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Old April 29th, 2013 (10:14 AM).
Cutlerine Cutlerine is offline
Gone. May or may not return.
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
Age: 21
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Chapter Nineteen: Infiltration, Act One

Trains to Castelia were the best you could get in Unova; in fact, they were probably on a par with trains in other countries, Castelia being relatively large and modern, and by six o'clock the train was clattering through the suburbs, a haze of smoke lying thick in the distance over towers aflame with sunset.

As I stared out of the window, I felt a sudden and uncharacteristic sense of excitement growing in me; I'd only ever visited Castelia twice in my life before – had only left White Forest a handful of times before Halley had appeared, in fact – and it still seemed to me to be a huge, glittering fantasy castle, all turrets and bright lights and magic. We all felt the same way, I think; Bianca had her nose pressed up against the window, looking at the angular, light-drenched pillar of the Mondelsson building standing tall to the north, and even Cheren kept taking short, darting glances at the scenery as we passed. Justine, Munny and Candy vied for positions on the table between the seats, each staring at the unrelenting sea of shining buildings with mingled fear and wonder; the only two unaffected were Halley, who was asleep on the seat next to me, and Lelouch, who was both too incurious to care and too preoccupied with his coming evolution – as Cheren had explained earlier, that was why he'd sprouted those small buds along his spine; he was beginning the process of changing his shape to a more mature form.

“We need to discuss what we're going to do when we get there,” said Cheren at last, tearing himself away from the passing suburbs. “I think we're going to have to try and get inside the Green Party HQ.”

I blinked and looked up from the window.

“What? How are we going to do that?”

“Well, therein lies the issue,” he replied. “I haven't a clue. If Harmonia has agents like Teiresias at his disposal, I dread to think what the security on that place is like. Not to mention the fact that presumably every single member of the Party knows who we are by this point.”

“That's true,” said Halley, stretching luxuriously. I started; I thought she was asleep. “None of you have a chance of getting in there. I guess what you need is an infiltrator. Someone who can skulk.”

Cheren raised his eyebrows.

“Halley, you have no thumbs. You're not exactly an ideal agent.”

“The information will be on computers or some sh*t like that,” she said, waving his concerns aside. “I can type. It'll just take me slightly longer with paws. And let's face it,” she continued, “the chances of any of you getting past Harmonia's security undetected is nil. Whereas I can hide inside a desk drawer if I have to.”

“You're not that small—”

“Yes, but I'm a cat,” she pointed out. “That makes me an honorary liquid: I can fit into pretty much anything.” She sighed. “Look, I'm not going to tell you what to do. I'm just telling you that I can get in there and you can't.”

“Cheren, I think she's probably right,” said Bianca. “I mean... how are we going to get in?”

He sighed.

“I suppose you're right,” he said. “I just don't really like the idea of trusting the job to Halley.”

“Hey!” cried Halley. “I'm right here, y'know. I can hear everything you're saying.”

“I know. I don't care.”

“I trust Halley,” I put in, thinking of our walk through the forest and the concern she had shown then; I was certain that her acidity was mostly an act. “I'm sure she can do it.”

“There you go – Lauren's seal of approval,” said Halley. “What more do you want?”

“Hmph,” muttered Cheren. “All right, all right. You're right, there doesn't seem to be any other way.” He took off his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Halley, if you deliberately screw this up—”

“Being the extraordinarily perceptive young man that you are,” she snapped, “it surely hasn't escaped your attention that I've got a vested interest in the Party documents. I want clues to my past as much as anything else – amnesia, remember? And since I can't do it myself, I'm going to need you guys to help me out with whatever clues I find, so you have a guarantee I'll get what I can about N as well, and come back with it.” She glared at him, and I could almost feel the air writhe away from her eyes, trembling as if on the first breath of a thunderstorm. “Happy now?”

“No. But I am satisfied.”

“Good. Now go back to staring out the f*cking window and let me sleep.”

She curled up again, flicking her tail moodily, and said no more; whether she really was asleep or not was open to debate, but it was clear the conversation was at an end.

“Right,” said Bianca, voice strained with forced brightness. “That settles that, then. Anyone want to play I Spy?”

