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Old April 23rd, 2012, 11:11 PM
Cutlerine
Gone. May or may not return.
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
Age: 20
Gender:
Nature: Impish
Chapter Twenty-Six: In Which Crasher Wake Reappears

'Much like the mods and rockers of 1960s Britain, the Goths and hipsters of Sinnoh are violent enemies, and have been ever since they discovered each others' existence. Perpetually warring over which subculture is the more nonconformist and counter-cultural, they have been responsible for the largest gang wars of recent Sinnish history – the most infamous, the famous Sunyshore battle of 2009, resulted in sixty-nine arrests and left fourteen people in hospital. However, the fights rarely last very long: the hipsters cannot remain long all in one place, because otherwise they stop being hipsters, and so they tend to disperse after half an hour.'
—Emilia Hawthorne, The Tourist's Guide to Sinnoh

The city at night. In the south, the chimneys of the industrial district cut across the eye of the moon; in the west, the townhouses of the rich gaze smugly down from their lofty perches in the Coronet foothills. Most are asleep in bed, and those who are not are inside, sheltering from the cold and the Ghosts. Another night in Hearthome.

Through the night came a blurring orange comet, blitzing through the streets like a bullet, trailing blue lightning in its wake. It tore down a residential road, setting a horde of tame Growlithe barking wildly, and hurtled into a park, scattering the Shinx that had come out to feed. It zoomed across ponds, whizzed past factories, flew by Pokémarts.

Whoa, thought Puck to himself. I'm getting some serious déjà vu here.

He came to a halt by a distinctly sinister-looking car dealership and looked back down the street; if he was expecting pursuers, he was relieved, for it was empty.

I think I've lost them, he said. Good. Spiffing, you might say – but that would be tantamount to asking for a kick in the balls, so you probably wouldn't. He drifted higher up into the sky, and observed with interest a small stand-off occurring in a nearby street. Hey, look at that, he said. Ghosts – the human kind. You don't see many of them around these days. And a Frosla— He broke off abruptly. Hang on. Is that...?

Puck flew a little closer, and was rewarded by a faint, twisting pain in the core of his being – the wrenching ache that indicated his sense for other Ghosts was being overwhelmed.

Thundurus' spiky tail, he said, surprised and not a little alarmed. It's her. Puck flew closer still, and winced as the pain intensified dramatically. Yep. Definitely her. He backed away hurriedly, climbing higher into the night sky. Time to leave, I think. I'm not particularly interested in a reunion with her.

And with that, the Rotom shot away in a bright line of plasma, an orange star detached from the firmament, falling away to the horizon like a distant meteor.

---


Pastoria had never looked so nice: morning dawned and brought with it cloudless skies, without a hint of impending rain. Unfortunately, I really didn't have the energy to appreciate it – Ashley had only let me get to bed at about three o'clock and even with eight hours' sleep, I felt tired beyond all reasonable belief.

“Where the hell is all my energy?” I moaned sleepily at the ceiling. “How can I be this tired?”

All at once, I heard footsteps in the corridor, and I groaned loudly. That would be Ashley, wouldn't it?

There was a knock at the door.

“Pearl?”

Dead on. I closed my eyes and grimaced.

“All right, Ashley. Give me a minute.”

“You can have fifteen and then I need you downstairs,” he said. “It seems Crasher Wake has caught up with us.”

That woke me up.

“What?” I cried, sitting up. “What do you mean?”

“I went for a walk early this morning,” he told me, “and saw a taxi coming down the road, sagging heavily on the right. Curious as to what could be causing such a bizarre phenomenon, I followed it to the traffic lights and peered in at the window.” So deep was the following sigh that I heard it clearly through the door. “You can imagine what I found there – Wake was staring out at me. I made away as swiftly as I could, but I was close to the hotel and he turned up in the lobby a few minutes later, asking after me. He had the taxi door wedged around his waist; it seems he'd destroyed it while getting out. Huh. It would have been funny, had he not been so very annoying.”

“So what do we now?” I asked.

“We are to go to Pastoria's main police station,” Ashley replied. “Wake wanted me to come immediately, but I said I would wait for you to wake up first.”

“Oh!” I said, oddly touched. “Thanks. That was nice of you.”

“I assure you, it's more selfish than it sounds. I don't particularly want to face Wake without support.”

“That's still nice,” I said. “It's gratifying to be chosen as someone's moral support.”

“Oh no, it's purely massive support. In order to balance out Wake's one hundred and fifty-six kilograms, I'm going to need to add both Iago's forty-three and your fifty-five kilograms to my forty-nine. Though even with that, I think he's going to dominate the room.” He sighed again. “Anyway, I'll see you downstairs.”

I glared at the door.

“It's fifty-three,” I muttered crossly, and gave his retreating footsteps the finger.

---

She was tall, and cold, and unimaginably beautiful.

And Ellen knew at once that they were all going to die.

The ice-white apparition before them was terrifying – not because of any defect in her looks, but precisely because of that chill beauty she possessed. Those glittering eyes; that shining skin – even her shape, long and curved and curiously boneless, seemed without peer in the entire human race. Ellen, Bond and Pigzie Doodle were looking at perfection.

