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Old February 15th, 2012 (12:18 PM). Edited February 17th, 2012 by Cutlerine.
Cutlerine
Gone. May or may not return.
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
Age: 21
Gender:
Nature: Impish
Chapter Twenty-Two: In Which There is Much Detectivery

'Pastoria City's the best place in Sinnoh to write poetry. You can really feel the rainy miasma in your soul there.'
—Gloomrainia Shadowdespair, How to Write Goth Poetry


Stephanie Knew Too Much.

And she was under no misapprehensions about it. This was no conspiracy movie cliché – she really did know a lot more than anyone was meant to, and she had no doubt that there were going to be repercussions if she was ever found out.

Serious repercussions. Of the sort that generally befall those who Know Too Much.

Repercussions of the kind that involve midnight visitors and garrottes, or possibly black-suited agents and detention centres.

So naturally, Stephanie had taken precautions. There was now no incriminating information stored on her computer; she had wiped it all off, and consigned the hard copy she had printed to the shredder, and the remains to a fire. Now the only source of data she had was her own memory, and that, she felt, was pretty safe – or as safe as anything could be, anyway.

She was still fairly tense, of course. At any moment, she knew, someone might walk off the street and casually kill or abduct her; according to her research, the League had killed before to preserve its secrets, and would do so again without compunction. Ordinarily, Stephanie wouldn't have believed these conspiracy theories, but she'd met Ashley now, and found out about Darkling Town – and after that she would have believed almost anything about the Sinnoh League.

Yes, she Knew Too Much now. She knew about Allegra Fairfax and Nathaniel Pyke. She knew about the hushed-up Pokémon disasters and the star. She even knew about the chambers that didn't appear on the plan of the Elite Four building on Gibbous Island, the vaults below ground, where certain things that were best kept out of the public eye were housed.

And Pearl still hadn't called her.

It was getting quite annoying, really. Stephanie had got herself a new phone, and she would have thought that Pearl would have done by now too; after all, she was the one who'd wanted this information, not Stephanie. If Pearl didn't call soon... well, Stephanie wasn't sure what she'd do, but the tension definitely wasn't doing her nerves any favours.

So she kept going, fingernails bitten down to the quick, and waited for the phone to ring.

---

Inside, the Hrafn Hotel was even creepier than it looked from outside. A large battleaxe, crusted with ancient blood, hung on the wall over the reception desk; the receptionist himself had a steel eyepatch and a raven on each shoulder. He was also seven feet tall and dressed in what looked like bear fur.

“Greetings,” he rumbled, in a heavily-accented voice. “I am Wednesday. Do you have a reservation?”

“Is he...?” whispered Iago.

“Yes,” I replied. “Yes, he definitely is. I'm trying not to think about it.”

“No, we don't,” Ashley told Wednesday. “Will that be a problem?”

“It depends how much you're willing to pay,” he replied. “Many of our cheaper rooms are taken this time of year. Pastoria is a popular honeymoon spot.”

“Who in their right mind wants to spend their honeymoon in Pastoria?” I asked.

“Goths,” replied Wednesday frankly. “From the East.”

Ah. Sunyshore was notorious for its Goth population; you'd have thought Pastoria would have more, but they preferred to save it for their holidays, as a treat. A rainy, depressing treat.

“We have almost limitless funds,” Ashley proclaimed, which was a statement calculated to dismay the one with the credit card. “So. Three rooms, if you please.”

Three... There was something strange about that.

“What? Are you planning on sleeping for once, Ashley?” Iago asked.

That was it – Ashley had said earlier that he didn't sleep any more. So why did he want a room now?

“Yes,” he replied. “I'll need the rest.”

Iago looked suspicious, but said nothing; Wednesday told us that rooms 13, 666 and 42 were unoccupied, and held out the keys.

“Why?” I asked. “Surely Goths would want those rooms more than the others?”

“No, they're too nonconformist to be nonconformist in such a conformist way,” said Iago. “It's a weak attempt to assert some individuality. Pathetic, really; if you really want to show people that you're different, you're better off becoming a serial killer.”

