws, expertly avoiding getting in the way of Gyarados’s Dragon Beam and Scyther’s Aerial Ace.
Skarmory and Dragonite never stood a chance.
Mark looked sheepishly at the unconscious legendary-substitutes as the smoke cleared. He always felt kind of bad about this, even though the Pokémon had all agreed it was a good idea and they rotated the legendary roles. The legendaries were powerful; it seemed fair to gang up on them.
He sighed. “Okay, well done, guys. That was quick.”
May was already reviving the two fainted Pokémon with a practiced speed. “I don’t think there’s much more we can do for now,” she said. “We might as well head back to the Eastern Cliffs tomorrow and see how we do.” She hesitated a moment. “Meanwhile, we should probably contact Alan.”
Mark nodded. It was implicit in that ‘we’ that she really meant him; though they hadn’t talked to Alan for a couple of months now, neither of them wanted to test whether he was ready to talk to May yet. He walked over to her bag, found her Pokégear and dialled Alan’s number.
It took a bit before there was an answer. “Hi,” said Alan’s voice, impassive.
“Hi, Alan,” Mark said. “How have you been doing?”
“Okay, I guess,” Alan said. “You?”
“Good. We’ve been doing a lot of practicing with group fights. We were thinking we’d set off back to the Eastern Cliffs tomorrow and try our luck.”
There was a pause. “All right,” Alan said after a moment. “Just come by my place when you’re heading out and I’ll be ready.”
Mark took a deep breath. “Actually, I think it would be better if you met us now or later tonight. We’ve been preparing a lot of new strategies and we should probably get you and your Pokémon in on them. We’re on Route 311, just west of the city; you should see our campfire from the road.”
There was another pause, longer this time. “Can’t we do that tomorrow?” Alan replied eventually.
Mark looked at May; she shrugged and he had a feeling she wasn’t exactly dying to have Alan camping with them again either, so he sighed and said, “Fine. We’ll be there at ten o’clock.”
“All right.” Alan hesitated for a long second. “How’s May?” he asked finally.
She looked up; Mark waited, but she didn’t speak. “Fine,” he said instead on her behalf. “Better.”
There was silence.
“See you tomorrow.”
“Yeah. See you.”
And Alan hung up.
“It’s getting late,” May said after a further silence. “We should make that campfire anyway.”
They did, but the mood for conversation had largely been killed, and as they sat around the fire with their Pokémon Mark eventually took to browsing idly through his Pokédex. In the intervening months since their capture of Dragoreen, he had properly discovered for the first time how many functions it had that seemed to exist solely for statistics geeks – he could access a log of every time he had sent out his Pokémon, for instance, complete with a list of which of his Pokémon had seen the least out-of-Pokéball-time in the past month (Thunderyu, Dragoreen and Chaletwo had a large red zero, as if to scold him for never letting them out). This time, he started skimming through the list of ‘seen’ Pokémon, which for these newer models appeared to automatically record some basic data for every Pokémon that had been within a certain radius from the device.
Thunderyu was a big question mark near the end of the list, tentatively identified as an Electric/Dragon type. The only other data was a list of crazy stats. Mark looked at the intimidating entry with a mixture of pride and amusement. They’d defeated and caught that.
Volcaryu and Polaryu, since they hadn’t been caught by him, had even less information, only showing the Fire/Dragon and Ice/Dragon type classifications; a full Pokéball scan would have been required to create a stat approximation. After them, the Pokédex showed a question mark that meant Dragoreen – Dragon/Flying-type, more crazy stats – and then two question marks that had to be Raudra and Puragon.
Mark blinked at their info pages. Again, there were no stats, since he hadn’t caught them; the only data was the type classification.
And the type classification, for both of them, was also Dragon/Flying.
“May?” Mark said hesitantly. “Could you come over here for a second?”
She shuffled over as the Pokémon craned their necks to see over Mark’s shoulder. “This is the data the Pokédex recorded for Raudra and Puragon. Look at the typing.”
“Ah!” said Floatzel behind him, grinning in realization. “That explains a lot, yes?”
May pulled the Pokédex out of his hand and stared at it for a moment. “Oh, hell,” she muttered, her fingers tightening around the device, “yeah, it does.”
“Is it an error?” Mark asked in confusion.
“I don’t think so,” May said, shaking her head. “God, it explains everything. The Fire Pokémon did terrible against Puragon because she wasn’t an Ice-type. We were doing it all wrong. No wonder we were doing so well against Dragoreen but then barely scratched the others; she was the only one whose type we actually guessed correctly. We’re idiots.”
Mark thought back and suddenly remembered the legend behind the Color Dragons. They had all been the same, eggs of the same mother, but they’d hatched and grown up in different locations, and they’d adapted. Raudra, the one in the volcano, had learned to use fire because fire was all around her; Dracobalt, at the bottom of a lake, had learned to use water instead. Puragon had learned to use ice, and Venoir poison. It wasn’t that they were fundamentally different, only that they’d been flexible enough in their original form to grow up using completely different moves and techniques. And their evolution had then eliminated their flexibility, setting their adapted preferences in stone forever.
He had never heard it said outright, but on reflection he thought he remembered a passage in that book he had read at the library at the beginning of his journey, where the dragons’ type affinities were called special abilities. Not types. Which was very vague, but –
“Chaletwo,” Mark said sharply, “did you know this?”
“No, but truth to be told, I’m not sure they know it themselves,” Chaletwo said. “Type classifications are a human discovery. Pokémon know what elements they’re most comfortable with and learn what they’re weak and resistant against through battling during their lives, but legendaries don’t spend a lot of their time being hit by attacks that are sufficiently powerful for them to discern a difference. The only reason I know I’m a Dark-type is that Mew couldn’t sense me psychically.”
“Did it actually happen like the legend says?” Mark asked, wanting to be sure of his interpretation.
“I don’t know. What does the legend say?”
“There was a dragon called Vaxil, she hid her eggs in different places, they hatched into Lidreki and adapted to their different environments, then Preciure pushed Dragoreen out of the cave, she found the others and brought them back to fight him, but on the way were distracted hating each other, and when Vaxil saw the conflict between her children she threw herself off a cliff,” Mark said, in one breath.
“Huh,” Chaletwo said. “Well, it’s missing some details. Color Dragons have been around for many Wars. Technically they can breed, but if they do they sacrifice their immortality and die soon after, so the last time it happened is fabled even among the legendaries. After the last War we recreated Vaxil, who had been around before, and a male called Yddri, and for some reason they hit it off. It was breeding to begin with that killed them. Yddri died immediately, and Vaxil spread the eggs around different environments like Color Dragons do, took the last couple with her and waited for her own death. I doubt she liked all the petty rivalry between her children, but she was already dying. I’m not sure she even survived to the point Preciure pushed Dragoreen out of the cave, if that even happened and isn’t just something Dragoreen told the others to justify her little crusade against her brother, but if she did, she would have been barely alive, likely delirious and immobile – which would probably be why she didn’t intervene. And the way I heard it, after the children evolved, they noticed their mother was dead, started blaming each other for it to claim their right to her cave, and at some point in the scuffle they threw her body off the cliff themselves.”
Mark couldn’t stare at Chaletwo, so he stared at May instead.
“Well, that’s kind of horrifying,” she said, echoing his thoughts. The story of Vaxil had seemed like a cautionary tale about consequences – the children had fought, it had caused their mother’s death, and subsequently they’d decided to leave one another in peace. But the humans witnessing it had no doubt only seen the dragons fighting and then found the mother’s body on the ground, and then they’d drawn their own conclusions – probably in such a way as to make it fit into a cautionary tale about consequences, so as to have something to scare their kids with.
It shouldn’t have surprised Mark by now. It really shouldn’t. One by one, he’d seen all the legendaries they’d met turn out to be nothing like how he’d imagined legendaries as a kid, with different motives, different attitudes – not just different, but flawed. And he hadn’t even known that much about the Color Dragons as a kid, so it wasn’t as if he’d had much of an idealized image of them beforehand. But it was still the same cold shock every time to be reminded that the gods that were supposed to watch out for the world could be petty and hateful and selfish.
“Well,” he said after a pause, forcing his mind to move on, “they were spread around to different environments and adapted to them, with the evolution just solidifying it later on, right? So then it makes sense their type never changed. Raudra and Puragon just got good with Fire and Ice moves, and even if their looks now reflect that, their defensive typing doesn’t.”
“Something like that,” Chaletwo replied. “Whatever the reason, at least this is good to know if we’re going to battle them again.”
“Yeah,” May agreed. “We go for Ice attacks whenever we can, no matter how counterintuitive. Floatzel, just be bombarding them with Ice Punch.” The sea otter grinned enthusiastically. “And Sneasel...” The weasel looked expectantly at May, who paused for a moment. “I don’t suppose you’re opposed to evolving.”
Sneasel snorted at the absurdity of the notion.
“Well, we should definitely try to find ourselves a Razor Claw, then; you’re going to be a lot more instrumental to this battle than we thought. You already learned Ice Shard anyway, so we don’t have anything to lose anymore. Sound okay?”
Sneasel nodded in satisfaction.
“Where do we get one?” Mark asked, looking at May.
“Probably at the Green Town Department Store,” she suggested with a shrug.
Someone cleared his throat behind them, and Mark turned sharply around to see Alan standing sheepishly a short distance away. “Actually, I... I’ve got one.”
“Alan?” Mark said suspiciously. “What are you doing here already?”
Alan sighed, not moving from where he stood; May was looking at him too, still wary, but didn’t say anything. “I’m sorry,” he said, finally. “We have something important to do. I shouldn’t compromise that just because I feel weird about it, no matter how justified.” He glanced around, his gaze finding Stantler and staying there.
“You must be Alan,” Stantler said after a moment.
“Hi,” he said with a forced smile. “You’re... you’re May’s?”
“She is my trainer, yes,” Stantler responded.
“Yeah,” he said quickly, “that’s what I meant.”
There was another pause. “For what it’s worth,” Stantler went on, “I don’t think my trainer needs your help to feel like a murderer, so I’d appreciate if you’d move on and treat her like a person.”
Alan blinked at her; May looked like she’d been stung, but kept her gaze on him.
“Yeah,” Alan said after a second, expelling a breath. “I’m sorry about that, too. Look, I...” He looked at May, finally, his expression defeated. “I wasn’t sure if I was going to come, to be honest. But I wanted to know if you’d just bounced back to the same old, like when Lapras wanted to leave, or if you’d really changed. So I came and listened to a bit of your conversation without announcing myself and...”
There was a pause. “And?” May repeated, wary.
“And you asked Sneasel if she wanted to evolve. You weren’t even forcing yourself to do it to sound better. You just did.”
It was May’s turn to blink.
“I mean, it’s a really small thing,” Alan said quickly, “and it’s not a sure indicator of anything, but I don’t think you’d ever have done that before.”
Stantler looked thoroughly unimpressed with that, and Mark kind of agreed. “You could have just asked, you know,” he said. “Treating somebody like a person doesn’t involve eavesdropping on them, last time I checked.”
Alan looked at him and kind of deflated, sighing; his shoulders sagged, and suddenly he looked very tired. “Yeah, you’re right. I just... yeah. May’s a person. Consider that filed.” He shook his head, spreading his arms out. “Well, I’m back. I’ll stop being an idiot now and just shut up.”
He sat down by their fire, silently. “So yeah, I have a Razor Claw,” he said after a second. “I bought it for a friend when I was on my journey, but then her Sneasel decided he didn’t want to evolve after all. It should still be on my PC system. If you want, that is.”
Mark nodded. “Yeah, thanks. We can...”
“I want to evolve tonight,” said Sneasel immediately, looking at Mark. “If he has the item, we can do it now.”
“I’ll help,” Floatzel said enthusiastically.
Mark looked at May and Alan and then shrugged. “Fine by me,” he said. “I’m not that tired.”
Alan took out his Pokédex and an item box and retrieved the Razor Claw with a few button-presses, handing it to Mark without words.
“Thanks,” Mark said before turning to Sneasel. “Should we go somewhere where there’s more space?”
“And more darkness,” May added, speaking for the first time in a while. “Sneasel can’t evolve unless it’s dark around.”
“Yeah, that too.” Mark looked at them, hesitating. “While I’m gone, can you fill him and his Pokémon in on the strategies?” he asked, directing the question at May. She nodded wordlessly.
“All right, then. See you later.”
As he walked towards the forest with Sneasel and Floatzel, he heard indistinctly as Alan sent out his Pokémon and May started to talk about their training as if nothing were more natural. Sometimes he just didn’t get how her brain worked.
He was only barely out of sight when there was a hiss out of a bush by his side; he turned wildly around, heart jumping into his throat, before it registered that it had been Scyther’s voice, saying his name.
“You scared me,” he muttered as the mantis stepped out. “What is it?”
“Sorry,” Scyther said quietly, looking uncomfortable. “There’s just something I have to do.”
“All the time we’ve been here,” Scyther went on, looking him in the eye, “I’ve been trying to forget. I was going to let go of the Code and the swarm and my life in the wild. But it’s hard and I can’t. I can’t just leave again. I have to go and find my swarm.”
Things felt strange and surreal all of a sudden; flashbacks of Letaligon assaulted Mark, but this time, after going through that with her, he was oddly calm. “Will you be coming back?” he just said.
Scyther shook his head slowly. “I don’t know. The swarm isn’t going to want me back, but maybe...” He was silent for a few moments, his gaze distant. “If I’m not back by dawn,” he said eventually, “don’t wait for me. Tell them all goodbye and that I loved battling with them. That goes for you too.” At the last sentence, he inclined his head to Floatzel and Sneasel; they both just looked faintly puzzled.
“All right.” Mark’s mind still felt strangely detached, frozen. “Whatever you do,” he heard himself saying, “I hope you choose what makes you happiest.”
Scyther nodded; there was a tinge of genuine gratitude in his eyes. “Thanks for everything,” he said, and before the fact Mark might never see him again had even properly begun to sink in, the mantis had dashed off between the trees and out of sight.
It kind of bugs me these days that the system keeps track of Pokémon not getting any out-of-Pokéball time but the kids aren't worrying about the possibility of anyone doing anything about that - surely the system should do something to ensure Pokémon aren't just trapped on the PC forever, right?
I had actually forgotten Raudra and Puragon were Dragon/Flying when I wrote chapter 55 - sometime in the intervening time, I happened to dig up some old documents on the legendaries I'd made up, found that, realized I'd even called it "special abilities" back in chapter two, and although I could have dismissed it as an old plan that I'd thought better of, I realized that'd be kind of fun, actually, and it actually really fit with how chapter 55 went.
The original Color Dragons Vaxil and Yddri's names are based on Icelandic words, namely the words for... "crayon" and "pencil sharpener". You're welcome. As you may be able to guess, the human legend being inaccurate wasn't part of the plan back when I wrote chapter two; I think the details were fairly spontaneous here.
It also kind of bugs me that they've been here for a while and Scyther's only now deciding he wants to visit his swarm; I tried to justify it as being prompted by them being about to leave again, but it feels a little clumsy. The real reason I did it this way was that I'd written a spin-off fic in 2007 that forced the timing of this to be no earlier than December or so to maintain continuity. Hopefully it doesn't stick out too much.
Chapter 60! In which we revisit Scyther's storyline.
As a chapter focused on Scyther, there are themes of suicide here. There is also a very brief sexual assault mention, but it is not elaborated upon.
Chapter 60: The Swarm
Razor drew his scythe across the Nidorino’s throat and held him down as his struggles became death spasms and then faded into dull twitching.
It felt good to hunt – freeing, really, after only being able to do it in secret for so long – and he wouldn’t have done it had he not been somewhat hungry, but just the same, the main reason he was hunting was to have something to offer as an excuse before approaching another Scyther. They had every reason to despise him, but food was food.
He ate half, sliced off the skull, spikes and thickened skin to reduce the remaining weight, and then picked up the rest of the carcass in his mouth, supporting it with his scythes as he headed towards the plains. If Stormblade and Shadowdart didn’t want to talk to him, perhaps they’d at least let him share his prey with them, and at this point that was all he could really ask for.
That old oak tree on the hill had haunted his dreams ever since his departure; seeing it in the flesh again felt strangely unreal, like he might wake up and find himself back in the gym with Rob any moment now. He felt a strange, tingling apprehension as he approached it, slowing from his flight-assisted dash to a hesitant walk.
Way back when, it had been chance that their favourite place was a bit apart from the rest of the swarm. Now he was kind of relieved that he didn’t have to come close enough to the other Scyther for them to recognize him; he might be able to just talk to his friends again and disappear without anyone else knowing he was even there.
The Leader’s rock, he noted absently, was unoccupied. Presumably the Leader was out hunting, then, though it was unusual for him to be doing so this late. He shivered at the thought; it meant he could have encountered the Leader in the woods, and there was no chance he would have been appeased by half a Nidorino.
Razor stopped, laying his prey onto the ground in front of him. He saw indistinct shapes lying by the tree, facing away from him, and had to gather his courage for a second before he said, “Stormblade? Shadowdart?”
One of the shapes rose up immediately, turning towards him. “Razor?” said Stormblade in disbelief, his one eye blinking sleepily. “What are you...?”
The other shape got to its feet more slowly, and something was immediately off about the way it moved; this wasn’t Shadowdart, Razor realized quickly, and then recoiled in horror as he noticed it was red and metallic, and then... “...Nightmare?”
She looked at him, meeting his eyes for just a moment, her expression inscrutable, and then lay back down as if he was never there.
“Razor, it’s been...” Stormblade was by his side now, but he didn’t care, because nothing made sense. “Are you back for good?”
“Why is she...?”
“A lot of things happened while you were gone,” Stormblade murmured. “Let’s just talk. We have a bit of catching up to do.”
Razor took a deep breath and tore his gaze away from the barely-visible shape of the Scizor. He noticed the Nidorino by his feet, nearly forgotten in his general shock. “Are you hungry?” he said automatically. Stormblade nodded gratefully and started to eat.
“Where’s Shadowdart?” Razor asked after a moment.
Stormblade cringed. “Dead,” he whispered.
Razor was silent. Only six or seven months ago, when he had met Stormblade and Shadowdart in Ruxido, the latter had been suddenly fierce and dominating, bore the marks of having challenged the Leader, and called Razor unworthy. Dead seemed just one more bizarre descriptor, something that simply didn’t fit. “How?” he said eventually.
“Suicide of guilt.”
“Shadowdart?” That made even less sense. Shadowdart had never admitted to being guilty of anything, much less considered suicide over it. “Why?”
Stormblade swallowed and sat down. “After you left, he became obsessed with the Code,” he said.
Razor couldn’t hold back a chuckle. “Shadowdart?” he said again. “Nine-tries-to-catch-a-Rattata-with-closed-eyes Shadowdart?”
Stormblade didn’t appear to find it funny in the least; he just shook his head. “He’d go off on passionate rants about the moral decay of the swarm and our Leader’s hypocrisy, and he’d train obsessively so he could replace him and set things right. He became very strong – you wouldn’t have believed it. He lost the first few attempts, but then he said it was all part of some master plan to scout out the Leader’s techniques, and eventually he won. He became Leader.”
Razor chuckled again in disbelief: it was all he could really do. If he hadn’t had that one little glimpse of how Shadowdart had changed half a year ago, he wouldn’t have believed Stormblade at all. As it was, he didn’t protest, but that made none of it any less absurd.
“Then he just... started to go wrong. He got this idea that he should execute Scyther who failed to commit suicide of guilt when they’d broken the Code – I think it was all a way for him to get back at you, somehow. Eventually I left, too – that’s when I met Nightmare again.”
“Are you two...?” Razor asked, without really deciding to.
“No,” Stormblade said, shaking his head; there was pain in his voice that Razor couldn’t place. “Just friends.”
Razor nodded as Stormblade took a half-hearted bite out of the Nidorino.
“We went back,” the older Scyther went on at last, his voice faint. “When we got here, Shadowdart had gotten worse. He was killing Scyther for just talking about breaking the Code. And he’d done... things.” Stormblade shuddered visibly. “You don’t want to know. I guess after we got there and confronted him, the Scyther he used to be managed to claw through and realize what he’d become.”
There was a pause while this sank in. “And he killed himself?”
Stormblade gave a very small nod. “He used his left scythe, too. It was the one he used to kill the old Leader. Sometimes I wonder if that meant anything.”
Razor stared over the scattering of Scyther below them, trying to wrap his mind around all this – Shadowdart was gone, and not just gone but mad and Code-obsessed and tyrannical and that wasn’t Shadowdart – “You’re thinking about it too much,” he said firmly. “You always thought about things too much.”
Yes. That, at least, was static and still made sense. The first time they’d met, Stormblade had been a strange dreamer suggesting the clouds weren’t really Pokémon like all the other Scyther said, and even after that, he’d...
Something occurred to him suddenly. “You were actually right about the clouds, you know,” he said. “Humans researched them and found out they’re just a lot of tiny drops of water.”
Stormblade nodded again, slightly. “I know,” he said.
Razor wondered vaguely how Stormblade would know that, but it was silly and didn’t matter and he didn’t ask.
There was silence.
“Nightmare told me you dueled again,” Stormblade said.
Razor shouldn’t have been surprised Stormblade knew that, not when Nightmare was here, but somehow he hadn’t imagined she’d tell anyone. “We did,” he said. “And I won and spared her, so I guess we’re even.”
“Even?” Stormblade replied sharply, his voice suddenly hard. “You’re not even. You let her be caught. You stood there and let her be caught and evolved. She never got even for that.”
Razor winced. It had been a stupid thing to say, the moment he had said it. “I was scared.”
“That’s not an excuse,” Stormblade went on, that unfamiliar pain entering his voice again. “You kept saying you were in love, and then when it mattered...”
“Love is fake,” Razor said. “It’s just a stupid obsession. I didn’t –”
“Do you know how I lost my eye?” Stormblade interrupted. “I had a mate. And there was a Letaligon, and she was behind me, and I stayed in its way instead of dodging. Because I loved her. Don’t you dare talk to me about love. You don’t know what it is.”
Razor looked at him for a long moment, finally making sense of what was bothering Stormblade. “Is she dead, too?”
Stormblade nodded wordlessly.
The older Scyther was still silent. Razor looked at him, trying to work out how to answer. His practiced tirades against love, all the drunken speeches he’d made to Rob and Mark and the world about why it was empty or shallow or nonexistent, suddenly felt hollow and trite.
“You’re right,” he said eventually. “I didn’t love her. I barely knew her. I just cared about the fantasy of her. I should have helped her anyway – but yes, I was scared.”
Stormblade didn’t look at him.
“But if I really had loved her, I would have. And I would have done it for you. I would have done it for Shadowdart.”
This, too, seemed to hit a spot somewhere. Stormblade glanced at him, silently, and then looked back at the Scyther scattered in the grass ahead of them. “Would you?” he asked after a second had passed. “For Shadowdart?”
Razor looked at him, trying to read what he was thinking. “Of course I would have. He was my friend.”
“Was he?” Stormblade gave him a searching look that Razor had no idea how to respond to. After a moment he looked away again with a sigh and continued: “I always thought of him as a friend, too, but then I started thinking about it and realized we barely ever treated him like one.”
Razor opened his mouth to protest, but no words came out. On reflection, he’d never taken Shadowdart very seriously, had he? It had never quite occurred to him to question their friendship, per se, but looking back, he’d spent more of his time... well, ridiculing him, than showing he cared. Had he cared? He couldn’t tell anymore; the years he’d spent rambling drunkenly to Rob about his days in the swarm had cast things in a certain mold in his mind that might not be as accurate as he’d have liked.
He thought of his conversation with Mark after their last encounter. Shadowdart was always a wuss. He thought of how laughable the idea of Shadowdart as Leader had seemed just earlier. Nine-tries-to-catch-a-Rattata-with-closed-eyes Shadowdart. Ridiculous.
And now he was dead, and Razor missed him.
He sighed. “No, I suppose we didn’t.” (We? Stormblade had been perfectly decent as far as Razor could remember.)
They were silent. A lone Venomoth fluttered overhead; after years of friendly battling with every manner of Pokémon, the instinct that wanted to leap up and kill it was just a dull tug at the edge of his consciousness.
“I still wanted to see him again,” Razor said quietly.
“Yeah,” Stormblade said, still staring unseeingly at the sky.
“Who’s Leader now, if he died?”
“It’s being decided by friendly duels, since he wasn’t killed by a challenger. In the meantime, Nightmare and I have been overseeing the rituals. It just sort of happened.”
Razor blinked at him in incomprehension. “Nightmare and you?”
“They... the swarm accepts... her?”
Stormblade chuckled, like it hadn’t occurred to him quite how bizarre that was. “It doesn’t take so long to get used to her,” he said. “And after Shadowdart and her part in exposing him, I suppose they were more ready to give her the benefit of the doubt. She still gets side glances and occasional hostility, but...” He shrugged. “For the most part, they don’t mind. They know she used to be just like them and that a human did that to her. I think they can’t help but realize on some level that the same could happen to them.”
Razor looked at him in astonishment, part of him weirdly relieved and part of him too baffled to be relieved. And some small part was ashamed, ashamed that here the swarm was tolerating Nightmare as a Scizor when he’d seethed at the very sight of the species and then rubbed it in her face when he’d met her and neglected to kill her.
“How is she?” he asked.
Stormblade let out a long sigh. “You should probably talk to her yourself,” he finally said, without meeting Razor’s eyes. “She deserves an apology, if nothing else.”
Razor’s heart stung. “Would she want to talk to me?”
“I don’t know,” Stormblade said quietly.
And that was all. Stormblade had changed; he was distant, cold, reluctant. Razor hadn’t imagined a happy reunion, exactly – well, perhaps he had imagined it, but he certainly hadn’t expected it – but Stormblade had always... cared about him. Sought his company. Considered him a friend.
As he stood up in silence and picked up what was left of the Nidorino, Stormblade didn’t even look at him, and ultimately that was what wrenched at Razor’s heart more than anything else.
He turned and walked heavy steps toward the old oak. Nightmare had risen while he was talking to Stormblade and was standing by the side of the tree, unmoving, her red armor gleaming in the moonlight. Her eyes met his, but she said nothing as he stepped in front of her and put his prey down.
“I’m sorry,” he said quietly, the words feeling empty and futile. Because of his cowardice, she’d been caught and evolved; an apology couldn’t make up for that.
She regarded him in silence for a moment. “What’s the point?” she said eventually. “It’s been too long. By now, if things hadn’t gone the way they did, I wouldn’t be who I am today, so what would it even mean for me to say I wish you’d warned me?”
He looked up and stared at her, so confounded by that train of thought that he couldn’t quite begin to formulate a reply. She picked up the carcass in her pincers, as if this was all perfectly normal, and tore a strip of flesh from it.
“So your trainer released you too, huh?” she went on after swallowing.
Razor shook his head numbly.
She glanced away. “Oh. Are you staying?”
“I don’t know,” he said.
“I know the feeling,” she said, without looking at him. She didn’t elaborate; the statement just hung there in the air, and it struck Razor suddenly, with a hint of irony, that now, more than three years after he’d left the swarm proclaiming that he loved her, they actually had something in common.
She turned towards him, a humourless chuckle escaping her. “You know what’s funny? I miss him. He caught me and turned me into a freak, and now here I am and I miss him.”
Razor thought of seeing her trainer at the Pokémon Frenzy Tournament, where that face had been engraved in his mind; of the blind hatred that had consumed him as he’d attacked him in the forest; of the grim satisfaction of staring him down at the League and knowing that the boy recognized him. “You liked your trainer,” he said slowly as it sank in.
“He was just a kid,” she said. “It had never even occurred to him that a Scyther wouldn’t want to evolve. He was devastated when I told him. He never stopped telling me he was sorry.”
He started to laugh. There was nothing else to do. She looked at him with a vague sort of curiosity.
“I tried to kill him,” he said; he couldn’t lie to her now, not after everything else he’d done. “I tried to kill him twice because I hated him so much for doing that to you. And when my trainer battled him in the League, he recognized me and...”
Nightmare blinked at him. Then another blink. “It was you?” she said, realization building in her voice. “Flareon said there was a Scyther and he had a breakdown and... it was you? He released us because of you?”
He giggled helplessly. He was the curse that had returned three years on to destroy her life yet again. To think that he’d been the one to name her ‘Nightmare’.
He expected her to lunge at him and tear his throat out then and there, but the appalled incredulity in her eyes just faded again; she looked away and sighed dully, putting the meat down as if she’d had enough. “In a way it’s for the best,” she said, a hint of bitterness in her tone. “Part of me always wanted to come back, but I never would have taken the chance of returning until I had nothing to lose. And now where would the swarm be without me? Still cowering under a mad rapist?”
Razor twitched as his understanding of Leader-Shadowdart jerked violently yet again, still further from any hope of being reconciled with the one he remembered. You don’t want to know, Stormblade had said.
“That Leader used to be my friend,” he muttered, but didn’t really know why.
“So I’ve heard,” she said. “Does that make it all better?”
He shook his head.
She looked away from him, staring over the plains and at all the other Scyther. “I’m going to try to become Leader,” she said suddenly; her voice had changed, its previous dull bitterness replaced with a resentful determination.
Razor looked sharply at her, puzzled. “Leader? Why?”
“Because for once,” she spat, “I wish a generation of Scyther could grow up without living in compulsive fear of breaking the Code. The others don’t get it; they’ve lived their whole lives knowing nothing else and would just regurgitate the same crap that their Leader taught them. But I’m different. Living with a human opened my eyes. Mistakes should be something you learn from, not a death sentence. I want to create a swarm where the Code is just a crazy myth and morality comes from common sense.”
He stared at her; after a second he let out a surprised half-chuckle. Her ideas were huge, strange, radical; it was all too much to take in at once. “How are you going to become Leader like that?” he said; it was the only thing that stuck properly. “You’re not... you’re not a Scyther anymore.”
“You were the first Scyther I’d duelled in years, back at the Pokémon Frenzy Tournament,” she said. “I lost because I was trying to fight you like a Scyther. Since I got here I’ve been practicing, and now I know how to duel like a Scizor. And I’m good.” There was a fierce glint in her eyes as she said the last word. “I think I can beat all the other Leader candidates. And if I can’t, it doesn’t matter, because it’s all friendly duels. I have nothing to lose.”
He must have looked as sceptical as he felt. “I’m not a cripple,” she went on, her voice harsh. “I can show you.”
It took him a moment to catch on; his brain was still trying to process the fact that apparently she thought there just shouldn’t be any suicide of guilt, at all. “You mean a friendly duel?” he said warily.
She gave a scornful laugh. “I don’t do true duels anymore. I had a bad experience once.”
He nodded mechanically without thinking about it; he couldn’t think right now, not while his mind was still reeling with the fact she was clearly mad. At least a duel would be a distraction.
They stepped back from one another, his scythes at the ready, her pincers gleaming. He looked in her eyes and saw calm, deadly conviction. That was the thing: she didn’t look mad; she looked like she knew exactly what she was doing. The strangely alluring confidence that had defined her the day of their first duel was still there, even in this hideous, mangled body. The dissonance unsettled him, and he shuddered.
And suddenly, taking advantage of his distraction, she was flinging herself at him.
He let out a surprised yelp and raised his scythes in defense. A Scyther would have met his scythes with her own, but she simply barrelled straight into him, his scythes scraping uselessly against her stronger metallic armor without putting a scratch in it. Her greater weight easily knocked him into the ground; reflexively, he kicked hard at her abdomen to prevent her from landing on top of him, successfully throwing her over his head to buy time to scramble back to his feet.
He whirled around to face her; rather than having crashed as he’d hoped, she had easily regained control, turned around and planted her pointed feet in the ground. She hissed, gesturing tauntingly at him with her pincers; he lunged towards her with a roar, raising his scythes and aiming for her seemingly fragile arms.
He took a swipe with his right scythe – and it was suddenly stopped short as her left pincer lashed out and locked around it in a deathgrip. His whole body thrown off balance, he crashed into her from the side, but her feet dug firmly into the ground and absorbed his momentum. Still reeling, he swung his left scythe, only for her to clamp onto it with her other pincer and hold it still.
He yanked his right scythe towards him; pain shot through his arm as her grip only tightened around the blunt edge, drawing bluish-black blood. His left arm fared no better, and panic bubbled up within him as he realized he could not move his scythes at all. Crying out, he desperately tried to kick her, but her seemingly delicate metallic legs didn’t even budge. She smirked at his shock for a moment more, as if to give him time to comprehend his situation; then she leaned forward, wrestled him easily into the ground with her weight, and twisted his left scythe around to his own throat.
His heart hammering, his breath caught, it struck him suddenly that perhaps it had been a trap all along – her easy forgiveness, their conversation, disorienting him with her bizarre Leader idea (no Code), all to get him to agree to a duel so that she could finally finish the job she’d left unfinished three and a half years ago.
For the second time, he lay at her mercy, expecting or hoping or wishing to feel a blade slicing through his trachea, taste blood for the last time, and then fade away into a sweet, just nothingness.
And for the second time, she relaxed her grip, rose, and stepped off him.
He gasped for breath, the edges of his scythes still aching where she had crushed them. It took him several seconds before he could rise up and stumble back to the tree to sit against it.
“Still think a Scizor can’t become Leader?” Nightmare said, sitting down beside him; her tone was a little smug, but not spiteful. He shook his head numbly.
They sat there for a minute without speaking, listening to the sounds of the night. Her grotesque metallic body shone in the moonlight, like a scythe, like something beautiful when it wasn’t. It confused and frightened him, like she did in general. And yet...
“Thank you,” he muttered, finally.
She snorted. “That was a friendly duel, you dolt.”
He shook his head. “Back then. I always used to resent you for it, but you’re right – if I’d died that day, I wouldn’t even be here to think about it, and I’d never have grown up from who I was then.” He took a deep breath. “So thank you, for... letting me grow up.”
She smiled faintly. “That was the day I realized the Code was wrong. I didn’t understand it, then, but I looked at you and didn’t want to kill you, and that was the spark. I’ll never forget.”
The day I realized the Code was wrong. He twitched instinctively. So it was that simple, to her. The Code was wrong, so she didn’t need to feel guilty or twisted for breaking it. The Code was wrong, so she could – should – just stop teaching it to the hatchlings and come up with something better. The Code was wrong, even though it was the Code that defined right and wrong in the first place.
He had meant to conclude once and for all that her ideas were mad, but the thought didn’t seem quite as crazy as he’d intended it to once he’d actually thought it. It clung to his mind as he tried to dismiss it, squeezed into every available space and refused to let go. The Code was wrong. What if it really was that simple? Other Pokémon got on fine without the Code, and yet they got their morality from somewhere. So did humans. Mark had thought the Code was wrong, back at the League. What if he was right?
The Code was wrong. He tested the thought in his head, tentatively; it was strange, alien, but not actually that bad. The Code was wrong, so there didn’t have to be any suicide of guilt. The Code was wrong, so there was no need to even decide that you were too far gone for it to make a difference anymore. The Code was wrong, so there was never anything to feel guilty about in the first place.
The Code was wrong. It was such a simple, mind-boggling, blasphemous, freeing idea. And somehow... it had never even occurred to him.
His head spun. Part of him screamed this was a dangerous way to go, that the Code was sacred and whatever else you did you couldn’t just dismiss it wholesale or something terrible would happen, and another part was filled with the same soaring excitement as three and a half years earlier, the excitement of following her lead in some kind of crazy rebellion.
“So,” Nightmare said with a sigh, snapping him out of a trance, “in short, I liked my trainer fine, but I have a job to do, and if I weren’t here I couldn’t do it. I’m just not so sure about him, or the others on the team.”
Guilt stung at him, new guilt that had nothing to do with the Code and maybe didn’t have to. Even if he did see that boy again someday, he doubted he could do anything to help him – much less the other Pokémon he had released. But perhaps he could try.
“What about you? Did you like your trainer?” she asked after a moment, and he couldn’t shake the feeling she was trying to change the subject.
He considered telling her about Rob, who had saved his life and been his best friend for three years, and then it had all changed when his obsession with Mew had taken over – but his mouth was dry and the thought was painful, so he just nodded silently. She gave him a curious look, but didn’t ask.
“So have you decided yet if you’re staying?” she said after a while.
There was a part of him that wanted to say yes, wanted to stay here and continue to hear about her strange, liberating ideas and watch her become Leader and change the swarm – a part that had been childishly infatuated with her for four years, and didn’t quite seem to be able to let it go even now that she was a Scizor.
But there was another part that really had grown up.
He took a deep breath, shaking his head, and rose to his feet. “I think you’ll be a great Leader,” he said, and he meant it. “But now that I think about it, I have a job to do, too.”
She nodded, and he could tell that she understood. He’d never before thought of himself as having a calling – he’d been too caught up in trying to distract himself from the fact everything he knew told him he was worthless and ought to be dead – but if the Code was wrong, it was obvious, really. Nightmare’s calling, the most worthy thing that it was in her power to do, was to change the swarm. But the most worthy thing it was in his power to do was to help his trainer stop the War of the Legends.
“Are you ever coming back?” she asked.
“Maybe,” he said. “If everything goes well.”
They looked at one another for a moment more. “Goodbye, then,” she said.
He nodded to her. “Goodbye.”
Three and a half years ago, he had blindly followed her in rebelling against the Code and leaving the swarm, without truly understanding why. Now, she had inspired him to go his own way and do something that mattered – not because it was the best available distraction from his own self-loathing, but because it needed to be done.
Whatever his life might have been like without her, he couldn’t help feeling that on the whole she had made him better.
“Don’t forget your Nidorino,” she said as he was turning to leave.
“Keep it.” He smiled faintly. “Consider it my thanks.”
Stormblade was still sitting a short distance away, staring up at the stars.
Razor walked up to his side and stopped. “I’m going back,” he said when his friend didn’t acknowledge him.
“I heard your conversation,” Stormblade said, without looking around. For a moment, it seemed as if that would be all. Then, he turned his head and said, “You said you had a job to do. What did you mean by that?”
Razor took a deep breath. “My trainer... is on a kind of quest. There are legendary Pokémon involved. The fate of the world. Many difficult battles need to be fought, and... I’m one of the team.”
Stormblade looked at him for a long second before nodding. “You really need to go, then,” he said, and Razor realized he sounded disappointed.
“Were you hoping I’d stay?”
Stormblade sighed heavily. “I don’t know,” he said. “I used to think I was angry with you on Nightmare’s behalf for not helping her, but she’s never really cared. Thinking about it, that probably wasn’t ever really it.” He paused. “I think the thing is that you ran off. And in the meantime Shadowdart went...”
He looked away, uncomfortably. “I didn’t mind at first. I kind of admired you, you know – for defying the Code for the sake of love, and all that. And then we met you again there in the forest and you’d just... you’d left her to get caught. And you were trained.”