It was a futile attempt to recover the atmosphere and she knew it. No one said anything more; even the Pokémon began to shift uncomfortably, and the silence only deepened as the train clattered on.

---

“I don't think going backstage agrees with me,” said Niamh, losing her footing and falling headfirst into a wall. “I feel drunk.”

“Yes, I've heard it does that,” replied Ezra sympathetically. “Never mind. You'll get used to it.”

“I'd rather not. Can't we take a train next time?”

Ezra shrugged.

“We got from Nacrene to Castelia in twelve minutes this way. Can you do that by train?”

“Fair enough.”

Picking herself up, Niamh looked around and found herself utterly incapable of working out where they were; if Ezra hadn't told her so, she wouldn't have known that they had left Nacrene at all. A streetlamp, a pavement, two rows of old terraced housing; they could have been in any of Unova's larger cities. It wasn't until a little later, when she saw the flash of the Mondelsson building's spire above the rooftops, that she felt she really had travelled anywhere at all.

“Right,” she said, blinking groggily. “Where are we going now?”

“To the Party HQ,” replied Ezra. “We did discuss this, didn't we?”

“Well, yeah,” she answered. “But aren't we going to wait until night? It'll be easier to go unnoticed in the dark.”

Ezra smiled.

“No,” he said. “It won't.” He patted himself on the chest. “We're nocturnal by nature,” he said. “When we do sleep – which is infrequently, I'll grant you – it's during the day. Once the moon is up, we won't be able to get within half a block of the building before we're spotted. And trust me,” he said, “we do not want to be spotted.”

“Right. You know,” sighed Niamh, “it doesn't seem to me like I'm really much help to you here. The rules are different with you demons – my 'talents', as you put them, don't seem to apply.”

“Not so. This is where you come into your own, Niamh.” Ezra took her arm and began walking down the street. “You know how to infiltrate a building, don't you?”

“Yeah...?”

“Well, frankly I don't,” he replied. “But what I do know how to do is evade demonic sentries and any traps that might have been laid for us. I also don't know how to deal with human guards without outright killing them; I always blast them a little too hard. Makes rather a, uh, a mess, too...” He shivered. “Never mind that. The point is, we need to pool our resources to get in. And that,” he said, “is why I need you.”

Niamh stopped. There was something about what Ezra had said that she wasn't entirely sure she liked.

“'Pool our resources'?” she asked cautiously. “What exactly do you mean by that? Because it's not like I can take another person in there with me, you know...”

Ezra looked at her.

“What? No, I really can't take you in with me.” She looked back, puzzled. “I know how to get myself in, but I don't know how to break someone inexperienced in with me...”

“You don't have to,” he told her. “I'll simply possess you.”

Niamh's eyes widened.

“You can do that...?”

“Yes, I can,” he replied. “Don't worry, I won't crush your free will or devour your soul or anything like that – I'll just be riding in the back of your head as an advisor. Occasionally I might require control over one of your hands to aim a spell or something, but other than that I promise I won't get in your way: you are, after all, the expert.”

“Won't you be detected?”

“Only if I take full control over you,” he replied. “Otherwise, your mind should shield me from anyone looking for a demon where there shouldn't be one.”

“That implies they'll be able to detect me,” Niamh pointed out. “Is that going to be a problem?”

“I don't think so. I should be able to keep your mental profile relatively low without giving myself away.”

“All right,” said Niamh, who was now running out of objections, “I guess that's all my questions for now.”

“Good,” replied Ezra, leading her down a short passage and out onto a broader street lined with large, old-fashioned townhouses. “Because we are now in Gaunton, three blocks from our target.” He pointed down the road. “It's just down there.” He turned to her and smiled reassuringly. “Now, I appreciate that this is an intimidating prospect, but really, it won't hurt, and I won't read your mind any more than I have to. Just, um, close your eyes and try to relax. The more worried you are, the more chance there is that this will go catastrophically wrong and I'll accidentally burst your soul.”

“Really?”

“No, not really,” said Ezra with a grin. “I'm joking.”

“Ezra, you might want to avoid making jokes about that sort of thing in the future,” she said, voice strained. “Just a little tip.”

“Really? All right,” he said mildly. “I'll bear that in mind. Now, shut your eyes and relax. This won't hurt at all.”