Wednesday gave him an odd look, and shook the keys; Ashley took them from him, gave me one and Iago another, and led us away towards the stairs.

---

It turned out that I had room 13, which was something of a relief; I'm not really superstitious, but I wouldn't have liked 42. Unsurprisingly, it was panelled in dark wood and boasted a large four-poster bed; the cord that drew the curtains bore more than a passing resemblance to a noose, and the door-frame a gallows. I threw my bag on the bed, turned around and went back outside – where I was immediately accosted by Ashley.

“Come,” he said. “We have work to do.”

I looked at my watch.

“Ashley, it's eight o'clock; can't we get something to eat?”

“We'll stop off on the way,” he conceded. “Just come on, will you? The Donnie link throws up multiple lines of inquiry, and we have to investigate them all. Tonight, if possible.”

“You do realise I have to sleep at some point?”

“Real detectives don't sleep,” he informed me.

“Maybe they do, maybe they don't,” muttered Iago – which made me jump; I hadn't seen him standing behind Ashley. “Can we just get on with this? I'm hungry.”

“Well, that's what I'm trying to do,” said Ashley. “Now come on.”

A few minutes later, we were in yet another taxi – honestly, did Ashley never think to take the subway? – and heading for Banninet Street. This turned out to be a quiet cul-de-sac in a residential district, which confused me until Ashley and Iago led me down two roads and up to the (decidedly Gothic) iron gates of the Courmocan District High School. It didn't take a genius to figure out that we'd stopped short of our destination because it was pretty weird to go around visiting schools at half past eight in the evening.

“Why are we here?” I asked. “I thought I'd escaped school three years ago.”

“I never went to school,” said Ashley. “And I want to see what I missed.”

“Really?”

“No. Pearl, you really must stop falling for that one.”

“We're here because a large part of Donnie Darko is set in a high school,” said Iago. “And this is the biggest one in Pastoria. We'll check it out, and if we can't find anything we'll have to look up the others and go through them.”

“And if we find nothing there, we'll investigate the airport and any eerie old houses inhabited only by insane elderly women,” concluded Ashley.

“How long is this going to take?” I asked.

“It depends on whether or not you choose to sleep,” he replied frankly. “You should probably be prepared to stay up until nine in the morning; I usually manage to find some sort of clue by then.”

“If you think you'll need it, I think I have some ecstasy somewhere,” offered Iago, which was a comment that I chose to outwardly ignore but filed away for future reference.

I sighed and looked up at the gate, its bars glinting in the moonlight.

“Are we breaking in, then?”

“Well, I suppose I could ask Wake for permission,” said Ashley thoughtfully. “And I could cooperate with him and the Pastoria police force, get a warrant and the backup of the whole city.”

“So we're definitely breaking in, then?”

“Oh yes,” said Ashley, and started to climb the gate.

---

“You said it was safe!”

And I was right, wasn't I? I mean, you're not hurt.

“I'm dead!”

In my defence, that isn't a result of the plane crash.


Ellen slipped on the snow and almost fell back into the fuselage; at the last moment, Bond's white-gloved fingers wrapped themselves around her wrist, and steadied her.

“Madam,” he began, but Ellen didn't seem to be finished speaking.

“And you said it was safe too!” she cried, jabbing her finger at him and hitting him painfully in the sternum. Bond, of course, did not react, other than to incline his head slightly.

“I believe that this is a very rare occurrence—”

“You said that this wouldn't fall out of the sky!”

“I had every reason to believe that that was so—”

“The wing exploded!”

Shut up, snapped Pigzie Doodle, rolling over in midair and shaking a flight attendant's thumb out of his skull. You're fine. We're all fine. Well, except for the three hundred other passengers, but let's not dwell on that, hm? We just have to travel by foot now, and so our journey might take a bit longer than I'd previously anticipated.

“We fell from the clouds!” shrieked Ellen, kicking a piece of landing gear hard and sending it skittering down the slope. “We landed on a mountain! And – and now we have to walk to Veilstone!”

