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Old March 17th, 2011, 02:20 PM
Cutlerine
Gone. May or may not return.
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
Age: 20
Gender:
Nature: Impish
This is a little shorter than usual, but I seem to have told all the story I needed to for the chapter in fewer words than normal. Meh. Chapter length will return to normal on Saturday.

Chapter Thirty: The Minister

The Magmas’ driver walked cautiously back over to the wreck of the Buick and shook his head sadly.

“That isn’t going anywhere,” he said. “That was one hell of a shot.”

He sighed and turned away. It was going to be a long walk back to Lavaridge, and he had an appointment to keep.

Slowly, Tchaikovsky began trudging back to civilisation.

---

“M-my friend’s the one with the money,” I said swiftly. “She’ll be back in a minute, and she’ll pay you.”

“Oh, OK then,” replied the cabbie amiably.

“In fact,” I suggested, “if you could turn around and go back a bit so we can pick her up, that’d be even better.”

I’ve just had a thought, Puck said. What’s Felicity going to say about this? She’s been waiting for well over twelve hours now.

She’ll be fine, I thought back, as the cab started to turn. We’ll explain that we were thwarting the Magmas, and she won’t mind that. I hope.

As we drew level with the woods again, I glimpsed Sapphire standing by the trees, waving.

“Over here!” she cried, and the cabbie pulled up alongside her. “Right,” she said, climbing in, “Puck, I need to have you track my Sableye.”

Where is it?
asked the Rotom.

“Where is it?” I relayed.

“Underneath a Team Magma jeep, heading south,” Sapphire said.

Puck concentrated for a moment.

Can’t do it, he said. It’s too far away. I need something to extend my range.

I relayed this to Sapphire, who immediately grabbed my hand, yanking me out of my seat, and pressed it against the taxi’s radio. Sparks danced around my fingers, much to the cabbie’s consternation, and Puck’s voice said straight away:

That’s very clever of you. South by south-east of here, but moving steadily southwest. It looks like they might be heading for the road again on the other side of the lake.

“Take us back to the motorway and head south,” Sapphire ordered of the cabbie.

“We’re not done?”

“There’s another scene to do,” I said, deciding to roll with it. “See, in this film I play a talented young cop who tracks down some murderous Magmas who have kidnapped renowned scientist Professor, er, Jamson Horne.”

Jamson Horne? What sort of a name is that?

“Owing to a freak accident, I have a Rotom implanted into my head, and his powers are transferred to me.”

“Sounds complicated but intriguing,” commented the cabbie as we headed back towards the motorway. “What part do you play, little miss?”

Sapphire bridled at being called that, but answered anyway.

“Ah... I’m a criminal gone straight who helps the cop on his way. I do most of the work, really, being streetwise and all that.”

“I think I do most of the work,” I said, quietly but forcefully. “When have you done anything?”

We pulled onto the road and started accelerating again, zigzagging between lanes like a crazed hare—

—How do you know what a hare is?

—and leaving a trail of blaring horns behind us.

“What do you mean?” hissed Sapphire. “I’ve done all the important things!”

“You make me do everything,” I replied, not unreasonably. “You know, because you’re—”

“I assume you want me to go this fast?” the cabbie asked. “Only, without a visible film crew, the police will probably pull us over soon.”

Sapphire and I exchanged looks.

“Keep going,” she urged. “We can’t risk losing them. Puck? Update?”

They’re back on the road, I think – they’re heading dead south.

“Right,” said Sapphire, after I’d told her this. “Go as fast as possible.”

“As fast as I should, or as fast as I can?” asked the cabbie.

“As fast as you can,” clarified Sapphire; and somehow the taxi sped up; the world outside was too much of a blur for me to see properly now, and I had to wonder how the cabbie was steering between the cars. I looked across at him, and saw his eyes twitching left and right at unbelievable speed, his hands jerking the steering wheel back and forth with the precision of a neurosurgeon. In all, it was rather like watching someone building a watch from scratch on the roof of a moving express train.

Amazing, isn’t he?
asked Puck. Just incredible.

