Cracked, or How the Love of Seafood Saved Unova
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September 28th, 2013 (1:43 PM). Edited September 28th, 2013 by Cutlerine.
Gone. May or may not return.
The Misspelled Cyrpt
Interlude: The Prophet
In the old days, they knew how to treat a proleptic.
Now, they get a letter from their doctor and an autoinjector to stave off their more disturbing visions. Back then, ah! Back then, they got a shrine, and an altar, and a title.
Such a shrine it was that the king came to at the beginning of winter, when the grass was beginning to pale and the trees had resolutely ceased to give out olives. He was planning to make war on someone and wanted advice; who he was, and who his enemy was, are long since lost beneath the tide of history. (Not so the oracle, however. No one would forget them – indeed, no one could, even if they had wanted to. Immortality and creative cruelty are exceptionally fine preservatives for one's legacy.)
So came the king to the cave where the oracle resided. He left his retinue behind him at the door and his companion in the antechamber, and at the bidding of the attendant (a haunted fellow whose face had been replaced with a dirty piece of leather, sewn with crude stitches to his skull) proceeded into the sanctum.
The sanctum was dark.
The attendant left the room and closed the door behind him.
The sanctum was
A king is only a king in the company of other men. Alone, he is a man. And when he is alone in the dark, he is just as afraid as anyone else.
He tried to speak; he failed. He stammered out a weak charge to the oracle to speak.
Two blind white eyes opened in the dark – young eyes, the eyes of a creature weak and unformed, and yet still more puissant than any man in Greece.
“I speak,” said a voice that issued like smoke from cracks in the floor. “What would you learn?”
And in the king's whiteness of countenance, in his trembling voice and hesitant request – in all that, you would have seen the unmistakeable mark of one who has gone too far into the night to ever truly return to the light.
Oh yes, they knew how to treat a proleptic in the old days.
Chapter Thirty-Two: Twain
“What did you just do?” he asked, but the man in black had already vanished again, faster than even Ezra's eye could follow.
“This,” he said at last, “is very strange.”
He looked around, and saw nothing so very out of the ordinary: a quiet street that would have been at home in any town in the country. Not at all odd – not, that is, unless a moment ago you had been somewhere else entirely.
“Hm,” said Ezra. “And where is this, exactly?”
He felt tentatively for an entrance to the dark paths, but there was none nearby – not even a gap in reality that might
to an entrance, such as he normally took. However the man in black had brought him here, neither of them had left the everyday mortal world.
“Hum,” said Ezra, and frowned.
He walked down the pavement, looking for street signs; he found one on the corner, which informed him that he was on Lombard Place.
“Not helpful,” he concluded, and turned the corner in search of answers.
None were forthcoming. The street beyond was busier and had more shops, but that was all that set it aside from that which he'd just come from.
He roamed aimlessly for a while, looking for clues, but there were few indications; a lot of the older lampposts had ornate wrought-iron crowns set into the crooks of their arms, but all that meant was that this was a royal district – and the Unovan Royal Family had had residences in a good six parts of the country before their forced abdication at the hands of the British.
In fact, Ezra was on the verge of becoming invisible and taking flight to see if he could spot a landmark from higher up when he saw a familiar figure trudging down the street.
He frowned. The man was not one he had any memory of meeting, or of corresponding with – or anything at all of that nature. And yet he had the distinct impression that he had seen his face before.
“Now who...?” Ezra's eyes widened. He knew where he had seen him before – flickering like a ghost through the back of Niamh's head. He wasn't quite as handsome as in her memory, but there could be no mistaking it: this was Portland Smythe.
But if there was Smythe, thought Ezra, where was Niamh? Surely they wouldn't have parted so soon? And why did Smythe look so
No, there was something wrong here, and Ezra was determined to find out what it was.
“Excuse me,” he said, sidling past a knot of pedestrians. “Excuse me... Excuse me!”
This last was directed at Smythe, and accompanied by a tap on the shoulder. He turned around sharply, a hunted look in his eye – and the sight of Ezra did not apparently comfort him.
“Who are you?” he asked guardedly.
“Mister Smythe, am I right?” asked Ezra. “Portland Smythe?”
“Yes,” he replied, narrowing his eyes. “Who are you?”
“My name is Ezra. I'm a friend of Niamh's.”
