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Old October 19th, 2011 (11:14 PM). Edited October 27th, 2011 by Cutlerine.
Cutlerine
Gone. May or may not return.
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
Age: 21
Gender:
Nature: Impish
Chapter Ten: In Which a Certain Woman Appears, and the Plot Thickens

'From an early age, it was clear she was going to be someone big one day. No one can destroy that many buildings and not get some sort of recognition.'
—Stella Graffa, The Buckley Files: A Biography


If you live in Eterna City, chances are you believe in ghosts. You probably don’t show it, and if asked, you’ll always deny it – but in your bones, you know they’re there, in the shadows in the forest, slinking through the night like witches’ familiars.

Because if you live in Eterna City, you will have probably seen a ghost at least once; you will have seen the old house, Wickham Manor, a few miles into the forest, and the ruins of its once-proud estate, and as you went past, you might have seen a pale face at a window, or a flash of light where no light should be, or the locked gate creak slowly open as if under tremendous pressure. And if you are the brave sort, or the foolhardy, you might have thought to investigate further, and break open the lock on the old doors, and creep into the hall...

Yes, if you live in Eterna City, you are almost guaranteed to believe in ghosts. Ghosts like Ellen Dennel and her butler, Gabriel Bond.

Ghosts who were, even now, staring out at the city from their carriage in some dismay.

“Bond,” said Ellen, climbing slowly out of the carriage and up onto the driver’s seat for a better look. “How long have we been in the house, exactly?”

“I confess I don’t know, madam,” replied Bond, eyes fixed on the distant skyscrapers. “But I fear we may have been there for quite a while longer than we thought.”

They stood by the train tracks on their horseless carriage, Eterna laid out before them like a modern fairytale; everywhere, there seemed to be glittering towers and electric lighting, and square unfamiliar buildings with logos in a foreign language. Through the streets raced hundreds upon hundreds of motor-cars, all far more advanced than any Ellen had ever seen before, and much quieter too.

“Is this still Eterna?” she asked.

“I hope so,” replied Bond. “I think we have merely stayed at home for a long, long time...”

He trailed off and bit his lip in a rare expression of emotion; together with Ellen, he stared at the city for a while longer.

“It doesn’t change anything,” Ellen said at last. “We must still find them.”

“Yes, of course, madam,” agreed Bond. “But may I suggest that we do so on foot?”

“Walk?” asked Ellen, astonished. “Walk all the way through Eterna?”

Bond pointed at the motor-cars in the streets.

“It may well have escaped your notice, madam, but carriages appear to be a thing of the past.”

Ellen pouted, but had to concede that it was true; there wasn’t so much as a single horse to be seen.

“Fine,” she sighed, as it were the greatest concession anyone had ever made, “but I’m not leaving my books.”

Bond closed his eyes for a moment, thinking of what it would be like to carry Ellen’s books through a city on a hot September day.

“As you wish, madam,” he said eventually. “Perhaps we should get one of those motor-cars.”

This idea cheered Ellen up no end, and they set off for the city proper with one light heart and one heavy load between them, unequally and unfairly divided.

---

Iago jumped, darted a glance at Ashley, and whispered frantically to the Rotom; I made out the words ‘detective’ and ‘Diamond’, and guessed that this Robin Goodfellow was an old partner-in-crime of his whose secrets he did not want spilled here.

“Oh,” said the Rotom in question. “Ah. This is an awkward situation...”

“Shut up!” hissed Iago. He then turned to Ashley and I. “Heh. Uh, excuse us. We need to... catch up.”

The two of them retreated some way across the grass, and began a hushed conversation.

“I didn’t know Rotom were sentient,” I said. I’d known that most Ghosts were, of course, but I didn’t know that that applied to Rotom, or that Rotom showed any interest in human society beyond the usual Ghostly interest of using them for sport.

“They are,” replied Ashley, frowning. “And that one... there’s something familiar about him.”

“What accent was it—?”

“English,” said Ashley. “An English Rotom called Robin Goodfellow...” His frown deepened, and he dug out his smartphone to do some research. I turned my eyes back to Iago and Robin just in time to see the Kadabra start as if stung.

What?” I heard him cry. “What sort of...?”

He lowered his voice fairly quickly, and the rest escaped me. Soon enough, the conversation was broken up anyway: the couple lying in the grass to our right got up and came over, the boy calling out:

“Puck! Sapphire called, we’re going!”

