Cracked, or How the Love of Seafood Saved Unova
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February 13th, 2013 (10:07 AM).
Gone. May or may not return.
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
Chapter Eleven: Warp and Weft
Teiresias' voice broke the silence like sand pouring into forgotten tombs, and Smythe shivered. Did it really have to do that every single time it spoke?
“What – they're going?”
Teiresias flowed down from the table to the floor as if its essence wasn't entombed in flesh; since the damage its physical form had sustained in the forest, it moved less like a living Purrloin and more like the fluid spirit that composed its true shape. It was not a change Smythe welcomed. In fact, he
it; it was creepy and wrong and altogether disturbing.
Shortly after parting ways with Niamh in Accumula – a goodbye that neither had wanted to say, but which was unavoidable for as long as Teiresias lingered with him – Smythe had made his way north to Accumula by taxi, incurring considerable expense but ensuring he stood zero chance of meeting Niamh again on a train or in the vicinity of any train stations. He had set up camp in a hotel here, and had hardly dared leave for fear of running into Niamh and having to explain why he was here; for its part, Teiresias had only returned early this morning, when he'd awoken to the unsettling sight of it sitting on the table in a purple-black haze of smoke. He hadn't quite had the courage to ask what it was doing, and in fact it had said nothing at all until that moment.
“Last night they divided,” Teiresias went on. “White and Halley went somewhere I could not see, but they have returned. Today, they will divide again.”
Smythe didn't question how it knew this. He just nodded.
“White and Halley will be alone,” it said. “However...” It bared its teeth, a curiously feline action, and Smythe wondered if perhaps its last few bodies had left more of an impression on it than he had thought. “They will be somewhere I cannot follow,” it said at last. “Somewhere I cannot even go near for fear of detection.”
What the hell was this? Smythe stared. How could there be anything in the world that Teiresias
And, if there
such a thing, what manner of terrifying entity could it be?
“You will have to catch them yourself,” Teiresias told him. “For my part, I shall snare one of the two Trainers. If White proves... recalcitrant, a hostage may persuade her to acquiesce.”
Smythe swallowed. All right, so this mission hadn't really been that legal to start with, but now... Christ. This was getting messier and messier by the moment.
“Right,” he said carefully. “Where do you want me to go?”
Cheren hadn't been happy about what we'd been up to last night, and since this was
we were dealing with, he had had a nearly impregnable argument to back up his opinion. We'd gone out without contacting him, and had been unreachable by phone within the disruptive psychic fields of the Dreamyard; we'd alerted the Party to our whereabouts; we'd given them, if they took the effort to work it out, the address of the Pokémon Centre we'd first visited in the city; and we could no longer visit Fennel's lab and so he could not learn more about her fascinating psychochemical experiments first-hand.
I think it was that more than anything else that annoyed him. Out of all of us, he would have understood and appreciated the knowledge Fennel had to impart the most, and I felt kind of bad for cutting him out of it. But I couldn't have done otherwise; Bianca had had to go to the Dreamyard alone. There was no alternative; if she'd gone with Cheren, it wouldn't have been the same. He would have taken over and she would have proved nothing. As it was, she'd managed to call down an entire herd of Musharna to her aid – which, while maybe not intentional, was definitely quite good going.
You could tell it had made a difference, too: when she'd finally got up and joined Cheren and me in the Centre's lounge, she was visibly cheerier than she had been before the Dreamyard escapade. She bounced in, Munny following as if the brick had never hit it, and threw herself onto the sofa so hard she knocked Cheren half off it.
“Uh,” he said, sounding faintly aggrieved. “Good morning to you too, Bianca.”
“Morning!” she sang out. “Look! Munny's all better.”
“Yes, so it would seem. I was just telling Lauren what I found out last night while you two were wasting time and bringing the wrath of the Party down on our heads.”
Bianca's smile didn't waver.
Cheren sat back and pushed his glasses further up his nose.
“I went to the Trainer's School, as you know, and fairly quickly realised it's not a particularly valuable institution; I think it's more aimed at preparing people who want to become Trainers rather than adding anything valuable to the store of knowledge of a more experienced person. So I went across to a library instead and did a little research on the Green Party online.”
