First off, an apology. There's no update to The Thinking Man's Guide to Destroying the World today, on the first of March, because when I sat down to write the chapter on Sunday afternoon, I somehow found myself writing something completely different. Oh yes, and since ratings are always good, let's rate this... PG-13? Or something similar? Depends, really, on whether or not you can stand to watch Cyrus plumbing the depths of despair.
So, well, here it is.
Neither Here Nor There
“This,” said Cyrus for the hundredth time, “was quite possibly the worst idea I have ever had.”
He was standing on a barren plain, perpendicular to the norm, or so he thought; there really wasn’t any way of telling for sure. Around him was the purple-black vastness of the abyss, pockmarked with floating rocks and sections of earth; above him, a river flowed across the sky from one horizon to another, withered black plants drifting across its unruffled surface. Here, there was no wind, no time, no sense: this was the Distortion World, and he was very, very sick of being here.
Cyrus had had a plan, once. He was going to chain time and space to his will, and rebuild the universe in his own image. It would have perfect: no emotion, which meant no suffering, and no complications. Pure logic, that would be all he allowed in his new world.
Only now he was stuck in the closest thing he could think of to an M.C. Escher painting, without any food, and with only a huge and rather angry dragon for company.
“It really wasn’t meant to end up like this.” Cyrus thought for a moment. “Mind, I would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for those meddling kids and their pesky Empoleon.”
He sat down on a rock, but it vanished beneath him and he fell through the air, twisted ninety degrees and landed with a splash in a small pond.
“I make it a rule not to feel emotions,” he remarked to no one in particular, “but I hate this place. A lot.”
Cyrus got to his feet and brushed dust and water from his coat; it floated away to the left and spiralled into the abyss.
“I suppose I’d better see about getting out of here,” he said. Then he sighed. “I’m talking to myself. That’s most definitely not a good sign. Perhaps I ought to get some company.”
He dug into his pocket and pulled out a Poké Ball. He dropped it, and it zoomed upwards into the blackness above. Cyrus watched it go with a resigned look.
“I should have known better,” he said glumly. “Oh, well. They’re all fainted, anyway.” He looked around, and stepped off the edge of his patch of earth; there was a dizzying moment of vertigo, and then he found himself balancing on a tiny chunk of rock that bobbed and swayed beneath his weight. “I wasn’t aiming for that one,” he remarked. “I wanted to get back to where the portal was. It could, after all, still be open.”
Giratina roared in the distance. To Cyrus, it sounded almost like mocking laughter.
“I heard that!” he shouted, shaking his fist at the inky sky. “Don’t think I won’t come up there!”
At that moment, the Poké Ball whizzed out of the shadows to his right, slammed into the side of his head and knocked him from his perch; after a brief fall with several twists, Cyrus landed painfully in what seemed to be the only tree in the entire Distortion World.
Temporarily forgetting that he was supposed to be emotionless, Cyrus swore violently at the upside-down chunk of land above him, then slithered awkwardly down to the ground.
“I believe I had a ball,” he said with as much dignity as he could muster. The Poké Ball dropped out of the sky, bounced once on his head, and fell into his hand. “That’s better,” he said.
Cyrus looked around. The strip of earth he was currently standing on was long and thin, and bent sharply upwards at one end to climb high into the sky. He couldn’t make out the tip, but he had a funny feeling he had seen it before.
“Is that the way back?” he wondered aloud, and walked towards the vertical landmass; as he stepped from floor to wall, gravity altered, and he found himself walking on the latter. He paused for a moment, dizzy, and made the mistake of looking backwards – or down, he wasn’t entirely certain which one was which. Seized with vertigo, he windmilled his arms wildly, attempting to find a balance that he already had; the result was that he fell over forwards, and got a faceful of sand for his troubles.
Picking himself up, Cyrus sighed once more.
“You make very rash decisions when angry,” he told himself. “Those two offered to take you back through the portal with them, but no, you had to stay here, and be dignified in defeat. Well, this is what’s become of your dignity, Cyrus. Scrabbling around in the dirt, no food, no horizontal water and no way out of this godforsaken place. Still,” he went on, resuming his steady pace up the wall of earth, “this does, if nothing else, prove that emotion is poison, which was essentially the point. It was my anger at losing that got me into this mess.”
Upon reaching the top of the wall, Cyrus saw a series of floating rocks laid out before him; he jumped onto one, almost losing his balance, and saw the other ones fade away, vanishing at his presence.
“Oh, this is hardly fair,” he protested. “Where do I go now, then?”
