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Old March 7th, 2012 (12:12 AM). Edited March 15th, 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-Five: In Which Ellen and Bond Go From the Frying-Pan Into the Fire

'Most Haunted House: While Hearthome is known for its high Ghost population, the highest single concentration of Ghosts in any one dwelling in Sinnoh is Corvada Castle in the Celestial Hills. While only three or four of them have ever been seen, numerous Ghost Trainers such as Fantina Cousteau have conclusively proven that there are at least twenty-eight spirits somewhere within it. The occupants are, apparently, completely unaffected.'
—The Big Book of Sinnish Records


“What?” I asked. “What's going on?”

“Come with me,” said Ashley. “I'll explain as we go; there's no time to waste.”

Sighing, I dropped both my old and my new phone in my bag, hoisted it onto my shoulder and followed him out.

“We're not getting any sleep any time soon, are we?” I asked.

“Pearl, we have almost exactly forty-eight hours before a bomb of devastating potential goes off somewhere in this damp and Gothic city, and we have no idea where it might be. I think that anything as minor as sleep can be safely disregarded under the circumstances.”

“They never show this in the movies,” I complained.

“Perhaps you ought to try reading a book for once,” replied Ashley, reaching the stairs and gliding down them like a ghost. “None of those trashy crime novels, either – something realistic, where problems take hours or days to solve instead of minutes.”

“Hey, I—” I broke off, realising something was missing. “Where's Iago?”

“Here,” replied the Kadabra. I blinked; I was sure he hadn't been there a moment ago. It must, I decided, be my current state of fatigue that was responsible; I'd had a pretty tiring day what with the two near-death incidents and the break-in at Courmocan High. “How did you not see me?”

“I – it's been a tiring day,” I said. “Uh, where are we going?”

“Stanner Square,” replied Ashley, sweeping past Wednesday and towards the doors. “To the Jeffrey Lebowski Embryonic Research and Genetics Institute.”

“The what? Why?”

Blade Runner is set in a future Los Angeles,” Iago told me. “None of the significant locations in it exist in Pastoria, but there are loose parallels.”

“The most obvious being the Tyrell Corporation, a biotechnology giant based in a pair of big pyramid-shaped buildings,” Ashley put in.

“So we looked for biotechnology concerns in Pastoria—”

“And came up with the Jeffrey Lebowski Embryonic Research and Genetics Institute,” concluded Ashley. He pushed open the doors and almost in the same motion slid into the waiting taxi outside. “Finding it was the part that took so long. There are fifty-four biotechnology companies of one sort or another based in Pastoria, but the only ones that have a vaguely pyramid-shaped building were that and Anthea Laboratories.”

“And of those, only the Lebowski Institute does any work on humans,” Iago added. “Anthea is just an experimental concern attempting to sequence new crops.”

The speed and density of their explanation set my head spinning, and it was with some effort that I managed to bring it back into alignment with reality.

“So... what're we actually doing?” I asked.

“We're going to the Jeffrey Lebowski Embryonic Research and Genetics Institute to look for clues,” replied Ashley, with a trace of annoyance. “Haven't you been listening?”

“Well, I have, but—”

“Well, perhaps if you'd spent less time talking to Stephanie and more time assisting with our investigation you would know.”

“How do you know—?”

“You put two phones in your bag when we left; you've obviously bought a new one to call her from,” he said dismissively. “Now, keep up with the plot, please. We have a genetics institute to get to.”

It took about forty minutes to get to the Institute; it was about three miles west of the Ganmet Monument, in a district that looked like it had been born of an architect a hundred years before his time: everything was glass or steel, ultra-tall and ultra-thin; those few buildings that didn't conform to the type were spherical or pyramidal.

“Whoa,” I said, staring out of the window. “I never knew that there was anywhere so modern in Pastoria.”

“They don't advertise it,” said Iago. “They rely on the Goth tourism. That and the hippies who come to watch Pokémon at the marsh, and they don't particularly like glass buildings either.”

“What about Trainers?” The city had a Gym, didn't it? It must get quite a bit of Trainer traffic.

“They don't bring that much money in unless they really go nuts,” he told me. “This isn't Gibbous Island.”

The taxi pulled up at the side of Stanner Square and we got out; Ashley made me pay by the simple expedient of walking away and leaving me there. By the time I'd caught up, he and Iago were at the main doors to the Institute – which was indeed pyramid-shaped, and plated in glass. It also appeared to be completely deserted: all the lights were off, and I could see no sign of anyone within.

