Cracked, or How the Love of Seafood Saved Unova
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March 10th, 2013 (2:32 AM).
Gone. May or may not return.
The Misspelled Cyrpt
Chapter Thirteen: God Rest Ye
Shauntal Wentworth was everything I'd thought she would be except tall.
She was a lot shorter than TV had led me to expect – only a little taller than me, and I'm not tall by any stretch of the imagination. She did, however, have a kind of cool energy about her that lent her an impression of grandeur, so that you almost found yourself looking up at her despite the fact that she wasn't tall enough to warrant it.
She also seemed to have a weakness for theatrics, because she chose to materialise in a puff of smoke in the exact centre of the room, something that impressed me immensely but which Cheren informed me was nothing but a cheap trick easily perpetrated with the aid of a Ghost-type Pokémon.
“Good afternoon,” she said to me, while we were all still in a state of mild shock. “Shauntal Wentworth, Elite Four. You must be Lauren.”
“Um – ah – yes,” I replied lamely, staring. “That's me...”
“More to the point, I'm Halley,” said Halley, unimpressed. “I'm the focal point of this chaos – which is either testament to my popularity or to my infamy.”
Shauntal smiled, apparently wholly unfazed by a talking cat.
“A pleasure to meet you,” she said. “Aren't you fascinating?”
“Yes,” agreed Halley dryly. “Inordinately so.”
Shauntal laughed, and turned away.
“And you two are Cheren and Bianca, correct?”
He must have been practically bursting with excitement at meeting one of the Elite Four – to someone with his ambition, they must have seemed like heroes – but his face betrayed no trace of emotion. Bianca, for her part, just stared, eyes wide as saucers.
“All right,” said Shauntal, pulling up a chair and joining us at the table. “We've got the introductions out of the way. Now, tell me everything.”
There was a silence, during which Cheren, Bianca and I exchanged uneasy look. The abruptness of the request seemed a little odd.
“Well?” asked Halley, staring around at us. “Are you going to talk, or am I going to tell the story?”
Shauntal smiled and shook her head.
“I know, this must seem a little daunting,” she said. “But I – oh, hello, Tia. How's the baby? Could I get a black coffee, please? Thanks. Where was I? Oh yes. I know it's daunting, but I really do need to know quickly. There's a saying in Gaunton – the only thing that moves faster than light is Unovan politics. Harmonia will probably know about this by now, and will be taking counter-measures against us; if the League is to capitalise on this knowledge, I have to put the PR department on the offensive within half an hour.” She leaned forwards. “So. You understand the rush.”
Cheren cleared his throat.
“All right,” he said. “Lauren, you'd best begin. We weren't there for the start, after all.”
, I thought.
OK. Just leave out the part about the world switching around, and you'll be fine.
“Um... OK,” I replied. “It was the day before Eostre, and I went to buy some flowers...”
Living flesh was even less welcome in the dark paths than dead, and especially so when it was bound to one's essence. Teiresias almost choked upon entering, and came close to falling clean out of Smythe's skull: it had been a long time since it had taken a body that still breathed, and even longer since it had dragged that body onto the dark paths. One might have thought that Teiresias would find its waning ability vexing, given its reputation and species, but Teiresias' alien psychology could not comprehend the idea of being dissatisfied with its own senescence. Time was unstoppable and ageing inevitable. There was no point in railing against it.
Teiresias could, however, feel a little irritated at having to haul this cumbersome burden through such a long and troubling path; however, Smythe had proved himself a traitor to both King and Regent, and while Teiresias cared not for the Regent, King Weland commanded its utmost respect and loyalty. He might have long since been confined to the history books in the eyes of Unova's people, but that was only because he preferred to remain unseen. The Regent's son was the first mortal in fifteen hundred years to set eyes upon him, and only then because of the exceptional blood in his veins.
