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Old Posted March 25th, 2013 (02:23 AM).
Cutlerine
Gone. May or may not return.
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
Age: 21
Gender:
Nature: Impish
Chapter Fifteen: Plasma

Imprisonment was nothing new to Portland Smythe.

Entombment, however, was.

He had awoken from uneasy dreams to find himself lying at length upon something hard and cold, and in an absolute darkness; there was no room to move his hands or indeed anything at all, and his attempt to sit up ended prematurely when his nose thumped fleshily into solid stone.

A lesser man would have panicked. Smythe, used to inconveniences of the most fearsome kind, did not – although he was far from calm. He had been possessed by Teiresias, he recalled, and returned to the care of Harmonia – or, potentially, to that of Weland; while doubtless despicable, Harmonia didn't strike him as the type to bury people alive.

Christchristchristchristhewasburiedalive

No. Smythe had been down that road before, long ago. Panic was a one-way ticket from a Bad Situation to a Very Much Worse one. There was no sense in boarding that particular train.

“Deep breaths,” Smythe said aloud, trying to calm himself. His voice had a peculiar muffled echoing sound to his mind – or was that just his knowledge of the severity of his situation getting in the way of his senses? No, it was – it wasn't – it was— wait! “Not deep breaths!” Smythe cried. “Definitely not deep breaths. Conserve air. Shut up!”

He clamped his mouth tightly shut and took a series of tiny breaths through his nose; a minute later, dizzy with lack of oxygen, his will broke and he gasped convulsively.

Calm down, he told himself silently. Calm down, Portland, calm down... They don't want to kill you! They'll want information – they'll... oh, sh*t.

They'll want to know about Niamh.

Smythe bit his lip.

Christ. Niamh.

He had personally seen her escape the clutches of the Czech Pokémon Champion while decapitating a surgically-created minotaur sewn together from bits of bull and gorilla, and heard tales from her that required no embellishment to astound – but still... This time she was up against more than mere monsters. The creatures to whose attention she had come weren't really flesh and blood – weren't even really mortal, not in the conventional sense of the word.

Niamh had killed everything life threw at her before, but Smythe had a horrible feeling that she wasn't going to be able to kill this one. Not without help, anyway.

“Right, then,” he muttered, an icy determination suddenly coming over him. “That makes it simple, then.”

Niamh couldn't possibly kill a demon without help. Smythe was in the very heart of the demons' lair.

From here, quite conceivably, he could find a way to destroy a demon, and thus save Niamh.

All he had to do was escape.

---

It took a long time for Anita and Shauntal's Ghost to become reconciled to each other's presence; Charles spoke volubly to the former, and Cheren attempted to argue with the latter, although she didn't actually deign to become visible again. Threats, bribery, reason – every possible avenue of attack was tried; at length Anita agreed, in aggressively choppy sign language, to perform the mind reading – but only if the Ghost was banished from the room while she did it.

At that, the Ghost shrieked so loudly she set the bookcases rattling, which seemed to be indicative of disagreement, and it wasn't until much further argument had passed between her and Cheren that she consented to leave the room – but only for sixty seconds, she said, because she didn't trust 'that f*cking Goth b*tch' any further than she could spit her.

I hadn't realised before quite how much Psychic- and Ghost-types hated each other – something to do with a long-standing argument over which was the true master of the mental world, Cheren told me later – so I suppose you could say it was quite informative; mostly, though, it seemed the most pointless waste of time I'd ever encountered.

Finally, though, the Ghost was outside and Anita was (moderately) happy, and the Gothitelle pressed her hands to my temples.

“Now, if you could just relax,” said Charles, but his voice already seemed to come from immeasurably far away; I had lost sight of anything but Anita's eyes, which I was plunging towards like a stone into a tropical lagoon, and which now I crashed into with a mind-fracturing splash—

“Would you like to put it to the test?” asked the woman, unimpressed. “Honestly, I've killed more monsters than you've ever dreamed existed.”

“What
I dream would shatter your skull,” replied Teiresias. “Smythe, why have you brought this creature here? Is this a declaration of war?”