He looked around and spied another chunk of floating earth above him; experimentally, he jumped up, and was only a little surprised when he rotated in midair to fall onto it.
A further half-hour or so of manoeuvres like this, and Cyrus was... well, he wasn’t entirely sure if he was closer to the portal or not, but he was definitely somewhere else. Not for the first time, and certainly not for the last, he cursed Giratina for bringing him to this world.
As if it could sense his thoughts, the shadowy Pokémon roared again, the sound reverberating unnaturally in the alien air.
“All right, all right,” Cyrus said, in a placatory tone. “I didn’t mean to cause offence.”
“Giygogagogwoh!” it roared back. It sounded like an angry modulator.
“Suit yourself.” Cyrus sniffed and turned his back on the area where he thought the sound had come from; it seemed he was wrong, because he immediately found himself staring into a huge, bullet-shaped head, held tightly in the grip of a massive golden helmet that resembled nothing so much as a great serrated claw. From somewhere within the nest of glittering metal and grey flesh, two eyes stared back at him with a gaze that no mortal man could have held.
Startled, Cyrus took a step back and almost fell off the platform.
“You—!” Recovering, he took a step forwards again, one finger outstretched and wagging reprovingly. “Giratina! I command you, remove me from this place and take me back to my world!”
The glowing red eyes stared expressionlessly at him.
“Giratina!” Cyrus changed tack; the imperious tone wasn’t working. “For God’s sake, have some mercy!”
The dragon’s body drifted in long, looping coils, the outlines of its shadowy wing-forms flickering in and out of existence, but the head was motionless, and the eyes colder than the grave.
“Please,” said Cyrus at last. This was a low, even in his current situation, but desperate times called for desperate measures; he knew that he would not survive here beyond a few days. The lack of food, or any life beyond Giratina and himself, would see to that. “Please, get me out of here.”
Giratina snorted, and from this close it almost bowled Cyrus over backwards; it turned away with a rush of air, and flew swiftly away through the maze of floating islands.
“Damn you!” roared Cyrus, picking up a stone and hurling it at the monster’s retreating form. It stopped suddenly about fifty feet away, and turned a sharp ninety-degree angle, flying off to the left and embedding itself in the side of a floating needle of rock. Something like a chuckle trickled through the air and into his ears, and Cyrus kicked furiously at the dust. “I can’t believe it,” he muttered. “I’m angry. Me. Angry.” He made an irate tss noise and looked up, then down; his eyes couldn’t rest on anything, and eventually he shut them.
Cyrus opened his eyes. A blue swirling disc had appeared before him, approximately twice his height and pulsing with a deep inner light.
“Giratina?” he called questioningly, looking around. “Was that you?”
There was no reply, so he stepped towards the portal; it disappeared as soon as he came close enough to touch it.
“Oh, come on!” Cyrus cried. “What do you want of me?”
The dragon’s roar was incomprehensible, and if it was supposed to be an answer Cyrus thought very little of it.
“What do I have to do?” he yelled.
“Please, make another portal!”
Cyrus stared, surprised. Then he figured it out, and took a deep breath.
“Th...” He broke off; it was just such a pathetic thing to say. The portal vanished, and Cyrus cursed. “Fine,” he said. “You win.”
“Th – thank you,” he growled through gritted teeth, and took a step towards the portal. It held; emboldened, he rushed towards it – only to have it disappear again, leaving him clutching at empty space.
A flash of gold caught his eye, and he looked left to see the top of Giratina’s head rise up from beneath the platform he was standing on. One red eye regarded him calmly, and Cyrus sighed. He could almost hear the dragon’s voice in his head: Say it like you mean it!
“Very well,” he said resignedly. “Thank you very much, Giratina. Happy now?”
Giratina’s head vanished, and a portal appeared in front of him. Cyrus tested it with one hand, and, when it failed to disappear, went through. There was a brief flash of white, and then he was somewhere else entirely.
“Again,” Cyrus whispered, voice barely audible. “The same room again.” He glared upwards at the cavern roof. “And you can stop laughing!”
He raised an accusatory finger at the hordes of Haunter clustered above him, grinning broadly and chuckling amongst themselves.
“It isn’t funny,” he informed them. “I happen to be very badly lost in this cave.” Cyrus eyed a sleeping Golbat, hanging from a niche on a nearby wall. “Mind you, there’s food here, if the worst comes to the worst. No water, though.” He pulled a face. “Ironic, that.”