Teiresias bared Smythe's teeth unconsciously. The Regent's son! There was another King to whom it owed its fealty. He was a higher creature, one of those who in days ancient beyond imagination had been eradicated by the bastard half-breeds. That was before even Teiresias' time, but it had heard the stories, still whispered around the soul-wells to this day; it was a golden age, where his people and those of earth lived in harmony, in Unova at least, and neither ever had to die.
It blinked. There was something about the dark paths that led one's mind to wander, and Teiresias knew that if one's mind wandered here it tended to pull the thinker away with it, dragging them into the endless limbo on either side of the narrow road. It must concentrate, keep its mind on the task at hand. There was important news to deliver, treachery to be uncovered, the League's intervention to be reported.
Teiresias swelled within Smythe's brain like a tumour, and flew onwards into the abyss.
“...ran away,” Cheren finished. “To inform its masters, I presume.”
Throughout the story, Shauntal had sat there silently, listening intently and making copious notes in a black-bound notebook; now, she nodded, drained her cup at a gulp and stood up.
“I see,” she said. “I need to start things going at once... You keep going, you three. Talk to the druids at Nacrene tomorrow, and see if you can find out more about this Teiresias creature. It may give us a way into whatever strange pact Harmonia's made. In the meantime, I'll begin an assault on the Green Party and send word to Lenora to expect you and clear the way with the druids.”
“I thought the druids didn't like the League?” asked Cheren.
“They don't,” replied Shauntal. “I'm hoping they dislike demons even more, though, or we won't get anywhere at all. The Gorsedd is perfectly capable of tying our investigations up in knots if it wants to, especially if there's anything supernatural involved.” She frowned. “I'm not certain about it, though... I don't know
Teiresias is, but I think I may have encountered something similar before.”
“Really? Do you remember anything about it?”
“No, I'm afraid not. I think I fended it off before it did too much damage, but it did eat part of my memory before it left,” she said thoughtfully. “The whole episode is a little hazy.” She clapped her hands together decisively. “Anyway! I really can't afford to stay any longer. I'll leave one of my Pokémon to watch over you in case Teiresias returns – she'll be more of a match for it, I think – but that's as much in the way of concrete help as I can offer right now. Hopefully, the political attack will be more effective. Harmonia is large in the public eye at the moment; a bit of leaked information here and there should cause a media storm that will keep him distracted while I get Grimsley to find out more.”
“Grimsley himself?” queried Cheren. “Doesn't he have people to find things out for him—?”
the reverse,” Shauntal answered. “The League is... um... not really as large as it seems.” She grinned uncomfortably. “It's just the five of us – well, four, since Alder hasn't shown up for a while... and the Leaders aren't really much help, either,” she added confidingly. “This isn't widely-known, but...” She sighed. “You deserve to know what kind of support you're getting.”
“Hold on,” said Halley, narrowing her eyes. “I don't like the sound of this.”
“Well, I'm afraid it's true,” Shauntal told her apologetically. “The Unovan League, to be honest, isn't really as substantial as we like to make out. We don't have the manpower or funding that we used to, and the Gym Leaders are increasingly turning away from our central authority. Clay, Elesa, Drayden, Burgh, Skyla, even Lenora – they don't, um, listen to us so much any more. What used to be hobbies for them have become main careers, and the League has suffered as a result. Even here, Chili, Cress and Cilan get more business from the restaurant than the Gym, and they're the most devoted of the Leaders.”
She sighed again; the buzzing energy seemed to have faded from her, and for the first time I detected the dark circles around her eyes. How much had the decline of Training affected the League, I wondered. It was common knowledge that virtually all Gym Leaders had secondary jobs these days, but I hadn't thought that this would be so much to the detriment of their main business. It seemed like perhaps we might expect less assistance from the League than I had thought.
“So there it is,” Shauntal said, after a pause. “That's it. That's also kind of why we haven't done anything about Harmonia before; we simply haven't had the strength to muster any resistance. To be honest, I don't know how we're going to do it now. We'll do our best – but I'm afraid you're mostly going to be on your own.”
“I see,” I said quietly. “Thank you anyway. Very much.”