“Madam, the fact that the aeroplane crashed here is due to no more or less than extreme bad luck,” said Bond, as serenely as a swan. “Please, let us put all of this unpleasantness behind us, and move on.”

Perhaps it was the powerful aura of tranquillity he exuded, but Ellen actually did seem to calm down a little, and she sat down on one of the surviving seats.

“Very well,” she sighed. “I'm calm now.”

“Excellent,” said Bond. “Now, I propose we commend ourselves to the direction of Pigzie Doodle.”

“And hope he doesn't almost kill us again,” muttered Ellen.

“Madam,” said Bond, with just the faintest trace of warning in his voice, and she fell silent.

Everyone calm now? OK. Here's the plan.
Pigzie Doodle paused. While you two were lying there unconscious, looking like sleeping puddles of mercury, I drifted upwards and had a little look around. The bad news is that with the engine on one side gone, the plane must've started turning in a circle as it fell, and it's... Well, let's just say we've landed in a bad place.

“Where are we?” asked Ellen, suddenly concerned.

We're just west of Hearthome, replied Pigzie Doodle. He was a little more serious than usual; it seemed like traces of worry had leaked into his voice. We're in about as bad a place as we could possibly be.

“What? What is it?”

Hearthome has a Ghost-type Gym, he said. There are a hell of a lot of us in one place, and because there are so many, even more of us are attracted. There's also a tower with lots of Ghost-types nearby, and a monstrous Ghost in the basement of it.

“What are you trying to say, Ishmael?”

That the city is stewing with Ghosts, Pigzie Doodle said. Ghosts who regard people like you as nothing more than prey. Ghosts who would see a lone Duskull as fair game; Ghosts who would view a Duskull that actually travels with human ghosts as completely insane and probably to be destroyed on sight.

“What is it, madam?” asked Bond, sensing that something undesirable was either about to happen or in the process of happening.

“We're close to Hearthome City, Bond,” Ellen replied, a slight tremor in her voice. “Do you recall what Mans told us about Hearthome City?”

Bond closed his eyes.

“Perfectly, madam,” he replied, and promised himself a career change as soon as this was over.

---

“I find it kind of funny, I find it kind of sad,” sang Ashley quietly. “The dreams in which I'm dying are the best I've ever had.”

“Stop being creepy,” I replied. It was bad enough skulking around in a school in the dead of night, every shadow appearing to conceal a hidden policeman or lurking monster; I didn't need Ashley singing weird songs as well.

“It's from the film,” he replied. “Iago can give you the details.”

“It's called 'Mad World',” the Kadabra told me immediately. “Released as a single in 1982 by Tears for Fears, it was covered in 2001 by Gary Jules and Michael Andrews for Donnie Darko, in a minimalist style. This version reached #1 on the UK charts and—”

“All right, you know everything, I know that already,” I grumbled. “You don't have to prove it.” We walked on for a little while longer, and then I asked: “Where are we going, anyway?”

“Down to the basement,” Ashley replied. “To the boiler room. It's the first place in the school we need to check.”

The boiler room, when we got there, turned out to contain about a thousand litres of water, which was probably meant to remain inside a tank but which instead washed out and around our ankles when we opened the door. I found it singularly unpleasant; there's something really quite nasty about getting your feet wet when the rest of you remains dry.

“Ah,” said Ashley, staring at the water. “It looks like we're heading in the right direction.”

“How do you know this is the right direction?” I asked; that was when he pointed out the axe in the water main.

“This happens in the film,” he said, as if that was explanation enough on its own, and stepped in. For a moment, I considered whether or not I should follow – the water level had dropped to about a millimetre since we'd opened the door, but it was still flowing freely – and then decided that my shoes were already ruined, and it could do no harm to enter.

“Get on with it,” snapped Iago from behind me. “I want to get this over with and have a beer and a pizza.”

That sounded quite pleasant.

“Might have to join you,” I said, going in and curling my toes inside my shoes as the water squelched around them.

“Well you can, since you can pay and I'm not averse to getting drunk with you,” he said. “Just hurry up.”