Yeah
, I agreed.

I mean, you’d have thought he’d figured out it wasn’t a movie by now.

That’s not – never mind.


It took perhaps half an hour, going at the incredible speeds we were, to reach the bridge, and another three minutes to cross it. To the south, the greyish badlands of southern Route 114 emerged; these were the western foothills of the Madeiras, where all volcanic activity had long since ceased. They were harsh, hostile, and a favourite spot for hikers, who were nothing if not brave.

They’re going west again, Puck said. They seem to be off the road.

At Sapphire’s request, the cabbie took us off the road again, squeezing through a gap in the boundary fence, and shot across a gravelly grey plain. Pebbles shot up behind the car and clattered against the doors and underside, and the wheels jerked and bounced over the rocky ground; the suspension on the taxi was far beyond normal, because it handled the abuse without apparent complaint.

This really is an impressive vehicle, Puck noted. I think it might be some sort of special stunt car disguised as a taxi.

“Do you have any idea where they might be headed?” I asked the cabbie. “Are there any landmarks here?”

He thought for a moment, performed a daring last-moment swerve around a boulder and replied:

“Meteor Falls. It’s a cave network that’s famous because quite a few meteorites have fallen there. Goes right inside the hills and deep underground.”

“How do meteorites get inside a cave network?”

The cabbie shrugged.

“I’ve always wanted to know that myself.”

Despite no longer having the advantage of the smooth tarmac road, we were still maintaining our ridiculous speed; I guessed we must be going at over a hundred miles an hour now, and was getting concerned about what might happen when we stopped.

The signal’s weaker, Puck said. Like they’ve crawled into a lead coffin. Wait, that’s unlikely – more like they’ve gone underground.

“Head for Meteor Falls,” I told the cabbie. “They’ve gone underground.”

“All right!” he cried and swung the taxi around to face almost directly south. At the speed we were moving at, it didn’t take long for the first of the cave mouths to come into view, and then the cabbie started to decelerate. It took him nearly two hundred metres to slow to a halt, but at least he didn’t kill us. “We’re here,” he said. “This is one of the entrances to Meteor Falls.”

I looked out of the window. It wasn’t very impressive, just a barren grey hillside with a yawning dark hole in it. A huge burgundy jeep, painted with the volcano-shaped ‘M’ symbol of Team Magma, was outside, parked at a random angle as if the passengers had vacated it in a hurry.

“Now,” said the cabbie, “about your fare...”

“Later,” interrupted Sapphire, “when we come back. If you can wait for us to take us back, that’d be great.”

“OK!” replied the cabbie. “I’ll be here.”

By the time he’d finished, Sapphire and I were already out of the car and heading for the cave mouth. We checked briefly under the car, but it seemed the Sableye had fled the jeep for the comfort of the darkness. Since that was also where the Magmas were, we decided to follow, and entered the dark embrace of the cave mouth.

---

Kester and Sapphire were chasing criminals, Felicity was being tortured, Blake and Fabien were engaged in nefarious activities, Spike was on her way home; everyone, it has been shown, was up to something interesting at this point.
Except for one man.

This, of course, was Barry. Chauvinistic, slow-witted and quick-tempered; a man’s man and an idiot’s idiot. He never won, unlike Kester or Sapphire; he had no enigmatic past like Puck or Felicity; he was even outclassed by his Magma counterparts, Blake and Fabien, on the basis that they were funnier. Barry Hawksworthy was a man of little worth.

He also had a propensity for acting like a fool, and rushing in where angels fear to tread; it was this that had caused him to storm angrily into the Aqua hideout in East Mauville and demand something to do.

Now, the section head of the East Mauville Team Aqua Hideout was not someone used to having demands made of him. He kept his friends close, and his Bowie knife closer; on more than one occasion, he had carved interesting sculptures into subordinates who disobeyed orders, who failed tasks, or who simply looked too happy. People did not storm into his office, tell him the SuperBlast Module was an arcade machine and ask for new work.

