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Old April 24th, 2011 (10:56 AM).
Cutlerine Cutlerine is offline
Gone. May or may not return.
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
Age: 21
Gender:
Nature: Impish
Posts: 1,030
Ah. I like this chapter better.

Chapter Forty-Two: The Land of Milk and Fire

As fast as it had begun, Sapphire’s sprint ended: she smacked face-first into the tall figure of Darren Goodwin, and was stopped abruptly.

“Guh,” she gasped, and staggered back a step just as Darren’s knife whipped up; had she not stepped back, she would have found herself in the unenviable position of being held at knifepoint. “Cal,” she said. “You’re fast, aren’t you?”

“Oh, very,” the Goodwin said amiably. “Now give me that ball.”

Sapphire twisted the two halves of the ball apart, permanently releasing Kester for the second time; as soon as he appeared, she yanked his arm up so that it was pointing into the Goodwin’s face and yelled:

“Shoot!”

The effect was instantaneous and electric. Darren yelped and ducked as a surprised Kester shot a Charge Beam over his head. The Miltank rumbled up behind them and lashed out in defence of its master – but Sapphire was already running again, dragging Kester behind her.

“What the hell is going on?” he cried.

“Tell you later,” Sapphire gasped back. “For now, we just need – to – run!”

“Best idea I’ve heard all day,” Kester said, and they turned down an alley and back into the back streets of Lavaridge.

---

This is awesome! shouted Puck. It’s like your head is the Nemesis Inferno, and I’m in the front seat!

Shut up! Fleeing is a delicate art, and you’re interfering!

Oh, I like that answer. Unexpected. Just the way I like them.


It seemed we’d put our pursuers behind us again, but I didn’t dare slow, even though my back was starting to throb where the Miltank had punched me. How my spine had survived the impact I didn’t know.

Yeah. That Pound was powerful – even with STAB, it shouldn’t have been that strong. I wouldn’t be surprised if she’d been modified by Devon, like the Magnemite.

Something about that didn’t ring true with me, but I was too busy running and being in pain to think about it. The cauliflower, which was still there, was also something of a distraction.

“Where – are – we?” I gasped.

“Don’t know,” replied Sapphire. “Need to get you to the Gym.”

She didn’t seem at all out of breath, I thought enviously.

Oh yeah, how I wish I was living in a human with such superior lung capacity
, Puck said sarcastically. Kester, the fact that you haven’t stopped yet shows that you’re doing OK. You don’t need to continually compare your precise levels of fitness with Sapphire’s.

The cauliflower grinned. I think it could read my thoughts.

Er, Kester? It isn’t real...

I ignored Puck. He had already proven his lack of authority on matters pertaining to the cauliflower, and I was going to deal with it myself now.

“Wait – a moment,” I panted, “why – do we need – to get – to the Gym?”

“Tell you when we get there,” was the sole reply.

At that moment, we turned onto the road where the Pokémon Centre was to be found, and a huge dark shape vaulted off the roof of a nearby house; the Miltank crashed down onto the ground, its hooves sending a crazy spiderweb of cracks over the tarmac.

“This is ridiculous!” I managed to shout, as we turned around and started running in the opposite direction. An answering bellow from the Miltank assured me that whether it was ridiculous or not, it was certainly happening, and also very dangerous.

If I was tired, I was too scared to slow down; there was a cauliflower ahead of me and a cow behind, and both seemed to have my worst interests at heart. In addition, there was a lone Devon researcher of the third-strongest kind somewhere in the town, presumably about to pop up and detain me.

Then I saw it: the Gym. Standing in front of it was a young woman I didn’t recognise, her pale face defiant in the dark.

And next to her was a colossal beast wreathed in white smoke, supported by great cracked columns of scaled red skin; somewhere in the midst of the fumes I saw a pair of burning eyes and a gaping dark spot that must have been its mouth.

“Hit the floor!” yelled Sapphire, and simultaneously tripped me up. One or the other would have been necessary, I thought – and then I thought nothing but ouch, because my elbows had just made contact with the road and decided to leave it a gift of their skin.