And true perfection is impossible, and so it was that Ellen fainted dead away in fear.

Oh no, breathed Pigzie Doodle. Jeeves, grab the kid and get out of here.

Bond did not move. He could not hear the Duskull, it is true, but any butler in his right mind would have immediately sprung to his mistress' aid in such a situation, and he remained standing there, staring straight ahead into the Froslass' eyes.

No no nonono! cried Pigzie Doodle. Don't look at her! Just grab the kid and get me the hell out of here!

The Froslass drifted back slightly, extending a hand, and Bond took an uncertain step forwards.

OK then, ditch the kid and just save me! We'll work out a system of winks for communication – just don't look at her and get the hell out of here!

Bond did not break his gaze. He hadn't so much as blinked throughout the entire time that the Froslass had been in his field of vision, and now he took another step forwards.

Oh, Christ, moaned the Duskull, ineffectually trying to pull himself back into a single cohesive shape. Don't you get it? She only seduces you so she can EAT YOU!

Whether the sudden sharp increase in the volume of Pigzie Doodle's voice had finally broken whatever barrier kept it from Bond's mind, or whether some other unknown stimulant checked him, Bond stopped abruptly, one foot still in the air. He lowered it carefully to the ground, cleared his throat and said, without removing his eyes from the Froslass:

“Madam, if you would be so good as to step aside, my mistress and I would like to pass.”

The Froslass froze. She had been doing this for three and a half thousand years, and this had never happened before. Had she heard correctly? Had the ghost-man really just said what she thought he had?

Since no reply seemed forthcoming, Bond repeated the request.

“We are travelling along this pavement, madam. Would you please step aside? My mistress is the last representative of a very old and important family, and I'm sure you would understand as a fellow member of society that she therefore cannot be kept waiting.”

Bond had based this presumption that the Froslass was a 'member of society' partly on the status that the other Ghosts seemed to accord her, and partly out of an instinct for flattering those who were close to killing him. It did not seem to be having much effect, however; apparently, their aggressor was still somewhat stunned by the fact that he was resisting her. Bond failed to see what was so extraordinary about it; after all, he was a butler, and no butler worth his salt ever lets his emotions get the better of him – even if faced with the best succubus that Hell has to offer.

He's... what the hell? Pigzie Doodle's eye spun wildly in the puddle of his body. You're resisting it?

“Madam?” repeated Bond again. “If you would be so kind...”

The Froslass's ancient eyes narrowed, and she spread her arms. Bond noted the swirling ice crystals gathering in her palms, and hurriedly picked up Ellen with his free arm.
“In this case, madam,” he said rapidly, stepping out into the road, “I must regrettably push past you. I hope you won't take it personally—”

The first Ice Beam hit the ground an inch from his heels, and Bond broke into a run, tearing down the street at a speed only attainable when one's continued existence is under extreme threat. From behind him came an ear-splitting shriek that burst the bulbs in the streetlights and sent a startled nightjar flapping from a tree, and a moment later Bond felt a wave of preternatural cold bearing down upon his back.

He resisted it! cried Pigzie Doodle weakly, staring wildly around. Can you credit it? I mean, he's been dead seventy years, but you wouldn't have thought the libido would've decayed that much...

“It would seem,” Bond muttered to himself as the street blurred past at breakneck pace, “that things have become tense again.”

With that, he devoted his energies wholly to running, and it would be no exaggeration to say that the longest night of Bond's afterlife was now well and truly underway.

---

Amazingly, Wednesday was still on duty at reception, and I had to wonder if the guy ever slept. He was leaning on the counter and talking animatedly to a man in thick glasses and his mousey wife, looking nothing like someone who had just spent at least fifteen hours (and probably more) on duty in a terminally dull job.

“...and so you see, that idiot killing that blasted otter was the worst possible thing,” he was saying in that rumbling, accented voice of his. “We couldn't go anywhere until we'd covered every last hair of its skin in gold. But,” he went on, “you didn't come here to listen to an old man ramble about his younger days. What was it you wanted?”

“A – a room, please,” said the man, looking slightly disconcerted.

“Ah, all right,” said Wednesday. “Do you have a reservation?”

“No. Is that a problem?”

“Yes, I'm afraid. There are no rooms available at present. Sorry, but you'll have to try somewhere else.”

The couple left, and I went up to the desk.

“Miss Gideon,” said Wednesday. “What can I do for you?”

“Have you seen Ashley – the man who was with me – around here anywhere?”

“Mister Lacrimére? Yes, I saw him go into the restaurant earlier. He was probably going to avail himself of our all-morning buffet breakfast – as you may wish to as well,” he added courteously.

I thanked him and went in search of Ashley in the hotel's gloomy Gothic restaurant; I found him sitting opposite a rather jittery-looking man, separated from him by a small ocean of coffee cups.

“Ah, Pearl,” he said, noticing me. “I'm sorry I wasn't in the lobby; I'm having some trouble getting Mister Samson here to move.”