Smythe's eyes lit up, and the cares fell away from it in an instant. It was rather like watching a shaft of sunlight breaking through storm-clouds.
“You are?” he asked. “Where – is she nearby? Can you take me to her?”
“I rather fear I cannot,” said Ezra, a sudden dread taking hold of him. “Er – Mister Smythe—”
“—Portland, if Niamh didn't come for you, how did you get out?”
“What? What do you— how do you know where I was? And what's this about Niamh coming for me?”
Ezra was hardly listening. He should have foreseen this, he thought; Weland never broke his word, of course, but that was with demons and men of the old sort – with
No, he wouldn't have regarded a promise made to Niamh as anything at all, and he could have broken it without a second thought...
“I'm so sorry,” he said at last. “Portland – Mister Smythe – I'm afraid we need to have a talk.”
Of all the people they might have met on the trail that wound up through the hills to Chargestone Cave, Professor Juniper was the last one either Cheren or Bianca would have expected.
They'd been walking up the path for a while before they realised who she was; the path was full of twists and turns and lined with a thick growth of trees, and she kept vanishing behind corners before they got a good look at her. It was only when, on a particularly straight length of track, Bianca remarked that she'd only seen that hairstyle once before that Cheren noticed anything familiar about her.
“I'll tell you why,” he said. “It's because that's Professor Juniper.”
“No way – no, wait, it
.” Bianca's eyes widened. “What's she doing here?”
“I have no idea. Shall we ask?”
Bianca agreed, and they hurried on to catch up with her near a cairn that stood by the roadside.
“Professor!” called Bianca. “Professor Juniper?”
She stopped and turned.
“Good afternoon, Professor,” said Cheren, coming to a halt before her. “We didn't expect to see you here.”
“And I didn't expect to see you, either,” replied Juniper, brows knitted in puzzlement. “What exactly are you doing out here? I thought the plan was for you to build up the strength to take on the Gyms nearer Nuvema?”
“Plans change,” said Cheren. “In this case, quite spectacularly.”
Juniper's eyebrows rose.
“Is that so?”
“I think we can safely say yes,” said Bianca. “I mean, we met two heroes out of legend and got dragged into a plot to take over Unova.”
Juniper's eyebrows rose further.
“We solved the mystery of the Dream World,” added Cheren.
“And got tangled up with some demons,” put in Bianca.
“You're forgetting the talking cat, but whatever,” said Halley. She lacked her usual acerbic energy; she'd been sulking since they got off the train.
Juniper's eyebrows rose still further – so much so, in fact, that they appeared to recede into her hairline.
,” she said, in the tone of one who absolutely does not. “Er... To be quite honest with you, I'm not sure what I'm meant to say in response to that.”
Bianca and Cheren looked at each other.
“You do it,” said Bianca. “You won't forget anything and you'll get it all in order.”
“Right,” said Cheren, and launched into a thirty-minute explanation of all that had occurred since they had left Nuvema. At the end of it, Juniper looked a little like she'd been hit over the head with a hammer, but all things considered she seemed to bear it rather well.
“This,” she said at length, “is going to change quite a lot of current scientific thought.”
“I know,” replied Cheren. “At least half of everything that's happened to us seems to have broken the laws of physics.”
Juniper pinched the bridge of her nose.
“And so... I'm sorry,
“Professor Juniper,” said Bianca, “Cheren doesn't have the imagination to make all that up.”
“She's right,” said Halley. “And anyway, I'm proof, ain't I?”
“Well,” said Juniper doubtfully, “I suppose...” She crouched down and poked Halley hesitantly.
“That's because I
real,” said Halley. “No hallucination could be this annoying.”
Juniper straightened up.
“OK,” she said. “I just poked a woman who turned into a cat.” She took a deep breath. “This is all quite strange.”
“That's one way of putting it,” muttered Halley.
“Yes, it is,” said Cheren. “And anyway, that's why we're here. To find Jared in this cave.”
“Why are you here, Professor?” asked Bianca.
“What?” Juniper looked like she'd forgotten where she was entirely. “Oh. Er, I was here to catch a few Klink. I wanted to take some metal samples and find out how old they are – my father has a theory about them that I thought was interesting.... no, wait! Forget that. You're here to find your friend who was abducted by magical teleporting ninjas! What does it matter what
“Oh. Um, yeah, it
kinda weird,” said Bianca. “But I was just making conversation.”