Better than what would happen otherwise
, Puck said. I mean, that’s a strong Torkoal. And I think it’s going to—

The air above us shimmered and rippled; a blast of heat haze rolled overhead, so thick I could scarcely see the sky above. I screwed my eyes shut and heard a long, angry bellow, then the sound of heavy, retreating footsteps. Whatever had just happened, the Miltank hadn’t liked it – and it’d left.

There was a long silence.

Yep, Puck said with satisfaction. I was right. Then again, I always am, so I shouldn’t be surprised. But... it’s still nice, y’know?

“For the sake of every major deity the world has ever worshipped,” I said hoarsely, climbing slowly to my feet, “please don’t say anything. It would mean so much to me if you could just... let me recover.”

Can do. Why, there’s no one in the world so good at not talking as I am.

I looked over at Sapphire, who was getting up awkwardly, holding her left hand close to her chest. The cauliflower hung over her head, but I ignored it as best as I was able.

“What just happened?” I asked.

“Long story,” she said, and stopped talking to look at the woman running over.

“You two OK?” she asked, and I did a double take: I knew that voice, and it belonged to Spike.

“Er... yeah,” I stammered uncertainly. “What – er...”

Wow, remarked Puck mildly. I guess if you take the piercings out, her face doesn’t fall off. Who knew?

The cauliflower gibbered a horrifying response, which was fortunately utterly unintelligible.

“I wanted you to talk to her,” Sapphire hissed into my ear. “You get things right by luck, right? So convince her to change back.”

“What?” I said, looking helplessly from one ridiculously headstrong girl to the other and back again.

Kester, the Arbitrator, Puck said, in the tone one would use to announce the arrival of a foreign dignitary. Yeah, that’s got a ring to it. Like Calvin’s ‘Christ the Mediator’. Ah, for the simple joys of philosophy.

“She thinks there’s something wrong with me,” Spike said. There did seem to be something different about her – beyond the abandonment of her punk outfit and piercings. I think it was her voice: it had been rough, probably ready to slip into street Nadsat at a moment’s notice, but now it was peculiarly smooth and well-spoken. Was this an affectation, or had the other voice been an affectation? Or were they both real? Or had the latter been real once, and then submerged under the other, only to resurge now?

“What – what’s wrong with you?” It was the wrong thing to ask. Spike fixed me with a glare that was... well, I guess the only word that really fits is stormy. It looked like a pair of thunderclouds had taken up residence on her brow, and were thinking of simultaneously giving birth to a torrential downpour.

“Nothing,” she said. “But Sapphire doesn’t seem to know that.”

“Because it isn’t true,” Sapphire said pugnaciously. I was slightly warier of offending Spike when the great smoky monster still stood behind her; if it was a Torkoal, it was the biggest I’d ever known, and I wouldn’t get on the bad side of anyone who controlled it.

They grow continually throughout their life, Puck said. You know, like lobsters.

Lobsters?

Er... Crawdaunt. Like Crawdaunt.

Are Crawdaunt the ones that evolve from Corphish? Like the one that killed the children down at Pacifidlog?

You
could have picked a more cheerful example there. Like, er, Crawdaunt as in the one that sunk that rowing boat just off the Philippines. No, wait. I meant as in the one that they serve in really, really high-class restaurants.

I became aware that Spike, Sapphire and the cauliflower were staring at me, and then that my conversation with Puck had been going on for longer than usual.

“Sorry,” I said. “Just, er, zoned out for a moment there. Are we going to stand around and wait for Darren Goodwin to come back?”

“The Goodwin won’t come after you now,” Spike said distantly. “Not while I’m here. I turned his Miltank with one attack, and I could have beaten it if it had stayed a minute.” Her eyes focused on me. “What’s going on with you two, anyway? Why are Devon after you?”

I looked at Sapphire; her face told me I had permission to tell her.

“Do you mind if we go somewhere?” I asked. “This might take a while to explain...”

---

“So you see, sir,” Tchaikovsky concluded, “it seems something’s up in relation to the reds and the blues.”

The superintendent looked at him through tired, watery eyes.

“So,” he said, laying his spectacles on the desk and rubbing his temples, “you’re saying that some criminal mastermind has popped up out of nowhere and is setting the gangs up for a war?”

“Yes, sir.”