Consequently, he was fairly taken aback; so far, in fact, that he telephoned the Aqua headquarters to try and find out if any jobs were going that would require this large, angry man to be removed from his building. This was how he found out that Shelly currently required some assistance in her W.R.I. project, and why Barry was sent to meet a subordinate of hers, one Scarlett Pimpernel, at Plain Rooke.

Plain Rooke was a short train ride east from Mauville; if it was a town, then it consisted of about three streets just south of the Akela Jungle, surrounded by farms. It was here, in the fertile floodplain of the River Cocytus, that most of Hoenn’s produce was made; here, imported Miltank and Mareep were farmed for wool, milk and meat, while tame Phearsants, a grouse-like Pokémon indigenous to Costa Rica, were reared for eggs. Even Berry plants were grown, by a strange specialist named Runcible Spoone, who insisted upon being called the Berry Master, and only came out of his house to hand out Berries to those deserving of them – which was apparently everyone in the world.

Barry walked through the main street of the town, heading for Plain Rooke’s most famous landmark, Turkey Hill. Atop this hill, a single turkey had been living since time immemorial; this was strange not only because there were no turkeys in Hoenn, and because turkeys are not normally immortal, but because he had, on occasion, been seen to conduct strange little ceremonies with visitors that resembled marriage services. It was considered an omen of extreme good luck to be married by the turkey that lived on the hill, and a sign that the marriage would prosper and live on forever.

The Aqua giant stopped and sighed, looking around. He was attracting a lot of attention – outsiders rarely came to Plain Rooke, unless they were Trainers on their way east, and he was very obviously not a Trainer.

“Left here,” Barry muttered to himself. It was not a hard conclusion to come to, there being fewer than five streets in the whole village, but he seemed to think it a great accomplishment; at any rate, he acquired an extra spring in his step as he turned left and started up the long, winding road to the top of Turkey Hill.

To either side, long fields of barley and of rye fell away; Barry thought he glimpsed four grey walls and four grey towers to the north, on an island in the river, and wondered for a fleeting instant what they embowered – but intelligent thought was an unwelcome stranger in his head, and was turned out before it worked out the answer.

Ahead of him, a small stand hove into view, with a burly man standing on either side of it. That, thought Barry, must be the admissions booth. Though the turkey belonged to no man, Turkey Hill was the property of a local farmer, and he charged admission to see the turkey. You could also, for a small fee, obtain drinks and hot dogs at the booth, as well as – for a mere shilling – a small ring. This last had never been adequately explained, and since no one in Hoenn had a clear idea of what a shilling might be, the ring had gone unpurchased for many years.

As he approached, Barry noted the burly men’s eyes fixing on him. It had only been a month since the last time a crazed chef had attempted to roast the turkey, and they were taking no chances. After he paid admission, he was briefly frisked to see if he might be concealing any culinary utensils about his person, and, once they were satisfied he wasn’t a chef, they let him past to see it.

The turkey was about twenty yards away, standing with his legs planted as wide as decency would allow and staring out at the undulating wall of rainforest to the north. Nearby, a small girl, no more than eleven, sat cross-legged in the grass with a sketchbook in her lap, drawing the turkey. For a strange moment, Barry had the sensation that the turkey was posing for her, but he dismissed it immediately. The turkey was a bird; it wasn’t even a Pokémon. It possessed no strange powers at all.

“Hey,” Barry called out, and the little girl turned around. “Have you seen a woman wearing blue around here? I’m supposed to be meeting them.”

“Are you Barry Hawksworthy?” asked the girl.

Barry nodded, and she got up, sketchbook dangling from one hand.

“I’m Scarlett Pimpernel,” she said, holding out her free hand for him to shake.

Barry gaped, and somewhere in his brain, two gears ground helplessly against each other.

“You... you?” he asked incredulously. The girl withdrew her hand.

“Yeah, me,” she replied. “Mum asked me to take you to her. She’s very busy and can’t come to meet you herself right now.”

“You’re our Magma Administrator’s daughter,” Barry repeated slowly. A gasket blew in the depths of his mind.

