Chapter Eleven: Goodnight Demonslayer
Most people would be somewhat discouraged by the revelation that their best friend was under the command of a powerful demon.
Then again, most people don't kill monsters for a living.
Niamh Harper immediately set upon a course of action. The fiend was probably impervious to bullets, her preferred method of removing monstrosities from the realm of the living, but she'd always been open to alternatives – like the time she had destroyed a sentient blob of alloyed titanium by kicking it into the furnace of a steelworks. (She hadn't questioned how the company had managed to bring the damn thing to life. Birthing monsters was more or less exactly the opposite of her job description.) In this case, the alternative was probably druidic magic. After all, if demons were apparently real and roaming the streets of Striaton, she was willing to believe that at least some of the forces the druids claimed existed were real.
Niamh stroked her chin. She needed information, that was the most important thing. She had to be sure this thing was what it seemed to be, and if it was, she needed to know how to kill it. The problem was, she had no idea what its name was, or even if it had one. She also had certain reservations about spying on it too much; she had no doubt that it had ways of perceiving hidden watchers, and that if it detected her nearby more than once it would undoubtedly take action against her before she was ready for it.
She'd had to retreat before she heard all the details of what was going on and where – the thing had come too close for comfort – but she still had two little bits of information to go on: a pair of names, and a place.
White and Halley, and the Mandelmort Temple.
All she had to do was connect the dots.
“Stay calm, Justine, and Stratch. Aim for the left flank.”
The Purrloin darted forwards, far faster than the chunky Darumaka, and laid open its side with a deft swipe of her claws; as Cheren had expected, the force of the blow set the little Fire-type spinning on its axis, and it whirled helplessly for a good thirty seconds before it managed to free its stubby limbs from its trammelling fur and plant them on the floor. Even then, it seemed a bit the worse for wear, dropping to all fours and staggering dizzily off to one side.
Justine looked, if such a word could be applied to a Purrloin, gleeful. Chili just looked disconcerted.
“Well, now,” he began, but Cheren wasn't about to let him buy time for his Darumaka to recover. If it regained its senses, it would have its fires up in a minute or two – and at full strength, neither Lelouch nor Justine would stand a chance against it.
“Keep it up,” he called. “Knock it down.”
Justine needed no encouragement; to her mind, unaware of the little monkey's potential power, this bizarre creature was the best toy she'd encountered in ages. A key selling point, she felt, was the obvious discomfort it felt at being hit. Perhaps the Glasses Man would buy her one, she mused as she lashed out at the Darumaka with the viciously recurved hook on her tail, catching it under the chin and drawing blood; the force was too much for it to take, and it lost its balance. Fur hit floorboards and a little dribble of blood trickled across the stage.
“Yeaaaahh!” shrieked Bianca happily. “Go Cheren!”
“One!” Max began counting. “Two!”
Justine, her foe floored, went into a kind of ecstatic frenzy; she loosed a volley of Scratches at the downed Darumaka so fast they might almost have been Fury Swipes.
“You're gonna win!”
It was nice of Bianca to say so, Cheren thought, but the Darumaka was a hardened fighter and Justine didn't know how to pace herself in pitched battle. While the former was a little groggy, he could sense that his advantage was close to slipping away—
The Darumaka's eyes lit up, suddenly clear of all dizziness.
Its broad skull smashed hard into Justine's jaw and knocked her a foot off the floor; as a cat, she twisted in midair and landed on her feet, but the blow had taken its toll. Her paws didn't seem to be able to get any purchase on the boards, and her ears were flat against her skull; she glanced back at Cheren desperately, and he winced as he saw the blood on her teeth, and the broken fang.
“—back,” he finished, too late.