Inside, the boiler room was almost completely dark; I could just about make out the axe and the water, and a series of pipes around the walls that looked like they belonged on the maintenance deck of a spaceship, but that was it.

“Ashley?” I called in a low voice. What is it about being in the dark that makes you whisper? I knew Iago was behind me and a detective with superpowers was somewhere in front of me, but my heart was still racing; a whirl of images from the long, terrifying nights of childhood rattled through my mind: tigers on the ceiling, hands that reach out from under the bed, pale faces in the shadows with sharp-toothed grins and black-rimmed eyes—

“What is it?” asked Ashley, and now that he turned towards me I could see his eyes were two little rifts in the dark, cold yellow lights that lit up his nose and forehead.

“Uh, nothing,” I said, wondering if he could tell how nervous I was and deciding that he probably could. “Just... found anything?”

“Not yet,” he replied. “There's nothing out of order on any of the pipes, and I don't think the axe has anything written on it.” The glow of his eyes disappeared; I guessed he turned away to investigate something.

“How can you—?”

“You watched him fight off a swarm of Combee using only the skin of his arms,” interrupted Iago. “You really think he can't see in the dark?”

“Oh. Yeah. Er, right.” I stood there and fidgeted nervously for a moment. “Found anything yet?”

The yellow lights returned sharply.

“If you give me more than four seconds, I might be able to find something,” Ashley snapped. “Even I'm not that good.”

“All right, all right,” I said. “Sorry.”

It felt like an hour later when Ashley next spoke, but it was probably only a few minutes.

“Back outside,” he ordered. “We're done in here.”

“Did you find something—?”

“Not quite, but it's here,” he said cryptically, pushing past me. “Come on; I assume you don't want to stay here in this little lake.”

He was right; I didn't, and so retreated thankfully to the corridor, which, as it turned out, was now just as wet as the boiler room. In fact, the water level seemed to be rising; if no one noticed by morning, it was probably going to reach the classrooms above.

There it is,” said Ashley, bending down and picking something up off the floor. “It washed out when the water came out; that's why I couldn't find anything inside.” He examined it. “I know who put the axe in the pipe,” he announced. “What about you, Pearl?”

“No, but I have a feeling you're about to tell me.”

“Go on. Guess.”

“Uh, OK. Is it... Liza and Tristan?”

“Well, Tristan at least,” said Ashley, holding out the thing he'd picked up; in the dim light, I could just about see that it was a piece of coloured foil. “It's part of the wrapper from a Kinder Egg – a curious European treat that I've noticed Tristan seems to like a great deal. Every time I've seen him, he's had one or two about his person.”

“Great,” said Iago sarcastically. “We could've guessed this much – have I got my feet wet for nothing here?”

“No,” replied Ashley. “Look closely.”

Iago and I crowded closer, peering at the foil – and realised with a start that it had been folded into a tiny origami unicorn.

“What the hell? A unicorn?” I looked up at Ashley. “Why is it a unicorn?”

He and Iago looked at each other.

“Do you think—” began Ashley.

“Oh yes,” agreed Iago. “He's using—”

“How strange.”

“Yeah. It is, isn't it?”

“That's enough,” I said, resisting the urge to knock their heads together. “What does the unicorn mean?”

They turned to me, man and Kadabra, and said as one:

Blade Runner.”

---

“How's it going?” asked Liza.

“Nearly done,” replied Tristan, twisting two pieces of wire together and pressing them down into the casing. “OK?”

“Yeah.” Liza sat down on an empty packing case and watched him work for a while. It was quite remarkable really; Tristan might be a moron, but his skills as a bombsmith were unmatched. Was that a word? Bombsmith? If not, she decided, it should be. Anyway, she'd never seen such a complex bomb as he was making constructed so swiftly and with such accuracy; Liza was no slouch in the field herself, and she knew that the machine taking shape before her was good. “You dry yet?”

“No,” admitted Tristan, glancing down at his soaking boots. “You?”

“No.” Liza looked around and drummed her fingers on the wall impatiently. They were behind schedule – there was still plenty to prepare for the Diamond's appraisal – and there were another two address here in Pastoria, those of Berenice Anders and Samantha Wilson, which she wanted to investigate. Either of them could be the one...