Mister Samson actually appeared to be having some considerable difficulty in stopping moving, from the look of him; I wasn't sure how much coffee he'd drunk, but from the look of him and the empty cups it was enough to give a Blissey a heart attack.

“Uh, hi,” I said. “What's going on?”

“When Wake found the hotel, he left this man from his Gym here to watch over us and make sure we come to the station,” explained Ashley. “His name is, as I've said, Samson, and he's a sailor by trade. He's also been drinking coffee here since half-three in the morning, and is consequently a little wired, as they say.”

“He's out of his sodding mind on caffeine,” said Iago more bluntly, appearing from somewhere to lounge against the back of a nearby chair. “Look, just tip him out of the chair into a cab and let's get on with this. I don't want to spend any longer with Wake than is absolutely necessary.”

“Right.” Ashley turned back to Samson. “Hello? Can we go now?”

All at once, Samson burst into life, springing to his feet and nearly overturning the table.

“Go? Yeah! Let's go! Come on! To the police station! Go!”

So saying, he ran so fast out of the restaurant that he didn't have time to open the door, and knocked it open with his face. This didn't seem to worry him unduly, and he waited for us in the lobby, hopping impatiently from foot to foot, without looking in the slightest like he was in any sort of pain.

“Oh joy,” said Iago. “I can tell this guy's going to be fun to have around.”

“Iago, would you do me the largest of favours and shut up?” asked Ashley sweetly. “Thank you. Now, come on. The sooner we leave, the greater the chance of us getting to the station before Mister Samson manages to do himself any serious injury.”

We left, Ashley guiding Samson gently through the doors, and after a short ride in Samson's car (during which Ashley insisted on driving, on the grounds that Samson was in no way fit to take the wheel) we pulled up outside the Pastoria Central Police Station, five doors down from Wake's ridiculously over-the-top ziggurat of a Gym and twelve up from the army recruitment office that had been blown up last year. We put Samson in a taxi home and went inside; here, at the merest mention – and sometimes even sight – of Ashley, we were waved through layers of security without question, and ended up in a modern-looking office that seemed to be chiefly occupied by a large quantity of Crasher Wake.

“Ashley!” he cried in a voice so vast it was a wonder it fit in the room. “Good to see you.”

“Yes, it's an absolute pleasure,” replied Ashley in that dry way of his. “Who is this?”

He looked past Crasher to a woman so small in comparison that I hadn't noticed her at first; she looked oddly familiar, but I couldn't place her face.

“D.C.I. Siobhan Rennet,” she said, extending a hand. “It's an honour to meet you, Mister Lacrimére—”

“Please, call me Ashley,” he replied, shaking it. “Lacrimére is only my surname for legal reasons; it's very difficult to obtain a Sinnish passport with only a forename.” He smiled, and for a brief moment seemed to turn on a high-powered beam of charm: his face lit up with a divine, dazzling beauty, and for a dizzying second I think everyone in the room – even Iago – fell half in love with him. Then the moment passed, and he was once more ordinary Ashley Lacrimére, as distant and dispassionate as ever. “Have I met your brother?” he added, as if nothing had happened. “He works in the Jubilife force, doesn't he?”

I realised then that that was why Rennet looked so familiar: she was related to Nathan Rennet, the inspector who'd interviewed me back at the Hinah District station. It seemed so long ago now; had that really just been the other day?

“My cousin,” corrected Rennet, who now, partly because she had lived in awe of Ashley for so long and partly because of his blast of handsomeness, seemed to be having difficulty breathing. “He's at the Hinah District Station.”

“Mm.” Ashley nodded. “That'll be it.”

“Um... should we get down to this bomb business?” asked Rennet. “I mean – that's why you're here, isn't it?”

Ashley gave Crasher a look.

“Wake, did you not tell D.C.I. Rennet—”

“Call me Siobhan—”

“Did you not tell Siobhan why I was being called here?” he finished.

Crasher looked sheepish.

“Well, no,” he admitted. “It slipped my mind.”

“I see,” said Iago acerbically. “That wouldn't be hard, would it? I mean, what with its incredibly small size and all.”

“Yeah,” agreed Crasher, apparently missing the insult. “A small point, easy to forget and all that.”

Iago squeezed his eyes shut.

“Give me strength,” he muttered, and slumped back against the wall.

“But don't worry!” Crasher went on, turning to Rennet (with some difficulty, as he was wedged pretty firmly into the corner). “Ashley will find the bomb. After all, he caught the Zodiac Killer, didn't he?”

Rennet frowned.

“But I thought that was never solved—”

“That,” said Ashley, pinching the bridge of his nose in despair, “was highly classified information, Wake. And it wasn't catching as such, it was more of a... a tense battle to the death between man and machine. Anyway,” he said, moving on swiftly, “you are correct, Siobhan, I am here to investigate the bombings. I suppose it's too much to ask that Crasher told you what I asked him to look into, is it?”

“Those three names? Ernest Sargasso, Anne Richards and Nestor Schultze?”