At this, Robin looked around, and called out something indistinct; I assume he then said his goodbyes to Iago, because he left with the couple a moment later, and Iago came back, looking pale and slightly shaky.

“Ashley,” he said as soon as he was close enough for him to hear. “Ashley, I’ve found out something terrible.”

“I knew it!” cried Ashley. “He’s the art thief!” He looked up sharply, but Robin and his human friends (or perhaps he would have termed them ‘meat creatures’) were gone. “He’s wanted in most of the world’s countries...” Ashley actually looked upset for a moment – but that moment swiftly passed, and he shrugged. “Ah, well. He’s gone now.”

“Ashley, listen!” said Iago, grabbing his shoulders and shaking him weakly. “I know how...” He looked at me.

I looked back. This sounded interesting.

“Pearl,” said Ashley calmly, “would you mind catching up with that young man who just left with Mister Goodfellow and asking for his autograph?” He handed me a pen and autograph book, and I stared at them.

“Is this your way of getting rid of me so you can have a private conversation?”

“Yes,” he admitted freely. “But I would also like his autograph. So would you, but you don’t know it yet. Go and ask him.”

“OK, I’ll do it,” I said, getting up. “But only because I’m curious, OK?”

Ashley blinked at me, which was both disconcertingly effeminate and disconcertingly pretty.

“As long as you do it,” he said, smiling. “Now hurry up, or you’ll miss him.”

What’s with him today, I wondered. He hates me this morning, flirts with me this afternoon... OK, so he’s really weird, but does that really justify this?

This wasn’t a question that I could answer (although as a philosophy student, I could have taken a stab at it) and so I put it to the back of my mind and ran to catch up with the couple and their Rotom, who were almost at the gates. I noticed that the girl was wearing roller-skates, which was odd, since I’d never really seen anyone wear those anywhere before.

“—said she would meet us at the statue of a priest on Hanan Road,” the boy was saying in Hoennian. I’m quite a good linguist – that’s why I study German as well as philosophy – and am fairly close to fluent in Hoennian. Which was fortunate to the point of being a plot device. “Puck? Any clue where that is?”

“Nope,” replied the Rotom cheerfully. “If I still had the Metagross, I could access Google Maps and tell you. But since someone—”

The boy winced.

“That was an accident, I told you – besides, you were going way too fast—”

Suddenly, the blue-haired girl turned around, apparently without moving her legs, and looked me dead in the eye.

“Why are you following us?” she asked. Her Hoennian had a strong accent to it; she wasn’t a native speaker. Somewhere in Asia, maybe?

Robin Goodfellow and the boy turned to see what was going on.

“Hi,” I said, suddenly feeling very stupid. “Er, look, I realise you have no idea who I am—”

“Oh, right,” said the boy. “Autograph, right?”

I gave him an odd look, which caused him in turn to give me an even odder one.

“Yeah,” I said, trying hard to sound like I knew who he was. “I’m – uh – a big fan.”

“It wasn’t really me,” the boy said. “Not all me, anyway.”

“Mm. Yeah, I’ve heard that said. But you – you played a part, you know?”

Robin Goodfellow appeared to be having great difficulty containing his laughter.

“Ah. Ignore him.” The boy took the book and pen, signed it and handed it to his girlfriend. “I assume you want hers too?”

“Uh... sure. Go for it.”

The girl signed, and then Robin said:

“And mine? You want mine, right?”

Can you sign things?” I asked him.

“No,” he admitted. “But it’s nice to know that someone wants it.”

“Then I do want it,” I said gravely, “and am deeply sorry that I can’t have it.”

“That’s fine,” replied Robin magnanimously. “I forgive you.”

I took back the autograph book, thanked them all and went back to Ashley and Iago. On the way, I looked at their names: the boy was called Kester Ruby, and the girl...

“She’s signed in Japanese,” I muttered. “How helpful.”

When I got back, I found Ashley looking thoughtful, and Iago slightly calmer than before – that is to say, only really agitated instead of extremely.

“Here,” I said, tossing the book and pen back to Ashley. “Who were they, anyway?”

“Kester Ruby and Felicity Kusagari,” he replied absently. “Although I don’t think that that’s actually her real name...” He looked at me. “Sit down. We need to talk about Mister Maragos.”

“What were you talking about before?” I asked. “It was to do with what that Rotom said, right?”

“I believe Iago told you about asking questions earlier,” replied Ashley. “I’m afraid to say that he’s right. It’s why I tried to get you to go home; perhaps I should have phrased that better.” He fixed me with a serious look. “Knowing too much about me means danger, Pearl. So I think you’d better drop that topic and help us decide what to do next instead.”