Smythe shook his head so vigorously it looked dangerously close to coming off.

“No,” he said. “No no no no no no no—”

“It would seem the circumstances have changed,” Teiresias interrupted, apparently talking to itself. “The Kings and the Regent must be informed at once. And as for you, treacherous Smythe...”

With unnatural speed, Chili's body coiled like a cat and sprang across the Gym in a parabolic arc, dislodging Lelouch and landing next to Smythe; before anyone could react to that, his hand clamped across Smythe's face and black smoke oozed from the latter's eyes and mouth. A moment later, Chili slumped to the floor and Smythe, eyes aglow, was gone.


—I burst out of the other side and crashed back into my body with what felt like enough force to snap a rib; I stumbled back a few steps and would have fallen onto Hawes had Bianca and Cheren not grabbed my arms.

Anita turned to Charles and made a few sulky-looking signs, then swept out with an air of aggrieved majesty.

“All right,” he sighed, evidently much relieved to have the whole thing over with. “There's sufficient evidence there to suggest that yes, you are being stalked by a demon.”

The door rattled, and though the world was still somewhat hazy, I thought I detected a barely-perceptible blur cross the ceiling as Shauntal's Ghost slithered back in.

“Yeah, thanks,” I murmured sarcastically. “Glad we cleared that one up.”

I blinked and struggled back to my feet.

“So,” I went on, the room slowly ceasing to rock back and forth beneath me. “Can we have a look at the Glasya-Labolas now?”

---

Two hours later, we were sitting around the table, the Glasya-Labolas beneath the reading lamp, and an unpleasant chill creeping through our souls.

Teiresias had some considerable space devoted to it in the grimoire, much of which dealt with, in a tone that seemed almost gleeful, its long and atrocity-strewn past. From Jericho to Uruk, Athens to Rome, London to New York – it had slipped on shaded wings from one metropolis to another, staying always in the most advanced cities it could find, feasting on fear, hatred and the occasional entire soul. Its diet, however, wasn't really the main issue; we'd guessed that much already.

No, it was what it did in its free time that concerned us.

There were things described in the Glasya-Labolas that simply did not seem possible; things that the human mind could not withstand unless sustained by some supernatural force – and Teiresias, with spirited curiosity and careless spite, was perfectly capable of providing that force even as it peeled layer after layer from the psyche, examining each shred of consciousness minutely before ingesting and categorising it.

It had been a scientist, of sorts, the book said casually.

Not only that, but it was proleptic – could occasionally see the future. This wasn't that unusual – I knew a girl at school who had prolepsia – but it was unsettling news. Proleptics' visions were most usually concerned with avoiding danger; it was a kind of psychic self-defence mechanism, often preparing the seer for some calamity that would occur in the future – and so far, Teiresias' visions had kept it one step ahead of the countless people who had attempted to destroy it. In 1760, its last recorded appearance in Unova, it had driven an entire Council of the Gorsedd murderously insane a week before a concerted effort was to have been made to banish it; the eighty-one druids affected had gone on a killing spree that nearly wiped out an entire village, and was only stopped by the fact that they ended up killing each other.

That was where the trail ended. One year after that, there were hints that Teiresias had been badly injured in some titanic fight, and it had disappeared from the face of the earth. The author of its entry, writing sixty-five years later, even suggested hopefully that it had died from its wounds. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case, as we could attest.

The silence deepened. We could have used Hawes to break it, but he had left earlier to see to some directorial taks.

“Well, it does seem to have weakened a bit since then,” said Charles at length.

“It's killed over two hundred druids,” I replied hollowly. “It doesn't matter if it's weakened a bit, it's still lethal.”

“That's not to say it can't be beaten,” said Cheren. “And it doesn't want to kill you or Halley, anyway.”