“Do we break in?” I asked, looking around nervously.

“We don't need to,” replied Ashley. “Someone already did it for us.”

He pushed the door lightly, and it swung freely open.

“What...?”

“The lock is buckled and partially melted; I'd suggest Tristan's Croagunk has been to work here.” He glanced at me. “Come on, then. Let's see what they want.”

He slipped inside, and, with a brief look back at the dark, deserted square, I followed.

---

“Do you think he'll come back to get us out of here?”

Kester considered. On the face of it, the answer seemed quite obvious.

“No,” he said finally. “I think we're stuck here.”

“Damn,” said Sapphire, after a suitable pause.

“Yeah,” agreed Kester. “It's a real shame.” He looked over at Felicity. “What do you think, Liz?”

“I think he's coming back,” replied Felicity.

“Really?”

“Yes. He would not really leave you here. He would be lonely without anyone to show off in front of.”

Kester raised his eyebrows.

“I hope you're right,” he sighed, and leaned back against the concrete wall of the cell. “But I tell you what – I am going to kill him when he gets back.”

“I think there's a queue,” Sapphire told him dryly, which did absolutely nothing to raise their spirits. For there is nothing quite so singularly depressing as indefinite imprisonment – the more so when you are unlawfully imprisoned.

And most of all when you know that the only way you are likely to escape is if Robin Goodfellow decides to come back for you.

---

The lobby was all modern and shiny, and seemed to have borrowed its design scheme from a Macbook; everything had soft, curved edges and a clean, white look. We crept carefully through it – or at least I did; Ashley strode and Iago sauntered – and down one of several long, pale halls.

“How do you know where we're going?” I asked Ashley.

“Footprints,” replied Iago. “Pearl, you know how good his vision is—”

“Actually, no,” said Ashley.

“Oh.” Iago looked startled for a moment. “Well. OK.” I hid a smile; it was nice to see him wrong for once.

“So how do you know, then?” I asked.

“Listen,” said Ashley. We did – and sure enough, after a moment my ears caught a faint sound, too distant to make out properly. I couldn't tell what it was, only that it was; I turned to Ashley and asked him what was making the noise.

“I think it's a person,” he said, and I swear his ears grew slightly as he listened. “No, more than one. Even I'm having a little trouble at this distance.” He shrugged. “We'll find out in due course. Now, come on! If you want to get any sleep at all tonight, Pearl, we need to make some headway right now.”

We continued down the corridor, turned left down another and then right; now, I could make out the noise properly myself: the sound of someone's clothes shifting about them as they moved. Not Team Galactic, then, I thought; their spacesuits all seemed to be fairly skin-tight, which I supposed worked all right for Liza but which was probably a hassle for anyone who wasn't as slim.

“Not the Galactics,” murmured Ashley, at the exact moment that I thought it, and mentally I patted myself on the back. I was right.

Ashley motioned for us to be still, then paced up and down the corridor, listening; after a moment, he decided on the right door and pushed it open.

“Hello— oh!”

He turned to Iago and I.

“Well,” he said. “This isn't quite what I was expecting. Come and have a look.”

I did, and turned on the lights to reveal three people tied to office chairs, thoroughly bound and gagged, and blindfolded for good measure. At the sound of our voices, they all started squirming and mmphing through their gags.

“What the hell?”

“I know,” agreed Ashley. “Bizarre, isn't it?”

“Should we kill them?” asked Iago, which made all three fall silent again.

“We're not going to kill them. Why is that you feel this need to kill everyone we meet?”

“I know.” Iago glanced at them. “I just wanted to scare them.”

Ashley stared at him for a moment, shook his head and returned his attention to the three people in the chairs.

“Let's see,” he said, circling them like a shark. “Female, mid-forties, dog owner, mother of two. Male, early seventies – late sixties? – something around then, ex-military, evidently put up a fight when they got him. Male, sixteen or seventeen, Goth, just arrived in Pastoria this evening.” He stopped and pondered. “Now, I suppose the question is, why would the Galactics leave them here?”

“Aren't we going to untie them?” I asked.

“No,” replied Ashley sharply. “These people can't be trusted not to go straight to the police as soon as they're free; we really don't need anyone finding out that we broke into a genetics institute at quarter to one in the morning on a quest to save Pastoria. It'll cause a lot of unnecessary interference, Lydia.”

“What? Did you just call me—?”