There would be no references now. Tchaikovsky was, after all, a cop, and he had standards to maintain – at least in front of the higher-ups.

“Well, where’s the crime?” asked the superintendent placidly.

This stumped him. Tchaikovsky wasn’t entirely certain where the crime actually lay.

“Er... it would probably mean civil war,” he said at last. “You know that.”

“Yes, but not a very big one. The common crooks won’t fight for them this time around; they remember what happened last time. A war would just get rid of the Teams, and that’d be just fine, thanks.” He paused. “That’s assuming this happens. Sanders” – that was, unlikely though it may seem, Tchaikovsky’s surname – “I didn’t like to say before, because it seemed a little petty, but your evidence is... patchy... at best.”

“What is it at worst, sir?” asked Tchaikovsky, fearing the answer.

“Well...” The superintendent hesitated, unwilling to deliver the final condemnation – and then said, almost apologetically: “I’m afraid it’s a bit Rachmaninoff.”

At this, Tchaikovsky drew in a sharp breath. Rachmaninoff was not, as was more commonly thought, a Russian composer, but another policeman, renowned in the service for disregarding evidence completely and going entirely with hunches. He had been killed in a terrible accident two years previously, as the result of a hunch that the guards at a Magma safe house weren’t going to be packing heat.

“With all due respect, sir, that’s just not true,” Tchaikovsky protested. “I mean – if you’d seen it all, then you’d agree...”

He stopped, aware that he was sounding pretty damn Rachmaninoff, and that this meeting was rapidly spiralling into the well-worn police drama cliché that would see him suspended from duty.

“Er, you’re probably right, sir,” he amended. His superintendent gave him the tired-eye look again.

“Are you going to do one of those things where you tell me one thing and then keep on investigating?” he asked.

“In all honesty, sir, that’s exactly what I plan to do.”

Tchaikovsky kicked himself under the table. He hated the way that the superintendent had of making you say things like that. It was those tired eyes, burning like fire. Tchaikovsky kicked himself again. That song wasn’t even British.

“Well, keep at it, then,” said the superintendent wearily. Tchaikovsky didn’t think there had ever been anyone so tired for so long as he; in all the years he had known him, the superintendent had always been tired. “I’m not sure I care, to be honest. I mean, it’s not like you’re not allowed to investigate this. You’re an undercover agent doing important work for the good of... someone, I’m sure...” He tailed off, exhausted by the effort of stringing so many words together; this left Tchaikovsky somewhat unsure as to what he meant by it.

“Can I continue, then?” he asked.

“Sure, sure. Whatever.” The superintendent sighed, and leaned back in his chair. “Send Caroline in on your way out, would you? She’s waiting to be told her request for a transfer has been denied.”

“I could just tell her,” offered Tchaikovsky as he got to his feet.

“That’s a good idea. It’d give me a little while to... I don’t know... have a nap or something.”

The superintendent closed his eyes, and so palpable were the waves of fatigue that rolled off him that Tchaikovsky had to stifle a yawn. It seemed an indication that the meeting was over, and so he walked out.

---

“That’s... quite a story,” Spike said, chewing a thumbnail. “I don’t think I believe it.”

I cupped my hands and filled the space with the dancing, globular sparks of a ThunderShock; the flickering light cast strange shadows onto Spike’s astonished face.

“Perhaps I was too hasty,” she admitted. She’d been speaking in those false educated tones all evening, and it was starting to get on my nerves. I had enough aristocratic speak coming from Sapphire.

She doesn’t sound that posh, Puck said. Neither does Spike. I’d say... middle-class? Upper-middle? Something like that.

We were in her house, a tall, imposing hybrid of haunted house and church; the architect appeared to have used both Salisbury Cathedral and the Bates Motel as his primary inspirations.

Don’t start this whole ‘stealing architectural descriptions’ thing again
, groaned Puck. It was bad enough the first time.

The interior was meant to be carpeted, but the wooden floorboards kept peering through the threadbare fibres. I liked the sofas, though; they were new and upholstered in ominously blood-red leather. The curtains matched, and the wallpaper alternated between yellow and pale orange. The result was that I kept getting the terrible feeling that I was back in the burning Calavera Tower in Slateport.

