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  #51    
Old February 14th, 2012, 01:52 PM
Cutlerine
Gone. May or may not return.
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
Age: 21
Gender:
Nature: Impish
Quote:
Originally Posted by Silent Memento View Post
Oh, Skyrim. If I hear one more "arrow to the knee" comment, I'm going to massacre a whole freaking village - and I haven't even played the game yet.
Oddly enough, I actually did that - massacre a whole village, that is. And it was wholly accidental. Because Skyrim entrusted control over someone's actions to me, I managed to fail the first mission of the game, which is asking someone for help. I killed a chicken in the first town, whereupon everyone in the place attempted to kill me and I was forced to burn each and every one of them to death, including the one I was supposed to ask for help. It was not one of my finer moments; since children are immortal, they all survived the massacre and sent hired killers after me for a very long time. Sigh. Such is life, I suppose; I seem to be doomed to be an accidental supervillain.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Silent Memento View Post
...Why do I get the feeling that Pearl's going to majorly screw things up? If Iago is the traitor, Ashley has to know about it - and if Ashley knows about it, it wouldn't make sense for him to be confused at Pearl's knowing wink. I get that he's poor at social interactions, but surely he can't be that bad, right?

Another thing doesn't make sense. If Iago is the traitor, he has to be suspicious at this point. That's two times where Ashley's cut him out of the loop in this chapter alone. If he's reporting knowledge to Cyrus, it has to make him nervous and feel like they're on to him. If Ashley's trying to make Iago feel comfortable in order to lull him into a false sense of security, he's doing a really poor job at it; he's drawing more attention to himself than Pearl, for fate's sake. If he's doing it to intentionally drive Iago away, I don't get it; it would be so much more useful to give a spy false information.
Mm. Theories are delicious, aren't they? Rest assured that there's an explanation that ties everything up, just as there always is. And I'm sure you know exactly how crazy it'll be.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Silent Memento View Post
However, there's other possibilities (another really insane theory of mine that probably won't make a lick of sense. Joy.):

Spoiler:
What if Iago isn't the traitor? That really leaves only one person: Cynthia. Cynthia knows just about everything about the league, and she's particularly close to Ashley. Iago would definitely give Cynthia updates, who would then report to Cyrus. It might explain why Ashley was confused at Pearl's knowing wink. Their thoughts obviously aren't on the same page.

Or Ashley could make a mistake. Not even Holmes was perfect.


Oh well. Ishmael is amazing, as he usually is. And I love how you've described Pastoria. I love that city (even though I don't care for Wake, it's still my favorite city in Sinnoh).

I'm really excited to see what the next chapter is going to turn out like. I'll be waiting.
Ashley isn't perfect, I'll say that much. He's not really a genius, just... very experienced; he doesn't always win. But I've given too much away already; I'll have to rein myself in with thoughts of Crasher Wake.

Oh, Crasher. My old nemesis. Rock-type Platinum monotype run on an emulator? Without the ability to trade or go underground, you end up with this team by the time you get to Pastoria: Graveler, Onix, Rhyhorn and Probopass. It took me weeks to beat him; I would lose confidence, or get bored with the endless, endless grinding, and leave it for two days to come back again. That I ever beat him at all with those four is nothing short of a miracle, and a testament to the power of Probopass, who single-handedly took down the Gyarados and the Floatzel, and made a brave stab at the Quagsire only to be felled by Mud Shot. Damn you, Wake, I won! Why won't you leave me alone? I have the Badge, so stop! Torturing! Me!

...

Er... yeah, so I have a thing about Crasher Wake. I don't know why I force myself to do Rock-type runs, to be honest. It's really nothing more than softcore masochism, only without the benefit of enjoying the pain.

And the relevance of all this? I suppose it's an explanation for why Crasher Wake doesn't come off too well in this story. The slimy luchador *******.

Nevertheless, I don't have too much against Pastoria. I just thought I'd theme it, for some reason. I suspect this might become a regular thing; it's certainly quite prevalent in the next chapter. Which should hopefully be up either today or tomorrow, depending on how long it takes me to finish the damn thing.

F.A.B.
__________________

For information about A Grand Day Out, a bizarre short story in video game form, click here.

Last edited by Cutlerine; February 27th, 2012 at 08:41 AM.
  #52    
Old February 15th, 2012, 12:18 PM
Cutlerine
Gone. May or may not return.
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
Age: 21
Gender:
Nature: Impish
Chapter Twenty-Two: In Which There is Much Detectivery

'Pastoria City's the best place in Sinnoh to write poetry. You can really feel the rainy miasma in your soul there.'
—Gloomrainia Shadowdespair, How to Write Goth Poetry


Stephanie Knew Too Much.

And she was under no misapprehensions about it. This was no conspiracy movie cliché – she really did know a lot more than anyone was meant to, and she had no doubt that there were going to be repercussions if she was ever found out.

Serious repercussions. Of the sort that generally befall those who Know Too Much.

Repercussions of the kind that involve midnight visitors and garrottes, or possibly black-suited agents and detention centres.

So naturally, Stephanie had taken precautions. There was now no incriminating information stored on her computer; she had wiped it all off, and consigned the hard copy she had printed to the shredder, and the remains to a fire. Now the only source of data she had was her own memory, and that, she felt, was pretty safe – or as safe as anything could be, anyway.

She was still fairly tense, of course. At any moment, she knew, someone might walk off the street and casually kill or abduct her; according to her research, the League had killed before to preserve its secrets, and would do so again without compunction. Ordinarily, Stephanie wouldn't have believed these conspiracy theories, but she'd met Ashley now, and found out about Darkling Town – and after that she would have believed almost anything about the Sinnoh League.