He stalked disconsolately past yet another pillar, and through a short tunnel into yet another cavern. It was, of course, identical to the last one, and in fact to every single one he had passed through since exiting the Distortion World. Indeed, he was starting to think that perhaps he was going through the same one over and over again.
Cave mouth. Pillar. Cave exit. Repeat, ad nauseam.
Cyrus sat down, back against a pillar, and put his head in his hands. This was going nowhere faster than a caged Electrode.
“I need,” he said, “a plan.”
These were, regrettably, in short supply; so few of them were going around his head that a rational observer might have said that there were none. Cyrus sighed, and regarded himself sadly. His clothes were ripped, scuffed and bloody; pains were shot all through his body from the various injuries he had sustained in his perilous journey through the Distortion World; and to cap it all off, he had a headache the size of Jupiter from trying to mentally map this strange cave, where every exit just turned back on itself.
Plus his spiky hairstyle was utterly ruined, which, though Cyrus did not care about appearances, was still annoying.
“In short,” he reflected, “I am, to use the common vernacular, screwed.”
Cyrus got up again, still leaning against the pillar, and went through his pockets for anything that might help. There were five Poké Balls, each containing a fainted Pokémon; a card key for Team Galactic’s buildings; a half-eaten packet of mints and a short length of rope.
His eyes lit up. He didn’t remember obtaining this, but could it be what Trainers commonly called... an Escape Rope?
Cyrus took a few steps away from the pillar, getting into a clear area. Then, he gripped the rope firmly in both hands and started to spin on the spot.
At this point, Trainers usually teleported away to the cave mouth; when a full minute had passed, Cyrus was forced to admit that nothing was going to happen, and collapsed, dizzy, on the cave floor. This elicited a murmur of laughter from his spectral audience.
“S-shut up,” he said. “I thought it was an Escape Rope.”
He hurled the rope away angrily; it hit the floor and began to spin violently. Cyrus watched with a kind of horrified fascination as it lifted bodily into the air, whirling like a dervish, then vanished in a puff of smoke.
“It was an Escape Rope,” he said in a hollow voice. “Dear God, it really was an Escape Rope.”
At this, the Haunters on the ceiling could no longer contain themselves, and burst into riotous laughter, crying acidic tears of mirth; some of these dripped onto Cyrus, and burnt little round holes in his suit. He considered the merits of making a rude gesture at them, and decided that, though doing so might be submitting to his emotions, he would derive sufficient satisfaction from it to make it worthwhile. Thus, he did it, and, his spleen partially vented, moved on to the next room.
This time, he knew he was coming around to the same cave again: through the door on the other side of the pillar, he could see his own back, and when he turned around, he glimpsed himself behind him, doing exactly the same thing. It was like being in a hall of mirrors, only supremely more disturbing.
“Am I to die here?” he asked hopelessly. “Is this it? Twenty-seven years of nothing but trying to make this world better, to remove all that’s unnecessary about it – and my reward is to starve to death in the twisted trap of some jumped-up dragon?”
Despite himself, he was shouting now, storming forwards into the cave and shaking his fists in fury; had Cyrus been able to stand outside himself, he would have condemned his body’s actions as representative of the weakness of spirit. The knowledge of this only angered him further, and being more angry made him yet more furious and so forth, until, his ire rising to a crescendo, he screamed curses at the roof and hurled a stone at a Golbat – only for it to bounce instead off a gleaming golden helmet, as an all-too familiar jumped-up dragon materialised before him.
Cyrus froze. All his rage drained out of him in an instant, and he swiftly searched for something to say.
“Ah, you again,” he said politely. “Um, you’re looking good. Is that a different look?”
It was. Rather than six wings and no legs, Giratina now seemed to possess two wings and six legs, and to be more firmly earthbound than before. Its expression of utter calm, however, was unchanged, and for a fleeting moment Cyrus wondered if it was the embodiment of the paradigm he sought: a creature utterly without emotion.
Giratina’s lack of reply was unnerving; it failed to roar, or even to move at all. Cyrus found himself fumbling for more words, and listened to them pour out of his mouth like an onlooker marvelling at an idiot.
“Well, if you don’t wish to talk, that’s perfectly fine; often I don’t want to talk either. It’s a nice place you have here, you know. The layout is a little confusing, but I suppose that’s consistent with that lovely little parallel universe you’ve got. And these pillars” – Cyrus slapped the nearest one appreciatively – “they are sublime. Truly inspired decoration.”
I am a moron, realised Cyrus with horror. What am I saying?
Giratina narrowed its eyes, and thankfully whatever fool had hold of Cyrus’ tongue released it; he shut his mouth tightly, and watched the huge dragon warily.