“You haven’t said everything though, Kester,” Sapphire said.

I knew what she meant, but I didn’t really want to say. The cauliflower sjirachied with unholy relish at my discomfort.

“You tell her.”

“No, you tell her.”

You tell her.”

“No, you tell her or I’ll hit you.”

“All right, all right!” I took a deep breath and turned to Spike. “OK. This is the bit where you come in.”

She raised her eyebrows.

“Oh?”

“Felicity said,” I began, “that Team Magma killed Uriah Moore.”

Spike looked like she’d been punched.

“Wh-what?” Her voice cracked; the refined edge dulled in an instant and the whole coarsened to its usual timbre. “They – they said it was – was a stroke...”

I didn’t know what to say, so I just kept going.

That’s right, agreed Puck. Better to get it all over with.

“They were going to select the new Gym Leader and control them – make them a puppet, so they could pull off their plan on Mount Chimney. But” – and here was where I impressed myself with a flash of pure, unadulterated genius – “that wasn’t true. They must have known that you would claim the Leadership, and that you’d be so torn up with grief that you wouldn’t see what they were doing right under your nose.”

There was a long pause. I shifted uncomfortably on the sofa under Spike’s gaze; her eyes were watery, but she made no noise. Above her head, the cauliflower was slowly rotating clockwise, pulling hideous faces; it was really ruining the moment.

“Half right,” she said, after the longest minute of my life, and her voice was completely back to normal. “I was being stupid. Trying to be the Leader I’m not, and got too distracted to notice them. It was so, so stupid. I thought they’d hate me here.” She stared up at the ceiling for a moment. “They didn’t when I turned up normal.” Her gaze returned to me. “It was stupid,” she said colourlessly. “So stupid.”

“Er...”

“But thanks,” Spike said, relieving me of the burden of responding. “Thanks so much. I’m not gonna change for them. I’m me, and I’m a Gym Leader too. I’ll do what I want, and change the town if I have to.”

That’s the ticket, Puck said happily. The god of punk will be happy again now. Not sure if there is a god of punk, or if he’s listening, but if there is and he is, then he’ll be happy.

“Good,” I said, unsure if I meant what I was saying, but sensing it was the right thing to say. “That’s... great.”

After that, we wrapped things up fairly quickly, and left half an hour later. On the way down Spike’s driveway, Sapphire did something unexpected.

“Thanks,” she said, and when she looked at me sincerity and satisfaction lit up her eyes like a pair of flames.

“Oh. Er, OK. No problem.” I paused.

Forgetting something?
Puck asked.

Hm?

You’ll get it. Just think a moment.


“Oh!” I exclaimed, and touched Sapphire’s arm. “Sorry. About that.”

She looked at the bandages and sighed.

“All right. It’s OK.”

“It isn’t, is it?”

“No.” She hesitated, and I waited expectantly for whatever it was she was going to say; however, when the words finally came, they weren’t anything special: “See you tomorrow.”

“See you tomorrow,” I repeated pleasantly, and turned away to walk back to the hotel.

You are so blind, Puck said as we and our cauliflower wandered back through the dark, but he wouldn’t tell me why.

---

Hi hoooooooo!
Hi hoooooooo!


“Whargle!” I cried sleepily, jerking awake at the sudden noise.

Hi ho, hi ho,
It’s off to work we go—


“Oh, it’s you,” I mumbled, sinking back into the pillow.

We dig dig dig dig dig dig dig—

“Seriously, where do you get this stuff?”

America, mostly. Sometimes England. That time, it was America, but the original story’s probably from Germany or something like that. I’m afraid I’m not an expert on fairy tales.

“You’re not?” I asked, with exaggerated incredulity. “But I thought you knew everything!”

I’m sorry, Kester, replied Puck with equal irony. But there comes a point in every boy’s life when his heroes must let him down.

That seemed a good enough time to stop, since I wasn’t after getting into a slanging match with a ball of sentient plasma. I looked at the clock and scratched my head; where was I supposed to be?

In the shower would be a start, Puck said. After that, you could try in front of the bathroom mirror so you can shave and brush your teeth. Then, I’d advocate heading over to the Pokémon Centre to blag some money from Sapphire so you can have breakfast.