That disdain for trained Pokémon seemed almost alien now, but Razor remembered it from his swarm days: Pokémon that willingly went with humans had given up, lost their independence, and lived the lowest sort of existence – spending their days manipulated by another, fighting for them, living for them. The very opposite of any kind of defiance.
“Trainers aren’t...” Razor began.
“I know,” Stormblade said in exasperation. “Nightmare says that too. But I don’t understand that. I don’t think I can understand it. All I know is you left and Shadowdart’s dead and Pearl’s dead and...”
Razor had never heard the name Pearl, but he guessed she must have been Stormblade’s mate. “I’m sorry,” he said again.
“Now it’s just me and Nightmare,” Stormblade said with a sigh. “But it’s not the same. We’re friends, but there’s so much she’s been through that I could never get my head around.”
Razor looked at him in silence. “Would you like to come with me?” he said suddenly, on an impulse.
Stormblade looked up sharply. “What?”
“You could come with my trainer, help us fight. It’s something worthy to do.”
Stormblade stared at him, his gaze turning distant; a few seconds passed before he shook his head. “No, I don’t think I could do that,” he said quietly.
“Because it’s a trainer?” Razor guessed.
“Because I want to help Nightmare, any way I can,” Stormblade said, his voice hardening. “Ultimately it was the Code that took you and Shadowdart away. I want it gone.”
Razor nodded numbly. Only an hour earlier, that comment would have confused and disoriented him; now it seemed almost routine, in a strange, detached way. They were all rejecting the Code. He could almost imagine it was the normal thing to do.
“Do you think she’ll make it?” he asked after a moment. “Become Leader, I mean?”
“I think she will. She can beat them all in a duel. All I’m worried about is...” Stormblade hesitated. “Even if they can take having a Scizor in the swarm, I don’t know if they could get behind having a Scizor as Leader, especially if she’s trying to make radical changes.”
“But the purpose of the Leader is to be the strongest member of the swarm,” Razor pointed out, doubtful.
“Yeah, I hope they think so, too,” Stormblade said, sighing. “But it doesn’t matter. If worse comes to worst, we’ll just leave again. She always says running from a lost cause isn’t cowardly, just smart.”
They stared over the swarm for a moment. Razor wondered if the Scyther that were scattered there were loyal enough to the Code to revolt against an attempt to make it irrelevant, and he was struck with a sudden, overwhelming sense of futility: why were they so attached to the Code in the first place? Why had he been? It had never occurred to him to even ask himself that.
But now he was free, and if Nightmare succeeded, soon they would all be.
“You should go,” Stormblade said quietly. “Your trainer needs you.”
Razor nodded silently. “I hope it all goes well for you.”
“Good luck to you, too.” Stormblade paused a moment. “So you’ll come back when you’re done?”
“I promise,” Razor said.
Stormblade exhaled, gave him a small nod, and then actually smiled. “Goodbye, Razor,” he said, the same way he had said goodbye three and a half years ago.
Razor smiled back at him. “Goodbye, Stormblade.”
And for the second time, he turned around to dash back into the forest of Ruxido, set on a new purpose.
Stormblade essentially summarizes one of my Scyther-focused spin-offs, 2007's The Fall of a Leader. Please stick with this summary and don't read that, for the moment; I was not remotely well equipped to handle where that story went at seventeen.
By the time I got to this point in the story, I'd of course stopped hating Scizor like I did when I was twelve; I liked Nightmare a lot as a character, and had softened on the species as a result. So while back when I originally wrote in all the worldbuilding about Scyther hating Scizor I would never have written her beating him so easily and being poised to be Leader, I enjoyed doing this a lot here.
This may be kind of a confusing one all in all, with all this talk about dramatic events that did not actually happen within the fic, but it's a personal favorite of mine anyway, with the context of the spin-offs that it's essentially wrapping up. Hope you do manage to get something out of it, at least!
Chapter 61 time! In which we actually talk about the plot again.
Chapter 61: Mewtwo
When Mark woke up the next morning, it took him a moment of looking over the sleeping Pokémon around them to realize Scyther was there, awake, sitting against Charizard’s side.
He crawled out of his sleeping bag, blinking the sleep out of his eyes. “Hey,” he said, smiling, and walked over to Scyther. “You’re still here.”
“The Code is wrong,” Scyther said softly, a slight hint of a grin on his face.
Mark blinked again. “What?”
“The moral code of the Scyther,” the mantis said. “I was all set to try to ignore it for the sake of my happiness, but it never actually crossed my mind that it was just wrong.”
Mark stared at him for a moment. “So you... you found your swarm?”
Scyther nodded. “Nightmare was there, too.”
“Nightmare?” Mark asked, still puzzled. “Wasn’t she... wasn’t she Michael Willows’ Scizor?”
“He released all his Pokémon sometime after that battle,” Scyther said, averting his eyes again. “But she liked him. He was sorry for evolving her.”
“Oh,” Mark said. He felt a pang of guilty discomfort; even his flimsy justification for not forfeiting the battle against Michael was void. He supposed there was little he could do about it now, though. “Is she okay?”
“Yeah,” Scyther said. “She set herself on becoming Leader. She wants to abolish the Code.”
Mark stared at him again. He couldn’t really comprehend quite what all this meant; all he knew of Scyther society were the bits and pieces that Scyther had told him, and he’d never imagined the code of ethics that Scyther had been hung up on since first joining him was something that could simply be changed.
“Shadowdart’s dead,” Scyther went on, distantly.
Mark couldn’t remember who Shadowdart was, but if Scyther thought the name would mean something to him, he figured it had to be one of Scyther’s two friends that they had met in Ruxido that one time. “I’m... sorry,” he said hesitantly.
Scyther looked at him for a moment, like he was considering whether to say something else, then shook his head. “I’ve still got some things to figure out about living without the Code – I doubt you could help with that. But now that it isn’t holding me back anymore, I’ve realized I can choose what I truly want to do with my life, and this is it. The War needs to be stopped, and I want to be part of that. And then I can go back to my swarm.”
Mark nodded. He was still somewhat confused, but now for the first time as far as he could remember, Scyther sounded like he had something to live for, and that was what was most important. “I’m glad,” he said. “That you’re figuring things out, I mean.”
“Me too,” Scyther replied and smiled.
They set off eastwards later in the morning. May’s Floatzel and the freshly-evolved Weavile tagged along outside their Pokéballs under the pretense of needing to practice their Ice moves, although it looked suspiciously like they were more concerned with continuing the competition they’d started the previous night over who could take down more wild Pokémon. May and Alan seemed to be getting along okay, but there still wasn’t much in the way of conversation.
Mark was slipping into that sense of jaded boredom that had become permanently associated with this route in his mind when something seemed to prick at the edge of his mind, something that wasn’t Chaletwo. He looked up warily; May and Alan had stopped as well, even Floatzel, and Weavile asked, “What?” and then...
...and then Mewtwo was standing in front of them, and he looked straight at Mark and said, “Chaletwo, I want to talk to you.”
Mark felt a double dose of dumbstruck, staring at the legendary. “How did you know I was here?” Chaletwo asked sharply for both of them.
“Did you believe it was still a secret?” Mewtwo asked. His telepathic voice sounded eerily similar to Chaletwo’s; it gave the bizarre impression he was talking to himself, which really didn’t help Mark process any of what he was saying. “Raudra and Puragon warned us that trainers had captured Dragoreen and that you were with them. Mew told us you were likely trying to stop the War. I do not agree with your methods, but that isn’t why I’m here.”
Mark was stunned; this possibility really, really should have occurred to them at some point before now, but somehow Raudra and Puragon had never actually registered as agents capable of knowledge and suspicion.
“What’s with everyone knowing about the War all of a sudden?” Chaletwo said irritably. “And if they know, why aren’t they helping us?”
“Raudra and Puragon are livid that you attacked and captured their sister instead of explaining the situation,” Mewtwo replied. “By provoking their hostility, you have made them despise you. They know you will be back for them, and they plan to fight to the last. There is no hope they will cooperate with you.”
A rush of flustered anger arose in the back of Mark’s mind. “Why are they being idiots about this?” Chaletwo said fiercely. “They’re both going to die if they’re not captured! Or if they just made soul gems we could leave them alone, but if they’re...”
“You would have to discuss that with them, though I doubt they would listen,” Mewtwo said. “The two things they care about most are one another and their power balance with their brothers. You have already taken both away from them; I suspect they would not seal their brothers’ victory by giving up their bodies for good, least of all when this would help you, even if it means the death of all that lives.”
Part of Mark was appalled, while part dully thought that sounded exactly like the kind of petty, spiteful thing they’d do. And yet another part could kind of see where they were coming from, thinking guiltily of the Master Ball he had thrown at Dragoreen without ever attempting to simply explain things and negotiate with them – it had never occurred to him that they could, when it all had to be secret.
“In any case,” Mewtwo went on when Chaletwo didn’t reply, “that isn’t what I came here to discuss. I wanted to talk to you about Mew.”
“What about Mew?”
“I am concerned. She has been growing ever more quiet and aimless.”
“He’s been like that for a while,” Chaletwo said. “My bet is he’s conflicted about the War, even if he insists it’s fated.”
“That isn’t all,” Mewtwo went on. “She was distracted but sane when Raudra and Puragon came, but yesterday, she suddenly appeared on my island and was outright delirious. She rambled incoherently about the War and Chalenor and escaping it, and she seemed not to remember who I was. Then she kept saying she needed insurance. And as I tried to ask her what and why, she created a copy of my body and then teleported away.”
Everyone stared at Mewtwo. Alan was the first to say what they were all thinking: “Why would Mew do that?”
“I had hoped that Chaletwo might know, having known about the War and been close to Mew longer than I.” Mewtwo looked back at Mark, waiting.
“Well, there’s only one thing ‘insurance’ is likely to mean. He’s figured out another way to escape from the War, and presumably it involves having a spare body around. Don’t know what he’s thinking; it could be as simple as planning to be resurrected into it from a soul gem.”
“But why Mewtwo’s body?” May said, speaking for the first time. “Do you think it’s just a coincidence it specifically went and got Mewtwo’s body?” She looked searchingly at Mark.
“What are you insinuating?” Chaletwo said, defensively.
“Well, anything,” she said, shrugging. “All I’m saying is it’s odd. If it was just looking for a body, why would it go to Mewtwo’s island instead of copying its own or snatching the nearest wild Pokémon? And not only that; it’s also the same body as Chaletwo’s.”
Mark was silent. His brain was tying itself into knots trying to figure out how all this connected; he knew there was something there and it seemed only barely beyond his reach. “So, what, you think he wants to impersonate one of us or something?” Chaletwo was saying, filling up Mark’s mind with that instead of the thought that was trying to slip away, and he wished the legendary would stop talking. “I don’t think there’s any connection. It was pure chance that I had Mewtwo’s body in the first place; it was just Mewtwo happened to...”
Why Chaletwo had Mewtwo’s body. “Wait,” Mark said as everything finally clicked into place. “Maybe we have it all wrong. You said Mewtwo had gone back in time with Chalenor and that’s why Mewtwo’s body was there after the last War. Right?”
“Right, but you shouldn’t really be talking about Mewtwo’s future when he’s right –”
“And that doesn’t make sense because living creatures belong to a certain time and should bounce back there when the Destroyer has drained the power that’s keeping them there. But Mewtwo’s body isn’t quite a living creature, is it?”
“But you can’t travel back in time –”
“Yes, you can, if the past is where you originally came from,” Mark pressed on. “So that wasn’t Mew having gotten worse since Raudra and Puragon talked to him. That was Mew from a thousand years ago – that’s why he didn’t recognize Mewtwo, he’d never met him before – and when he went back he took Mewtwo’s body with him. Mew and Chalenor must have gone to the future together looking for ‘insurance’. And then, after the War, he used that body to create Chaletwo. It all fits.”
There was a beat of silence as everyone stared at him.
“That’s ridiculous,” Chaletwo said. “We already know that Mew wasn’t there and Chalenor took Mewtwo back because he was interested in seeing the past. The only mystery is why he wasn’t pulled back to his own time when –”
“That’s just what Mew told you,” Mark said. “Isn’t it time we faced the fact that Mew may not have told you the whole truth about everything?”
“That doesn’t make any sense!” Chaletwo said heatedly. “Why in the hell would Mew lie about something like that?”
“What about him not recognizing Mewtwo?” May said. “I’m with Mark. It’s all very far-fetched the other way.”
“He’s been unravelling mentally for years! It’s just the stress of the War coming when he’s already been through it once. It doesn’t mean he’s the goddamn Destroyer. What is wrong with you people?”
May raised an eyebrow at Mark; Floatzel looked up, intrigued, as Weavile tried to pull her back into their mock fight. Mewtwo and Alan just seemed puzzled.
“I wasn’t even saying he’s the Destroyer,” Mark said cautiously. “I was saying he went to the future with Chalenor before the last War looking for ‘insurance’. If anything that sounds more like he isn’t the Destroyer.”
“And then you’re saying he went and lied about the whole thing, made up a bunch of crap about how Mewtwo wanted to see Chalenor’s time, and hid the fact he was even there, for no reason whatsoever, simply because you’ve decided everything Mew says is automatically suspect. And you think that’s the more plausible version? Well, forgive me if I’m not convinced.”
There was a beat of silence. “I have to agree that it does not sound like Mew,” Mewtwo then said. “She did not tell the rest of us about the War, but I have never known her to lie; Chaletwo has known about the War since the beginning, and yet you presume she told him an outright fabrication regarding his own origins. Do you suspect her of being the Destroyer?”
“Well, maybe,” Mark said hesitantly. “I just found it pretty odd that he explicitly told Chaletwo not to try to stop the War and tried to keep it from the other legendaries. But now he’s been telling you and Raudra and Puragon and the Beasts, so I guess that doesn’t quite fit, and the insurance thing sounds more like he was trying to escape it.”
“Nothing we know makes sense if Mew is the Destroyer,” Chaletwo said. “I don’t see why you’re still even considering it an option.”
“But still,” Mark went on, “I wasn’t suggesting he was the Destroyer, just that he lied. Maybe he just thinks he made a horrible mistake trying to escape the War for some reason, doesn’t want you to know about it because he doesn’t want you to try, and discouraged you from trying to stop it for the same reason. Isn’t that at least possible? Didn’t you say he was really devastated after the last War?”
“That was just because Chalenor died!”
“Do you know that?” May said. “Because it sounds more like an assumption to me.”
“Guys,” Alan interrupted before Chaletwo could respond. “Aren’t we being a little presumptuous with the theorizing here? Most of this is just wild speculation that doesn’t match up with Chaletwo’s impressions, and Chaletwo’s literally known Mew for a thousand years. I’m not saying Mark couldn’t in theory be right, but you have to see that we really can’t just assume that.”
“Thank you, Alan,” Chaletwo said. “Good to see you’re still sane.”
Mark took a deep breath and then nodded reluctantly. “Yeah, you’re right. We can’t say anything for sure, and it’s not our biggest concern for now, anyway.”
Even though he said that, he was almost completely convinced he was on to something. Part of him noted cautiously that some of the reason for his conviction might be a kind of cynical backlash against the idea of legendaries with perfectly pure motives and nothing to hide, but the fact it seemed to explain several apparent contradictions at the same time, even if it left some puzzling motives behind, couldn’t be just a coincidence. And while he trusted Mewtwo’s opinion somewhat more, he’d never gotten the feeling Chaletwo was at all objective where Mew was concerned.
“So,” Mewtwo said after a pause, slowly, “supposing Chalenor does come for me, what will happen if I do not go with him?”
May looked doubtfully at Mark. He was momentarily confused before it hit him what Mewtwo was getting at: he would now have to knowingly go with Chalenor to his death in order for Chaletwo’s version of events to happen like it supposedly did. He gave Chaletwo an anxious mental prod, now wishing he hadn’t said anything (though would that have made it any better, really?); his previous certainty of his theory felt vastly overconfident now that it had occurred to him that there were serious consequences involved.
A few seconds passed before Chaletwo answered. “I don’t know precisely,” he said reluctantly. “But a bad paradox could unravel the universe for all we know, and I don’t care to find out.”
Mewtwo looked at them in silence for a second and then gave a slow nod. “Then that means I must.”
“I’m... I’m sorry,” Mark said, and he was. Of all legendaries, it was Mewtwo who just nodded without a complaint when faced with the prospect of sacrificing his life. Maybe it was because he hadn’t lived for a thousand years believing he was truly immortal. Though he had only known him for a matter of minutes, Mark already felt like if any legendary should die in the War, it shouldn’t be him.
“I still don’t think that’s going to happen,” May said, breaking the silence. “And if Chalenor never comes to take you back in time and you’re still out and about when this War starts, everything we’ve been doing is for nothing. I think that’s the more important possibility here.”
“I can recall myself into a ball if Chalenor has not come before a given time,” Mewtwo said. “If I become too weak to travel, I will assume he is not coming. You are certain that Pokéballs will stop the onset of madness?”
Chaletwo hesitated. “If they don’t,” he said, “then there’s little we can do.”
Mewtwo looked at Mark for a moment, his violet eyes piercing and inscrutable. “Very well. I still believe you should approach the others diplomatically before picking any fights.”
“Mew forbade us to tell anyone about the War!” Chaletwo replied heatedly. “I don’t know why he’s blabbing it to anyone and everyone now, but explaining things just wasn’t an option –”
“You were already going against her wishes to not try to stop it,” Mewtwo said. “I have tremendous respect for Mew, but sometimes she is wrong. You should have told them anyway.”
Mewtwo waited several seconds for a response, but there wasn’t one.
“Farewell, then,” he said. “If I meet any other legendaries, I will try to persuade them to take measures against the War. Good luck.”
And then he was gone, vanished before their eyes as if he were never there.
The first scene here really isn't very necessary but I do enjoy that Mark is pretty confused and can't remember who Shadowdart even is but is still happy for Scyther.
Tiny moment I enjoy: everyone noticing Mewtwo's oncoming presence, except Weavile who has no clue what everyone else is noticing because she's a Dark-type.
Anyway, finally talking about the plot again! Remember the plot? That thing we haven't been talking about much lately with all the depressing character study and murder? It's still a thing!
This is still a version of the anime-verse, and as such, this is meant to be the same Mewtwo from the first movie, having worked on his issues a bit in the years since then. One of the things he has worked on is clarifying his relationship to Mew in his mind: rather than comparing himself to her, he has grown to be able to regard them simply as two different people, and her as someone he can respect while also being able to think she's just wrong sometimes. Mewtwo calling Mew her (hopefully you remember the legendary pronoun worldbuilding from chapter 51; nobody remembered it when I originally posted this chapter because it had been years, resulting in a lot of confused comments) is a conscious aspect of this - he began to do so in order to help himself separate her from him.
Unfortunately Chaletwo has not engaged in similar introspection on his Mew-related issues.
Chapter 62 time! In which I realize there has not been enough Mark whump in this fic.
Chapter 62: Diplomacy
Mark didn’t know what he had been expecting, but he had not been expecting Raudra and Puragon to descend murderously upon them the moment they were within range of the Eastern Cliffs.
“Floatzel, Weavile, Ice Punch!” May shouted, eyes wide, as the two dragons dived towards them. Without hesitation, Floatzel leapt at Raudra and Weavile at Puragon, each delivering powerful blows that sent them veering off course. “Mark, Alan, send out your Pokémon, quick!”
Mark automatically fumbled for his Pokéballs as the dragons recovered in the air and swooped in for another assault. “You don’t have to do this!” Chaletwo said to their attackers. “If you’d only be caught willingly, this would be so much easier –”
“Kidnapper!” Raudra roared and fired a bright Flamethrower towards Mark; he threw himself unthinkingly to the side and crashed into the ground as Floatzel darted into the Fire attack with a Waterfall in her wake, neutralizing it. His heart hammered in his chest as he scrambled back to his feet, only one thought managing to take hold in his mind: Raudra and Puragon were aiming for them, not their Pokémon. They had no intention of respecting the Agreement; they just wanted to kill them.
“We can release her!” he shouted frantically. “We’ll release Dragoreen if you want, if you just agree to –”
“Why should we trust you?” Puragon hissed as she swung her tail at Skarmory and sent him spiralling towards Raudra, who received him with a jet of fire. “Why should we do anything for you, when you came here with deceit and violence and stole her away in a Master Ball?”
“Because otherwise you’re dooming the whole world, that’s why,” Chaletwo said. “Don’t play dumb. We know you know about the War.”
“You can make soul gems!” Mark called, raising his hands to show no Pokéballs in the vain hope that the peaceful gesture would help somehow. “If you don’t want to be caught, you don’t –”
“Deceitful child!” Raudra spat, aiming another Flamethrower; as Weavile leapt up to strike Puragon with an Ice Punch, Raudra turned and fired the Flamethrower at her instead. “You who threw the Master Ball when we had won the battle, you who...”
Make them calm down. Something, anything, to make them calm down. “I’m sorry!” Mark shouted, grasping wildly at his belt for his Pokédex. “Look!”
“Are you out of your mind?” Chaletwo said inside his head as he fumbled at the buttons with shaking fingers. “You can’t just –”
“Mewtwo said we should try to negotiate, right?” Mark said, almost convincing himself this was a good idea as he took the Master Ball he had swapped Scyther for and threw it.
“See,” he called as Dragoreen began to form in mid-air, over Chaletwo’s vehement protests, “she’s unharmed, it’s okay, you can just...”
Dragoreen’s distorted screech materialized into a furious roar; her gigantic tail swung and lashed out, and a vicious force smashed into Mark’s arm. The world spun; he realized in a split second that the Master Ball was no longer in his fingers, and then everything gave way into blinding pain.
“Idiot!” Chaletwo hissed at him as he crumpled face-down to the ground, his vision swimming. “Negotiating doesn’t mean negating everything we achieved last time! What did you think that would accomplish?”
He indistinctly heard May say, “Oh, damn it – Floatzel, dive after that Master Ball, quick! Weavile, cover her!”
“Liar,” Puragon said, icy disdain in her voice. “Pretending to release her but wanting to keep the ball?”
“Cowards,” Raudra muttered; Mark felt the heat rush of an oncoming Flamethrower and made a feeble attempt to move, but his good arm was shaking too much. He heard Mist’s cry and the heat dissipated; he could only assume she’d deflected the attack.
“Are you okay?” he heard a voice say next to him and realized it was Alan, who must have run up to check on him.
“I’m... I don’t know,” he mumbled, but wasn’t sure he was heard. Searing pain was still pulsing through his limp right arm with every pounding beat of his heart. He tried to stand up again, but to no avail. “Chaletwo, I can’t... I can’t...”
“Don’t try to stand up. Just send out your Pokémon. They can fight on their own. Goddamn it, why did you do that?”
Mark shook his head and managed with a heave of effort and support from Alan to roll over onto his back. “Please,” he said, as loudly as he could manage; that wasn’t very loudly, so he took a painful breath and tried again. “Please, just listen. We’re only fighting back because you attacked. If we could just have a ceasefire...”
“A ceasefire?” Raudra snarled. Her body was cloaked in dragon flames; she must have used Outrage while Mark was down, and in that state she couldn’t be very receptive to the idea.
“I bet our brothers sent you,” Puragon said before she fired an Ice Beam at Charlie.
At that seemingly off-hand comment, Raudra hissed fiercely. “Yes, they must have,” she said. “Scheming males!”
“We should have known,” Puragon growled.
“I bet they made up the War of the Legends, too, so they could get at us,” Raudra said, fury building in her voice.
“What?” Mark said in panicked bewilderment as Puragon voiced her immediate agreement with Raudra’s theory. “No! What are you talking about?”
“Idiots!” Chaletwo shouted. “Haven’t you felt your power growing weaker? Didn’t Mew explain the War to you himself?”
“You’re on their side!” Raudra spat and scorched Raichu and Stantler with a Fire Blast. “You’re all on their side! Coming here and kidnapping our sister and lying!”
“Trying to rope us into your harebrained scheme,” said Puragon.
“Should kill all of you, to send them a message,” Raudra suggested.
“If only we could see the look on their faces.”
Mark stared at the dragons, who were reaching a bizarre agreement that that was the correct course of action, and wished he could rewind the past few minutes. Maybe Chaletwo was right. Attempting to negotiate had seemingly only made the sisters more determined to kill them. He should never have even tried.
Looking quickly around, he realized Weavile was lying fainted on the ground near Raudra; he grabbed her Pokéball with his left hand, recalled her, and did his best to throw three of his other balls. Charizard, Jolteon and Dragonite materialized, rushing for their respective planned targets; he cursed that he’d fallen too far from the cliff to be able to send out Gyarados.
He looked around again to try to properly take in the state of the battle. Out of Alan’s team, only Diamond remained, making impressive leaps to dodge Puragon’s attacks but not having much luck actually striking her, though Blaziken was doing better. Mutark was hanging onto Raudra by her claws, slashing at her belly with her teeth, but with another Outrage, she fell limp to the ground. Stantler’s attempts at Hypnosis weren’t working on either of them. They were losing again, he realized with a sickening knot of dread in his stomach – probably in part because his stupid attempt to pacify them had led to them unexpectedly fighting three dragons instead of two.
Speaking of which, said a wary voice in the back of his mind, where’s Dragoreen?
He turned quickly and found her hovering to the right, over the cliffs. He’d registered her firing Thunderbolts and Dragonbreaths earlier, picking off their Pokémon as they tried to attack her sisters, but she wasn’t now; she was looking between the other dragons, hesitantly. “What is the War of the Legends?” she said.
“A lie is what it is,” Raudra snarled. “Devious manipulation.”
“It’s the reason you’ve been losing your powers,” Chaletwo said. “Your crazy sisters are in denial, but you’ve got to have noticed.”
For a split second Dragoreen hung there, clearly dissatisfied; then, all of a sudden, she was diving straight towards Mark. He screamed as sharp claws dug into his sides; pain shot through his arm again, replaced by a whirl of panic and nausea when she pulled him off the ground. His stomach clenched as she swooped back over the edge of the cliffs, still clutching him in her clawed grip. “Tell me,” she hissed as she stopped in mid-air; Mark could only stare helplessly at the sharp rocks that pierced the foaming water far, far below. “Tell me the truth or I’ll drop you.”
“It’s, it’s, it’s a thing, the legendaries are going to go mad and fight until there’s only one left,” he blurted out, his voice shaking. On the cliffside, Alan, May and his Pokémon were staring towards him, and he wondered for a split second in a rush of bizarre anger why they weren’t doing anything, but anything they could have done would have only made her more likely to drop him, wouldn’t it? Raudra and Puragon, both cloaked with dragon fire, rushed back at the Pokémon, and they were forced to turn their attention back to the fight at hand. He was on his own.
“Why?” Dragoreen said, boring her claws into his ribcage; it took him a moment to wrap his terrified brain around what she was talking about.
“The, there’s a legendary that’s the Destroyer, and it makes it happen every thousand years, it drains your power and then redistributes it evenly –”
“Mew explained it to your sisters,” Chaletwo said. “I’m trying to stop it by having all the legendaries caught in Pokéballs before it happens. If I’m right, it will stop the War from happening.”
“Why didn’t we know about this?” she asked; below, the waves crashed against the cliffs, cold and merciless. Mark’s mind replayed a hypothetical fall in a wretched loop that he couldn’t break out of: a rush of air, a spray of salt, water in his lungs, smashing against rocks, blood mixing with the seawater.
“Mew forbade us to...”
“We should have told you!” Mark said frantically, squeezing his eyes shut. “It was wrong to attack you without explaining what was going on and to use the Master Ball – I’m sorry!”
For several seconds, Dragoreen was silent, her body lurching up and down with every beat of her wings, sending Mark’s stomach roiling. He heard Raudra cry out in pain among the Pokémon; they might have been bringing her down at last.
“Stop,” Dragoreen said, shaking him for emphasis; a fresh jolt of pain coursed from his arm, wrenching his eyes back open. “Stop attacking, or he dies.”
They did; as one, his Pokémon froze and stepped back in alarm, and some strange part of Mark managed to be weirdly touched. Raudra was beginning to crawl to her feet; Puragon, who was still in the air, took a deep breath and started to gather ice crystals in front of her mouth.
“You too!” Dragoreen said. “Stop it!”
Puragon turned towards her, clearly outraged, but let the ice dissolve nonetheless. “Do you believe their lies?”
“Did Mew tell you about this War of the Legends or not?”
“Our brothers must have threatened...”
“That’s not what happened!” Mark shouted desperately, his sides still aching. “We’ve been out capturing legendaries since May, and some trainers have been around doing it for years – it had nothing to do with you!”
“That’s what you say,” Raudra spat. “You would say anything to get us to agree.”
“You’ve been losing your power and this is why! Get it through your thick skulls that –”
“Chaletwo,” Dragoreen said sharply. “You do not insult my sisters. If you do it again, I will throw your vessel in the ocean and you can watch the War from there.”
“The power loss is a good point,” May said before Chaletwo could respond to the threat; Mark had never been so glad to hear her speak. “How do you explain it if you deny the War?”
“It’s just one of their tricks,” Puragon said, but there was a hint of uncertainty in her voice this time.
“It’s not a trick! If they could drain your powers away, they’d have attacked you already to take advantage of it! You of all Pokémon should know them well enough to realize that!”
Puragon looked unsurely at Mark, then at Dragoreen. “They’re lying!” Raudra hissed from her place on the ground. “It’s all trickery, all of it. They want to confuse us and string us along so they can laugh at us.”
There was a strange note of desperation in her voice, almost pleading, and from somewhere within Mark’s panicked mind came a pang of pity. This wasn’t just some petty, hateful sibling rivalry; it was a genuine, obsessive paranoia, so deep-set and all-consuming that it poisoned all rational thought. Raudra really believed that everything was somehow orchestrated by her brothers, and she was probably terrified out of her wits. Dragoreen likely only had a somewhat more objective perspective because this was the first time she was hearing about the War, instead of having had it feeding into existing fears for months with nobody but an equally paranoid sibling to discuss it with.
“Look,” May said very carefully, looking at Dragoreen; her eyes were wider than usual, but her voice was steady. “When you’re caught, you stop losing your powers. You felt that, right?”
Dragoreen nodded slowly.
“We’re going to capture your brothers too. And because we went for you first, if you let yourselves be caught, they’re going to have lost more of their powers by the time they’re caught, so at the end you’re going to be more powerful than them. But if you continue to fight back and kill all of us, and your brothers make the smart choice when one of the other trainers finds them, it’ll be the other way around.”
“Lies!” Raudra snarled, releasing a Flamethrower in May’s direction; she scrambled to the side at the same time as her Blaziken rushed to deflect it with a Heat Wave.
“Stop,” Dragoreen said. “They’re right. We stop losing our powers if we’re caught. There’s no sense waiting around as we grow weaker.”
“Could we really gain the upper hand on them?” Puragon asked with a wary interest.
“Yes,” May said firmly. “The sooner you’re caught compared to them, the better.”
On any other day Mark would have winced at the idea of encouraging this, but at the moment he didn’t care; if it made Dragoreen put him down, it was worth it. He listened with shaking breaths as Dragoreen and Puragon encouraged Raudra to agree, and as Raudra continued to refuse and tell them with increasing fanaticism they were being taken in by a massive conspiracy, but increasingly couldn’t focus on them under his building nausea and the pulsing pain and pins-and-needles sensation in his arm and the claws still clutching at his ribs.
By the time he thought maybe Raudra was starting to budge a little, everything had blended together into arguing voices and pain and sickness.
Mewtwo really got to Mark with the talk about diplomacy. It's pretty stark how differently this battle plays out than any of the previous ones, simply because Raudra and Puragon are talking throughout while the previous legendaries have always basically acted as monsters or forces of nature at least while the battle is going on. It is because Mark and Chaletwo are talking to them, of course, but one still has to wonder why the previous ones didn't even attempt to ask what was going on or what they wanted.
It's a bit inconsistent how on the one hand Raudra and Puragon appear to be coming up with the theory that their brothers were behind this on the spot at the beginning of the chapter, but on the other hand Mark theorizes that probably they've been building up paranoia about their brothers being involved in this for months. The opening should probably sound more like they've been thinking this for a while, buuuut that's a bit too much editing for this pass, so commentary note it is.
Alan is noticeably not very present for most of this chapter for some reason. I guess I'd gotten a bit too used to him not being around.
The original plan for this chapter was just a routine legendary battle against Raudra and Puragon where they eventually capture both of them. Everything interesting that happened here was spontaneous as I was writing it, and made for a great improvement upon this and the next several chapters, which were far and away the most boring part of the original chapter plan.
Dear readers, there has been a change of plans. I know I said I'd keep this to light edits, but the whole direction of the fic after a certain point ultimately just went a little too dark. Instead, I would like to back up a bit and present a fully rewritten version of the remainder of the fic.
Here's the better chapter 53, for your reading pleasure (art will have to come later, sorry to my dear fans):
Chapter 53: Away (NEW AND IMPROVED)
Mark caught up with May just as she was exiting the Pokémon Center; apparently she’d finished healing her Pokémon already in the time it took for him to get out. For some reason she was also holding both of their backpacks; she must have retrieved them at the trainer lodge in the meanytime.
“Let’s just go,” she said without greeting him or looking him in the eye, her voice quiet as she handed him his own bag. “I don’t want to be here when the reporters start looking for me.”
She was obviously upset; Mark wasn’t quite sure what to say to her and just followed behind her as she walked towards the outside gate, hurriedly flipping his nametag over to show his photo before they went through. The gatekeeper woman squinted at them as they passed; a television inside the guard booth was showing Taylor happily shaking hands with the very reluctant-looking Champion of the Old-Timers’ League.
“Hey,” the woman called after May, leaning out of the booth, but she quickened her pace without answering and Mark had to sprint to catch up with her.
“You did great, you know,” Mark tried as May showed no signs of being about to stop; they seemed to be heading towards the mountains where they usually trained.
“No, I didn’t,” May responded irritably without looking at him. “I screwed up with Skarmory. Roosting was a terrible idea when it was using a Fighting move, but I wasn’t thinking. And Feraligatr can’t even learn Haze. I shouldn’t have believed it until I saw it.”
Mark didn’t know quite how to respond to that. “Well…”
“But it’s not like it mattered anyway, because even if I’d done everything perfectly, Mewtwo² would still just have thrown Tyranitar around like a bloody bouncing ball and there’s nothing I could’ve done about it, so either way I never could have won.”
“I’m sure everybody out there thinks of you as the real Champion,” Mark said. “I mean, Taylor basically cheated. Everybody knows that.”
“If they think that, they’re wrong!” May said fiercely, turning around. “There is no second place in a knockout tournament. Any one of the trainers he beat could be better than me. The fact I happened to be the last one to battle him is meaningless. God, learn some basic math.”
She turned quickly around again and marched on; Mark hurried to keep up with her and quietly decided not to try to start another conversation.
May had stopped suddenly in a bit of an open area in the mountains and announced they would camp there. Mark had guessed it must be a spot she’d used sometime when they were training separately. He’d not felt like arguing.
Now, after they’d set up the tent, they were sitting around their campfire in silence. It was only the afternoon, but the approaching autumn was making the days colder, and Mark was grateful for the fire. He’d rather be at the warm trainer lodge reading or drawing or watching TV, of course, but he couldn’t just leave May out here alone, and so he stayed, wondering restlessly if it would be horribly insensitive to send out his Pokémon to talk to them. (It probably would be.)
He looked at her. She was staring fixedly into the flames, curled up with her arms wrapped around her knees to keep warm. Her expression was empty and faraway, devoid of any particular discernible emotions, but she still obviously felt like crap. He wished he could help her, somehow; in the flickering firelight, she looked scared and vulnerable, and Mark felt a strange feeling rising in his chest, a longing to hold her and protect her.
He inched shyly closer to her, feeling himself blushing; she looked at him in vague surprise, and her eyes suddenly filled with tears.
Mark was startled; he’d never seen her cry before. “May... are you okay?” he asked carefully, laying a hand on her shoulder.
She reached out with her hands, grabbing his arms tightly to pull him closer. She looked into his eyes, her sapphire orbs shining like stars in an evening sky, and whispered, “Do you think I’m pretty?”
“What?” Mark asked, initially confused. “Of course you are.”
But as he looked at her, something dawned on him, slowly but surely. He noticed her sky-blue locks curling down her forehead; her finely defined eyebrows; her fair skin pale and perfect in the orange light; her full, rosy lips; and most importantly of all, she was May, somebody he’d travelled with for what felt like years now, who’d helped and guided him, been through thick and thin with him, even saved his life. Something stirred in his chest, putting a lump in his throat; he brushed a lock of her hair aside and murmured, “You’re beautiful.”
“Really?” Wisps of a smile crossed her lips as she closed her eyes, her long, feminine eyelashes drying her tears away as she leaned in closer.
Their lips met, and instantly, as if by the touch of a Suicune, everything became crystal clear. It felt so indescribably right. He embraced her tightly as the kiss deepened, their tongues meeting nervously for the first time. “I love you,” he breathed as they pulled away for a moment, everything swirling before his eyes. “I’ve always loved you. You don’t need to prove yourself to me by winning a League.”
She looked at him in surprise, blushing. “S-so you knew...” she whispered shyly.
“Deep down... I always knew.”
He planted another kiss on her forehead and held her close, one hand gently stroking her hair. They didn’t know how long they spent sitting there together, basking in one another’s glow; it seemed like a dream, or maybe a more real reality; the journey, the battles, the League all felt hazy and far away. There was only the here, the now, the two of them, together. Alone. Perfect.
“So you have found one another at last,” stated a soft telepathic voice. Mark opened his eyes slowly and saw the small, pink-furred form of Mew hovering before them.
“What do you mean?” he questioned.
“Didn’t you know that the opposite of destruction is love?” Mew smiled slyly. “Your efforts would never have stopped the War of the Legends before, but now, you may have a chance.”
“Really?” May gasped.
“Of course. Or hadn’t you realized that that was what went wrong before the last War of the Legends?” Mew shook her head heavily. “I was afraid the same would happen now. But you... you had the potential for something truly beautiful, a love that could destroy the Destroyer... forever.”
“So that was why you didn’t want to help prevent the War?” asked Chaletwo incredulously.
“At that time I thought there was no hope,” murmured Mew. “But everything is different now. If you don’t mind, I will come with you and aid you on your quest.”
“But then... it wasn’t because you hated me!” sobbed Chaletwo before he burst into telepathic tears.
“Of course not,” Mew said softly. “I have always loved you... my son.”
At that, a Pokéball at Mark’s belt popped open open and Chaletwo was released in a flood of light. Tears welled up in Mew’s sapphire eyes as she flew up to him, and they hugged tightly, for the first time in a thousand years. Mark watched their reunion with a lump in his throat, squeezing May’s shoulders a little. Finally Chaletwo could have peace.
“What’s going on here?”
