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Old February 7th, 2011, 04:08 AM
Cutlerine
Gone. May or may not return.
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
Age: 21
Gender:
Nature: Impish
Chapter Twelve: Gremlins

The lift, Puck snapped suddenly, press the button!

“The lifts won’t be on during a fire!”

It’s worth a shot, isn’t it?

The alternative was a painful death, so I thumbed the button; much to my surprise, the doors slid open immediately – but there was no lift beyond, just the yawning abyss of the shaft.

“What are you doing?” hissed Sapphire. “We can’t go that way—”

Abruptly, she stopped; she had seen what I had seen. Through the smoke that wreathed us, the outline of a set of stairs, looping around the edge of the shaft, was just visible. An internal fire escape that would take us all the way down to the ground floor.

We wasted no time; Sapphire flung herself onto the first step, coughing from the toll this took on her smoke-filled lungs, and I followed straight after, spluttering and running as fast as I could, feet creating a clattering clamour on the iron stairwell.

If running down Devon’s stairs had been hell for me, this was beyond imagination; not only did these steps run for a hundred and forty-three floors, but my lungs were full of sooty particles from the flames. My chest heaved so hard I thought my lungs would burst free from my ribcage, and my heart pounded my sternum as if pleading with me to let it out, so it wouldn’t have to die with me.

We slowed after a couple of flights, thankfully; there was nothing flammable in the lift shaft, and though the fire raged and fumed at the exit to the penthouse floor, it couldn’t follow us. A few steps later, we stopped, and took a short rest to cough and exhale the last of the smoke.

“That,” I said to Sapphire, “was a really bad plan.”

She glowered at me.

“Shut up. We found the exit, didn’t we? And the fire should serve as a useful distraction while we escape.”

Uh, Kester?
Puck said. Don’t want to interrupt or anything, but I’m detecting multiple Ghost-types nearby.

“What?” I held up a hand to silence Sapphire, and tried to concentrate.

Ghosts can sense the presence of other Ghosts. It’s pretty simple.

“No, the other bit. About multiple Ghost-types nearby?”

Sapphire blinked, surprised.

“What is it?” she asked, but I shushed her; anxious to know, she obeyed for once.

Well... nothing we can’t handle, the Rotom said, in that wheedling tone that could mean nothing but bad news.

“What is it, Puck?”

About... seventy of them? Coming this way... down the lift shaft.

“What?”

“What is it?” Sapphire cried. I looked to her grimly.

“Puck can sense about seventy Ghosts coming down the shaft after us,” I said, craning my neck to look up. “But I can’t—”

“There.” Sapphire pointed, and I saw what looked like two points of fire in the darkness above the flaming penthouse floor; then they came into the light of the blaze, and I saw that they were twin jewels, set into a round, purple-black head. This head was to be found atop a small, humanoid body, the back studded with more jewels – and this body was crawling down the walls like a spider. “Sableye,” Sapphire breathed.

“Can we beat it?” I asked.

“One or two, yes. Seventy, no.” Sapphire pointed again, and I saw more little heads and bodies emerging from the gloom, silently making their way down the walls. It looked like some strange, sluggish waterfall of darkness and gems; the sight was entrancing.

“Do we need to beat them?”

Not really, Puck said. They shouldn’t hurt you if you don’t frighten them.

“Right,” I said. “So, nothing to worry about?”

No.

“There shouldn’t be,” Sapphire said, thinking I was addressing her. “I don’t think they’ll fight us. They probably live here because of the jewels in the penthouse apartments – that’s what they eat, you know.”

“O-K. Shall we go, then?”

“Yes,” she replied, and we began to make our way downstairs again.

Wait! cried Puck. The noise will—

Our feet hit the steps; a loud booming noise erupted from them, echoing around and around the stairwell, drowning out the sound of the fire, and of our breath – but not the piercing screams that the Sableye emitted when they heard it. They shrieked and chattered their teeth, looking around wildly for the source of the racket; it wasn’t long before they found it in us.

—upset them, Puck finished, too late.

As one, the Sableye coursed downwards like a tidal wave, a terrifying, screaming wall of jewels and teeth and talons, and Sapphire and I broke once again into a run.

They reached our level quickly, and started pouring from the wall to the stairs; their little claws made vast, unnaturally loud clicking sounds on the iron floor, and this seemed to drive them into even more of a frenzy, bounding after us on all fours like crazed apes.

“They’re right behind us!” Sapphire yelled in my ear. “You need to go faster!”