“Yeah,” I agreed, “that sounds right. It’s like... yeah, sorry. I think I’m bleeding. I mean, I think I’m still half-asleep.”

If I didn’t know better, I would have said you’d just pulled off two references to my favourite singer, Puck said, and I rolled out of bed to head for the bathroom. Halfway across the room, I stopped.

“Hey, Puck,” I said, “the cauliflower’s gone!”

Brilliant, he said. Just what I always say: a good night’s sleep makes everything better.

In a state that might well have been described as jubilant exultation, I continued on my way to the bathroom, and had a long and joyous shower.
Forty minutes later, I was on my way back to the Pokémon Centre, and the sun was burning like the fires of Hell; it was a glorious hot day, even up here in the mountains, but I couldn’t help glancing around nervously in case Darren Goodwin or his giant cow showed up again. They didn’t, and I reached my destination without incident.

The receptionist told me she hadn’t seen Sapphire coming down to breakfast yet, so she presumed she was still in her room; I used the same trick I’d used in Slateport to get to Felicity, and told her I was Sapphire’s boyfriend. It worked – it seemed to be a good plan for this sort of situation – and she let me past up to her room.

I knocked on the door, and asked if I could come in.

“Kester? One minute!” came the answer from behind the door. A few moments later, a head popped around the door, with long loops of wet brown hair dangling from it. “Kester,” Sapphire said breathlessly. “I – um – need your help.”

This isn’t at all suggestive, Puck stated, and I shushed him violently.

“What do you need help with?” I asked, somewhat apprehensively.

Something red and blistered sprouted from the gap in the door; it took me a moment to realise that it was Sapphire’s burned arm.

“This needs re-bandaging,” she said. “I have to change the bandages every day.”

“Oh,” I said, relieved. “OK, that’s fine.”

She opened the door further and I came in; today, probably for ease of arm access, she was wearing a sleeveless top. I winced as I saw the full extent of the damage – it reached right up to her shoulder.

“I’ve put this lotion on,” she said, holding up a bottle. “That much I can do. But I can’t bandage it one-handed. So... here you go.”

She handed me a roll of bandages, and I started to wind it around her wrist. I hadn’t been at it for longer than three seconds before she uttered a sharp curse and told me to stop.

“What is it?” I asked.

“It hurts, you idiot!” she snapped. “Carry on!”

I kept winding.

“Ah, cal! Stop it!”

I stopped. Sapphire glared.

“Don’t stop, you moron! Keep winding!”

“Look, do you want me to do this or not?”

“Fine,” said Sapphire, gritting her teeth. “I’ll shut up. Just – get it over with.”
I did, and, true to her word, she said nothing.

“Happy now?” I asked as I tucked in the end near her shoulder.

“It could have been tighter,” Sapphire grumbled. “The doctor did it tighter.”

“But you said it was hurting you!”

“That doesn’t mean you should have listened to me.”

I threw my hands up in the air.

“You know what? Forget it. Let’s move on before this becomes a full-fledged argument. OK. What are we doing now?”

Going to Mount Pyre, of course, Puck answered.

“Going to Mount Pyre, right?” Sapphire said. “That’s where the Orbs are, so that’s where we need to go.”

“OK. What about Spike?”

“What about her?” Sapphire asked. “You fixed her. Thanks for that. Really.” She looked serious. “I was worried.”

“You were worried about someone other than yourself or one of your Pokémon?”

As soon as I said it, I knew it was a bad idea. I just couldn’t help myself; a comeback sprung to my lips and I blurted it out without thinking.

Oh, Kes-ter, said Puck despairingly. Why did you have to do that?

Sapphire was ominously silent.

“Er – yeah,” I said. “Just realised that that was a terrible thing to say. Sorry. Really sorry. A thousand times over.”

You’re not getting out of this one without a black eye, my boy. I—

WHAM!

---

“So,” Barry said uncertainly. “What have you been up to?”

“I was horribly tortured and almost killed,” Felicity said, deadpan. “How about you?”

“Oh,” replied Barry with mild surprise. “That’s interesting. I’ve been digging in this tunnel.”

“How interesting,” said Felicity dryly. “I don’t even know why I’m here.”