They all looked up to see Taylor emerging from behind a rock, a smug expression etched on his face. “Haha, a bunch of lovebirds,” he mocked, pointing at the four of them and laughing snidely. “Losers.”
“You don’t know anything about love!” May declared with calm confidence. “Your heart has shrivelled into a lump of coal, unable to feel love or compassion. I feel sorry for you.”
“Yes,” agreed Mew. “She’s right. Open your heart to the love around you, and you might find peace at last.” There was a short pause before she added, “And Chaletwo is not my boyfriend.”
“Yeah, totally,” sneered Taylor and rolled his eyes.
Mark wanted to protest, but he was cut short by a curious feeling of elation as warmth seemed to spread all through his body. He looked at his hands to find they were bathed in a strange, pink glow; May was looking fearfully at her own, similarly glowing hands.
Something pure and primal within him simply knew that it was the essence of love itself.
He squeezed May’s hand tightly, and together, they both looked up at Taylor, heat building up within their bodies. The other boy gasped as a pink glow overtook his body, too; his eyes closed and his body was lifted a few inches off the ground, the glow pulsing like heartbeat. For a moment there was nothing but the steady throb of concentrated love synchronizing between the three of them; then, abruptly, the glow disappeared and Taylor tumbled to the ground, landing on his back.
“Oof,” he muttered, rubbing his head; then, as in realization, he slowly looked over at Mark and May with an expression of surprise.
“I... I can feel it,” he whispered. “I can feel... love...”
Mew smiled in satisfaction as Taylor beamed at them. “How can I thank you? You’ve brought me life and happiness at last. I will never forget it.”
“It’s okay,” stated May, smiling back at him. “As long as you’re sorry.”
“Oh, and my poor Pokémon!” Taylor gasped. “I must free them from those horrible balls.”
With that, Taylor sent out all of his clones and made Feraltwo stomp on all the Clone Balls so that they were destroyed. The clones all cried with happiness, especially Mewtwo².
“Why don’t I join you?” suggested Taylor. “I can help you take down the legendary Pokémon! It will be great!”
“Sure!” answered Mark and May in unison, and as the sun set, they were all laughing and telling stories together by the campfire, looking forward to the continuation of their adventures.
Hope you all enjoyed that definitely real chapter 53, unfortunately I have now cancelled my changed plans and am instead going ahead with chapter 63 In which our protagonist is incapacitated.
Chapter 63: Recovery
Mark woke and found himself on a bed with his arm in a cast.
He groaned and blinked as he tried to remember what had happened. Raudra and Puragon. How had it gone in the end? Were they safely on the PC?
“Oh, finally,” said a voice – not Alan or May’s voice, but still one that sounded strangely familiar. “You’re okay. Just relax and take it easy.”
In his blurry vision, he could see a small figure with messy, blond hair standing near his bed. His brain tried to place the voice, but he was only more puzzled once it did. “...Robin Riverstone?”
Robin chuckled. “Glad to hear you remember my name. I don’t think we ever even battled.”
“What?” was all Mark managed to say.
“Guys,” Robin called in the direction of a blob of light that Mark was starting to recognize as an open door, “he’s awake and really confused.”
Alan burst in a second later. “Mark? Oh, wonderful. Feeling okay?”
“Yeah,” Mark said, “but...”
“Raudra wasn’t happy, but with both of her sisters convinced, she ended up giving in. Dragoreen put you down, but then –”
Mark stared at him, inclining his good arm meaningfully towards Robin.
“She knows,” said May as she entered the room. “She saw us. Remember how the safari warden is her mom? Apparently they live close by.”
Robin grinned at Mark’s quizzical look. “You were pretty loud and visible. I came to check out what the commotion was about and arrived to find you trying to convince the Color Dragons to be captured. Didn’t think it was a good idea to butt in immediately, but once they were all in Pokéballs and I saw you were injured, I knew we had to get you help.”
“Apparently the warden has some medical training,” May added.
“And after they explained what was going on and we were done freaking out about legendaries and the end of the world, we figured taking you to a proper hospital wouldn’t be good for the whole secrecy thing, so she did what she could.”
Mark felt vaguely down his sides; they were covered in bandages and still hurt when he touched them. “So,” he started to say, but changed his mind when he realized properly how dry his mouth was. “Do you have some water?”
Robin scuttled off through the door and came back seconds later with a half-full glass. He accepted it gratefully and drank most of it.
“So,” he said again, his voice still weak, “am I going to be able to go out again and battle legendaries, or what?”
Robin frowned. “Probably not until several weeks from now. She injured you pretty badly, and the arm and all.”
Mark looked at May and Alan, wincing. “So what do we do now?”
“This is annoying,” Chaletwo said, making Mark jump; he’d forgotten he was there yet again. “But we were at a standstill anyway. We got Raudra and Puragon, and that means again we have no idea where the next legendaries are. The best we can do is try to gather more clues about where any of the others might be.”
“What about the male Color Dragons?” Mark asked. “Do you think their sisters might know anything about where they are?”
Chaletwo paused. “That’s a good point. We should talk to them.”
“And actually, I’ve been thinking,” May said. “After them, it’s just Mew and the Waraider herd, right? Well, the other kids you killed have presumably been looking for them for years now. Wouldn’t it be productive to try to contact them and see what they have? And more of us is always nice for when we have to battle eight legendaries at the same time.”
“Hm. I suppose perhaps we could try to track them down. We have their names.”
Mark thought of the girl who’d sent the distress call fighting Entei – Leah, wasn’t it? Her team was probably very powerful after years of legendary-fighting – he felt a lot better about the idea of battling the Waraider herd if she would be with them.
“So can I come?” Robin asked suddenly.
Mark blinked; May and Alan stared quizzically at her.
“I mean,” she went on immediately, “I don’t have years of experience fighting legendaries, but I’m pretty good, and I’d like to think I could make myself useful. And my team’s been bored to tears just fighting each other since the League ended. I’d have to ask, but if I know them correctly I think they’d be game for a bit of excitement.” She grinned widely; Mark got the sense she was trying to hide that she’d been dying to ask this for a while.
“That... works out very well, actually,” Chaletwo said after a pause. “Then if you get good leads on the remaining Color Dragons, you could maybe check them out immediately with Robin standing in for Mark, instead of everyone sitting around until he recovers. Is your mother all right with this?”
Robin shrugged. “Ask her. Mom!”
“Yes, yes, I’m coming,” came the safari warden’s voice from somewhere else in the house. The sound of footsteps echoed in the hallway before she leaned in through the door. “Oh, our legendary-collector’s awake. You feeling okay?”
“They were wondering if I could go with them to hunt down some more dragons while he recovers,” Robin said with an innocent smile.
Mrs. Riverstone raised her eyebrows. “Grand. Well, are you going to get her killed? Because he got beaten up pretty bad.” She inclined her thumb towards Mark.
“That was just him being stupid,” May said.
“None of us have gotten hurt before,” Alan said, throwing May a glare. “It was a one-time incident, and they were very angry. We’re going to try to avoid fighting if we can in the future. But it’s still dangerous. She could be a big help to us, but as her parent it’s your call.”
“Don’t see what you’d need her for if there wasn’t going to be fighting,” said Mrs. Riverstone dryly. “But, well, I don’t like telling her what she can do. I know she can look after herself, and her Pokémon are top-notch. I just hope I’ve raised her with enough common sense to not want to do anything too dumb.” She looked back at her daughter, raising an eyebrow. “I trust you’re done with the jumping off cliffs practicing Fly thing?”
Robin grinned. “Don’t worry, Mom.”
“This legendary business,” her mother said, turning to Mark. “You’re sure that catching them all is going to do the trick? It sounds kind of flimsy, from how they explained it.”
“Not this again,” said Chaletwo irritably. “Have you got a better idea? Because I’d love to hear it.”
Mrs. Riverstone shrugged innocently, a gesture that made her look strikingly like her daughter. “Murdering the lot of them?”
“Very funny. No, that wouldn’t work even if we were that desperate. It takes a lot to kill a legendary if it isn’t voluntarily making a soul gem. My eyes could, but at this point I wouldn’t have the energy left to do it more than once or twice.”
She sighed. “Well, that’s a bind. What’s Plan B, then?”
“Well, I’d hope you have some kind of backup plan for if you fail,” Mrs. Riverstone said, frowning. “In the event that you realize the War is coming and you have no hope of capturing the remaining legendaries in time, or you realize capturing just won’t work, what will you do then?”
“In that event, the world ends,” Chaletwo said. “This isn’t a situation with multiple options. If the War happens, it’s over. We need to succeed.”
“And what, if you don’t succeed you’ll just lie down and wait for the rampaging legendaries to get you? Forgive me if I think that sounds a little daft. Any reason to think they’d attack an underground bunker with no legendaries in it, for instance, if I were to build one of those?”
“No, but that’s not much help.”
“Not for you, maybe,” Mrs. Riverstone said. “Don’t get me wrong; I do hope it works out – but if it’s looking hopeless, I want my daughter back here in my bunker unless she’s very sure she can still help out there. Understood?”
“Perfectly,” Chaletwo said grudgingly.
Robin and her mother shared a look; despite the warden’s casual attitude, there was a weary, motherly concern in her eyes. Butterflies were flitting about in Mark’s stomach – discussing the possibility of failure and putting others in danger wasn’t helping his vague guilt about delaying everyone with his injuries one bit. If the remaining legendaries had eluded the others for this long, didn’t that mean they were that much harder to find? Could finding them in the time they had left simply be impossible?
“We should talk to Dragoreen,” May said, breaking the silence. “I’m going outside. Who’s coming with me?”
After a moment’s hesitation, Alan and Robin turned around to go with her, Alan throwing Mark an apologetic smile. Mrs. Riverstone looked after them as they exited and then leaned against the foot of Mark’s bed, letting out a long breath.
“Stopping the end of the world, huh,” she said, looking in his eyes. “It’s a big thing for a kid to be doing. You must have a lot of courage.”
Mark thought of himself pleading with Dragoreen and didn’t feel very courageous. He tried to smile; it probably came out as more of a grimace.
“Robin’s made of courage, but she only just turned eleven. Was this really just you being stupid? Because this sounds more dangerous than you’re letting on, and while obviously this is important and it’s her life and her choices, I’d rather she didn’t come home with broken limbs or worse.”
He winced. “It was pretty stupid.”
“All right.” Her gaze lingered on him, not looking entirely convinced, but after a few seconds she stood up and prepared to leave. “Well, give me a shout if you need anything.”
Mark looked after her, feeling a nagging need to say something. “I’m still glad I did it,” he said as she reached the doorway. She turned around and looked at him questioningly.
“We were going to just capture them forcibly,” he said. “But because I released Dragoreen, we got them to agree willingly, and now they might tell us where the next legendaries are. If I hadn’t been stupid there, we’d have taken them by force and we’d be lost now. It was worth it.”
The safari warden gave him a grin. “I like your spirit,” she said before walking out.
May took the minimized Master Ball out of her pocket as she stepped outside into the cold evening air. It was lucky, she thought grimly, that Floatzel had managed to retrieve it at all – it could easily have been eaten by a Gyarados. And even worse, if it had been merely lost and not destroyed, then... well, then they would have had to convince Dragoreen to make a soul gem, because then it would have been impossible to catch her in any other ball. She doubted the dragon would have taken that well.
“Right,” she said after confirming Alan and Robin were behind her. “Go.”
Dragoreen emerged in blinding white light, twice as tall as the Riverstones’ single-storey home; now that they weren’t battling her, she looked far more monstrously huge. She glanced warily over her surroundings before she folded her wings and settled down into a relaxed position. “What is it?” she said.
“We’re going after your brothers,” May said. “Do you have any idea where they might be?”
Dragoreen’s golden-yellow eyes surveyed her for a moment, her slitlike pupils narrowing. “You’re going to capture them, correct? All of them?”
“Yes.” May didn’t flinch, didn’t look away. She still resented that she’d been caught off guard when Dragoreen had taken Mark hostage; it was something Pokémon weren’t supposed to do, and she hadn’t been prepared for it, but she should have been – it was idiotic not to be – and she wouldn’t make that mistake again.
“Do you have a strategy?” the dragon asked.
“Our Pokémon have been training to fight many legendaries at once, and we know that you’re all Dragon/Flying-types with a double weakness to Ice. We’ll have to adapt our techniques to three opponents instead of two, but –”
“It wasn’t enough to capture us,” Dragoreen observed coolly.
May took a deep breath. “The first time we battled you, we weren’t ready. But we trained after that. The second time, we were expecting to fight only your sisters, with Mark’s Pokémon with us – that’s why we failed. If it hadn’t been for Mark, we would have caught them.”
“Fair enough,” Dragoreen conceded after a moment. “But are you sure you have the strength to get our brothers? Three are far more powerful than two, as you saw.”
“Yes, I know.” May exhaled slowly, measuredly. “But this time we’ll have more Pokémon, and we’ll have Robin, once we bring her Pokémon up to speed.” She gestured towards the younger girl.
Dragoreen gave a slow nod. “Is she any good?”
“She’s very good,” May said immediately. “I’ve battled her before.”
Robin grinned. “And she’d know. She’s the Champion.”
May pushed down the sudden sting in her gut, the flash of blood spreading over rocky ground. “No, I’m not the bloody Champion,” she said; Robin should know better than to think that, and it both annoyed and disappointed her that she didn’t. “And that’s beside the point. The point is Robin’s going to more than make up for the lack of Mark if we go now. We just need to know where they are. That’s where you come in.”
Dragoreen exhaled, still not taking her eyes off May; the gust of hot air from her nostrils gave a momentary strange sensation of standing by a fire on a windy day. “They’re in the Acaria mountain range,” she said finally. “They have a cave there.”
Alan frowned. “The Acaria mountains? They’re pretty big. Do you have anything more specific?”
Dragoreen shook her head.
He sighed. “Well, okay. Guess we’ll just have to look in every cave, then.”
Every cave in a mountain range? That was daunting – but May gave a decisive, undaunted nod anyway. “Thanks for your help,” she said. “I’ll recall you now before you lose any more power.”
“You’re welcome,” Dragoreen said, watching her with golden eyes before dissolving into red light and returning into the Master Ball.
“Right,” May said when she stepped back into the guest room where Mark was. “Dragoreen told us the male dragons are in the Acaria mountain range somewhere. We might need to look for a bit, but that’s as good a thing as any to do while you’re recovering.”
Mark nodded. “All right.”
“And we should probably take your Pokémon along,” she went on. “You don’t have to be there for them to fight, and we can direct them as we can if needed. We can’t unlock your Pokédex without scanning your eye, obviously, but we can take six of your Pokéballs anyway. Having at least Weavile would be a huge asset.”
“I think we should bring Dragoreen,” Alan said as Mark nodded. “I know she said she didn’t know exactly where they are, but maybe she’d remember some of the landscape or just be ready to help us look. She knows them better than we do.”
Mark looked skeptically at him. “I don’t think working with their sister is going to help you catch them,” he said. “Remember how Raudra and Puragon were, after just theorizing we were working with them?”
Alan winced. “Fair point.”
“I think we might as well take her along,” May said. “Better than regretting it later. One less of Mark’s Pokémon won’t make much of a difference.”
Mark nodded again, then hesitated. “Don’t you think you should bring Chaletwo, too?”
May looked at him in puzzlement. “What for?”
“Negotiating,” Mark said. “Without Chaletwo, you have nothing backing up the War of the Legends story. Except Dragoreen, but again, that’s not exactly going to help if they’re anything like their sisters.”
“I thought that was a given,” Chaletwo said, a note of indignation in his voice. “I’m not going to just stay here twiddling my thumbs. If it’s wasting a ball you’re worried about, I can get into May’s head now and then you can put the ball back on Mark’s PC and give that slot to another Pokémon.”
May grimaced. She hadn’t really been intending to attempt negotiations; as far as she could tell, the Color Dragons were stark raving mad, and it was only by the sheerest luck that trying to talk to them had worked this one time. But she imagined Stantler would tell her she wasn’t giving the crazy murderous dragons a chance – plus even if Mark wouldn’t be there, Alan would, and so would Robin, who seemed to actually admire her. “Yeah,” she said reluctantly. “I guess.”
She rummaged through Mark’s bag for the Pokédex, scanned his eye with it, and switched Gyarados’s ball for Chaletwo. It seemed ridiculous to withdraw a legendary Pokémon from the PC like any other Pokémon – did League employees ever see activity like this in their logs and freak out?
The Pokédex bleeped cheerfully to indicate the transfer had completed, and she dropped the Pokéball and watched Chaletwo form in front of her. For a split second he looked at her with his creepy closed-but-not eyes, and then a strange pricking sensation arose deep in her brain, like her mind was going to come pouring out. She instinctively clutched at her forehead in a momentary jolt of surprised panic, but the feeling quickly faded into a faint tingling as Chaletwo disappeared back into the Pokéball.
“Well, here I am,” he said just as the throbbing was dying down, and she started again: it was an entirely different feeling than listening to him talk normally, like a voice in her head but with the volume turned up to the max, spreading out from inside the back of her skull. A creeping feeling that someone was looking over her shoulder lingered even after he went quiet.
Can you read my mind? she thought warily.
“Only what you’re thinking at the moment.”
She really should have realized this; it was perfectly obvious, in retrospect, but she hadn’t been thinking. She didn’t want him in her thoughts. Her thoughts were for her and her alone to know, not...
“Oh, come on. I thought you of all people wouldn’t let this get to you. Fine, we can make Alan the leader instead, but...”
“No,” she said firmly; the others gave her puzzled looks, and she realized belatedly that only she had heard that. “Sorry, just sorting things out with Chaletwo. I’m okay. Let’s go to bed; we should get up early tomorrow, shouldn’t we?”
As Mark and Alan looked at one another in confusion, May marched out of the room and tried not to think anything at all.
It's a bit questionable that anything bad would happen if they took Mark to a hospital, really; surely there's nothing obvious about him having been attacked by a legendary, and even if it was, surely the obvious explanation would be he'd just pissed her off, without implying anything about what they're doing that might be inconvenient. Mayyybe theoretically it could draw media attention or League attention to what Pokémon are in his box or something, but all in all this was really just me not wanting to write him going to the hospital.
Mostly setup going on here. This is the first chapter posted after I completed (ish) a very rough draft of the rest of the story for NaNoWriMo 2012; it would take a long time from there for me to untangle and fix up and rewrite large chunks of that draft from scratch.
The quickest way to Acaria City was to fly. Skarmory couldn’t fly as fast as Charizard with a trainer weighing him down, so May borrowed Mark’s Charizard. It was strange flying an unfamiliar Pokémon, and despite how many battles they’d been in together, she could never quite shake the feeling that she just didn’t trust him like one of her own.
(Chaletwo didn’t comment on that, but he was probably rolling his immaterial eyes.)
They reached the city in the evening and checked into a trainer hotel. Chaletwo hadn’t talked to her most of the day, which made her almost forget he was there at all; if anything that bothered her even more. She didn’t know how Mark could stand this.
“He can stand this because he doesn’t freak out over it,” Chaletwo said as she entered her room and collapsed onto the bed. “I don’t understand why you’re so tense. You know me; I know you; I already know your Tyranitar killed a boy. Exactly what are you afraid of?”
She winced. “That’s not the problem,” she said, turning onto her side.
“Then what is? Do girls your age think about boys or something? Because I assure you I’d tune that out anyway.”
“No!” She sat up in disgust. “What, is Mark thinking about girls all the time?”
May lay back down with a sigh. There was silence.
“You still haven’t told me what –”
“Thoughts are supposed to be private,” she said between gritted teeth.
“I’m not going to blab everything you think to Mark, if that’s what you’re worried about.”
“Again, that’s not the point.”
“Then I don’t have the faintest idea what is.”
What was the point? May wasn’t entirely sure how to answer that. Thoughts were random and uncontrollable, and people should have conscious control over how they appeared to others. That didn’t mean they had anything to hide. It was just... who you were was the choices you made about what to say and do, and if somebody was reading your mind, you didn’t have a choice about anything. It was creepy and terrifying.
“What? Of course you can still choose what you say and do. It’s not mind-control.”
May clenched her jaw and thought about empty white space.
“If it helps,” Chaletwo said after a moment, “I don’t have to read your thoughts all the time. I can tune you out completely unless you ask for me or something important is going on.”
She shook her head. “I’m fine.”
Chaletwo gave a long telepathic sigh. “If you insist. What do you think of our prospects without Mark?”
“We have Robin,” she said.
“She’s a whole lot better than nothing, obviously, but you and Mark did train for a couple of months for legendary battles, which she hasn’t.”
“But Robin is good at battling, which Mark isn’t, so that pretty much balances it out.”
“I wouldn’t go that far. Mark made it to the quarterfinals of the League. I realize you’re the more skilled battler, but…”
“Mark is okay,” May said firmly, “but Robin is top-notch. She’ll pick up the strategy in no time. If anything we’re better off now.”
Chaletwo sighed again. “Well, I suppose optimism is nice. Either way, you should get some sleep; tomorrow will be a long day.”
May nodded and stood up to brush her teeth, and Chaletwo didn’t speak again for the rest of the night.
May had only had a vague idea about the existence of the Acaria mountains. People didn’t exactly study Ouenian geography in Johto, and while of course they’d been to the city before, she hadn’t paid much attention to the mountains in the background when they’d approached it then – she’d never been one to spend her time admiring landscapes.
But now that they were there, flying over the mountain range, she could see that, depressingly, Alan was right: the mountains seemed to go on forever, and they were so littered with cracks and holes that it was a wonder they hadn’t collapsed into a pile of rubble. There had to be thousands of caverns. Not all of them could house huge legendary dragons, of course, but that didn’t help them find those few.
“Let’s land here and plan things out,” she shouted as they finished their initial flyover. They’d been vaguely hoping to run into dumb luck such as happening to see one of the dragons, but predictably enough, that hadn’t happened. Wisps of clouds rushed past as Charizard descended; the Acaria skies were cold and wet today. Grateful for the wool-lined coat she’d bought in Green Town in October, she clung to the Pokémon’s neck and braced herself for the landing: despite being faster than Skarmory, Charizard weren’t nearly as nimble or precise in their flight. (Well, maybe Robin’s was, given the acrobatics she’d seen him do at the League – but she wasn’t about to point that out to Mark’s Charizard.)
“Right,” she said when she’d climbed off his back and recalled him. “Alan, I was thinking you could start looking around the area while I introduce our fighting strategy to Robin and her team. Take Skarmory; Charlie’s probably exhausted.”
She switched the ball she was holding with Skarmory’s and handed it in Alan’s direction. He looked annoyingly surprised, in that particularly Alanish way designed to tell her what an awful person she usually was. “Yeah,” he said. “He is. Thanks.”
“You’re welcome,” she said anyway as he took the ball and sent Skarmory out. The vulture gave May a disappointed glance when Alan explained he was going with him, which was at least grimly satisfying.
Once they were gone, she finally turned to the other girl, exhaling. Robin was still standing by her Charizard’s side and looking eagerly at May, her eyes practically sparkling with enthusiasm. She’d been wearing an excited grin since they’d set off, and apparently her cheek muscles still hadn’t tired of it. After hanging around Mark and Alan for all this time, May couldn’t quite decide whether this was a refreshing change or indicated a bizarre lack of perspective on what was going on.
“Well, what are we waiting for?” she said. “Send out your team so we can get started.”
Robin took out her Pokéballs and May shielded her eyes from the blinding light of five Pokémon materializing. Robin had briefly introduced her Pokémon to them before they’d left, of course, but most of that conversation had gone into explaining the War of the Legends and answering their many questions, so there hadn’t been much in the way of considering battle strategy. May would have to work from what she’d gathered about how they fought from their battle at the League, at least for now.
“Well,” she said, glancing over the group, “first off, you’ll be flying Charizard, so he’s not going to be battling. I’m not taking any chances with them being friendlier than their sisters, and the last thing we want is a repeat of the Mark disaster, so he’s going to want to devote his full attention to keeping you out of their way.”
The dragon Pokémon nodded firmly. If he was tired after the long flight, he didn’t show it – he was breathing slowly and measuredly, each calm exhalation forming a thick cloud of mist in front of his nostrils. In a way it seemed backwards; Robin’s Charizard was considerably smaller and leaner than either Mark’s or Charlie, and while it made intuitive sense that this made him faster and more agile, May wouldn’t have expected him to excel in endurance as well. She wasn’t sure if that was genetics or if it was Robin’s doing.
“So, again, the dragons are all Dragon/Flying-types. They don’t look it or fight like it, but Ice attacks are always going to be the best choice. Rock and Dragon are good too – and Fairy, I guess, but none of us have Fairy-types – but Ice is more effective and obviously easier to pull off in this weather. That means Froslass is going to be the most important member of your team, and the others should do their best to try to keep them off her back.”
The ghost Pokémon tilted her head curiously, her strange blue-and-yellow eyes flicking towards May. “What about Gastrodon?”
May opened her mouth. “Yes, her too, if she knows Ice moves. Stone Edge too, I guess.” Except she’s slow and can’t dodge worth a damn, so she’s not going to last very long once they see her as a threat, she thought, but didn’t say it – you weren’t supposed to say things like that. And Robin’s Machamp, though she looked almost as excited by the prospect of the battle as her trainer, would have a similarly hard time – she knew Stone Edge too, but the dragons would probably have Flying moves and Machamp were not exactly agile either.
Meanwhile, Robin’s Cacturne was looking sluggishly around, shivering. When May had first seen Robin battle, she’d used him brilliantly on a desert-themed arena, but for the same reasons he’d been excellent there, he was next to useless here. It wasn’t their fault, and definitely not Robin’s fault, but this fight wouldn’t be very suited to them. Perhaps May’d spoken too soon to Chaletwo yesterday.
She sighed, squeezing her eyes shut, trying to think of words. What would Stantler say? “Since the dragons fly and are pretty fast, agility and range are going to be key points. Our general strategy so far is to try to isolate them from one another as much as possible by luring them in different directions and keeping them there with paralysis, trapping moves or just keeping them busy, so that each dragon can only attack the Pokémon that are attacking him. This allows us to break the battle into three roughly eight-on-one battles instead of one twenty-something-on-three battle, which is better for us – Waterberg principle and all. Does that make sense?”
Robin nodded; she had obviously paid enough attention in school to know the Waterberg principle, unlike Mark and Alan, which cheered May up somewhat again. “Gastrodon can use Whirlpool,” Robin said. “So she can help with the trapping, and obviously Luxray has Thunder Wave. If we get them paralyzed, that helps Gastrodon and Machamp a lot, too.”
May glanced at Robin’s Luxray, who was lying in the back of the group of Pokémon; he let out a low, rumbling growl, and she averted her eyes again. He hadn’t seemed very sociable during the introductions either. Part of her wanted to ask Robin about it, and part of her really didn’t.
She realized belatedly that she hadn’t answered. “Yeah, that sounds about right,” she said. Paralysis helps Gastrodon and Machamp a lot, too. How discreet. She took a deep breath. “Maybe Cacturne would want to sit this one out, though. I don’t think there’s that much he can do in this kind of environment, and they’re doubly resistant to Grass attacks. But I guess that’s up to him.”
“Of course I’ll take part,” Cacturne said, sounding cross. “Who do you think I am?”
“Right. Obviously.” Judging from Robin’s amused eyeroll, May took it Cacturne wasn’t really as offended as he sounded. “Well, basically in each sub-battle we’re going to want Pokémon that resist that dragon’s favoured type of attack, as far as possible. They can still use Dragon moves, obviously, but that can’t be helped. So Pokémon that resist Water should go for the blue one and those who resist Poison attack the black one. Mark didn’t think the gold one had a special favoured type, but he’s probably going to be using mostly Dragon- and Flying-type moves, then.”
“Huh,” said Robin, scratching her chin. “If he doesn’t have a favoured type, does he have something else instead?”
“I don’t know,” May said, sighing. “Mark was going by what he can remember of some book he flipped through once. Chaletwo doesn’t know anything about how they battle because, surprise, legendaries don’t usually spend their free time battling. Dragoreen just said he was strong defensively and that’s it.”
Robin pursed her lips, thoughtful.
“But since Ice is our best shot,” May went on, “we want at least something with an Ice move in each group, if we can. Mark has a Weavile, my Floatzel knows Ice Punch, and Alan’s Vaporeon knows Ice Beam. With your team, we can add Froslass – and Gastrodon – to that. Then we should try to spread the remaining Rock and Dragon moves to even it out once we’ve sorted out which Ice user goes for which dragon – there’s Mark’s Charizard, Dragonite and Sandslash, Alan’s Grovyle and my Flygon, and now Machamp. Like I said earlier, yours and Alan’s Charizard are going to be too busy carrying you, so –”
“What about your Tyranitar?” Robin asked, and May froze, her train of thought coming to a screeching halt.
(Robin didn’t know. Of course she didn’t. What the hell had she expected?)
“He’s gone,” May’s mouth said.
Robin blinked, her eyes widening in dawning concern. “Gone?”
“Not like that. I – I just released him. It’s not important.”
For a split second May hated her more than anything in the world for not knowing when to leave it alone. Then, as she was trying to pull together a response, Robin looked down and shook her head. “No, sorry, I won’t pry. Forget it.”
May opened her mouth to say that it was fine, but stopped herself; there was nowhere good the conversation could proceed from there. “Thanks,” she made herself say instead.
Robin smiled awkwardly. May tried to smile back.
“I think it would be a good idea to try to organize things a bit around the trapping moves too,” Robin said after a long pause.
“Yeah, that was the idea,” May said.
Tyranitar didn’t come up again.
Alan didn’t find anything. When they’d finished nailing down which Pokémon would go for which dragon, May and Robin went flying around too, but didn’t find anything either. They returned to where they’d landed to camp, tired and exhausted with nothing to show for a day’s gruelling work.
Robin didn’t seem to have noticed, though. She was chatting enthusiastically practically the moment they were off their Pokémon’s backs, and by the time they’d heated some beans for dinner she was still at it.
“…and then the kid came back again, all sore-loser-like, saying, ‘That didn’t count, I want a rematch.’”
Alan raised his eyebrows, chuckling. “Wow. Yeah, that sounds pretty obnoxious, all right.”
May poked at her beans, hungry but not hungry, trying to work up the willpower to eat another forkful and wishing they could just eat silently.
“And Luxray just gave the guy this stare, and he kind of started to back off, but then he changed his mind and just stood there and folded his arms and told me he wasn’t leaving until I battled him again. And, you know, I have to give him some credit; it’s pretty hard to stare in the face of a Pokémon with Intimidate and not back down, but I just could not believe…”
“What’s wrong with your Luxray?” May said, before she could think better of it.
“Huh?” Robin looked quizzically at her.
“He doesn’t talk.” May forced the words out as quickly as she could, trying to ignore Alan as his gaze flicked sharply towards her in alarm. “He just growls. What’s up with that?”
Robin’s puzzlement turned into understanding, and she laughed. “Oh. Yeah, he comes off pretty cold, doesn’t he? Sorry, I should have thought to explain – he just takes a while to warm up to people. He didn’t really talk first after I caught him, either, so I was pretty concerned too, but after about a week of gentle prodding he started opening up, and now we’re basically best friends. He’s a total sweetheart once you get to know him; he just has some childhood trust issues that he hasn’t quite worked out yet, and it’s something he really needs to get through at his own pace, so I try not to get on his case for being a bit hostile to people at first. Sometimes I forget people might take it the wrong way, though. Sorry about that.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Alan said, smiling. “It sounds like you’re handling it well.”
May nodded numbly, waiting for the knot in her stomach to dissolve, but it didn’t.
“Thanks; I try to.” Robin beamed. “Anyway, so like I was saying, annoying dude came back again, and despite Luxray’s attempt to scare him off, he still refused to go away. Luxray looked up at me like, ‘Say the word and I will make sure this kid never bothers you again’ – it was kind of hilarious, honestly – but I just told him straight out that I wasn’t interested and he doesn’t own me and we’re done here. He still followed me for a few minutes whining about it, but by that point I was just ignoring him completely and eventually he gave up.” She finally stopped to take a breath. “How about you guys?”
Alan scratched his brow. “I don’t know, I think the most obnoxious trainer I ever met was probably this one boy who…” He trailed off. “Well, he was just a kid, so maybe it’s not really fair, but he approached me after he overheard me saying my last name at a Pokémon Center in Hoenn. I thought he just wanted to say hello but he ended up interrogating me about my dad and what would he think of this and that and how he was raising his Pokémon and so on for about an hour. It was awful.”
“Ouch,” Robin said. “Why didn’t you just tell him you had stuff to do?”
Alan winced. “That would have seemed kind of mean, don’t you think?”
“There’s a difference between being nice and being too polite to say no to anything,” Robin said firmly. “A lot of people don’t get that. Like, I heard people complaining May seemed rude because she was always refusing interviews before the League finals, but really it’s perfectly reasonable she wanted to use that time to train and said so. She doesn’t let people just walk all over her, and that’s a good thing. If you let random kids hold you hostage for an hour in a situation that makes you uncomfortable, maybe you could learn something from her.”
“Maybe,” Alan said, sceptical.
Robin looked at May with a grin. May stared at her rapidly cooling beans, squeezing the can, and halfheartedly tried to hold on to the remains of her appetite for a moment before giving up and putting down the can with a sigh.
“So…” Robin’s smile faltered at last. She hesitated before putting up a more awkward version of it. “Do… do you have any obnoxious trainer stories?”
“No,” May said, and she stood up and started to pitch the tents.
Robin broke the silence again once they’d crawled into their sleeping bags inside the girls’ tent. “I’m sure it’ll go better tomorrow,” she said. “I mean, now that I’m all initiated and we can go in three different directions from the beginning.”
May wanted to believe that, but didn’t. She didn’t respond.
“May?” Robin asked again after a few minutes, most of the cheer finally gone from her voice. “Random question, sorry it’s pretty silly and you don’t have to answer, but at the League, what did you really think of me? I mean, I did lose, and almost pretty badly at that, so I get it if you weren’t that impressed.”
May shifted around, still trying to find a way to be comfortable on the hard ground, irritated at that, irritated that Robin was suddenly playing humble at her after everything. “I thought you were a guy,” she muttered.
Bizarrely, Robin broke into a wide grin. “A lot of people do.”
May blinked, incredulous, not sure exactly how she’d expected Robin to react to that, only knowing this definitely wasn’t it. “Doesn’t that… doesn’t it bother you? People thinking you’re something you’re not?”
Robin shrugged, shaking her head. “Actually, I kinda like it.”
May stared at her for a moment, then turned over in her sleeping bag to face away. She should have guessed, she thought grimly. Everything about Robin was bizarre and infuriating.
“So… was that the only thing you thought, or…?”
“You didn’t almost lose pretty badly,” May said, wishing she’d stop hammering on this. “You almost won. Your Charizard beat a Tyranitar.”
She kind of meant to continue, but her mouth was dry and she felt kind of sick, and whatever Robin was fishing for, she didn’t want to give it to her.
“Okay,” Robin said after a moment, and May heard her sleeping bag rustle as she turned around. “Thanks.”
She tried to struggle, but her limbs were limp and numb and she couldn’t breathe. Robin’s Luxray’s eyes bored into hers, his huge jaws clamped tightly around her body. Behind him, his trainer looked at her in a mixture of accusation and disappointment.
“You know,” Robin said, frowning, “I could call him back. I’m just not sure I want to.”
Then he let go, and she plummeted off the cliff, down towards where Taylor’s body lay in a pool of blood, his glassy stare filling her field of vision as an overwhelming voice called out to her –
May’s eyes tore open, and she forcibly blinked a few times. Methodically, her mind unscrambled itself to focus on reality: she was shivering, drenched in sweat, in her sleeping bag, in their tent, in the Acaria mountains. She could hear the wind outside and Robin breathing contentedly on the other side of the tent and feel her own rapid heartbeat as it started to calm.
“Are you all right?” Chaletwo asked, and she started again as she recognized the overwhelming voice, a flash of falling, Taylor’s dead eyes – no –
“Get the hell out of my dreams,” she hissed under her breath, her voice shaking with cold, before turning over on her other side and thinking determinedly of Meowth kittens.
By the time she fell back to sleep, the dream had faded into a hazy muddle.
“All right, let’s go,” she said when she climbed onto Skarmory in the morning, grateful to be on his familiar metallic back again. Something had just seemed too organic about Charizard, with all those moving muscles constantly reminding her that she was riding a living creature with wings designed to hold it without a rider, and that if he made a mistake they would come careening down.
“You okay in the cold, Skarmory?” she asked as he took off. She knew the answer, really – his Steel typing would offset the Flying-type weakness much like the Fire-type did for Charizard – but it seemed right to ask. He nodded and took a skilful dive to make the point. (Charizard would probably not have been able to do this gracefully, cold or no cold.)
“You know the drill,” she said to Alan and Robin once they were all airborne. “I say Alan continues west from yesterday, Robin goes east and I go further north.”
The others nodded and diverged, and she took a deep breath as Skarmory flew out over the area she and Robin had been exploring the previous day. It was a frustratingly small portion of the overall landscape, but at least this time she was alone.
She’d memorized the shape of a large crack where they’d left off yesterday, and once they were past it she squinted at the various unexplored shadows and openings beyond. “Start by flying over high,” she said to Skarmory. “Then we can see what’s most promising and prioritize.”
On the first overhead scan, she picked out two or three locations that seemed like fairly large caves; then they did a second pass flying lower past those areas she couldn’t see very well from above. There were a lot of caverns, but most of them were probably too small to house a legendary dragon. She made a mental note of the most plausible candidates, and when they’d covered everything, she told Skarmory to return to the biggest of them.
They landed on a small outcropping by the cave entrance, and she recalled him for now. If they found anything, better if Skarmory wasn’t crawling around inside the cave where he could barely move; he was a good fighter in open spaces, but he couldn’t really attack at all without maneuverability.
“Charizard, go,” she said, taking his ball out of her pocket and throwing it. “This is the biggest cave I’ve found so far. Could you light the way?”
Charizard nodded and swung his tail out in front of him, proceeding cautiously by her side. The cave appeared to be something of a tunnel, leading into the mountain; it narrowed as they went on, but from a rough estimate she figured it was still just wide enough for something Dragoreen’s size to crawl through. Be here, she thought. Just be here and we can be done.
(Not done with Robin. Or Chaletwo. Or Tyranitar.)
They weren’t there, of course. The tunnel just kept on narrowing. She went on anyway until Charizard pointed out it was getting too narrow even for him; then she sighed and they turned and trudged all the way back out. The next candidate turned out to be very shallow and obviously empty, and the one after that seemed promising at first but turned out to end in a massive Woobat nest.
May didn’t have much hope for the fourth. It looked barely big enough for a dragon to get through. But as Charizard lifted his tail once they’d climbed through the entrance, it turned out to be a considerably bigger cavern, and on the left side, a wide tunnel led into the darkness.