“Fine,” I said; I could tell my assent made him slightly suspicious, but it didn’t matter: he didn’t know that I’d set Stephanie working on finding out his secret. I’d get to the bottom of this. “What are you suggesting?”

“You were telling me that you thought Mister Maragos was in Veilstone,” Ashley replied. “Why don’t you tell me why?”

---

“Look,” said Tristan, exasperated, “I understand that something’s happened. But what the hell is it?”

The guard looked down at him. He was a very big guard.

“Somethin’ ’appened,” he said roughly. “An’ now no one’s allowed in.”

They had arrived at the Galactic building in Eterna tired and ready to sit down for an hour or so, and now Tristan and his decidedly odd partner were arguing with the burly guards that had appeared outside the doors.

“We’re members of the Team—”

“Yeah, but you ain’t anyone importan’,” reasoned the guard. “So there ain’t no reason to let you in.”

“That’s a double negative,” said Tristan, momentarily distracted. “You shouldn’t do that.”

The guard bent down until his face was level with Tristan’s, and Tristan decided, after a second spend in searching the big man’s eyes for kindness and coming up short, that he would rather shut up and step back than be made into human meatloaf.

“You don’t have to let him in,” Liza said, taking over, “but let me in.”

The guard smiled an unpleasant sort of smile, looked across at his colleague, and asked her:

“And why would I le’ you in, little miss?”

Liza then put her mouth to his ear, shielded by her hand, and whispered certain words to him. And then the guard turned pale, stood up straight and saluted her before standing aside and letting her in.

Tristan and the other guard stared at him, amazed.

“What did she say?” asked the guard.

The first guard shook his head gravely.

“Ain’t no stoppin’ one like ’er,” he said. “She works for the Boss.” The second guard’s eyebrows rose. “An’ she’s a professional.” The eyebrows rose higher. “An’ she told me seven diff’ren’ ways she coulda killed me righ’ then.” The second guard’s eyebrows rose so high that they almost fell off the top of his head.

“Cal,” he said at length. “There really weren’ no stoppin’ ’er, was there?”

“Nope,” agreed the first guard. “None a’ all.”

Tristan looked first at one, and then at the other, and counted himself lucky he wasn’t Liza’s enemy.

---

Meanwhile, Liza herself moved swiftly through the building, wondering what precisely had happened. The few people she actually saw seemed jumpy and nervous, but there was no sign of any fighting – no wounds, no bullet-holes in the walls.

“What happened here?” she asked the nearest Galactic.

“The Diamond,” he replied shakily. “He came here and... oh God!”

That was about all she could get out of him, but it was enough to sharpen her curiosity still further. She went up to the top floor, intent on seeking out Jupiter and finding out what had gone on – but the lifts had been shut down, and there were more burly guards at the top of the stairs.

“What’s going on here?” Liza demanded to know, and got much the same response she had from the goons outside. This time, she couldn’t be bothered to do the cloak-and-dagger scare approach, and just told them outright that she worked directly under Cyrus; once one of them went off to confirm that this was true, it did the trick and she got past without further difficulty.

Up here, things looked different. There was a dark purple-black stain on the wall and carpet, which, when Liza sniffed at it, smelled faintly of rotting eggs. She looked left and right, and saw a couple of discarded guns on the floor, as well as a Poké Ball.

“What did he do?” she wondered. There had been a fight here – but no shots had been fired, and somehow Jupiter’s Skuntank had been taken down before it could flood the place with toxic gas.

There was only one way to find out the truth, Liza decided, and that was to ask: self-evidently, Cyrus had been called here, hence the security. She knocked on the door to Jupiter’s office and walked in without waiting for an answer.

“Ah, good afternoon, Liza,” said Cyrus pleasantly. “I thought you might turn up here; Mars said she’d sent your partner after Lacrimére, Gideon and that Kadabra.”

“Cyrus,” replied Liza. She didn’t call him Mister Maragos; she was a consultant and a specialist, not an underling. “What happened here?”

She surveyed the room: all the furniture was intact; there was no sign of a struggle at all. Jupiter was sitting at her desk, looking somewhat shell-shocked, and her colleagues Mars and Saturn were standing nearby, the latter attempting to comfort her and the former looking awkward, knowing that any attempt on her part to make a reassuring face actually came out looking more like a psychopath’s grin.

