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Old November 26th, 2012, 11:21 AM
Cutlerine
Gone. May or may not return.
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
Age: 20
Gender:
Nature: Impish
Chapter Six: If You Go Down to the Woods Today

Nacrene was most famous for its artistic quarter, on the east side – for the studios, the cheap bars and the alternative music that seemed to pervade the entire district like a dense fog – but that wasn't the whole story; Cantonbury, the northernmost borough, was as much a haven for the sciences as Dotten was for the arts. Here, one could wander through the rambling halls of the Museum of Unovan Antiquity; peruse a book in the Travison Memorial Library, the largest of its kind in Europe; or, if one had the appropriate security clearance, could walk into International Genetics' research and development facility, and observe the fleshy and repellent Dr. Herman Spitelle approaching Dr. Gregory Black.

Dr. Spitelle, it will be noted, had the charm and verve of the average horned lizard – that curious creature that sprays blood from its eyes to deter predators – and the fat content of the average manatee; like the beasts he created, he was best described by the various animals that had lent him each facet of his appearance.

From this description, it may also be deduced that Dr. Spitelle was neither a popular man nor an ethical scientist.

“Gregory!” he said, and at the sound of his stentorian voice Gregory Black visibly shuddered.

“What is it?” he asked, busying himself with some papers on his desk and trying to look as if he hadn't the time to talk to him.

“An unexpected signal has appeared on our radar,” Spitelle said, which Black thought was somewhat cryptic.

“What?”

“Did you watch Harmonia's speech earlier?”

Black gave him the most severe look he was capable of, which, given that he was a man of forty-three who still harboured a secret love of soft toys, was not all that effective.

“I,” he said coldly, “was working.”

“I was on my break,” continued Spitelle without listening, “and, following the election as I am, I naturally was watching. Harmonia made a great many interesting points, but it was not the speech that held my attention.”

“Will you get to the point, Herman?” snapped Black.

“It was rather the brightly-coloured – and somewhat toothy – bird I perceived clinging to the shoulder of a young woman in the crowd.”

Black froze.

“Of course, this intrigued me,” Spitelle went on mildly, a cruel grin spreading across the broad flabby slab of his face. “I paused – the Internet, Gregory, is a marvellous thing – and had a closer look. And it seemed to me that this brightly-coloured, somewhat toothy bird was beginning to look a little familiar.”

Black's eyes flicked left and right, searching for some heavy object with which he might bludgeon Spitelle into bloody unconsciousness before making good his escape, but none came to hand.

“Out of curiosity, I looked at the GPS tracker,” said Spitelle. “And lo and behold” (Black loathed people who used the phrase 'lo and behold' without irony) “I saw a little blip in Nacrene City that I hadn't seen for two years. A blip that should have stopped when a certain dangerous re-engineered bird was destroyed two years ago. By you.”

“Miraculous,” said Black, wholly unconvincingly. “Evidently Archen have an unparalleled resistance to lethal injection—”

“Or perhaps the Archen was never given the lethal injection,” suggested Spitelle. “Perhaps someone, rather than killing it, released it into the wild.”

It wasn't quite the truth, but it was near enough to drain the remaining colour from Black's face.

“Perhaps,” he said hesitantly. “Perhaps... not.”

Spitelle raised one pudgy eyebrow. Black had never figured out how one ate enough fat to bulk up one's brow of all places, but he refused to let this question distract him at this time.

“Is that the best you can come up with?” he asked.

Black considered.

“Yes,” he admitted.

“I think that, given the circumstances, someone ought to contact Harper,” said Spitelle thoughtfully. “Unless, of course, someone else could provide that someone with a certain something...?”

Black stared at him, trepidation overridden by puzzlement.

“What?”

“I'm blackmailing you,” said Spitelle, dropping all pretence. “I would like five hundred pounds by the end of the week or I let everyone know that you released AR-0834 into the wild.”

“Five hundred pounds?” cried Black. “That's – that's – I won't pay it!”