Another crushing blow, and the Darumaka's jaws were aflame as it snapped them shut on her leg; Justine yowled wildly, tearing herself free and scrabbling backwards, covering her retreat with a lash of her tail-hook. The monkey gave no quarter: its internal fires blazing, it was incapable of reason, incapable of listening to Chili, incapable of doing anything but rampaging wildly until either it burned down or everything around it was a smoking ruin. The Gym Leader had brought out the Pokémon equivalent of a Viking berserker – and, Cheren realised, he had no way of countering it.
“Get out of the way!” he cried, a note of desperation in his voice. “Just stay back!”
Justine hissed crossly; was the Glasses Man blind? What exactly did he think she was doing, if not trying to avoid the insane beast currently trying to turn her face into pulpy mush? Holding one foreleg close to her chest, she limped as hard as she could back three steps as the Darumaka bodily flung itself onto the floor where she had been a moment ago. It would take a moment to get up, she thought, she could get away – but no, the damn thing kept coming, rolling at her over and over like a beast possessed. Every step she took wrenched at her wounds with iron tongues, and the Darumaka was getting closer—
Cheren stared, thinking furiously. There had to be something he could do other than just try to weather the storm. There had to be. The Darumaka was using its moves blindly, without reason; surely he could outthink it?
Chili was grinning broadly.
“Harder than you thought, isn't it?” he called. “Come on! The way you set him spinning, you're a smart guy. Prove to me I'm right!”
That was a clue, thought Cheren, watching Justine try and fail to dodge another Fire Fang and getting her tail burnt. There was a way...
“To the left,” he said. “Get over to the left!”
Justine might not see where the Glasses Man was going with this, but his Staggering Presence of Mind had saved her from a Situation of Certain Death, and so she obeyed without hesitation, flinging herself to the left, hitting the ground and rolling back to her feet. The Darumaka flung itself after her, the fires streaming from its eyes and mouth leaving a bright after-image on her eyes.
“Hey, are you doing what I think you're doing?”
“Yes,” replied Cheren. “Absolutely.”
The Darumaka attempted another Headbutt and clipped Justine's wounded tail; she hissed and moved further to the left, closer to Bianca and Max – who were beginning to look a little concerned at the proximity of the flaming ape.
“Hey,” said Chili. “Hey. No, don't— Weeble! Get back here!”
It was too late: in the grip of its berserker fury, the Darumaka could neither hear nor think. Eyes locked on Justine, it leaped for her again in another crushing full-body Headbutt—
—and she darted lithely aside as it flew clean off the edge of the stage, arcing gracefully down to impact face-first on the carpeted floor.
There was silence for a moment.
“One,” counted Max hesitantly. “Two—”
“Forget it, Max,” sighed Chili. “He's not getting up from that one. Weeble, return!”
The Darumaka's body vanished in a pulse of light, and Chili grinned.
“You're good,” he told Cheren. “Best we've had in... well, in a long time. But don't get cocky. This one listens to my orders.”
“Yeaaaahhh!” cried Bianca happily. “Chereeeen!”
This would be the Pansear, Cheren thought, tuning her out for clarity of thought. Justine had done enough; she wouldn't last much longer, and she deserved a rest now. It would have to be down to Lelouch.
“We'll see,” he said. “Can I concede my Purrloin? I want to switch.”
“Sure,” replied Chili. “No sending her back out, though. If you recall her, she's counted as KO'ed. Official League battle rules.”
“Fine by me.”
Justine vanished and the Snivy took her place. Chili threw down his ball, there was a bright, bright light—
—and the restaurant plunged into absolute, unbroken darkness.
“I see.” Lorcan nodded slowly. “I see.” He sighed. “I'd love to help. I really would. But something like that sounds beyond my capabilities. You can try the archives here if you like, but I know them pretty well and I don't think that this... Teiresias is anywhere in there. From what you describe, that would be in the Glasya-Labolas.”
I cocked my head on one side.
“What's that?” I asked.
“One of the classified Treatises,” he replied. “It's a comprehensive list of all known demons – and the methods for summoning them. Access is restricted, as you can imagine. Most of us aren't allowed to read it.”