“No, it wants us alive,” replied Halley. “Which is, if anything, an even more horrifying thought. Look.” She stalked across the tabletop and flipped to the relevant page in the Glasya-Labolas. “One year towards the end of the fifteenth century,” she read, “it is believed that the fiend held in a state of the most fearsome captivity a family of nine from Naples, the sole survivor of which, upon escaping by the most fortunate of circumstances, was imprisoned for life when it became apparent that, in the course of his prior experience, his state of mind had become singularly deranged, best characterised by a taste for cannibalism...” She looked up. “I could go on. There's plenty of similar stuff here.”

“Yeah, don't,” Bianca said hurriedly. “I think we've heard enough.”

“Yes,” I agreed. “We definitely have.”

“Teiresias doesn't want you two insane either,” pointed out Cheren. “Well, perhaps you, Jared, but definitely not Halley – since it's from her that Harmonia's going to get this information.”

“How monumentally f*cking reassuring,” I muttered under my breath.

“What was that?”

“Nothing,” I replied, and swiftly changed the subject. “Look, we can talk about Teiresias' atrocities til the cows come home, but what are we going to do now?”

“Well, it says here that Teiresias' weaknesses were never fully uncovered, so the only method that might have any effect on it would be a full-scale attack by a massed group of druids,” said Cheren thoughtfully. “So. I'm not really sure there's anything we can do.” He turned towards a corner of the room that was slightly darker than the rest – the one containing the Ghost. “You might wish to return to Shauntal,” he told her. “I think if it actually comes to a fight, you might well be destroyed by this thing.”

Evidently she then spoke in his head, because a moment later, Cheren said:

“Well, if that's what you want I can't really force you... No, I understand. Fine.” He turned back to us. “She says she'll check with Shauntal before she goes. She's uncomfortable about just leaving. It smacks of unprofessionalism.”

“How would she check with Shauntal without leaving?” I asked.

“I don't think you're meant to ask that sort of question,” he replied. “It's a Ghost thing.”

“Oh,” I said, mystified. “OK.”

“That's not the point,” snapped Halley. “Have you forgotten the whole lethal f*cking demon aspect? There's still that to deal with.”

“I don't see what we can do about it,” said Cheren. “Except what we've kept on doing this entire time. If we try and organise any kind of attack on Teiresias, it'll foresee it and avoid it or kill everyone beforehand. The only way it could conceivably be fought is completely randomly.”

“So we just carry on and ignore it?” asked Bianca incredulously. “Is that all we can do?”

“I don't like it any more than you do,” he replied. “But... Charles. You're a druid. Anything we can do?”

He shifted uncomfortably in his seat.

“Well, we haven't really done much in the way of laying demons to rest for quite some time now,” he said evasively. “Nothing as strong as Teiresias has come to Unova for... well, 1867, I think, when something called Ammit swept up out of Egypt and stole the hearts of everyone in Anville Town straight out of their chests. It left straight afterwards. No one noticed for about a month.”

“Don't change the subject,” said Halley forcefully. “What can we do?”

“Er, well, not a lot,” admitted Charles. “Not with something like this. We can offer charms of protection, but—”

“Hang on,” said Cheren suddenly. “Is the Gorsedd really that complacent? Didn't you ever think that perhaps demons might start popping up again?”

“It rather seemed to us that their time was past,” answered Charles unhappily.

“Well, f*ck,” snapped Halley. “What's the use of druids if they don't have any power?”

“We can cure athlete's foot,” offered Charles hopefully.

“So can my doctor,” she growled, and turned to face me. “This was a waste of time,” she said. “Let's leave. This guy, this book – less use than a chocolate f*cking teapot.”

“Hey!” cried Charles, something of his crushed dignity reasserting itself. “I won't be spoken to li—”

“And why not?” asked Halley crushingly. “Have you achieved anything at all of worth today – in your entire life? Oh, you recategorised an errant book! You stopped people reading a Treatise for no reason whatsoever! Whoop-de-f*cking-doo.”

She jumped off the table and stalked over to the door, where she paused.

“This would have been a lot more effective if I could open the door and stalk out,” she mused. “Jared...?”

“We're not leaving yet,” I said firmly. “We need to figure out what—”

Something that sounded like the storming of the Bastille came to our ears.