“Anyone feel like moving any time soon?” asked Halley. “We're not even at the cave yet, and we need to get in there soon.”
“Ah. Of course,” said Cheren, inwardly marvelling at how much less disagreeable Halley was being. (That collar had been the best three pounds he'd ever spent, he thought.) “Professor – we're going in the same direction. Shall we walk together?”
“OK,” agreed Juniper. She still looked somewhat dazed; whether she was actually making a conscious decision to go with them or simply saying whatever came into her head was open to debate. “Sure, we should go...”
They started on down the path again, and kept up the conversation. After a few minutes, Juniper seemed to recover her senses a little, and by the time they reached the enormous hill that rose over Chargestone Cave she was theorising about whether or not any of the demons might consent to undergoing a few tests for the cause of Science.
“Somehow, I don't think so,” said Bianca, thinking of Teiresias. “I'm not even sure they have any blood for you to take.”
“Ah well,” said Juniper wistfully. “There are other tests, you know. Professor Linden in England has come up with some interesting ways to sample the spirit-stuff of Ghost-types, so maybe I could adapt that... of course, I'd be working with the Gorsedd, of course, so we could work out exactly how much of the Treatises is true—”
“Professor,” said Cheren gently. “Do you have a torch?”
“Hm?” Juniper looked around, and realised that they were currently standing in the cave mouth. “Oh. Right.”
She took a dynamo-powered torch from her pocket, unfolded the handle and gave it a few brisk winds; the light stuttered and flared into life. In the darkness before them, a distant blue glow winked in sympathy, and a few distant flecks of brightness darted away from the sudden glare.
They looked into the mouth of the cave for a moment, all conversation forgotten. Juniper's light flicked upwards; they saw no roof, only more darkness, rising in silence right up to the crown of the hill.
“It's... it's bigger than I thought,” murmured Bianca.
“Gets me every time,” said Juniper.
Halley stalked a little way into the dark and turned, eyes shining bright with reflected torchlight.
“Are we going or what?” she said. “If it's this big, we're going to have a hell of a time finding Jared. Or any Klink, whatever those are.”
“Right,” said Juniper. “Of course.” She looked at Cheren and Bianca. “Shall we, then?”
“OK,” they agreed, and they walked in. In just a few moments, the dark had swallowed them up entirely; soon enough, when the torchlight was faint and distant, there was nothing at the entrance to show that anyone had ever been there at all.
“War,” I repeated. “War? What do you mean, war?”
“I mean what I say,” said N. The Tynamo whirled around his head, a luminescent crown of slime and suckers. “I'm going to take back what is my rightful property as King of Sandjr – of all humans – and I'm going to reclaim this land.”
“You're not – you aren't going to kill everyone or anything, are you?” I asked, worried. If his war was going to be anything like the one the Twin Heroes had waged against Naudri in the past, it would be unspeakably brutal.
“Not quite.” He kept his gaze straight ahead, never meeting mine. “I can't say more.”
“How convenient,” I said.
“I've given you what I can,” he said. He sounded tired. “I... I would give you more, but for me to do what I must, Harmonia must succeed.”
“But you know what's going to happen if he does,” I said. “You know about his deal with Weland – it's going to be a disaster...”
He fixed me with those ice-coloured eyes, and my voice died in my throat.
“Please trust me,” he said. “Everything will be all right.” He paused. “As long as I win,” he added.
“I don't buy that.”
“Of course you don't. You're my opposite: you believe in your own cause, and I believe in mine.” His head drooped. “Unfortunately, we can never agree here.”
No, I realised, we never could. N and I had reached the end of our collaboration, it seemed: things were coming to a head, and we had to finally face the fact that we were diametrically opposed, devoted to contradictory causes.
We walked on in silence for a while. The Tynamo darted ahead and back again; one of them hovered over a pothole, anxious for us not to fall.
“I have a question,” I said at last, trying to salvage the conversation.
“Is it one I can answer?”
“I think so.”
“Then ask it.”
“I'm – we – er, Lauren and me,” I said. “I'm male, she's female. I get how that's division. But I was thinking, how does it work with you? I mean, you're a guy, right? That's not united, that's just choosing one over the other.”