“Yes. I found out that in the last six months they've ballooned massively in size, power and financial weight – despite not apparently being backed by any investors at all that I could figure out. They were always a middling sort of party, but now they're unquestionably a serious contender for the general election.”
“How did they do that?” asked Bianca, frowning.
“Gold,” replied Cheren simply. “I don't know how, but for the last few months they've been selling vast quantities of gold bullion. No mines, no suppliers. They own a warehouse in Driftveil and once a week they send out shipments of gold across the world. No one delivers it: it's just dispatched.”
“But then where does it come from?”
“No idea,” he said, shrugging. “It just comes out of the warehouse, as if by magic.”
“How did you find all this out?” I asked. “Surely all this isn't just available on their website, right?”
“No, it isn't,” answered Cheren. “But it's there, if you're dedicated enough. I'm not the first one to ask questions about it, which made finding the information easier. The Party hasn't issued anything in response to these questions; I don't think they've been picked up by the mainstream media yet. Or if they have,” he added disquietingly, “something has silenced them.”
for a while, mostly because I think we were all pretty sure it was true. If the Green Party's finances were that transparently suspicious, then someone in the press had to have figured it out already – and the lack of news coverage meant that the Party was significantly more powerful (and more sinister) than we'd thought.
“So,” I said slowly, “what do we do about it? Go to Driftveil?”
“Not directly,” Cheren replied. “I still want to challenge the Gym here before we leave, and we need to look up Teiresias as well, so we may have to go via Nacrene to visit the library. And if
is insufficient, we may have to visit the High Gorsedd in Castelia.”
Reproduction of the Treatises beyond the copies held in the temples was strictly forbidden by decree of Orthalmo the Mad, High Druid in the time of King Ulfric. The legitimacy of the decree was disputed – Orthalmo had ordered, among other things, the eradication of all badgers within the country, the dissolution of the mercantile class and the construction of an four-hundred-foot marble phallus at the temple at Lacunosa – but it had stood until now, and the Treatises were not to be found online or in conventional libraries. If you wanted to read them, you either had to get a druid to lend you a copy or visit a temple – or go to the Travison Memorial Library in Nacrene, which was licensed specially by the High Druid to keep around half the Treatises in its collection.
“Right,” I said. “So are you two off to the Gym today, then? I could visit the temple and research Teiresias when you do that.”
“Just what I was about to suggest,” Cheren told me. “Now, Bianca—”
“I'm hungry. What've I missed?”
Halley leaped up between us from nowhere, somehow contriving to poke all three of us uncomfortably in the side at the same time, and kneaded a cushion into a nest to lie in.
“Where have you been?” asked Cheren.
“Been to London to— nah, I made that joke already and no one got it,” she sighed. “I've been sleeping, what do you think? I
a cat. We spend like half our lives asleep if you let us.”
“We were just deciding what we're doing today,” Cheren said. “Do I have to repeat it for you?”
“Can't be bothered to listen,” yawned Halley. “I'll just follow this little b*tch.” She jerked her head at me; I wondered if I was meant to be insulted, but decided it didn't matter.
“Right. If you're
done spewing random vitriol...?”
Halley thought for a moment.
“Yeah, I guess I'm done,” she said.
“Then I suggest we get going,” said Cheren.
“What about breakfast?” asked Bianca.
“Yeah, what about it?” added Halley.
“Lauren and I have already—”
“What you and Lauren have done doesn't mean shi— shingle to me,” said Halley, casting a dirty look at me as she bit off the curse. “I'm hungry.”
“It's not really fair if they don't have anything to eat,” I put in hesitantly.
,” he said. “You two go and have breakfast, then, and I'll wait here – but please, be quick. It's already nearly half past nine.”
” cried Halley in horror. “Half past nine? Why didn't you say so before? What a
waste of daylight hours we're currently perpetrating!”
“There's no need to be sarcastic.”
“If there was no need, I wouldn't have done it. Lighten up, Che.”
“What did you just call me?”
He was trying very hard to sound like he didn't care, but I was almost certain that Cheren found that annoying.
“Che. Like Guevara. Short for Cheren.” Halley paused. “What sort of name is Cheren, anyway?”