Yes, she Knew Too Much now. She knew about Allegra Fairfax and Nathaniel Pyke. She knew about the hushed-up Pokémon disasters and the star. She even knew about the chambers that didn't appear on the plan of the Elite Four building on Gibbous Island, the vaults below ground, where certain things that were best kept out of the public eye were housed.

And Pearl still hadn't called her.

It was getting quite annoying, really. Stephanie had got herself a new phone, and she would have thought that Pearl would have done by now too; after all, she was the one who'd wanted this information, not Stephanie. If Pearl didn't call soon... well, Stephanie wasn't sure what she'd do, but the tension definitely wasn't doing her nerves any favours.

So she kept going, fingernails bitten down to the quick, and waited for the phone to ring.

---

Inside, the Hrafn Hotel was even creepier than it looked from outside. A large battleaxe, crusted with ancient blood, hung on the wall over the reception desk; the receptionist himself had a steel eyepatch and a raven on each shoulder. He was also seven feet tall and dressed in what looked like bear fur.

“Greetings,” he rumbled, in a heavily-accented voice. “I am Wednesday. Do you have a reservation?”

“Is he...?” whispered Iago.

“Yes,” I replied. “Yes, he definitely is. I'm trying not to think about it.”

“No, we don't,” Ashley told Wednesday. “Will that be a problem?”

“It depends how much you're willing to pay,” he replied. “Many of our cheaper rooms are taken this time of year. Pastoria is a popular honeymoon spot.”

“Who in their right mind wants to spend their honeymoon in Pastoria?” I asked.

“Goths,” replied Wednesday frankly. “From the East.”

Ah. Sunyshore was notorious for its Goth population; you'd have thought Pastoria would have more, but they preferred to save it for their holidays, as a treat. A rainy, depressing treat.

“We have almost limitless funds,” Ashley proclaimed, which was a statement calculated to dismay the one with the credit card. “So. Three rooms, if you please.”

Three... There was something strange about that.

“What? Are you planning on sleeping for once, Ashley?” Iago asked.

That was it – Ashley had said earlier that he didn't sleep any more. So why did he want a room now?

“Yes,” he replied. “I'll need the rest.”

Iago looked suspicious, but said nothing; Wednesday told us that rooms 13, 666 and 42 were unoccupied, and held out the keys.

“Why?” I asked. “Surely Goths would want those rooms more than the others?”

“No, they're too nonconformist to be nonconformist in such a conformist way,” said Iago. “It's a weak attempt to assert some individuality. Pathetic, really; if you really want to show people that you're different, you're better off becoming a serial killer.”

Wednesday gave him an odd look, and shook the keys; Ashley took them from him, gave me one and Iago another, and led us away towards the stairs.

---

It turned out that I had room 13, which was something of a relief; I'm not really superstitious, but I wouldn't have liked 42. Unsurprisingly, it was panelled in dark wood and boasted a large four-poster bed; the cord that drew the curtains bore more than a passing resemblance to a noose, and the door-frame a gallows. I threw my bag on the bed, turned around and went back outside – where I was immediately accosted by Ashley.

“Come,” he said. “We have work to do.”

I looked at my watch.

“Ashley, it's eight o'clock; can't we get something to eat?”

“We'll stop off on the way,” he conceded. “Just come on, will you? The Donnie link throws up multiple lines of inquiry, and we have to investigate them all. Tonight, if possible.”

“You do realise I have to sleep at some point?”

“Real detectives don't sleep,” he informed me.

“Maybe they do, maybe they don't,” muttered Iago – which made me jump; I hadn't seen him standing behind Ashley. “Can we just get on with this? I'm hungry.”

“Well, that's what I'm trying to do,” said Ashley. “Now come on.”

A few minutes later, we were in yet another taxi – honestly, did Ashley never think to take the subway? – and heading for Banninet Street. This turned out to be a quiet cul-de-sac in a residential district, which confused me until Ashley and Iago led me down two roads and up to the (decidedly Gothic) iron gates of the Courmocan District High School. It didn't take a genius to figure out that we'd stopped short of our destination because it was pretty weird to go around visiting schools at half past eight in the evening.

“Why are we here?” I asked. “I thought I'd escaped school three years ago.”

“I never went to school,” said Ashley. “And I want to see what I missed.”

“Really?”

“No. Pearl, you really must stop falling for that one.”

“We're here because a large part of Donnie Darko is set in a high school,” said Iago. “And this is the biggest one in Pastoria. We'll check it out, and if we can't find anything we'll have to look up the others and go through them.”

“And if we find nothing there, we'll investigate the airport and any eerie old houses inhabited only by insane elderly women,” concluded Ashley.

“How long is this going to take?” I asked.

“It depends on whether or not you choose to sleep,” he replied frankly. “You should probably be prepared to stay up until nine in the morning; I usually manage to find some sort of clue by then.”

“If you think you'll need it, I think I have some ecstasy somewhere,” offered Iago, which was a comment that I chose to outwardly ignore but filed away for future reference.

I sighed and looked up at the gate, its bars glinting in the moonlight.

“Are we breaking in, then?”

“Well, I suppose I could ask Wake for permission,” said Ashley thoughtfully. “And I could cooperate with him and the Pastoria police force, get a warrant and the backup of the whole city.”

“So we're definitely breaking in, then?”

“Oh yes,” said Ashley, and started to climb the gate.

---

“You said it was safe!”

And I was right, wasn't I? I mean, you're not hurt.

“I'm dead!”

In my defence, that isn't a result of the plane crash.


Ellen slipped on the snow and almost fell back into the fuselage; at the last moment, Bond's white-gloved fingers wrapped themselves around her wrist, and steadied her.

“Madam,” he began, but Ellen didn't seem to be finished speaking.