I shivered. Did that mean Harmonia had people inside the Gorsedd? High-ranking people, as well, to be able to deliver the means to summon Teiresias to him. How far did his operation extend?
“I know,” said Lorcan sympathetically, seeing my discomfort and misinterpreting it. “It's a nasty piece of work. Real, you know. I've seen...” He paused. “They summon a weak one as part of our training,” he added confidingly. “I wouldn't say, ordinarily, but since you've seen... something worse... I don't think it'll do any harm. But they call up a thing named Ath, to teach us how to banish it.”
“Could you banish Teiresias, then?” I asked eagerly. “If you know how—?”
He held up a hand for silence.
“Sorry, no,” he replied, shaking his head. “Yours is definitely one of the stronger ones, and those that are too strong for the basic banishing usually require specific methods – methods I'm far too low-ranking to know anything about.”
“I see,” I said slowly. “Oh... OK, then.”
I must have looked particularly sad just then, because a look of quite staggering guilt crossed his face.
“Sorry to disappoint,” he said, brow creasing with concern. “Um... Look, I could send a message across to Nacrene to expect you. They have a copy of the Glasya-Labolas there.”
“Oh, could you? Thank you!” I said fervently. “I'd really appreciate it.”
“It's OK, it's the least I can do. But...” His smile faded. “You know, there's still no guarantee they'll let you read it just because you claim to have been attacked by a demon. They'll probably ask you to supply proof.”
“Oh.” Damn, I didn't have anything I could reasonably describe as proof. “What... what kind of proof could I give?”
Lorcan considered this.
“They'll accept a mind-reading,” he said. “That is, if you're OK with that.”
I hesitated. I'd never had a mind-reading before, and I wasn't sure I wanted to start now. It was the most invasive procedure possible, but it did ascertain the truth – or what the subject believed to be the truth – with perfect accuracy, provided the Psychic-type involved was competent.
“They have professional standards,” Lorcan said quickly. “I mean, they won't poke around where they don't have to. They'll just look for the demon there and leave.”
“I guess I have no choice,” I replied slowly. “Hmm...”
He bit his lip.
“Look,” he said, “you don't have to decide anything right now. If you really think this thing is after you, go to Nacrene and prove it to them.” He shrugged. “Maybe they won't even ask for a mind-reading. You never know.”
It wasn't true and we both knew it. He was lying to make me feel better, I could tell – though I wasn't sure why.
“OK,” I said. “I think I'll be heading over there, then.” I smiled. “Thank you for your time,” I said. “You've been really helpful.”
“Not at all,” he said. “It's my job.”
I said goodbye and left, thinking hard. It seemed like this wasn't going to be easy – but then, I hadn't thought it would be.
“Well, Lauren,” cackled Halley quietly as I reached the door. “I didn't know you had it in you.”
“That guy. Wasn't it obvious? He was drooling over you pretty much the whole time.”
I paused, halfway through the doorway.
“Oh, come on. You must have noticed. Holy man or not, he hungered for your tits—”
“That's enough,” I said sharply, feeling my cheeks turn red. “Stop it. Now.”
“Christ, this is hilarious.”
I froze, halfway round the menhir, and looked up.
And Portland Smythe looked back.
“What the f*ck was that?”
“Teiresias,” breathed Cheren, whirling on the spot and staring hard into the surrounding blackness, trying hard to see anything. “It has to be...”
It had been here a while, he could tell. All morning, it must have been waiting, charging its sinister power; it hadn't been able to do anything like this before. How had it known they were here? While it was obvious that Trainers would visit the Gym eventually, it could not have known what time... Had it been following them? Or had it just waited here since its arrival in Striaton?
“Cease moving,” sighed an ancient voice, like wind issuing from an open crypt. “It tires me so.”
There was a sound of splintering wood, and iron-hard hands gripped Cheren's ankles.