“I can’t!” I protested.

“I know!” she replied. “So I’ll help!”

Then she put her palm to my back and pushed.

---

Down, down, down; head over heels, spine over calves, neck somehow knotted with my ankles; an impact on my back, my arm, my foot; a cacophony of crashes ringing in my ears. I hit a wall, bounced off it and rolled down the next flight, and it happened again; and then again, and again, and again, until I no longer knew where I was, and the world had narrowed down entirely to the abuse my body was receiving and the thin, high cry of the Sableye above me.

“Sapphire,” I mumbled weakly, “you’re such a b—”

Then I hit my head yet again, and my teeth snapped shut painfully on my tongue. It was at this point that I knew I couldn’t take it any longer and so passed out.

---

Without Kester in tow, Sapphire was much, much faster; faster than the Sableye, at any rate – though because they could move along the walls as well as the stairs, they had the advantage, and there were always a few of them just behind her, slashing at her heels with their little pin-like claws, trying to stop the noise that so infuriated them.

She tossed Rono’s Poké Ball backwards into the mess of Sableye; he materialised, and instantly curled into a ball and rolled back towards her with a terrific clanging, where she recalled him. Sapphire spared half a second to glance at what he’d done, and was satisfied: many of her pursuers had been knocked aside like skittles, and many more had stumbled and fallen over those.

“Haha!” she cried, brandishing a triumphant fist. “Take that!”

If Puck had been present to hear this, instead of being whirled around and around in Kester’s head, he might well have made some sort of mocking remark about having a violent nature – but he wasn’t, and consequently didn’t.

Sapphire was ahead now, but there were limits to how far and fast even she could run, and she was beginning to flag. In contrast, whenever one Sableye tired, it would fall back, the ones behind it would flow forwards to fill the gap formed in their front line. Their numbers gave them the advantage.

Sapphire looked around for any hint of what floor she was at, but there was no clue; she almost looked down over the handrail, but felt too dizzy to try.

Her breath was coming in ragged gasps now, and her feet felt heavy as they clattered over the steps. Her legs were no longer doing what she wanted them to: the more Sapphire thought faster, the slower they went, stumbling and wobbling like the limbs of a drunk.

Then she tripped, and suddenly the stairs were dragging at her coat as she slid down them, and the lead Sableye, which had a little white stripe on the top of its head, had leaped onto her chest, only it didn’t seem to matter because Sapphire had just realised that instead of pushing Kester down the stairs she could have recalled him.

Sapphire’s head hit something soft, and all at once she was still. The Sableye were leaping down the last flight of stairs, raining down upon her, and she realised that she was on the bottom floor – and that her head was currently resting on Kester’s belly.

Instantly, she snapped out of her trance and jumped to her feet, ripping the white-striped Sableye from her jacket and hurling it away. She tossed down Rono’s ball in front of the advancing horde, and barked a sharp command as she recalled Kester.

Rono kicked at the floor with his stubby front legs and the stairs in front of him vanished into a cloud of mud and dirt. Startled by the Mud-Slap, some of the Sableye retreated a few paces; it was all the diversion Sapphire needed and she rushed over to the doors that would have led out into the lobby.

It was then, as she scrabbled desperately at the sliding doors, that she realised a profound truth about elevator systems. It came to her in one flash of inspiration that lasted a picosecond and felt like a millennium, and left her standing there open-mouthed.

The buttons to open the doors are on the outside of the shaft.

Sapphire swore loudly and turned around slowly. She saw Rono, surrounded by a small pile of fainted Sableye, but moving slowly, as if close to his limits. She saw the blank concrete walls of the lift shaft. She saw the cables stretching high up to the flaming peak of the Tower.

“There has to be a reason why the stairs come down here,” she told herself, backing away from the advancing Sableye. “Think, Sapphire, think!”
The white-striped Sableye dropped from nowhere onto her head; Sapphire snapped her head back and crunched it against the wall. It fell away with a squeal, but more were clutching at her legs, ripping her jeans and shredding her trainers. She felt sharp pinpricks in her shins, and suddenly her feet were slick and sodden with an unexpected rush of blood. Sapphire kicked out, sending some of the Sableye flying, but more swarmed forth to take their place, clawing and biting. Her trainers and the lower halves of the legs of her jeans fell away in rags, and Sapphire could now feel the sharp claws against her thighs as the gremlin-like monsters climbed higher up her body, chattering their teeth and hissing.

Think, Sapphire, think...