“Yeah.” Scarlett tilted her head on one side, and her wavy ginger hair fell across her face. “You’re much bigger than I thought you would be,” she decided. Barry could think of no more eloquent reply than:

“You’re much... smaller.”

“I’m nearly eleven!” cried Scarlett indignantly, drawing herself up to her full height. She looked messy, her T-shirt, sneakers and jeans stained with grass, paint and graphite; Barry, his eyes accustomed to seeking out weapons, noted a Poké Ball stuffed into her pocket. She was a Trainer, then, or at least had a pet. “I’m not small!”

“Um...” Barry’s brain ground to a complete and utter halt.

“Well, come on then,” said Scarlett crossly. “I suppose you’d better see Mum.”

The turkey turned around and made a soft, inquisitive sound, and Scarlett looked at it.

“I’ll come back tomorrow,” she told him. “I’ve finished the sketching, so tomorrow we’ll start painting.” To Barry: “Come on, Barry.”

Barry rankled at being addressed like this by a girl a quarter of his age, but his brain was so fried by his meeting with her that he acquiesced, and allowed himself to be led away down the hill. One thought managed to struggle through the locked-up machinery of his mind: whatever Shelly was going to have him do, it was certainly going to be interesting.

---

The Sableye was hiding under a rock a few metres into the cave; we retrieved him and I held him firmly in my arms, tilting his head this way and that to light our path. Sapphire sent out Rono, and the little metal monster rolled along beside us in fits and bursts.

Meteor Falls was, despite the grey exterior, somewhat yellowish on the inside, and water ran across the tunnel at regular intervals in clear, cold streams barely an inch thick. It didn’t take long before we found where it was all coming from: a vast underground river that flowed through the centre of a great underground cavern, crashing with a deafening roar down a series of waterfalls. Its surface was churned almost entirely white, and amid the flying spray a series of rickety wooden bridges spanned it, passing from one water-pitted island to another.

“Whoa,” I breathed. Then, more loudly: “How come I’ve never heard of this place before?”

“It’s dangerous,” Sapphire shouted back over the crash and roar of the water. “I mean, look at those bridges!”

I did. They looked about as safe as a trampoline made of razor wire.

Now that is dangerous, commented Puck. I wouldn’t like to be crossing those.

Neither would I
, I replied.

“Look!” yelled Sapphire. “The Magmas!”

I looked. They were on the nearest island, one bridge away from our little projection into the raging waters. With them was a white-clad shape: the guy Sapphire had identified as Professor Cozmo.

“We don’t—?”

“Yes!” replied Sapphire. “We have to go over there!”

“No way!”

“Yes way! Go!”

With that, she pushed me savagely in the small of the back, and I stumbled out onto the bridge, over what sounded like the angriest river in the world. I froze solid, water slapping up over the slick wooden slats and drenching me instantly; the force almost knocked me over, and suddenly I realised that if I stood still, the waves would smash me down into the water below, where I would be in serious trouble. If I wanted to escape drowning, I had to—

RUN! shrieked Puck, and somehow I unstuck my legs from the floor and started into a frenzied run, just as another wave crashed down behind me; now I’d started, I couldn’t stop, and I dashed through the spray and madness, skin soaked with water and mind addled with fear.

And then I was free: I stood on the other side, coughing and spluttering and being stared at by three startled Magmas and a scientist.

“Give me – a moment,” I managed, spitting water and, inexplicably, a small fish, “I just need to – catch my breath.”

Whether it was the shock, or I just had a tremendously forceful personality, they obeyed, and I straightened up a moment later, brushing wet hair from my eyes.

“OK,” I said. “I’m OK now.”

“Sure?” asked the smaller hoodless Magma.

“I’m sure,” I replied. “Now, hand over the Professor!”

I raised a hand and a Charge Beam at maximum power charged in an instant; there was a brief explosion of sparks at my fingertips, and then a net of yellow lightning arced all over my body, travelling through the water and blasting my hair out into ragged spikes. I had just enough time to swear before I came to the humiliating realisation that I'd knocked myself out.
__________________

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