He almost cried out, but he held it back. This was not a time to panic. Panic was exactly what Teiresias wanted; its dark powers seemed to wax with the fear in its prey's mind.
Bianca screamed, and Cheren winced. That wasn't helping anything.
“What is this? Who are you?” yelled Chili.
“I have no interest in you,” said Teiresias. Its voice seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere; where was it, wondered Cheren. If he could see where it was, perhaps he could hit it – force it to move and break its concentration. “You may choose between silence and death.”
Chili made no reply.
“Wise man,” whispered Teiresias. It sounded bigger than before, thought Cheren uneasily; bigger and more ethereal. Had it taken a new form again? And if so, what form could produce a sound like that?
“Chereeen! It's Teiresias!”
“I know,” called Cheren. “It's kind of obvious.”
“You two,” said Teiresias. “You are the ones who travel with White. You are my hostages.”
It made sense. Smythe must have somehow located Lauren, Cheren thought; he would probably tell her to call them, and that would confirm that they were in trouble – and knowing Lauren, there was absolutely no way she would abandon them to save herself.
Which meant that Harmonia got what he wanted.
And Cheren had a feeling that that could only be a very, very bad thing indeed.
“I see,” he said aloud, playing for time as he thought. “What do you want us to do?”
“Wait,” replied Teiresias. “I want you to wait. Soon enough we will know whether you are to live, or to die. Until then, you wait.”
Something growled near the back of the stage, and the darkness seemed to quiver before Cheren's eyes.
“You two,” said Teiresias “The green- and blue-haired humans. Recall your apes, or I will unmake them.”
That must be Cress and Cilan, thought Cheren.
“What are you?” asked one – he didn't know which – in a low voice.
“Recall your apes, or I will unmake them,” repeated Teiresias, and this time its voice contained a hint of eldritch realms beyond all mortal ken; of secrets unknown and unknowable; of whispers of strange beings that stalked the world just outside the sphere of possible imagination.
“Get back,” the two men hissed, and with a soft thumping the unseen Pokémon retreated. There could have been no other outcome. Teiresias' voice reached into your chest and jarred your heart from its perch amidst your ribs.
“Good. Now, wait.”
And they stood in the dark, in the silence, and waited for ése-knew-what.
“Your friends are being held captive by Teiresias,” Smythe told me without preamble. “Come with me, or it will...” He trailed off, evidently uncomfortable with what he was about to say. “Well,” he finished lamely. “You can guess.”
I could. And the very thought sent a chill shivering through my body.
“OK,” I said immediately, stepping forward, “I'll—”
“Wait,” interrupted Halley perceptively. “You'll appreciate, Smythe, that I trust you about as far as I can f*cking throw you. So. Mind if you tell me why I should believe you instead of trying to bite your throat out?”
I paused. I hadn't thought of that. Could Smythe be lying? I wasn't sure. I thought he was a good man, but he obviously had no choice in this matter. I didn't know what he was capable of under threat from his superiors.
“Caaark,” cawed Candy, lowering her head and eyeing Smythe suspiciously. Could she sense he was lying? Or did she just not like him? I wouldn't be surprised if that were the case; her experience of him hadn't exactly been calculated to please.
“Call them,” he replied. “Call them and find out for yourself.” He hesitated. “And control that bird, please.”
That settled it, in my mind. If he was going to let me phone them, it must be true.
“Go on, then,” said Halley. “Test his word.”
I took my phone out and pressed the unlock button – but the screen stayed dark.
With a sudden sinking feeling, I remembered Cordelia's warning that my parents were going to call soon. That had been several days ago, and with the fear of Teiresias on me I'd forgotten all about it; this was why they hadn't contacted me. My phone had been dead for some time.
“Uh... no battery,” I said weakly. “Sorry.”
Smythe stared, and a faint look of horror entered his eyes.
“What? You're kidding. You're f*cking kidding me—”
“No, I'm not!” I protested, holding out my mobile. “Look! Blank screen.”