N smiled. On anyone else, it would have looked patronising; on him, it was beatific.
“Lauren knows the answer to that one,” he told me. “I imagine Halley does too, although perhaps she might not give the kindest answer.”
“OK,” I said, concealing my impatience, “but I'm not Lauren right now, I'm me, so perhaps
could tell me?”
“I'm neither of them,” said N. “Or both. I've never quite pinned it down. I never saw the need to; my people don't use the same categories as yours.” He shrugged. “Just a difference in the way we look at the world, I suppose. You tend to put things into categories so that you can sort and divide them; we – or
, I guess, since I'm the last one – tend not to sort at all. We like randomness.”
I sucked my teeth thoughtfully. I'd understood maybe one word in six there; I wasn't all that certain what N meant by 'neither or both', or indeed what he was getting at with that talk of categories. Perhaps, I decided, it would be best to leave that for Lauren to think about. Maybe I could try to contact her again, as I had done a couple of nights ago.
“I see,” I said.
“No, you don't,” he replied. “But it's OK. Lauren does. This conversation is a little different with her.”
I think that was the first time that I realised N lived both my world and Lauren's
, without even the benefit of the midnight switchover that Halley perceived; he was at the same time talking to me and to Lauren, and exploring two different avenues of conversation at once. How did you do it without going insane, I wondered. And what made me so sure that N
done it without going insane? If he hadn't, then it explained an awful lot about him.
“Huh,” I murmured.
“What was that?”
“Nothing,” I said, pushing the thought away before it got too overwhelming. “What were we saying?”
“Not a lot,” he replied. “We'd just finished with the topic at hand, actually.”
What else could I say? It didn't really seem right to just make small talk. No talk with N could be small; everything had meaning.
“There's nothing else to say, is there?” said N, as if reading my mind. “It's all right. We're meant to be enemies now, anyway, and I suppose enemies don't really talk much.”
I didn't say anything. I couldn't have if I'd wanted to. The connection between us was mutating into a cold gulf; it was as if fate had used the link to draw us into itself, and, now that it had us, no longer cared about maintaining it.
The Tynamo flickered. Candy whimpered. We walked on in silence.
“Professor,” said Cheren. “Correct me if I'm wrong, but Klink are usually quite fearless, aren't they?”
“Yes,” replied Juniper. “They have very few predators, and don't perceive humans as a threat.” She sighed. “Which is exactly why it's so weird that we aren't seeing any.”
They had been wandering the cave for a while now, searching for either Jared or Klink, whichever came first; neither, however, appeared to have any desire to reveal themselves.
Pokémon,” said Halley. “I mean, I can smell their trails, but they aren't here.”
“Well, where are they?” asked Juniper.
“I don't know,” replied Halley irritably. “Ask a dog.”
“There!” cried Bianca, and they looked up just in time to see something small whizz past a foot above the ground, flashing in the torchlight. “Is that a—?”
“A Klink!” Juniper waved the torch around frantically, trying to find it again. “Where did it go? Where...?”
“There,” said Halley, eyes flashing. “No, wait, it's further away...” She leaped forwards and sniffed at the floor. “I think I can just about track its scent,” she announced. “Which makes me a person of some importance, don't you think?”
“Please,” he said. “Halley, now isn't the time for your bile—”
“Oh, but I think it is,” she said, grinning. “Maybe you could take this collar off, and then I could see my way towards tracking—”
,” said Cheren, “if you
help track down the Klink, I wire the buckle permanently shut.”
“That way,” said Halley meekly, pointing with a paw. “Follow me.”
Juniper, who had been watching the proceedings with interest and no small amount of confusion, turned to Cheren.
“What was that about?” she asked.
“Oh, nothing,” he said airily. “Right, Bianca?”
“Yeah,” she agreed with a smile. “Nothing.”
Juniper frowned, but the matter of the escaped Klink was too pressing for her to dwell on anything else for long, and she followed Halley without further comment.
They passed between two of the enormous blue stones and on down a path that grew increasingly narrow until the three human members of the group were forced to move sideways; Juniper voiced a quiet concern about possibly getting stuck, which Halley countered with the assurance that she could see a way out at the other end. Juniper said that she didn't doubt there
a way out, but that that didn't really preclude the possibility that the passage might narrow so much that she couldn't get out again. To which Halley had no reply, though Bianca promised to pull
hard on her arms should Juniper actually get stuck.