Then she saw it. Across from the door to the lobby, there was a fire escape door, a green light burning above it behind the white figure of a man running through an open portal. Sapphire recalled Rono and flung herself without hesitation at the thick bar that ran across the door’s width; surprised, the Sableye fell away from her. The door burst open as she pressed on the bar, and then the harsh light of the streetlamps was streaming in. Ungodly screams echoed out from behind her, and the Sableye vanished in an instant, fleeing to any and every available hiding place to get away from the blinding light.

Sapphire blinked and took an unsteady step forwards, her bare, blood-slick feet making contact with cold concrete. She was in some sort of little courtyard, to one side of the Tower; there were a couple of huge dustbins to her left, and the fence that marked the edge of the Tower’s grounds was directly ahead of her.

“We made it,” she breathed. “I’m... outside.”

Her face cracked into a smile of relief, and a few moments later she was scrambling over the iron border fence, ignoring the pain in her legs, and heading away from the nightmare of Angel Laboratories.

---

Darren Goodwin stalked across the lobby and opened the door to the lift; across from him, another door stood wide open. A lone Sableye with a white stripe on its head hissed at him from the corner, but the Raiders, still floating at his side, sent it packing with a swift Thunderbolt.

“Damn it,” growled Darren. “They knew about the fire escape system!”

Very cunning,” noted House.

“I’m going to kill you if you say anything else,” snapped the Goodwin, and stomped off back down the tunnel, in more of a tantrum than he would have cared to admit.

---

Midnight: the witching hour, the time when all the dark creatures of the world stalk the earth freely, creeping about under the beds of children and down the shadowed passages of our dreams. The time when the thing that worked for Team Magma paced the verdant slopes of Mount Chimney; the time when the Shuppet colony of Mount Pyre left its hallowed halls and spread out across Lilycove’s suburbs, feasting on fear and doubt.

The time when the streetlight outside the still-open fire escape door of the Calavera Tower went out.

Instantly, the street was plunged into darkness, and a lone figure, recently displaced from its usual home and curious as to what lay beyond its limited world, crept cautiously out of the door.

It moved slowly and carefully, in case it ran into any trouble, but the courtyard was as silent as the grave. It raised its heavy head to peep between the bars of the fence, and saw the street beyond, office blocks and motionless cars laid out before it like a toy city that was desperate to be played with.

On either side of the white stripe on its head, its eyes shone like diamonds. Whatever was out there, the Sableye thought, it had just made the discovery of the century.

It turned around and leaped up and down, emitting a screech too high-pitched for human ears to pick up. A few Sableye heeded the call, emerging cautiously into the courtyard – then a few more, and a few more, and suddenly a vast flood of bejewelled backs was rushing out into the city, and at their head a flash of white, instinctively taking the lead in the headlong rush to explore this brave new world.

---

I regained consciousness on a bed. For one heart-stopping moment, I thought I was somehow back in that affair from last year again; then I realised that this was a Pokémon Centre room, and I breathed a sigh of relief.
Once again, I seemed to be miraculously unharmed, which was something I was rather pleased about; I sat up and inspected myself thoroughly for signs of damage, but though my clothes were even more torn and bloodstained than before, the skin and bone beneath appeared to be intact.

Joy of joys
, said Puck dryly.

“Shut up,” I replied, then looked around. “Where’s Sapphire?”

I don’t know. I can’t see anything when you’re unconscious.

“All right, all right.”

Sapphire’s bag was open on the floor next to the bed, with a couple of empty bottles next to it; I picked them up and read the labels: ‘Revive’ and ‘Full Restore’.

“I must have been pretty badly hurt,” I remarked. “I wonder what happened?”

Beats me. I couldn’t see much except for that dream you had.

“Dream?”

You know, about that Aqua g—

I coughed hastily.

“Yeah, OK, Puck. Enough about that.” I groped desperately for something to change the subject with, and found a question I’d been meaning to ask him. “Puck, can I ask a question?”

Depends what it is, he replied. But you know what they say: nothing ventured, nothing gained.

“Right. Thanks. Er, what I wanted to ask was, how come you keep trying to save my life when if I die, you go free? You told me to run when the Magmas shot at me, and you told me how to battle the Carvanha, and you were worried when Felicity came at me with the gun...”

There was a long, long period of silence, during which I grew increasingly anxious and uncomfortable. At length, though, the Rotom spoke.

I... have a vested interest in your continued survival, he said evenly, without any trace of his usual sardonic wit. That’s all I’ll tell you.