I was disappointed, but I understood. The League was doing what it could; I could ask no more.
“Is there anyone else we can go to?” asked Bianca. “For assistance, I mean... the police, maybe?”
“I doubt it,” she replied baldly. “Harmonia isn't going to be halted legally. He's too well-prepared, and too smart. That weird gold-selling of his is proof of that – it's been investigated, but no one can prove anything. Other than the police, the only other option is the druids, but if he's summoning things like Teiresias, he must have contacts high up in the Gorsedd – meaning it could be dangerous to tell them too much about what's happening.”
“Is it me, or is literally
against us here?” asked Halley peevishly. “Honestly. Talk about a f*cking downer.”
“I know, I know,” said Shauntal, shaking her head. “It feels that way. But really,” she went on, checking her watch, “I do have to go. I have to set some journalists on Harmonia and then get over to— well. That much is confidential, I'm afraid.”
“Of course.” Cheren nodded. “We understand.”
“Thank you for everything,” said Bianca. “You've been very helpful.”
“Yeah,” I agreed. “Thank you.”
“Where's this guardian Pokémon you mentioned?” asked Halley.
“She's here,” Shauntal replied evasively. “She prefers not to be seen during daylight hours, I'm afraid. She'll probably introduce herself after night falls.”
“Right,” said Halley. “I'm totally f*cking filled with confidence.”
“What Halley means,” I said hurriedly, “is thank you very much, to you and your Pokémon.” I looked at Halley. “Right?”
She muttered something inaudible.
“It's fine,” said Shauntal. “Really. She's not on my main battling team anyway; I can spare her.” She gave a wan grin. “Now, I really
go this time.”
We said our goodbyes and she stole out swiftly, her footsteps as silent as the Ghosts she trained. A few minutes later, I heard a helicopter passing distantly overhead – and then that was it. Shauntal was gone.
I suddenly felt very alone.
“Mr. Harmonia, is it true your Party has links with undesirables formerly part of the Gorsedd—”
“—onia, how do you respond to the allegations laid against you by the an—”
“—what exactly is it that you expect us to gain by your Liberation policy—“
“Mr. Harmonia, what about the—”
“—relationship to Caitlin Molloy, the notorious—”
“Now, if you could please just calm
” bellowed Harmonia, his artificial eye flitting anxiously back and forth across the seething sea of reporters. “I can't very well answer more than one question at a—”
“Mr. Harmonia!” shouted a reporter, jumping up and down to reach over his compatriots' heads. “What do you have to say about the rumours that your Party is funded by stolen gold?”
“Preposterous!” he replied. “Our bookkeeping is transparent, and we've already passed one audit and investigation by—”
What about the demons?
” howled a new voice, louder by far than any other, and the crowd fell silent for a moment, heads turning to look at the man with the haunted eyes near the back. “Ezra Weiss, investigative journalist,” he said, patting himself on the chest. “And Mr. Harmonia, how do you explain the rumours that your Party has had dealings with creatures that do not belong on this earth?”
is the sort of accusation I have to defend myself against?” Harmonia uttered a short, barking laugh. “Be serious, man!”
For once, the crowd sided with him, and the hubbub resumed.
“Mr. Harmonia, what about Molloy? And Goodfellow, and Thraice?”
“I will release a statement in one hour!” thundered Harmonia, eye spinning in its socket. “All will be explained, that much I promise you!”
With that, he vanished into the Party headquarters, and the great black door slammed shut behind him. For a moment, the crowd of journalists seethed at the gates; then, seeing that there was nothing to be gained, it began to disperse. Some of its members left; some lingered a short distance away, waiting for the action to resume. More than a few went in search of coffee and bagels.
Ezra Weiss watched the façade for a while through narrowed eyes, and then turned away abruptly, shivering; he had seen them again – the white eyes at the darkened third-floor windows. The eyes that he knew no one else could see.
“I'm going to find them, Harmonia,” he muttered to himself. “I'll prove they're there, all right.”