“It's derived from Bulgarian,” he replied with such extreme dignity that he had to be seething inside. “It means 'black'.”
“Seriously?” she said, staring at him. “Black?”
“Yes, black,” he repeated. “What of it?”
“Bianca's name means 'white',” she said, giving me a significant look. “Lauren...”
“I know,” I replied softly, wondering what exactly this new piece of information meant. “I see it too...”
Black and white, boy and girl, city and forest... The thread of opposites kept running through everything, kept turning up everywhere I went. Had Halley started something by revealing the existence of the two worlds to me? Or had it always been this way, this dualism, and it was only now that I knew that I could perceive it?
“I don't get it,” he said. “What are you trying to say...?”
“Yes, what?” asked Bianca.
“Nothing,” I said hurriedly, wishing I was smart enough to know how to explain it to them. I wanted their help with it – whatever Jared Black might have done, I wasn't confident about tackling such a huge idea on my own – but I just didn't know how to say it yet. “Never mind.”
I stood up.
“Come on,” I said brightly. “Bianca, Halley, I bet you're hungry, and they're only serving breakfast for another half hour.”
“Oh... yeah, OK,” said Bianca, looking faintly confused.
“Huh,” muttered Cheren, but he said no more, and followed us out into the corridor and across to the canteen.
Niamh Harper was a troubled soul.
As the observant reader will have noticed, she had not, in fact, arrived in Striaton before Lauren
and intercepted them; no, she had renounced the plan of tracking them down immediately in favour of another, more devious plan that lay closer to her heart.
She had, of course, noticed Smythe's discomfort and perceived that there was more to his case than met the eye. One does not deal with mad scientists, plutocrats and criminals for nine and a half years without gaining some aptitude at reading a man – and Smythe didn't exactly make it hard. He wasn't a natural liar, and though life had taught him to lie, he was an exceptionally bad student; Niamh had seen that there was some dilemma wrenching him asunder as soon as the issue had crossed his mind, and now she was determined to find out what it was that oppressed her friend so, and made him terminate their meeting abruptly and with obvious unease.
At least... 'friend' seemed the most apt word. She wasn't exactly sure what the right word for their relationship was, exactly; it hadn't exactly been anything she'd encountered, before or since, and it had surged back into life with a power that had physically stunned both of them when they'd first spotted each other in Accumula.
Niamh had still felt strange, her heart pumping and hands tingling, as she shadowed Smythe after that meeting. He had hung around in the park for an hour or two, watching passersby sadly and occasionally whistling snatches of old songs; after that, he had hired a taxi and headed north – to Striaton, she heard him say to the driver.
This had deepened her suspicions: if Smythe had to go to Striaton, he would have wanted to go with her, without a doubt; what was going on that meant he couldn't speak to her? Confused and wary, Niamh had taken a room in the same hotel as him and waited – and soon enough, she had her answer, in the form of the liquid dark abomination that twisted through the air like some foul fish from the frozen lakes of hellish Córmheim.
She stared and stared through the keyhole, but no matter how long she watched the gentle smoking of the hell-beast's eye-pits did not cease, and despite her atheism Niamh could not but come to one conclusion.
Portland Smythe was in grave danger – worse than during his trek through Patzkova, worse than during that long and terrible night in Prague, worse even than during that unnatural storm that had sunk the
all those years ago.
He was in the thrall of a demon from below the very roots of the Ash itself, and there was no one to save him but her.
An hour and a half later, the sun had risen above the clouds and was doing its best to make a windy spring day warm; it wasn't much, but it made the walk to the temple a little less freezing.
“Christ, it's cold,” moaned Halley, wriggling deeper into my coat. “Why don't you have a thicker jacket?”
“I don't really think it's
cold,” I replied. “So I never bought a thicker one... sorry.”
“There you go with the apologising again,” she sighed. “Stop apologising for things you never done, 'cause time is short and life is cruel.”
“I've heard that before somewhere,” I said, frowning.
“Give me strength,” muttered Halley, rolling her eyes. “Is it even possible to be a full human being without knowing the Jam?”