“Oh. He did.” Ashley nodded his thanks at Crasher; if there was any mockery in the gesture, it was so subtle that I missed it, and therefore so did he. “Excellent. Pearl, Iago, you weren't awake at the time, but when I said I would come to the station later, I told Wake to use the intervening hours to investigate those three people we found.”

“I thought we were going to do that?” I asked, though I was secretly quite relieved; I thought that divining the old man's life would probably have been a little too much for an amateur detective like me.

“The police can do it faster,” he replied. “They have more resources and more manpower; we would have lost a whole day in following up the leads, whereas I suspect that Siobhan might have results already.”

“We do,” she confirmed, spreading some documents over her desk. “We put everyone we could spare on it, and we've already got quite a bit of information. The biggest part is that they were all found early this morning tied up in the Jeffrey Lebowski—”

“Yes, we know that,” said Ashley impatiently. “That's where we found them; they were left there as a clue for us by Team Galactic.”

“Ah. OK, that's one mystery solved.” Rennet paused. “Could we go openly against Galactic, do you think? Mount a proper police inquiry and raid their premises?”

Ashley shook his head.

“You wouldn't come up with anything,” he replied. “There will be full deniability, I'm sure; if pressed, they'll throw all the blame on the grunts they have on the ground and say it was nothing to do with them – and I'm certain that they'll have ample evidence prepared to prove that that's true. No, if we want to catch the Galactics, we'll have to work beyond the law – which means I do it.”

“Right. Uh, the people. Well, the other thing about them is that they're all criminals.”

“I suspected something like that,” said Ashley. “Carry on.”

“Ernest Sargasso – the older man – he's a retired soldier. He served in the Sinnish contribution to the UN force in Korea during the war, and although it was never proved, it seems pretty likely that he committed a few war crimes – rapes, murders, that sort of thing. Once he got back he was pulled in for a series of petty thefts and vandalisms over the years – even one count of assault – but he was smart, and we never had anything to pin on him for certain. Then – well, do you remember the Branck case?”

We all did; it had been big news a couple of summers ago. A fifteen-year-old girl, Emilia Branck, had been murdered (and possibly raped, police had said) on a walking trip through the Celestic highlands, and her body hidden in a tall tree, where it remained unnoticed for months until one of the decaying wrists snapped and a hand fell onto a family picnic. The killer had never been found.

“He was the number one suspect when we started investigating that,” Rennet told us. “Everything pointed to him – but we just couldn't find any hard evidence, and we gave him up to investigate Chris Durrell. Though he didn't turn out to have done it, as you know.”

“Nice guy,” I commented. “Are they all like that?”

“No,” said Rennet. “Ann Richards is just an ordinary shoplifter. Not quite compulsive, but she's certainly at it a lot – thirteen convictions over the last five years. Mostly things from the World Bakery Store on Kammer Street – Linzertorte and stuff.”

“What's a Linzertorte?” asked Crasher.

“The Linzertorte, one of the oldest known recipes in Europe, if not the world, consists of a very short and crumbly pastry base topped with fruit preserves, most commonly redcurrant jam,” explained Ashley. “It is topped with a lattice of thin pastry strips and often eaten at—”

“It's like a big jam tart,” I told Crasher, seeing the look of confusion crystallising on his face.

“Ah,” he said. “OK. Go on.”

“That's about all we have on her as a criminal,” continued Rennet. “Richards doesn't seem to have much else against her; other than the shoplifting, she's an unremarkable citizen.”

“There's no such thing,” proclaimed Ashley. “What about Schultze?”

Rennet hesitated.

“I don't really know how to put this,” she admitted. “I've never come across anyone like him before.”

“Oh?” Ashley's eyes lit up. “Now, this sounds interesting. Do continue.”

“Frankly, he's insane,” said Rennet. “He thinks he's some sort of vampire or evil wizard or something – calls himself the Great Magyor. From what he's said and the journal he had on him, he's come to Pastoria to start building an army of the dead to destroy the living.”

“Fascinating. Have you tried contacting his parents?”

“We called his home address in Sunyshore, but there was no answer. Apparently he and his family are pretty reclusive – his parents more than him, since he's seen around Sunyshore a fair bit with some of the rougher Goths. He's been arrested a couple of times, too, for knife-fighting and drugs.”

Ashley nodded.

“You haven't let him go, have you?”

“No, we thought you might want to talk to him and we need to get him seen by a psychiatrist anyway, so he's still here,” said Rennet. “We had to let Sargasso and Richards go though, I'm afraid – we didn't have any grounds for holding them.”

“I know. Don't worry about it.”

Ashley fell silent and checked the time on his phone.

Did you want to speak to him?” asked Rennet.

“No, not right now,” said Ashley. “Thank you, Siobhan, you've been most informative. Keep looking into the lives of those three people – find out absolutely everything you can, no matter how irrelevant it may seem – and I'll be back later to hear it.”

He turned to me.

“Pearl, since you're liable to attempt to spy on me and otherwise be annoying if I don't invite you along, feel free to join me.”