Niamh had no doubt that it wouldn't hurt. She did, however, have some qualms about allowing a demon – however harmless he might seem to be – into her mind. In fact, she thought, she should probably mention that; it was best to get these things out in the open, after all.

“Ezra,” she began, opening her eyes – and saw that he was gone.

What is it? he asked.

Niamh started. That had sounded a lot like her interior monologue – but not in her voice. In fact, she realised belatedly, it sounded like—

My voice, yes, said Ezra. Macbeth's mind might have been 'full of scorpions', but it doesn't hold a candle to yours; it's bursting at the seams with monsters. You certainly do have a lot of personal demons, don't you?

“I have one more now, it seems,” Niamh said, trying very hard to feel Ezra's presence inside her head and failing. “Uh – I thought you weren't going to read my mind?”

I'm trying, replied Ezra testily. But if your anxieties will insist on attacking me, I can't very well not defend myself. I thought I told you to relax? The more tense you get, the more aggressive your mind's defences get – and that means I have to try harder to stay in here. If I try too hard, then I'm going to end up erasing parts of your mind – so please, try to relax a little.

“OK, OK.” Deep breaths, Niamh told herself. In through the nose, out through the mouth; in through the nose, out through the mouth; forget about the demon in your skull; in through the nose...

Thanks, said Ezra. Right. I have some information that might prove useful to you – close your eyes, please.

Niamh did, and in the darkness behind her eyelids an image of a huge, rambling building appeared, all odd angles and strange colours. To her, unacquainted with architectural design, it seemed equally likely to be either a stupendous work of art or a waste of masonry; little did she know that not even experienced critics could agree on which category that particular edifice fell into. The appearance of the image itself was a surprise – but then she saw that it was moving, that the grass on the lawn was waving gently in the breeze and the CCTV cameras were sweeping their glassy eyes back and forth, and she could not refrain from gasping gently.

This is Hawthorne House, where the Party has its headquarters, Ezra told her. It stands alone within a tall iron fence – this promptly appeared on the design – but don't worry about that; I can get you over it. What angle do you want to approach from? And how do you want to enter the building itself?

“Can you—?”

Yes, I'll rotate it; just tell me when to stop. By the way, you don't need to vocalise what you want to tell me; I can pick it up in your thoughts before the nervous impulse reaches your mouth.

Niamh grinned.

“This—”

Yes, agreed Ezra. It would be a useful thing to have ordinarily, wouldn't it? Unfortunately, technology has a long way to go before it can replicate anything like this, so, well, enjoy it while it lasts.

Yes, she might as well, thought Niamh; after all, Ezra didn't seem to be poking his nose into anything that didn't concern him, and he was providing her with tools that she would have killed to have in her ordinary line of work – so why not take pleasure in it? No point in worrying.

Ah, that's better, sighed Ezra. Your mental defences are at an all-time low. Looks like you're getting used to this. Right! Image stopped.

“There,” said Niamh, forgetting that the image did not exist on the same plane as her fingers and trying to point at it; the sharp pain of attempting to poke a brick wall brought the error home to her. “Ah, sh*t!”

I know where you mean, said Ezra. A red line traced a circle around a first-floor window at the back of the west wing. Why here? Ah, I see, a CCTV blind spot. Fascinating. I didn't know you knew so much about security cameras – although I suppose in your line of work it's quite helpful.

“Yeah,” replied Niamh. “If we can get in over the west fence, that'd be good – if we time it right, we can avoid the sweep of that camera there and get over to the drainpipe before it comes back. And if we stay close to the wall, that camera's field of vision should be just slightly too narrow to pick us up.”

Yes. There's no need to say it out loud, but I get the idea. Right. Take a look at this.

Hawthorne House slid to one side, and an elegant neoclassical townhouse appeared next to it, standing a little way off on the other side of a paved path, as if reluctant to be associated with so outlandish a building.

Get to the front door of this building, Ezra told her. I'll take it from there.

“OK,” said Niamh, opening her eyes and smiling amiably at a passerby who had seen her talking to thin air with her eyes shut and given her a worried look. “Let's go, Ezra.”