Barry was inclined to agree with her there. After all, she was but a woman, and a decidedly puny one at that. Put an excavation machine in her hands and her she’d be shaken into bits.

They were sitting in the cave that served as a sort of lounge for the Aquas in the mines; it was furnished with two sofas, a table and a television that got no signal. Vladimir and Estragon were, thankfully, absent – they had gone, at Shelly’s request, to take Scarlett to school, for her half-term was over now, and she had to return to her studies. This was a blessed relief to Barry, but he was uncertain about how much he was going to enjoy spending a morning alone with Felicity.

“Hum,” said Barry. “Er – where were you tortured?”

Felicity stared at him from behind her sunglasses.

“If you carry on like that I’ll orchestrate a cave-in, squish you to a paste, then grout my damn bathroom with you.”

Barry’s eyebrows fell down in a thunderous line across his face, and he rumbled warningly; Felicity, however, produced a gun from somewhere, a replacement for her shotgun. It was a revolver, and alarmingly large: it was a Colt Single Action Army, a gun perhaps better known as the Peacemaker.

Barry’s words died in his throat. It was uncertain what he was about to say, but going on his performances in the past, it would probably have contained the words ‘woman’ and ‘shuddup’ in close proximity, along with a few choice oaths.

“Why does that always happen?” he asked irritably instead. Felicity gave a tired smile.

“Because I always get the gun,” she replied. “You get the Carvanha, I get the gun.”

“That’s not fair,” growled Barry. “I propose a trade!”

“Request denied,” said Felicity in a bored tone, pointing the barrel of the Peacemaker at the spot directly between his eyes. Barry rumbled, but acquiesced nevertheless. It wasn’t as if he had a choice.

“Fine,” he said grudgingly. “Have it your way.”

Felicity lowered the gun.

“What is it we’re doing here, anyway? I wasn’t given any information.”

“We’re tunnelling into the Weather Institute,” Barry said, anticipating with relish the look of shock that would soon spread across her face. “We’re going to fight the Gorsedd or something.”

Felicity looked blank.

“The Gorsedd?”

Barry stared at her.

“The Gorsedd!”

“The Gorsedd?”

“The Gorsedd. How have you never – ah, damn it, you’re foreign, aren’t you?” Barry swore a mighty mental oath and slapped a fist into the palm of one hand. “The Gorsedd’re—”

At this moment, there was a clump-clump of footsteps from outside, and Shelly walked in.

“Can I have a moment?” she said. She looked surprised. “Oh! You must be Felicity.”

“That’s me, ma’am,” said Felicity, rising to her feet, holstering her gun and shaking her hand simultaneously. The triple action made Barry feel dizzy to look at it.

“Right. I’m sorry for not seeing you earlier – I wasn’t aware you’d arrived,” Shelly said apologetically.

“That’s all right,” replied Felicity pleasantly. “I mean, you had that scare with the mine.”

Ah yes, Barry thought; the great mine thing. In the end, he, Vladimir and Estragon had been told to drag it away, and, due to a few euphemistically-titled differences in opinion, he had done it alone. He’d carried it off and thrown it at a rocky outcrop to vent some spleen; five minutes later, he’d regained consciousness and decided he should have stood further back.

“That’ll be it,” agreed Shelly. “Have you been introduced to everyone?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Felicity confirmed. “Including your lovely daughter. She’s sweet, isn’t she?”

Whether by luck or by design, Barry noted, Felicity had unerringly struck upon Shelly’s weak point; a compliment to her daughter was received as gladly as a thousand compliments to herself. He rumbled sourly for a moment or two, then shut up before anyone noticed.

“Ah yes, she is,” Shelly gushed, and would have gone on all day had not a thought struck her just at that moment. “Oh! I almost forgot – have you been briefed?”

“No ma’am. I don’t know why I’m here.”

“That’s easily explained,” Shelly said. “I need to tell this to you too, Barry.” The big man pricked up his ears. “There’s been an important message from Lilycove, which is why you were sent here; you were needed close to the site. An important attack is about to be carried out, and you two are wanted to go with the troops. Archie says you have some sort of important information on a weapon the Magmas might be using against us...”
__________________

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