“And you said it was safe too!” she cried, jabbing her finger at him and hitting him painfully in the sternum. Bond, of course, did not react, other than to incline his head slightly.

“I believe that this is a very rare occurrence—”

“You said that this wouldn't fall out of the sky!”

“I had every reason to believe that that was so—”

“The wing exploded!”

Shut up, snapped Pigzie Doodle, rolling over in midair and shaking a flight attendant's thumb out of his skull. You're fine. We're all fine. Well, except for the three hundred other passengers, but let's not dwell on that, hm? We just have to travel by foot now, and so our journey might take a bit longer than I'd previously anticipated.

“We fell from the clouds!” shrieked Ellen, kicking a piece of landing gear hard and sending it skittering down the slope. “We landed on a mountain! And – and now we have to walk to Veilstone!”

“Madam, the fact that the aeroplane crashed here is due to no more or less than extreme bad luck,” said Bond, as serenely as a swan. “Please, let us put all of this unpleasantness behind us, and move on.”

Perhaps it was the powerful aura of tranquillity he exuded, but Ellen actually did seem to calm down a little, and she sat down on one of the surviving seats.

“Very well,” she sighed. “I'm calm now.”

“Excellent,” said Bond. “Now, I propose we commend ourselves to the direction of Pigzie Doodle.”

“And hope he doesn't almost kill us again,” muttered Ellen.

“Madam,” said Bond, with just the faintest trace of warning in his voice, and she fell silent.

Everyone calm now? OK. Here's the plan.
Pigzie Doodle paused. While you two were lying there unconscious, looking like sleeping puddles of mercury, I drifted upwards and had a little look around. The bad news is that with the engine on one side gone, the plane must've started turning in a circle as it fell, and it's... Well, let's just say we've landed in a bad place.

“Where are we?” asked Ellen, suddenly concerned.

We're just west of Hearthome, replied Pigzie Doodle. He was a little more serious than usual; it seemed like traces of worry had leaked into his voice. We're in about as bad a place as we could possibly be.

“What? What is it?”

Hearthome has a Ghost-type Gym, he said. There are a hell of a lot of us in one place, and because there are so many, even more of us are attracted. There's also a tower with lots of Ghost-types nearby, and a monstrous Ghost in the basement of it.

“What are you trying to say, Ishmael?”

That the city is stewing with Ghosts, Pigzie Doodle said. Ghosts who regard people like you as nothing more than prey. Ghosts who would see a lone Duskull as fair game; Ghosts who would view a Duskull that actually travels with human ghosts as completely insane and probably to be destroyed on sight.

“What is it, madam?” asked Bond, sensing that something undesirable was either about to happen or in the process of happening.

“We're close to Hearthome City, Bond,” Ellen replied, a slight tremor in her voice. “Do you recall what Mans told us about Hearthome City?”

Bond closed his eyes.

“Perfectly, madam,” he replied, and promised himself a career change as soon as this was over.

---

“I find it kind of funny, I find it kind of sad,” sang Ashley quietly. “The dreams in which I'm dying are the best I've ever had.”

“Stop being creepy,” I replied. It was bad enough skulking around in a school in the dead of night, every shadow appearing to conceal a hidden policeman or lurking monster; I didn't need Ashley singing weird songs as well.

“It's from the film,” he replied. “Iago can give you the details.”

“It's called 'Mad World',” the Kadabra told me immediately. “Released as a single in 1982 by Tears for Fears, it was covered in 2001 by Gary Jules and Michael Andrews for Donnie Darko, in a minimalist style. This version reached #1 on the UK charts and—”

“All right, you know everything, I know that already,” I grumbled. “You don't have to prove it.” We walked on for a little while longer, and then I asked: “Where are we going, anyway?”

“Down to the basement,” Ashley replied. “To the boiler room. It's the first place in the school we need to check.”

The boiler room, when we got there, turned out to contain about a thousand litres of water, which was probably meant to remain inside a tank but which instead washed out and around our ankles when we opened the door. I found it singularly unpleasant; there's something really quite nasty about getting your feet wet when the rest of you remains dry.

“Ah,” said Ashley, staring at the water. “It looks like we're heading in the right direction.”

“How do you know this is the right direction?” I asked; that was when he pointed out the axe in the water main.

“This happens in the film,” he said, as if that was explanation enough on its own, and stepped in. For a moment, I considered whether or not I should follow – the water level had dropped to about a millimetre since we'd opened the door, but it was still flowing freely – and then decided that my shoes were already ruined, and it could do no harm to enter.

“Get on with it,” snapped Iago from behind me. “I want to get this over with and have a beer and a pizza.”

That sounded quite pleasant.

“Might have to join you,” I said, going in and curling my toes inside my shoes as the water squelched around them.

“Well you can, since you can pay and I'm not averse to getting drunk with you,” he said. “Just hurry up.”

Inside, the boiler room was almost completely dark; I could just about make out the axe and the water, and a series of pipes around the walls that looked like they belonged on the maintenance deck of a spaceship, but that was it.

“Ashley?” I called in a low voice. What is it about being in the dark that makes you whisper? I knew Iago was behind me and a detective with superpowers was somewhere in front of me, but my heart was still racing; a whirl of images from the long, terrifying nights of childhood rattled through my mind: tigers on the ceiling, hands that reach out from under the bed, pale faces in the shadows with sharp-toothed grins and black-rimmed eyes—

“What is it?” asked Ashley, and now that he turned towards me I could see his eyes were two little rifts in the dark, cold yellow lights that lit up his nose and forehead.

“Uh, nothing,” I said, wondering if he could tell how nervous I was and deciding that he probably could. “Just... found anything?”