“The Diamond did,” replied Cyrus simply. “I have no idea what he did, but I know he was here, I know that he knocked out three agents and set fifteen more into a panic, I know he defeated Jupiter’s Skuntank in less than the three seconds it takes it to attack and I know that he extracted every last bit of information that she had from her in just a couple of minutes.” He looked at Liza with frank eyes. “I’m starting to see why he has such a reputation.”

“Sorry, sir, but – who is this woman?” asked Mars. “She looks like a grunt—”

“And as far as you know, that is all she is,” replied Cyrus with a dangerous smile. “Do you understand?”

Mars glanced at Saturn, who made a point of ignoring her, and nodded sullenly.

“Good,” said Cyrus. “Mars, Saturn, take Jupiter outside. Liza and I need to talk.”

“Outside where, sir?”

“Outside anywhere,” he replied. “I’m sure you must have some imagination in that head of yours. Use it.”

Mars acquiesced without further protest, and left with Saturn and Jupiter. Once the door had shut, Liza put her hands on the desk and swung herself up to sit on it.

“So,” she said. “What really happened here?”

“As I said before, it was the Diamond,” said Cyrus. “But of course, I know exactly what he did.” He held up a CD. “To stop the panic spreading, I have removed the CCTV footage of what exactly went on here. We’re treating it as hysteria, some mind-bending Pokémon that Lacrimére got in somehow – you know the sort of thing.”

“Yeah,” nodded Liza. She could do that. “I can sort that for you. Can I see the footage?”

“I don’t see why not.” Cyrus slid the disc into Jupiter’s laptop and moved the mouse about. The screen came to life, and a moment later the disc started to play.

Liza watched in silence, and growing consternation. There was something at the back of her head, a faint ringing in that dead space beyond Iraq...

No. The footage ended, and she couldn’t remember.

“That’s... impressive,” she managed. “What is it?”

“I have absolutely no idea,” replied Cyrus, and he almost seemed happy about it. “But it means we need to increase security.”

“I think... bullets should probably work,” Liza said. “If you see here” – she rewound the tape a bit – “look, here you can see a cut. And if it bleeds,” she added, which was reminiscent of the governor of California, “we can kill it.”

“I’ll have Mars keep that Purugly of hers handy too,” said Cyrus. “It’s the strongest thing we have, except for my Pokémon, and mine won’t answer to anyone else.”

“You can see Jupiter’s Skuntank get taken out in a single hit,” replied Liza. “Will the Purugly do any better?”

“It’s faster than it looks,” Cyrus told her. “It can dodge the attacks. Besides, it’ll be a useful distraction.”

Liza nodded; once again, it seemed Cyrus had thought things through properly.

“I’ll get onto the propaganda, Cyrus,” she said. “You handle security.”

He smiled and nodded.

“How is your work going?”

“Not well.” Liza sighed. “I haven’t found it yet. But,” she went on, shrugging, “I still have five more places to check before I give up hope.”

“And then...?”

“Sorry?”

Cyrus’ eyes were shining, as if they reflected a light that wasn’t there.

“What will you do afterwards?” he asked. “If you can’t find it?”

“I’ll join you,” she replied. “Because if that happens, I’ll be done with emotion forever.”

Cyrus smiled, and behind him, Liza thought she could make out a faint patch of darkness, a ragged shadow without anything to cast it.

“You’d be welcome,” he said. “I look forward to it.”

---

“You said Mars had been to Veilstone recently,” I pointed out. “You could tell by the grey dust on her shoes.”

“That’s right,” replied Ashley. “What an astute little creature you are.”

I bristled, but remembered that this was the friendliest he’d been to me in quite some time, and decided that for now at least I’d bear his condescension.

“It looks like we’ll need to go to Veilstone,” continued Ashley. “But I checked online, and it seems the pass has been blocked.”

There were only a handful of ways to get between West and East Sinnoh; down the middle of the island was a spine of jagged rock known collectively as Mount Coronet. Technically, it was about fourteen mountains, but they had all merged long ago and formed one colossal chunk of stone, dotted with peaks of varying height and shape. The inside was riddled with caves, which in turn were riddled with an alarming number of wild Pokémon; the upper slopes bore colonies of Abomasnow, and were too dangerous to traverse. This naturally meant that the only way across was through a few narrow passes that sat low down on the mountain, and that, of course, meant that the two halves of the nation were continually being cut off from each other, due to landslide, traffic accident or Exploding Graveler.