“Very well, then,” replied Spitelle, with a faint sigh of disappointment. “Enjoy the inquiry.”

With that, he turned on his heel and rolled out of the office like a solid boulder of flesh, leaving Black to think sadly to himself that he might have just reacted a mite too fast back then.

---

The young man looked at me, completely unsurprised.

“Yes, that's right,” he said. “And you're... Jared, is it?”

I nodded. I didn't need to ask how he knew.

“So do you two know each other, or...?”

Trust Bianca to break the spell. I wasn't angry, though. I didn't know what had just happened, and I wasn't sure I wanted to: it was something strange and frightening, and not an experience I particularly wanted to repeat.

“No,” replied N. “At least, I don't think so. We've never met, anyway.”

His eyes darted to mine, looking for help explaining it; I shook my head.

“I have no idea,” I told him.

“I see,” he replied. “All right.”

By now, it was becoming very obvious to the others that something had passed between us that they didn't know about, and the situation was beginning to be uncomfortable; as if to break it up, and return to normal, N looked pointedly away from me and towards Cheren.

“Where was I?” he said. “Ah yes. Pokémon liberation. There's an example right here of interference causing suffering, for instance.”

I sighed with relief. It was over – whatever strange friction had occurred when our minds met, it was over, and we could move on.

“Is there now?” asked Cheren, unconvinced. “Go on, then.”

“Your Archen,” said N, turning to Bianca. “I'm sorry, I don't know your name...?”

“Bianca,” she replied. “But it's not my Archen, it's Jared's, and—”

“Jared. Of course.” He glanced at me with some unease. “Well... listen to her. Her species comes from a time when there was around 130% more oxygen in the air than today, and when the global temperature was three degrees higher. Here, in cold Unova, she's freezing – and wheezing terribly. Her body can't cope.”

I stared at him.

“How on earth do you—?”

N said something too fast and too quietly for me to hear, and Candy hopped from Bianca's shoulder to his hand; he held her close to his ear, and listened.

“As I suspected,” he said. “Her diet is no good for her, either. She has an abnormally high heart rate, even for a bird. Thanks to the changing atmosphere, she's also asthmatic – verging on bronchitic, in fact. I would keep her out of cities if I were you.”

“Candy, come here. Now.”

I held out my arm, and Candy looked up at N.

“Go on,” he said. “Go back to him.”

She refused to move, and N repeated what he'd said earlier – or something similar to it – and finally, with great reluctance, she climbed up my arm to my shoulder.

“OK, apart from the fact that everyone knows that she's an Archen,” I said with annoyance, “what the hell is going on here? Who are you? How did you... control her like that?”

N raised his eyebrows.

“Control? No. Never.” He sounded hurt – physically, as if I'd punched him. “I don't control anything, especially not Pokémon. I'm not a Trainer.” He pronounced the word with unusual venom; I was beginning to get the idea that he was probably a pretty damn fervent supporter of Harmonia for Prime Minister. “Excuse me,” he said politely, recovering himself. “I... suppose I'm a friend to Pokémon, rather than a master. We have a mutual understanding.”

He coughed, suddenly uncomfortable.

“Ah, anyway, I'd better go. It was... enlightening... to talk to you.”

Abruptly, he turned and began to walk away, without even waiting for anyone else to say goodbye.

“Can you talk to them?” asked Bianca suddenly, and N stopped.

“And what if I can?” he asked, without turning around.

“Um... nothing, I guess,” she replied, looking helplessly at Cheren and I for direction. “I, um – I was just wondering, since you looked like you were talking to Candy...”

N looked back at us.

“I think we'll meet again,” he said, eyes on me. “Things may have become clearer then... at the moment, I have a few concerns that I need to work through.”

He was talking about me – I just knew it.

“Yeah, me too,” I replied. “I'll see you sometime... N.”

“Jared.”