“That looks pretty good,” Charizard said. May nodded wordlessly and entered it, the Fire Pokémon following hastily behind.
The tunnel narrowed a little as they continued inwards, but not by much. Shadows danced on the rough walls on every side, creating a constant illusion of movement; at first, startled Zubat occasionally screeched overhead and made them jump before flying out through the tunnel, but as they went deeper, even they disappeared. The cave became stark and empty, each dimly flickering section of wall the same as another; her feet hurt from the walking, her eyes hurt from squinting into the darkness.
“Do you also hear something?” Charizard asked suddenly.
“What?” She stopped and waited, holding her breath; without the noise of their footsteps, she could hear a deep, barely audible rumbling somewhere ahead – like the breathing of some large creature somewhere in the depths of the tunnel.
Overwhelming relief was the first thing she felt. She let out the breath she’d been holding, reaching up for her Pokéball necklace. “Okay, this could be it. Be ready.”
“Shouldn’t you get the others?” asked Chaletwo, and she jumped.
“Just… when I’ve made sure, okay?”
They walked slow, measured steps along the tunnel, her heart pounding in her ears. She could hear the breathing clearly now, slow, calm breaths, like the creature was asleep. That meant it should be easy to confirm it was there and then get out. The tunnel was wide enough for Charizard to spread his wings, but not the dragon. They could see it, bolt, and then call the others. Easy.
May rounded a corner a second before Charizard. Her breath caught as she made out the indistinct outline of a large shape lying on the cave floor, but it seemed smaller than she’d expected, and a lot rounder in shape. Then the flame swung around the corner, illuminating... thick white fur?
A Beartic. Yet another wasted trip just to find some stupid wild Pokémon. Frustration and disappointment and rage reached a boiling point somewhere in the back of her mouth.
“Charizard, Flamethrower,” she said; he looked at her in puzzlement. The huge polar bear Pokémon was stirring, probably awoken by the sound of her voice. “It’s waking up. Just do it.”
She stepped backwards as the Beartic rose to its hind legs with a deep roar, swiping at Charizard with one of its paws. He shuffled back as well, breathing in deep, and then released a bright cone of flames from his mouth. It hit the polar bear square in the chest, and it roared in pain, dropping back down to all fours. Charizard turned and started to flap his wings.
“No! Another Flamethrower!” May ordered, but Charizard just looked at her and shook his head, taking off as the Beartic charged towards him. She tore Skarmory’s Pokéball off her necklace instead and threw it. “Steel Wing! However many it takes!”
Skarmory came out with his wings glowing and smashed into the Beartic. May watched with clenched fists as he swiped across its body again and again, streaking its stark white fur with dark blood and drawing raw roars of pain from its throat, and then recalled him when she was sure it wasn’t moving anymore. She was left in cold darkness, her breath shaking.
“Wow,” said Chaletwo, and she jumped. “That was brutal.”
“It’s just fainted!” she snapped. “It was a wild Pokémon and I battled it! That’s what trainers do!”
“May,” Chaletwo said; she took a deep breath. “This is not normal. You’re coming unhinged. Please calm down.”
She wanted to make an icy retort, but couldn’t. No, it wasn’t normal. There was no reason to waste time fighting the Beartic at all.
“Is this because of the reading your mind thing? Because at this point I’d be relieved to switch to Alan’s head instead.”
She shook her head firmly in the darkness and forcibly unclenched her fists. A flickering light appeared in her peripheral vision; she turned to find Charizard carefully making his way back towards her.
“Are you all right?” he asked quietly.
“Yeah,” she said and walked over to him. Wordlessly, he turned around and they headed towards the exit.
“I’m sorry I left you behind,” he said after a moment, without looking at her.
“I’m...” May winced. “Sorry I was trying to make you battle.”
“It scared me,” Charizard muttered. “How angry you were.”
May didn’t say anything.
“How long is it going to take for Mark to heal?” Charizard asked when they finally reached the cave exit.
“Mrs. Riverstone said maybe six weeks.”
Here, on his third day of being with her, he was already thinking of when he could have his real trainer back. She wasn’t even surprised and it still stung.
There was nothing in the other caves either, except a lone Froslass that retreated into the wall when she approached. After another long and fruitless day, they had dinner at their camp site, let their Pokémon mingle and train for a while, and retreated to their tents again.
May couldn’t sleep. She curled up in her sleeping bag trying to keep warm, looking at Robin’s wild hair sticking out of hers, the Beartic’s roars still ringing in her ears. Eventually, she whispered, “Robin?”
“What?” the other girl said sleepily without turning around.
“My Tyranitar,” she began; her mouth was dry. “He... it was him who killed him. Taylor.”
A second passed before Robin turned over in her bag. “What?” she said again, blinking at May. “He...”
“He thought he was doing it for me. I didn’t want that. He just...” May pressed her lips together, wishing she hadn’t started. She barely even knew Robin. How did she know she wouldn’t take it to the police or worse?
“You didn’t tell him to attack him, did you?” Robin’s eyes were wide and alarmed. Maybe that was better than starstruck.
“No, he just... he misunderstood.”
Robin pushed herself upright. “Misunderstood what?”
“I...” May wanted to go away, out of this tent, out somewhere where she could be alone and not hear her voice shaking. “I said he should die, but not... I didn’t mean it. It’s just how people talk.”
“Have you told the police? Aren’t they still investigating it?”
“We’re trying to save the world,” May said. “That… that has to come first. I just… I just thought you should know.”
Robin looked at her for a few seconds before slowly lying down again, facing the other way.
May turned away too, clutching at her sleeping bag.
Over the next couple of weeks, they alternated training sessions and searching for the dragons. The former progressed quickly, Robin’s team being quick learners who were obviously used to trying on different strategies; the latter was nothing but disappointment after disappointment. Caves upon caves turned out empty, and the mountains started to seem familiar, mundane and limited.
Robin didn’t mention Tyranitar again. May didn’t attack any more wild Pokémon.
“We’ve been over the entire mountain range by now,” Alan told Dragoreen after two further excruciating weeks. “They could still be lying low somewhere, but at this point we think they’re probably not here anymore. Do you have any idea where they might have gone? If not we might just have to exhaustively search every mountainous area in Ouen. We don’t really have that kind of time.”
The dragon considered it. “How long have you been looking?” she asked at last.
“A month,” May said. “We’ve covered everything that looks big enough.”
Dragoreen closed her eyes, thinking, her mouth curling into a frown. Stray snowflakes settled on her body and she irritably shook them away.
“They’re here,” she said, finally. “Keep looking.”
“Really?” Chaletwo asked, skeptical. “How sure are you? We can’t afford to waste more time here if we’re going to have to look blindly around the entire region.”
“I know,” said Dragoreen firmly. “I can feel it. They’re here. You must have overlooked something.”
May pressed her lips together, nodding curtly before she recalled the legendary. Robin and Alan glanced at her and then each other in silence.
“Well,” she said. “Let’s get back to work.”
They spent another week going over some areas again with a fine-toothed comb, checking caves that weren’t easily visible from above and ones that were probably too small. It felt futile, pointless. May felt she knew the mountains like the back of her hand by now; every day was the same trudge through the same caves leading to the same nothing. At least she’d stopped being disappointed and angry; by now all she felt was dull apathy.
“Dragoreen,” she asked the evening of the twentieth of January, her teeth chattering in the cold, “are you absolutely certain they’re still here? Could they have moved somewhere or seen us coming? Are they evading us somehow? We’ve looked in every cave and there’s nothing.”
Dragoreen shook her scaled body, crouched low to conserve heat. “How long has it been?” she asked.
“More than five weeks. Mark’s almost recovered. If they’re not here, we need to move on soon.”
The dragon surveyed her for a few seconds, tilting her head. “Perhaps I was mistaken,” she said eventually.
“Mistaken?” May stared at her. “What do you mean, mistaken?”
“Perhaps they weren’t here. It may have been the mountains of Scorpion Valley that they were in.”
“What?” Chaletwo said, not even trying to hide his frustration anymore. “You told us several times that you were absolutely sure. You said they were here. What changed?”
“Maybe they weren’t,” Dragoreen said, looking down thoughtfully. “No, I think it was the Scorpion mountains.”
“This is ridiculous,” Chaletwo said. “You were very insistent that we keep looking here a week ago.”
“Apparently not.” Dragoreen shivered. “Now get me out of this cold.”
May pointed the Master Ball at her and pressed the button, wordlessly, before turning around. What words could there be? The dragons weren’t here. They’d never been here. It was all for nothing. Of course it was. Why would a bunch of dragons, doubly weak to Ice, choose to live in such a cold place anyway?
That last thought gave her pause, a niggling sense of dread creeping up on her. Something was wrong. Something was very wrong. This hadn’t made any sense from the beginning. Dragoreen had been knowingly lying to them. Why would she lie?
As heat rushed to her face, May hurled the Master Ball at the nearest rock, as hard as she could throw it; it popped open and the dragon reemerged in a burst of white light, pressing her wings against her sides.
“You knew,” May said; she wanted to scream and kick and punch, but she didn’t even have the energy, only helpless anger that trembled too audibly in her voice. “You were trying to waste our time so they’d be weaker by the time we get there and capture them. You deliberately sent us here so that we’d...”
Dragoreen looked coolly at her, a wisp of a smug grin playing around the edges of her mouth.
“Ice Punch!” May said, throwing another ball; Floatzel came out hissing, her paw already on her Never-Melt Ice. Dragoreen didn’t even try to dodge or counterattack as Floatzel smashed her fist into her jaw.
“Where are they?” May clenched her fists tighter than she thought she’d ever clenched them. “Where are your brothers really?”
“I told you the truth earlier,” Dragoreen said calmly. “I have no interest in delaying you so long you won’t get them at all.”
May stared at her; her lack of remorse or defense was the most frustrating part of all, like a wall of calculated indifference that made it impossible to even hurt her back. “Ice Punch her again,” she said coldly, and Floatzel grinned before socking Dragoreen in the jaw again. The legendary only shook her head.
“I would be angry, too,” she said. “But you gain nothing by punishing me. My goals were not the same as yours before; now they are. Go and capture them.”
May felt tears in her eyes, bitter, hateful tears, made worse because Dragoreen was right. There was nothing to do but to continue on their way.
She recalled Dragoreen again and Floatzel with her, sending out Skarmory instead. “Come on,” she said. “Let’s get the others.”
This chapter took me fourteen months to write, which makes it the slowest-written chapter in the entire fic. This was partly down to the fact that I was now starting to dive deeper into cleaning up the draft I wrote of the rest of the fic for NaNoWriMo 2012, and had realized that a lot of things about it fundamentally did not work, and was spending a lot of time mulling over exactly what I needed to do to make it work. But partly I was just a perfectionist about it because it was an important May chapter and I wanted to get it right. I spent like a month towards the end just mulling over one sentence that I wanted to be better.
I enjoy May internally putting down Mark and Mark's Charizard in this chapter a lot.
Robin is an enby egg; she's eleven and hasn't really questioned her gender, but she's probably going to in a few years. For the moment, though, she still identifies as a girl and feels fine about it; she just gets a funny little thrill out of people assuming otherwise.
I kind of wish I'd done a bit more with May's relationships to both Charizard and Chaletwo this chapter, but ah well.
Chapter 65! In which our heroes fight some more dragons. (Note we're caught up with the chapter art again now, and I'm trying to take them relatively slow, so expect somewhat longer gaps between chapters - 4-7 days most of the time, probably.)
Chapter 65: Three Dragons
“Just try to treat your arm like normal. Don’t avoid using it and putting weight on it. Don’t break it again either, but I trust you’ll be more careful from now on.”
Mark nodded from atop Charizard’s back. “Thanks for all your help, Mrs. Riverstone,” he said. “And thanks again for letting us borrow your daughter.”
She grimaced. “I’d be coming with you myself if I had battling Pokémon, not sending my eleven-year-old. Frankly, after this whole setback I don’t know how I can possibly believe you’ll make it.”
May had filled them in on Dragoreen’s deception in a curt phone call the previous night. Mrs. Riverstone had been livid, but somehow Mark had felt mainly disappointment: as terrifying and ruthless as she could be, Dragoreen had ultimately seemed like the reasonable one of her sisters, and during his recovery he’d permitted himself to hope she was truly on their side.
“Don’t worry, Mom,” Robin said after a few seconds of dull silence, but even she didn’t sound half as cheerful as she’d been before they’d left. “We know where we’re headed now, and after that we just have to find two more. We’ll be fine.”
“Well, if not,” her mother said, “there’s always the bunker.” She pointed a thumb behind her, at the entrance to the unfinished underground shelter she’d been building over the past weeks with the help of a band of Ground Pokémon she’d recruited from the Safari. Mark shuddered at the thought they might have to use it.
“Well, we’d better go,” Alan said with a sigh. “Thanks for everything and goodbye, Mrs. Riverstone.”
“Bye, Mom!” Robin called, flashing a grin as her Charizard took off the ground. “See you when we’re heroes!”
Mrs. Riverstone grinned back and waved for a second before turning around back to her house, shaking her head. Robin’s smile faded into a wince as their Pokémon ascended and headed west.
They flew to Acaria City first, stayed there overnight, and then headed for Scorpio City the next morning. Mark briefly considered whether they should visit Mitch since they were there – the last time they’d met was still nagging uncomfortably at Mark’s mind – but eventually decided against it for now, figuring that since they’d lost so much time, they should use it looking for the dragons as far as they possibly could.
“These mountains are a lot smaller than around Acaria,” Alan commented when they had landed on the edge of the town. “Hopefully they won’t take as long to go through.”
“And warmer,” Robin added.
“Yeah,” May said, grimacing. “A lot more of a natural hiding place for a bunch of Dragon/Flying-types. God, we were so stupid.”
Mark sighed inwardly. In retrospect he supposed it would have been kind of odd for the dragons to live somewhere very cold, but given Dragoreen had explicitly said they were there, he couldn’t exactly blame anyone for not questioning it. He knew better than to try to convince May of that, though.
“It was exhausting being in her head,” Chaletwo said. “I had started to take you for granted, but she was just… constantly angry. She never let me get a very good grasp on what she was thinking, but what I caught wasn’t encouraging.”
Mark tried to imagine being inside May’s head; his first thought was that it was probably terrifying. Is she okay?
“Mostly. She was pretty stressed. Got vicious when things didn’t go right. Robin brought up Tyranitar, which didn’t exactly help.”
Mark winced. She doesn’t know?
“May told her eventually,” Chaletwo said. “I’m concerned about that too. Robin seemed pretty alarmed but then just… stopped talking about it. It doesn’t feel like a good sign.”
Mark nodded, furrowing his brow. It looked like their time in the Acaria mountains hadn’t been good for anyone involved; even Alan was kind of moody and quiet. Maybe it was a good thing he hadn’t been there.
“So, do we head for the mountains now or tomorrow?” Robin asked, snapping him abruptly out of his thoughts.
“I’m kind of hungry,” he said. “How about you?”
“Let’s have a quick dinner and then go,” May said, already turning down the main street. “Dragoreen lost us enough time already.”
They didn’t find anything that evening, not that he’d really expected them to, but they did gain a valuable overview of the mountains surrounding the valley and managed to pin down some of the most promising caves they hadn’t explored.
At Robin’s suggestion, as the dark of night set in, before returning to the Pokémon Center, they stood silently a safe distance up the mountainside and watched the eerily beautiful flood of black scorpions near-simultaneously emerging out of the sand to hunt. Mark thought back to that night they’d stupidly camped there and May had almost died, wondering if she was thinking about the same thing or if she tried not to.
In the morning they headed out again, split the valley into four parts, and each went to cover the mountains in one of them. Charizard flew over Mark’s area for a more detailed overview, and then they headed for the largest cave they’d found.
“Do you think May’s okay?” Charizard murmured as they entered the cavern.
A pang of dread hit him; if Charizard had noticed too without reading her mind, it was probably bad. “Chaletwo was saying she was pretty stressed.”
“Yeah.” Charizard took a deep breath, hesitating. “I don’t think I helped,” he said at last. “The starter Pokémon preparation taught us to be supportive of our trainers when they’re going through a tough time. But while I was there I was too caught up in comparing her to you to remember that. I probably could have talked to her.”
“I don’t think May wants to be talked to when she’s upset,” Mark said. “Don’t blame yourself.”
Charizard sighed and might have been about to say something more when there was a roar from outside, faint with distance but unmistakably furious.
Wide-eyed, Mark scrambled onto Charizard’s back, and Charizard took off to clumsily navigate back out through the tunnel they were in. The sunlight outside momentarily blinded Mark; he shielded his eyes as he got used to it, blinking rapidly, and then saw on the other side of the valley – Robin’s area – where a large shape was hovering in the air, roaring and spewing jets of water towards a smaller shape that had to be Robin’s Charizard.
“Quick!” Mark said, needlessly; Charizard was already speeding towards the battle. Looking around, he saw Skarmory and Charlie making their way over there as well with their trainers. Robin’s Charizard was dodging nimbly, but she hadn’t sent out any other Pokémon, even as Mark indistinctly heard her shouting: she was trying for diplomacy. Mark grinned at the realization.
“...look, he’s over there, Chaletwo, tell him!” As Robin frantically waved her hand in Mark’s direction, the blue dragon looked suspiciously his way but didn’t attack.
“Hello, Dracobalt,” Chaletwo said. “Long time, no see. I assume she was telling you about the War of the Legends.”
Dracobalt stared at Mark for a moment more before he lowered his head, pent-up tension fading from his body. “Chaletwo,” he said with a sigh as he looked up again. “So it is you. I thought my sisters were behind this.”
He turned and landed on the mountainside, gesturing for them to join him. Mark and Robin did immediately; Alan hesitated, but Charlie landed anyway, and May lingered for a long second before giving Skarmory the go-ahead to do the same.
“So, then,” the dragon said. “If I understood correctly, you’re out capturing legendaries in the hope that it will prevent this... ‘war’ from happening. What is that ‘war’ about, and why haven’t I heard of it?”
“Are your brothers here?” Chaletwo asked. “You should all hear this.”
Dracobalt’s eyes narrowed slightly. “I suppose.”
He shook himself, the large, fishlike fin that grew out of his spine swaying, and craned his neck back. A deep roar shook the mountains around them, and seconds later, two more shapes emerged from the mountainsides around the valley: a golden dragon down the ridge they were on in the city’s direction, and a black one from the other side of the valley (Mark realized with a flutter in his stomach that it came out of the next cave he’d planned to explore).
“What’s going on?” growled the black dragon, presumably Venoir, as he landed nearby. “Who are these humans?”
“Apparently Chaletwo thinks the world will end unless we agree to be caught,” Dracobalt said, his eyes still on Mark. “I thought we should at least let him speak.”
“Chaletwo?” said Preciure as he folded his wings, having taken his place on Dracobalt’s right. “Working with humans? Really? Well, I suppose I always knew he was a bit nuts.”
“What?” said Chaletwo indignantly. Sensing an argument in the making, Mark quickly spoke to get to the point.
“Look,” he said. “There’s a phenomenon known as the War of the Legends. It happens every thousand years and is the reason you’ve probably felt your powers diminishing lately. It involves all the legendaries going mad and super-powerful at once and killing each other until there’s only one left. If they’re all inside Pokéballs when the War should start, they’ll be cut off from the power surge, so then hopefully it won’t happen and you’ll all be unharmed.”
The dragons looked at one another.
“Hopefully?” Preciure asked, skeptical.
“Do you have a better idea?”
“I suppose not, but that’s because this is the first I’ve heard about it. How do you know of this?”
Chaletwo sighed. “Remember being told about the disaster a thousand years ago?”
Preciure peered at Mark. “Vaguely; it was before our time. That was this? Have you always known?”
“Well, no,” Chaletwo said irritably, “Mew neglected to mention it was a regularly recurring event until some twenty years ago, when Molzapart and I started probing him about our power loss. But it was the same thing.”
“I presume this is why you made that ridiculous proposal back then?”
“I’m sorry we were vague, but Mew had absolutely forbidden us to inform any of you that the War would happen again. It was all we could do.”
“All you could do, aside from just telling us. Who cares what Mew thinks? Isn’t the end of the world a little more important than Mew’s approval? Well, not to you, I suppose, but I didn’t take Molzapart for…”
“Can we not do this?” Mark said, exasperated. “Isn’t the end of the world also a little more important than airing out your issues with each other?”
Venoir gave him a poisonous glare that made him flinch. “You should keep a tighter leash on your humans, Chaletwo.”
Preciure shook himself, waving a wing dismissively at Venoir. “Now, now, it may have a point. Let’s put aside our petty differences and talk solutions. You think capturing all of us will stop the War, correct?”
“Yes, that’s the idea.”
“But say we’d like a better deal out of that, since your terms seem rather inconvenient for us. What could you offer in return for our cooperation?”
“What on earth are you talking about? It’s stop the end of the world or –”
“For instance,” Preciure went on, “I think my brothers would agree that if you were to… forget to save our sisters in time, we’d be considerably more enthusiastic. Is that a possibility?”
Mark tried his best to keep the wince off his face.
“We can’t ‘forget’ to save someone. That’s not how it works. It has to be all of them, or the remaining ones destroy everything anyway.”
Preciure chuckled, a disturbingly metallic sound. “Well, ultimately you have to get them all out of the way, to be sure. But you say this is why we’ve been losing power and that Pokéballs cut off the power surge – is it safe to assume that the power loss also stops when we’re inside a Pokéball?”
“It does, but…”
“Then surely if you were to wait to get them until the War is very close, they’ll be quite weak once you do. Wouldn’t that only make things more convenient for you? I could even tell you where they’ve been hiding – but not until later, of course, to ensure you keep your end of the deal.”
“Ah… er, we…”
“Yes,” May interrupted firmly, giving Mark a sideward shut-up glare. “That sounds great. Thanks. Let’s get you in our balls now and we’ll get back to you near the end.”
Dracobalt looked warily at Preciure. Preciure’s eyes narrowed. Venoir stared at May, then Mark. Some instinct made Mark start to back away without thinking; he reached for Charizard beside him, feeling the tension in the Pokémon’s neck, muscles preparing for liftoff.
“You went to them first,” Preciure hissed, an all-too-familiar mad fury rising in his voice, and suddenly Venoir was lashing out with his engorged fangs at the ready. Charizard stumbled back out of his way and began to frantically flap his wings as Mark managed to crawl onto his back, heart hammering. The other fliers were scattering, and May was already throwing her Pokéballs.
“Everyone, according to plan!” she shouted.
As they had before the fight with Raudra and Puragon, they had worked out in advance where each Pokémon’s abilities would be best used, and May’s Pokémon wasted no time. Floatzel and Raichu went after the ascending Dracobalt as they emerged, Raichu’s Thunder Wave seeping into his muscles only a fraction of a second before Floatzel hit him with a powerful Ice Punch that knocked him in the direction of the mountainside. Preciure hit an invisible wall in the air, created by Spirit’s Mean Look, as he tried to come to Dracobalt’s aid. Flygon raked his claws across Venoir’s wing and then shot forward, drawing the roaring black dragon to follow him away from the trainers, and then started to spin a Sand Tomb around them, trapping Venoir there.
“Traitorous worms,” snarled Preciure as Mark threw his Pokéballs. Robin and Alan’s Pokémon were already materializing all around. “What negotiation! Lie through your teeth about your pact with the enemy, all the while planning an assault if we should see through it? Congratulations on finally growing a spine, but this is low even for you, Chaletwo.”
“What choice did we have?” Chaletwo shouted back, fiercely. “You petty imbeciles would let the world burn to inconvenience your sisters! Short-sighted idiots – we should’ve just snuck up on you in your sleep!”
Preciure started to make a retort, but was cut off as Weavile smashed an Ice Punch into the side of his head. He roared as he attempted to swipe at her with his claws but missed, only to be struck with a Thunder Wave from Robin’s Luxray. With another contemptuous snarl, he flared up in blue flames and charged towards Dragonite, who was coming at him with a Dragon Rush. The two dragons collided in a ball of multicolored flames and then rebounded, Dragonite struggling to flap his wings while Preciure rushed right back at him, and this time Dragonite went limp in the air. Mark recalled him as pointed stones called by Robin’s Machamp shot straight up into Preciure’s body from below and the dragon turned his attention towards her.
Mark looked quickly to where Dracobalt was – yes, Vicky had managed to trap him with a Mean Look, too, higher up the mountainside, and Floatzel and Mist were alternating Ice attacks – before giving Charizard the go-ahead to fly closer to Venoir, where most of his remaining Pokémon were. The black dragon was still trapped in a vortex of sand, and judging from his erratic movements, Jolteon had successfully paralyzed him. May’s Flygon was gone – he noticed her sending out Butterfree to replace him and ordering a Tailwind – but Robin’s Froslass and Gastrodon were inside the vortex firing Ice Beams from two different directions, and Sandslash, from where he was standing in the desert sand below, shot sharp rocks into the Sand Tomb. Scyther was Swords Dancing nearby as he waited for an opportunity to strike.
Robin, too, was turning her attention towards Venoir. “Froslass, Confuse Ray!” she shouted as the black dragon smashed his tail into Gastrodon’s body. The sea slug squealed helplessly as she hurtled through the air towards the mountainside. Robin quickly recalled her in mid-air and then sent her back out in the sand nearby. In the meantime, Froslass produced an orb of light that flickered within the Sand Tomb, drawing Venoir’s eyes towards it.
“Okay, Froslass, get out of there,” Robin said, and the little ghost Pokémon vanished and reappeared outside the whirl of sand. “Mark, can you recall Sandslash and send him out up on the rocks instead for a moment? I have an idea.”
Mark warily did so, and Robin called, “Gastrodon, Whirlpool!”
Gastrodon nodded quickly and closed her eyes. Slowly, water vapour began to condense around the Sand Tomb, gluing the dusty particles together into globs of mud. Inside the vortex, the confused Venoir was shaking his head, too distracted to notice his limbs sinking into the sand as it became saturated with water. The whirl of wet dirt around him slowed as its mass built up and finally collapsed under its own weight on top of him, burying the dragon underneath. He screeched in surprise, flailing under the mud.
“Everyone, attack, now!” Robin shouted, and immediately Froslass and Gastrodon began to fire more Ice Beams and Jolteon Thunderbolts. Sandslash shot another Stone Edge, and Scyther nimbly dodged past the stones to strike at Venoir’s wings with his scythes. The dragon roared in the middle of the onslaught, struggling to move; he spewed out a bright teal Dragonbreath, but Scyther managed to dart out of the way.
“Nice work, Robin,” Mark called, and she grinned widely. Venoir was still struggling to rise, weakening rapidly as attacks continued to bombard him. Once they brought him down, all of these Pokémon could then move on to –
“Robin, look out!” Alan shouted from somewhere behind Mark, and Mark looked quickly back in her direction to see Preciure darting towards her, wreathed in blue fire. Her Charizard whipped his head around and shot up out of the way, and Robin yelped in surprise as she lost her grip on his neck and narrowly managed to grab onto the base of his wings instead. The Charizard slowed down in concern, looking over his shoulder, while Preciure rocketed upwards and –
“No!” Alan yelled, and Charlie rammed his body into Preciure at full speed. Charlie roared in pain as he came into contact with the dragon flames surrounding the legendary, and Preciure was quick to take advantage of the sudden contact by digging his claws into the Charizard’s flesh and driving both of them towards the ground with a triumphant screech. Charlie’s wings were no match for the much larger dragon’s weight; by now he was upside-down, and Alan only managed to dangle off his neck for a second before he lost his grip entirely. He screamed as he fell; time seemed to slow as Mark watched in shock and couldn’t get his brain to think of what to do – but he didn’t need to, because May’s Skarmory dived, and she clung to his neck with one arm and reached out for Alan with the other.
She grabbed his hand, and time sped up again. There was no way May could have pulled him up; instead, Skarmory just managed to slow down their fall enough so that when they all crashed into the sand, they could fall into a roll and appeared mostly unharmed.
And as Mark and Charizard were staring at that, a sudden, cold blast of water hit them in the face.
Charizard was thrust helplessly back by the Hydro Pump, coughing and spluttering; Mark managed to cling onto his neck only by virtue of having wrapped his arms tighter around him while watching Alan fall. He squeezed his eyes shut as they careened through the air, his stomach twisting and lurching, until abruptly the water pressure was gone, his Pokémon struggling to gain control of his flight again while they lost their borrowed momentum. For a few more terrifying seconds they tumbled over each other in the air, falling, falling – and then, with a sharp, twisting flap of his wings, Charizard managed to reorient himself. A flurry of frantic wingbeats slowed their descent, and finally, they were pulling upwards again.
Mark released the breath he’d been holding with a choked gasp and opened his eyes again, blinking rapidly. They’d been thrown some distance from the battle; at least that meant there was no danger for now. Every muscle in his body was still tense and aching. He took a deep breath and gently released his hold on Charizard’s neck, willing his body to relax. “You okay?” he mumbled, his voice trembling a little.
Charizard was panting, but he nodded. “Let’s get back in there,” he said, groaning with a heave of effort as he started to head back towards the battle.
“Are you sure?” Mark asked. “We could rest for a bit if you like.”
The Pokémon shook his head. “Those dragons aren’t resting.”
Mark squinted as they approached the fight, trying to regain a sense of what was going on. May was back in the air on Skarmory, but Alan had gotten onto Diamond’s back, and she was leaping to evade another Hydro Pump from Dracobalt. Charlie was nowhere to be seen; presumably Preciure had knocked him out. Dracobalt and Preciure were staying close together in the air now: clearly they’d figured out their ploy about keeping them apart to split up the battle. Venoir…
…wasn’t there. The place where they’d trapped him earlier was an empty, wet mound of mud. Mark looked wildly around, half-expecting to find the black dragon sneaking up behind them, but he was nowhere in sight.
“One down, two to go,” Robin shouted towards him, and he blinked. He’d missed a capture? It seemed bizarrely anticlimactic, but it made sense – Venoir had been weakening rapidly earlier, after all. Robin must have thrown the ball, then. He gave her an encouraging thumbs-up and started trying to locate his Pokémon. Weavile was lying fainted on the ground near where Preciure had been earlier; he quickly recalled her back into her ball. Scyther was attacking Dracobalt, striking with repeated quick Fury Cutters in between darting out of reach. Jolteon stood some distance from the dragons, shooting Thunderbolts. Sandslash was down in the sand below them, shooting Stone Edges upwards.
He’d no sooner noticed Sandslash than Dracobalt spewed a jet of water straight down at him. Sandslash let out a surprised screech as Scyther zoomed in to try to distract Dracobalt again, but just then Preciure flared up in an Outrage and barrelled into Scyther, keeping him away. Sandslash collapsed under the Hydro Pump with a quiet whine, and Mark returned him to the safety of his Pokéball.
As Scyther fell towards the ground, Racko and Pamela leapt onto Dracobalt’s back, slicing their claws into him. He roared in pain, twisting in the air as the Hydro Pump dissipated, but even before Dracobalt could counterattack, Preciure had torn them off him and dived with a vengeful hiss, dragging them with him towards the ground. Racko slashed madly at him on the way down and Pamela locked her jaws around his forelimb, but Preciure hardly even reacted before he thrust both of them into the desert rocks. Alan recalled them both, wincing.
May’s Mutark had managed to take their place on Dracobalt’s back, however, and the blue dragon was now wreathed in cyan-colored fire of his own as he tried to shake her off. He looked a lot worse for wear than Preciure: his breath came in gasps as he shot yet another Hydro Pump towards Raichu, knocking him into the cliff wall behind him, and his flight was faltering. He landed on an outcropping of rock, where Preciure returned to grab Mutark and throw her harshly into the mountainside. She collapsed with a faint whine while Preciure hovered, shaking his head, and May recalled her as she came swooping in on Skarmory.
“Everyone attack the blue one!” she yelled, and a Thunderbolt from Jolteon struck Dracobalt before Stantler leapt to Stomp him, Robin’s Cacturne hit him with a Feint Attack and Butterfree sent a purple pulse of psychic power at his head – and that was it, Mark realized with dread; they were the only Pokémon left. Dracobalt roared, his voice panicked and desperate, shooting a weak, futile Dragonbreath that failed to hit Stantler as she darted away, and May hurled an Ultra Ball that sucked him in and began to shake on the ground.
Preciure had apparently managed to shake off the disorientation of all those Outrages, and now, flaring anew with bluish flames and snarling hatefully, he darted towards the remaining Pokémon. He tore madly at Butterfree’s wings before throwing her tattered form aside; he knocked Stantler away from the mountainside with his tail and she tumbled helplessly down the mountain until May recalled her, knuckles white; he picked Jolteon up in his jaws and shook him violently before throwing him aside; and…
“Destiny Bond!” Robin called.
The cactus Pokémon grinned, purple flames rising from his body. Mark could see Preciure’s pupils contracting to slits, a twitch of hesitation in his flight, a glimmer of horrified realization somewhere behind the blind fury of the Outrage.
But he dived nonetheless, screeching with rage, and tore into Cacturne with his claws. And as he did, the dragon flames coating his body turned a ghostly purple, and his screech became a shrieking howl of agony.
“Cheating scum,” he hissed with his last breath before his eyes rolled back in his head and he collapsed into the sand, stirring up clouds of dust in the deafening silence that followed.
Robin tossed yet another Ultra Ball, and after absorbing Preciure’s form, it stilled without shaking.
“Yes! Take that, idiots!” Chaletwo shouted triumphantly as their Pokémon landed in the desert sand to catch their breaths. “Good thinking, Robin. You’re living up to everything May said about you. Great job, all.”
Robin gave May a strange, puzzled glance before turning to Mark and grinning. “I’m just glad it worked out. I was about to suggest we just throw a ball to delay him and then run for it, but then I realized he kept using Outrage, so…”
“Yeah,” May said quickly. “Good work.”
Robin looked at her, smiling cautiously; May looked away, and Robin looked back at Mark in defeat.
“Well,” Mark said after a moment, not sure what was going on between the two of them, “now it’s just the Waraider herd and Mew.”
Alan gave a tight smile, petting Diamond’s neck absent-mindedly; May just nodded. A few more seconds passed in silence.
“We can talk about them over lunch,” Robin finally said, her voice firm. “Come on.”
And they recalled their Pokémon and trudged back towards the city.
This chapter took me a year, minus a few hours, which makes it the second slowest-written chapter. This time it was largely because I realized at some point that the battle made no sense and I'd have to rewrite it from scratch, and then I just kept putting it off, oops.
Kind of wish there was a bit more of a sense of Mark having been with Mrs. Riverstone for several weeks.
The writing was always kind of inconsistent about exactly what the legendaries knew before Mew explained the War; this chapter finally establishes properly what was going on there, with them aware that something happened a thousand years ago but not that it would be happening again.
Look at everyone being awkward and dispirited! Plenty of that to go around in this last chunk of the fic.
Chapter 66 (only three days, because I am just a liar). In which Alan is Fine.
Chapter 66: Doubts
“Right,” said Robin as they ate lunch in a busy Scorpio City restaurant. “So what do we know about the Waraider herd exactly? I’ve never been super-into legendaries.”
“They’re eight unicorns of different types,” Mark said. “Normal, Fire, Water, Electric, Grass, Ice, Psychic and Dark. Supposedly they’re always together, and the legend says they keep the balance of the world and if they’re ever separated nature will go out of whack.”
Robin raised her eyebrows. “That doesn’t sound like a fun fight.”
“Is that even true?” May asked, looking at Mark. “It sounds like something people would make up.”
“They’re an elusive bunch,” Chaletwo said. “I don’t know them very well, to be honest, but the part about them keeping together is true, at least. Don’t know exactly what would happen if they were separated, but I’d guess the keeping balance bit is probably a human invention.”
“Didn’t you and Mew create them?” Mark asked.
“Well, in a manner of speaking. We created Waraider, but then a couple of months later there were suddenly eight of them, and we had nothing to do with that. He must have created the others himself.”
“Huh.” Mark blinked. “Can any legendary create others?”
“Not normally, but their powers can be unpredictable. It wouldn’t be the first time something like it has happened.”
“Wait, so can we separate them or not?” Robin asked.
Chaletwo hesitated before answering. “Since we didn’t create them, I don’t know how their relationship works, but they do act pretty obsessively dependent on each other. Best-case scenario, being separated will make them very, very angry, and there are a lot of ways it could be a lot worse than that. I’d rather not test it.”
“Why didn’t you ask Waraider about the others, if they just suddenly appeared out of nowhere?” May asked.
Chaletwo sighed. “I did, but he was confused. Young legendaries don’t have the best control over their powers. Maybe he made them by accident. Or he was just… well, you’d understand if you’d met them. They’re pretty… strange, for lack of a better word.”
“So how are we going to capture them?” Robin asked. “Putting them in separate Pokéballs would be separating them, right?”
“That’s the thing. See, my thinking is that any adverse effects would directly or indirectly involve something going screwy with them when the others aren’t all there, and that should mean it’ll be fine if they’re all captured simultaneously – if nobody’s left to cause any damage, there’s nothing to fear. But obviously that’s not the easiest thing to accomplish in a fight.”
Robin stared at him.
“Okay,” Mark said, “clearly we really don’t want a fight here, then. We want to talk to them and get them to agree to be caught, and then it’ll be easy to get them all in Pokéballs at the same time instead of having to puzzle out how we’d get it done by force. And there’s no reason to think they’d say no if we explain things to them, since they don’t have any siblings they’re paranoid about, or any reason to think Chaletwo would be lying to them, or any reason to not want the War stopped. Right?”
“It… may not be so simple,” Chaletwo said reluctantly. “Like I said, they’re weird. They don’t like to do anything unless they all agree on it, and some of them are pretty nuts. We might get lucky and convince all of them, but I wouldn’t count on it, and if we don’t convince all of them, they’d probably rather all fight back than coerce the remaining ones.”
“Wouldn’t the less nuts ones try to persuade the others for something like this?” Mark said, but a familiar sensation of dread was already forming in his stomach.
“Again,” Chaletwo said, “they’re weird. They tend to operate on some strange moon logic. Don’t trust them to be reasonable about anything.”
Alan sighed heavily, grimacing. “So, in other words, we have to assume there might be a battle, again.”
“We should have assumed that anyway,” May said. “I’m sticking with what I suggested before: let’s contact the other legendary hunters. We need more battle strength and more information, and they would have both. And the more people and Pokémon we have, the more likely we can win this fight.”
“Do you think we should maybe contact Carl too, then?” Mark asked hesitantly. “He did help us catch one legendary, and I’ve felt kind of bad that we never actually told him the truth about what was going on. He’d probably be a huge help, and he kind of owes us a favour for helping save his town. And we can check on whether Volcaryu’s safe.”