On my shoulder, Candy chattered noisily. She enjoyed this kind of weather; with a decent wind behind her, she could glide for perhaps a hundred metres, and probably would have been trying to had I not made it obvious to her that we had a job to do today. I had released her and destroyed the Poké Ball immediately after the Dreamyard adventure; it didn't feel right to keep her locked up like that. Trainers said it wasn't inhumane, but I wasn't a Trainer, and having my pet being reduced to energy and locked in stasis sounded pretty inhumane to me.
The streets of Striaton were quiet enough, but to me, used to the seclusion of White Forest, it felt like I was in the centre of a huge storm of activity; I kept to the edge of the pavement, trying to avoid being crushed by the relentless onslaught of pedestrians, and clutched Halley tightly to me within my coat for fear I would bump into something and squash her.
“You know, I'm not actually made of glass,” she told me. “You
loosen your grip a little without me shattering.”
“Oh.. sorry,” I said hurriedly, and let go, stuffing my hands back into my pockets to guard them from the cold.
“Jesus, more apologising? Mister Weller would
“Forget it. You didn't get it the first time; I have no idea why I thought you might the second time.”
“Aaakk,” said Candy, pulling my hair out of pure joy and forestalling any response on my part.
“Ouch! Stop that.”
“Aakk,” she cawed unrepentantly, and let go.
I sighed and hurried on through frigid streets towards the temple. According to the directions I'd got online at the Centre, I ought to be close now... there! It was unmistakeable: set back a good fifty feet from the street, the building lay behind a large menhir in the middle of a trampled lawn. It wasn't quite the match of my local in White Forest – we had a full henge there, and the temple itself was easily the biggest artificial structure in the forest – but it was a temple, and that meant it would have copies of the Treatises.
“Is that... is that
on that rock?” asked Halley hesitantly as we crossed the street towards it.
“Yeah,” I replied. “Of course. The
She was silent for a long time, long enough for me to reach the gates in the wrought-iron fence. Here, the menhir towered over us, its presence at once menacing and comforting, reminding me, as it always did, of how insignificant we were before the
“And, ah... what kind of sacrifice is it that they demand?” she asked, sounding uncertain. It was the first time I had heard her express any real unease, and it didn't suit her.
“Well... human, obviously,” I said gently. “We have to give of our most valuable, and there's nothing more valuable than people.”
Halley said nothing, just stared up at the menhir. Presumably its bloody granite flanks were taking on some new significance in her mind; I knew that people from outside Unova often had problems with this part of our religion. I would be lying if I said it didn't trouble me too, sometimes, but there was no getting around it. From the earliest times, the
had demanded sacrifice from their worshippers, and they accepted nothing less than human life. It was so ingrained into the Treatises that to excise it from the faith would have destroyed the whole thing entirely.
“It's how we deal the death penalty,” I explained, as I walked around the menhir. “The druids are reasonable. They don't just take people. We're not savages any more.”
“That,” said Halley quietly, “has the ring of something learned by rote.”
That stung, but I wasn't sure why; it was true – it had been comprehensively drummed into my head at an early age – but that wasn't why it irritated me. Perhaps it was the fact that it seemed to so easily deflect my argument, or perhaps it was the fact that
of all people was condemning my views; I didn't know. I refused to show it, though; Halley was British, and she didn't understand how things worked here. I had to make allowances for that.
“Well... I know it's hard to understand if you're not Unovan,” I replied.
“Sometimes,” said Halley as if I hadn't said anything, “I can almost think this is just a slightly crazier version of England. And then sh*t like
happens.” She was still looking at the menhir. “Jesus...”
I didn't reply. I wasn't sure anything I could say could salvage the situation.
“Then again,” she said, sounding a little more normal, “at least you guys are honest about it. I mean, half the world's religions are derived from f*cking
, and there they are b*tching about original sin and sh*t. Besides, what do I care if you guys go around killing each other?”
I hadn't been expecting that.
“Nah, all I care about is getting inside and out of the cold,” continued Halley. “Take me in, Lauren.”
I was genuinely uncertain whether or not she was disturbed by our human sacrifices or not, and as I walked up the short flight of steps to the door, I wondered if she was lying to smooth over her awkwardness and maintain her jaded demeanour; in the end, I gave up thinking about it. I just couldn't tell with her.