We maintained eye contact for longer than could reasonably be considered normal, each searching the other for something – anything – that might explain this; then, as if by mutual agreement, we broke our stares at the same moment, and N walked briskly away across the plaza and down the street.

Cheren, Bianca and Halley stared at me.

“It always seems to fall to me to be the one to say this,” said Halley, “but what the f*ck was all that about, man?”

---

Twenty minutes and one hopelessly inadequate explanation later, we were walking through the maze of tiny lanes that formed Accumula's outskirts, following the signs for the Trainer Trail north towards Striaton. I'd tried my best to articulate the strange connection between N and me – but given that I didn't understand it myself, there wasn't much I could do to explain it, and what I'd come up with hadn't even been clear enough to satisfy me, let alone any of the others.

We were about ten minutes into a bewildered silence when my phone rang again. It seemed I was popular this morning.
“Hello?”

“Jared, status report,” said the voice at the other end without preamble. “I've managed to stop Mum and Dad from calling you so far, but I'm not sure how much longer I can hold them off. I'm finding it difficult to tell whether they're angry or worried at the moment; either way, you can expect to have to explain yourself to them sometime soon.”

“Uh... OK,” I said, slightly taken aback, as people so often are, by Cordelia's manner. “What – what exactly am I meant to say to them?”

“That's kind of your problem, not mine,” she said. “I'm doing all I can to keep things going here. Where are you, by the way?”
“Accumula, but—”

“Accumula? What on earth for? Actually, never mind. Have you found out any more about why these people are after you and who they are?”

“No, not really, but I did—”

“Good thing I have, then. From his I.D. card, the man who came to question us earlier today belonged to the Green Party, which means that for whatever reason, they're the ones who want Halley.”

“The Green Party? With... with Harmonia?”

“There isn't any other Green Party,” Cordelia said patiently. “I also went through his briefcase when he wasn't looking—”

“You what?”

“It's called being proactive, Jared. So, I went through his briefcase and found out that apparently they want you because you're connected to Halley and they want Halley because she's connected to someone who stole something from them.”

“A thief... sounds like the sort of friend Halley would have,” I murmured. “OK, Cords, thanks for that. I'll look into it.”

“All right. I haven't uncovered anything else, and I'm not sure I'm going to. I don't think the people are coming back here again.” Cordelia paused. “Stay safe,” she said at length, and hung up.

I stared at the phone for a moment.

“You are the weirdest kid on the planet,” I muttered, putting it back in my pocket. “OK, Halley? Do you know any thieves?”

“Probably,” she replied cheerfully. “Don't remember them, though.”

“OK. Well, Cordelia's found out that it's the Green Party that are after you, and they're doing it because you've got some kind of connection to someone who stole something important from them.”

Cheren raised an eyebrow.

“Why am I not surprised?” he murmured, to no one in particular.

“The Green Party? Oh, I bet it's Harmonia,” said Bianca, frowning deeply. “He seemed like a bad guy.”

“He seemed very reasonable, if misguided,” corrected Cheren.

“He said humans and Pokémon needed to be separated—!”

“He made valid points,” interrupted Halley. “Aw, man! I hope it isn't him after me... If I were Unovan, he'd have my vote. There are only, like, five people in the whole world I agree with; I don't want to end up mortal enemies with one of them.”

“I don't know. It might not go all the way up to Harmonia, I guess... but we can't be certain. Turn right here,” he added, stepping off the pavement and onto a footpath without hesitation.

I blinked, startled by the abrupt change in direction, and followed. The path disappeared between two little cottages, and within a few metres seemed to end up a million miles away from civilisation; trees rose either side of the trail and bent over them in a kind of leafy arch, and the distant sound of traffic faded seamlessly into the twitter of birdsong.

Halley and I shivered, and exchanged a look.

“You too?” she asked.

“Yeah,” I replied, knowing exactly what she meant. “Me too.”

Bianca looked at us quizzically.

“What?”

“We're city kids,” I explained. “This... is kind of unsettling.”

“Aren't there Liepard in these woods?” asked Halley, keeping close to my legs.