“A ‘vested interest’? What the hell does that mean?”

This is not something we can talk about. If you continue to ask, I will have no choice but to fry your brain again.

Reflexively, I winced; the memory of the last time he’d done that was still fresh in my mind.

“Why? What’s so important that you can’t tell me?”

Kester! I told you to leave it alone!

Puck had been many things before, but never outright angry; shocked as much at this as at his words, I lapsed into silence, feeling vaguely wounded. We stayed that way until Sapphire came in from outside, carrying a large plastic bag.

“Oh,” she said. “You’re awake.”

“Yeah, I am.” I pointed at the bag. “What’s that?”

“The Sableye from last night ruined my trainers and my jeans, so I went to buy some more.”

“Sableye? What’s that?”

Sapphire looked at me oddly.

“You don’t remember? I guess you did bang your head quite badly.”

“Tell me.”

So she did. She told me everything while she sat on the edge of the bed and changed her shoes; all about the lift shaft, and the fire escape, and the swarm of Sableye that had chased us. She then told me how she’d pushed me down the stairs, and it all came flooding back: the tearing in my chest when I could no longer breathe, and the pain from the fall. When she was done, I was as silent as I had been after Puck’s words earlier. Then:

“I remember that now. It really, really hurt.”

“I should have recalled you, not thrown you down the stairs. Sorry.”

I looked sharply at Sapphire, but couldn’t tell if she was lying or not.

“Seriously? You’re sorry?”

“A bit.” She sighed. “It was reckless of me to endanger one of my Pokémon.”

It was my turn to sigh. For a moment, I’d thought she might have started treating me as an equal. But of course, that could never happen.

“What’s wrong with the world?” I asked quietly. “Something’s gone wrong with it, really wrong, without me noticing. It happened while I was unconscious after crashing the Vespa, I think. It isn’t just me, is it, who thinks that fire escape plan was weird? And that President Stone was weird? And that the whole damn region has gone insane recently?”

Sapphire shook her head.

“No, it’s always been like this – for Trainers, anyway. You just never left your ordinary life. There are more things in heaven and earth, Kester, than are dreamed of in your philosophy.”

I sighed again.

“So,” I said. “What do we do now?”

Sapphire stared at me.

“You’re not going to ask if you can go home?”

“I’m in this deep enough now that I couldn’t do that,” I replied pragmatically. “Besides, we had a deal. Find out why the goods are important, then you let me go.”

She stared at me a moment longer, then replied:

“Well, um, I guess the first thing to do is to get you some food.”

It was my turn to stare.

“Really?”

“Yes, really.” Sapphire looked vaguely guilty. “I haven’t been feeding you properly, have I?”

“Not at all,” I agreed.

“So I’m going to start doing so.”

“Great!”

“Just so long as you know this is only because I need you strong,” Sapphire said.

“Of course.” I nodded frantically, to show just how much I knew that it was so.

“And... you also need new clothes.”

“Wow, so many treats. What’s the special occasion?”

“Nothing. You just look like over the last few days you’ve been systematically beaten up by pipe-wielding thugs. You stand out too much.”

“This is all purely to do with what’s best for you and your mission, then? Not for me?”

“That’s right,” Sapphire confirmed.

“OK then,” I said. “Let’s go!”

---

Two hours and twenty-five minutes later, I was strolling down a sunny avenue in central Slateport with Sapphire, hunger satisfied, body cleansed of dried blood, and wearing a new hoodie, jeans and T-shirt. I might still be on the run from Devon – and probably Team Magma and Aqua as well – but right now, life felt surprisingly good.

“It feels like I should be being punched or something right about now,” I told Sapphire. “I’m not used to it all going so well.”

“I can punch you if you like,” she offered.

“Er... no thanks.” Having thus politely declined, I walked on a few paces more before asking: “So, what now, Sapphire? Do we go and raid a Team Aqua base or something?”

“No,” Sapphire replied as we started to cross the road. “That would get us killed. Or rather, it would get me killed and you two captured.”

“Fair enough.” I paused, thinking that Puck would make some sort of remark there, but he didn’t; he had been silent since our conversation earlier that morning. “What, then?”

“I’m not sure.” We crossed and headed on towards a street that rejoiced in the name of Kopalokooza Avenue. “Hang on. Turn left here.”

I obeyed, and we entered a narrow alley that ran parallel to Kopalokooza, but was much closer.

“Where are we going?” I asked.

“To see a... a friend,” Sapphire told me.

“A friend?”