On the outside, the temple had been an unassuming stone box; on the inside, it wasn't much different. Broad, cool and dimly-lit, it had the feel of a natural cave about it; it was only slightly warmer in there than outside, and there was little furniture except for some plastic chairs stacked against one wall (used mostly when bad weather stopped services from taking place outside, I supposed) and a series of small idols arranged in shrines at far end of the room, dedicated to the four main
and whichever of the minor ones was considered of importance in this area.
“Is it colder in here than outside?” asked Halley. “Is that even
“Ssh,” I said. “Please? You need to stay inconspicuous.”
,” she hissed.
I walked further into the temple, looking around for anyone who looked like they might work here, but could see no one – or even any doors other than the main one. Was no one in?
“Hello?” I called uncertainly.
“Hello!” replied a voice, and I turned to see a man in white robes gliding noiselessly over the stone floor towards me. Where he'd come from I wasn't exactly sure, but given that his feet were bare I doubt I would have heard him coming anyway. He had sprigs of nine different herbs woven into his hair and a gold-bladed sickle in his belt, along with a revolver and smartphone – all the accoutrements of the modern druid. “I'm Lorcan,” he said, smiling at me. “Did you need something?”
“Yeah,” I replied. “I came to read the Treatises, if that's OK. I think...” I paused, hesitant, and a shadow crossed Lorcan's face. He had seen something in my eyes, I knew.
“What is it?” he asked, suddenly concerned. “What's wrong?”
“I think I'm being chased by a demon.”
“...so you're not just here for lunch?
” cried the waiter. “Oh, man, this is great. We haven't actually had a challenger for more than two weeks now.”
Striaton's Gym, owing in part to lack of custom and in part to the peculiar predilection of its leaders, operated as a restaurant as well as a battling facility; there was but one diner at that moment, but at lunchtime and during the evening the place was, Cheren and Bianca were assured, extremely difficult to get a seat at.
Cheren raised an eyebrow.
“Two weeks? Is it that bad?”
“Well, it's the off-season, sir,” the waiter said, shrugging. “And there aren't as many Trainers as there used to be. Gym staff get restless at this time of year. But... to business.” He composed himself hurriedly. “Right. The rules: challengers get a free lunch if they win; challengers can have up to three practice battles with other Gym Trainers before the challenge the Leader; these can be taken over a period of up to two days, special circumstances notwithstanding. The lunch offer is valid only for a week. No items may be used in the battle against the Leader, and no switches may take place until the current Pokémon in battle has been defeated. All challengers must choose one type as the primary focus for the team they use against the Leader. The Leader will then counter with a type advantage. The Leader will select their Pokémon so that they are always slightly stronger than the challenger's.” He paused. “Is that clear, sir?”
“Perfectly,” replied Cheren. “I'd like to take the challenge right away.”
“No practice battles?”
“No, thank you.”
“It's highly advised, sir, especially if this is your first Gym battle,” the waiter went on. “Most Trainers never manage to collect more than two or three Badges, if that. Gym Leaders are selected because they are the very best, and it's rare to win a Badge on the first try—”
“I understand,” said Cheren calmly. “But I've done my research. I have confidence.”
“Well... all right.” The waiter shook his head. “What about you, madam?”
“Eh? Me?” Bianca seemed slightly surprised at being called 'madam'. “Uh... I'd like a few practice battles first,” she confided shyly.
“Um... three, please,” she said.
“OK, that's fine.” The waiter stepped briskly over to the bar and consulted a little chart hung up among the bottles. “Let's see... yes, Tia, Sammy and I will be your opponents. We can start right away, or you can watch your friend against the Leader first.”
“Oh! I want to see Cheren battle first,” cried Bianca. “That's going to be so cool.”
The waiter smiled.
“As you wish, madam,” he said. “Right. If you could both come this way...?”
He led them through the main dining-room, past the curious gaze of the lone diner, and stopped before a great pair of red curtains at the back of the restaurant; there, he coughed pointedly, and there was a sound of footsteps hurrying around on wooden boards beyond.
“OK, everyone in place?” Cheren heard someone whisper. “All right. Ready!”