She walked on, leaving the passerby staring in bewilderment after her, and watched the street get busier and more wealthy-looking around her; the buildings got taller and more elegant, and the distant rumble of protesters and journalists surrounding the Party HQ grew steadily louder. Gaunton was government town; though they had started life as townhouses, the buildings here all housed ministries or committees of some sort, and the area seethed with media people, flitting from event to event and congregating like flies on big stories – like Harmonia's electoral campaign and attendant Liberation policy.

“Whoa,” murmured Niamh, as Hawthorne House hove into view. “It looks even more... uh... whatever it is up close.”

Yes, agreed Ezra. It has to be seen to be believed, I think.

“How do those two roofs fit together?” she wondered.

Best not to think about it. It's said the architect perceived the world in six dimensions rather than the usual four.

“How is that possible?”

Well, I perceive it in five, he said thoughtfully. So I assume it works somehow.

It did not take much thought for Niamh to decide that she really didn't want to ask too many questions about that.

“Right,” she muttered. “We're here.”

The townhouse, even more elegant when viewed up close, stretched away above her; as if to offset the serious mood of the façade, a spyhole winked conspiratorially at her from the centre of the shiny black door. Niamh liked this building; you knew where you stood with it.

All right. Relax your right arm.

Niamh did, and tried hard to keep from tensing her muscles as it began to move of its own accord, her fingers curling into a fist and her index finger extending to touch the keyhole. She felt a certain indefinable something leave her fingertip – and then her arm fell back to her side as if exhausted.

“That was f*cking horrible,” she said with feeling.

Yes, well, my apologies – but it did let me atomise the lock, Ezra told her. So! Time to enter, before people wonder why you're standing on the doorstep like this.

Niamh took hold of the handle and pushed; the door swung freely open, and she walked into an oak-panelled hallway.

Keep going. Act like you know what you're doing and hopefully no one will stop you. Turn left at the end of the hall; there should be a window at the end of the passage there.

Niamh had done this sort of thing before, and did it now with panache: she smiled at the receptionist as she went past her desk, as if they knew each other, and spun herself through a doorway with one hand on the frame as if it were a familiar ritual. No one so much as glanced at her, and in a couple of seconds she was walking past a small group of myopic civil servants towards the window.

Good. This is where we might get noticed. Relax; I'm taking over.

For one moment, Niamh slumped on her feet – but then her body began to move without her input, stalking towards the window with a fluid grace that no human ever possessed before; her limbs seemed to roll and flow as if they were part smoke, and Niamh wondered exactly what Ezra was made of that he should move like this.

Spirit, mostly, he answered. With a little blood, although there's precious little of that left in me these days.

Niamh opened the window without conscious thought and climbed out and up onto the exterior wall with the alacrity and agility of a spider, her fingers digging impossibly into the stone. Her head swivelled back and forth, collecting glimpses of the ground, the wall and the street beyond so quickly that she felt herself becoming dizzy.

“What in the fields of Neor—?”

I have to get you over the fence, he said. Can't climb it or destroy it – they'd notice if we touched it. I can't jump it – the force of taking off would break your legs. So we have to gain a little height, and—

Niamh's limbs twitched with a convulsive jerk, and she flew in a graceful backwards somersault over the iron railings; a moment later, without quite realising how, she was back in control and automatically moving through the blind spot between the cameras, reaching the cover of the rear wall of the west wing.

Good, said Ezra. Commendable presence of mind. Your turn again, as you've discovered. I don't think we've been spotted, which is nice. We shouldn't show up on the camera facing that house's wall as anything but a blur; we were going quite fast.

“All right,” said Niamh, glancing up at a camera wedged between the junction of the west wing and the main building and judging that it was currently occupied in looking at an ornamental flowerbed. “Good.” She took hold of the drainpipe and began to climb; it passed near the first-floor window, and with a jump that could only have been undertaken by the suicidally brave or the very experienced gained its windowsill.

I'll open this, said Ezra, bringing her hand up to the glass. A network of fine black lines traced a cobweb of cracks over the pane, thickening and branching and growing more and more numerous until there was no glass left at all, just a mass of solid darkness; then, abruptly, he took her hand away, the blackness dissolved and a fine vitreous dust blew away silently on the wind.

“Impressive,” murmured Niamh, swinging herself through the window and whacking a surprised clerk over the head with his keyboard. “Wish I could do that.”