“Believe it or not, I do have a life outside of being a Trainer,” Sapphire replied. “Before I left school to be a Trainer, I went to Liro Academy, and I knew her there.”

I interrupted with a low whistle of surprise. Liro was the top school in Hoenn; in addition to this, it was privately owned, and was incredibly exclusive, incredibly expensive, and incredibly big. Littleroot was a reasonably large city, and Liro occupied two blocks by itself. Parents had been known to kill to obtain places there for their children – even handing themselves in to the police afterwards, to set a good moral example to their kids.

“She’s the daughter of the curator of the Oceanic Museum here,” Sapphire told me.

“And this is relevant because...?”

“As well as being the curator, her dad’s Angel’s biggest investor,” Sapphire replied.

“Why didn’t we go to see her first?” I asked incredulously. “You set a building on fire and pushed me down over a hundred flights of stairs for nothing?”

“It’s complicated,” Sapphire said shortly. Sensing I was waiting for an answer, Sapphire sighed and went on, “We didn’t part well.”

“Oh?”

“We were good friends,” Sapphire told me. “Then we fell out over something stupid, you know how it is” – I nodded – “and then I got angry and, um, took revenge.”

“Revenge?” This sounded promising. I could well imagine that a vengeful Sapphire was not something to be sniffed at.

“I punched her. I didn't mean to break her nose, I swear.” Sapphire looked at me in a sort of earnest way that brought the scene alive in my head: this girl, and Sapphire, arguing; Sapphire resorting to blows, as I could well imagine she might – and then the sickening realisation that it had gone too far.

I nodded deeply, working it out.

“I know you didn't,” I said.

“Liar,” Sapphire replied. Her face showed an interesting mix of embarrassment and guilt. “I’m sure you think I did it on purpose.”

“Seriously, I don't,” I assured her. "I assume you didn't make up again afterwards?"

Sapphire shook her head. I sighed.

"What was her name again?” I asked.

“I didn’t say. It was Natalie. Natalie Stern.”

“Well, this Natalie is probably about as likely to help us as to saw off her own foot. But maybe we can... I don't know... reason with her? Failing that,” I continued, "you could always punch her again."

“You’re funny,” stated Sapphire, in a way that suggested that nothing could be further from the truth.

We walked on in silence for a while, then emerged from the alley onto a broad, sunny street, lined by massive, neo-Gothic buildings that dated back at least a hundred and fifty years each; this was where the museums were, and once again I had to wonder how Sapphire knew her way around Slateport so well. I asked her how she’d known the way here.

“Been here before,” she replied. “Like I said, Natalie and I were friends. I’ve come to her house before, you know.”

“What, she lives in the museum?”

“Yes. That little towery sort of bit is an apartment. It’s really nice on the inside. I mean, her dad’s really rich.”

“Figures. I mean, if he invests in Angel and sends his daughter to Liro, he’s got to be.”

Sapphire and I drew closer to the Oceanic Museum, which was a curious sensation: the closer you got, less attractive the building seemed. It was as if it had been designed to look nice when the weary traveller glimpsed it from afar, and thought to stop awhile amidst the soothing marine artefacts it housed – and then the architect had decided that he didn’t give a damn how it looked when you got close to it, presumably on the grounds that once you got that near, you were probably going to go in anyway.

“How’re we going to get in, exactly?” I asked Sapphire. She smiled sweetly.

“We’re not,” she said.

“Oh?” I thought I knew what was coming next, but couldn’t be bothered to protest.

You are,” Sapphire told me. I sighed.

“Huh. Didn’t see that coming at all.”

Ordinarily, Puck would probably have made a comment here, but he remained silent. I would have to speak with him later; I needed to know what was going on.

“You’re going to go in there, convince her I've mended my ways and then get her to let us poke around in her dad’s office to see if we can find out anything about the goods.”

I stared at her despondently.

“Is there something wrong?” Sapphire asked.

“Er, yes,” I replied. “This sounds like it might put me in some considerable danger. What if Natalie decides she wants to break a few noses, too?”

Sapphire held up the Master Ball and wagged it in front of my nose.

“Well, maybe just this once,” I amended. Sapphire grinned her lopsided grin.

“Knew you'd agree,” she said. “Now, come on.”

With that, she grabbed my arm and dragged me into the museum, disregarding my protests entirely.
__________________

For information about A Grand Day Out, a bizarre short story in video game form, click here.

Last edited by Cutlerine; February 8th, 2011 at 08:22 AM. Reason: Made Natalie Sterner.