The curtains parted with a dramatic
, and a multiplicity of dazzling lights lit up the stage beyond as if this were a Poison Jam concert; through the plumes of dry ice smoke and the glare of spotlights, Cheren could just about make out three tall, shadowy figures striking noble (and faintly ridiculous) poses onstage.
“Welcome!” boomed a magnified voice.
“To the Striaton City Gym!” finished another.
“Challenger, what type underpins your team?” added a third.
Cheren thought for a moment. Justine was by far the weaker of the pair, which meant most of his team's strength came from Lelouch.
“Grass,” he replied.
“In that case...”
“I shall be your opponent!”
The smoke cleared abruptly, sweeping two of the figures away with it and leaving a striking young man standing in the centre of the stage, arms akimbo and hair apparently aflame. He strode forwards, looked directly into Cheren's eyes and said:
“My name is Chili—”
, thought Cheren, but said nothing.
“—and I specialise in Fire-types,” he finished. “Step up here, then! I'm ready if you are.”
Cheren smiled. This was it. He was actually walking up the steps into a Leader's arena, ready to fight for his first Badge. It was actually happening.
Thunor's ire, it was actually
His smile broadened, and he crested the stairway, walking out onto the stage. Chili – whose dyed-red hair seemed to flicker as if it actually were on fire – shook his hand and grinned.
“This your first time?” he asked.
“Always one to remember.” He nodded. “OK, how many and how strong?”
“Two. On the General Scale... somewhere just above Grade One and just below it. 1.34 and 0.92 to be precise, if I remember correctly.”
The General Scale was a ten-rank system designed to enable (more or less) precise cross-species rankings of power for just this kind of situation; Pokémon were marked as being at, above or below any one of ten levels of power for easy comparison. The calculations necessary to work out a General Scale ranking were a little tricky, but the Pokédex app came with a function that worked out the algorithms automatically, and Cheren had made sure to check it beforehand.
“All right, then,” said Chili, reaching into his pockets. “1.5s it is. Max?”
“Yeah?” replied the waiter, who was lingering with Bianca down on the main floor.
“Do the honours.”
“Take up your positions!”
Cheren and Chili walked away from each other, almost to opposite ends of the stage, then turned to face one another.
Chili and his brothers were known to have a fondness for the elemental monkeys, Cheren knew; he could expect a Pansear. But would he send it out first or second?
“Good luck!” cried Bianca, but Cheren barely heard her. His mind was racing, wheels turning and pistons moving smooth as ice on ice within his head. Lead with Justine? He hadn't tested her strength too extensively yet, but her speed, devotion and intellect were considerable. She might prove more adaptable than Lelouch, who, being a mixture of reptile and plant, was not exactly overendowed with brains.
Chili's grin widened further still. What was he thinking, Cheren wondered, staring into his eyes. What was his battle plan...?
Definitely lead with Justine. From what he'd read, Chili was hot-tempered and unpredictable, just like the element he wielded, and might surprise him with an unconventional lead. Growl if a powerhouse, Scratch if a wall...
Cheren hadn't expected himself to move that fast. His arm was up and out almost before Max had finished speaking, and in a moment there were twin bursts of light in front of him—
—and there she was, Justine, tail lashing and ears laid flat against her skull, hissing wildly at the unsettling creature before her. It rocked back and forth, apparently without limbs, face frozen as if carved in wood.
Oh yes, Cheren thought. Definitely unconventional.
Darumaka. Inactive right now, but give it a chance to stoke its internal flames and it would turn from placid wobbly toy to rabid monkey in less time than it took to blink.
“Interesting,” he said aloud, and Chili grinned at him.
“Only someone who really knows their stuff would say that faced with this little guy,” he replied. “Come on! Let's do this!”
“Of course,” agreed Cheren, and raised a hand to bark out an order, wholly unaware of the dark, nebulous presence crouched in the rafters above, flexing its essence, waiting for its moment.
Teiresias was ready.
And this time it would not fail.
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Stranger Than Fiction
My Trip to the End of Time, by Pearl Gideon
A Smell of Petroleum Pervades Throughout
For information about A Grand Day Out, a bizarre short story in video game form, click
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