He stalked off past the television crew, and spared a glance for the TV reporter as he passed.
“...stated that a press release would be given later today,” she was telling the camera in a serious voice. “It's not yet clear who leaked the information, but it comes at a crucial point in Harmonia's campaign. With the countdown to the general election now measured in days rather than weeks, and his controversial new Liberation policy already unsettling many voters, Harmonia's election chances are shrinking by the minute. What seemed like an unstoppable force has now come almost to a standstill...”
Ezra shook his head, and walked on. Harmonia would win all right – he would win anything he wanted, with those fiends at his back. He should know.
After all, he was one.
“...come almost to a standstill. Back to you in the studio.”
Cheren clicked off the TV and turned to us.
“Well,” he said, “it looks like Shauntal was as good as her word.”
“Yeah,” agreed Bianca. “I thought she wasn't going to mention the demons, though?”
“It looks like she spread the information quite widely,” Cheren replied. “Everyone had a different thing to question him about, didn't they?”
“So she must have found one person who would actually believe he had demons backing his Party,” concluded Bianca. “Namely, that Weiss guy. OK, I get it.”
“Yes.” Cheren grinned. “Spectacular, wasn't it? She must have been wrong about him having heard about events in the Gym just yet; he wasn't prepared at all!”
“I know. He wasn't nearly as smooth when he wasn't in control, was he?”
“Bloopgork,” chimed in Munny, whatever that meant, and went back to making slow circuits of the Centre's lounge.
I was silent; I didn't much feel like talking. Once we'd got back from the Gym, I'd charged my phone and had a long, heartfelt conversation with Anastasia that left me feeling hollow inside with homesickness; I'd also found 136 missed calls from my parents, but I hadn't dared to answer them yet. Hopefully Cordelia would have explained to them by now; I wasn't looking forward to telling them what had happened, and any preparation on her part would be welcome.
But it was the call to Annie that really got me. I had forgotten that your heart really does hurt when you're sad enough, and I didn't like being reminded of it. She had been well – fully recovered from the fear Teiresias had projected into her brain – but she'd been worried about me; I hadn't called for days. I'd told her about everything that had happened, and she'd compared the Dreamyard to some game she'd played a year ago; everything had, for one short moment, felt exactly as it had before I'd left – and then I had had to go, and as the line went dead I suddenly realised that I missed her more than I knew how to deal with.
I hadn't felt like eating dinner after all that.
“You know,” I said slowly, speaking for the first time since I'd said goodbye to Annie, “I'm feeling kind of tired. I think I might go to bed now.”
Both Cheren and Bianca looked at me sharply; even Halley glanced up drowsily from where she was curled next to Candy on the floor.
“I see,” said Cheren, and I was unsure exactly how much he saw, as he put it.
“Are you OK?” asked Bianca, more concerned.
“Yeah,” I replied. “Yeah. I'll... be fine.” I attempted a smile, and almost managed. “Night!”
“Goodnight,” said Cheren.
“Night night,” said Bianca, brow furrowing.
“Candy. Bedtime,” I said, and she climbed lazily onto my shoulder. We left, and an hour and a half later I'd finally cried myself to sleep, Candy's little heart beating fast against my cheek.
Past midnight, and still working. It wasn't unusual for Harmonia nowadays, but tonight it carried with it a special horror; this wasn't just the usual Party business, but a desperate attempt to repair the damage done by whoever it was that had leaked those rumours to the press. Someone had gone to a lot of trouble and considerable expense to put a hole in his campaign, and he simply couldn't think of who might have the resources to do so; luckily for him, he was about to find out – and unluckily, it was not to be good news.
A sheet of dark fire flared on the other side of his desk, and a pale man appeared in the chair laid out there. He was plump and smiling, and wore a neat suit with a bowler hat; he was, however, the colour of chalk, and his teeth distinctly grey.
“A message from His Undying Majesty, Mr. Harmonia.”