“What in Neorxnawang...?” cried Charles. “Did that come from the entrance hall...?”

“It sounded like it,” said Bianca, looking worried. “Was—”

A gunshot. Someone screamed.

It sounded like Hawes.

“That's it,” said Cheren, getting to his feet. “Bianca! Jared!”

“Coming,” I replied, following suit.

“Is this a good plan?” asked Bianca doubtfully.

More gunshots now, and a horrible wrenching sound, like tearing metal.

“No,” said Cheren, “but it's the right one.”

Damn, I thought. I wish I'd thought to say that.

It was of no importance now anyway; Cheren opened the door and Bianca and I followed. It sounded like the Library was being subjected to a full-scale invasion, and even this place didn't have the security to handle that: the guards would need all the help they could get.

“Wait!” cried Charles, but none of us listened; the commotion was even louder now, and I heard breaking glass and frenzied voices. It reminded me of Regenschein's, and instinctively I grabbed a fire extinguisher from a bracket on the wall; it wasn't the best weapon I could think of, but it was heavy enough to hit people with, though its potential for exploding if shot was slightly worrying.

Cheren picked his way through the corridors with unerring accuracy; I had no idea how he knew the way back to the hall, but we traversed it, if anything, even faster than we had on the previous journey. Despite this, however, the noise seemed to be fading as we approached – and by the time we burst out into the hall, Lelouch and Munny fanning out ahead of us, the place was empty and the great doors were slamming shut.

“Sh*t,” snapped Cheren, which startled me; I hadn't heard him swear before. “Look!”

The place was a wreck: the Dragonite skeleton had been torn from its metal moorings and scattered liberally around the room, and several display cases had been smashed; a couple of ancient stone tablets had been shattered and strewn across the tiles – and near the front desk, shirt red and slick with blood, was Hawes.

“F*ck,” breathed Bianca, wide-eyed. This, if anything, was even more startling than Cheren swearing, but the circumstances more than justified it. “Hawes!”

We ran across to him, Cheren calling for an ambulance as we went, and found him in a seriously bad way: his breath was ragged and there was so much blood matting his clothes it was hard to find the wound.

“Lelouch, tourniquet,” said Cheren curtly, and the Snivy coiled tightly around Hawes' thigh, just above the bullet hole. “Bianca—”

“Already doing it,” she said. “Munny, calm him.”

It drifted down to land on Hawes' head, and blue light began to pulse steadily from its flanks into his cranium.

“He's still losing too much blood,” muttered Cheren. “Tighter, Lelouch!”

He obediently tightened his grip, and the gush slowed to a trickle. Seeing that there was nothing I could do, I crossed to the doors and flung them open, hoping to catch a glimpse of the people who had been here—

“Woden hang 'em,” I gasped, staring. “What the hell is going on?”

The square outside was full of smoke and flames; two cars had been overturned and set ablaze, and I could hear the roar of a mob coming from somewhere down the street, out of sight. I listened, and thought I could distinguish something in the hubbub – a chant of some kind – but the words eluded me.

“Plasma,” said Halley, materialising by my side. “They're yelling 'Plasma'. What's with that?”

“I don't know,” I said, grabbing Candy from my shoulder and setting her down on the front desk. “But I'm going to find out.”

“Hey, I'd appreciate it if my bodyguard didn't go on suicide missions,” began Halley, but I wasn't listening; I was hurtling down the steps, taking them three at a time, heading down towards the street and the roaring crowd. I saw a cricket bat lying on the ground near the flaming cars and snatched it up as I passed in case of danger; it felt wet to the touch, and I realised with a jolt that there was blood running down it.

I reached the road and stopped dead; there was no traffic, but what I could see further down the street left me frozen.

There must have been two or three hundred people there, coursing down the road in a huge crushing wave of shouts and yells and gunshots, and they looked like they were in the process of doing as much damage to the city as was humanly possible. Shop windows were kicked in and cars torched; the sound of breaking glass mingled with screams and strange, savage war-cries – and over everything rose that endless, manic chant:

“Plas-ma! Plas-ma! Plas-ma!”