“What about Victor?” May suggested. “He knew a bit of what was going on, from Mitch. We could go all the way with that.”
“Mitch himself, too,” Mark added. “And Sparky – we kind of saved his town as well, and he saw us fighting Thunderyu.”
“Slow down,” Chaletwo said. “We can’t tell the entire region what we’re doing. We know the other legendary hunters can be trusted; let’s contact them first.” He paused. “But fine, I suppose given those Gym leaders already know something, it’d be a good idea to check on them if we can. And perhaps we could use some more help.”
Alan looked between Mark and May, disbelieving. “So, what, that’s it? Getting Gym leaders to help us is fine? We could’ve done that all along?”
“It’s an emergency, isn’t it?” Chaletwo said defensively. “There’s eight of them. We had enough trouble with three just earlier.”
Alan exhaled, leaning back in his chair and folding his arms, but said nothing. Mark looked awkwardly around the table; everyone seemed to have finished eating, at least. “Well, since we seem to agree we should try to get in touch with them, what’s the best way to do that? Mitch is right here in town, at least. We could go talk to him now.”
“Leah had a Pokégear. I saw it on her wrist,” May said. “You can look up Pokégear numbers in a directory online. We should be able to do it on the Pokémon Center computers.”
“That sounds good,” Robin said immediately. “How about Mark and Alan go see if Mitch is around, and meanwhile May and I take our Pokémon to the Pokémon Center and try to get in contact with that Leah person?”
May glanced warily at Robin for a moment before nodding. Mark looked at Alan; he gave a small shrug, still averting his eyes.
“See you, then, I guess,” Mark said as he stood up and handed his Pokéballs to Robin, and Alan followed him without a word.
The air outside was cool and calm, and Mark felt himself growing a bit less tense as he breathed it in – they really did only have two legendary encounters to go, and if they amassed several more experienced trainers, perhaps battling the Waraider herd wouldn’t be so daunting.
Beside him, Alan sighed. “This is such a mess.”
“Everything,” Alan said, his voice hard. “This has all been one huge screwup from the start. Fight all the legendaries, except we could have just explained things to them, except once we start trying to explain they won’t listen. Fight many legendaries at a time, except some math principle says it’s practically impossible. Go to the League to train, except while you’re there Tyranitar goes and murders someone. Don’t tell anyone about the plan, except now let’s call in a bunch of people who could have saved us a lot of trouble if they’d been helping us in the first place. Go to the Acaria mountains, except that was all a lie to waste our time. Then nearly get killed by some murderous dragons, just for kicks. Oh, and the entire principle behind what we’re attempting is just guesswork. Good luck!”
“Alan,” Chaletwo responded acidly before Mark had the chance, “I’m glad you’ve found yourself in being a cynic, but at least we’re trying. You didn’t think of any of these things either. It’s not that hard to overlook some possibilities –”
“I know!” Alan exclaimed, throwing his arms up in frustration. “I didn’t think of it either, and that makes me every bit as much of an idiot as you.”
“Well, what do you want us to do about it? If you have better ideas, be my guest, but if you’re not planning to make any suggestions, stop complaining.”
“I don’t have better ideas,” Alan said, his voice growing quieter. “I just… We’re so bad at this. It’s been a string of mistakes and failures, even if we’ve stumbled into some lucky victories along the way. We have no idea what we’re doing, and we’re in way over our heads. Robin could’ve died earlier and so could I, and even before that there was Dragoreen taking you hostage, and then she just… toyed with us for several weeks for her own ends, and we bought it hook, line and sinker. God, we’re the world’s worst heroes.”
“Well, we’re not doing this to be the world’s greatest heroes,” Chaletwo snapped. “We’re doing this because it needs to be done. Is this some kind of vanity project for you? Because I’m starting to miss when you were gone, and if you don’t actually care about our mission I’m sure Robin can make up for your absence.”
Alan looked like he’d been slapped. He stared at Mark in a mixture of anger, frustration and deep, deep hurt.
“Alan, it’s –”
“Sorry,” Alan said. “Just... sorry.”
And he turned around and walked away without looking back.
Well done, Chaletwo, Mark thought.
“Do you think any of that was fair?” Chaletwo responded, the heat still present in his voice. “We’ve worked hard to get here, we’ve almost done it despite all the problems on the way, and now he starts complaining we’re not heroic enough, whatever that’s supposed to mean? I’m sick of him imposing his lofty standards on what we’re doing as if – as if any of that matters when we have a world to save!”
Mark looked after Alan – he was still walking quickly straight down the street, without looking to either side – and sighed; he kind of wanted to go after him, but he didn’t know what to say, and he suspected Alan wanted to be alone for now.
“Let’s just see Mitch, all right?” he said and headed off in the opposite direction.
When he reached the Gym, however, it was locked. A note, scribbled in messy, jagged handwriting and hastily stuck to the door with duct tape, apologized for any inconvenience caused by the temporary closing, but provided no explanation.
“I guess that’s a dead end, then,” Chaletwo said.
“It’s weird, though,” Mark said. Something about this nagged at him. “I’m going to look around a bit.”
“It’s not that important to check up with him. We already know how much he knows, and it’s enough for him to know he shouldn’t be prying into it further or telling people about it. And he’s a low-level Gym leader anyway.”
“Yeah, we don’t need to check on him,” Mark said. “I just think we should.”
He walked around the side of the Gym, peeking in through the windows. The ones in the battle arena showed it to be empty, but as he peered into the back room on the right side of the building, he found the light on. He knocked carefully on the glass a few times.
A shape rose with a start from the sofa below the window. Mitch’s face came into view, his eyes wild and haunted; his gaze darted up and down the street before it fixed on Mark.
Mitch reached over to the window and opened it, blinking blearily at the sunlight. There were dark bags under his blue-green eyes, his face sallow and pale, his silver hair unkempt and messy. “What is it?”
“Are… are you all right?” Mark asked.
“Yes,” Mitch said, too quickly. “How are you?”
“I’m okay,” Mark said, hesitant. “Can we talk? I think you might be able to help us with... the thing I’m doing for Chaletwo, if we let you in on it.”
Mitch surveyed him for a few seconds; yet again there was that strangely unnerving, tantalizing stare of his, that desperate shine in the depths of his pupils. Then he looked away again, and Mark blinked, snapped out of a trance. “I don’t think I can help you with anything. I’m sorry.”
“Well, couldn’t you at least hear us out?” Mark said. “We’ll explain what’s going on.”
“No. You shouldn’t tell me anything. I wish I could help, but I can’t. I’m very, very sorry.”
His voice was tight and pleading, and it struck Mark suddenly that he sounded afraid. “What’s going on?” Mark asked, unnerved. “Why?”
Mitch closed his eyes for a moment and took a deep breath. “You know what’s been happening to me. It’s gotten worse – a lot worse. I’m not sure what’s real anymore. I don’t need any more information to process right now.”
Mark stared at him. “Have you tried getting help?” he asked. “Like a psychiatrist, I mean?”
“I did once,” Mitch said, wincing uncomfortably. “It didn’t help.”
“Locking yourself up in your Gym isn’t going to help either,” Mark pointed out. “You should see someone.”
Mitch looked at him for a long moment, not quite making eye contact this time. “Yes, I suppose you’re right,” he murmured. “Thank you.”
“Is there anything I could help you with?” Mark asked.
“No, no, it’s... I can call someone.”
Mark nodded, wary, not taking his eyes off Mitch. Chaletwo, he thought, is there something... can you feel, like, if some Psychic Pokémon’s been messing with his head, or something like that?
“I’m not sensing any psychic interference, or anything else out of the ordinary. Whatever’s going on with him, it’s all him.”
Well, there’s definitely something really weird going on here. Mark paused, a crazy idea taking hold in his head. What if, like, Mew were anchored to him, like you are to me, and he was –
“If Mew were anchored to him or doing anything to him, or any other legendary for that matter, I could sense it. You’re barking up the wrong tree.”
Behind the window, Mitch’s gaze flicked restlessly from side to side and occasionally back to Mark, but he remained silent.
“I know it seems cold to say this,” Chaletwo said, “but he may just really be crazy. He did say he’s losing his grip on reality, and if you ask me he’s always seemed a little unbalanced. Maybe living under a fake identity has been slowly driving him mad all these years, or something.”
He really has psychic powers, Mark pointed out.
“Well, some humans do. And that’s another possibility – maybe he’s just a strong natural psychic, but for some reason it only started to kick in after his near-death experience, and it’s a bit overwhelming for him. In that case nobody can really help, but he should eventually reach the full extent of his powers and get used to it.”
Mark considered it, biting his lip. Something about this still didn’t sit right with him, but he wasn’t sure what he could do about it, if anything, and if Chaletwo was confident it wasn’t some Pokémon messing with him, it had to ultimately be his own problem.
“I’m glad you’re going to get help,” he said to Mitch at last. “Get better.”
Mitch nodded, unfazed by the lengthy pause in the conversation. “Thank you,” he said again, giving a forced smile. “I’ll… make another attempt.”
“Goodbye,” Mark said. “Try to do it soon.”
“Goodbye,” Mitch said, and he shut the window and disappeared behind the back of the couch again.
If I find Alan, Mark thought as he walked back the way he’d come, are you going to let me talk?
“What do you mean, let you talk? When do I ever not let you talk?”
You know what I mean. Don’t comment. I want to try to calm him down, and you probably wouldn’t help.
“Fine,” Chaletwo said. “But can you tell him not to try to bring everyone down with his stupid pessimism?”
He’s obviously stressed out. Stop making it worse.
Chaletwo didn’t respond to that.
Mark continued down the street, looking from side to side. Where would Alan go when storming off? Normally he might have guessed the Pokémon Center, but May and Robin should be there right now, so if he wanted to be alone, that wouldn’t be it.
Instead, he just followed the street straight onwards, all the way to the edge of town. He was about to turn back when he spotted Alan sitting on a rock by the roadside a bit further ahead, hugging his knees with one arm while stroking the tall, yellowed grass growing around him absent-mindedly with his other hand.
“Hey,” Mark said as he came up to the rock. “You okay?”
Alan shot only a brief glance in his direction before returning his gaze to the distance ahead, where the tiny village of Merville bordered the calm ocean. For a second he was silent; then, quietly, he muttered, “I’m not sure I want to do this anymore.”
Mark stared at him. “What do you mean, you don’t want to do this?”
“It just... makes me feel bad.” Alan paused, still not looking in Mark’s direction. “I’m angry all the time, and everything we do just angers me more. I’m tired of pretending nothing’s wrong. I don’t want to feel this way.”
Alan grabbed a long grass stalk and pulled at it, his knuckles white; it didn’t budge, and he unclenched his fist in defeat and let it go again.
“Do you… do you know why you feel like that?” Mark asked after a few seconds.
Alan paused for a long moment. “Maybe Chaletwo’s right,” he said eventually. “Maybe this really has been a vanity project for me. My dad’s always been this big celebrity hero, and I… wasn’t. On my own journey I just sort of wandered around without even the drive to participate in a League, and I didn’t feel like I’d really accomplished anything. When I came with you I thought I was finally going to do something amazing and important like him, but here we are bumbling around with no idea what we’re doing, making one stupid mistake after another, and I just... I don’t feel very heroic.”
Mark wasn’t sure how to respond to that. He’d never really thought about what they were doing in those terms. Heroes were people in stories, people with special destinies. People who were fated to succeed.
“And every time something bad happens,” Alan went on, “I feel like I should have seen it coming and done something about it. I think that every time, that from now on everything’s going to go right because I’m going to pay attention and spot the flaws and fix everything, but it doesn’t work. I can’t fix anything. I don’t even notice things that need to be fixed until it’s too late.” He sighed, fiddling with the grass again. “And who was I kidding? I couldn’t even be a proper Pokémon trainer.”
“What are you talking about?” Mark said, dumbfounded. “You don’t need to take part in a League to be a proper Pokémon trainer. Loads of trainers never do.”
Alan hugged his knees with both arms. “I had more Pokémon,” he said, quietly. “Charlie and Racko and them are the ones that stayed behind. The others wanted to go to the League. And I guess they found new trainers who did, eventually. People like you and Robin.” He grimaced, his voice turning bitter. “Or even May.”
“There’s no shame in releasing your Pokémon when that’s what they want,” Mark said. “I released Letaligon while you were gone – even Scyther was maybe going to leave the night that you came back, even though he ended up staying. And didn’t… didn’t your dad release a bunch of his Pokémon, too?”
Alan made a small noise of dismay. “That’s… that’s different. Letaligon wanted to get stronger and evolve and then go to fight her father. You did that for her. You took her to the League and helped her evolve and then took her back to Ruxido, exactly like she wanted. She didn’t leave because you’d failed her.” He shot a glance towards Mark out of the corner of his eye. “Even then,” he went on in a murmur, “when I was a kid and my dad told me about all the Pokémon he’d released on his journey, I always thought I could do better. I could be an even better trainer and then they wouldn’t want to leave.” The conclusion hung unspoken in the air.
Mark stepped closer, facing Alan, his mind racing. “I… I think I get it,” he said slowly. “Sandslash once told me that most Pokémon grow up wanting a trainer who’ll just take them to the League and make them strong and then release them, and that really good trainers are the ones who can make them change their minds. I think you said something similar once too, right?”
Alan winced silently, not moving.
“I don’t think you should expect to change every Pokémon’s mind, though,” Mark said. “They’re… they’re not all going to want the same thing, right? It’s not a measure of how good you are; it’s about who they are and what they want. Scyther decided to come back instead of staying with his swarm, but I don’t think that means I’m a better trainer than if he hadn’t.”
“I know,” Alan said, sighing. “Like I said, it’s something I thought when I was a kid. It’s just…”
“And I mean, six of your Pokémon did want to stay with you. I think that makes it pretty clear you were the best kind of trainer, even if some of the others chose differently. And for the ones who didn’t want to stay, you respected that and released them. I don’t think there’s anything better you could have done.”
“I could have taken them to the League like they wanted,” Alan replied, his voice dull.
“But you don’t have to take everyone where they want to go,” Mark said. “I’m sure some of my Pokémon want to continue training after this, but after the League I realized I don’t want to.” Alan looked up at him in vague surprise. “Just like they don’t have to stay with you if they don’t want to, you don’t have to go to the League if you don’t want to. What you want matters too, and if you and your Pokémon want different things, you have to split up.”
Alan stared into the distance, thinking. “Do you think I’m too self-sacrificing?” he said after a while.
“I guess maybe, sometimes,” Mark said. After a moment of thought, he sat down on the ground beside the rock. “That’s not… it’s not exactly a bad thing, though,” he went on. “I mean, being selfless is a good thing. But you’re allowed to think of what you want, too, and you shouldn’t beat yourself up about quitting training when you weren’t into it anymore. I’m sure your Pokémon understood, even if they were disappointed.”
Mark glanced up at Alan; he was still gazing unseeingly towards Merville, but there were tears at the corners of his eyes, and Mark quickly looked away again.
“So,” Alan said quietly after a minute, “if I quit now, you’d understand?”
Oh. Mark hadn’t thought of it that way around at all – but now, the answer was inevitable.
“Yeah.” He exhaled, looking back up at Alan. “If that’s what you need to do.”
Alan nodded slightly. “Thanks,” he said. “That actually means a lot.”
They sat there for a few minutes more together, silent, watching the soothing waves of the ocean in the distance.
“I didn’t know you were going to quit training,” Alan said after a while.
Mark took a deep breath. “Yeah. Thinking back, I never really wanted to be a trainer that much, you know? I just… I just wanted to get out. I wanted to see the world and meet Pokémon and maybe see a legendary if I was lucky. And then all my friends got to be trainers and I didn’t, so I guess I kind of latched on to it. But battling isn’t my thing and it never has been. It’s been fun, and I’m glad I got to experience it once, but when this is over with I just want to go home.”
“When I was a kid, I was really excited to be a trainer,” Alan said, something bitter and hollow in his voice. “I was so sure I could be even better than my dad and would do everything right. But then, as I failed to live up to that, I just started to hate it. I loved my Pokémon, but I couldn’t stand not being that great.”
Mark blinked. “That’s why you quit?”
Alan nodded, his fingers tightening around his knees. “I got my eighth badge, and then I just… I knew I wouldn’t be any good at the League and it’d just make me feel worse, and I couldn’t handle it. So I ended up quitting with nothing to show for it, after all that time and effort. And my Pokémon suffered for it.”
“Well, again, I’m sure they understood.”
Alan considered it, wincing. “Maybe. They said it was okay, but I never told them… I said I’d just decided training wasn’t for me, and I could tell they didn’t quite buy it. I just couldn’t… I couldn’t tell them I was betraying them for something so petty.” His hands clenched into fists.
“It’s not petty if it’s really affecting you like that, though,” Mark said. “If quitting helped, then that was the right thing to do.”
Alan let out a long sigh, rubbing his face with his hands. “Well, that’s the thing. It didn’t really help, did it? I feel like even more of a failure for quitting than I did before. So I guess the real lesson here is trying to run away from things doesn’t actually help me.” He shook his head. “I mean, God, I know I’d never forgive myself if I left you when you’re trying to save the world. I just…”
“If you’re worried about us thinking you betrayed us or it’s petty, it’s not –”
Alan shook his head again. “No, it’s not about you. It’s just the way I am. But thanks for saying that.”
Mark looked up at him, not sure what to say. The older boy nodded slowly to himself, lost in thought, before his expression hardened, his back straightened, and he lowered his feet into the grass.
“Really, thanks,” Alan said, meeting Mark’s gaze at last as he offered his hand. “For… for listening and making it seem like I had a choice. It helped.”
“Do you feel better?” Mark asked.
Alan took a deep breath. “I think so, a little. Maybe we really can do some good, in our bumbling, unheroic way.”
“I hope so,” Mark said, smiling.
Alan gave a wisp of a smile in return as he looked back in the direction of the town.
“I think you should tell your Pokémon why you really quit,” Mark said, and he turned around again. “They’re your friends. They’ll get it.”
Alan hesitated for a moment, then nodded. “Yeah. I think I will. Thanks.”
And they walked towards the Pokémon Center together.
Mitch! Remember him? He's still a thing!
I wonder if Leah's ever had any trouble thanks to being officially dead and yet having her Pokégear still out there receiving calls.
Alan's whole breakdown this chapter was spontaneous as I was writing this for NaNoWriMo 2012, and then after months of editing fiddling with this conversation I finally figured out what he was trying to tell me about why he quit training. It ended up being one of my favorite scenes in the fic. Alan quitting without going to the League after collecting eight badges in Hoenn was something I spontaneously wrote into his character bio way back when, probably in 2008 or so, and I had no idea it was actually the key to his entire character at the time, but actually it totally was.
Chapter 67! In which we try to gather more party members.
Chapter 67: Friends
“No, I’ll definitely help. I’m not finding much of anything here anyway. Where are you right now?”
“Scorpio City,” May said.
“Right. Felix has never been there, so I can’t Teleport to it – think you could meet me in Acaria City tomorrow? I think that’s closest, anyway. Or I can come towards you and we can meet up on that route in between whose number I can’t remember. God, it’s been way too long since I was in Ouen.”
“Acaria City’s fine,” May replied. “We were thinking of going there anyway – maybe getting its assistant gym leader to help as well, since he already knows a bit about what’s going on.”
Leah paused. “Wow. Chaletwo’s really gotten lax with the whole secrecy thing, hasn’t he? When it was just me, he was all ‘no one must know or there will be memory-wiping’.”
“We didn’t exactly tell him,” May said. “You know Mitch and how he’s psychic? He knew Chaletwo was up to something, and apparently he told Victor. That’s basically all he knows.”
“Mitch’s psychic? I thought he was just weird and lonely.”
May snorted. “No, apparently he foresees stuff. Didn’t believe it either until he knew about Chaletwo.”
“Huh. Anyway, I’ve also got Mary’s number – if you don’t know her, she’s the second legendary hunter and she’s pretty cool. I think she’s been looking for the Waraider herd since catching Articuno, so she might have some leads. I’ll call her too, see if she can meet us there.”
“Sounds good. Tomorrow morning in Acaria City’s Pokémon Center, then?”
“Yeah. Great, see you then.”
May hung up her Pokégear and returned it to her bag. “Well, that’s that sorted. While we wait for the guys, there are some bookshelves over there, so –”
“May,” Robin interrupted. “We should talk.”
“What?” May turned towards Robin, her mouth abruptly dry. The Pokémon Center was mostly empty, with the few other patrons scattered around the waiting area, out of earshot. She didn’t know if that was a good thing or not.
“I think you should go to the police.” Robin’s gaze was firm and unyielding, and May forced herself to return it. “If you tell them what really happened, they might even be able to track your Tyranitar down and have him confirm it. If he really attacked on his own, he can tell them that. It’s not fair to Rick that he doesn’t know how his brother died, or to the wild Tyranitar that people are being warned about them when they did nothing wrong.”
May felt bile rising in the back of her throat. In a flash, she imagined the Pokémon Center on fire, people running and screaming, Robin stuck inside and –
She took a breath, closing her eyes and opening them again. “Why would they even believe what Tyranitar tells them?” she said. “I trained him. He thought I was his mom or something. If I’d told him to lie he’d do it. It wouldn’t mean anything.”
Robin winced, shifting on her feet, but her gaze only wavered for a moment. “Maybe, but they’re not going to just assume you actually told him to do it on purpose, at least not if you come there of your own free will and explain what happened. You should have done that right away, but the longer you wait, the more suspicious it looks. You’re only making things worse for yourself. Why are you still trying to hide that it was him?”
May gritted her teeth. “How about because we’re trying to catch some legendaries before they destroy the world?”
“It wouldn’t have to set us back that much,” Robin said. “You’d be interrogated, but I don’t think they’d have any reason to detain you or anything if you just tell them the truth. Even then, we’re about to get more people, so if they wanted you to stay in town while they’re investigating or something, we could always go fight the Waraider herd and come back for you when –”
“No.” Her fist was clenched so hard it hurt. Why couldn’t Robin just leave it –
“May,” Robin said, eyes still steady. “You look suspicious right now. He died just after you lost to him, killed by a Pokémon that you used to have until you suddenly released him around a similar time. That’s a pretty amazing coincidence. Don’t you think somebody might look into that at some point?”
“They’ve got nothing. For all they know I released him because he lost and then he went off to take his own revenge. They can’t prove anything.”
“Not prove, maybe, but somebody has got to be wondering. If they conclude you were involved and confront you, how much worse is it going to look if you’ve been trying to hide it?”
“They’re not going to,” May said, her voice hard. “All right? They have no solid reason to think it had anything to do with me, so long as I don’t waltz in there and tell them.”
“But I just –”
“And even if,” May interrupted before she could finish that sentence, “even if they came after me, Chaletwo said he’d handle it. There’s nothing to worry about. Okay?”
Robin stared at her for a long second before taking a deep breath. “Okay,” she said. “That’s fine. I was just thinking.”
“Maybe we’ve already thought about it,” May said coldly. “Did you think of that?”
“I guess not.” Robin looked away, finally, sighing. “Forget it. You said they had books?”
May inhaled, unclenching her fingers to point. “Yeah. That way.”
When the group finally entered the Acaria City Pokémon Center the following afternoon, they found Leah slumped on one of the red sofas, fast asleep.
“Leah?” Mark said as they approached her.
She started awake and blinked at him. “Oh, hey,” she said, rubbing the sleep out of her eyes. “You took your time.”
“Yeah, sorry, our Pokémon were a bit out of it after the fight yesterday,” Mark said. “How are you?”
“Fine,” she said. “So you were going to talk to that Victor guy?”
“We’re leaving our Pokémon with the nurse first,” Mark said. “Do you want to come with us to see Victor?”
“Sure, why not?” Leah yawned. “Oh, yeah, I called Mary, but she said when she went to the Sailance library to research them, Ryan was there – he’s the third guy, guess you haven’t met him – and he’d just been nerding over them for months and developing some formula or something? At least, she thought he seemed to have it more or less covered, so she went back to looking for Mew. So I figured we’d just go join up with him in Sailance instead. She gave me his number, and I called him, and he says he’s very close to some sort of breakthrough and thinks he can try to finish it in the next day or two.”
Sailance. The mention of his hometown sent butterflies fluttering through Mark’s stomach. It really had been ages since he’d been home, hadn’t it? The idea of going back seemed intangible and strange.
“Who said you were calling the shots now?”
“Nice to see you too, Chaletwo,” Leah said, rolling her eyes.
“Did you not hear that we’re going to fight the Waraider herd and try to capture them simultaneously? We need more people. Ryan is good, but Mary is better, and best of all would be both of them.”
“Oh, come on,” Leah said. “She’s in Sinnoh, and she can’t teleport anywhere in Ouen. Meanwhile, with just Ryan there’ll be three quarters of us for each unicorn, and apparently you want to get some gym leader in on it too? If he even has any good Pokémon – aren’t they supposed to keep them low-leveled?”
“Look, don’t you get that this is going to be the hardest battle by far? There’s eight of them, and we have to do it with precision, because if one of them faints before they should, we could have a nightmare on our hands. Perhaps the six of you could pull a victory, but we have a much smaller target here than just victory. This is going to be difficult, and frankly I’m not sure it even can be done.”
Leah took a deep breath, folding her arms. “Remember what you said to me when I was starting out?” she said. “About it being okay to run? It’s still okay to run. If we’re not about to make it, we pull out. Mary could take weeks to get here. If Ryan really has figured out how to find them, we can take a shot before that and see how we do. Even if we fail, we’ll only be better prepared next time. There’s no reason not to.”
“I suppose that’s true,” Chaletwo said reluctantly after a moment of silence. “But then we should definitely try to get those gym leaders. Victor is right here in the city, and visiting Stormy Town and Crater Town shouldn’t set us back much.”
“We’re involving three separate gym leaders?” Leah said, raising her eyebrows.
“They tried to get Mitch too, but apparently he wasn’t around,” May said.
Leah whistled. “They weren’t kidding about you relaxing on the secrecy.”
“I’m sure this is all deeply hilarious to you, but I for one don’t see the humor in it. I’d rather not involve more people, too, but we need more firepower. And as it happens they already know bits and pieces, so it’d be wise to keep an eye on them.”
“All right, all right,” Leah said, waving a hand. “I’m just saying. Are we going to check out that Victor guy, then?”
Victor stared, his gaze flicking nervously between the five of them, hand forgotten in his bowl of popcorn. “Catch… legendaries?”
The gym was closed during the day, but with a bit of asking around they’d gathered that Victor lived at the trainer hotel, in one of its ludicrous suites (he’d quickly assured them, face flushed, that it was Diana who’d put him up in there). They’d walked in on him as he was trying to watch a movie, and he seemed quite unprepared for having the entire War of the Legends story dumped on him.
“Yes. We’re almost done now. It’s just the Waraider herd, which we need some help on, and then Mew, who should be harder to find than to fight.”
“And you’re… Chaletwo, like actual Chaletwo.”
“I could come out to prove it to you but I’d rather not.”
“Okay.” Victor nodded mechanically. “That’s… that’s fine. Um, so you’ve been… catching all of them?”
“Yeah,” said May.
“And… and you think I could help.”
“Hopefully. By the time Mark and May battled you, they’d already fought three legendaries more powerful than the unicorns are now. Can you leave your post at the gym for a while?”
“I… sure, I think? I mean, I’m just Diana’s assistant. She could go back to singles if she had to. But…”
“But what? This is a matter of the fate of the world.”
“Yeah, I get that. I just…” Victor glanced at May for a good long moment, then back at Mark. “Well, yeah, I guess.”
“You don’t sound terribly enthusiastic.”
Victor let out a nervous laugh. “Oh. Well, it’s… kind of a shock, you know? I’m fine. Just need a moment.” He took a deep breath, looking searchingly at Mark again before sighing. “Yeah. Why don’t you go on down and take a walk? I’ll have to… to talk it over with my Pokémon and call Diana to let her know I’ll be gone, and then I’ll… meet you in the lobby when I’ve packed some things. Where are we headed?”
“Stormy Town, then Crater Town, then Sailance,” Leah said. “I’ve got an Alakazam who teleports, but he hasn’t been to Crater Town since the eruption – the spot he memorized is somewhere in mid-air above the crater right now, so we’ll have to fly there from Stormy Town.”
Victor nodded distantly. “Right. Yeah, just… meet me in the lobby in an hour and I’ll be ready.”
“Wow,” said May, blinking as she looked around at the people in the street. “That’s a change.”
It really was. Where Stormy Town had once been dark, dreary and mostly empty, all deserted houses with boarded windows and peeling paint, it was now bright and lively, betraying little evidence of the ghost town it had been only months ago. It was cold, as expected for the beginning of February, and the sun was starting to descend overhead, but the sky was starkly clear save for a few stray clouds near the eastern horizon. At the end of the main street, the small Pokémon Center’s polished windows projected a warm and inviting light, the exterior of the building newly renovated. Only the gym beside it looked the same as always, merely blending in better now that its colourful, radiant joy had spread over the rest of the town.
“It’s amazing,” Alan said as he took it all in, a smile slowly forming on his lips. “I guess we really did save the town, huh.”
Mark grinned. “Yeah, we did.”
“Let’s get to the gym,” May said, already turning towards it. “That’s where Sparky would be.”
The inside of the building was warmly familiar, but this time the door to the restaurant on the left side of the entrance hall let through a steady chatter of squabbling guests. When they entered, they found the gym leader, sporting an apron over his regular blue T-shirt, serving food to a family sitting at one of the large, wooden tables.
Sparky turned around as the door shut behind Victor, and his face lit up when he saw them. The silver shades he usually wore rested on the top of his head, hopelessly tangled in his hair; his large, bright eyes only enhanced the youthful energy he projected.
“Well, if it isn’t my heroes!” he said as he approached them, beaming with unbridled joy. He’d been unwaveringly cheerful before, but now he was positively glowing. “Come to look upon the fruits of your labor?”
Mark smiled. “Not exactly.”
“It’s great to see the town doing so well,” Alan said.
“It’s never been better,” Sparky replied. “Everyone’s coming back and business is better than ever. I can’t thank you enough.” He gave a little bow to them, adding a dramatic flourish with his hand. “And May! I was rooting for you at the League. You truly deserve the Champion title.”
May smiled stiffly at Sparky, but he’d already turned to Leah, Robin and Victor. “Anyway, who – no, actually, you I know,” he said, pointing a finger at Victor. “You’re the boy that Diana took in, aren’t you? Victor?”
Victor blinked. “Oh. Yeah, I am.”
“Pleased to make your acquaintance. And who are you two? Oh, I think I’ve battled you. I’m dreadfully sorry I can’t place your names.”
“Leah,” Leah said, shaking his hand. “How are you?”
“...Riverstone! I should have recognized you; you were one of my favourites at the League, too. I loved your Luxray.” He eagerly shook her hand as well. “So, we’re back to the original question,” he said, looking over the group. “Why are such seasoned trainers returning here now?”
Mark glanced around the restaurant; there wasn’t much room there for a private conversation. “Do you think we could talk somewhere?” he said, lowering his voice.
Sparky’s face fell. “Not quite now, I’m afraid,” he said. “The gym may not be busy this time of year, but the restaurant is. I should already be getting back to the kitchen. Do you think we could do it tonight after closing? Ten PM?”
Mark looked to the others for opinions. Alan shrugged, but Leah hesitated. “Then we should probably go to Crater Town in the meantime, so we can head straight from here to Sailance tomorrow,” she said.
Mark nodded. “Yeah, that makes sense.”
“If you’d like to have some dinner first,” Sparky suggested, “I’d be thrilled to have you on the house. We’ve expanded the menu considerably since last time you were here.”
“Oh, that sounds great,” Alan said, and everyone muttered their agreement. Mark hadn’t even realized how hungry all that traveling had made him until now.
Over dinner, they talked about Leagues and Pokémon and their journeys and their hometowns – things they could discuss in public. Mark had almost forgotten how good it felt to laugh with friends about something that had nothing to do with legendaries or wars or dangerous quests.
After they’d had their fill, they thanked Sparky and headed outside into the cold air. It was starting to get dark now, the sun slipping ever lower towards the western horizon.
“Right,” Leah said, “I don’t think all of us need to go to Crater Town. Better send a couple of people in case anything goes wrong, but I’m thinking the rest of us can stay here and ask around town if anyone’s heard of any recent legendary sightings or something like that. So who’s going?”
Mark swallowed. “I should go,” he said. “Carl helped us fight a legendary, but I lied to him about what was going on. I want to tell him the truth now.”
“Fair enough,” Leah said. “Who wants to go with him?”
“I’ll go,” Alan said. “I was there too. I’d like to talk to him again, see how the people of Crater Town are doing.”
“I’ll go with you,” May said quickly. She glanced at the others as they looked at her in surprise. “I was with them too. It’s only right.”
Leah shrugged. “Sure, if you want.” She detached Felix’s Pokéball from her belt and offered it to May, then to Mark when she didn’t take it. He put the ball carefully in his left pocket.
May looked around uncomfortably, then squeezed her eyes shut and took a deep breath, turning. “Robin,” she said. “Can I borrow your Charizard? He flies faster than Skarmory.”
Robin stared at her for a second. “Yeah, all right,” she said, half-sighing. She sent out her Charizard in a blob of white light. “Hey, buddy. Think you could fly May over to Crater Town with Mark and Alan?”
The Charizard looked at her, grunting questioningly. “You’re not coming?”
“Not this time.” Robin smiled. “We’re going to ask around town while they talk to Carl. You’ll be teleported back, so you’ll only have to fly one way.”
Her Charizard hesitated for a moment, glancing at May, but then nodded and lowered his wing for her to climb onto his back.
“Right,” Mark said, reaching for Charizard’s Pokéball. “Let’s get going, then.”
Bit of a slow one all in all, but it was much worse when I originally drafted it for NaNoWriMo 2012; half the content that was there was so completely pointless I just deleted it in editing (and brought over some scenes originally from chapter 68 instead). It's still left as a pretty transitional chapter with a lot of fluff/logistical talk that we didn't really need, though.
It's a little awkward how in chapter 51 we're told Mary was heading to Ouen looking for the Waraider herd only for this chapter to tell us actually she figured Ryan had it covered and went back to look for Mew. What happened there was originally I wanted to have Mary appear for this whole section but in the end I decided I'd rather include Leah again, a fun character that we already know, than introduce yet another new one at this stage.
It doesn't feel all that long since the gang were last in Stormy Town, but it's been eight months - it was early June when they were there, and now it's February.
It was well past dark when the three Charizard touched down near the temporary Crater Town Gym by the roots of Mount Fever. Mark’s Charizard and Charlie were panting in exhaustion; Robin’s didn’t show it so much, but shook his body gratefully once May had dismounted him.
“Great job, guys,” Alan said. “We couldn’t have gotten here in record time without you giving it your all. Want to rest outside your balls?”
Charizard and Charlie nodded immediately, but Robin’s Charizard shook his head. May recalled him, though not before giving him a strange look that Mark couldn’t place.
The temporary gym was a rough, bare concrete building that stood out starkly on the barren ground around the volcano but nonetheless in some strange way seemed to fit right in with the landscape. A plain white sign on the simple wooden door said, ‘CRATER TOWN POKÉMON GYM’. The building was clearly far too small to house a battle arena, though; it looked like it could barely be more than two or three rooms.
Mark glanced at the others and shrugged. “Well, this has got to be it,” he said before he knocked on the door.
A moment passed before the lock clicked and the door opened. “You do realize the gym closes at...” Carl’s familiar, stern voice began, but cut off as he recognized Mark. “Ah.”
“Hello,” Mark said awkwardly, remembering all too well that Carl hadn’t liked him too much the first time they’d met. “How, uh, is the town doing?”
Carl surveyed him silently, sparing a brief glance at May and Alan. “All right,” he answered after a second. “The inhabitants are all safe. We’re planning to found another town. You can see I’ve set up a temporary gym. How did battling – Polaryu, was it? – go?”
“It went okay,” Mark said, uncomfortably aware that most of what he’d told Carl about Polaryu was a lie. “We caught him. Disaster averted.”
“We want to talk to you,” May cut in. “Do you have time?”
Carl looked between them, again taking a moment to answer. “As a matter of fact I do,” he finally said. “Come in.”
The inside of the building resembled a crudely rebuilt version of Carl’s Crater Town home: they stepped straight into a simple living room with a table, a couch and a television, with doors to a bathroom and a small bedroom on the right side and a corner serving as a kitchen. The only thing Mark decidedly did not remember from the night he’d spent in Crater Town was the large metal safe in the opposite left corner of the living room.
“Where do you have your gym battles?” May asked as she looked around.
“Outside,” Carl said. “I always hated the standard, sterile, boxed-in arena. Pokémon battles belong in organic environments.” He gestured towards the couch. “Have a seat.”
They did so while Carl got a chair from the kitchenette, positioned it at the opposite side of the living room table and then sat down on it.
“So,” he said. “What is it?”
May and Alan looked at Mark; he opened his mouth and closed it again. He’d spent the entire flight there thinking about what he was going to say, and yet it all seemed to have vanished when Carl had opened that door. All he could think now, as the gym leader’s sharp, piercing gaze bored into him, was the memory of that same cold gaze, months ago, when Carl had told him, I don’t like liars. For a pathetic moment, a part of him wanted to just start weaving more of the story he’d made up for the evacuation: perhaps Chaletwo was going to mind-control all the legendaries into doing his bidding, unless they could capture them all first…
But even without Chaletwo’s appalled indignation in the back of his mind, and the knowledge that they could never keep Carl in the dark if he did join them, the idea made him shudder. Not today.
He took a deep breath. “We, ah, we weren’t entirely truthful with you, back when we battled Volcaryu.”
The corner of Carl’s mouth twitched into a crooked half-smile. “I had guessed that much.”
Mark waited a second for Carl to lunge at him with an axe or something. It didn’t happen.
“So,” he went on and was about to start explaining when he was cut off by Chaletwo.
“Ask him where Volcaryu is,” the legendary said urgently, a barely noticeable tremble to his telepathic voice. “I’m not sure we should actually get him to help us.”
“Ah,” Mark said; he thought Carl looked suspicious at the sudden interruption, but he might have been imagining it. “We... First, where’s Volcaryu?”
“In there,” said Carl coolly, pointing a thumb over his shoulder at the safe in the corner without taking his eyes off Mark. “That’s a bomb-proof safe. It can withstand any standard Pokémon attack and any amount of every explosive known to man that wouldn't evaporate the contents too, I’m told. They say the locks are impossible to crack. Don’t ask me what the combination is; I set it at random and I’m quite happy to say I’ve entirely forgotten it.”
Mark stared at the safe, then back at Carl. It struck him finally that perhaps Carl hadn’t taken Volcaryu just to make sure he couldn’t hurt anyone else. Perhaps he’d wanted to keep Volcaryu away from them.