“Look,” he said, when it became apparent that no reply whatsoever was forthcoming. “You seem not to like me, I understand that. I don’t approve, but I understand. But surely there’s nothing to be gained from letting me die down here?” He gestured around at the rocks and pebbles scattered around. “Why not let me go?”
Giratina’s vast, ragged wings curled around it and assumed a position oddly reminiscent of folded arms.
“What do I have to do?” asked Cyrus in an impassioned voice, spreading his hands wide. “I said please, I said thank you. What more must I do before you will release me?”
Giratina nodded slightly, and a picture flickered into existence before it. Cyrus started, surprised, then inspected it closely. It depicted some sort of orange-yellow crystal, about the size of his head and with odd discoloured patches marring its otherwise perfect surface.
“What’s this?” Cyrus looked up at Giratina, puzzled; the dragon motioned impassively to the left with its heavy head. He followed the gesture, and saw another portal there, a fast-moving whirlpool of blue energy glowing white at the core. “Through there?” Giratina nodded again. “Do I have to find this item... back in there?” Nod. “And then you will let me go?” Nod. Cyrus sighed. “Very well,” he said reluctantly. “But this is it, you hear? I will do no more for you.”
Giratina spread its wings wide, and Cyrus noticed for the first time the red claws that roved like homeless dogs over their surface. Though their mobile nature was startling, of more note to him was their singular size and sharpness; they helped remind him precisely what order of being he was dealing with, and so he made no more remarks before climbing through the portal.
“To think I voluntarily returned here,” said Cyrus sourly, walking up to a stand of dead trees and watching them fade out of existence. “I can scarcely credit it myself.”
He passed through the space where the trees had once been, and they reappeared behind him; for a brief moment, he thought he was trapped in the centre of the wood, but then the ones before him vanished for some reason, and he was able to continue.
Cyrus leaped across a series of stepping stones, trod on an odd, dark patch of earth and caused a floating island to mysteriously appear; shrugging, he scrambled onto it, and was confronted by a vast river, flowing vertically upwards as far as he could see.
“This is... inconvenient,” he said, after appraising it for a while. “I have nothing that knows Surf.”
He regarded the river for a little while longer. It was oddly silent; there was no babble or rush as the water ran up.
“I suppose I could turn back,” Cyrus said. “I could survive in that cave, if I brought some of this water with me. But then,” he continued, “the water would run out eventually. I would still die.” He looked at the water. “It would be most undignified,” he reasoned. “And my suit would be ruined. However, it doesn’t appear to be in the best shape right now, either.” Cyrus turned away from the water, and looked back the way he had come. In the distance, he could see the flickering light of the portal. “Oh, damn it all!” he cried, and flung himself into the river.
Immediately, he was plunged into a world of freezing cold; without the heat of a sun to warm it, the water was almost ice, and the shock of it stole all the breath from his body. Gasping and spluttering, he surfaced perpendicular to the ground, and through water-streaked eyes saw the purple-black sky rushing up to meet him. He was moving far faster than he had expected, but no land came into sight; Cyrus, in between his frantic efforts to stay afloat, wondered if perhaps he had made a terrible error, if perhaps there was nothing above him but this endless river, and he would freeze forever its icy embrace like the souls of the sullen in Hell’s Fifth Circle...
Then all at once, he was flying out of the water, gravity twisting and bending around him like plasticine, and then he landed with a painful thud on something hard, unyielding and mercifully dry.
For a moment, Cyrus lay there, shuddering and gasping, trying to fill his frozen lungs with air; he was shivering uncontrollably, and in a moment he had grasped the gravity of the situation. Whether in the water or not, he was drenched to the skin, and was shortly going to die from hypothermia.
This is what you wanted, a voice from inside told him, calm and quiet against the storm of cold that enveloped his body. You would have fought emotion with death.
Cyrus tried to say something, anything, in response, but his lips wouldn’t move and his jaw wouldn’t stop moving; his teeth clattered against each other in a mad, macabre tap dance. With a strange, detached air, he realised he couldn’t feel his face any more.
Then a wave of hot air washed over him, and countless drops of water evaporated instantly; steam billowed off his clothes and skin and rose up above him, forming a great white pillar against the dark. Cyrus squeezed his eyes shut as a second blast rolled out, and he felt the exposed skin of his fingers and lips sizzle slightly, as water boiled away from them.
Then it was over, and Cyrus was both very warm and very dry, and he lay on his back for a moment, steaming gently and looking up at the blackness above.