Trust me, the trade-off isn't worth it, sighed Ezra. You have no idea how much you miss being able to taste food until you can no longer do it.

She might have enquired further about what he meant by that, but she was a little preoccupied in arranging the clerk to look like he had fallen asleep at his desk; a moment later, after checking that the rest of the office was clear, Niamh stole out of the room and into a red-carpeted corridor with more twists and turns than Gideon Mantell's spine.

“Who the f*ck is Gideon Mantell?” she wondered aloud.

That was one of my thoughts, Ezra said. Sorry. Our minds are pretty close to each other right now; you can appreciate that the odd thought slips across one way or the other.

“Right,” said Niamh, glancing at an enamel sign on the wall and deducing that Harmonia's office was on the top floor of the main part of the building. “Friend of yours, is he?”

No, he died around 1850. British palaeontologist. We never met, but we exchanged letters – scholarly debate, that sort of thing. Stop!

Niamh froze.

“What?”

Look.

Her hand pointed at a smoke alarm on the ceiling.

“A smoke alarm?” she asked, puzzled.

No. It's a curse. Hang on, I think I can show you... I'll just have to find your optic nerve. One moment!

A second later, Niamh's eyes began to feel very dry for no real reason; she blinked, and when she opened them again she saw a small cluster of rotating, razor-edged teeth where the alarm had been.

“'Sraven,” she muttered, staring in fascination as it drooled onto the carpet. “That's a curse?”

Yes – or rather, it's a rat. I mean, it was a rat before some demon got to it and made it into a curse. Can't make something from nothing, you know. Anyway, I'd better disable it, or it'll probably do something vile to your skull.

Niamh felt her hand rise and saw to her astonishment that a series of flat, translucent grey bands were rotating around it like electrons around an atom; as she watched, they peeled away, one by one, and wrapped themselves lovingly around the curse, smothering it and solidifying into something that looked like linoleum. The teeth twitched frantically and from somewhere in their depths came a panicked squeak – but the bands did not let go, and a moment later the remnants of the curse fell away from the ceiling and landed softly on the carpet.

Niamh nudged it experimentally with the toe of her boot. The bands had taken on the texture of asphalt, and the whole thing was smoking gently. Of the curse, there was no sign except for one protruding tooth.

“Huh,” she muttered. “Impressive.”

Keep moving, said Ezra. Daytime security here is mostly mortal, but there's bound to be at least one demon somewhere in here, monitoring the curses. Depending on how lazy they are, we may not have long before they realise one has been tombed.

“Tombed?” asked Niamh, heading down the corridor towards the main building; at the end was a stairwell, each flight separated by a spacious landing.

Technical term. It's what I just did to that curse. Over there! That man looks like he doesn't think we should— Yes, that should do it, finished Ezra, as Niamh pushed the body down the stairs. Looks like he tripped and knocked himself out now, doesn't it?

“It will,” she agreed, heading upstairs. “For about five minutes, until someone realises the bruises are on his neck instead of his skull. We have to be fast.”

She hurried past two young men in grey suits who were going down to investigate the noise; they scarcely looked at her, as she had hoped, and she reached the upper floor without trouble. Here, a crescent-shaped hallway served as a junction between three or four passages, and a helpful plaque on one wall informed her that the one she wanted was to the left.

“Why all these signs?” Niamh muttered under her breath, walking past a stern-looking woman who was attempting to tame a particularly truculent Blackberry. “Surely the people who work here know where everything is?”

I suspect memory loss is common here, Ezra replied. I expect that the lower echelons of the Party don't know about the demons, and have their memories wiped quite frequently. They must forget all sorts of things.

Niamh shook her head and headed down a corridor where the doors were made of steel.

“This is f*cked up,” she said, slightly too loudly; the corridor's other occupant, a young man with a serious face, gave her an odd look.

Keep walking, said Ezra sharply. Oh, you do not want to see her real face.

“Demon?” murmured Niamh, so quietly it was barely vocalised.

Very much so, replied Ezra. Probably the one who made the curse, judging by the extent to which she's altered her appearance.