All in all, tensions were rather high, and everyone was glad when the path began to widen again, and eventually gave out onto what the torch revealed was a cavernous space divided up by walls of fused stalactites and stalagmites.
“There are more Klink here,” said Halley suddenly. “And other things – something like fish? And more.”
“Tynamo, perhaps,” said Juniper.
“They're all – they're all going in the same direction,” Halley went on, sniffing back and forth along the stone. “It's weird. Like they're all going to a meeting or something.”
“Sounds like N,” said Bianca.
“Yes,” agreed Cheren. “I wonder if he said something to them.”
“What's this?” asked Juniper.
“Oh, didn't we say before? We're fairly certain that N can talk to Pokémon.”
Juniper looked like someone had battered her over the head with a brick.
“You didn't think that might be good to mention?” she asked. “To someone who's dedicated their
to understanding Pokémon?”
“I'm not sure it actually benefits you,” said Cheren. “Something tells me N isn't the sort of person who would be willing to do translation work for you.”
“Yeah,” said Bianca. “He's a pretty big Liberation Policy fan.”
,” she said. “The only person in the world who can communicate reliably with Pokémon, and he's a
“Probably more than a supporter,” said Cheren. “Probably a member.”
She shook her head sadly.
“What a waste,” she said. “What a waste...”
“Didn't you want to catch that Klink?”
“Ah!” Juniper nodded. “Yes, of course. The Klink. Lead the way.”
They walked on, threading their way through the maze of rocky jags; occasionally, they would pass one of the great crystals and the torchlight would be lost in their brighter glow. After a while, they began to catch glimpses of things moving in their peripheral vision – furry yellow spiderlings the size of fists; gleaming elvers, some as long as Halley's tail; sentient geodes, dragging themselves along with small, stony claws.
“Joltik, Tynamo, Roggenrola,” listed Cheren in a whisper. “Dozens of them, all going the same way...”
“They don't seem to mind us,” said Juniper. “I wonder why?”
“There's something more important happening,” said Halley. “I smell Jared.”
“Which means N,” said Bianca.
“It means we're close,” said Cheren. “I don't think you'll have any problem finding a Klink now, Professor. We'll go on and meet up with Jared.”
“I'll come too,” said Juniper. “I'd like to at least see this N guy. Like you say, I won't have any problems finding a Klink, so I can afford the delay.”
“All right,” he said. “Lead on, Halley.”
“Barely need to,” she replied. “Listen!”
There were voices nearby, they realised – quiet, but not far away.
“Jared,” said Bianca.
“N,” said Cheren.
The four of them hurried around a corner and out onto a ledge overlooking a much larger pathway – and saw below them a pair of figures, one in black and the other crowned with brilliant, phosphorescent white.
“Who's there?” he asked suddenly, tensing beside me. Above his head, the ring of Tynamo started crackling nervously with electricity, and I noticed that some of the rocks around us were uncurling to reveal geodesic ears; we had bodyguards, it seemed.
“It's only us,” said a familiar voice. There was a flash of light from patch of darkness a few metres up and I looked over to see Cheren, Bianca and Halley up on a ledge above the path, along with a woman I didn't recognise. Candy chirped a relieved greeting at them; she hadn't liked the darkness of the cave, and seemed to be slightly afraid of the unearthly light of the Tynamo.
“Hi,” called Bianca, waving. “Oh – uh, this is Professor Juniper.”
“Hello,” said Juniper, lowering herself off the ledge and dropping down with practised ease. “You must be Jared – and
must be N. I've heard a lot about you.”
N didn't relax.
“And I about you,” he said. “Professor, you are in a position of some importance with the Unova League. You are at the forefront of the drive to increase Trainer activity. I have to wonder that you had the audacity to come here, after Cheren and Bianca have told you what I am capable of.”
“What?” Juniper looked disconcerted. I doubt she'd been expecting this;
“I strongly disagree with what you do,” said N flatly. “You perpetuate a master-slave relationship between humans and Pokémon – encourage people to view Pokémon as a means to an end. Certainly, some people come to see their Pokémon as friends – but how many more see them as tools? I fear you overestimate humanity's... well, its humanity.