Smythe bit his lip with such violence that a thin trickle of blood ran down his chin.
“Sh*t and hellfire,” he spat, staring at the ground. “Teiresias is going to kill them.”
“The phone call!” he cried, looking up at me. “The f*cking phone call! That was the signal to Teiresias that you were giving in! If we can't contact them, it'll assume you're resisting and it'll kill them!”
“What? No – no, it can't—”
“Oh yes, it can,” replied Smythe grimly. “Where are your friends?”
“At the Gym,” I answered frantically. “I'm not sure where that is—”
“Forty-five minutes from here,” he said. “Christ. I don't know if we can make it in time—”
“Portland!” called an unfamiliar voice. “We need to talk!”
He turned and I glanced past him; a woman was crossing the road beyond, approaching us with a steely sort of determination in her eyes.
“Niamh?” asked Smythe in astonishment.
“OK, this situation is rapidly getting way too complicated for me to follow properly,” said Halley. “Who's this b*tch?”
“There's no time right now,” Smythe told the newcomer – Niamh – urgently. “There's terrible danger—”
“I know, that's the point,” replied Niamh. “We have to talk about it.”
She gave him a serious look with piercing green eyes.
“We have to talk about the demon.”
It had been easier than she thought.
All Niamh had had to do was look up where the Temple was, go there and wait in the café across the street, watching the gates; soon enough, a short, slim girl with the white-blonde hair usually only found on very young children passed through them and entered the building beyond. Perhaps it was her hair, but Niamh had a feeling that this was the 'White' the demon had mentioned earlier in the hotel room – and shortly afterwards, her suspicions were confirmed when Portland Smythe turned up to confront her. She had rushed across the street, and there they were: Smythe and White, and – she now saw – a large brindled cat with curiously intelligent eyes.
“How do you know?” asked Smythe, eyes wide. He had gone very pale, Niamh noted; he looked like he might faint at any moment. “How do you know?”
“I followed you,” she answered. “I followed you, and—” She blinked. Was that the Archen on White's shoulder? Was all of this tangled up together? Forget it, she thought – there'll be time to deal with that later. Portland comes first.
“Christ,” sighed Smythe. “I tried to ward you off, Niamh. I tried...” He shook his head violently. “They'll come after me now. You too. F*ck!” He kicked the fence angrily and looked like he regretted it.
“What's this?” asked White, looking concerned.
“Nothing,” growled Smythe without looking at her. “I – we – sh*t, I have no idea what to do.”
All the fight went out of him in an instant; he sagged visibly, a puppet with slashed strings, and Niamh stepped forwards to grab him before he fell.
“Whatever it is, I can help,” she said earnestly. “Demons. Politics. Whatever. We've dealt with worse before.”
Smythe looked at her hopelessly.
“No, we haven't,” he replied, and something in his voice told Niamh that he was right.
“Well,” she said, faltering slightly, “there's a first time for everything, right?”
He almost smiled.
“I guess so,” he answered, straightening slowly. “I guess so... But right now, we have a more urgent problem. Teiresias – the demon – is going to kill at least two people and possibly more if we don't get a message to the Gym in the next few minutes.”
“Can we call the Gym?” asked Niamh. She didn't need an explanation; Smythe had told her this needed to happen, and that was enough to convince her. “Would that work?”
He shook his head.
“No one will be able to answer the landline,” he said ominously. “And individual Gym Trainers are ex-directory.”
“OK,” said Niamh slowly, thinking hard, “what next?”
“We have to get there in person,” replied Smythe simply. “We have to get there and tell it that I've apprehended these two and there's no need for anyone to die.”
“Hey, I haven't exactly agreed to be apprehended yet,” snapped the cat. “I—”
“Halley!” cried White. “Now isn't the time!”
“Did that cat just—”
The cat chuckled.
“I love the look on people's faces when I do that.”