“Not yet,” he replied. “There's nothing out of order on any of the pipes, and I don't think the axe has anything written on it.” The glow of his eyes disappeared; I guessed he turned away to investigate something.

“How can you—?”

“You watched him fight off a swarm of Combee using only the skin of his arms,” interrupted Iago. “You really think he can't see in the dark?”

“Oh. Yeah. Er, right.” I stood there and fidgeted nervously for a moment. “Found anything yet?”

The yellow lights returned sharply.

“If you give me more than four seconds, I might be able to find something,” Ashley snapped. “Even I'm not that good.”

“All right, all right,” I said. “Sorry.”

It felt like an hour later when Ashley next spoke, but it was probably only a few minutes.

“Back outside,” he ordered. “We're done in here.”

“Did you find something—?”

“Not quite, but it's here,” he said cryptically, pushing past me. “Come on; I assume you don't want to stay here in this little lake.”

He was right; I didn't, and so retreated thankfully to the corridor, which, as it turned out, was now just as wet as the boiler room. In fact, the water level seemed to be rising; if no one noticed by morning, it was probably going to reach the classrooms above.

There it is,” said Ashley, bending down and picking something up off the floor. “It washed out when the water came out; that's why I couldn't find anything inside.” He examined it. “I know who put the axe in the pipe,” he announced. “What about you, Pearl?”

“No, but I have a feeling you're about to tell me.”

“Go on. Guess.”

“Uh, OK. Is it... Liza and Tristan?”

“Well, Tristan at least,” said Ashley, holding out the thing he'd picked up; in the dim light, I could just about see that it was a piece of coloured foil. “It's part of the wrapper from a Kinder Egg – a curious European treat that I've noticed Tristan seems to like a great deal. Every time I've seen him, he's had one or two about his person.”

“Great,” said Iago sarcastically. “We could've guessed this much – have I got my feet wet for nothing here?”

“No,” replied Ashley. “Look closely.”

Iago and I crowded closer, peering at the foil – and realised with a start that it had been folded into a tiny origami unicorn.

“What the hell? A unicorn?” I looked up at Ashley. “Why is it a unicorn?”

He and Iago looked at each other.

“Do you think—” began Ashley.

“Oh yes,” agreed Iago. “He's using—”

“How strange.”

“Yeah. It is, isn't it?”

“That's enough,” I said, resisting the urge to knock their heads together. “What does the unicorn mean?”

They turned to me, man and Kadabra, and said as one:

Blade Runner.”

---

“How's it going?” asked Liza.

“Nearly done,” replied Tristan, twisting two pieces of wire together and pressing them down into the casing. “OK?”

“Yeah.” Liza sat down on an empty packing case and watched him work for a while. It was quite remarkable really; Tristan might be a moron, but his skills as a bombsmith were unmatched. Was that a word? Bombsmith? If not, she decided, it should be. Anyway, she'd never seen such a complex bomb as he was making constructed so swiftly and with such accuracy; Liza was no slouch in the field herself, and she knew that the machine taking shape before her was good. “You dry yet?”

“No,” admitted Tristan, glancing down at his soaking boots. “You?”

“No.” Liza looked around and drummed her fingers on the wall impatiently. They were behind schedule – there was still plenty to prepare for the Diamond's appraisal – and there were another two address here in Pastoria, those of Berenice Anders and Samantha Wilson, which she wanted to investigate. Either of them could be the one...

“There,” said Tristan triumphantly, straightening up and dusting off his hands. “All done.” He was about to high-five his Croagunk, but then remembered his poisonous claws, and thought better of it. “So, er, what's next, Liza?”

“You're sure that's done?” Liza slid off the case and back to her feet.

“Yes. All we have to do is press the button and set the timer going.” Tristan indicated the button, which was of the large red variety that one is usually forbidden to touch. “Shall I?”

“No, not yet.” Liza checked her watch, keeping a careful eye on the second hand; this whole event had to be very carefully timed. “Get ready... get ready... get ready... now.”

Tristan's finger clicked down on the button, and the numbers on the digital display blinked into life.

“OK,” said Liza. “Timer's set. Let's move.”

“Where are we going now?” asked Tristan as they left. “The hotel?”

“I wish,” replied Liza, sighing and running a hand through her hair. It came away slightly blue, she noted; what was it about her hair that made it so resistant to dyeing? “No, we've got more work to do. You need to help me kidnap some people.”

“Ooh! Ooh! A kidnapping!” Tristan bounced up and down in excitement. “Can I tie them up?”

“The last time you tied someone up you managed to hogtie yourself.”

Here, Jackie let out an amused croak; he remembered that one.

“OK, OK. Can I knock them out prior to the spiriting away?”

“How? You're not strong enough.”

“I could use Jackie—”

“We don't want to kill them.”

“OK.” Tristan thought. “How about this: can I—”

“No,” Liza said firmly, pushing open the main door and stepping out into the cool night air. “You don't get to do any of that.”

“Well, what can I do?” whined Tristan. “I just built you the most powerful bomb in Sinnoh – I deserve to do something.”

Liza pondered. He did have a point.

“You can stick the duct tape over their mouths,” she conceded at last.

Tristan sighed in satisfaction, and joined her in the car. Things were looking up for him.

---

“OK,” I said, “will someone please tell me what is going on?”

“Iago?” asked Ashley. “If you would be so kind.”

Iago sighed.

“Fine, but let it be recorded that I object to being used as a fact regurgitator. Blade Runner, 1982, sort of based on the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, by Isaac Asimov. The main stars were Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer and Sean Young. It follows the efforts of one Rick Deckard, as he attempts to track down and destroy four genetic robots, replicants, who have illegally returned to Earth to track down their maker in an attempt to extend their lives. Like Donnie Darko, it wasn't a huge success at first, but has since become a cult classic.”