“Sorry. That was remiss of me. My apologies, Miss Soames,” Ashley said meaningfully, and the penny dropped. These people could hear us – and so to cover our tracks when they eventually escaped, we needed false names.

“Yes. Right. Sorry, um, Zachariah.”

He stared at me and mouthed, Zachariah?

“Uh, yeah. Sorry, Mister Clutterbuck.”

Ashley tipped his head back to face the heavens and muttered some brief supplication to whatever powers might be capable of delivering him from my idiocy, then sighed and started talking again.

“We have to figure out why it is that they left them here,” he continued. “They're evidently a clue – or perhaps one of them is and the other two are decoys. Ah, but which one? There's the thing... No. We don't know that yet.”
“Actually, we do,” said Iago, holding up a piece of paper. “This was on the desk over there. Mister Clutterbuck.” He pronounced the last two words with a kind of unholy glee that I'd previously thought was the sole preserve of vengeful demons.

Ashley grimaced.

“Thank you, Herr Spatzendinger. May I compliment you on how well you're hiding your accent?”

Iago glowered, but, not to be outdone, countered in a heavy German accent.

“Ach, vell, you know. I try.”

I tried very hard not to laugh and just about succeeded. Ashley, the faintest of smiles on his face, grabbed the paper off him and read it out aloud, changing the names as he went.

“Hello, Messrs Clutterbuck, Spatzendinger and Soames. As you will no doubt have realised by now, there are three people in this room. Investigate them, and if you succeed, you will learn the location of the bomb.” He lowered the paper. “It's signed Liza.”

“Makes sense,” Iago said, nodding. He still used the faux-German voice. “I'm not even sure if ze uzzer vun can read.”

“She gives nothing away,” noted Ashley thoughtfully. “Hm. There are three of us and three of them, for a start. I suppose we ought to investigate one each, but—”

“—but one, I am not letting you out of my sight and two, that vould mean leaving Lydia to investigate one on her own,” finished Iago.

“Hey, I can do this myself, Spatzendinger,” I protested. “Maybe a bit slower than you, but I can do it.”

“We'll see,” said Ashley. “You can investigate the old man. Herr Spatzendinger and I will investigate the other two together.”

“You can't be serious!” cried Iago, his accent slipping for a moment in his passion. “Lydia? Investigating on her own?” He stared at Ashley for a moment, and repeated: “Lydia?”

“It's not ideal, I realise that,” said Ashley, and it was interesting to see that infuriating calm turned on someone else. To those on his side, I discovered, it was actually quite pleasant. “But we have only a little under forty-eight hours to find and deactivate this bomb. Time is not a luxury we have right now.” He looked at me. “Besides, Miss Soames is not that stupid. She'll be fine, with a few pushes in the right direction.”

“Thanks, Mister Clutterbuck,” I said with feeling, and the warmth drained from Ashley's face.

“Yes, I'd forgotten about that,” he muttered under his breath, and then bent down to pull the wallet from the pocket of the Goth boy. Unsurprisingly, it was made of black leather and studded with little spikes. Ashley flicked through its contents, pulled out a piece of paper and put it into his pocket, and replaced it. “Nestor Schultze,” he said aloud. “Sixteen, resident of 44 Forvell Road, Sunyshore. Herr Spatzendinger, search this lady here – and Miss Soames, I suggest you search the gentleman in the middle there.”

“OK.” I stepped up to him, and felt a frisson of excitement run down my spine; Ashley had given me little tests before, but never a proper bit of detectivery. Always, he either knew the answer or was simply one step away from it; this was my big break, my chance to prove that I too could solve a case. I would show him that I could discern the shape of the truth from its shadow, that I could work out the size and smell of reality from the footprint it left on an axe handle, or a body – in short, I would prove that I was, though maybe not as good as him, still a fine detective.

I looked down at the old man, tense in his bonds, and wondered:

Now where the hell do I start?

---

Midnight is a curious time. When it comes around, when the two hands of the clock meet for a perfunctory minute at the twelve, one finds oneself uneasy in the streets, forever glancing over one's shoulder to ward off the stalking shadows. In the West, it has been named the witching hour; in Sinnoh, where witches have never been particularly feared, they call it the ulñanacar, the 'hour of the dead'.

It was the hour of the dead now, and they were creeping into Hearthome by streetlight.

Ellen and Bond were no longer alive, it was true, but neither of them felt particularly dead, and both were acutely aware of the fact that a lack of true life would not protect them tonight. Whatever they were made of, and whatever strange force quickened it, would be devoured by any Ghost they met without hesitation. Usually, there was a body to shield the spirit from direct spectral attack; without any flesh to cover them, Ellen and Bond were currently feeling very vulnerable.