“Thunor,” I said shakily. “There's...”

“A riot, yeah.”

I started, and turned to see a tall man with wild brown hair and oddly protuberant eyes standing next to me. He scratched his head, staring at the chaos, and continued:

“Did you see an old man going past here? Robes, big white moustache, funny hat?”

“Uh... no,” I replied. I felt like reality was rapidly flying away from beneath my feet; a riot, unlikely as it was, I could handle – but random questions about old men in funny hats? Right now, it seemed so incongruous that it made me want to hit him.

“He's the ringleader,” explained the man. “I was just about to visit the Museum when I saw him lead a crowd into the Library. They smashed up the place pretty good, and then they scattered. Looks like the— duck!”

He pushed me aside, and a hubcap sailed through the air where we'd been standing a moment before.

“So yeah, looks like the riot's a cover for whatever the old dude's up to,” he continued, apparently unfazed – although his weird eyes made his expression hard to read.

“Did you see which way he went?” I asked. It couldn't be a coincidence – this unprecedented riot, culminating in an attack on the Library, on the very day we were visiting? This had to have some kind of link to the Green Party, I was sure of it – and that meant the old man might have answers. Answers that, hopefully, could be beaten out of him with a cricket bat – although my experiences at Regenschein's had always left me wary of the elderly. They were tougher than most people thought, and if this old man was leading an army through Nacrene, he'd definitely be one of the tough ones.

“I'm not sure,” said the man, “but I think he went—”

He was cut off by the sound of hooves; we both looked around at the same time, and simultaneously stepped back into the square fronting the Library to let a wave of mounted police pass. I had never seen them before – had never even seen a horse before – and stared open-mouthed as they surged forwards, truncheons and shields at the ready. They sounded like an army as they passed – and judging by their numbers, they were an army. Padding with a muted click of claws at the head of each column of officers was a gigantic hound; each had dark blue flanks and a great mass of beige fur on their backs and heads, with shaggy moustaches that trailed on the ground. I had never seen them before, either, but I knew what they were: Stoutland, the Pokémon you resorted to when attack dogs just didn't cut it.

“Right on time,” commented the man. “Come on. They'll deal with the riots soon enough – we'll go after the old man.”

“We?” I asked. I wasn't thinking properly; the riot, and the weird guy, and the mounted police with their burnished shields and Stoutland, had all combined to stupefy me and leave my brain feeling somewhat like jelly.

The man looked at me in the same way as a teacher when they know you haven't been listening.

“You're after him too, right?” he asked. “It seems obvious enough.”

“Oh. Uh, yeah. Yeah, I am.” I had let the bat drop to my side; I hefted it now and swung it back into a ready position. “Right. Where did you say he went?”

“I think he went this way,” said the man, crossing the road. I started to follow, then heard a ferocious cry go up from the right and stopped to stare down the street at the pitched battle that was now raging. I couldn't see much past the cavalry and the smoke, but I saw the white flowering of tear gas, and heard the thunderous baying of the Stoutland amid the shouts and screams—

“Hey!” cried the stranger. “Are you coming or not?”

“Yeah,” I said, voice trembling slightly. This was worse than Regenschein's – bigger, bloodier and so horribly, unexpectedly sudden – but I could handle it. As long as I didn't go into the heart of the mob itself, I could handle it. “Yeah, I'm... I'm coming.”

I turned and ran across the street after him. There was no time to waste standing around. I had an old man to catch.

---

“Hello. Ms. Harper?”

“Speaking.”

Niamh could never fathom why Mr. Boares – for such was the name of her employer at Ingen – seemed incapable of remembering her voice. He had heard it often enough, after all; she'd been taking their contracts for years. But for whatever reason, whenever he called her, he began the conversation with the same question. It had started to annoy her after a while, but, having decided that Mr. Boares was a moron of the first water, it had long since ceased to seem anything other than a symptom of his inescapable idiocy.

She sipped her coffee and waited for him to speak.