He felt Chaletwo’s silent horror dimly in his mind: Carl didn’t intend for the dragon to ever come out of that safe, and from the looks of it he’d made pretty sure of that.
“We’re not telling him anything,” Chaletwo said, his voice shaking with cold anger. “We don’t want anything to do with this man. Get out.”
Mark wasn’t so sure. Carl had seen Volcaryu’s sheer power and the dangerous madness that drove him; it wasn’t hard to see why he’d want him locked away forever. And hadn’t Volcaryu spent most of his existence locked away, kept forcibly asleep in a hidden cavern, by Chaletwo’s own doing?
The dragons were dangerous. Carl had responded to the danger as seemed appropriate to him. And if this was excessive, it was because he didn’t know the truth.
“Look, Mark,” Chaletwo said fiercely, “if you’re going to be rebellious again, I’m not backing your story, and without me it’s laughable. Why would he believe an even crazier story when you’ve already told him you’re a liar? He is not joining us. Get out of here!”
Mark glanced at May and Alan. They were looking at him, waiting; he’d asked to do the talking earlier. Part of him wanted to do as Chaletwo said and invent an excuse to leave. But…
Carl had helped them. He’d gone out of his way to give them the benefit of the doubt, even when he was skeptical. Mark couldn’t leave in good conscience without coming clean.
He took a deep breath and started again. “I’m not going to be able to prove this to you,” he began, trying to ignore Chaletwo’s wordless psychic fury clawing at his brain. “But it’s the truth. Take it or leave it.”
Carl raised his eyebrows, waiting. May looked at Mark with a puzzled frown, but didn’t comment.
“I made up most of what I told the townspeople, and I’m sorry for that. But I really am Mark Greenlet who was killed by Chaletwo. It’s not because Chaletwo’s evil; it’s because Chaletwo wanted me to help him save the world. There’s a terrible disaster coming, and to stop it we need to temporarily capture every legendary in a Pokéball. There are more people doing it, not just us – and we’ve almost succeeded. We only have two battles left.”
Carl’s eyes were steady, waiting. “Where does Volcaryu fit into all this?”
“He, and the two other dragons we told you about, really were created by Chaletwo.” There was that twitch of a half-smile from Carl again. “But he regretted it, and he knew how dangerous they were. It was him who sent me to warn you to evacuate the town. He had to wake Volcaryu because soon he wouldn’t be able to keep him asleep anymore – before the disaster, the legendaries slowly lose their powers. And we really were headed to Champion Island next to get Polaryu.”
Carl considered it. He still didn’t move; he just continued to gaze at Mark, like he was trying to read the truth off his face. “Now, why,” he began eventually, “just why on Earth would you make up that silly lie you told my townspeople? The same thing but with Chaletwo cartoonishly evil instead of good? In what possible way did you think that would help your story?”
Mark blinked. “Well, I…”
“Usually liars are individuals with something to hide, who want to make their story sound better than it is. As far as I can tell, your cover story was in every way less believable and more risky than the truth, if this is it. So why lie to begin with?”
Mark didn’t know what to say. He felt stupid now about how confident he’d felt telling that story, sure they were all buying it hook, line and sinker. “I… I couldn’t tell you the truth,” he managed after a few awkward seconds; the psychic background noise of Chaletwo’s anger, now tinged with resentful vindication, was making it hard to think. “We had to keep it secret. If the other legendaries found out we were trying to capture all of them, they’d know to stay away.”
“And you didn’t worry about the other legendaries finding out supposedly Chaletwo was trying to take over the world? You trusted my townspeople with keeping the fake story quiet; why not the real one? I cautioned the people that your tale was likely false, by the way, and so far as I know they haven’t spread it, but imagine if they had.”
Mark looked down. Why had he made up that story? Ultimately, mostly because at the time he’d really wanted to show up Chaletwo, which seemed like the pettiest thing in the world right now. “I wasn’t thinking,” he muttered.
“Yes, it’s quite plain you weren’t. That’s likely why I’m inclined to believe you; this entire story is too fraught with genuine human incompetence to be fabricated.”
For a moment there was silence, Carl’s words hanging in the air like a final judgement. Then, suddenly, Alan spoke, his voice tight.
“Then why did you give us badges and send us on our way to get Polaryu, if you thought we were lying all along?”
“That’s a good question,” Carl said, unfazed. “I knew from the start I wasn’t going to let you take the dragon, of course, particularly not when I saw you’d already caught another one. But when you immediately agreed so long as I kept it behind lock and key, it suggested that you only wanted the dragons neutralized, not to possess them. That indicated that whatever your true motivations, letting you handle Polaryu was probably for the best. I still made precautions in case I was wrong and you tried to get Volcaryu from me later, of course.” He inclined his head towards the safe.
“Well, we weren’t going to try to get Volcaryu from you later,” Alan said, his face flushed with heat. “We’re trying to save the world. And maybe we’re not very good at it, but you know what? We’ve almost done it anyway! We saved Stormy Town, and we saved your town. We’d been told not to tell you the truth, so Mark made something up on the spot to get you to evacuate, and it worked. We came here to ask for your help, but on second thought I’m not sure we need you.”
“What?” May hissed. “Alan, what are you –”
“No, actually,” Mark interrupted. “I… I also think we’ll probably be fine.” Alan looked at him, as surprised as May, as the psychic pressure in the back of Mark’s mind started to recede. “I think we should go. Thanks for everything.”
“Fair enough,” Carl said, raising his eyebrows as Mark and Alan stood up, followed by the still puzzled May. “For the record, I was frank with you for your own sake. I’m still grateful that you helped save my town, and if your story is true – the part you told me, at any rate – I wish you the best of luck with what remains.”
“Goodbye,” Mark said, and Carl nodded in return.
“Also, May,” Carl said as Mark opened the front door, “I watched the League finals. Great performance, as much as the outcome was a disgrace. Your Tyranitar deserved better.”
May stared at him for a second, frozen, before she hastily turned around and followed the boys out the door.
Outside, in the crisp evening air, Alan took a deep breath. “I’m sorry. I just couldn’t…”
“What the hell was that?” May asked, turning an accusatory glare towards both of the boys as they walked towards where Charizard and Charlie were waiting. “Weren’t we going to recruit him?”
“We’re not recruiting him,” Chaletwo said, his telepathic voice still trembling noticeably. “Sick bastard. Locking Volcaryu in a…”
“Wait, what?” May was raising her voice. “That’s it? We’re ditching him because he put your pet dragon in a safe where it belongs?”
“He didn’t choose to be that way!” Chaletwo said fiercely, his voice tenser than Mark thought he’d ever heard it before. “When I get my powers back I was going to fix him!”
“You made it that way to begin with!” May pointed out. They were approaching the Charizard now, where they lay lazily by the roots of the volcano; they looked up in puzzlement as they heard her. “How is it Carl’s fault that your dragons are psychotic?”
“They never even got a chance at life!”
“Chaletwo,” Alan interrupted before May could respond, his voice quiet but firm, “if you get your powers back, then you can get him out of the safe. It won’t stop the world’s most powerful legendary Pokémon. Carl can’t keep him in there forever.”
The throbbing tension in the back of Mark’s mind finally started to fade. “Yes,” Chaletwo said after few seconds, “that’s true. You’re right. He’ll be fine. I’m sorry.”
May took a deep breath. “So, are we going back in there?”
Mark’s mind stung. “I still don’t want him with us.”
Alan winced. “I’m… not sure I want him with us, either.”
Mark shrugged uncomfortably; he still sort of wanted to get Carl on their side, but he knew exactly why Alan didn’t. May’s gaze shifted between him and Alan; she folded her arms, shivering with cold, but didn’t say anything.
“We can always come back if we fail,” Mark said with a sigh. “Maybe we don’t need him, but if it turns out we do, I think we should talk to him again.”
“Agreed,” Chaletwo said, a little reluctantly. Alan nodded, while May gave a barely visible shrug.
“Let’s just get back to Stormy Town,” Mark said, and nobody objected.
Felix the Alakazam whisked them back to the Stormy Town Pokémon Center in a blink. Leah, Victor and Robin were waiting for them on the couches inside, holding half-finished ice creams.
“No Carl?” Leah asked, licking at her ice cream as she held her hand forward to take Felix’s ball from Mark.
“He wasn’t up for it,” Chaletwo responded, and nobody contradicted him. May handed Robin her Charizard’s Pokéball without words.
“Can’t have everything.” Leah shrugged. “Meanwhile, we asked around town and there are some rumours flying around about Mew appearing near Scorpio City a few weeks back, but Mew is always on the move, so odds are she’s not there anymore. There’s a good chance she might still be somewhere in Ouen, though, so that’s a lead for when we’re done with the Waraider herd.”
She said that so casually. How were they ever going to track down a legendary who was constantly moving, with nothing narrower than an entire region to go on? Not for the first time, Mark was a bit intimidated by her confidence, but he pushed the thought aside. They could think about Mew when they got there.
They headed to the gym building when the others had finished their ice creams. Sparky was waiting for them just inside the entrance, leaning against the wall. “There you are!” he said, instantly springing into a standing position. “You wanted to go somewhere private, correct? Follow me.”
He led them up the stairs where Mark remembered their bedrooms being when they’d stayed in Stormy Town. “The good thing about the off season,” the gym leader said, “is that all these rooms are free. It’s great for movie nights. Nobody to complain if the sound is too loud.”
Mark smiled. The unease lingering in his stomach since their conversation with Carl was finally starting to fade.
Sparky opened one of the doors on the corridor to reveal a room with popcorn strewn across the floor. “Oh, not this one.” He chuckled. “Still have to clean that up.” He shook his head at the next one as well, where video game consoles and controllers lay in a tangle in front of the television, then showed them into the third one, which was spotlessly clean as if nothing were more natural.
“So,” he said, sitting down on the bed and removing his shades. The trademark twinkle in his eyes faded and gave way to a surprising seriousness that should have felt out of place on his face but somehow seemed to belong. “What did you want to talk to me about?”
Mark hesitated; the change had disoriented him. “Remember...” he began, intending to ask about Thunderyu, but then changed his mind. “Remember reading or hearing about Chaletwo killing a boy at the Pokémon Festival last May?”
Sparky nodded slowly, then stopped mid-nod. “That was – that was you, wasn’t it?” he said, his brow furrowing. “I should have noticed.”
“You didn’t notice because your memory was modified to not make the connection,” Mark went on. “Chaletwo recruited me on a mission to capture all of the legendary Pokémon before a huge disaster happens. When we caught that dragon that was in Thunderclap Cave, that was part of it.”
Sparky was watching him intently, his eyes very open. “Oh, my,” he said. “This is much bigger than I thought.”
“It is,” said Chaletwo; Sparky jumped. “This is Chaletwo. I’ve been guiding them along through an anchor to Mark’s brain. Only the Waraider herd and Mew are left; there’s eight of the former, and we have to fight them all at once, so we need more firepower. These kids are the team we’ve gathered so far, and we were hoping you could join us.”
Sparky swallowed, shaking his head. “I have so many questions,” he began. “What –”
“The disaster is caused by something that drains away their powers. They’re severely weakened by now – still powerful, but not so powerful that it’s not feasible to take them down. We can answer all your questions if you agree.”
Sparky looked between them in silence and took a deep breath. “I’m not sure that I’m the best person to bring on for this,” he said. “Running a gym places certain restrictions on my Pokémon – I’d wager any one of you could blow them down without much effort by now. And as you saw, I have a pretty busy restaurant to run. Someone else could likely be of more use and have less to leave behind.”
“Well, we’re running rather short on options,” Chaletwo said, a flash of irritation throbbing in Mark’s head. “We’re talking to you because you already knew about Thunderyu, the dragon in the mountain. We’d rather not tell more uninvolved people.”
“Electric-types would come in handy, even if they’re not that strong,” Robin put in. “Paralyzing all of them as soon as possible would be a huge help, and they’re all part Flying. I think there’s a lot your Pokémon could do.”
Sparky gave a slow nod, still staring at Mark. He ran a hand through his hair. “I don’t know,” he said. “This sounds dangerous, and all the more so for Pokémon who have never battled anything at that level. I’d have to confer with them. But…” He shook his head, smiling wistfully. “If I know them correctly, they’ll say yes.”
“In that case, we only need to know what you’ll say.”
Sparky nodded again, pursing his lips in thought, closing his eyes.
“Ah, where’s my spirit of adventure?” he said after only a few seconds, looking up. He was smiling again, the playful twinkle back in his eyes. “If we can truly help, and my Pokémon agree, I can close down the restaurant for a while and come with you. Is that enough for you?”
Chaletwo’s relief flooded through Mark’s mind. “Yes, that’s enough. Thank you for joining us.”
“You can stay here for free for the night,” Sparky said. “I’ll want to talk to my Pokémon alone tonight and give them until morning to think about it. But first, I want to know more. What kind of disaster is this? Why is it happening now?”
As Chaletwo and Leah started to explain the War of the Legends, Mark couldn’t help but notice May standing in the corner of the room, quiet, picking at her fingernails.
I enjoy Carl a lot in this chapter, though it does bug me that he doesn't try harder to learn more and get involved when these children he finds desperately incompetent are apparently going around trying to stop disasters.
Also very fond of the remnants of Sparky and Joy's movie and gaming nights, though the Sparky scene also doesn't feel like it tells us all that much new. In the next revision proper I'd be cutting even more cruft here but this is how it is for now. Things get going a bit more next chapter!
Chapter 69 time! In which the search for the Waraider herd is on and May continues to be Fine.
Chapter 69: Lies
May lay awake in her bed, arm over her eyes. Sparky had given everyone a room in the gym; hers was next to his own, and for a long time after lying down she’d indistinctly heard him and his Pokémon talking through the wall, until eventually they’d gone quiet. Now the only sounds to be heard were the ghostly cries of wild Hoothoot outside, barely audible after she’d closed the window.
But she still couldn’t sleep.
She sighed, moving her arm and blinking blearily into the darkness of the ceiling. She reached for the lamp on her nightstand and switched it on. If only the room had some books or something. She checked the drawer to be sure, but it only had a pen and a notebook.
If she were Mark she could draw something, but she wasn’t.
She closed the drawer and reached for the Pokéball necklace she’d left sitting on top of the nightstand instead. After detaching Spirit’s ball and maximizing it, she hesitated, changed her mind and took out Stantler’s instead.
“May?” the deer Pokémon asked when she materialized, looking around. “Is everything all right?”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” May said. “I just… couldn’t sleep.”
“I don’t know. It’s just one of those things.”
“Why did you bring me out?”
“Somebody to talk to, I guess.” May rubbed her face with her hands. “Unless you know some amazing Stantler sleep tips or something.”
Stantler looked at her for a moment. “I could try a Hypnosis,” she said. “But if you wanted to talk, we can talk first.”
Hypnosis. Of course. She should have thought of that. She hated that she hadn’t.
She considered just asking her to do that now, so she could finally go to sleep. But…
May exhaled. “Do you think the police are going to… to figure out it was Tyranitar?”
“I only know what you told me,” Stantler said after a considered pause. “What are you worried about?”
“I don’t know, Robin was…” What had she told Stantler? “They know it was a Tyranitar. But there are wild ones where it happened. They can’t say I did it just because I released a Tyranitar at a similar time. It doesn’t prove anything.”
Stantler gazed at her. May wished she wouldn’t always take so long to answer, like she had to deliberate over every word. “No,” the Pokémon said at last, “it doesn’t sound like there’s any proof it was your Tyranitar who killed him.”
“Yeah, that’s what I said.” Why would Robin even –
“But it was him,” Stantler said.
“That’s not the point.”
“I think it is.”
“No, it isn’t,” May said. “It happened, and it was my fault, but it’s done. I just want to move on, but then Robin and everyone just…”
“What did Robin say?”
May took a deep breath. At least it was Stantler. She could talk to Stantler. “She thinks I should turn myself in. That Rick deserves to know what happened. But we’ve got legendaries to hunt down, and Rick’s a bloody nutcase either way. How would that even help? It’s not going to bring him back.”
Stantler considered it for a moment. “It would be unwise to do anything that might hinder or delay your quest further at this point,” she said. “But after this is over, perhaps it might help you.”
“No, it wouldn’t,” May said firmly.
The Pokémon surveyed her closely. “Are you sure?” she asked. “This has clearly been weighing on you. Perhaps having it out in the open would relieve some of that weight.”
“Telling people doesn’t help,” May snapped. “It just makes them think I’m the scum of the earth. That’s not helpful.”
“You aren’t,” Stantler said.
“Yes, I know.”
There was another pause. “I think owning up to what happened and facing the consequences of your actions could help you truly move on. You could finally be free of this suffocating secret and everything that comes with it. It might be the least painful course of action for you, in the end.”
“Well, I can’t risk that,” May said. “They’d probably revoke my license at the very least, and when they do that you can’t get it back, not until you're an adult and go through some whole process.”
Stantler tilted her head, a budding curiosity in her eyes. “Is training Pokémon important to you?”
“It’s what I’m good at.”
“You’re good at many things.”
“I’m not going to the police, okay?”
“That’s a decision only you can make,” said Stantler. Even if May could talk to her, she could still be infuriating.
May sighed, lying back down on the bed. “Try that Hypnosis. Recall yourself if it works.”
The lack of Pokémon, gyms or any other strong incentive for trainers to visit meant Sailance had no Pokémon Center, so instead Felix had memorized the front of the library. The bright white building with the ornate carvings above the door evoked a strange sense of nostalgia within Mark; this library was his childhood, and it was bizarre to realize that he hadn’t been there for the better part of a year now.
He would have thought he’d long to go home, coming here again, but somehow, he didn’t. Home felt like part of a different world that wasn’t important at the moment, a strange world where Mark’s biggest concern had been his overprotective parents and mean-spirited teacher. But the two worlds intersected at the library, in a weird, disorienting way; he’d visited it so often to read about legendary Pokémon, staring in awe at the beautiful illustrations, and now here he was again, having fought and captured some of those same legendary Pokémon. The memory seemed like an unreal dream.
“Well,” Leah said, recalling her Alakazam. “He said he’d be here. Let’s get inside.”
“Do you know what he looks like?” May asked as they stepped through the automatic door.
“Of course. I followed the news whenever Chaletwo slaughtered more innocents. He’d be a couple years older now, but he shouldn’t be hard to recognize.”
“And even if you didn’t, I’m here too.”
“Funnily enough, Chaletwo, I never thought memory was one of your best qualities.” Leah looked around. “Mark, you know this place. What floor would he be on?”
“Probably the third,” Mark said immediately. “That’s where the legendary books are.”
They crammed themselves into one of the elevators, and Leah pressed the third-floor button. Mark was gripped with an odd sense of déjà vu; for a moment he felt like he was back in the old world, like his entire journey had been an unusually vivid daydream on a particularly boring elevator ride.
“He said he’d been doing some computer thingamajig,” Leah said as they stepped out of the lift, looking around. “Are there computers around here somewhere?”
“Behind there,” Mark said, pointing past a row of bookshelves. It was stupid, but he kind of enjoyed being the one who knew stuff for once.
As soon as they’d rounded the corner, a boy by one of the computers jumped out of his seat. “Le... Leah Donaldson?” He was maybe fourteen, a bit chubby, with curly red hair, freckles and large, round eyes. She whipped around at the mention of her name.
“Oh, there you are,” she said, brightening. “Ryan whatshisname, right?”
“Good to see you again, Ryan,” Chaletwo said.
The boy nodded, grinning. “You’re the new kid,” he said, pointing at Mark before he looked at the others, “but... whoa, gym leaders.” His already wide eyes widened further. “League semifinalist! The Ouen Champion! That’s some group you’ve got.”
“I’m not the Champion,” May said.
“Well, not technically, but come on!” Ryan spread his arms. “That kid was a disgrace to Pokémon training, and you would’ve kicked his ass any day of the week without Mewtwo².”
May pressed her lips together; Mark quickly tried to change the subject. “You said you had something on the Waraider herd?”
“Yes!” Ryan said enthusiastically as he sat back down at the computer, beckoning them to follow. “See, about a year ago I started gathering every scrap of information about the unicorns – there have been a lot of sightings, you know, even if they’re pretty unclear – and it wasn’t long before I started seeing a pattern. Look.”
He brought up a map of Ouen with red dots plotted onto it that Mark assumed stood for sightings. Almost all the dots were clustered together in about a dozen groups, scattered around the region.
“See? You’d expect this sort of thing to be either restricted to one particular area or a pretty even random distribution across similar locations, but it’s not.”
“Doesn’t that just mean they were in one place long enough for multiple people to see them?” May asked, skeptical.
“Ah.” Ryan held up a finger. “Exactly what I would’ve thought. But the times don’t match up. In fact, if I color the spots by time, then...”
He fiddled with menus on the screen; the dots changed to be various hues instead of red.
“See – the spots in each cluster are different colors, far apart in time.”
May squinted at it. “So... they keep coming back to the same places?”
“Not only that,” Ryan added excitedly. “In the same order. I’m almost certain of it. The record is spotty, and they don’t always stay for the same amount of time, so it’s not obvious, but I’ve been analyzing this data for months and it’s uncanny. They have to be going the same round trip around the region over and over again – only it’s not a round trip, it’s a ridiculous polygon trip. Look, here’s the way I think they go.”
He changed more options, and a wild criss-crossing web of lines connecting the clusters of dots appeared. It really wasn’t a round trip: if this was right, the Waraider herd regularly flew halfway across the region to get to a place, then flew back to another place much closer to the one they’d started at. It was bizarre.
“How sure are you?” asked Leah, doubtful.
“Pretty sure. I mean, if you’ve got a sighting at time X in location A, and a sighting at time Y in location B, then any sightings between X and Y are going to be from the locations that come between A and B in this cycle, except where the difference between X and Y is so big they’ve probably gone all the way around in between, or where the sighting is really dubious and probably fake. And it’s a lot of data points, and this matches up way better than chance. It’s by far the best possible match with the data. I wrote a program that worked it out.”
“Does that make any sense to you, Chaletwo?” Leah glanced at Mark out of the corner of her eye.
“It’s strange, but frankly I wouldn’t put it past them.”
Leah raised her eyebrows. “Nice. So where are they now, according to your thing?”
“Well.” Ryan rubbed his hands together. “It’s a little hard to tell, because like I said, they don’t always stay for the same amount of time, and I haven’t managed to find any sightings newer than sometime in June. But playing around with averages, at the moment they’re most likely to be somewhere around here.” He pointed triumphantly at a cluster shortly northeast of Alumine.
“Have you checked?” Leah asked.
Ryan’s face fell a little. “Well, no,” he said. “I’d been looking for newer data, but when you called I started working on finishing the algorithm and running it on the current dataset instead, and I just wrapped that up this morning. Besides, I was waiting for you.”
“I guess.” Leah squinted at the map again. “That’s a pretty big cluster, though. We’ll probably have to split up searching. And we can’t Teleport, since Felix hasn’t been to Alumine, either.”
“But my Xatu has,” Ryan said proudly. “She can get us all there in a whiff. And even if they’re not there, we travelled to all the hotspots once I’d identified them. We can search them in order of likelihood until we find them.”
Leah blinked. “Huh. You’re actually pretty good.”
Ryan beamed at the compliment. “Should we get going?”
“So how long have you been traveling with Leah?” Ryan asked. They’d split into two groups for the search after arriving in Alumine and planning things out over lunch; Mark had gone with Ryan, Robin and Sparky to explore the eastern half of the area, while Leah, May, Alan and Victor had gone west.
“Only a couple of days,” Mark said. “But we’d met before – she sent a distress call when she was battling Entei, and we came to help her.”
“Oh.” Ryan paused. “What’s she like?”
Mark shrugged. “She’s pretty cool, I guess?”
“Yeah,” Ryan said with a sigh. “I mean, she’s caught so many legendaries. I’ve only gotten a couple myself – went for the Sinnoh pixies, Heatran, then working on the herd. Seems kind of pathetic in the space of almost three years, next to her and Mary with, like, fifteen or twenty. But if we count the unicorns as mine after this, I guess I’m not doing so bad.” He chuckled nervously and opened his mouth again as if to ask something, then closed it again.
Mark nodded, distracted. He – well, they – had caught a lot of legendaries for only having been out there for less than a year, but that was mostly because of Thunderyu, Volcaryu, Polaryu and Suicune all being in known locations and getting lucky with the female Color Dragons which had pointed them to the males as well. He’d never have even thought of something like plotting historical sightings on a map and trying to see a pattern; next to someone who could do something like that and genuinely track down a legendary, he felt hopelessly out of his league.
“What’s with May, anyway?” Ryan said after a few seconds. “When I watched the League I got the impression she wanted to win really badly. Isn’t she happy to be basically the Champion? I mean, of course she’d’ve wanted to actually beat him, and it’s terrible he died, but –”
“It was her Tyranitar that killed him,” Robin said before anyone else could answer. Mark froze in his tracks. Ryan turned around in puzzlement, and Sparky stopped, giving Robin a wary look.
“She told me,” Robin said; she had stopped too, and though her voice was slightly unsteady, she stood firm. “I think she should tell the police. They’re still investigating what happened, and it makes it look worse if she’s trying to hide it. I tried to tell her we should go to them, but she got really evasive, and –”
“What do you mean, her Tyranitar?” Ryan asked blankly.
“She said she’d wished death on him. She says she didn’t mean it, but her Tyranitar thought she did, so he killed him.”
“What? But...” Ryan’s eyes were even wider than usual.
“It was an accident,” Chaletwo said. “Yes, he died, very sad, but I’m not hearing anything more about this. She didn’t mean for him to be killed. It has no bearing on today, and going to the police won’t help anyone. Remember saving the world?”
“What about Rick?” Robin said, unyielding. “He was devastated when his brother died. He deserves to know what really happened.”
“No, he doesn’t! The man is insane, and he’s all the more reason not to tell the police. Remember how he was capturing legendaries before any of you, just because he could? Remember that TV interview where he went nuts? We don’t want him anywhere near our mission.”
“This is wrong,” Robin said, shaking her head. “If it really was just an accident and not her fault, then I don’t understand why you’re all so insistent on covering it up. And if Rick’s a bit unhinged, maybe it’s not helping that his brother died and he still doesn’t know why. I mean, Taylor was his only family. He’d been raising him since he was a toddler. He needs closure and peace, for God’s sake. Have some compassion.”
“Will it jog your memory if I remind you that interview involved him threatening to murder whomever was responsible?” Chaletwo said coldly. “We’re not telling him anything, and we’re not telling the police anything that they might tell him.”
Robin looked away, wincing. “Look, I’m not suggesting we outright report her to the police behind her back. It’s just… I’m really not comfortable going around pretending this didn’t happen, and I think it’d be better for everyone if she just came clean and let the police handle it. And as for Rick, I mean, she said you could do something about it if they figured it out, so couldn’t you just do the same if he… tried anything? I don’t know; she just refuses to hear any of this from me, since…” She spread her arms in a gesture of frustrated puzzlement. “Well, she obviously has some sort of problem with me.”
“If she has a problem with you, it’s probably because you’re not willing to let this go,” Chaletwo said, irritated. “Again, I won’t hear any more of this. You can worry about Rick’s peace of mind when the world isn’t ending.”
Robin looked silently at Sparky and then back at Mark, sighing. Ryan still stood there, pale, glancing between the three of them. A second passed before Sparky spoke, wary. “This sounds like something we ought to be aware of. Can you please explain exactly what happened?”
“It doesn’t matter what happened,” Chaletwo said. “Right now we’re looking for the Waraider herd. If you’re not with us, then feel free to leave. I don’t want to hear another word about this.”
Mark felt a tinge of guilty hesitation in the back of his mind after the last word, but Sparky only shook his head slightly and set off walking again. After a moment, Robin threw her hands up and did the same. Ryan looked doubtfully at Mark; he sighed and followed suit, and Ryan hurried to catch up.
May trudged silently alongside the others. She’d managed to go with the group that didn’t have Robin, but it did have Alan, and although Alan probably had nothing left unsaid to her by now, she was still wary.
“So, uh,” Victor said after a while, “May, did you get that Mutark?”
She nodded, glancing at Alan where he was walking beside Leah at the front of the party, but he didn’t react. Leah turned her head, though. “Didn’t you watch the League? She used one there. Gave it a Sticky Barb so it could transform right away. Pretty slick.”
“Oh.” Victor looked away. “I missed it, I’m sorry. I only watched the finals because of all the buzz about Rick’s brother, to be honest.”
Leah shrugged. “I never used to follow the League religiously either until I got recruited. Turns out it’s a nice place to pick up creative strategies – fun fact, I’ve ripped off more than one Champion in my legendary fights.” She grinned. “Ironically, I actually kind of missed the finals this time around. I usually listen to it on my PokéGear radio when I’m on the road, but seeing as the commentator up and left, I gave up trying to follow what was going on within the first five minutes. Just a lot of roars and growls and attack names. I read about it in the paper when I came to town, obviously, but.”
Victor winced. “It was pretty brutal. You read about the… the Mewtwo clone? It just threw her Tyranitar around like a cheap toy. I felt kind of bad for him.”
“Yeah, so I heard,” Leah said, raising her eyebrows. “Psychic against a Dark-type. How nuts is that?” She shook her head. “Then again, we’re a bunch of teenagers going around fighting gods, so, you know.”
“How’s he doing, anyway?” asked Victor, turning towards May. He was trying to make the question sound more casual than it was, and May hated that she could tell. “He… seemed so determined to win. Did he take it okay?”
Alan turned around, too. May imagined them vanishing, just blinking out of existence and leaving her alone, but that wasn’t helpful. “I released him.”
Victor’s awkward attempt at a smile vanished, his lips tightening, too quickly. “You released him because he didn’t win?”
She inhaled sharply. “Yeah,” she said, without thinking, and instantly regretted it. But Alan didn’t say anything. He stood there, staring at her, but his mouth didn’t open.
“It wasn’t his fault,” Victor said. “I mean, nothing could have stood against that Mewtwo². You shouldn’t –”
“Hey, lay off her, okay?” Leah said, turning her head. “You don’t know what happened between them and it’s none of your business. Releasing a Pokémon is hard; don’t rub it in.”
Victor looked at May for a brief moment before averting his eyes again. “Right. Sorry.”
Alan’s gaze, on the other hand, lingered on her for several seconds before Leah continued walking and he turned around to follow.
Mark’s group was still wandering aimlessly across the uneven hills. There were no roads around here, or even footpaths; it was all dead, yellow grass, rocks and irregularities that made it far more exhausting to get around than a manmade road. Mark envied Ryan’s Xatu for being able to follow them with a casual series of teleports without actually having to walk.
He was falling into a daze of repetition when Robin called, “Look!”
He turned and caught a strange, shimmering glimpse out of the corner of his eye, but then it was gone. He blinked, squinting at the spot where it had been; there seemed to be nothing there.
“What?” asked Ryan.
“I’m sure I saw something,” Robin said, wary. “Like in my peripheral vision. I can’t see it anymore, though.”
“Me too,” Mark said, looking around for a sign of the phenomenon again; everything seemed normal now. “It can’t be just a coincidence, can it?”
“Xatu, Miracle Eye,” Ryan ordered, pointing in the direction of the place they were looking at. The bird Pokémon turned towards it, her eyes glowing red; for a moment there was that shimmering again, and then suddenly eight unicorns with folded wings, grazing lazily in the field, were visible in plain sight.
“Xatu, send the signal, quick!” Ryan said urgently; the Pokémon’s eyes flashed red again, and all at once, the unicorns looked up. With a chorus of panicked neighs, they broke into a gallop, unfurling their wings and preparing to take off.
Robin had already reached for a Pokéball. Her Charizard emerged in a burst of white, and she swung onto his back with a practiced ease. “Follow them!” she shouted. Mark belatedly fumbled for his Charizard’s ball and sent him out as well.
“We found the Waraider herd,” he said quickly as the dragon emerged. Charizard only gave a brief nod, lowering his wing for Mark to climb aboard.
“Xatu, go with them,” Ryan said. “Remember this spot, then come get us when you’ve seen where the herd went.”
Xatu nodded, and in a sudden show of animatedness, the normally-statuesque Pokémon spread her wings and shot into the air as Charizard took off in a lurch.
Mark looked down at Ryan and Sparky, feeling a little bad for having to leave them behind; they had no Pokémon they could easily fly on. As he gave them an apologetic smile, Leah, May, Victor and Alan appeared on the ground, holding onto Felix the Alakazam and looking wildly around.
“They went that way!” Mark shouted. “Robin and I are going – you can come, or Xatu can get you when they land.”
May gave a quick nod of acknowledgement. Alan looked between them and Mark, his hand hovering near his Pokéball belt, but then he relaxed it and didn’t send anything out. Mark imagined he was thinking of Charlie.
“Charizard,” Mark said, leaning forward and clinging to his Pokémon’s neck, “we can wait for Xatu if you don’t think you can catch up with Robin.”
“I don’t know about catching up,” he said, “but it’s better if she doesn’t have to go after them alone.”
And he increased his speed, zooming after the orange spot ahead of them and the indistinct shapes it was following.
I do wish Spirit hadn't gotten sidelined a bit since the League; I got so used to not having her around that she's barely been mentioned for a while now. Part of it is May's been reluctant to talk to her about Tyranitar, but it would've been fun to allude to that more in the meantime, especially in chapter 64.
I enjoy the way May's questions to Stantler in the opening scene are all posed alongside a fierce argument for the answer she wants to be true, in the hope Stantler will just agree and she can be done with it.
After a lengthy wait because ungodly complex chapter art, I finally present: horse fight
Chapter 70: Waraider
When Charizard finally caught up with Robin and Xatu, it was because they were descending and slowing down. The unicorns were an indistinct shape near the horizon; he wasn’t sure they’d be able to see them much longer.
“Is your Charizard getting tired?” Mark called as they pulled up beside her.
Robin shook her head. “I think we should let them think they’ve shaken us off,” she said. “That’s why we’re flying so low, to be less visible against the sky. The next hotspot on Ryan’s map was on Route 317, and they’ve been flying straight in that direction – I figured that’s probably where they’re going, and Xatu agreed.”
Mark blinked, his feelings of inadequacy returning. “Yeah, that makes sense,” he said. “Route 317, though? That’s pretty far.”
“They’ve got to take a break eventually, right?” Robin said. “If they think we’re gone, they’ll hopefully lower their guard and land for a bit before too long, and we can all attack them there.”
“They’re legendaries,” Mark pointed out, wary. “Are you sure they won’t outlast a couple of Charizard with riders before they get tired?”
Robin shrugged. “Well, we can’t really know, but if they do shake us off, Xatu can take us all straight to the Route 317 spot and we can hide and wait for them to get there.” She looked at Charizard, smiling. “If you’re getting out of breath, though, I have some Ethers. Won’t replace a good rest, but it’s something.”
They flew on for a while, low. The herd had disappeared into the distance. Xatu meticulously scanned the ground below with Miracle Eye, watching for any sign of the unicorns. Charizard strained to keep up, and Mark couldn’t help but be painfully aware of how effortless Robin’s Charizard’s flight seemed in comparison.
Finally, Robin turned around. “Hey, Mark,” she said, her voice quieter than usual. “If Chaletwo doesn’t want to do anything about it, fine, but… how much do you know about how Taylor died? I just… I just want to know the truth.”
Mark saw a brief flash of glassy, staring eyes and jutting, broken ribs; he shuddered. “I… I saw it happen.”
Robin blinked and then stared, her brow furrowing. “Wait, what?”
He swallowed. “May – she wanted a rematch after the finals, so she went to Taylor’s training spot to wait for him. I came with her, but I didn’t know that’s where we were. Taylor showed up and agreed to battle her again, and she sent out Tyranitar first, and then he… he attacked him.”
“And you just stood there?” asked Robin, incredulous.
“I… We didn’t realize he was going to… May tried to recall him but it was too late.” Mark felt a little sick; he’d never really felt like he could have done something about it, prevented all this, but it was true, wasn’t it? He wasn’t sure exactly what he should have done, but…
Robin pressed her lips together. Her Charizard looked at Mark over his shoulder, a hint of real or imagined accusation in his eyes. “And what, then you just… left him?” Robin asked, her voice tight.
Mark nodded, a growing pit in his stomach. Again he remembered the body lying on the barren ground, the way they’d tried to avoid looking at it or thinking about it.
“Remember how I didn’t want to hear another word about this?” Chaletwo said irritably. “There was nothing better they could do. You wanted to know what happened, and now you know, so drop it.”
Robin gazed at Mark for a few long seconds. “All right,” she said finally, turning around to stare at the ground ahead.
Sitting cross-legged, May tore a fistful of dead grass off the ground, then idly snapped each blade in half until the pieces were too small to get a good grip on. They’d set up a temporary camp, if one could call it that, where Xatu had left them; they had to be ready to go with her at a moment’s notice when she returned, so they’d all sat down on the hard ground around Charlie’s tail flame, uselessly twiddling their thumbs as they waited. At least the grass was dry.
“Well,” Leah said, “might as well do some more planning while we’re here. Obviously the unicorns are pretty jumpy, and we’re going to need to approach them without having to chase them off to who knows where again. If they really don’t want to be separated, they won’t leave one behind, so getting a trapper in there and trapping just one of them should be enough, but the trapper needs to be able to approach the herd and survive until we get there. So…”
“Sounds like a job for Spirit,” Sparky said. May looked up.
“Yeah, that’s what I was thinking,” Leah went on. “Ghosty Ninetales just phases out completely, reappears in the middle of the herd, gets a Mean Look in, then goes insubstantial. By the time they figure out most moves won’t hit her, we’ll have caught up.” She looked at May. “You know, I’ve got to hand it to the beasts,” she said cheerfully. “These chosen Pokémon can be pretty sweet.”
May snorted. “Don’t let her hear that.”
She pulled Spirit’s ball off her necklace and dropped it on the ground. The Ninetales stretched, looked around and turned to May, questioning.
“Mark, Robin and Xatu are chasing the herd,” May said. “Once they come back to get us, we’re going to need you to go into the strong spirit form, use a Mean Look to trap one of them, and then stay in the weak spirit form until we can get close. Can you do that?”
Spirit straightened. “Of course,” she said. “When are they coming?”
“No idea.” May shook her head. “You can stay out until then if you like, I guess.”
Spirit shook herself, thinking for a moment, but then lay down in the grass beside May, resting her head on her paws. May stroked her head, the Ninetales’ fur soft beneath her fingers. It’d been a while. Part of her wished she’d brought Spirit out last night after all, and part of her really didn’t.
Sparky was still gazing at her, his expression unreadable behind his shades. “May, could I talk to you for a second?”
She shrugged, scratching Spirit’s ear. “If you want.”
She stood up and the gym leader beckoned her to come with him out of earshot. She was tense but not sure why; she pulled her coat tighter, folding her arms. “Is this about Spirit?”