“Yes, she did,” said Smythe. “Forget it for now. We have to get to the Gym!”
Niamh nodded, and blanked out her confusion with practised ease; it was a little trick of mental self-control she'd picked up from a heretical monk in a cave in Brittany.
“Right,” she said, turning on the spot. “Transport.”
She scanned the street with expert eyes and determined which of the five parked cars was the fastest; this she then rejected, on the grounds that certain signs of damage around the left rear wheel probably indicated an internal issue that would slow them down after the first ten minutes, and chose the second car instead.
“That one,” she said, pointing. “Follow me.”
There were people watching, but Niamh couldn't very well afford to take her time right now; she extracted a pair of suspicious-looking tools from her pocket and in about thirty seconds had the car hotwired and ready to run.
“This is illegal,” said White hesitantly, “and this car belongs to someone—”
“Excuse her,” interrupted the cat. “What Lauren means is that that was really f*cking cool. Drive on, glorious criminal.”
Everyone piled in, and Niamh did.
At tremendous speed.
“What are we waiting for?” asked Cheren of the darkness.
“Deliverance,” it replied. Then, after some reflection: “Or treachery.”
“Do you really have to be that ominous all the time?”
Teiresias made no reply, and Cheren wondered if he'd actually managed to insult it. If so, that was quite an achievement; it displayed little sign of actually having feelings.
“Cheren, are you sure you should be insulting Teiresias?” asked Bianca warily.
“I have a plan,” he announced.
“No, you don't,” Teiresias told him. “I can see it. You are lost, and confused, and afraid.”
Half right, thought Cheren. He was all of those things, but he was still thinking. Something Teiresias had said had struck him oddly – something about recalling the monkeys – something about that was useful in some way—
“Lelouch, return,” said Cheren, and there was a sudden bright flash of light as the Snivy was sucked back into his ball; for the briefest instant, Cheren saw a series of coiling forms silhouetted against the rafters, and then it was gone, nothing but an after-image burning on his retina.
“What was that?” hissed Teiresias. “What did you do?”
“I just recalled my Snivy,” Cheren replied. “Nothing wrong with that, is there?”
“Put it back,” the fiend ordered. “You are a trickster, and I do not trust you.”
Cheren smiled inwardly. He hadn't yet figured out a way to get Lelouch back out, but Teiresias had done the work for him.
“All right,” he said. “Whatever you say.”
Another flash of light, and Cheren briefly glimpsed the coiling shapes again, trailing from a dark blot on the ceiling; Teiresias hadn't moved, it seemed.
Excellent, he thought. Now he knew where it was:
Cheren reached into his pocket and pulled out the first thing he found – a Potion, from the feel of it.
Let's see how good your aim is, he thought to himself, and raised his arm. He had been careful not to move his head since the dark closed in again, and the after-image that still lingered was, he was reasonably certain, close enough to reality for him to aim by.
One... two... three... Throw.
“What are you—?” began Teiresias, but it never finished. There was a sound of breaking glass and a curiously feline yowl; then several unseen things hit the floor in a quick succession of dry thumps, followed by the tinkle of falling glass.
“What was that?” asked Bianca timidly.
“A fool's attempt to dislodge me,” replied Teiresias, a note of dark exultation in its terrible voice. “You do yourself a disservice, boy. This body may be shredded, but you must have noticed that bodies are plentiful here.”
A chill ran down Cheren's spine.
The voice had not come from the rafters.
It was different, too – more human than before, as if the monster had shed some of its more otherworldly qualities. Not just that, but it sounded familiar, like something he had heard before – something that belonged in the regular waking world, not whatever nightmare realm Teiresias had sprung from.
“A body does not necessarily have to be dead to be possessed,” Teiresias told him. “I trust there will be no killing this one.”
As it spoke, the echo and hiss of its voice dwindled and grew faint, and it sounded more and more familiar, until by the time it concluded there could be no mistake.
It was the voice of Gym Leader Chili.