“We were wondering,” he said, “how your mission was going? That Archen is an obsolete version – and, more to the point, a wholly unlicensed genetic product, with our markers in its DNA. If it were to fall into the hands of the GLA...”

Doubtless Mr. Boares thought trailing off like that was ominous. In actual fact, it just made him sound like he'd forgotten what he was talking about.

“If it were to fall into the hands of the GLA what?” asked Niamh peevishly. Ingen and their petty demands irritated her at the best of times – and now, with Smythe in danger and a would-be regicidal demon courting her interest, they were more of an annoyance than ever.

“Oh.” Mr. Boares had not been expecting this, it seemed. “Um, well, you know. It would be traced back to us and we would face an inquiry into why we are producing unlicensed creatures, not to mention a fine – and the inquiry might uncover other, more – um – secret secrets.”

“More secret secrets?” Niamh tried very hard not to laugh at him, and just about succeeded.

“Yes. More, um, secret secrets than the Archen.” Mr. Boares paused. “Well. How is, ah, that matter of the Archen proceeding? You assured us it would be dealt with within a few days.”

“Ah,” said Niamh, thinking hard. “Um... do you remember that business at the Striaton Gym yesterday? It was in today's papers. One of the Leaders was hospitalised.”

“Oh yes?”

“That was the Archen,” said Niamh, as seriously as she could. “It's, er, more dangerous than you told me it would be. Seems to have some fairly unearthly abilities.”

“Oh dear,” said Mr. Boares. “The Archen... did that?”

“Yep,” said Niamh. “Spat these weird lumps of darkness at him. I tried to hush it up – kept the details out of the papers.”

“Lumps of darkness...?” Mr. Boares sounded close to tears. Niamh imagined him, plump and distressed in his office, picturing a full-scale government inquiry into why International Genetics had released a Gym-Leader-eating monster bird into Unova, and suppressed another chuckle.

“Yeah. You sure it only had eagle and Archen DNA in it? I should think there was something else in there, you know.”

“Oh my,” said Mr. Boares faintly. “Oh my... Well, ah, please do your best, Ms. Harper... if you'll excuse me, I think I need to speak to my manager now.”

“Sure,” she said, with a wicked grin. “I'll get right on it.”

She hung up and leaned back in her chair, taking a victory draught of her coffee.

“Fan-tastic,” she said to herself. “That'll keep the bastards off my back for a while. In fact, let's celebrate it.” She glanced across the café at the waiter. “Hey, can I get a blueberry muffin?”

Whether or not she could proved something of a moot point, since at that moment the sound of chanting and and car alarms came to her ears, and a rubbish bin was hurled through the window.

Immediately, Niamh kicked over her table and ducked behind it, glass flying overhead; a moment later, she heard twin thumps by the window and slammed her shoulder into the underside of the table, sending it sliding towards the men who'd just entered and knocking their legs out from under them.

It wouldn't hold them for long, but Niamh was loath to end lives that didn't belong to abominations, and seized the moment to vault the counter and head back through the kitchen to the back door; a moment later, she burst out into a small courtyard between the backs of three shops, and slipped through an archway out onto Burgher Street.

Here, she saw for the first time the scale of the problem: there was, for whatever reason, a riot in progress, and the street was a seething mass of shouting men and women, brandishing guns and less sophisticated weapons, all yelling out at the top of their voices:

“Plas-ma! Plas-ma! Plas-ma!”

“Bloody anarchists,” muttered Niamh, whacking one who'd come a bit too close over the head with a brick. “I really wanted that muffin.”

A couple of other rioters had seen her flooring their companion, and rushed at her with a cricket bat and a broken bottle; Niamh lobbed the brick at the bottle-wielder and, ducking under the sweep of the bat, broke the nose of his companion with a well-placed punch. He recoiled, swearing and whining, and Niamh took the opportunity to slip back through the archway and take cover in the courtyard before any more of the rioters came after her. She had no doubt that in a one-to-one fight with any of them she could emerge the victor – but there were over two hundred of them and only one of her, which did not make for reassuring odds.