“You can look like a human too—”

No, her real appearance. Moulding the flesh of a living creature is tricky, and moulding one's own essence is not only tricky but downright risky. I can create an illusion that makes me look human easily, but I wouldn't dare try to shift my real shape without a lot of skill. That demon there... Niamh felt a shudder run down her spine, and knew it was Ezra's rather than hers. She's spent quite some time customising her appearance. If she caught us, you would not be human by the time she was done with you, and I would not be a demon.

Niamh caught a flurry of distant images at the edges of his thought – needles and long fingers, flesh running like candle-wax and knots tied in bones – and decided not to think about it.

Good idea. Look!

“I see it,” she said. “'G. HARMONIA, PARTY LEADER'.”

Yes. Judging by the distance from the edge of the house, there must be two rooms here: presumably Harmonia's secretary's office, and his own beyond it.

“Got it,” said Niamh, running over possibilities in her head. “I'll take it from here.”

She knocked on the door and waited for a reply; someone called 'Come in' and she complied, waiting until the door had closed behind her before she moved.

“Who—?”

Harmonia's secretary was young and pretty, but she was not a martial arts master, and so did not get very much further than saying that before Niamh had choked her into unconsciousness. That done, she quietly barricaded the doors both to the main corridor and Harmonia's office with filing cabinets and waste-paper bins, then sat down in the secretary's chair, took a gulp of her coffee and began to investigate her computer.

Nicely done, said Ezra admiringly. It always pays to go to the professionals.

Niamh made a noncommittal noise in reply; she was currently mired in emails.

“Who are these? They sound weird; are they demons?”

Hmm? Sage Gorm, Sage Rood, Sage... well now, this is strange. I've never heard of any demons calling themselves sages before. Some do like to boast of their sagacity, but none have ever outright called themselves 'Sage' before. Harmonia does have a lot of meetings scheduled with these people, though, doesn't he?

“Yeah. And these: M. Gentleman. Lots of meetings with him – and that's got to be the weirdest fake name I've ever come across.”

It's not fake. Ezra did not seem to appreciate the joke – in fact, he sounded rather worried. It stands for Merry Gentleman. I think that's what the author calls them in the druids' book on demons – the Glasya-Labolas Treatise. I know them as fetches.

“So M. Gentleman is a demon?”

Not quite. It's one of Weland's slaves. But that isn't the worst of it: look at this. Harmonia's meeting with M. Gentleman today. Right now, in fact. Ezra paused. We are standing less than fifteen feet from an emissary of King Weland the Undying.

Niamh started.

“OK,” she said slowly. “Is it tough?”

Ordinarily, no. They have no supernatural abilities save occasionally making their smiles broader than their face – I could tomb them easily. But I can't do that without alerting Weland to my presence – and if I do that, we're both dead.

“What about if I go in there, beat it up and drag some information out of Harmonia?”

That is the sort of plan that only someone who didn't know that fetches have superhuman strength would come up with. I won't be able to use a single power, not even to increase your strength: you'll be killed. Ezra hesitated. Niamh, why are you dismantling the barricade in front of the door to Harmonia's office?

“I have a plan.”

No you don't. I'm inside your head, Niamh – you can't lie to me.

“Ezra, the secretary obviously doesn't have access to the information we need. I want to know where Smythe is, and I want him released. Harmonia can do both of those things. All I have to do is throw this fetch out the window or something, and I can interrogate Harmonia at my leisure—”

Don't be an idiot! cried Ezra in agitation. You can't match this thing in combat, and if you or I die we both lose out: no Smythe, no dead Weland—

“I have guns—”

You could shoot it until it's fifty per cent lead, it won't matter – the damn thing probably died five hundred years ago! Ezra paused, evidently reining in his emotions; when he spoke again, his voice was calm. I'm not putting my mission above your own, he said quietly. But there really isn't much you can do against this thing.

Niamh moved the last filing cabinet out of the way and paused with her hand on the doorknob. No guns, she thought; well, fine. She drew a compact silvery rod from her pocket instead.

“Relax,” she told Ezra. “You hired the monster-slayer for a reason, right?”

So saying, she flung the door open and walked in, extending the telescoping blade of her sword to full length with an expert flick of the wrist.

---

Harmonia, sitting back in his chair, eyes closed.

Tall, cadaverous-looking man before the desk, facing the window.