Pigzie Doodle, on the other hand, was drifting along about fifteen feet in front of them, attempting to look as if he had nothing to do with them.

“Could you stop whistling nonchalantly, please?” asked Ellen timidly. “This situation is eerie enough already.”

Huh. Suit yourself. He stopped and turned left around a corner. Come on. There's one of those sinister black car rental stores somewhere around here. We need wheels if we're going to make it through the city before we're noticed.

A throaty chuckle emanated from the mouth of an alley, and it was with the greatest of efforts that Bond stifled Ellen's shriek.

“Hush, madam,” he whispered, one white-gloved hand clamped over her mouth. “We must not give away our presence!”

Ellen, eyes wide and shining for all the wrong reasons, nodded silently, and he let his hand drop. Bond placed a finger on his lips, just to make sure the message hit home, and led her on down the street.

OK, said Pigzie Doodle, glancing around nervously. I think we got away with it. Just two streets that way and—

And what, exactly?


The Duskull froze, every molecule of his gaseous being stopping dead in midair. He looked almost solid.

Cal, he said in Nadsat.

“What was that?” asked Ellen, staring around wildly.

“I confess myself ignorant, madam,” replied Bond, gently pushing her so that her back was to the wall, and he was between her and the street, “but I fear I have to tell you that whatever it is, I can hear it too.”

You can? Ah. That means they're really strong. I was sensing something powerful, but—

But what, brother? Would you belittle us?


Eyes were appearing in the darkness all around them now, and Bond felt Ellen shrink into the small of his back. Unconsciously, his hands went to his bow tie, adjusting it; if there was company, a butler ought to make himself presentable.

Uh... crap. Pigzie Doodle span animatedly on the spot. I can't even count you all. Look, these guys have nothing to do with me. I'm... I was leading them here so that you could devour them.

And what about yourself? The voice was female, Bond decided, although it was hard to tell. He thought it came from the yellow-red eyes just in front of him, the ones that stood a little apart from the others – as if their owner was feared or loathed by her fellow Ghosts. As if, he realised with a sinking feeling, she were the leader.

Me? Pigzie Doodle laughed uncertainly. I, um, ate earlier. Full banquet of childhood memories at the Jubilife Airport, and agony for afters.

The lead Ghost's eyes blinked, and rolled upwards in amused exasperation.

Ghosts aren't so selfless as to help even their brethren, she said. You have some clever ploy, little brother. Her voice was low and predatory now; Bond felt Ellen shaking like a leaf behind his back. He had to confess that he was quite alarmed himself, but he stood firm and waited to see if Pigzie Doodle could sort it out. If not, he might find himself forced to intervene. What trickery do you have planned, little Duskull? asked the Ghost. What glorious deceit?

It's a plan to make my name echo through the ages, replied Pigzie Doodle frankly. Evidently he had decided that honesty would be the best policy. I want to be known, and remembered. Two thousand and eighty-four years already, and no one knows my name. I say it's about time I changed things.

How tedious, sighed the Ghost. Another Duskull who wants more than his immortality. You Old Ghosts are so... tiresome.

Ah. Does that mean I die now? inquired Pigzie Doodle.

Perhaps even Bond's heart might have skipped a beat here – but he was dead, and the organ in question had long since rotted away to nothing. Consequently, we shall never know whether the dialogue managed to push him across that fortified boundary that separates a butler from his emotions.

It does indeed, agreed the Ghost. But not by my hand. You're just a Duskull, after all. No, she continued, burning eyes snapping around to stare straight through Bond, I want that child.

Ellen. Bond might have known it would come down to this; it had been known for centuries that most Ghosts' preferred prey was children. Alive, they were tempting; dead, he suspected, they were irresistible.

He sighed. It looked like he would have to intervene.

“Madam,” Bond said politely, clearing his throat, “I regret to inform you that the young mistress is not currently available for eating. She has important business to conduct in Veilstone. Kindly stand aside.”

The unseen Ghost's eyes widened, and a furious murmuring broke out among her acolytes; obviously, it was not the done thing for the prey to resist like this.

Stand aside? the Ghost said incredulously. Did you just tell me to stand aside?

“It was a polite request, madam,” Bond corrected. “It would not be my place to tell you to do anything. After all, I am but a butler.”