With that, he opened the door, and probably would have walked out if I hadn't grabbed his arm and pulled him back.

“Wait! Ashley, where are you going?”

He sighed.

“I forget I hadn't told you,” he said. “Come on. We're going to the ice cream factory.”

---

Far to the north, further north even than Snowpoint, where the icebound forests give way to cliffs and the roaring ocean; where the skuas and the gannets shriek wild cries into the face of the wind and swoop screaming at the waves; where the occasional Sealeo hauls itself, worn out by the currents, to the stony scrap of beach at the base of the towering rockface – there, where there always seems to be a storm lashing at the deep in bleak, blind fury, and where authors get carried away on wild flights of Dickensian descriptive fantasy – there, a great ragged shape was silhouetted against the blank white sky, riding the blast like a spectral galleon at anchor.

Jupiter blinked.

“Is that what I think it is?”

“Yes,” confirmed Mars. “Yes, it is. Would you like to look through the binoculars?”

“Not really. It would be a bit disheartening.” He took them anyway, and peered out of the window of the jeep and across the empty space beyond the cliff. Yes, that was definitely what he thought it was, and it was definitely their target.

“What on earth is she doing, do you think?” he asked.

Mars shrugged.

“How am I supposed to know?” she replied. “She must do this often, or the boss wouldn't have told us to bring the Golbat.”

Jackson yawned in the back seat, and pressed one broad paw to the back of Mars' seat, an indication that he was now awake and desired food; she pushed it away, irritated.

“Not now. You eat too much as it is.”

Jackson's eyes flew open, and then immediately narrowed to thin slits. Eat too much? Him? That simply wasn't true. He wasn't fat at all. In fact, he was pretty damn svelte for a Purugly of his age...

He subsided into angry, rambling thoughts, and promptly forgot his hunger – which suited Mars fine.

“Anyway, I don't think we should fly out there and try and take her in the air,” she said. “It's too risky.”

“Agreed.” Jupiter looked out of the window again. “But when are we going to get a chance? We've been here for two hours now, and she hasn't stopped doing this. She must be frozen solid by now.”

“She'll come back to land sometime soon,” Mars said. “She can't stay out there all night, or she really will freeze solid. We'll get her, don't worry. We just have to wait.”

Just then, the shape bucked under the impact of a particularly strong gust of wind, then turned and soared away overhead, speeding south with an ancient, bone-chilling roar.

“Like that,” said Mars, and Jupiter gunned the engine. After several days of hunting and hours of waiting in freezing cold cars, it looked like the chase was finally on.

---

“OK, so are you going to explain this whole 'ice cream factory' thing to me or not?” I asked. “Because I don't see one around here, and I can't even begin to work out why we need to go to one.”

We were walking down a particularly Gothy-looking street, where the shops sold mainly black things with silver spikes on and silver things with black jewels on, and where virtually everyone in the crowd looked like they'd just come from the set of a Tim Burton film. This wasn't my world, and I felt ill at ease; from the looks I was getting, the people here didn't particularly appreciate being treated to a view of the latest in Sinnish fashion.

“We're making a stop to buy something on the way,” Ashley told me. “It's down here.”

“What are you buying? A goat's skull and some bat-shaped earrings?”

“Pearl, I can quite easily revert to treating you abysmally if you want me to.”

“OK, OK.” I sighed. “Why do you have to be so mysterious all the time?”

“He's an immortal shape-shifting detective,” pointed out Iago. “I think he probably has the right to be mysterious if he wants to.”

“Stay out of this,” I told him sharply. “You just make things worse.”

“Well, screw you too,” he said amiably, and startled whistling happily to himself.

“Come now,” said Ashley. “There's no need for such blatant hostilities. Let's keep our emotions under control, shall we?” I was about to deliver a cutting retort, but before I'd even got my mouth open he exclaimed, “Ah! We're here.”

I looked around, but saw no shops that looked like the sort that Ashley might ever consider entering.

“Are we?”

“Yes, we are,” he affirmed. “Give me your credit card, please.”

What?”

“Well, I have a limited allowance from the League and you have a considerably larger one from your father,” he explained with an air of infinite patience. “It makes sense for us to conserve my funds, doesn't it?”

“You mean I have to pay for everything? It makes sense for you, maybe.” I clamped my fingers down tightly on my bag. “You're not having it.”

Ashley smiled, turned and started to walk away.

“You probably ought to have done that a moment ago,” Iago told me.

“Done what?”

“Grabbed your bag.”

I looked down at it, but nothing seemed out of the ordinary; I looked up, and saw Ashley raise his hand to display one of my credit cards over his shoulder.

“What the—?” It took my mouth a minute to catch up with my brain, and then I cried: “Hey! Give that back!”

No sooner had the words left my mouth than he vanished into the crowd – and thanks to his long, dark coat, he blended in pretty well among the Goths. I searched fruitlessly for him for a moment, gave up and stamped my foot instead.

“Now that's what I call petulant,” observed Iago. “Foot-stamping and all. I suppose there's nothing like a spoilt rich girl for acting like a brat.”