“No.” Sparky lifted his shades. “Earlier,” he said, his voice quiet, “Robin told us that your Tyranitar killed Taylor Lancaster. Do you want to tell me what happened?”
Robin. Rage boiled up in her stomach; why had she ever trusted her? How could she have been so stupid? She glanced at Alan out of the corner of her eye, but he was only talking to Ryan, oblivious to their conversation.
She looked back up at Sparky and the searching concern in his eyes, pulling her coat tighter again. “No.”
“No, I don’t want to tell you about it.” Robin had no right. No right at all. Who the hell did she think she was? “Is that all?”
Sparky straightened, his brow furrowing slightly. “Yes, I suppose that is all.”
May turned and sat back down by Spirit’s side before he could say anything else, burying her fingers in her mane.
After what felt like hours and two Ethers for Charizard, something prodded at Mark’s mind from the outside. He looked up, startled; Xatu gave him and Robin a meaningful look before pointing down with her beak. Sure enough, in a secluded valley below them, he could make out the forms of the unicorns as they grazed, oblivious to their presence.
Xatu nodded at them and dived, and the two Charizard followed suit. They landed in the mountains just on the outside of the valley, hidden from sight.
“Finally,” said Leah when Xatu had vanished and reappeared with the rest of the group. “Where are they?”
“Down in the valley.” Robin pointed past the outcropping of rock that was shielding them from view, speaking quietly.
“Great. We came up with a plan to trap them while you were gone, too – May’s Ninetales is going to sneak up and Mean Look them for us.”
Robin glanced at May and Spirit, who was standing by her side, but May was looking the other way.
“And then we can just fly or teleport down there, Pokémon out, according to plan, bam, done.” Leah grinned. “They won’t know what hit them.”
“No,” Alan said firmly. “First we talk to them and try to get them to agree to be caught.”
Leah looked at him, incredulous. “Seriously? You gathered eight people for this thing so you could talk to them?”
“We successfully negotiated with the female Color Dragons,” Alan said.
“Yeah,” May responded, looking at him out of the corner of her eye, “but if you remember, most of that negotiation was them trying to kill us and Dragoreen threatening to drop Mark off a cliff.”
Mark felt a momentary flash of stinging phantom pain in his ribs; he shuddered, but pushed it aside. “They deserve to at least know why we’re doing this,” he said. “It’s the right thing to do. And talking to the female Color Dragons helped us find the males, remember.”
“Except Dragoreen sent us on a six-week wild goose chase first.”
“Enough,” Chaletwo said. “Yes, we should try to talk to them. It probably won’t work, but not trying would be irresponsible. I’m still not sure you can actually win this.”
Leah rolled her eyes. “Well, whatever, you’re the boss.”
Once everyone was ready and holding onto Felix the Alakazam, May nodded to Spirit and the Ninetales vanished. They moved carefully past the rock so they could see the herd below; the unicorns seemed at peace now, focusing on the grass they were eating instead of looking up, and paid them no notice.
They waited tensely for something to happen for a minute, nothing moving but the cold wind. Then, all of a sudden, Spirit reappeared behind Waraider, her eyes glowing.
Again, the unicorns simultaneously raised their heads. Without even looking to see what was there, they broke into a run –
– and then Waraider ran into an invisible barrier; his legs refused to move as he strained against the Mean Look, neighing in panic, and the herd dissolved into chaos as the others stopped too, rearing and whinnying in an incoherent frenzy.
“Felix, go!” Leah called, and all of a sudden they were several meters down the mountainside, only to be somewhere else again a fraction of a second later. Everything flickered like frames in an old movie, and for a moment Mark felt so completely disoriented that it turned into nausea; he wanted to let go and make it stop, but the Alakazam’s clawed hand tightened around his, pulling him along. He caught unreal, progressively closer glimpses of Waraider turning and noticing Spirit, rushing at her with his long horn glowing white, then passing harmlessly through her insubstantial, ghostlike form, then all the others rushing towards her…
“Stop!” Chaletwo shouted when they’d gotten close enough, and in an instant, everything was normal again. Mark’s entire mind was still reeling after the experience; he would never envy this mode of transportation again. “This is Chaletwo. That Ninetales and these humans are with me. I’m sorry for trapping you, but we couldn’t see any other way to get close enough to talk to you.”
The unicorns stopped and turned, all at once, but looked no calmer. A bluish-white one with icicles forming her wings and horn – Freezaroy, Mark recalled dimly, perhaps with Chaletwo’s help – let out a bloodcurdling scream. “No! Let us go!”
“How dare you sneak up on us like this?” snarled the Fire-type – Emphire – as her mane and tail flared up with new heat.
“This is important,” Chaletwo said. “Has Mew told you about the War of the Legends?”
“What?” asked Emphire, her eyes narrowing.
“Should she?” asked the Psychic one, or so Mark presumed from the large, purple gem resembling a third eye that she had in place of a horn. The name Mysticrown surfaced somewhere in his head. “She hasn’t mentioned it.”
“Please explain,” said Electhrone, the Electric-type.
“You’ve felt your powers weakening, correct?” Chaletwo said. “They’re being drained – by someone called the Destroyer. Sometime in the next few months, he will release all that power to drive the legendaries mad, and we’ll all fight each other until only one is left. The only way to stop this is if we’re all in human Pokéballs when it happens. All the others are in now except you and Mew. Please let us capture you, and we can save the world. If you don’t, then we’ll all die.”
The unicorns looked at one another and began talking all at once; Mark couldn’t follow so many simultaneous, nearly identical voices of Pokémon speech. “Who is the Destroyer?” Electhrone asked eventually, stepping closer to Mark while the others squabbled on in a chaotic chorus. His tail whipped restlessly back and forth, releasing a flurry of sparks.
“We don’t know,” Chaletwo said. “Probably some unknown legendary. It’s most likely not important, so long as you’re all captured – or, I suppose, if you prefer that, you could make soul gems and be resurrected afterwards.”
“But what about the Destroyer himself? Does he not need to be caught as well?”
“Hopefully not, because that would make it impossible.”
Yet again, even though only Electhrone had appeared to be paying any attention to their conversation, the unicorns all simultaneously stopped talking and whipped their heads around. They had to have some kind of psychic bond, Mark thought. “What do you mean, hopefully?” asked Freezaroy frantically.
“He’s just making this up as he goes along,” Emphire hissed, her mane flaring.
“Well, if the Destroyer is the only legendary left, the theory is that the same thing that normally makes it stop when there’s only one left will prevent it from happening at all. It makes sense if you think about it.”
The unicorns looked at one another again. “I think we should do it,” said Mysticrown.
“I think so too, for the sake of the world,” said the Grass-type with the leafy wings, Natruler.
“But it’s not certain,” Freezaroy objected, her eyes darting wildly from side to side at the others. “He’s guessing. You can tell he’s guessing.”
“Why did he bring all these trainers and use a Ninetales to trap us if he only wanted to help us?” Emphire hissed. “How do we know he’s going to release us again, and this isn’t his ploy to take over?”
“I knew this would happen,” Chaletwo said irritably. “Look. Waraider, you’re the leader, aren’t you? Do you really think I’d make this up? Be sensible.”
Waraider, the plain white unicorn, had been at the back of the herd, not saying much, but at this, the others stepped back to clear the way for him. He took a hesitant step forward, folding and unfolding his feathered wings uneasily. “What do you think?” he finally said, looking back at the others.
This started another round of squabbling neighs and whinnies. Unlike Mark, Waraider didn’t appear to have trouble following them; he didn’t ask them to slow down or speak one at a time, instead just listening to the cacophony until all of a sudden, in an instant, they went silent. “Natruler, Electhrone, Seasar, Darkhan and Mysticrown agree, but Emphire and Freezaroy don’t trust you,” he said. “What is your response?”
“My response is screw them. You’re the leader. You can override them if you really want. They’d follow you.”
Waraider shook his head slowly, his gaze flicking back and forth. “I… I only mediate between them,” he said.
“If you’re not caught, you’ll die!” Chaletwo said. “You can’t tell me you don’t have an opinion on that. If you care so much about them, then make sure you’ll all live to see another day. It’s up to you, and it’s the easiest choice you’ll ever make. Come on!”
Waraider stared at Mark for a moment, then shifted his weight, adjusting his wings again. “I don’t…”
“And if all you do is mediate, well, as I count it the majority is for it. Even if you don’t trust me, make soul gems on your own terms. Why are you even hesitating?”
“And be at the mercy of other Pokémon to be resurrected in the future?” Freezaroy asked, her voice trembling.
Waraider closed his eyes, taking a deep breath. “We have a system. We go to the green valley and then we go to the misty plains and then we go to the edge of the large woods and then we go to the rocky field. We can’t change unless we agree.”
Chaletwo sighed and then gave up. “If you don’t agree willingly, we’ll have to take you by force.”
“What?” said Emphire, fury blazing in her voice.
“No!” Freezaroy whinnied, rearing up in a panic.
“Then you are our enemy,” hissed the pitch-black, bat-winged one – Darkhan.
“Tough luck. We’re trying to save the world. If that means we have to mess up your… ‘system’, then too bad for your system.”
The unicorns’ eyes narrowed simultaneously. Waraider straightened where he stood. “We all agree,” he said firmly, “that we will not abandon one another for any reason.”
“This is it,” Chaletwo said. “Pokéballs out.”
“Wait!” Mark shouted as everyone began to send out their Pokémon. “We don’t want you to abandon one another – please, listen!”
But it was too late. The unicorns were grouping into a rough circle, each facing outward, head lowered, hooves stomping as Pokémon emerged all around them.
Throwing his Pokéballs, Mark ran to the right, trying to remember everything they’d laid out in Alumine as four dozen Pokémon headed for their targets, rushing past in every direction, and a flurry of Thunder Waves sparkled through the air. He made a snap decision to focus on Waraider, where Jolteon and Dragonite were headed along with Ryan’s Letaligon (his heart stung suddenly), and sprinted closer to be better positioned to watch.
Most of the unicorns were paralyzed and struggling to move, but Natruler flapped her leaf-wings, a thick wind with a strange, sharp scent to it passed over them, and suddenly they weren’t paralyzed anymore. They took off the ground in a synchronized, graceful leap; Waraider neighed fiercely, and he dived toward the ground, crashing down with his hooves and sending tremors through the earth around them.
Sparky had already shouted, “Magnet Rise!” and his Magneton and Electrode successfully levitated themselves high enough to avoid being affected by the Earthquake; all of the other Electric-types were struck helplessly, even Jolteon who bravely attempted to dodge it but wasn’t used to doing it on uneven ground. Sparky had to recall his Manectric, Ampharos and Electabuzz; thankfully they appeared to be the only immediate casualties.
“Okay, no more statuses unless Natruler is incapacitated!” Chaletwo shouted. “Watch out!”
Mark couldn’t get his hopes up about that: even as Natruler was withstanding a barrage of attacks from several Pokémon, he could see her leaves glowing green and revitalizing her with photosynthesized energy. As if taking down all of them wouldn’t have been hard enough before, she had healing moves. Dread crept up on Mark again: this wasn’t possible, there was no way, they’d lose –
“Try to do something about Waraider!” he called, eyes widening as the herd took off again in unison. “Or he’ll use another –”
But it was far too late to say that. Another Earthquake shook the ground; Jolteon, Raichu, Diamond and Robin’s Luxray collapsed, and Mark recalled Jolteon, biting his lip, hoping desperately that they weren’t packing more attacks that could hit all of their Pokémon without damaging each other.
He wasn’t even sure if they could do anything about Waraider. If they had to take them down at the same time, they couldn’t just knock him out and then continue with the others. If only they could...
“Felix, Disable on Waraider!” Leah shouted as she came running towards their side of the fight, and the Alakazam teleported next to her and held forward one of his spoons, eyes flashing. As the unicorn was pulling up and preparing for another Earthquake, he abruptly stopped, blinked and looked around, disoriented.
Next to Waraider, Darkhan kicked the two Weavile fighting him away and released a pulse of dark energy that struck Felix and knocked him backwards; Emphire, beside him, followed with a rush of superheated air, radiating far enough outwards to hit not only the Pokémon in front of her but also those surrounding Darkhan and Freezaroy. Weavile collapsed, charred and limp; Mark recalled her, looking a bit enviously at the other Weavile, Leah’s, who was charging into Darkhan with another Ice Punch, energetic as ever – he supposed it was inevitable Leah’s team was far tougher than theirs, but that didn’t make him feel any more useful.
Above, Dragonite was Thunderpunching Waraider, aided by Pamela’s Thunderbolt; Felix unleashed powerful Psychic attacks, and Ryan’s Letaligon fired tricolored beams from the points of his mask, stomping his feet impatiently as he flexed his claws. Waraider was in no hurry to get closer to him; he tore himself away from Dragonite, his long horn starting to glow, and then rushed back into him – Horn Drill, Mark realized too late to say anything as the horn pierced Dragonite’s belly, the dragon’s eyes widened, and his body drifted downward like a deflating balloon. Mark quickly recalled him and ran around to the group fighting Freezaroy.
All three Charizard were surrounding the Ice unicorn in the air, supported by Spirit and Leah’s Arcanine. They were moving sluggishly, though, almost struggling to keep themselves aloft – Icy Wind, he realized with a pang of discomfort as Freezaroy flapped her wings and produced another blast of frigid air. “Just get down on the ground!” he called; they had to be able to focus better on attacking without having to try to fly as well.
Charizard gave him a quick glance before descending clunkily to land, followed by Charlie. Robin’s Charizard stayed stubbornly in the air, but Mark supposed he was doing better than the others anyway; he was still circling Freezaroy nimbly, firing Flamethrowers whenever he could get one in.
Now that she was no longer surrounded in the air, however, the Ice-type was free to withdraw higher away from him. She flapped her wings powerfully as he started to follow, producing a rush of ice and snow that threw him down, straight into the other two Charizard. They tumbled back in a pile of orange, growling.
“Try a Flare Blitz!” Mark called, and Charizard used the last of his strength to leap up, wreathed in flames, and launch himself at Freezaroy from the side. She neighed in panic, trying to stay aloft as he tackled her out of the air, but failed; they crashed into the ground together, and when she tried to scramble to her feet, eyes wide and shining, Charizard had lost consciousness.
“Good job,” Mark muttered as he recalled him. Leah’s Arcanine used the opportunity to leap onto Freezaroy’s struggling form to stop her from standing up; Spirit and Robin’s Charizard Flamethrowered her from where they were standing. They appeared to be doing okay for now.
Mark moved left, to where Sandslash, Flygon, and Robin’s Gastrodon were still fighting Electhrone using coordinated Rock Slides. The Electric unicorn flapped his wings rapidly, forming a powerful blast of wind that sent Flygon careening backwards in the air and even knocked Mark off his feet. Thankfully the ground was grassy and soft; he stood up quickly, and Flygon had recovered with reasonable ease too. At least these three were doing –
From the left came a blast of water that sent Sandslash flying towards the hills. Mark looked back, bewildered, to find Seasar moving unhindered to attack the Ground-types. All of Sparky’s Electric-types were gone.
Mark winced but made a snap decision and sprinted to get to Sandslash. The pangolin had rolled a short way off to the side from where he’d hit the hill. Mark quickly turned him over, and he opened his eyes weakly.
“Are you okay?” Mark asked. “Do you think you can still battle?”
“Probably not,” Sandslash replied, his voice pained. “If that’s all right.”
“Of course. You were doing great.” Mark tried to smile as he took out his Pokéball and recalled him.
The only one of his Pokémon that remained was Scyther, then. He looked over and spotted the mantis Pokémon still in the air near Natruler, delivering quick Aerial Aces in between zooming around to avoid any attacks; Mark hurried over there. Natruler didn’t look very hurt, probably thanks to those healing moves, but she did look exhausted, and she’d given up flying in favour of staying on the ground. She wasn’t paying much attention to Scyther at all, instead staring down Leah’s Venusaur, who stood bruised and battered in front of her in the middle of a circle of destroyed vines and roots, panting, his eyes still blazing with determination as he produced two more vines from the base of his flower with a groan of effort. The vines never reached their target; Natruler beat her wings heavily to produce a Hurricane, and the Venusaur gave a great roar as the fierce wind uprooted him and sent him tumbling back.
“Tiberius, come back,” Leah said, running up to him and gripping his Pokéball. Mark looked around; her Ariados had been assigned to Natruler too, and the legendary was still covered with loose strands of silk, but the spider Pokémon was nowhere to be seen now, so Mark assumed he had fainted, too. May’s Skarmory, Ryan’s Xatu and Sparky’s Swellow were still there, though, the former two circling around in the air and diving in to attack whenever they got the chance, Xatu standing defiant behind where the Venusaur had been and producing sharp bursts of wind with her wings.
Just as he was thinking they were doing pretty well, Electhrone rushed in from the right, electricity crackling in the air around him. Mark looked back at where he had been in a panic: both Flygon and Robin’s Gastrodon seemed to have gone down, probably largely thanks to Seasar, who was now wrapped in a sticky, sparkling web and being bombarded by Electric attacks from Ryan’s Galvantula. They had too few Pokémon left by now to be able to keep the unicorns separate from each other, and it was unravelling their battle plan.
“Little help here?” Mark called as Electhrone Thunderbolted Skarmory and Natruler blasted a Hurricane towards Scyther.
Ryan, who was standing near Waraider, looked up. “Letaligon, Galvantula, stop the Electric-type!”
Electhrone had managed to Thunderbolt Skarmory again, sending him crashing; May came running from Waraider’s end to recall him, shouting, “Stantler, follow me!” The deer Pokémon was followed by Ryan’s Letaligon, while Galvantula shot a last ball of electricity towards Seasar for good measure before crawling in from the other side.
Another Thunderbolt from Electhrone shot Swellow out of the air just before a Spider Web hit the legendary and pulled him back towards the ground. The Letaligon charged at him, smashing his glowing body into him with a Giga Impact; Stantler followed with her antlers shimmering like a mirage, striking the Electric unicorn with a Zen Headbutt that sent him reeling, shaking his head.
Mark looked quickly back at Scyther; he was zooming at Natruler again, but this time she managed to meet him head-on with another Hurricane, and he was blasted back, crashed into the ground and tumbled over a few times before coming to a standstill. When he didn’t rise again, Mark recalled him. That was it, then. He was out of the fight. He exhaled, trying to calm his nerves as he stepped back to continue to watch.
Sparky had knelt down by his Swellow’s side, gently patting the back of her head before he recalled her and stood up, giving Mark a weary smile. Ryan’s Galvantula was repeatedly shocking Electhrone, but he’d managed to take down Xatu now too, and with Scyther out of the way, that left nobody dealing with Natruler. Mark jerked his head up at the Grass unicorn; she was flying towards Emphire, gathering a swirl of leaves in front of her.
“Look out!” Mark called, sprinting around to the other side of the battle. Robin’s Charizard seemed to have fainted, but Spirit and Leah’s Arcanine rushed to meet Natruler with Flamethrowers; that left a severely charred and injured Freezaroy to rise shakily to her feet, and Natruler managed to unleash the Leaf Storm anyway. Mist and Floatzel took the worst of it, and both of them gave in to unconsciousness. Alan was already there and recalled the Vaporeon, biting his lip.
Meanwhile, Ryan’s Walrein shot an Ice Beam at Natruler’s right wing. The ice formed a clump around her leaf-feathers that sent her spiralling into the ground, and Walrein and Leah’s Tentacruel resumed Hydro Pumping Emphire, who was snarling and hissing as she tried to form a Hurricane with her wings.
Leah’s Arcanine rushed back to attack Freezaroy. Spirit was starting to look very tired; she panted, her head low. “You need to stay in the game,” Mark said quickly to her. “If you faint, they could all run off. Just try to be in the weak spirit form if you can.”
Spirit nodded wordlessly and faded into a ghostly, semitransparent form – just in time, because Seasar had managed to untangle himself and blasted a Hydro Pump at the Arcanine that might otherwise have hit Spirit as well. The giant dog Pokémon shook her cream-colored fur, gathered electricity in her mouth and leapt to bite the Water-type, again leaving Freezaroy alone. The Ice-type hurried to join Electhrone, shooting an Ice Beam at Galvantula; Electhrone had managed to take down Stantler as well, Mark realized, and May was instead running over to him.
“Floatzel, come back,” she said, recalling the sea otter, who was still lying fainted in the grass. “Spirit, yeah, that’s good, stay in spirit form.”
May looked up at Mark. “This isn’t going too well,” she said, and Mark had to anxiously agree. Out of Victor’s Pokémon, only his Absol was still fighting Mysticrown, and she looked on the brink of unconsciousness; though the unicorn had suffered a lot of slashes, she, like Natruler, was using Hurricane to make up for her Psychic attacks’ ineffectiveness. While Robin’s Froslass was blowing an Ominous Wind Mysticrown’s way, Darkhan hit her with a Dark Pulse, and she fainted with a shriek – in fact, all the Pokémon that had been attacking Darkhan were gone, with Robin’s Machamp still lying face-down on the ground nearby as her trainer dashed towards Froslass. No one was attacking Waraider anymore, either – and he landed rearing next to Victor’s Absol and took her down with a Stomp.
They were all hurt, though, and tired – even Natruler had exhausted her healing abilities. Maybe, just maybe…
May had apparently had the same thought. “Let’s just go for the Pokéballs!” she shouted, maximizing an Ultra Ball in her hand. “We’re not going to weaken them much more than this! If any break out, just send out the others immediately and run!”
“I’m not sure that’s…” Chaletwo began, but Leah apparently agreed with May because she pulled out an Ultra Ball almost immediately, and when she’d done it everyone else did as well.
“Three, two, one... go!” May called, and eight Ultra Balls soared towards eight unicorns.
Seven of them simply bounced off, as if they’d hit inanimate objects, and judging from the panicked bafflement in the back of Mark’s head, that was not what Chaletwo’d had in mind.
The eighth sucked Waraider in, and as his whinny distorted and faded and his body dissolved into translucent red, the eyes of the others all glazed over with the same empty, terrified rage. Swirling energies radiated chaotically from them, blazing in different colors, enveloping the few Pokémon that remained; the grass underneath their feet blackened and crumbled as they reared, whinnying, and began to dash off blindly in different directions – but they hit an invisible barrier at a certain distance from the still-surviving Spirit. As they were knocked back from nothing, their cries became even more frenzied; black flames surrounded them, the earth trembled, the sky darkened –
“Do something!” Chaletwo screamed, and Mark didn’t know what to do –
And then the Ultra Ball that was wobbling on the ground popped open, releasing Waraider again in a burst of white. The others calmed instantly without even looking his way; the flames disappeared, the ground was still, the sun was bright.
Waraider stared at them, his gaze wild and frantic and very confused. The only one of their Pokémon left standing was Spirit, who looked back and forth, still insubstantial. The other unicorns didn’t move or attack; they stood still where they were, their faces blank.
“Why don’t Pokéballs work on them?” Leah shouted, her eyes wide. “Why didn’t they even go in?”
“I don’t know!”
“How the hell are we going to catch them if we can’t use Pokéballs? Are they even Pokémon?”
“How am I supposed to – I didn’t make them! Just… just do something!”
Waraider’s eyes locked onto Mark’s, pleading desperately for an explanation. The frantic voices around him seemed distant and distorted. His mind raced to decipher what all of this meant, his heartbeat thumping in his ears.
The Pokéballs didn’t work. So… they weren’t Pokémon. Not real, living Pokémon, at any rate. Waraider was, but not the others.
The moment Waraider had gone into that ball, their individuality and character had simply vanished – they’d been identical, blind, unravelling forces of nature. As if their souls were gone, had been sucked into the Pokéball with Waraider.
They’d had different views and opinions, but they’d all talked at the same time, noticed things at the same time, had the same knowledge, like they had a psychic bond – or perhaps like they were all, somehow, the same person. Like… like they were just different voices in a single individual’s head.
Mew and Chaletwo had only created one unicorn.
Mark snapped back to reality, dizzy as he tried to make sense of it all. “Waraider,” he said, “exactly where did they come from?”
Waraider looked from side to side, at where the rest of his herd was standing, curiously still and quiet. “They were… they were always there,” he said, in a weak, trembling neigh.
There was a moment of silence. “What?” Chaletwo said. “What are you talking about? We only created you. The others appeared a few months later. I asked you about them, remember?”
“We were always there,” said the other unicorns, simultaneously, in an eerie chorus.
Waraider shook his head, his eyes shining with fear and doubt and confusion. “They were… I think they…”
“Listen,” Mark said, hoping desperately that he was on the right track, “they’re… I think they’re just you. They’re like manifestations of different aspects of you and your power, not real separate individuals. Is that… does that make sense?”
“They’re real,” Waraider said, taking an unsteady step back, glancing frantically at the others. “What do you mean, they’re not real?”
“We’re real,” they said, but their voices had lost all of their organic individuality now, instead droning unconvincingly as a hollow, robotic legion. Waraider flinched, backing away, his ears pinned back against his head, and turned to Mark again, staring.
“What’s going on?” he asked, pleading. “What happened to them?”
Mark hesitated. Everyone was staring at him – Leah in bafflement, Ryan open-mouthed, Victor with a curious kind of surprise. And Sparky, a grin of realization spreading across his face, gave him a nod of encouragement.
“I…” A frantic jumble of information poured into his brain from Chaletwo, something about how unconscious manifestations of power were conditional upon expectation – “I guess they become less real when you start to doubt that they are?”
Waraider stared back at the rest of his herd. They stood stiff, unmoving, and then began to flicker and distort, like images from a broken projector.
His eyes widened. “No!” he screamed. “Stop! Don’t –” He rushed towards them, but they showed no reaction. “Freezaroy? Natruler?” He stopped in front of the Grass-type’s blank gaze, extending his muzzle gingerly out towards hers – and then flinched back as it simply went through her, as if she weren’t there.
“I don’t understand! Please!” Waraider turned his head back towards Mark before letting out a desperate, whinnying scream and diving straight through to the middle of the group, where he met no resistance but air.
Shaking with heaving, shuddering breaths, his eyes closed, Waraider stood still as the flickering forms of the other unicorns silently walked towards him and vanished as they simply joined together with his body. At the end, he was alone. Like he always had been.
“Waraider?” Mark said carefully, feeling everyone’s eyes on him again.
“Why?” asked Waraider, his voice small and quiet. “They were my friends.”
Mark paused, trying to work out what to say. “Do… do you remember where they came from now?”
Waraider hesitated, tossing his head uncomfortably. “I… I always heard them,” he muttered. “They kept disagreeing, and I tried to make them all happy… but I didn’t see them, not at first.”
“Then I…” Waraider squeezed his eyes shut. “They were there. They just were. They were always there. Why wouldn’t they be…?”
“It sounds,” said Chaletwo cautiously, “like you unconsciously manifested different aspects of your personality to function as separate beings. How did you do that?”
Waraider stared at him. “I… I don’t know.” He hung his head, shook it. “I need them. I don’t know what to do.”
“Well,” Chaletwo said slowly, “you should be able to… hear them, or whatever it is you did before they gained physical form. Nothing’s changed; you’ve just realized they weren’t really there.”
The other legendary flinched at his words, but stood still, closing his eyes. “They’re still there,” he muttered. “Still there. I can…”
“Great,” Chaletwo said. “The point is, you’re you. There’s only one of you. You can listen to the… the others if you want, but actually they’re irrelevant and the choice is up to you. So will you let us capture you to stop the War?”
Waraider shuddered. “They’re not… they’re not irrelevant.”
“What he means is,” Mark said before Chaletwo could speak, “they can help you sort out what you think, but you don’t have to make them all happy.”
Waraider looked at Mark, hesitating. “But… Emphire and Freezaroy didn’t want to.”
“Well, they… told you about some concerns that you have,” Mark said carefully. “But if you decided you want to do it anyway, you’re not betraying them, because they’re you.”
The legendary gave him a long, searching look. “So… if I agree… you’ll release us – me – after?” he mumbled.
“Of course. You have my word.”
Waraider’s eyes flicked around, as if he were looking to the others for opinions. “Can I trust him?” he asked quietly after a moment, looking back at Mark – it took him a second to process that Waraider was asking him.
He opened his mouth and then hesitated with a pang of doubt. For a moment it occurred to him that he’d only trusted Chaletwo from the start because he was a legendary, and that after everything he’d experienced in the past months, that seemed like the worst possible reason to trust anyone. Could he actually vouch for him in good conscience? What if they couldn’t actually trust him? What if somehow he’d been duping them all along, for his own reasons? Would they have any way to know?
In the back of Mark’s mind, Chaletwo’s indignant annoyance couldn’t mask the flickering, stinging hurt. It felt like all the times Mrs. Grodski had called him hopeless, like his parents not trusting him out on a journey, like Letaligon leaving.
Mark took a deep breath. “Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, I think we can trust him. We’ll make sure.”
Waraider exhaled and nodded, closing his eyes again. “Then… I agree.”
“Thank you,” Mark said, warm relief trickling down his spine. He pulled another Ultra Ball out of his pocket and held it forward.
“Thank you,” Waraider said, and he reached his head forward to touch the ball before his form transformed into red energy and disappeared.
Chaletwo is just the best at diplomacy. (It's kind of weird no one else speaks up to try to salvage it.)
I'm very fond of the fact my fic contains enough Charizard for them to tumble in a pile of orange.
Waraider sure feels pretty neurodivergent, doesn't he. I wasn't exactly going for this, but I definitely noticed it once I started to actually write him. There's an extra after this chapter that explores him a little more.
Another extra, for a change! This time about Waraider. (Spoilers for chapter 70, if for some reason you are looking at the extras separately.)
I have not been drawing art for extras, but as it happens Chibi Pika drew some excellent art for this one once, so I'm including that below - thanks! <3
Chapter 70 extra: Not Alone
Waraider is not alone. He has never been alone.
Ever since he was created, he has heard voices. They’re a constant, comforting presence. He can’t see them, but he can hear them.
One warns him of danger, of things that might happen and things that are happening, that hurt, could hurt, could go wrong. When she talks, a chill runs through him, and he shivers; she must be an Ice-type. He can imagine her, icicles in her mane and tail, powdery snow swirling around her body. She’s a she; he’s not sure how he knows, but that’s how he imagines her. Her name, he realized one day – did she tell him? He’s not sure, but he knows – is Freezaroy.
Another asks questions, wants to know everything. Why is the grass green, where does the wind come from, where do the mortal Pokémon go when they die? Freezaroy doesn’t like that last question, but he asks it anyway, his attention flitting this way and that to everything that interests him, quick as lightning, and pays her no mind. Indeed, he’s an Electric-type. Bright, leaping sparks form a mane down the back of his neck. His name is Electhrone. Waraider knows; he doesn’t know how, but he knows.
Sometimes Waraider meets other Pokémon and talks to them, but many are wary of him. One of the voices wants to tell them everything, just to share it with someone, hoping they share in return, and her name is Mysticrown. But even when they listen to him they don’t stop being wary; in fact, they often start to act strange, especially when he talks about the voices. And then he realizes they’re avoiding him, don’t want to talk to him. Another voice appears, a voice that burns, a Fire-type, Emphire; she thinks he should attack them, show them the power that they’re so afraid of. But Natruler, who is soft and calm and comforting like the breeze in the trees and the swaying grass, says he shouldn’t hurt others. So he leaves them alone and retreats to some of the places that he likes where he feels a little better, and yet another one of the voices is dark and a little scary and his name is Darkhan and he tells Waraider to never, ever try to befriend those Pokémon again, because they hurt him, and they’ll surely do it again because they’re bad, bad, bad.
He spends more and more time in his places, where the Pokémon all know of him and usually keep away. And then there’s another voice, Seasar, who says no one will ever want to talk to him or care about him, and when he talks, Waraider feels like he’s drowning.
But he is not alone. He has the voices. They’re the only friends he’ll ever need, and they’ll never leave him. He talks to them instead, and he understands them and they understand him. Mysticrown still wants to talk to other Pokémon, so he still does, sometimes. But he doesn’t need them. The voices are enough.
One day he talks to a Pachirisu. “You’re a legendary Pokémon?” the little squirrel asks him, wide-eyed with awe, and Mysticrown says he should say yes, so he does.
“What’s that like?” asks the Pachirisu, eyes bright and eager.
Waraider pauses to think, unsure how to answer. “Mew told me I should try to watch over mortal Pokémon and help them. But I’m not sure I know how.”
“Mew?” the Pachirisu asks, gaping. “You’ve met Mew?”
“Mew created me,” Waraider responds.
“Oooh. That’s so cool! How old are you?”
Waraider glances away and then back. “I was made only a few months ago. I still have a lot to learn.”
“Really? But you’re a legendary! Like what?”
He takes a breath. “My power,” he says. “I have a lot of power, but I can’t control it well yet. I don’t know what I should use it for. Mew said I could choose it for myself.”
“Wow! That’s amazing!” The Pachirisu lets out little sparks of excitement. “I bet you’ll be able to do so many cool things!”
The Pachirisu seems to like him. She comes by again the next day, and the day after that, chittering excitedly about this and that, always in awe that she’s talking to a legendary Pokémon. Waraider isn’t quite sure why. He doesn’t know much, and most other Pokémon don’t want to talk to him. But Pachirisu is always happy to see him, and Mysticrown is always happy to see her, too. That’s good.
One day, after she’s breathlessly related some complicated story he doesn’t quite understand about several other Pachirisu she knows, Mysticrown tells him to tell her he has been trying out some new ways to use his powers. Electhrone is always wanting to try things, discover something new.
“Ooh! Can you show me what you can do?” she says eagerly.
Waraider hesitates, but Pachirisu is looking at him, starry-eyed, and Mysticrown wants to show her. He gathers his powers and stomps one foot, and the earth shakes underneath them. Instantly, the Pachirisu’s eyes widen as her fur poofs up to stand on end; she falls to the ground, shivering, and then lies still.
Startled, Waraider prods her with a hoof, but she doesn’t respond.
As he stares at the little Pokémon’s unmoving body, Freezaroy cries out in despair. “You killed her!” she screams. “She’s dead!”
“Oh, no, you hurt her,” murmurs Natruler. Not accusing, she’s never like that, just sad. “Can’t you help her, somehow?”
“You can’t help her when she’s dead!” Freezaroy howls.
“You idiot. Why can’t you do anything right?” Emphire snarls.
Waraider shakes his head, frozen. He can’t think. Not Pachirisu too. Not this. Seasar is making his eyes water; he feels his legs shaking as Freezaroy keeps muttering, “She’s dead she’s dead she’s dead…”
Before he can decide what to do – he never knows what to do – he’s running. It’s Freezaroy who told him to run, Seasar who tells him to keep going and never stop. He runs all the way across the plains and into a thick forest, where the undergrowth ensnares his hooves; when he falls, he scrambles back to his feet and keeps running, despite the way his body aches and his muscles strain and his legs tremble. He runs until he collapses by a lake, gasping for air, eyes squeezed shut as Seasar’s water tries to trickle out between his eyelids.
When he awakes, beams of bright, warm sunlight fall between the leaves of the trees overhead. He’s weak and exhausted and drained. When he raises his head, Seasar is standing by the side of the lake, leaning down to drink. Water flows up his mane, along his back and cascades down his tail.
Waraider blinks, his mind still hazy. He’s never seen any of them before, outside his head, but there he is, just as Waraider has always imagined him. And then, as his mind starts to clear, his heart soars. He can see him. He’s really there. Sometimes when he’s talked to other Pokémon, he’s wondered if – but no! Seasar is standing before him, plain as day. He pushes himself to his feet; Seasar turns his head, but doesn’t say anything, and why would he, because Seasar’s the one who keeps talking about how Waraider has no other Pokémon to be with, but he does now. He reaches forward to touch Seasar’s snout – he’s solid, he’s there – and then Seasar says, quietly, “You killed Pachirisu.”
Waraider flinches back as the memory resurfaces. Suddenly Freezaroy is there too; she must have been behind him. “She’s dead,” she murmurs, eyes shining. “You can never be around other Pokémon again like this. You can’t control your powers. You could kill someone else.”
“Why are mortal Pokémon so fragile?” snarls Emphire from the other side of him, her mane and tail blazing, red eyes glinting. He backs away as she rounds on him. “How were we supposed to know it’d kill her?”
“Poor Pachirisu,” Natruler says, and he turns yet again to see her standing in the shade of a tree. “Perhaps… perhaps we can help her?”
Waraider thinks no, of course not, he can never help anyone, it’s impossible – and then he realizes it’s not, because Natruler is there, she’s a Grass-type, lots of Grass Pokémon have healing abilities. She can fix it; of course she can! His heart pounding in excitement, he turns, trying to remember what direction he came from, and then bounds back out of the forest, the others following closely behind him. This is how it should be. This is how it was always meant to be. They’re with him, and they know what to do, and he will never be alone again.
When they reach the place where Pachirisu was, though – he remembers it clearly, the plains, between that hill and the mossy rock, where the purple flowers grow – she’s not there anymore. He looks around in confusion. The sun is shining brightly, not a cloud in the sky. A faint breeze wafts through the grass. The wind and the weather couldn’t have blown her away.
“Where is she?” Electhrone asks, looking around.
“A predator picked her up and ate her,” Freezaroy mutters. Waraider remembers the Pokémon that live here, though – he doesn’t think he’s seen predators before.
“They probably come here sometimes anyway, with all that prey around,” Electhrone suggests.
Maybe. How long was he collapsed in the forest? It couldn’t have been very long; it’s still daytime. Unless he was there for the entire night? He doesn’t know.
“Maybe she wasn’t dead,” Mysticrown says. “Maybe she stood up again, just like you stood up again in the forest.”
“Maybe she didn’t,” Freezaroy says.
“She left,” Seasar says dully. “She’ll never want to see you again. You hurt her and then you left her for dead. Why would she?”
“These Pokémon always assume the worst of you,” Emphire says, nostrils flaring.
“She didn’t deserve you anyway,” Darkhan hisses, unfurling his leathery wings. “Forget about her!”
Waraider shakes his head. He has always tried not to listen too closely to Emphire and Darkhan, but it’s harder when they’re there in front of him, his friends.
“Maybe she tried to find you when she woke, but she couldn’t,” Mysticrown says.
“She must have been very confused when you were gone,” Natruler agrees.
Yes, that’s probably it. She liked him, didn’t she? She thought he was amazing.
“And then you attacked her and left her,” Seasar points out.
“Why would you do something stupid like that?” Emphire growls. “You knew you couldn’t control your powers.”
“I’m sure she forgave you.”
“But if she’s wary now, that doesn’t make her bad.”
“She asked you to show her your power!”
“She got exactly what she wanted and she has nobody but herself to blame!”
Waraider squeezes his eyes shut as the others argue, back and forth, all at once. He doesn’t know who is right. Maybe…? But what if…?