“There,” said Tristan triumphantly, straightening up and dusting off his hands. “All done.” He was about to high-five his Croagunk, but then remembered his poisonous claws, and thought better of it. “So, er, what's next, Liza?”

“You're sure that's done?” Liza slid off the case and back to her feet.

“Yes. All we have to do is press the button and set the timer going.” Tristan indicated the button, which was of the large red variety that one is usually forbidden to touch. “Shall I?”

“No, not yet.” Liza checked her watch, keeping a careful eye on the second hand; this whole event had to be very carefully timed. “Get ready... get ready... get ready... now.”

Tristan's finger clicked down on the button, and the numbers on the digital display blinked into life.

“OK,” said Liza. “Timer's set. Let's move.”

“Where are we going now?” asked Tristan as they left. “The hotel?”

“I wish,” replied Liza, sighing and running a hand through her hair. It came away slightly blue, she noted; what was it about her hair that made it so resistant to dyeing? “No, we've got more work to do. You need to help me kidnap some people.”

“Ooh! Ooh! A kidnapping!” Tristan bounced up and down in excitement. “Can I tie them up?”

“The last time you tied someone up you managed to hogtie yourself.”

Here, Jackie let out an amused croak; he remembered that one.

“OK, OK. Can I knock them out prior to the spiriting away?”

“How? You're not strong enough.”

“I could use Jackie—”

“We don't want to kill them.”

“OK.” Tristan thought. “How about this: can I—”

“No,” Liza said firmly, pushing open the main door and stepping out into the cool night air. “You don't get to do any of that.”

“Well, what can I do?” whined Tristan. “I just built you the most powerful bomb in Sinnoh – I deserve to do something.”

Liza pondered. He did have a point.

“You can stick the duct tape over their mouths,” she conceded at last.

Tristan sighed in satisfaction, and joined her in the car. Things were looking up for him.

---

“OK,” I said, “will someone please tell me what is going on?”

“Iago?” asked Ashley. “If you would be so kind.”

Iago sighed.

“Fine, but let it be recorded that I object to being used as a fact regurgitator. Blade Runner, 1982, sort of based on the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, by Isaac Asimov. The main stars were Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer and Sean Young. It follows the efforts of one Rick Deckard, as he attempts to track down and destroy four genetic robots, replicants, who have illegally returned to Earth to track down their maker in an attempt to extend their lives. Like Donnie Darko, it wasn't a huge success at first, but has since become a cult classic.”

“For whatever reason, Maragos is using cult films as his clues,” Ashley said. “I suspect that this is him showing off, or perhaps he thinks I'll solve the case too quickly if he structures it like a conventional mystery.”

“So what's the unicorn connection?” I asked.

“The most famous symbol in Blade Runner is the unicorn,” Iago replied. “It's the means by which Deckard's reality is called into question; through showing him an origami unicorn, that weird guy with the accent communicates to him that he might well be a replicant himself. Hey, do you think there's a theme here?”

“There might be, I suppose,” said Ashley. “But that's beside the point. We were lucky enough to get what we wanted; now I suggest we leave, before someone finds us here next to an axe in a water main and puts two and two together.”

“We didn't get what we wanted,” I said, as we started heading for the upper floors. “I mean, where's the food?”

“A damn fine point,” said Iago, thumping his fist into the palm of his hand. “Ashley, I command you to let Pearl and I stop for beer and pizza.”

“Do I have to be there?”

“Not ordinarily, but with all this weird cal going on... yes. You have to stay with me at all times.”

Ashley ground his teeth.

“Oh, fine,” he said. “Suit yourself.”

“Great. Now, it's been six years, so it might have closed down, but there's a great place on Hircine Avenue...”


Note: As those of you well versed in Sinnish culture will no doubt know, 42 is a very unlucky number in Sinnoh, owing to a spectacularly bad translation of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. This is in no way a desperate attempt on my part to find a third unlucky number.
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For information about A Grand Day Out, a bizarre short story in video game form, click here.