“I believe so,” answered Cheren without concern. “I hope we meet some – they'll be good training, and I think I might like to catch one.”

“Jesus. You Trainers are f*cking crazy,” muttered Halley, and for once I had to agree with her. The only Liepard I'd ever seen was a corpse possessed by some kind of fear-oozing demon; I couldn't for the life of me understand the mindset that would make anyone want to go out and find any more of them.

“I don't like Liepard,” said Bianca. “Or Purrloin. They're vicious. My cousin had a Purrloin that killed rats and hung the bodies on the rose bushes in the garden. It looked like it was snowing corpses.” She shivered.

“Oh, Christ. I disgust myself, but that sounds delicious,” muttered Halley. “This cat body is getting in my head.”

“I really didn't need to know that,” I told her.

“Yes, I think we can all agree on that,” said Cheren with such an air of finality that the conversation withered and died upon the spot, and we walked on in silence, the only noise the occasional squawk from Candy.

Half an hour later, Halley spoke again – and predictably enough, it was in a whine.

“I don't like this,” she complained. “My legs are shorter than yours and I'm tired. Carry me.”

“Not if you ask like that,” I told her.

“I don't want you to carry me, anyway,” she replied. “You've got that psycho dinosaur hawk on your shoulder. But...” A sly grin spread across her face, and she wound herself between Bianca's legs, mewing piteously. Naturally, she reacted by burbling something about cuteness and snatching Halley from the ground to hug to her chest.

“Mission accomplished,” purred Halley quietly, her self-satisfied grin visible over Bianca's shoulder. I ignored her, despite wishing that there was some way someone could carry me, and followed Cheren on down the trail.

---

In the dark, somewhere near the crossroads of then and now, Teiresias dragged its body through the void. The battles aboard the train and in the street had not been kind to it; the bird and the wildcat had between them damaged it to the point where Teiresias was considering abandoning it for another. It was, after all, mere ballast, there only to keep it anchored to the mortal realm – and it was difficult to drag it through the dark paths, where spirit flowed freely and flesh dragged like stone.

The journey was easier than it had been earlier, though; when Teiresias had taken the dark path from White Forest to Nacrene, it had had to take Smythe with it, and hauling that quantity of physical matter through the spirit realms was no mean feat. Now, with just a light, half-destroyed Liepard corpse weighing it down, Teiresias almost flew down the path, its lifeless paws barely touching what passed for the ground.

“She will be hiding now,” it mused, voice almost as dead as the air in which it hung. “They are making allies... I must not let that Munna interfere again.”

Ahead of it, a flickering white presence appeared, and Teiresias slowed for a moment, wary – but it moved away again and vanished into the distance in a few seconds, leaving Teiresias alone once more.

“Few of us are abroad today,” it observed, casting its psychic eye about the area and detecting no other travellers. “I wonder... I suspect most of us are with Plasma now.”

Those of Teiresias' kind in Unova that had not sided with Plasma were either weakling irrelevancies, or crazed creatures with whom there was no reasoning; neither warranted investigation. The weak ones were prey for the desperate, and the crazed ones... Well. No one crossed their paths if they could avoid it. They were dangerous, even to those of Teiresias' rank – and that was saying something. Teiresias had been in existence (it did not call it life) for eleven thousand years, and though it was no longer the shadowy god that had ravaged Jericho and scourged Uruk, it was still a force to be reckoned with. But those mad beings that wandered the dark paths, flitting over the surface of the earth with only hunger and pain on their minds... They were something else altogether.

Teiresias pulled its thoughts back to the task at hand, aware that to let one's mind wander in this place was to run the risk of drifting permanently into limbo, and ran on down the path, searching for the crack in reality that would show it the way back into reality. The tail fell off its body, and with a twitch of annoyance it shed the entire corpse, letting it stream away behind it in a long line of dust and fur; now free to expand to full size, Teiresias flexed its vast body and sprung forward with renewed vigour, racing on towards the crack – and towards its prey, skulking in the forested trails around Route 2.