“For whatever reason, Maragos is using cult films as his clues,” Ashley said. “I suspect that this is him showing off, or perhaps he thinks I'll solve the case too quickly if he structures it like a conventional mystery.”

“So what's the unicorn connection?” I asked.

“The most famous symbol in Blade Runner is the unicorn,” Iago replied. “It's the means by which Deckard's reality is called into question; through showing him an origami unicorn, that weird guy with the accent communicates to him that he might well be a replicant himself. Hey, do you think there's a theme here?”

“There might be, I suppose,” said Ashley. “But that's beside the point. We were lucky enough to get what we wanted; now I suggest we leave, before someone finds us here next to an axe in a water main and puts two and two together.”

“We didn't get what we wanted,” I said, as we started heading for the upper floors. “I mean, where's the food?”

“A damn fine point,” said Iago, thumping his fist into the palm of his hand. “Ashley, I command you to let Pearl and I stop for beer and pizza.”

“Do I have to be there?”

“Not ordinarily, but with all this weird cal going on... yes. You have to stay with me at all times.”

Ashley ground his teeth.

“Oh, fine,” he said. “Suit yourself.”

“Great. Now, it's been six years, so it might have closed down, but there's a great place on Hircine Avenue...”


Note: As those of you well versed in Sinnish culture will no doubt know, 42 is a very unlucky number in Sinnoh, owing to a spectacularly bad translation of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. This is in no way a desperate attempt on my part to find a third unlucky number.
__________________

For information about A Grand Day Out, a bizarre short story in video game form, click here.

Last edited by Cutlerine; February 17th, 2012 at 06:57 AM.
  #53    
Old February 17th, 2012, 12:44 AM
teamVASIMR's Avatar
teamVASIMR
 
Join Date: May 2011
Hi Cutlerine!

This story is getting very good now!

Review:

Disclaimer: I am not an English teacher, tutor, major, or student, and this is not writing advice.

Overall reaction: The first few chapters were not so good. Reading it felt awkward. (I think we all needed some time to get over Puck and Fabien et al.) Now it has broken out of the shadow of its predecessor and is coming into its own.

End review.

Fan stuff:

1. Driftenburg theme. A song popped into my head while reading. I wondered what it was for a while, and eventually realized it was this (yay for subconscious title match):
http://kjos.vo.llnwd.net/o28/audio/mp3/so145.mp3
Atwell, Shirl Jae. "Drifen." Neil A Kjos Music Company, 1997. <http://www.kjos.com/detail.php?table=author&division=4&auth_id=52>

2. Predictions.

a) Cyrus is bluffing about the power of his bomb. It's only got enough boom to kill Pearl. Or knock out Ashley for a few hours.

b) It's probably just an NBC weapon to kill Pearl (dirty bomb, germ bomb, and/or nerve agent/other poison).

c) Ok, ok, it's a nuke. Or some sort of exotic poke-nuke, if you will. But it's still only got enough boom to kill Pearl. Or knock out Ashley for a few hours. Because if high-yield weapons were available, they could have been used against Groudon/Kyogre.

Last edited by teamVASIMR; February 17th, 2012 at 12:55 AM.
  #54    
Old February 17th, 2012, 01:30 AM
Cutlerine
Gone. May or may not return.
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
Age: 21
Gender:
Nature: Impish
Quote:
Originally Posted by teamVASIMR View Post
Hi Cutlerine!

This story is getting very good now!

Review:

Disclaimer: I am not an English teacher, tutor, major, or student, and this is not writing advice.

Overall reaction: The first few chapters were not so good. Reading it felt awkward. (I think we all needed some time to get over Puck and Fabien et al.) Now it has broken out of the shadow of its predecessor and is coming into its own.

End review.
I know, I know. Basically, the problem is that I started too soon after finishing The Thinking Man's Guide to Destroying the World. I didn't leave myself any time to reset my writingness to zero and start again properly. I've been meaning to redo the first few chapters for a while now, and this reminder is exactly what I need. I'll get to it in the next couple of days.

Quote:
Originally Posted by teamVASIMR View Post
Fan stuff:

1. Driftenburg theme. A song popped into my head while reading. I wondered what it was for a while, and eventually realized it was this (yay for subconscious title match):
http://kjos.vo.llnwd.net/o28/audio/mp3/so145.mp3
Atwell, Shirl Jae. "Drifen." Neil A Kjos Music Company, 1997. <http://www.kjos.com/detail.php?table=author&division=4&auth_id=52>

2. Predictions.

a) Cyrus is bluffing about the power of his bomb. It's only got enough boom to kill Pearl. Or knock out Ashley for a few hours.

b) It's probably just an NBC weapon to kill Pearl (dirty bomb, germ bomb, and/or nerve agent/other poison).

c) Ok, ok, it's a nuke. Or some sort of exotic poke-nuke, if you will. But it's still only got enough boom to kill Pearl. Or knock out Ashley for a few hours. Because if high-yield weapons were available, they could have been used against Groudon/Kyogre.
It might not necessarily be a nuke, remember? It might be a different sort of bomb, a bomb that would easily take out a quarter of Pastoria but be completely unable to harm Groudon or Kyogre. That sort of weapon does exist - or it does now, because I made it up about a month ago.

From Cyrus' point of view, whether or not they solve the case and disarm it is irrelevant. If they fail, they die, which removes them from the equation; if they succeed, they've spent enough time trying that Team Galactic will have finished up their preparations and be ready to move into Phase Two of their operation. The only reason the bomb needs to be that strong is to provide a strong incentive for our heroes to find and defuse it.

Anyway, thanks for prodding me about the early chapters, and I'm glad you're liking the later ones. It's good to know that I have readers plural rather than a reader, singular.