His voice was every bit as merry as his smile, but carried with it a sickly scent that did not smell like any living creature Harmonia knew of.
Harmonia shut his eyes. Usually his fiendish ally sent one of his more intangible subjects as a messenger; a corporeal one was not only unsettling, but meant something serious had happened. Why the King felt this distinction was necessary was beyond him, but then again, the King
been living in a tomb for the last few millennia, and that sort of thing was bound to colour one's thinking after a while.
“'Sraven,” he whispered, feeling sick at the thought of any more bad news. “What is it now?”
“Teiresias has returned,” said the Merry Gentleman (for such, according to certain unpleasant parts of a particularly nasty Treatise, Harmonia had taken to calling him). “It brought with it your agent.”
“Smythe?” Harmonia tensed. What had the dumb bastard done now? “What do you mean, it brought him with it?”
“It appears Mr. Smythe was a traitor,” the Merry Gentleman informed him, his grin broadening. His tongue, Harmonia saw, was blue-black and swollen; he did not know how he spoke, but he was sure that organ wasn't up to the task. “He had informed a friend of his of Teiresias' existence, and very possibly part of His Majesty's plan.”
plan,” corrected Harmonia. The King might be in the habit of sending rather grisly messengers, but that didn't mean he was going to let himself be pushed around, damn it. If you wanted to dine with the devil, you had to stand up for yourself. That, and purchase a very long fork.
The Merry Gentleman inclined his head.
plan, therefore, may well be threatened with exposure – particularly as this friend seemed unaccountably unafraid of Teiresias, even when it possessed Smythe to flee and report back. She threatened to kill it, apparently. From what it saw, she appears to be a woman of singular determination.”
“Do we know who she is?” asked Harmonia. Woden hang 'em! It was one thing after another today...
“I regret to inform you that we do not,” replied the Merry Gentleman. “Teiresias considered it more important to deliver its report than to attempt to follow her, particularly as it had to take with it your man's living body.”
Harmonia gritted his teeth. It sounded like the King was blaming this on him – and the really galling thing was that he was
to do so. He should have seen this coming; Smythe had lived the kind of life wherein one makes dangerous enemies, and
“I see,” he said, trying to maintain his outward cool. “She'll likely be heading for Nacrene, then, where the nearest copy of the Glasya-Labolas is – she can't know what Teiresias is, surely. We have people there already; I should be able to prepare something to throw her off the trail while we work on her identity.”
The Merry Gentleman's smile broadened a second time. It was now almost too wide for Harmonia to bear; it stretched so far across his cheeks that he almost felt the flesh of the Gentleman's face might give way and tear under the strain.
“Very well, Mr. Harmonia,” he said. “Teiresias will return here as soon as it is rested, to await direction. It is so
eager to find this Halley,” he added, with a small and horrible chuckle.
Harmonia clenched his pen with such force his knuckles looked like they would burst through the skin of his hand.
“Is there anything else?” he asked.
“Yes, just one more thing,” the Gentleman replied. “His Majesty suggests the League is behind the recent attack on your campaign.”
Harmonia started. What in Middangeard...? The
With so few people, and with all they had to do right now? How had they been able to afford it? And how had they found out?
“You can't be serious!”
“An understandable reaction,” said the Merry Gentleman, “but I must draw your attention to the fact that the altercation between Teiresias and this woman took place in a Gym, in full view of two Gym Leaders and within another's body. Halley and her group were also present – and we doubt that they did not seize this opportunity to seek aid.”
Who was this 'we'? Better, Harmonia thought, not to ask – not where the King's Gentlemen were concerned.
“I see,” he said faintly. “Is there... anything else?”
“No,” replied the Gentleman. “Thank you for your time, Mr. Harmonia. His Undying Majesty sends his regards.”
And then he was gone – just like that. None of the theatrics this time; no dark fire or flashing lights. Just gone.
Harmonia waited for a full thirty seconds before he dared breathe again.