“I'm perfectly justified in acting like this!” I cried. “He just stole my credit card!”

“He's borrowing it,” clarified the Kadabra. “I'm sure he'll give it back. And you know Ashley – he's got morals and all that, so he'll only take the money he needs from it. You won't get it back to find a hundred thousand dollars are missing or anything.”

“I'd better not,” I said darkly. “Look, that still doesn't excuse it—”

“See, if it was me,” Iago went on thoughtfully, completely ignoring me, “I'd steal everything that was on it and flee Sinnoh to pursue my lifelong dream.”

I waited, but it seemed that was all he was going to say.

“You're supposed to ask 'What's your lifelong dream, Iago?'” he said, slightly annoyed.

I sighed.

“What's your lifelong dream, Iago?”

“I'm going to retire to an island in the middle of the ocean,” he said. “Miles and miles away from any civilisation – a little craggy rock in the middle of nowhere. Then I'll build a big Gothic castle on the mountainous bit (there has to be a mountainous bit; it's important) and divert a river to run through it, travelling through a series of channels cut into the floor of the corridors. There'll be a grate at either end of the channels, so the barracuda don't swim out of the castle. Oh yeah – there are barracuda. That's what the channels are for. I'll put barracuda in them, and feed my political enemies to them. Of course, there's always the possibility that I won't have enough political enemies to keep my battery – that's the name for a group of barracuda – alive, so I'll have to set up a source of human flesh. I'll probably establish a little village in the forest on the island, and keep everyone inside trapped there by fear by having a genetically-engineered barracuda-bear patrol the woods. Actually, if that sort of technology is feasible by this point in time, I'll get a butler with a barracuda head. If it isn't, I'll make do with a regular butler and a trained Charizard. I'll also spy on the villagers, watch their culture and mythology evolve, and turn it into a hit soap opera.”

I stared at him.

“Jesus. You've really thought this through.”

“I know,” he replied, apparently without noticing my surprise. “Kadabra tend to do that, and I have quite a lot of time on my hands.”

“You also have a weird fascination with barracuda,” I pointed out.

“They're the most perfect fish in the ocean,” he replied. “I love them. They combine elegance and beauty with fearsome jaws, size and speed. What's not to like?”

“You are really weird.”

“Why is it that people always think I haven't noticed that?” He snorted. “Seriously, Pearl. Do you really think I could be a Kadabra who sounds like a Jamaican, used to be a world-class con artist and now lives under the protection of the Sinnish Pokémon League and not know that I'm weird?”

“OK, OK! There's no need to be so aggressive.”

“It's the best defence. Plus, I'm keeping you distracted and entertained while Ashley's away.”

“This is pretty far from entertaining—”

“Oh, no. Pearl's annoyed.” He clapped his hands to his cheeks and opened his mouth wide in mock horror. “Whatever will we do?”

I looked at him for a moment, considering whether punching a Kadabra would result in my arrest on combined charges of assault and assumed racial prejudice; eventually, I decided it would, but only if someone saw, and resolved to hit him the next time we were alone.

“I can't believe people as pointlessly nasty as you actually exist.”

Iago laughed, which produced a sound almost impossible to recognise as laughter and which caused passers-by to give us a wide berth.

“Stick around with Ashley and you will,” he said, with a sharp-toothed grin. “I guarantee it.” He looked up. “And speak of the devil, here he is now.”

I glanced down the street, but could see no one but the Goths; Ashley's hair was brown, which was fairly distinctive among all the black, but I couldn't find it anywhere.

“Where?” I asked. “I don't see him.”

“Right,” said a Goth, detaching himself from the crowd and coming to stand by us. “Here's your card back.”

I looked at him again, and froze, eyes wide in surprise.

Ashley?”

If I hadn't heard his voice, I probably never would have guessed it was him: in the few minutes he'd been gone, he had apparently dyed his hair, put on a hell of a lot of make-up, pierced his ears and completely changed his wardrobe for one with more of an emphasis on black, studs and skulls.

“You're a Goth,” I said, which was the first thing that came into my head and therefore sounded extremely stupid.

“Not really,” he replied. “It's a disguise.”

“You were fast,” commented Iago. “A new record, I think.”

I turned to him.

“He's done this before?”

“All the time,” said Ashley. “Cynthia likes it – and my continued liberty rests on keeping her happy. Haven't you noticed that she only wears black? She'd quite like to be a full-on Goth, I think, but it would be inappropriate for the Champion to be seen to be taking sides in the Goth/hipster war.”

“I wouldn't mind,” said Iago. “Let the Goths win, I say. They can't be as annoying as the hipsters. It's not humanly possible.”

Just in case this was some bizarre dream, I blinked hard – but when I opened my eyes, everything looked exactly the same as before. This was real all right; it just didn't seem to make any sense/

“OK,” I said slowly. “So you're disguised as a Goth. Am I allowed to ask why?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“Because of this visit to the ice cream factory,” answered Ashley. “I need to pretend to be The Great Magyor.”

“Who?”