A face leaned into his field of vision. It was young – very young – and framed with long, black hair. Its nose was small, and its eyes large, round and faintly anxious.
Cyrus let out an almighty groan.
“You again,” he said. “Of all the dimensions in all the universe, why did you have to walk into this one?”
“Thank you, Platinum, for saving my life,” replied the face, as Cyrus climbed slowly to his battered feet. “That’s OK, Cyrus, it was nothing.”
Cyrus glared. Platinum was twelve, cocky and almost as large a thorn in his side as Sinnoh’s Champion, Cynthia. However, there was a Rapidash standing behind her, its blazing head both the source of his salvation and a considerable threat, so he said nothing.
“I didn’t think you’d still be here,” Platinum said. “It’s been three weeks.”
“Maybe over there it has been,” Cyrus replied darkly. “There doesn’t seem to be any time here.”
He stopped to ponder that. Did that mean that he couldn’t starve or dehydrate to death here? That was either a blessing or a curse, and he wasn’t sure which.
“What do you want here?” Cyrus snapped. The Rapidash snorted and tossed its head, and Platinum patted its neck.
“I came for that,” she said, and pointed to a large, mottled yellow crystal sitting on a floating island some way off. Cyrus stared.
“You can’t have that,” he said. “I need that.”
“Like you needed electricity from the Valley Windworks, and a Red Chain made from the jewels in the heads of the Lake Legendaries?”
“No,” he said at length, “not at all like that. Those were so I could destroy the world. This is so I can survive.”
“You’ll excuse me if I don’t believe you,” Platinum said. “Now, I’m going to get the Griseous Orb.”
She recalled her Rapidash, the great yellow unicorn dwindling to a point of red light and disappearing, and leaped lightly away across a series of floating rocks.
Cyrus stared for a moment; all he could think was that the crystal was neither griseous nor an orb, and he wondered what had possessed the child to call it that. Then, his mind caught up with reality, and he jumped after her with a despairing cry:
Platinum failed to listen to him, though, and so began a crazy race through the nonsensical gravitational field of the Distortion World; Platinum had a head start, but Cyrus was larger, stronger and more desperate, and soon they were neck and neck, racing up vertical walls, along upside-down plains, through mazes of vanishing rocks.
“Don’t you dare—!” cried Cyrus, snatching at Platinum’s retreating back; he caught her scarf, which unwound easily from her neck and drifted away through the strange atmosphere. A second attempt to grab her fared no better: she ducked his hand, jumped up and fell ten feet to a patch of land above, hitting the ground running and heading along a different route to the so-called Orb.
Cyrus almost shouted out in anger, but contained himself; instead, he channelled his energy into a running leap towards a wall. He landed, rolled and bounded back up with unusual athleticism; he ran up and at the tip, gravity jerked him away again in a graceful backwards somersault. He landed atop a huge needle of stone, high above the platforms he’d come from, and looked around wildly, breathing heavily. Where was Platinum, and where was the Orb? Come to think of it, where was he?
From where he stood, he could see the vast, insane labyrinth of the Distortion World spread out around him. Platinum was a tiny figure racing vertically down a wall in the distance, and a few hundred yards beyond her, the other way up to Cyrus, was the Griseous Orb, resting on a little pedestal on its own lonely island.
“Damn it! Wrong way!” howled Cyrus, and flung himself bodily from his perch, landing awkwardly on the wall and hurtling back down again, running faster than he ever knew he could. He was flying on wings of desperation, and a small voice in the back of his head sjirachied at the irony: emotion, the very thing that he despised as weak and unseemly, was now his most important weapon. It filled him with determination, shot his heart with adrenaline; pure logic told him he should have given up the cause as hopeless by now, but he was still going. Whether it was right or wrong was irrelevant. All that mattered now was getting out of here, back to reality, with all its failings and its beauties.
Jump, roll, run, jump... The cycle went on, and Cyrus was steadily gaining on Platinum. Rocks popped into existence in front of him, creating a path; it was almost as if Giratina wanted him to catch her. Perhaps it wasn’t so unlikely; an eternity with Cyrus probably sounded as congenial to Giratina as it did to him. Platinum was directly ahead and below him now; Cyrus dropped recklessly down a short cliff—
—and the gap between them closed instantly. He grabbed her arm and both of them skidded to a halt, tripping over each other and tumbling through the dirt in a tangle of limbs and bruises.