“Thunir's hammer,” he sighed weakly, resting his head on his desk. “The f*ck is with those things?”
He didn't comfort himself. He knew exactly what was with them, and that was what frightened him.
Morning brought another depressingly dreary day – yesterday was apparently an aberration – and the end of our time in Striaton. The druid and Shauntal had both recommended we head to Nacrene, and the four of us agreed that we should be doing it as soon as possible; if we were lucky, we might get there and get a head start on how to defeat Teiresias before it returned from informing the mysterious 'Kings' it had mentioned, whoever they were. Consequently, we'd agreed the night before to be ready to catch the ten o'clock train to Nacrene Central – which of course meant that we didn't leave the Pokémon Centre until about eleven. This put Cheren in a bad mood (he'd been hoping we might be early and get the nine twenty-six, I think) but really, he should have expected it; he was dealing with two teenagers and a cat – neither of which are exactly renowned for their early waking hours.
Eventually, we ended up on the eleven seventeen, and after an hour of boredom – punctuated only by Shauntal's Ghost (who still hadn't introduced herself yet) rattling the windows every so often – I found myself once more in a city centre. That, I thought, was how to travel: cut out all that tedious walking through the forest; just get on a train and go straight from urban heart to urban heart. No need for dirt or sleeping in tents: you stayed in the midst of the comforts of civilisation, every step of the way.
Nacrene itself was very different from Black City. It wasn't quite as new, for the most part, though I knew from visiting Uncle Gregory that parts of it were almost indistinguishable from my hometown, with the same looming skyscrapers and cloud-tickling towers. In the heart of it, though, around the station, I kept looking up and seeing windows that still had shutters, or little baroque swirls of decoration, that would have been thoroughly out of place back home.
Our destination, the Travison Memorial Library, was even more old-fashioned. It was the kind of gigantic neoclassical monstrosity the British had thrown up everywhere when they first arrived, with columns and arches in abundance and a multiplicity of pedimented windows. I wouldn't say it was attractive, but it was definitely impressive. It put me in mind of a vast, many-legged beast forever wrapped up in a smug sense of its own stateliness.
“That is an
building,” I said, staring up at it.
Cheren looked at me sharply.
“Um... no,” he said frankly. “It isn't. It's quite beautiful.”
“Yeah,” agreed Bianca. “Look at it! It's like a castle.”
“I'm on their side,” drawled Halley. “It's a damn fine piece of architecture. If it weren't the size of the British Museum I'd probably nick it.”
“Ark,” put in Candy, uncertain what everyone was talking about but determined not to be left out.
“Huh,” I said, feeling vaguely betrayed. “Er... huh.”
,” said Halley sarcastically.
“You know, we should get you a collar,” I replied savagely. “You'd actually look like a tame cat that way.”
She bristled, as I'd known she would.
“No one's putting a f*cking collar on me—”
“It's actually quite a good idea,” said Cheren. “I should have thought of that before. We'll see what we can do about it after we visit the library.”
“Hey.” Halley sounded worried. “Hey, you are joking, right?”
“Come on,” said Bianca. “We've done enough standing and staring. Let's go in already.”
We began to move towards the entrance, Halley circling our heels.
“No, seriously,” she said, “you're joking, right? Tell me you're joking.”
“It's a shame about the weather today,” Cheren said to me.
“I know,” I replied “At least it was sunny yesterday, even if it was cold as well.”
“Are you listening? You hate me, don't you? I'm sorry for all the mean things I said. But you are joking, right?”
“I don't know... I think it's a bit warmer today,” Bianca said. “It feels like it, anyway.”
At that point, I noticed the person leaning against a column in the entrance portico and stopped dead. Halley's concern no longer seemed funny to me; I felt the blood roar inexplicably in my veins and my heart pound rhythmically like a cannibal drumbeat.
It was him.
It was the guy whose name I knew without knowing.
It was N, and he was looking back at me with the same fear in his eyes as was crawling in my stomach.
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Robin Goodfellow's Christmas Carol
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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