F.A.B.
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  #55    
Old February 17th, 2012, 03:36 AM
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Silent Memento
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Join Date: May 2011
Location: St. Louis, Missouri
Age: 23
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Quote:
“Why?” I asked. “Surely Goths would want those rooms more than the others?”

“No, they're too nonconformist to be nonconformist in such a
conformist way,” said Iago. “It's a weak attempt to assert some individuality. Pathetic, really; if you really want to show people that you're different, you're better off becoming a serial killer.”
Oh, I laughed my head off at that quote. I really don't know know if you intended to do this or not, but that quote just reminded me of a character I wrote about - a goth trainer who moonlights as a serial killer.

I was wondering when Stephanie was going to make her appearance. You know, I wonder how many of the things that she mentioned are relevant to this plot...and I also wonder how many things she didn't mention.

Bond - is - freaking - awesome. He totally needs a new job, but I'm guessing that in spite of his thoughts, he wouldn't want to leave Ellen behind. He's just a really calm, tolerant, selfless, and believable character.

Tristan can't figure out that his own Croagunk would kill the person they're trying to kidnap, but he can build a complex bomb in a matter of seconds. Go figure.

There's one confusing thing about the Galactic duo scene:

Quote:
“Nearly done,” replied Tristan, twisting two pieces of wire together and pressing them down into the casing. “OK?”

“Yeah.” Liza sat down on an empty packing case and watched him work for a while. It was quite remarkable really; Tristan might be a moron, but his skills as a bombsmith were unmatched. Was that a word? Bombsmith? If not, she decided, it should be. Anyway, she'd never seen such a complex bomb as he was making constructed so swiftly and with such accuracy; Liza was no slouch in the field herself, and she knew that the machine taking shape before her was good. “You dry yet?”

“No,” admitted Liza, glancing down at her soaking boots. “You?”

“No.” Liza looked around and drummed her fingers on the wall impatiently.
It's just a bit vague as to who's speaking in the bolded part. Is it Liza or Tristan?

Anyway, you're far from the only person who hates Wake. I can tolerate him, at least; I've never had real problems with him, since I use Luxray a fair bit. I think the only gym leader I hate beyond all reason is Whitney. Damn you, Miltank! Stop abusing stomp, attract, and milk drink, you fat, ugly cow! Just let me win for once!

...Sorry about that off-topic tangent.

Anyway, things are just starting to get interesting. I'll be waiting for the next chapter.

Sincerely,

Mem.

Edit: If this review seems weird, it's likely because I wrote it at four in the morning. My apologies.
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Last edited by Silent Memento; February 17th, 2012 at 12:16 PM.
  #56    
Old February 17th, 2012, 05:33 AM
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olih
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This story is getting good ^_^ The characters are very believable, and the plot's moving along nicely :3 I like the slightly cynical theme of this, and Pearl as an unfortunate protagonist who has no clue was nicely done; it's kinda like your last story :P Great!
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  #57    
Old February 18th, 2012, 11:00 AM
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1. Uh, Cutlerine, you probably shouldn't listen to me. I probably set off a volcano that, while it would erupt anyway sometime in the future, (I don't know where this sentence is going)
What I mean is, keep in mind you can't please everybody and afaik I'm the only reader who doesn't really love the first few chapters.

2. Whatever that bomb is, it is an "exotic poke-nuke" to me (and your user title is "Nuclear!") as of now.

3. The important thing is, did you listen to Drifen? The publisher's website has a full recording available for free (the thing they sell is the sheet music) so it is certainly NOT piracy. Go ahead and download the mp3. Do it. Do it, do it, do itttt.... Oh and turn the volume up.

Last edited by teamVASIMR; February 18th, 2012 at 11:05 AM.
  #58    
Old February 20th, 2012, 12:03 AM
Cutlerine
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Quote:
Originally Posted by teamVASIMR View Post
1. Uh, Cutlerine, you probably shouldn't listen to me. I probably set off a volcano that, while it would erupt anyway sometime in the future, (I don't know where this sentence is going)
What I mean is, keep in mind you can't please everybody and afaik I'm the only reader who doesn't really love the first few chapters.
Ah, you misunderstand me. This is nothing to do with pleasing the readers - I really have been planning to overhaul them for some time now. You're not deceived; they really are of subpar quality. I always say that if a story can be made better, it ought to be.

Quote:
Originally Posted by teamVASIMR View Post
2. Whatever that bomb is, it is an "exotic poke-nuke" to me (and your user title is "Nuclear!") as of now.
My user title is Nuclear! for a completely different reason. It's to do with my avatar.

Quote:
Originally Posted by teamVASIMR View Post
3. The important thing is, did you listen to Drifen? The publisher's website has a full recording available for free (the thing they sell is the sheet music) so it is certainly NOT piracy. Go ahead and download the mp3. Do it. Do it, do it, do itttt.... Oh and turn the volume up.
I meant to... and I will, as soon as I get around to it.

Quote:
Originally Posted by olih View Post
This story is getting good The characters are very believable, and the plot's moving along nicely :3 I like the slightly cynical theme of this, and Pearl as an unfortunate protagonist who has no clue was nicely done; it's kinda like your last story Great!
It's kind of like, yeah. That's what I was aiming for. However, Pearl actually has a whole different set of strengths and weaknesses to Kester, as will be revealed in time...