Niamh's eyes roved across it and absorbed it all in less than a heartbeat, and before the door had even hit the wall her sword was whistling towards the man's head—

Without looking, he reached out a hand and grabbed the sword by the blade. To Niamh's surprise, this stopped it as surely as if it had hit plate steel. She heaved at it for a moment, and found it, much to her consternation, immoveable.

“Oh, sh*t,” she said.

“An assassin,” said the man, turning to face her – and Niamh saw for the first time the unnatural pallor of his skin, the fixed, merry grin, and the dead eyes; saw it all, and wondered. He flung her sword down on the floor so hard it bounced; before it hit the ground again, Niamh had snatched it back up and had settled into a fighting stance.

The fetch tilted his head. He wore a neat suit and a bowler hat that somehow amplified the sinister nature of his face; had he been tattooed with tribal designs and dressed in animal skins, Niamh didn't think he would have been nearly so distressing.

Unheimlich, said Ezra. Or, as you call it in English, 'Uncanny'. Now is probably not the time to explain, though – now is the time to get out of here.

“You must be Smythe's woman,” said the fetch. “How fortuitous.”

It should not have had such a good vocabulary. (Niamh now thought of it as 'it', not 'he'; it was not human enough for 'he'.) It should have spoken in guttural snarls or some primitive grunting language; but it was so human, and so intelligent, and so alien...

Niamh plunged her sword into its chest, but the fetch just stared and smiled.

“Deadly,” it noted, running a finger down the side of the blade and watching its skin split open. No blood issued from the wound; it was simply a red line on a white field. “If you only knew the rules of our kind, you would make a formidable opponent.”

Niamh pulled the sword out and lashed out again, scoring a long gash across its throat; the fetch did not, apparently, care.

Stop sticking it, said Ezra urgently. If you must fight it, try and cut a limb off – it won't die, but it won't be able to move any more.

“His Undying Majesty will be interested in you,” said the fetch meditatively, turning to face her as she moved around it, slowly manoeuvring herself into the position she wanted. “He'd love to meet you, I suspect. Who would have thought a human could penetrate so deeply into this building? There are curses at every approach, and Grimalkin is stationed in the corridor. Security here is impressive.”

Niamh shrugged.

“I've bypassed better,” she said, and pinned its neck to the desk.

It cried out in surprise and kicked out wildly, its hands flying to its throat, but Niamh had already released the pin that kept the sword extended and the spring inside it retracted at speed; the blade collapsed and the hilt slammed into the fetch's neck with a crack of breaking bone.

Knives materialised in Niamh's hands and she transferred one into the fetch's wrist as fast as it appeared, nailing it to the desk and severing a tendon; the other knife missed its mark, and the other hand caught her in the chest and knocked her flying.

Niamh hit the far wall and jumped straight up again, ignoring the pain in her shoulder and rushing back towards the fallen fetch—

Her own sword was at her throat.

Niamh stared and swallowed. The fetch had apparently freed itself and sprung to its feet in less time than it had taken her to recover from the fall, which was itself less than three seconds; its hat had fallen off, and the knife was still stuck through its wrist, but other than that it seemed to be in exactly the same condition as when it had started the fight.

“That would probably be how you bypassed the security, then,” said the fetch with a grin. “How perfectly marvellous. The King will be most amused.”

Niamh's hand uncurled; her knife fell to the carpet.

“Surrender already?” asked the fetch. “You do us an honour—”

The hand was rising, and grey bands of light were writhing around it.

The fetch could not blanch, for its skin was already the colour of milk, but its omnipresent grin slipped a notch.

“Ah,” it said. “Ezra.”

It erupted in a sheet of black flame as the bands snaked towards it; they drew together, clutching and grasping, but closed on nothing: the fetch had disappeared, leaving nothing behind but a few dark sparks and Niamh's blades, which fell to the floor from the spots where its wrist and hand had been. Cheated of their prey, the grey bands squeezed themselves into a singularity and disappeared with a mournful hiss.

There was a silence.

“Thanks,” said Niamh, after a moment or two.

Niamh, said Ezra, his voice very quiet and very intense. Run. Now.

It seemed a good idea. Grabbing the sword, the knife and Harmonia's laptop, Niamh hurried to the door and took to her heels as if all the fetches in Unova were lunging at her back.
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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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