---

“So let me get this straight,” said Harmonia, frowning lopsidedly. “You captured them both, got them secured – and they both escaped?”

“In my defence, that boy is a lot younger and stronger than I am,” replied Smythe faintly desperately.

They were sitting in the parlour of the Bertram Hotel, before a lively fire that effectively banished the spring chill from the room; Harmonia had ordered a half-hour break in the barrage of journalists who had come to ask him about his new Liberation policy in order to make time for Smythe's appointment, and now the two of them were alone together. This, quite frankly, terrified Smythe, partly because Harmonia was his boss and partly because he was drumming his fingers on a large book on ancient torture techniques of the Fertile Crescent.

“Now, Smythe,” said Harmonia, removing his hand from the book and leaning forwards, “I understand that this isn't your usual work. But I don't for a moment believe that he could have overpowered you while handcuffed if you didn't want him to. Don't you remember why I picked you for this?”

Smythe did. He might be a minor civil servant at the moment, but that was only the latest chapter in what had been something of a chequered past. It wasn't something he liked to advertise, but for various reasons – mostly bad luck and paranormal mishap – he was persona non grata in thirteen countries, despite his best efforts to convince authorities that 'this isn't what it looks like'. Smythe understood better than most the bitter truth of the aphorism that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

He had thought that, with his quiet government job in Unova, things might have settled down; unfortunately for him, Harmonia had somehow learned of his past activities, with the result that he of all people was deemed most suitable for this illegal hunt for Halley and Black.

“Well, yes,” Smythe replied. “But sir... I don't really think this is something I'm particularly good at.”

Harmonia raised his one remaining eyebrow.

“You'll excuse me if I don't believe that, given your past exploits.” He sighed. “No, Smythe, this won't do. You'll have to try harder – more so now that they have people helping them. You said they were Trainers?” Smythe nodded. “Trainers have an irritating habit of visiting Gyms,” Harmonia went on. “Gyms contain Gym Leaders, and Gym Leaders are part of the Pokémon League. Do you see where I'm going with this?”

Smythe nodded. The League had today become the Party's greatest opponent, with the revelation of the Liberation policy. It was the oldest part of the government that still had power, and its age leant it authority; if its members got wind of any of the Party's more questionable activities, they would gleefully take the chance to cripple Harmonia's election chances.

“Of course, if we can recover the artefact, we can overcome any opposition,” Harmonia continued, “but as we haven't yet done so, I think we need to be cautious. Find them, Smythe. They're becoming a larger and larger problem with every hour they remain out of our control.” His HawkEye narrowed to a threatening red pinprick, a steel iris closing down on the lens. “I don't think I need to remind you what happens to those who fail the Party. You've faced that penalty many times before, but this time you won't be wriggling free. You can trust me on that.”

Smythe believed him. He'd received more than his fair share of death threats in his time – so many that he was a little blasé about them – but they packed a serious punch when they came from Harmonia. Anyone who allied themselves so readily with such horrific forces was definitely someone to fear.

“I'll – I'll get right on it, sir,” he said, getting to his feet too quickly and accidentally kicking over a footstool. “Oh! Uh, sorry, sir—”
“If you need backup, take one of our noble friends along with you,” Harmonia added, ignoring him. “Perhaps that charming Teiresias fellow. It seemed interested in Halley at the meeting.”

“All – all right, sir,” stuttered Smythe, wondering distantly what sort of man could call Teiresias charming. “I'll – I'll be on my way, then – you probably have things to do—”

“Just get on with it,” said Harmonia, evidently amused by his discomfort. “Go on. And tell Rood to let the reporters back in on your way out.”

Smythe left without another word. Once again, life had left him up the creek without a paddle – and this time, the water seemed too rough for him to swim for it.