Quote:
Originally Posted by Silent Memento View Post
Oh, I laughed my head off at that quote. I really don't know know if you intended to do this or not, but that quote just reminded me of a character I wrote about - a goth trainer who moonlights as a serial killer.
That was entirely unintentional. It's just that serial killers are funny. Wait. No they're not. Scratch that.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Silent Memento View Post
I was wondering when Stephanie was going to make her appearance. You know, I wonder how many of the things that she mentioned are relevant to this plot...and I also wonder how many things she didn't mention.
You'll like the next chapter, then.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Silent Memento View Post
Bond - is - freaking - awesome. He totally needs a new job, but I'm guessing that in spite of his thoughts, he wouldn't want to leave Ellen behind. He's just a really calm, tolerant, selfless, and believable character.
I know, I know, he's great. He's the only character (besides Pigzie Doodle) whose ultimate ending I've actually worked out properly so far, purely because he's awesome.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Silent Memento View Post
There's one confusing thing about the Galactic duo scene:

It's just a bit vague as to who's speaking in the bolded part. Is it Liza or Tristan?
Fixed. I, uh, must've lost concentration mid-paragraph there and regained it two sentences later.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Silent Memento View Post
Anyway, you're far from the only person who hates Wake. I can tolerate him, at least; I've never had real problems with him, since I use Luxray a fair bit. I think the only gym leader I hate beyond all reason is Whitney. Damn you, Miltank! Stop abusing stomp, attract, and milk drink, you fat, ugly cow! Just let me win for once!
I found Whitney horrendously difficult the first time, and really easy after that. It's Jasmine's Steelix that got me - especially in Gen 4 Contests. Did you know it's a Master Rank Beauty contestant? And that it always wins? Damn snake...

Quote:
Originally Posted by Silent Memento View Post
Edit: If this review seems weird, it's likely because I wrote it at four in the morning. My apologies.
It doesn't seem weird at all, which is probably a reflection on me rather than you.

F.A.B.
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  #59    
Old February 21st, 2012, 02:39 PM
Cutlerine
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Join Date: Mar 2010
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Chapter Twenty-Three: In Which Pearl Calls Stephanie

'Hm? Oh, at first it was simply to gain my freedom, yes – there's no question about that. But over time... well. It's something of a cliché, is it not? Albeit one that almost never occurs in real life.'
—Ashley Lacrimére, interview on The Ruby Rhodes Show


Eleven o'clock at night. The hotel was silent. All was set and I was ready.

I slipped out of my room and down the corridor, pausing at regular intervals to check that nobody was following me; as it turned out, no one was, and I reached the lobby without incident. Wednesday was still there behind the desk, and I approached him as sneakily as possible.

“Ah, Miss Gideon,” he said, when I was about thirty feet away. “What are you doing up at this hour?”

Blast. What hope was there for me as a detective if I couldn't even sneak up on a one-eyed man? As if they had read my thoughts, the ravens on the Norse receptionist's shoulders cackled, and I narrowed my eyes: had they sensed me and given me away?

“Little feathered bratchnies,” I muttered under my breath – and then, louder: “Um, hi. I was wondering if there were any mobile phone shops nearby?”

Wednesday looked at me as if I'd suddenly climbed into my own pocket and carried myself out.

“A phone shop? At this time of night?”

“Er... well, when a girl needs a phone...”

“I don't know if any will be open,” he said kindly, as if talking to an idiot. “Most shops are closed at night.”

“Isn't there even one?”

“Well...” Wednesday pondered. “None of the real phone shops will be open now, but there are all-night electronics stores on Muscat Street.”

“Really?”

“Yes, really. I always wondered why you'd need an all-night electronics store. I suppose now I know.”

“Yeah. I guess you do.”

I thanked him and walked out, where the cab I'd ordered from my room was waiting. I smiled. It was like one of those crime movies where there's an elaborate con, and all the parts move perfectly smoothly in that really satisfying way.

After our meal earlier – which had been a hurried affair, at Ashley's insistence – we'd headed straight back to the hotel, where Iago and Ashley had begun thinking about possible places to investigate based on the Blade Runner clue. This left me at a loose end, so after sitting around bored for a while I came up with a plan: I would do what I'd meant to do days ago, and get a new phone. Then I would call Stephanie, and see what she'd found out about Ashley.

As for why I was being so stealthy about it... well, that wasn't strictly necessary, but it was fun and I enjoyed it, even if I was awful at it.

The all-night electronics store was every bit as unpleasant as I thought it would be; the only mobile phones it sold were cheap and frankly nasty. The one I settled on was the least horrible, but it was still a poor trade for my thirty-eight thousand dollar Devon model; still, it was the best I could get right now, so I loaded Stephanie's number into it, got back in the cab and called her on the way to the Hrafn Hotel.

“Uhmm?”

“Steph? It's Pearl.”

“For Christ's sake, I'd just fallen asleep,” she mumbled.

“At eleven-twenty?”

“Not everyone's Pearl Gideon,” she said. Then, as she woke up properly: “Wait. Pearl? Pearl, is that you?”

“Yeah, I just said—”

“What took you so long?” Stephanie demanded to know. “I've been waiting for this call ever since you left!”

“I only just got a new phone—”

“Only just? You're Pearl Gideon!” she snapped. “When have you ever passed up an opportunity to shop?”

“I've been pretty busy – I almost died—”

“It's been that way here ever since I learned the truth,” Stephanie said darkly. “Pearl, for the last few days I've gone to bed fully expecting for someone to come and knife me in the night.”

“Ah, I wouldn't worry about that – the guy whose job it is to knife people is here with me. Well, he's back at the hotel. Talking about movies with a superhuman detective in the hope of finding a bomb.”

“Are you feeling all right?” asked Stephanie, after a suitable pause.

“Yeah,” I replied. “It's just... things are weird here.”

She gave a short, sharp laugh.

“You have no idea just how weird they really are,” she said. “But I guess that's why you called.”