“Nestor Schultze.”

“Who?”

“The mentally unstable Goth boy.”

“Oh, right. The psycho kid.”

“Yes, all right. The 'psycho kid'.” Ashley spread his arms. “What do you think? If you'd never seen his face, could you confuse us?”

“Definitely,” I replied, staring at him.

“You're sure? I modelled the style of Goth on what he was wearing when we saw him last night, but I couldn't get a Cradle of Filth T-shirt, so I was not certain I would pass—”

“Ashley? Seriously. You look fine. And by fine I think I mean scary.”

“Excellent. Here's your card back, and let's go.”

I replaced my credit card in my purse without even thinking about how much he might have spent, and trailed after him down the street, still vaguely shell-shocked.

“How did you have time to dye your hair black and pierce your ears?” I asked at length. “I can see how, if you knew exactly what you were getting, you could buy the stuff and change, but you didn't have time to do that much.”

“My hair colour is mutable,” Ashley replied in an offhand manner. “I would have thought our little adventure in the warehouse in Veilstone would have taught you that I have quite a sophisticated command of my body's shape and appearance, Pearl.”

“You can change it at will? Oh, God, I'm jealous.”

He smiled, amused – something that was made significantly creepier by the fact that his lips were now as black as Iago's heart.

“Yes, I thought you might say that. I imagine you change yours relatively often.”

I did, actually. Last month my hair had been green, which hadn't suited me as much but which had let me spy on someone from within a bush without being seen at one point with relative ease.

“As for my ears, every time I have them pierced they heal over within moments of having the needle withdrawn, so I just forced the spike of the earrings through the lobes,” he replied, in such a casual voice that you would never have known he was describing something unspeakably painful. “It aches a little, but it will stop once I take them out.”

I shook my head.

“Jesus. You're weird.”

“Actually, since you called me weird too, two out of three of us in this group are weird and therefore constitute the norm,” said Iago. “So you're weird, Pearl.”

“Shut up,” I replied.

“How eloquent,” he retorted snidely, but said no more; it seemed he'd vented his quota of spleen for today.

“Have we finished fighting?” asked Ashley. “Good. Taxi!”

---

In Hearthome, something was breaking the silence.

It roared around corners and thundered down streets, skidded across plazas and zoomed over zebra crossings, all with a heedless disregard for anything in its path; its tyres crunched on tarmac and squealed on concrete, and its passengers hung on for dear life.

Ellen was convalescing in a semi-solid pile on the back seat, and Pigzie Doodle was desperately trying to gather himself on the plate of his face; Bond, however, was sitting bolt upright, spectral knuckles white on the steering wheel, every ounce of his considerable stores of concentration bent upon one object: getting them and the car to the station intact.
For they did not drive alone that night. They had a pursuer, and she was possessed of the capability to hurl both beams of ice and ominous balls of shadow at them. And she was, Bond thought as he swerved around a statue, very unstinting with both.

He had been driving for fifteen minutes now, and he still hadn't found the station; the problem was, he had no idea where it was, and had just been heading in the same general direction that they had been travelling in before. Unfortunately for him, it seemed the Froslass knew the streets somewhat better than he did, and kept appearing unexpectedly at the side or in front of them, from which position she seemed to be a much better shot.

Another impact made the car rock on its wheels, and Bond raised an eyebrow a fraction of an inch.

“Dear me,” he murmured. “I fear this car will be quite unusable when we are done with it.”

You're telling me! cried Pigzie Doodle. For God's sake man, listen to me! Open up your – your inner ears or whatever and listen! Take a left here and then – no, I said a left – oh, sod it all, we're going to die.

Bond, wholly oblivious to the Duskull's pessimistic ramblings, turned left and came face to face with a sign proclaiming that Sinnish General Gas was examining a mains pipe up ahead, and would he please use another route—

Bond, unwavering, drove straight through the sign.

Uh, you do know what that sign meant, right? asked Pigzie Doodle nervously. There's going to be a big hole in the road. A really big hole, if it's a mains pipe. Jeeves, please tell me you're not driving into a big hole in the road—

Bond noticed a big hole in the road.

“Ah,” said he, noticing also that the speedometer told him they were travelling towards the big hole at seventy miles an hour. And “Ah,” said he again, noticing also that their Ghostly pursuer was gaining on them from behind. And “Ah,” said he a final time, noticing, as they drew near, the extreme depth of the hole.

There was no hesitation in Bond's eyes as he pressed his foot down still harder on the accelerator.

Oh no, breathed Pigzie Doodle. Oh no. Nonononono. Don't you even think about it—

Bond went one better than thinking about it: he did it. One of the car's front wheels passed over a sign resting at an angle, and the right half of the chassis followed it up and off the ground; at terrifying, giddying speed, the sinister black car flipped over sideways, flying through the air and descending, now upside-down, now sideways, towards the road on the other side—

—only to finish turning and land, with a spectacular impact that flung even Bond a little way from his seat, on all four wheels once again, having turned a full three hundred and sixty degrees in midair.