Cyrus recovered first; he couldn’t afford not to. He leaped up and yanked Platinum’s bag from her shoulder, hoping that her Poké Balls were all in there, and then held it out at arm’s length, over the edge of the island.
“Give it back!” cried Platinum, leaping up and making to snatch it.
“I’m going to drop it,” said Cyrus, and she froze, then lowered her hand.
“What do you want?”
“How did you get here?” Cyrus asked.
“There’s another portal. In a place called Turnback Cave.”
Turnback Cave... the name alone sounded like the nightmare realm Giratina had trapped him in earlier. That meant that if he went through that portal, the dragon would be waiting for him, and if he didn’t have the Orb when that happened...
“I see,” he said. “Fine. Let me explain something to you, child.”
“You keep doing that, but it never makes any sense,” Platinum said defiantly. Cyrus shook her bag pointedly, and a Potion fell from a side pocket. For once, it went straight down, and did not reappear. The girl shut her mouth tight, and watched him carefully.
“Now, I said I would stay here to concoct a new way to recreate the world,” Cyrus said. “But it didn’t take long for me to see the error of this decision. You see, Giratina is the only natural living denizen of this place, and for good reason: it is hell. You say I’ve been here for three weeks; here, time doesn’t flow, and every moment is never-ending. Nothing is intended to live here.
“So I wished to return to our world. I don’t care if it’s corrupt or decadent; I just want to go home. And Giratina will let me out if I bring it that crystal.”
“The Griseous Orb,” Platinum corrected.
“That’s another thing,” snapped Cyrus, “stop calling it that! Is it griseous? No. Is it even an orb? No! It’s a ridiculous name!”
Cyrus waved her bag around again, and Platinum fell silent.
“Look,” he said, “all I want is to get out of here. I could go into Turnback Cave, as you call it, but the last time I found my way there Giratina trapped me there for about four hours, judging by how hungry I became. It won’t let me out of there until I have the ‘Orb’. So please, child, please just let me have it.”
Platinum stared at him, somewhat in shock.
“Did you just say ‘please’?”
“Today has been full of new experiences,” Cyrus replied dryly. “Yes, I did. Please let me have that crystal. I need to leave this place.” Platinum appeared to be mulling it over; hoping it would engender some sort of trust in her, Cyrus withdrew her bag from over the abyss. “Catch.”
He tossed it to her, and she caught it reflexively, then looked from it to him with further shock in her eyes.
“You can have it,” Cyrus said. “I’m not going to take things away from you. Just... let me take the crystal back to Giratina. If it doesn’t want to keep it, you can have it after that. But please, let me have it for now.”
Platinum looked troubled, and Cyrus silently screamed at her to give it to him; in his mind, he could see her Empoleon appearing to throw him off the side as casually as he had thrown Platinum’s bag to her, or blocking his path while she took the Orb. He needed her to agree to give it to him; she had Pokémon and thus held all the cards here.
“No,” she said, shaking her head. “No, I don’t trust you, Cyrus.”
“What?” Cyrus stared at her, unable to comprehend what she had just said.
“You tried to destroy the world,” Platinum told him. “Maybe this is the best place for you.”
“No,” said Cyrus. “No. That can’t be right... That can’t be right!”
He stepped towards Platinum, but her hand flickered in and out of her bag, and a massive steel-tuxedoed penguin materialised between them with a sound like tearing iron; the Empoleon, recognising Cyrus, raised its bladed wings and the former Galactic Boss froze.
“Please,” Cyrus said, and dived as deep into humiliation’s black waters as he could bear to go: “I gave you a Master Ball.”
Platinum almost laughed; Cyrus could see the corners of her mouth tugging upwards slightly. He ground his teeth; it was ridiculous, trying to reason with a child like this. She didn’t understand anything. To her, the world was black and white, with good guys and bad guys; she failed to realise that there were shades of grey, or even that not everyone was a clear-cut participant in the game of morality.
“Don’t worry,” she said. “I’ll put it to good use.”
“Don’t leave me here!” shouted Cyrus, as Platinum walked away down the island in the direction of the Orb; the Empoleon remained, its triangular eyes fixed on Cyrus’ own.
“You won’t die or anything,” called back Platinum, traversing a series of floating rocks. “There’s no time here, right? So you won’t starve or get old or anything.”
“You don’t understand!” cried Cyrus. “This isn’t enough to sustain someone!”
Platinum didn’t respond; she had reached the Orb. It was large, and required both of her arms to carry; she looked a lot less than safe as she wobbled forth along a narrow bridge of stone, heading back.
“Why do you even need that thing?” Cyrus demanded to know. “Surely it isn’t worth my eternal damnation here?”