“And what does that mindset lead to? The potentially world-ending crisis in Hoenn a few years ago, the Black TMs affair in the 1980s, the monster birthed in the Rocket labs in Kanto. The destruction of three thousand years of accumulated wisdom and knowledge – and the subsequent creation of perhaps as many as eight hundred thousand Gengar – with the end of the Kadabra Wars in 1906. The repercussions of
one are still being felt to this day.” N's lip curled slightly. “That is what you stand for, Professor. A world beneath the heel of your species and suffering for it.”
“I... I can see why you would say that,” said Juniper, recovering valiantly, “but honestly, it's just not that simple. We can't just cease to interact with Pokémon – quite apart from what would happen to the world's energy supplies if electricity farms were shut down, rather a lot of Pokémon interact with us anyway. It's how Training started: without it, we're all just prey. You can't order anyone to take apart the system without laying down a clear praxis for what comes next – it'd be chaos.”
N smiled then –
. It wasn't a mocking smile, either; it was a warm, happy smile – a smile that looked like it was born of real joy, and which was totally incongruous under the circumstances.
“You're quite right,” he agreed. “If I take apart the system, there will be chaos – but it will be
chaos, and my chaos is not at all the chaos you're familiar with.”
We like randomness
, I remembered him saying. What did he mean by all this?
“You people see everything in shades of grey,” sighed N, shaking his head. “But it only looks blurry to you because you try to categorise it and realise you can't. If you approach the world as I do... well, ironically enough, everything is resolved into simple strokes of black and white.”
“That doesn't even make sense as an argument,” said Juniper, frowning. “Do you not consider anyone else's view?”
“Jared. Tell her.”
“Tell her what?”
“That she's wrong.”
I opened my mouth to tell him
was wrong – and then realised what he meant. It was not that Juniper was objectively incorrect in her opinions; it was more that she was approaching this the wrong way. This was not a matter for debate or rational argument: you couldn't bridge the gap between N's chaotic and our rational minds with an argument based only on our rules of engagement. In such a situation, I realised, there was only one way to argue a point that both parties could understand: let slip the reins of legend, and choose your champions to fight their corners.
“I...” I shook my head. Explain it to a third party? No, I couldn't. Lauren might be able to, perhaps – but not me. I could never put the magic into words. “I'm sorry,” I said at length. “I can't explain it.”
N sighed deeply, and nodded.
“We can't agree,” he said to the cave in general. “The fault is mine, and for that I apologise. I can't make myself clear to you. I would like to be able to, but I can't.” He smiled a crooked, rueful smile. “But I suppose that doesn't really matter. Matters aren't going to be decided here and now, in a debate with a scientist in the middle of a cave.”
There was a silence.
“I'm sorry,” said Juniper, and she really did sound apologetic. “But I honestly don't understand what you mean by any of that.”
“I know.” N sighed. “I don't want to be your enemy – I would rather not be
enemy – but quests take dedication, and if I have to be opposed to you then I'd rather do that than not reach my goals.” He took Juniper's hand and shook it. “I can divorce my feelings about what you stand for from my feelings about you as an individual,” he said. “You aren't a bad person – none of you are – but put a lot of not-bad people together and you don't end up with a good world. You end up with one that is, at best, not too bad.”
He let her hand go and stepped backwards, out of the circle of white torchlight; the Tynamo moved with him, circling restlessly.
“Three days, Jared,” said N. “No more talking. No more diplomacy.” He smiled, but his heart wasn't in it. “Goodbye.”
He turned away into the blackness and disappeared, the Tynamo dispersing in the gloom. I heard no footsteps, but I knew he was gone – just as something else was gone, something that had kept us together until now but which had started to decay as we talked earlier; something that had at last withered away to nothing during his strange, nonsensical argument with Juniper.
I was on my own now, I thought. We all were.
Updates will be a bit less frequent from now on, I'm afraid! I go off to university this week, so my free time's going to disappear pretty quick. I hope that doesn't cause too much of a problem for anybody.
The Thinking Man's Guide to Destroying the World
The Rocket Case
The Rocket Revival
Neither Here Nor There
Coriolanus Rowland's Guide to Pokémon Husbandry
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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