“I see,” said Bond thoughtfully, not allowing the car to slow even for a moment. “This motor-car must be designed for use in stunts.”

Holy cal!
screamed Pigzie Doodle, hysterical now. Are you serious? Are you actually sodding serious? Cars can't do that in real life! And then, his hysteria suddenly evaporating: But I suppose we're avoiding the Froslass now, which is... um, which is great. Uh, keep it up, Jeeves. Bond. Whatever your name really is. A thin tendril of darkness rose timidly up from the puddle of his body, bearing his eye on top. I... hey! We're really close to the station! Right here! Turn RIGHT!

By a happy coincidence, Bond did indeed turn right, just as twin Ice Beams shot through where its rear window had been a second before, and a moment later he brought the motor-car to an elegant, skidding halt next to the ticket office.

The man inside stared out at an apparently empty, completely ruined car, and said timidly:

“Hello?”

A moment later, the doors of the car sprung open, and something white swooped out of the sky with a fearsome screech; at this, the ticket man decided it would be best to close the booth, and lowered the steel shutters over the window, closing out whatever insanity lurked outside. He must, he thought, sitting trembling behind the counter, have been mad to have taken the night shift here. He'd heard the stories, just like everyone else – of Ghosts that came in the night, eager to drain the minds and souls of any human they met – but he'd thought they always happened to someone else, and now they were here, real and bursting into his life with screams and wrecked cars...

Leaving the ticket man to his private misery, Bond sprinted for the platform, Ellen over his shoulder and Pigzie Doodle cradled in the crook of one arm. It wasn't as elegant as he would have liked, but when one was running for the life of one's employer, he supposed that no half-decent butler could do anything else.

His eyes shot up towards the electronic display hanging from the roof, and the quick mind behind them instantly divined its purpose.

“There's a train leaving in one minute from Platform Two,” Bond read to himself. “How fortuitous.”

A shriek reminded him of their pursuer, and he jumped off the edge of the platform down onto the tracks, throwing Ellen and Pigzie Doodle up to the other side and climbing up himself. Millimetres from his coat-tails, a Shadow Ball exploded as it hit the rails; shards of wood and iron sprayed high into the air, but Bond ignored them and snatched up his burdens once again.

“This is Platform Two, is it?” he muttered, looking around in distaste. “Hm. I'm not entirely sure I approve.”

This was said in regard to the fact that Platform Two, like the rest of Hearthome's main railway station, was made mostly out of concrete – but there was no time for aesthetic critiques now, Bond knew, and he ran for the train—

—only for it to start moving, just as he came close enough to press the button for the doors.

Sprinting alongside the train faster than he had ever been able to in life, Bond threw first Ellen, then Pigzie Doodle aboard; he was about to leap for the door himself, but the edge of an Ice Beam clipped his left heel and he stumbled, almost falling. In that one moment, the train began to accelerate, and the door vanished into the night with alarming speed.

Bond raised both eyebrows. It was an extreme reaction, but the situation called for it.

Recovering his balance, he ran along the platform as if the hounds of hell were after him – and indeed, something almost as horrific was. Cheered by the sight of her prey flagging, the Froslass redoubled her efforts, and now Bond's view of the train was obscured by dark flashes and shining crystals. He had been about to leap, but could no longer see where he was jumping; wary of falling and forever losing the train, he pulled back at the last moment.

A quick glance ahead confirmed a suspicion of his. He was running out of platform. Bond switched his gaze back to the train, and it became apparent that things were even worse than that: the train was pulling away from him, and now he was level with only the last carriage.

Three yards to the end of the platform, and a Shadow Ball hit the carriage, making it rock on its tracks. Bond sped up still further, pushing his ectoplasm to the limit.

Two yards, and he was level with the lights on the back of the train. The Froslass crowed in triumph; she knew that now there was no way her prey was escaping her.

One yard, and the train was ahead of Bond now, further than his arms could reach.

The end of the platform—

—and Bond leaped out from the edge, grabbing wildly for something, anything at all to arrest his fall—

—and his left hand closed around some sort of pole, some metallic protuberance on the train's back, and he hauled himself clear of the tracks, up the side and onto the roof.

Bond turned, straightened his tie and watched the Froslass shrinking into the night, her screams of fury fading with the increasing distance. He bowed as best as he could while clinging to a roof (after all, that was merely common courtesy) and then inched his way along the train, pressed flat to the steel to shield himself from the wind, until he reached the open door, where he slid down and into the carriage.

He sighed with satisfaction, shut the door and carried Ellen and Pigzie Doodle to the nearest empty seats – which were very near indeed, as the carriage was wholly unoccupied. A moment later, Ellen, who was looking more solid and human-shaped, blinked uncertainly and sat up.

“What happened?” she asked, looking around. “Oh! We got to the station. Did – how did we escape?”

Bond's shoulders moved in an almost imperceptible shrug.

“I simply drove us here, madam. Nothing out of the ordinary.”

“Oh. Good.”

And the train rattled on into the night, bearing its passengers westwards – and out of Hearthome.
__________________

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