---

I'll freely admit that I'm not used to extended periods of walking, or indeed any physical activity; shopping has made me pretty useful in a fistfight, but that's about the extent of my ability. I'll also admit that I'm not used to staying out in the cold all day; if it isn't a nice day and I don't have to leave the house, then I won't.

But I challenge any reasonable person to walk all day like I did then and not feel pretty miserable by the end of it. At around four o'clock, Cheren decided (apparently he was in charge; it wasn't an official appointment, but he seemed the appropriate person to ask for guidance) we would stop for a short rest, and by then I was seriously envious of Halley, who was not only still being carried by Bianca but had fluffed out her fur and looked suspiciously warm.

“This forest life isn't so bad,” she said, jumping from Bianca's arms to land among the leaves. “Maybe I could get used to this.”

I shot her a dirty look, and she responded with the most evil grin ever to grace a feline snout; defeated, I shook my head and sat down with the others on a log bench placed thoughtfully at the roadside by the Trail's constructors.

“Is this what it's like being a Trainer?” I asked. “Endless walking and nothing to do?”

“Only when you're near towns,” replied Cheren. “That's why we're resting now. We're about far enough from Accumula that we'll probably start to see the occasional wild Pokémon; I've selected the road less travelled, as it were, in order to maximise our chances of finding something.”

“Ooh! Maybe I can find a friend for Munny and Smokey!” cried Bianca excitedly. “Like, a cute little—”

“I think two Pokémon is probably enough for you to train right now,” Cheren informed her. “I have enough to handle with just Lelouch, although I'm tempted by a Purrloin... We'll see. I don't really want to catch anything unless it's a new species. If we find one of them, I'll catch it for the Pokémon Index Project.”

“The what?” I asked.

“The Pokémon Index Project,” repeated Cheren. “Or Pokédex, for short. It's a global database of Pokémon information, started by Professor Oak in Kanto in 1992 and adopted by almost every developed nation since. Formerly, there was only access to it in Pokémon Centres and suchlike – but last year, Lanette Burstein released a smartphone app that lets you take a photograph of a Pokémon with your phone and automatically find its Pokédex entry.”

“OK, I didn't really need that much detail, but thanks anyway.”

Cheren blinked.

“It always pays to learn your subjects to a certain degree of depth,” he said with dignity, and fell silent.

“I'm going to let out Smoky,” Bianca informed us, totally oblivious to the tension, and released her Tepig in a burst of red light; he looked around at the forest, caught sight of his own tail, stared at it as if it had suddenly turned into the Mona Lisa and promptly fell asleep.

“Uh... I don't think he wants to come out,” I said.

Oh,” sighed Bianca crossly. “He always does that.”

“He didn't last night.”

“Well, not always. But, like, most of the time.” She stared at the sleeping pig and stuck out her lower lip like a petulant child. “I think he's just lazy.”

Candy crept down my arm, eyes fixed on Smoky and saliva dripping from her beak; I sighed, pinched her jaws together and turned her head to look at me.

“No,” I said firmly. “I get the feeling that at some point soon you're going to get a chance to attack stuff, but these Pokémon are out of bounds, OK?”

She looked at me innocently, but I wasn't fooled.

“Don't give me that,” I warned her. “No biting. Got it?”

Reluctantly, she climbed back up to my shoulder, and I knew I'd got through to her at last.

“Right,” said Bianca. “Smoky! Up!”

The Tepig opened one eye, regarded her with porcine placidity for a moment, and went back to sleep. Pouting, Bianca recalled him and sent out the floating pink thing that had attacked Teiresias last night instead.

“Munny will follow us, won't you?” she asked it; in response, it drifted over to her head and nuzzled her cheek.

“Are its eyes painted on?” I asked with a kind of horrified fascination.

“No, Munna are just strange,” Cheren informed me. “Bianca's is no exception.”

“Oh, of course. I should've guessed.” I shook my head. “This is all normal for you two, isn't it?”

“Yes, it is,” admitted Cheren. “This situation is very much the norm for me. Well, except for the talking cat.”