“Cynthia told me about it,” panted Platinum, struggling to maintain her grip on the Orb. “It’s meant to have some sort of mystical powers relating to Giratina. So I thought I’d see if it was real, and if it was I’d go and get it for—”
“No!” cried Cyrus, but it was too late. She had come up to the floating rocks, and tried to jump them; with the heavy Orb in her arms, she had missed completely, and dropped from sight like a lead weight – taking Giratina’s prize with her. “My crystal!”
Cyrus ran for the rocks, the Empoleon too surprised to stop him; he looked down, and saw another small platform below, barely ten inches long and one wide. Platinum was clinging to this, white fingers curled around the rock. A few feet away, on another tiny ledge, the Orb was balanced on one edge in a manner that would have been impossible under the usual laws of physics.
“Help me!” shrieked Platinum, and behind Cyrus, the Empoleon made a sound like scissors opening and closing very quickly. He glanced back. The huge steel penguin looked ready to kill him if he chose to disobey its mistress. “I think not,” he told it, and jumped to the first stepping stone. The Empoleon rushed up to the edge, massive feet scraping against the ground, but it could do no more: unable to jump, it was stuck there, and Cyrus was safe from it.
“Help me!” repeated Platinum. She looked like she was slipping, Cyrus thought. There were no other platforms below her, just the never-ending darkness; even if there was one, far down in the abyss, hitting it from this height would kill her.
“That’ll teach you,” Cyrus said aloud, scrambling to the next rock and lying down to reach over the edge of the precipice. Platinum looked at him hopefully, but he waved her aside. “The crystal, child. I’m taking that.”
“I can’t hold on.” She was crying now, Cyrus noted; tears and snot were plastered over her face and dripping away onto the front of her coat. His fingers brushed the hard edges of the Griseous Orb, and it almost overbalanced; he swiftly caught it between two hands, holding it still. Now for the real effort: pulling it back up.
Platinum’s hands were pale, and the knuckles were white through the tight skin.
Cyrus paused. It was hard not to look at her, even for him. She was so small, and so helpless, and her knuckles were standing out so far.
If he let go of the Orb, though, it would fall. Unquestionably, he was the only thing keeping it upright. Then where would he be? Trapped in the Distortion World forever, or, if Giratina so chose, in Turnback Cave. Neither option was particularly palatable. Besides, what advantages would letting go and saving Platinum confer?
She would live.
The thought struck Cyrus like a bullet between the eyes; it came from nowhere, and sent an electric thrill through his body.
“Pity is poison,” he whispered to himself. “Emotions are the symptoms of the human disease.”
One hand slipped, and regained its place again. Those knuckles were so white; they were the last dregs of strength in an animal desperately trying to preserve its life. In the end, there was no difference between a man and a Vigoroth, or a man and a dog. Everyone wanted to survive.
Cyrus shook his head to clear it, and heaved on the Orb with a grunt. He wasn’t weak, but it was heavy, and it took more out of him than he thought to lift it straight upwards. He had it about six inches off its little island when Platinum lost her grip.
Cyrus was never sure how it happened. One moment, he was holding the Griseous Orb, the next, his hands were wrapped around Platinum’s wrist, and the yellow crystal was spinning away, tumbling end over end into the bottomless dark.
Platinum cried out; at first it was a scream of fear when she fell, but it turned into a cry of relief as Cyrus grabbed her. The sound cut through his trance, jerking him back to reality, and he stared in disbelief at the girl dangling from his hands.
His arms weren’t his own; they hauled her up as he tried to shake her loose, and set her down on the rock, next to him; they wrapped themselves around her and tried their best to calm her long, juddering sobs, waiting for the fear to dissipate fully from her system; they pulled her close to his chest and held her there. Cyrus’ head looked blankly down at all this, unable to even comprehend what was going on. He had thrown away his only chance of leaving Giratina’s nightmare realm.
“Damn you!” he roared, regaining control and peeling Platinum from him. He shot to his feet, dragging her with him, and held her by the shoulders, staring furiously into her eyes. “What did you do? How did you make me do that?”
“I – I...”
Platinum just looked scared, and confused. Cyrus made an incoherent growling sound and let her go, turning around and jumping across to the island where the Orb had sat before Platinum removed it. His hands were balled into fists and his entire body was shaking; one thought was going around and around in his head, screaming itself gleefully into all the cracks and crevices of his brain:
You’re trapped here forever! You’re trapped here forever!