“Any flights?” I asked. It was a fairly vain hope – in East Sinnoh, it's always either raining or snowing, and air travel is dangerous – but it was worth checking out.

“Not until tomorrow,” Ashley replied. “The Abomasnow are agitated; there are snowstorms all the way up and down Coronet.”

“So what do we do?” I asked. “If we can't drive or fly?”

Ashley stood up.

“We seek alternative means of travel,” he said vaguely.

“Which is his way of saying that he doesn't know,” Iago confided. “Because there isn't anything we can do except wait. The storms'll clear up by tomorrow. Probably. Maybe. OK, they probably won't.”

Ashley walked off without saying anything, which was stupendously weird, and I jumped up to follow.

“Where are you going?”

“Back to Jubilife,” he said, frowning. “There's nothing more to be done here, and we can't get to Veilstone yet. In Jubilife, I'll be able to contact some East-side friends of mine, who can do a little investigating on my behalf.”

“On our behalf.”

Ashley gave me a look. I wasn't sure what sort of look it was, but it was definitely a look.

“On my behalf,” he said. “When we return to Jubilife, you are going to stay there.”

Ah. It had been that sort of look.

“No, I'm not,” I replied. “You really can't make me—”

“Would you care to put that to the test?” he asked sharply. I remembered where we had just come from: the fleeing Galactics, the information so easily obtained, the knife and the terrible secret; I remembered that I had no idea what Ashley could do, and that I was about three wrong words away from being killed.

Ashley smiled, though without any trace of humour.

“I didn't think so,” he replied, as we reached the park gates. “My apologies, Pearl, but your part in this ends here. I'll have someone come to guard you against—”

His last words were drowned out in a deafening roar; he broke off and looked testily down the road. I followed his gaze, and saw a huge black motorbike heading towards us at a speed that was probably not only in excess of the speed limit but also of Mach 1; it growled past pedestrians at breakneck pace and then suddenly swerved to a sharp stop right in front of the gates where we stood.

“OK,” I said, staring at the bike and its black-clad rider, who was now dismounting. “Ashley, is this an assassination attempt?”

He didn't reply, and I saw for the first time something approximating fear cross his face; that shook me, and I was about to make a break for it when Iago called out from behind us:

“Her again? What's she doing here?”

It was someone they knew, then. I relaxed a little, and watched the rider walk up to Ashley. The tension was electric; it wasn't just me standing and staring, but everyone else on the street. There was something about the biker (apart from her gigantic bike) that made you pay attention to her. Perhaps it was the way she was taller than everyone else, or the fact that she didn't remove her helmet; perhaps it was the confidence of her stride, or the way her leather-sheathed hands kept curling into fists – but whatever it was, it was potent stuff.

She drew close to Ashley, and he flinched away slightly; she grabbed his chin and tilted his head until he was looking up at her.

“Hello,” said Ashley, a note of uncertainty in his voice. “I can't say I didn't expect this, but I had my reasons—”

“Not now,” snapped the biker, and I could have sworn I'd heard her voice before somewhere. “We need to talk, Ashley.”

“Perhaps later—?”

Now.”

“That idea also has its attractions,” conceded Ashley. “I suppose we ought to go, then?”

“Shut up and get on the bike,” said the biker, and a second later, both of them were gone, roaring away down the road and out of sight.

Dead silence reigned over the street. People were staring at each other, wondering exactly what had just happened; I was looking at Iago, trying to gauge whether or not he'd kill me if I asked a question.

“I knew this would happen,” he sighed. “Damn it. Pearl, we need a taxi.”

“What? Why? Where? Who?”

“Don't forget How and When,” Iago replied, grabbing my wrist and tugging me ineffectually up the pavement. “Then you'll have all of Kipling's serving-men.”

“What?”

“If you were an English student, you'd get that. Come on, Pearl, you're too heavy for me to drag!”

I started walking so he'd stop complaining, and asked my questions again, only more clearly:

“Iago, what just happened? Who was that?”

“She'll tell you if she wants you to know,” he replied, flagging down a cab and pushing me in. “Look, I can't say, you must have figured that one out. We need to follow them.”

“Where are they going?”

Iago looked at me as if I were an idiot, and not for the first time I wondered if he were right.

“To the Gym, of course,” he told me. “And, speaking of that – driver! Eterna City Pokémon Gym!”

And so, very confused and not a little scared, I buckled my seatbelt as the taxi drove off in the direction of the Gym.
__________________

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