Unfortunately, it seemed that this was not going to be enough; the man with the broken nose staggered through the archway and pointed at her, yelling something inaudible over the roar of the mob. Niamh didn't wait for his companions to follow; she jumped up onto a bin, grabbed hold of a drainpipe and made for the roof. As she crested the gutter and hauled herself up onto the slates, a bullet zipped past overhead, and Niamh flung herself flat on her belly, worming her way behind a chimney-stack before getting to her feet and running.

“Sh*t!” she yelled, half in anger at the morons chasing her and half at herself for provoking them. “Not a good move!”

From here, she could see smoke rising from multiple points around the city, and hear shouts and screams spiralling out of the chaos that weltered in the street below. Car alarms – flames – breaking glass – cries of pain – deep, coughing barks and the swish-thump of truncheons...

“'Sraven,” she muttered, leaping carefully over a yawning alleyway and landing on the flat roof of a kebab shop. “What brought this on?”

No one seemed to have followed her up here, so Niamh took the opportunity to look around; she appeared to be above quieter streets now, and she dropped lightly onto a fire escape and hurried back to ground level.

A few streets away, she stopped to catch her breath in the shadow of a statue, and a fire engine tore past, siren screaming – followed, seconds later, by another. The whole city seemed to be collapsing around her, reflected Niamh, and hurried on; she did not want to be caught out by the oncoming mob.

The streets were eerily deserted, which she supposed made sense, given how dangerous it was to be out right now – but wasn't there anywhere safe in the city? The riots couldn't have spread right across Nacrene, could they? They must be confined to a few districts at least, even allowing for opportunistic looters to have taken advantage of the situation and started more of them.

Niamh kept going, heading in any direction where the smoke was thinnest and the hubbub quietest, but soon found that wherever she went, the roar of the crowd swelled again. It seemed, she thought, that she was surrounded – which meant she would have to make a break for it around one of the mobs. She saw no reason why it wouldn't work: she was fast and agile, and they weren't out to get her in particular. With the minimum of effort, she ought to be able to effect a quick getaway around one or other of the groups.

“All right,” she said, gritting her teeth and rounding a corner onto Memorial Street, “let's go.”

Immediately, she was struck by a wave of heat, pouring from a pair of wrecked cars; ducking around them, Niamh saw that she'd stumbled across a battle between the police and the rioters. As she watched, a constable was dragged from his horse and vanished amid a thrashing of limbs; another was shot in the arm and fell – only to be saved by a Stoutland, the great dog brutally headbutting the aggressor out of the way and catching the policeman gently in its jaws. A short distance away, white plumes of tear gas rose up amid the chaos, and a panicked rush began as the rioters pushed away from them.

Niamh shook her head.

“So f*cked up,” she said to herself, creeping along the street in the shadow of the buildings. “What the hell do they think they're achieving?”

No one answered, but she hadn't expected them to.

The tear gas had moved the battle closer to her, but had not ended it; some rioters, she now saw, had gas masks similar to those of the police. Not for the first time, Niamh wondered who these people were: several things about them, from their weaponry to their preparedness, struck her as more indicative of a pillaging army than a simple angry mob.

“Strange,” she murmured, though she could not hear her voice over the cacophony of the fight and the chant.

Now the battle was upon her, and Niamh wound her way around its side, thrusting one or two rioters – and an overzealous policeman – out of her way with a swift series of punches; for the most part, however, it was easy to overlook one thirty-something woman in the heat of battle, and Niamh emerged unscathed from the other side. She ducked into an alley and headed down it, not knowing where it led and not caring, either; she did not look back, and in a couple of minutes the hideous sounds of battle had faded in her ears. There were people in the streets here, and they were going about their lives as normal, as yet unaware of the chaos reigning in the northern district; with a sigh of relief, Niamh let herself fall into their midst, and vanished into the crowds.

---

Far away, on a train speeding through the forest, a boy with green hair and grey eyes was dreaming of dragons.

And twice as far away again, in a tower under the watchful eye of the one who stole it, a dragon was dreaming of him.
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For information about A Grand Day Out, a bizarre short story in video game form, click here.
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