Cyrus slammed a fist into the pedestal that had once held the Griseous Orb, and then again and again; his hand was bleeding, the skin across his knuckles splitting, but he didn’t care. The pain was nothing to what he would have to endure here.
“I – I’m sorry,” said a small voice from behind him. He turned slowly, knowing what waited for him there, and was not disappointed. Platinum stood in the centre of the line of stepping stones, looking utterly devastated, one finger pushed anxiously between her teeth.
“No, you aren’t,” Cyrus replied savagely. “You wanted to live, you wanted to trap me here. The only thing you’ve lost is that crystal.”
The girl flinched at his voice, but didn’t leave.
“You... really did need it to get out of here, didn’t you?”
“The light dawns. Your parents must be so very proud of you.”
For the first time in his life, Cyrus was in the grip of real anger, and it was as intoxicating as any material drug. Some tiny voice in his skull was yammering that fury was self-destructive, an emotion to be avoided at all costs, but he no longer cared about that. He no longer cared about any of those beliefs. All that mattered now was the Orb, gone forever and with it any chance of escape he might have had.
“You can come out the portal I came through if you like,” Platinum suggested weakly.
Cyrus’ eyes burned like distant factories in the night; he could feel the heat of his gaze himself, warming the inside of his eyelids.
“Giratina won’t let me leave,” he said, and each word was invested with the full force of his wrath. “Do you think you can stop Giratina?”
Platinum fell silent, cowed, then turned away to leave. She hopped from rock to rock carefully, and recalled her Empoleon when she reached the opposite island. Cyrus watched her struggle with the issue of whether or not she ought to say goodbye; she seemed to decide it would be inappropriate, and kept walking without another word.
Cyrus sat down on the pedestal and followed her passage with his eyes; they still felt strange, all hot and blurry like flames. He didn’t recognise this as the feeling that precedes tears until they started to fall.
Platinum stepped quietly out of the portal, uncertain of what exactly she ought to be feeling. She felt hollow inside, as if someone had scooped out everything from inside her in the spirit of investigation, and then not bothered to replace it. So dead did she feel within that she was almost not surprised at all when she saw Giratina in front of her.
Platinum stared at it, reaction dulled with shock. It was wearing the shape Cynthia called the Reverse Forme, she noticed. Presumably, it had been expecting Cyrus to return with the Orb; at any rate, it seemed faintly surprised, possibly even a little annoyed. Platinum looked up at its head, and took a deep breath.
“Giratina?” she asked. “Would you please let Cyrus out of the Distortion World?”
This caught the dragon’s attention. The great head swooped down with a rush of air, coming to rest with the eyes level with Platinum’s own. They bored into her, a piercing stare that could have unmanned Hector. Platinum swallowed, and looked away.
“He... he tried to get the Griseous Orb,” she explained hesitantly. “But I tried too, and I fell off the edge while I was holding it. Then he caught me. So it was my fault that he didn’t get the Orb, because he saved my life instead.”
Platinum risked a glance at Giratina. The dragon had not moved a single muscle, holding the position, head lowered and eyes open. She waited for something, anything, to happen, but it seemed that was the end of her audience; Platinum was about to leave when suddenly Giratina roared, a deafening sound that killed a flock of Golbat hanging from the ceiling, and reared up, spreading its wings wide. When it crashed back down to the floor, the shockwave knocked Platinum over.
“Is that a no or – or what?” Platinum begged to know, getting back up. “Please, just let me know what you mean!”
Giratina’s head swept down towards her again, and she leaped back a foot, trembling for fear it would vaporise her; however, all that happened was that its grim grey face cracked open, and it bared its yellowing teeth in something that might equally have been a smile or a scowl. Then it turned to the portal, moving with amazing speed for such a bulky creature, and vanished through the disc of whirling light.
Platinum waited for a full two hours, unsure of whether or not Giratina would return. Eventually, she gave up and made for the exit; if she didn’t leave now, she wouldn’t make it back to her camp by nightfall.
The sun was high in the sky outside, a familiar light that nothing in the Distortion World could equal. Platinum wondered if Cyrus was still there, doomed for eternity, or if Giratina had set him free. She could still feel his hard hands on her wrist, still see the wild look of fear in his eyes. By that point he hadn’t been the Cyrus she knew; he was just lost, another boat beating helplessly against the current.
A shiver wracked her spine, and she started walking. Whether he was free or not, there was nothing more she could do for Cyrus now. He was on his own. Platinum picked up a discarded Escape Rope, its white colouration marking out as used, and wound it absently around her wrist as she left.