Uh, Jeeves? You might want to stop that. She can consume you slowly or she can consume you quickly, and believe me, you want quickly.

Bond did not hear Pigzie Doodle, of course, and Ellen was currently in no fit state to convey the message. Hence, he simply continued to meet the Ghost's stare, and thought quite hard about what he was going to do next.

A butler? Now I really must devour you, said the Ghost hungrily. All that suppressed emotion... the rage and frustration of years and years of service, both in and after life, compacted into a little pill no larger than one of your fingernails. I will hang your soul from my neck, and drink it slowly over the next hundred years. Imagine! A century of ecstasy...

All right, calm down, you're making me hungry, said Pigzie Doodle peevishly. If you're going to devour them, get on with it so I can escape while you're busy.

Oh, I'm sorry. Did you say something, little brother? The Ghost spat the last word with such force that something dark flashed between her and Pigzie Doodle, striking him between the eyes; he collapsed in on himself and fell to the pavement like black rain, the skull-shaped plate of his face clattering down a moment after. For a moment, his eye flared crimson and his mental voice degenerated into a string of bloody images – and then the light went out and he fell silent.

Bond stared. Ellen wound her arms tightly around his waist and held on like a baby monkey.

That's better, said the Ghost. I do loathe the Old Ghosts. Always trying to make themselves seem more important, making themselves seem bigger than they are. It's fraud – and not even convincing fraud at that. She paused, perhaps savouring the moment. Now, then. Shall we get down to business?

“Madam, I have made my position clear—”

All at once, the Ghost's eyes jerked away from his to scan the sky, and around her, some of the smaller Ghosts started to disappear into the night, startled.

That *****! hissed the Ghost. She's back again! And she knows no one can stop her... She'll eat the butler – but she may leave the girl, which is something – but the butler! The *****!

Bond stared at her, bemused. What exactly was going on here?

“May I enquire as to what is happening?” he asked politely. The Ghost whirled and fixed her eyes on him.

You won't survive, she said savagely. She's coming. The new girl. I hope this is the last night she hunts here; we don't like her type here. The Ghost turned and addressed those of her followers who were still there. Well, don't just float there! She's coming, and I suggest you get out of here if you want to make it to dawn.

There was a flurry of vague wind sounds, and the spectral eyes disappeared. Bond waited a moment, but nothing happened; he could neither see nor sense anything hostile approaching.

“It would seem,” he said, “that we have escaped unscathed.”

Ellen dared to peek out from behind him, found his words to be true and stepped away hurriedly.

“Um, yes,” she said. “Of course.” She fidgeted for a moment, then looked up at Bond pleadingly. “Can we get a motor-car now?”

Ugh. Yes please, said Pigzie Doodle, his eye flickering back into life. And can someone pick me up? I can't quite seem to hold myself together right now. I'm not sure what that Mismagius did to me, but it was strong.

Ellen asked Bond to pick him up, and Bond knelt to scoop him into the curved plate of his skull-face. Surprisingly enough, nothing leaked out from the eye sockets; evidently the Duskull still had energy enough to keep himself from falling down there.

Ah, that's better. The pavement's filthy – I think I have chewing gum stuck to my left lower incisor. And – oh. Oh.

Ellen paused. This did not sound like a good 'Oh'. This was not the 'Oh' of an excited child opening a Christmas present. This was the 'Oh' of someone who has just noticed something very, very bad indeed.

“What is it?” she asked. “What is it, Ishmael?”

Why did those Ghosts leave? he asked. I was out cold for that bit, so why did they leave?

Ellen looked up at Bond. She hadn't really taken in anything the Ghost had said.

“Bond, why did the Ghosts leave?”

“Madam, they said 'she is coming', whoever that might refer to,” replied Bond. “They seemed rather afraid of her.”

That would make sense, said Pigzie Doodle grimly. OK. Run.

“What?”

RUN!

Ellen burst into a run, and Bond, working out what must be happening, followed after.

“Does 'she' refer to another Ghost, yet more powerful than the last?” he inquired of Ellen. In his arms, Pigzie Doodle rambled:

I can sense her too. My God. I've never felt anything like her. This one's older than me – much, much older, and that's saying something. Oh God, this hurts. She's like – like white gold, like Jadis, like mercury...

He trailed off, and Ellen told Bond:

“Yes. I – I think it might be...”

“In that case,” began Bond, but whatever he was about to say was lost, for at that moment she arrived, and, as Bond might have put it, their situation became somewhat uncertain.
__________________

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