Mysticrown wants to try to find Pachirisu and continue their conversation. Natruler thinks so too, so that he can apologize for hurting her. Electhrone just wants to know where she went, but Seasar thinks there’s no point and she won’t want to see him again anyway. Darkhan thinks he should stop talking to mortal Pokémon, just stop, and Freezaroy agrees. Emphire… he’s not sure what Emphire actually wants. She’s mad at Pachirisu for not being here anymore, mad at him for using his powers carelessly, and for running off like that for no reason when he could have seen she was fine if he’d just waited a bit longer, and for not being able to make up his mind.
They won’t agree on what to do or where to go. When they’ve all said everything they have to say, they look at him, and he backs away. He can’t betray any of them. They’re all his friends, the voices who are always with him – but now that he can see them, could they leave?
So they go to one of his favorite places. They all like his favorite places. Mysticrown wanted to find Pachirisu, but he didn’t know where to find her anyway, and maybe he’ll find another Pokémon to talk to. Or, then again, he might not, so Darkhan doesn’t object.
When they’ve been there too long, they go to another place, and then another. They’re all happy with that, and that makes him happy. If they just do this, keep doing this, exactly like this, then they’ll be fine.
As they graze in the serene woods, Chaletwo appears. Darkhan doesn’t like Chaletwo, but then again, Darkhan likes no one. Where Mew was kind and patient, though, Chaletwo was always restless and angry, and Waraider is wary as the other legendary surveys his herd through closed, leathery eyelids, scrutinizing, as if he’s evaluating them for some higher judgement.
“So it’s true,” Chaletwo says at last. “There are eight of you now. Care to enlighten me?”
Waraider blinks in confusion. “They’re my friends.”
“Yeah, that’s nice,” Chaletwo says; he doesn’t sound like it’s nice at all. “But where did they come from? Did you make them?”
“They’ve always been with me, but I can see them now,” Waraider explains.
“What’s that supposed to mean? Did you create them or not?”
Waraider shifts; Chaletwo is making him uncomfortable, but he’s not quite sure why. At last, he shakes his head. “I didn’t make them. They just are.”
Chaletwo sighs. “Sure. Look, I’ll be straight with you. You can’t just create seven new legendaries. Mew and I planned out very carefully who the legendaries should be after the – after the disaster, and where they should reside to keep the regions in balance. There weren’t supposed to be eight unicorns running around Ouen, all right? I gather they’ve stayed close to you so far; is that right?”
“They’re my friends,” Waraider repeats, glancing at the others; they nod, all at once, and he feels warmer. “We’ll always be together. They’d never leave me.”
“Great. Let’s keep it that way. And no more creating extra legendaries Mew and I don’t know about, all right?”
“I didn’t make them,” Waraider says.
“Well, did someone else make them?”
“No. Nobody made them.”
“Right, if you say so.” Chaletwo doesn’t sound like he means that. Waraider doesn’t like him, not at all.
“Who are you to come here asking questions?” Emphire spits.
“We were not made,” Darkhan says, beating his wings.
“Fine, whatever. I’ll leave you and your… friends to it. Good job working out your powers, at any rate. They look great; not exactly creative, but you pulled off the different types okay. And I’m sensing full legendary power from all of them, except the Dark one of course. Can barely tell it wasn’t us.”
And then he gives a casual wave of his bony hand and disappears.
Good job working out his powers? Confusion swirls in Waraider’s head. He wants that, more than anything, but if it were true, then…
Emphire tosses her head. “How dare he? Like we’re just things that you made.”
“Don’t listen to him,” Darkhan hisses. “He’s Chaletwo. He doesn’t care about you.”
“He thinks you’re a freak,” Seasar says.
“But…” Mysticrown begins to say.
“What if…?” Electhrone asks.
“No!” Freezaroy screams. “No!” And Mysticrown and Electhrone look away from him again.
“Chaletwo was mistaken,” Natruler says softly. “He only said what he thought was true.”
“But it’s not!” Freezaroy snaps.
Waraider takes a deep breath, closing his eyes. “It’s not.”
Mysticrown and Electhrone are silent.
“It’s not,” he repeats.
He hasn’t done anything of worth at all with his powers. Surely if he simply believed Chaletwo, that would be wishful thinking. He knows they were always there. He had nothing to do with it. Chaletwo is wrong.
Waraider decides to learn to fight – well, Emphire and Darkhan want to, and while Natruler is a little reluctant, even she doesn’t disagree. He doesn’t know much, but the others teach him. It’s something they can do together, all as one, and it helps him understand and practice his powers – helps all of them. They take turns acting as opponents, always in the same order. Because it’s always the same, they never have to think about it or make a decision after the first time, and that’s good. It makes things easier.
One day, as they spar, he hears a familiar chittering voice from the ground.
“Waraider!” calls the tiny Pachirisu. “I haven’t seen you since that time you knocked me out!”
It's her, and she's all right. Natruler smiles in relief, and Waraider does too.
“I was watching you practice, and wow!” Pachirisu continues, looking eagerly between the others. “You’re so strong! Who are they? Are they legendary, too?”
“We’re his friends,” Mysticrown says.
“His only friends,” Darkhan adds.
“I’m so glad you’re okay,” Natruler trills softly. “We were so upset when you fainted like that. We thought you might have died.”
Pachirisu laughs, a bouncy chittering sound. “What do you mean, you were upset? You weren’t there.”
“I was,” Natruler says.
“We were all there,” Mysticrown explains. “But we were invisible.”
The Pachirisu blinks. “Invisible friends?”
“And what of it?” Darkhan snaps. “It doesn’t make us less real.”
The Pachirisu shakes her head quickly, grinning. “No, I didn’t say anything like that! I… that’s so cool!”
Mysticrown beams at her. “That’s very kind.”
“How do you turn invisible? Can you show me?”
For a split second they all look at Waraider, and then they look back.
“We’re not showing you,” Darkhan growls. “Go. We’re here for him now. We’ll never leave.”
The Pachirisu’s face falls. “But… I didn’t…”
“You want us gone?” Freezaroy says, her eyes shining.
The Pachirisu’s ears droop. “No! Nothing like that! I just… I just thought turning invisible was cool.”
She glances miserably at Waraider. He averts his eyes. He knows Darkhan only wants to protect him, to make sure he doesn’t get hurt again, but…
“We didn’t mean to lash out,” Natruler says. “I’m sorry.”
“You are welcome to be our friend, too,” Mysticrown says.
“Can’t I… can’t I just talk to Waraider?” the Pachirisu mutters, fidgeting, glancing at him only to look away again.
“You want to separate us,” Darkhan hisses. “It will never happen! Never!”
The Pachirisu shrinks away. “Why aren’t you talking, Waraider?” she asks, in a small voice. “Why is it just them?”
The others look back at him, again. He looks at each of them in turn; aren’t they going to say anything? “I… I’m sorry,” he says. “It’s better this way.”
“Leave him alone,” Darkhan snarls. “Who are you to tell him when he should talk?”
Again she flinches, shaking her head. After giving Waraider another sad glance, she backs away, turning.
“No! Don’t leave!” Mysticrown calls after her, but she has already skittered away and disappeared into the tall grass.
Waraider expects Emphire to speak to denounce her, but she doesn’t. The silence is hollow and empty.
“She was just like the others,” Darkhan says after a second. “I’m glad she’s gone.”
“She was the last one,” Seasar murmurs. “And now she’s gone. No one else will ever –”
“And that’s fine!” Darkhan interrupts, flaring his nostrils. “We’re all he needs.”
“Well, you drove her away,” Emphire growls.
“No, no, we can’t fight!” Freezaroy whinnies.
Waraider closes his eyes and shakes his head. After a minute, the others quiet down. Only Seasar still talks: “She’s gone. She’s gone forever. She thinks we’re all freaks and she left. Nobody likes us or wants us.”
“I know,” Waraider says quietly, without opening his eyes. “That’s just the way it is.” Seasar is always so sad. He wishes he could help him.
“Let’s do another battle,” Darkhan says after a moment. “We need to know how to protect ourselves if they ever try anything.”
Waraider nods. They can already do that; they’re so strong all together, so much stronger than any mortal Pokémon. But practicing fighting is good. Seasar isn’t sad while they’re fighting. And nobody argues. In battle they’re a team, complementing each other, with so many different powers. They’re unstoppable.
No matter what other Pokémon think, he still has them. They’re his friends, and they always know what to do. With them by his side, everything will be fine.
Because he is not alone, and he will never be alone.
Chapter 71 at long last! In which some of these tensions that have been simmering finally come to a head, and we begin the final five-chapter arc leading up to the climax.
Content warning: this chapter contains a brief reference to an implied suicide attempt.
The Final Stretch – Chapter 71: Shattered
“To Mark, legendary psychiatrist,” Leah said, grinning as she raised a glass of cola. “Who would’ve thought?”
Mark felt himself blush as the group raised their glasses along with her. He still felt dazed and strange, trying to wrap his brain around the fact that he had actually managed to persuade a legendary to their side, with words, him. Everyone had been there, people like Leah and Ryan who were better and brainier and cooler than him, and yet it’d been him who’d realized why the other unicorns hadn’t gone into the balls, him who Waraider had trusted enough to agree. He’d had help – but he’d done it. And now there was only one legendary left.
“What do we do now?” he asked as everyone put their drinks back down. “How are we going to find Mew?”
“We split up,” Leah said. “Mew knows a lot of moves, but there’s only one of her, and of course, she’s been getting weaker. Ryan and I could take her solo no problem. You guys might want to go in pairs, I guess, just in case, but the hard part is finding her. We’ll want to spread out.”
“Are we sure we have to fight her?” Sparky asked, stroking his chin. “I can’t claim to be a legendary expert, but my impression was that Mew wasn’t much of a fighter.”
“We can’t persuade him,” Chaletwo said flatly. “I’ve tried.”
“I should go with Mark,” May said out of the blue. “Our Pokémon have fought together the most. It makes sense.”
Mark turned towards her, a bit surprised, but she was only looking down at her food, busily cutting into a mini-pizza. “Okay, sure,” he said.
“I don’t think Sparky and I could handle a legendary on our own,” Victor said, looking at Alan and Robin. “So each of us goes with one of you, I guess?”
“Sparky?” Alan suggested.
“Why not?” Sparky replied, smiling. Robin and Victor shrugged at each other.
“Do we have any leads on where Mew is?” Mark asked.
“Just that one sighting in Scorpio City from a couple weeks back,” Leah said. “We should concentrate on Ouen to start with, but not too much – she does teleport, so although she usually sticks to flying around, she could also be, y’know, off in Unova somewhere by now. Let’s start off dividing Ouen between us and then spread out more if we haven’t found her in a couple of weeks. Any special requests?”
Robin shrugged. “I know the east side of the region pretty well. We could cover that.” Victor nodded at her.
“Same with me and the northwest, near Stormy Town,” Sparky said, looking at Alan. “Does that sound good to you?”
“Sure,” Alan said.
Mark opened his mouth. “I… I’ve been thinking we should look into somebody here in Alumine,” he said. “Dunno if it’ll help, but there’s someone who managed to find Mew once, and maybe… maybe he’d be willing to help, or we could dig something up about how he did it.” May gave him a glance out of the corner of her eye. He was a little apprehensive about voluntarily approaching the Mew Hunter again – but if it could lead them to Mew, they had to try. And surely he didn’t want the world to end any more than they did.
“Sure,” Leah said, raising her eyebrows. “Let us know if you get anything useful out of that. Let’s see, after that you could cover the west side, so how about I grab the south and Ryan takes the north?”
Everyone muttered some form of agreement.
“Great! That’s that all settled. Now for the rest of tonight let’s just sit back and –”
“Hey, look,” Robin said suddenly, pointing at the TV above the bar.
Mark looked, and his heart skipped a beat. In the top right corner of the screen, behind the news anchor, Taylor’s picture smiled obliviously down at him, alongside a standard Pokédex render of a Tyranitar.
“…who claims to be responsible for the death of controversial Ouen Champion Taylor Lancaster. The wild Tyranitar approached a trainer on the island this morning to confess to the murder of Lancaster and ask to be captured and taken to the human authorities. In a statement made to the police, the Tyranitar claims it happened upon Lancaster in the mountains and attacked him after he insulted Tyranitar. The statement goes on to say the Tyranitar now understands why it was wrong, that it deeply regrets its actions, and that it wishes to face human justice to atone for its crime.”
Mark turned towards May, his heart thumping; she stared at the screen, the color draining from her face. Alan, Robin and Sparky were all looking at her in silent alarm. Ryan’s gaze flicked uncertainly between her and Mark; Victor stared wide-eyed at her, lips pressed together, clenching his fist on the table.
Leah looked around at everyone in confusion.
“Among legal experts,” the anchor went on, “opinions are split on how to handle the Tyranitar’s unusual request for human justice.”
The report cut to a woman in a suit, identified as a lawyer. “Regardless of the creature’s desire to be punished, it is a wild Pokémon,” she said. “It’s commendable if it wants to take responsibility, but the Agreement is clear that wild Pokémon are not subject to human laws and standards, and vice versa. Cross-species murder has always been an unpleasant can of worms, but there’s no good solution here. The legal separation is an absolutely fundamental part of the Agreement, and upholding it is far more important than any individual case.”
Another lawyer appeared, impatiently adjusting his sleeves as he spoke: “When a Pokémon joins a trainer, it voluntarily submits to the rule of human law and becomes legally responsible for its actions within human society. This Tyranitar may not be trained, but it’s voluntarily submitting to the rule of human law just the same. I see no reason not to treat it the same way.”
“Champion Island police declined to comment on the matter of jurisdiction, but have stated that the Tyranitar is currently in custody and urge the public to have patience as the investigation continues.”
May’s gaze flicked from side to side, to all the eyes fixed on her, and then, abruptly, she stood up and stormed out of the restaurant.
They caught up with her on the road out of town. She was leaning over a wall by the roadside, taking deep, heaving breaths. When they approached, she stumbled a bit further before giving up and turning around to face them, still supporting herself against the wall.
“If you told him to lie he’d do it, huh,” Robin said.
“I did not tell him to do that!” May shouted, her voice hot and raw.
“You were there!” Robin shouted back, fists clenched. “You were there! Why is it him giving himself up to the police and not you?”
“I don’t know!” May threw her hands up in agitation. “I told him to go away and find some wild Tyranitar! I don’t know why he’s doing this!”
“I knew it,” Victor said coldly. “God, I knew it. I knew you two weren’t right.”
Mark blinked, turning around in confusion, and flinched under the sudden accusation in his gaze. “What happened to your Letal?” Victor asked, his voice harsh.
“What?” Mark’s brain was frozen in befuddlement. “What are you talking about?”
“Your Letal!” Victor rounded on him. “You used her way too long in our battle, and she failed to evolve, Nurse Joy said you could’ve killed her, and now you don’t have her anymore!”
“That’s not…” Mark’s gut stung, his face burned. “I – I think you’re mis…”
“And you, yelling at your Vibrava like that – I should’ve seen it earlier but I liked you and wanted to be your friend, and I didn’t put it together until I watched the League finals and your Tyranitar was just… like a child, and thought he was weak, and you just yelled at him and watched him get hurt! And even then, I thought you’d released him for not being good enough, I never thought – why did I come with you?”
“I didn’t make him do it!” May shouted, fists clenched. “He just…”
“I think this is quite enough,” Chaletwo said. “Yes, there was an unfortunate accident –”
“They were there!” Robin yelled.
“– but none of this has any bearing on our mission, which is to find and capture Mew. We have almost succeeded. How can you stand here still arguing about this? You’re splitting up anyway; if you have a problem with May, then great, you never have to see her again.”
Robin stared at Mark, anger gleaming in her eyes. “What about Tyranitar?” she said, her voice quiet. “He’s sitting in captivity right now trying to get himself punished, who knows what they’ll end up doing to him, and they’re standing here getting away with it.”
“Well, contrary to some of your wild theorizing here, it was the Tyranitar who killed him, of his own volition. For the record, May tried to stop him. And as far as I’m concerned this wraps things up nicely. Weren’t you complaining about Rick not knowing how his brother died? Well, now he knows, and he has no reason to think there’s anything more to it than an aggressive Tyranitar, as he should. Frankly this couldn’t have ended better if you ask me.”
Robin closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “Look. Chaletwo. Maybe you don’t know this. But just because trained Pokémon submit to human law doesn’t mean the trainer is free of all responsibility. The trainer’s the one who makes sure their Pokémon understand and honor the contract they’re entering into. It’s the trainer’s job to inform and educate the Pokémon about human society, and evaluate whether they can be trusted, and recall them if they ever do get carried away during a fight. You know, May tried to tell me it was all a misunderstanding. The problem with that is that actually, making sure he understands stuff like ‘murder is wrong’ was her responsibility, and the moment Tyranitar made a move towards Taylor, he should’ve been recalled. So unless you’re going to tell me that after somehow misunderstanding the most basic rule of being trained, this huge lumbering beast that can be outsped by a Fletchling attacked so fast and so out of nowhere that nobody could possibly have seen it coming, this should not have happened!”
She glared at Mark; his heart pounded uncomfortably. He should’ve done something. He should’ve stepped up when Tyranitar approached Taylor, said something. He should’ve objected to May’s methods. He should’ve…
“No? I didn’t think so,” Robin said, her voice hard.
“Well, my point still stands,” Chaletwo said, defensive. “Even if May bears some responsibility for this boy’s death, we’re looking for Mew. That’s far more important than your high-flying notions of justice. It’s fine if you hate her, but we need her out there searching, not sitting in jail or whatever it is your human justice system would do with her. And I assure you that if you make any attempt to sabotage our mission, you’ll make me very angry with you.”
Robin stared at him and shook her head. “Fine,” she said. “Fine. Victor, let’s go.”
She turned to join Victor where the road led onwards, out of Alumine.
“Victor,” Mark managed to croak out as he finally remembered how to speak. “My Letal, she wasn’t… She always wanted to be released after the League. I just took her back home.”
A flicker of doubt passed across Victor’s face. Robin turned, too. “Yeah, well, good for you,” she said. “I guess your only crime is sitting around watching while Tyranitar murdered someone and then participating in covering it up. Hooray.”
She threw up her hands and strode down the road without looking back. After a moment’s hesitation, Victor followed.
“I… I think I’d better go,” Ryan mumbled, taking out a Pokéball. “Xatu, Green Town.” And in a second, he was gone, too.
“Well, that sure was a thing,” Leah said after a moment, raising her eyebrows. “So, uh, were there any plans to let me in on this murder everyone else apparently knew about?”
Chaletwo gave a frustrated sigh. “I never meant for any of you to hear about this,” he said. “Robin learned of it and informed our group earlier; it was just as hard to reason with her then. As for Victor, I don’t know what he was on about. He didn’t seem to believe any of this nonsense the last time we met. Frankly I’m happy to be rid of them.”
“Same old Chaletwo after all,” Leah said dryly. “Well, so long as you don’t get me tangled up in this. I don’t want anything to do with murdered kids, okay? It’s none of my business how you deal with it, but don’t make it my problem.”
“Why would it be your problem?” Chaletwo replied irritably.
“I don’t know, just don’t.” Leah looked at Mark, grim. “Well, I guess I’m off to look for Mew, too,” she said, giving a sarcastic wave of her hand. “Bye, everyone. Good luck with all that.”
Mark was too dazed to even say goodbye before she’d sent out Felix and teleported away.
That left Mark, May, Alan and Sparky standing on the crossroads. May was still by the wall, averting her gaze.
“May?” Alan said quietly, stepping closer. “Are you okay?”
She looked up. “Fine,” she said after a moment’s pause. “We should probably get going too.”
Mark shrugged limply as she turned her gaze towards him. Robin’s words still echoed in his ears. Hooray.
Alan stared at May, brow furrowing. “Look, I… I don’t think they were being fair. It wasn’t your fault, not like…”
“That’s new,” May said coldly without looking at him.
Alan glanced at Mark, sighing. “We… we didn’t see it either,” he said. “None of us knew Tyranitar would do something like that, but he did. And you’ve been suffering for it, and I…”
“I’m not suffering,” May said, turning abruptly, fists clenched. “Let’s go.”
Sparky, who had been standing silently back, listening, stepped forward. “I can see you don’t want help or pity,” he said, his voice level and calm. “But for the record, I also think they judged you too harshly. It’s true that a trainer is formally meant to inform their Pokémon about human laws, but in practice, most Pokémon already know and most trainers don’t bother. I certainly never sat down for a legal chat with any of my Pokémon, and to be frank, I doubt they did, either. It’s easy in hindsight to call someone a monster for the mistakes they’ve made, but it’s human nature to make mistakes; whose mistakes result in tragedy is often a matter of sheer moral luck.”
May didn’t answer. She stood still, knuckles white, lips pressed together.
“Look,” Alan said, exhaling. “You were careless towards your Pokémon. I still think that. Maybe Tyranitar wouldn’t have done it if you’d raised him better. But I know you didn’t want this to happen. I’ve been thinking about the way I’ve been acting, and…” He glanced at Mark. “I didn’t really want to see it before, but I’ve finally started to notice what you’ve been going through because of this. And I’m sorry for making it worse.”
“Just go,” May said.
Alan and Sparky looked at one another. “The last thing I want to say,” Sparky said, slowly, “is that in my experience, lies and secrets lead to nothing good. I hope the truth will eventually come to light in a way that’s fair to you and to your Tyranitar, and I hope you can be at peace with what that might mean.”
May didn’t answer.
“I guess we should get going,” Alan said after a moment, sighing. “See you around. Let’s hope we can find Mew soon and put an end to all this.”
“Goodbye,” Sparky said. “And good luck.”
“Bye,” Mark said limply. May only gave a vague nod, not looking at them.
And Alan and Sparky turned to head northward, leaving them alone on the empty road.
Mark let out the breath he’d been holding. His arms and legs were trembling, his body weak with emotional exhaustion; he wanted to go back to the trainer hotel and sleep, forever, forget about Tyranitar and everything that had happened.
May inhaled sharply. “Okay,” she said. “Let’s get back.”
He nodded, and they set off in silence, back down the road into the city.
“Are you sure this Mew Hunter person can help us?” Chaletwo asked after a minute, a note of lingering irritation in his voice. “From what I’ve gathered of your memories, he doesn’t seem very pleasant or reasonable.”
Mark shrugged uncertainly. He’d felt a lot more confident earlier. “Scyther used to be his Pokémon,” he said. “He might be able to talk to him.”
He took out Scyther’s Pokéball and dropped it. The mantis materialized out of white light, stretching.
“We were thinking about talking to the Mew Hunter and seeing if he’d be able to help us find Mew,” Mark said.
“So I heard,” Scyther replied.
His gaze was distant and contemplative as he scanned his surroundings – the city he’d spent three years of his life in. Mark suddenly had a thought that he should have had before. “Wait, do you know anything about how he found Mew back then?”
Scyther shook his head slowly. “That was before he caught me. He would often talk about it, but he never mentioned a strategy. I always assumed he simply wandered.”
“Didn’t Rick find Mew at the same time, though?” May said. “That’d be a weird coincidence.”
Scyther hesitated. “I don’t know. Perhaps he didn’t tell me everything.” He paused again, wincing. “I don’t know if he’d talk to me. He thought I’d betrayed him. But I do know that he’d never help you capture Mew. He was in agony after losing it to Rick. He wouldn’t tell you anything unless he thought it’d help him find Mew himself.”
Mark shared a brief glance with May before she looked away again. Maybe this wasn’t such a great idea. What if the Mew Hunter demanded to come along, threw his own Pokéball at Mew when they’d weakened him?
“Well, then at least the War would be prevented,” Chaletwo said. “You can worry about what follows if it comes to that.”
He shrugged uncertainly, and they walked on towards the hideous yellow building on the edge of town.
When they knocked on the large steel door, though, there was no answer. The curtainless windows were all dark.
“He’s gone,” Scyther whispered, his gaze distant.
“Home?” Mark asked.
Scyther shook his head. “He lived in the gym. He must have gone out to search for Mew again.” He chuckled bitterly. “I always knew he would. Never stopped hoping, though.”
Mark stared at him. He really should have known that was a possibility, but somehow he’d felt like the Mew Hunter would simply be waiting there, rambling incoherently on the floor forever like they’d left him, as if time wouldn’t pass when they weren’t there.
“So what then?” he asked. “Is there anything here that could give us any clues?”
Scyther hesitated. “He kept a diary,” he said after a moment. “He never let us see it, but sometimes I could see him writing in it late at night. Perhaps he wrote about how he found Mew there.”
“And you think he’d have left it here?”
Scyther shrugged slightly. “It was a few years ago. If he still keeps a diary, it wouldn’t be the same one.”
Although he said it casually, he averted his gaze to stare into the distance. Mark supposed he even now felt conflicted about invading his former trainer’s privacy.
“We have to do this if it might help us find Mew,” he said.
“I know,” Scyther said, sighing.
“May?” Mark said, looking at her. She’d been staring at the door, but snapped to attention as he said her name.
“Right,” she said and took a deep breath. “I’ve broken into this place once. I can do it again.”
And she marched decisively around to the back of the building as Mark recalled Scyther and scrambled to keep up.
Near the top of a corner of the back wall of the gym, a large ventilation grate was bolted onto the concrete. Without speaking, May raised a Pokéball and released Skarmory from it.
“Get the grate,” she said, matter-of-factly, like this was something she did regularly, and despite cocking his head in confusion, Skarmory flew up, dug his claws between the slits and tore the grate clean off the wall. It dropped to the ground with a clatter; Mark’s gaze darted down the alleys on either side, waiting for some bystander to appear to investigate the noise and catch them in the act, but no one came. He wasn’t sure that made him feel any better. (Getting away with it.)
“You coming?” May said, climbing onto Skarmory’s back. He wanted to say no and stay here looking the other way, pretend he had nothing to do with this, but he couldn’t. He nodded, his mouth dry, before getting on behind her. The bird Pokémon trilled and clumsily took off the ground to ferry them up.
May went in first and Mark squeezed in after her, ducking down to let her recall Skarmory over his shoulder. The ventilation duct was dirty and only barely wide enough for them to crawl through on all fours, but thankfully it wasn’t very long: it only went through a small side room, visible through a grate in the bottom of the duct, and then ended in a third grate on the wall of the main gym arena. Cold air rushed past them from the outside, as if drawing them in.
“Go,” May whispered, knocking Skarmory’s Pokéball against the inside grate. It burst open in a shower of white light, releasing Skarmory on the other side, where he could tear off the grate and ferry them down. As May absorbed Skarmory back into his ball, Mark released Scyther again, looking around apprehensively.
It was obvious no one had been in the gym for a while; the floor was dusty, the windows grimy, and the lights were off. Scyther looked wistfully out the window and around the room, like a cherished childhood home, but the harsh, bare concrete of the empty walls only pricked at chilling memories Mark had tried to forget: being pinned against that same wall, scythe at his throat, threatened with death.
“He wasn’t a madman,” Scyther said, as if he’d read Mark’s mind. “He was kind and he loved us. I would’ve followed him anywhere, short of murdering a child for Mew. And even then I considered it.”
Mark shuddered. He thought of the man he’d met that day, those glinting, light blue eyes and that hoarse voice that went from low to bellowing in a second, and couldn’t see him as anything other than frightening and dangerous. Even the idea he could also have been kind to his Pokémon seemed irrevocably in conflict with the rest of him.
“Come on,” May said behind them. “There’s nothing here.”
She turned to the door beneath the ventilation grate, to the back room. They pushed it open, carefully; inside, there was a table, a refrigerator, some cupboards, and a bed with a small window above it.
“This is where he lived?” Mark asked.
Scyther nodded. “He never went back home after his Pokémon journey. Bought the gym, lived here ever since.”
Mark swallowed. The room was tiny, dark and dirty – not the kind of place one would want to spend a single night in, let alone live in. And yet in some way it didn’t entirely surprise him. It seemed to fit with the man’s unkempt appearance and strange behaviour.
May opened the refrigerator to find it loaded with beer cans. “I can see where Scyther gets the drinking problem from,” she said, wrinkling her nose as she closed it again. The cupboards, too, were full of liquor bottles of various shapes and sizes.
Scyther chuckled. “He wouldn’t let us have any of that,” he said. “Said it was too strong for Pokémon.”
May only arched an eyebrow at him in disbelief.
Mark looked around, and his gaze settled on a black object lying on the windowsill above the bed. “What’s this?” he said, climbing onto the bed to reach for it; it turned out to be a small, dust-covered book. There was no title or picture on either cover.
“That’s it,” Scyther said. “That’s the diary.”
Mark turned it over, apprehensive. He’d known they were looking for it, but it still felt strange to be holding the diary of someone like that in his hands, like his madness could be infectious, somehow. What would they find in there? Could they really just read it?
May snagged the book out of his hands, sighing impatiently. As she opened it, Mark caught a glance of bizarre, alien writing at the bottom of the page, and his gut twisted in a sudden, irrational panic before May turned it the right way up and flipped to the start of the book. It had no date, only a hastily scribbled, barely legible block of text covering the page from top to bottom.
Mew is the greatest Pokémon, originator of all life – all of them in one, the ultimate being. They say it wanders the earth and appears only to the pure of heart who desire to see it. It knows their hearts and takes mercy on them by gracing them with its presence. Mew would underst
It cut off suddenly in the middle of the word; a loose, hasty scribble crossed the entire paragraph out before the writing began anew in the next line.
Mew is the most perfect and pure-hearted of all Pokémon. People don’t see it but I do. There are rotten people everywhere poisoning the world, capturing Pokémon and enslaving them for their own gain. Mew must be devastated, tired, harrowed, at the filthy selfishness of all those people, just like me. I understand. This world is broken and Mew must suffer and I can help. I understand Mew. I can help Mew. I can save
Again, the paragraph cut off suddenly. Mark swallowed, his mouth dry as he read on.
I’m a savior. I save Pokémon. That’s what they tell me. I capture them so I can save them. Feraligatr was nervous about trainers, but with me he said he could be himself. Sandslash lost his parents, but I came in their place. Sneasel was an outcast rejected by his kind, and I accepted him for who he was and taught him to trust again. Kabutops is haunted by ancient memories, but I listen and help him process them. They would be lost if it weren’t for me. I saved them because I love them, more than anything. Other trainers don’t care, they don’t care to understand them, they just want to use them for fights. They’re repulsive and wrong. I can save Mew from all the filth and the selfishness and the greed. Mew must cry every day at how broken the world is. I can help, I can make Mew whole again, I can make it better. But how can I make it see? How can I let it know that I’m different from them? Mew wouldn’t let itself be captured by an ordinary trainer, I know. Even with a Master Ball, it would teleport away instantly when released. I have to find a way to make it stay and give me a chance, like Feraligatr and Sandslash and Sneasel and Kabutops, so I can show it that I understand and earn its trust and save it, just like I saved them.
May took a deep breath, glancing at Mark for a second, before she turned the page.
Pokéball books at the library. It’s not as hard as you’d think to modify balls, little tricky but not so bad. The secrets seem so closely guarded from afar, but the technology is old and it’s simple when really you look into it. I think I know what I need to do, found some info on Mean Look. Just have to experiment and confirm, get some balls to try it on. I can feel Mew getting closer. Please
I can do it. Tried it on Sneasel’s ball. The first attempt didn’t work but the second did. He can’t stray far from the ball now. I switched him back to a normal one, but it works. If I just get a ball that can hold Mew, everything will be complete, but I need money. I think I’ll open a gym. Feraligatr and Sandslash and Sneasel and Kabutops are strong. They can do it. They believe in me.
The next few entries were about the process of setting up the gym and opening it; May gave an impatient sigh and turned the page, then gave the next a brief scan and flipped it again. Mark caught glimpses of sentences as she skimmed:
The Master Ball price is going down. I will wait. Mew has time. Mew has unlimited time but it is alone and it has no one. I’m coming for you Mew
Sneasel was distracted during a fight today. I asked him what was wrong and he said he’s feeling sick but didn’t want to disrupt the management of the gym. I told him never do that again, he’s more important. He said he doesn’t think he’s important. I said he’s important to me and to us. Took him to the Pokémon Center, they wanted to keep him overnight. Can’t sleep, hope he’s okay.
Kabutops remembers seeing Mew once, back in his previous life. I nearly choked. I asked what he had seen but he says it’s all fuzzy, all he remembers is a pink glow and a serene smile. So back then, Mew was happy. I wish
“Okay, here we go,” May said at last as she turned the page once more.
I have the ball now. That means I only need to find it. I don’t know how, but it doesn’t matter, because Mew appears to the pure of heart who desire to see it, and I know it will appear to me. I only need to go out, wander the world like Mew does, and our kinship and connection will grow. I can feel destiny drawing us together already. I am meant to be Mew’s trainer and it is meant to be mine, so I can help it heal and we can face the world together. It will happen soon.
So far nothing. It’s been a month, I think, haven’t kept track. It doesn’t matter. I have time and patience. Mew cannot be rushed. Mew lives without worrying about time. It has nowhere it needs to be, nobody it must see, it just is. It’s like me. We will find each other.
I know my heart is pure. I know it. But does Mew know?
Mew still hasn’t come. I have patience. I
Heard a rumour today. Bad rumour, about some kid from Cleanwater City capturing legendary Pokémon, cloning them, planning to open a gym. He’s just a teenager, an orphan. They say he’s caught a few already. How can that be possible? The legendaries of the myths are so powerful no trainer could take them down. It has to be a lie.
Still haven’t found Mew. The kid’s still at it, they say. It’s said he’s caught even more legendaries, like he has a way, like can track them down. It’s impossible. I don’t believe them.
I think I saw the kid today. He travels with a sense of purpose, like he already knows where he’s going. He has a device at his belt that he looks at every now and then. That has to be how he’s finding them. He can’t find Mew that way. Mew only appears to the pure of heart. How dare he? I should
I can’t risk him finding Mew first. I’m following him. If I’m there too when he finds it, Mew will choose me. I have the ball. Everything is ready. Mew will come to me.
May sighed. “So he just tailed Rick, I guess. What a waste of time.”
“What are you talking about?” Chaletwo said. “Apparently Rick had a device that led him to Mew. This is fantastic news. If we can get that device from him, we can track Mew down.”
Mark’s stomach twisted. They’d have to talk to Rick. Rick, whose brother they had killed. May looked away, silent.
“Well, if you really don’t want to, we can try to get some of the others to check that out and you can start looking in the meantime.”
May took a deep breath. “No,” she said firmly, and Mark blinked in surprise. “Let’s go see Rick. We can still make it tonight.”
She closed the diary, thrust it into Mark’s hands and turned around to exit the room. Mark motioned to replace the diary on the windowsill where he’d found it.
“Mark?” Scyther said quietly. “I’d… I’d like to read just a little further.”
Mark hesitated before opening the book again. Truth be told, he was a little curious as well, but the apprehension he’d felt before had only grown.
I think he knows I’m after him. He takes long ways around, leaves early in the morning like he’s trying to shake me off. He doesn’t fool me. I know better than to let him escape. I have a duty to Mew and I cannot fail it.
He’s gone. He left even before I woke up. Has he already found Mew? Sneasel may be able to smell him. I will try
Mew chose him. What they say about pure hearts is false. Mew refused me. Why? I don’t understand. I thought I understood but I don’t. Mew chose enslavement and brainwashing. I wanted to tackle him down and wrestle the ball away from him, but Mew made the choice. Why? I don’t underst
Mew is gone. It’s gone. It thinks I’m worse than him. There’s nothing left. No point. Mew’s right. Goodbye.
I failed. Like at everything else. Couldn’t go through with it. Kabutops found me. What would they have done without me? I can’t leave them. It was cowardly. I have to move on, for them. It’s the only thing I can do.
Mark shivered, a knot of unease in his stomach.
Behind him, Scyther let out a long, heavy sigh. “That’s enough. Thank you.”
Mark nodded and placed the diary carefully back on the windowsill where he’d found it before he recalled Scyther and hurried out after May.
Scyther refers to Mew as it, which he took up from the Mew Hunter (who, for all his proclamations that he understands Mew, always did that too). Just another little bit of pronoun-use-as-characterization.
I'm not really thrilled with the diary extracts but hopefully they were at least sort of interesting and give a little more insight into this deeply strange villain I made up when I was twelve.
I had a real blast with this final five-chapter arc in general; it returns to places, character etc. from the early chapters of the fic, and it was hugely nostalgic for me. Mark and May breaking into the Mew Hunter's gym is a scene I got a big kick out of because they did that in the original version of chapter ten, but in this version Mark just knocks on his door while May breaks in through the ventilation off-screen, so I never got to write a break-in; here my twenty-six-year-old self got to just indulge in writing a second break-in. Hope you all find some enjoyment in all this as well, especially since you hopefully actually remember the early chapters better than my original readers were likely to.
Chapter 72 time! I was looking forward to writing this one for a very long time.
The Final Stretch – Chapter 72: Rick
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. “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 was talking about. 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 just kept on tirelessly doing his best for him even now, even after everything, like he still felt indebted to him somehow. Charizard was so reluctant to ever complain, to say no to anything; was that why?
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, hugging him tightly.
“That’s… You don’t owe me anything,” Mark said. “I’m just glad I met you.”
“Me too,” Charizard said quietly, wrapping his own arms around Mark’s.
“I’m sorry I’ve been taking you for granted. You don’t have to overwork yourself for me, I promise.”
May either didn’t hear them or ignored them, staring steadfastly towards the field of shimmering lights in the distance.
“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. First, though, they need a rest.” He put a hand on Charizard’s neck; Charizard smiled gratefully at him again.
They’d almost left the Pokémon Center, 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.”
“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.
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.
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.
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?
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 TV 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.
“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.
“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…”
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…”
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 to let the jacket 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.
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.”
“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.”
“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!”
“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!”
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 as he prayed 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 Rick looked back in alarm just a little too late to realize what was happening. As the Ninetales succumbed to Mewtwo²’s power, it collapsed with her in a burst of black flame.
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 plunge of fear, then started again as both of them dissolved into red energy and were absorbed into their balls. They were still alive.
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, never letting go of her hand.
Together, they stumbled outside and made a run for the Pokémon Center.
The opening scene here has the dubious honour of being one of the only scenes that I have actually cried writing - however, I think that's mostly because I was in a pretty bad emotional state at the time, more than the content of the scene. I'm not thrilled with a lot of the first half here; it probably shows I was just itching to get to the juicy bit.
Chaletwo truly is not expecting a human to not defer to his authority as a legendary Pokémon, while Rick truly could not care less what a legendary Pokémon wants.
Cheerful fanfic research: for this chapter I looked up how long it takes to pass out from strangulation so I could make sure all the dialogue makes sense happening while May is still conscious. Google gave me a bunch of domestic violence resources for this, which sure was a dose of reality I wasn't looking for when I opened it to do research for my Pokémon fanfic.