“People keep calling me 'the talking cat',” complained Halley. “Can't you call me 'the girl who turned into a cat' or something? I feel so dehumanised.”

“You have been dehumanised. Literally.”

“Shut up, pedant.”

“Are we going now?” asked Bianca, bouncing to her feet. “Come on! Munny and I are ready!”

Munny rotated slowly in midair, blinking and gaping, and I had to wonder how she knew it was ever ready for anything.

“All right, all right,” replied Cheren, getting to his feet. “I suppose I'll let out Lelouch, too.”

His Snivy appeared before him, swiftly checked the area for hostiles, decided we were safe and settled into a watchful, faintly supercilious position at his heels. The difference between him and Smoky couldn't have been more marked.

I sighed, and gingerly lowered myself back onto my aching feet, hoping that we wouldn't be walking much longer today. Unfortunately for me and my blistered right heel, that hope was horribly misguided, and I was to end up suffering for quite a few hours more. It wasn't until eight that we finally stopped for the night, and so exhausted was I by this time that I barely registered we weren't moving before I was asleep.

---

Halley sat by the fire – the only useful thing Smoky had done for them since breaking Jared's cuffs – and waited. The others were asleep, the boys in Cheren's tent and Bianca in hers; the little campsite was Halley's alone. So deep in the forest were they that the trail was almost nonexistent, and sitting upright in her fluffed fur, forepaws lined up neatly against her belly, she felt like she was the only person in the world.

Time passed. The fire burned lower; Halley added what wood she could manage to it and poked it with a stick, bringing it back to the blazing prime of its life. Idly, she wondered if perhaps there was a way for her to do that, to cancel out her age when it got too high and set it back to some more pleasing number – and then she realised that she had no idea how old she was, and decided she must be pretty young anyway.

All at once, the breeze stopped dead. The trees around them froze, branches caught mid-wave by sudden paralysis; before Halley's eyes, each individual flame of the fire stood still, locked into a single moment.

Tick.

Then, within a second, everything started again. Halley pressed one paw against Jared's iPhone (carefully purloined from his pocket earlier), and saw that its clock read 00:00.

“I thought so,” she murmured. “Midnight, huh?”

“What are you doing?”

Halley started, and turned to see Cheren sitting behind her. He didn't look like he'd just woken up, either; he had been waiting for this, she could tell.

“Conducting an experiment,” she replied. “About this Dream World thing.”

Cheren's expression didn't change.

“You don't fool me,” he said, and Halley knew he wasn't talking about the experiment.

“I'm impressed,” she replied, stretching lazily and curling up. “Then again, I guess not much gets past you.”

“It pays to watch people.” Cheren's finger played over the button of Lelouch's Poké Ball. “And I don't like what I see.”

“And what is it exactly that you see?”

Cheren paused.

“I don't know,” he answered at length. “But I don't trust you.”

“Good,” said Halley, with sudden force. “I'm not trustworthy. Never have been, never will be.”

“What do you want?”

“What do you think? Protection, f*ckwit.” Halley snorted. “I'm hiding from the Green Party or whoever else it is that's after me.”

Cheren's gaze didn't waver; Halley had to wonder whether he even needed to blink.

“Who are you, really?”

“Yeah, ask the amnesiac who she is.” Halley laughed. “I don't know, Cheren. The only thing I'm sure of is that I'm not a very nice person.”

“You didn't need to tell me that.”

“I'm sure I didn't.” Halley yawned, and the firelight danced on her pale fangs. “Go to sleep, Cheren. I expect tomorrow's going to be a long day.”

“This conversation isn't over,” Cheren warned her, and retreated to his tent. Halley watched him for a minute – watched the tent flap fall shut and the zip fasten; watched until there were no more sounds but the breathing of the teenagers and the crackle of the flames – and turned back to the fire.

“It isn't over, is it?” she muttered, hunching into a tight ball and tasting thunderstorms on her tongue. “We'll see, Cheren. We'll see.”
__________________

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