“Yeah.” I glanced at the cabbie and lowered my voice. “I've seen Ashley change his shape, Steph. I've seen Cynthia Buckley hug him because he'd shrugged off the effects of enough poison to kill an elephant. I've seen him make the strongest Ghost in Sinnoh scream for mercy without even moving. So tell me, Stephanie: what is he, and what is it that no one wants me to know?”

---

Liza punched the wall, splitting both her knuckles and the plaster; her fingers came away with a film of bloody dust.

“Cal,” she hissed at the floor, voice rasping with anger. “Not here either.”

74 Zana Road, which was supposed to be the residence of one Samantha Wilson, was in fact deserted – and had been for at least three years, judging by the state it was in.

She had searched so many, house after house after disappointing house, and now Liza was growing desperate. There were just four remaining places to check in Sinnoh – the last four in the world, in fact – and when they ran out—

“Stop,” she told herself. “You're going to find the right place. You will. It has to be one of these.”

And what if it isn't? asked the little voice inside her head. What if you find nothing? What do you do then, when it turns out that your life has no foundation after all?

“I go with Cyrus,” Liza replied, after a pause. “I let him unmake the world, and I join him where nothing matters any more.” She pulled away from the wall and rubbed her knuckles, wiping away the blood and plaster. “Bad cut,” she said, wincing and thrusting her hand into her pocket. She could see to it later; it wasn't like it would kill her.

Liza left the bedroom, and was halfway down the stairs when one of those blinding recollections struck her: she was by a tower again, and there was an arch – that was very important, she knew, that there was an arch – and something rushed down upon her and her brethren with the points extended out towards them—

When Liza opened her eyes, she was lying at the bottom of the stairs, in the remnants of a rotting rug, and her head was aching as if it had been hit with a mallet. She barely registered the pain, though; her whole mind, her entire being, was bent upon one thought, one supreme thought that blazed in her mind like an erupting volcano:

There was an arch.

How long she stayed there, lying on the floor and staring sightlessly at the ceiling, was a mystery even to her. It might have been ten minutes, or ten hours; all Liza knew was that when she came to her senses, and the image of the arch faded from before her eyes, her clothes were damp from the moisture in the decaying floor.

“What the hell?” she mumbled, sitting up and rubbing her head, which had started to pulse with slow, dull bursts of pain. “There was an arch...”

Then it passed, and Liza got to her feet. She was slightly unsteady, and put a hand against the newel post to keep her balance; as she did so, she noticed that there was blood on it – though when she investigated further, she couldn't find its source.

“That's...” Liza shook her head and blinked firmly, trying to clear her head. “It's probably nothing,” she decided eventually, and stumbled out.

---

“You have to understand, that's the most difficult question,” Stephanie said, her voice low and urgent. “No one's completely sure – there're lots of different explanations. But I know the main three, and believe me, I think that's enough to have the League after me – especially since I'm pretty sure at least one of these is true.”

“Are you OK?” I asked, frowning. Stephanie was almost gabbling; it was very unlike her. “You don't sound OK.”

“I'm fine,” she said. “Shut up and listen. Now, the first explanation is that he's somehow influenced by Dialga.”

“Dialga?”

“You never read any books of legends as a kid?”

“Only the Greek ones.”

Stephanie sighed; it sounded like it was born half of exasperation at my ignorance and impatience that she'd have to explain further before continuing.

“It's an Ancient Sinnish legend, Pearl. In the beginning was the One, the Alpha – Arceus. You know that one?”

“Yeah, of course.” I made sure to sound indignant; everyone in Sinnoh knew about Arceus, the old creator-god. He was a national symbol: you could find him in statues and paintings across the nation, on the flag, on tinned food, for God's sake. In fact, I could see a picture of him advertising newspapers in a shop window outside the taxi – tall and red-skinned, holding a copy of the Pastoria Gazette in each of his many hands.

“Well, the legend goes that Arceus created two lesser gods to start the universe going,” continued Stephanie. “Dialga and Palkia, the gods of time and space respectively. When they were born, the universe started to be.”

“Hang on a minute,” I said. “You think Ashley might somehow be channelling the power of the Ancient Sinnish god of time?”

“Everything fits,” said Stephanie. “I've uncovered records of Ashley that go as far back as 1891; he's immortal, Pearl. He doesn't age. Like his body is frozen in time.”

“Hm,” I said, unconvinced. “Steph, are you sure you're all right?”

“I'm fine, just paranoid,” she replied, surprisingly frankly. “Look, I'm serious about this. If Ashley is blessed by Dialga – or even is Dialga – it explains everything he can do. The only leap of faith is believing that Dialga exists.”

“It's a pretty big one,” I pointed out.

“I know. That's why I think the other two explanations are more likely,” Stephanie went on. “Well, at least one of them is.”

“Give me the likely one first.”

“Do you remember that Zero affair from this summer?” she asked.

“Yeah, vaguely.”

“Some people think Ashley's like Zero – a Ghost-type Pokémon fused with a human mind to create a new being.”

“That would explain what he did to the Driftenburg,” I mused. “And we know that that's definitely possible.”

“Yes. But—”

“How did I know there was going to be a 'but'?” I sighed.

“Because twenty years of life is just about long enough to teach you that nothing's straightforward,” replied Stephanie. “Anyway, I've got my doubts about this one. Ashley is supposed to be immune to having his mind read by Psychics, yeah?”

“Oh yeah – even the Alakazam at the reserve couldn't read it.”

“You went to the reserve? No – wait – don't distract me. The point is, there's no Ghost species skilled enough in telepathy to resist that. A really strong one might kill or stun a Psychic before it managed to read anything, but it couldn't actively resist having its mind read. It's more like he's a—”

“A Time God?”

“No, I wasn't going to say that. I was going to say, like he's a Dark-type. Dark-type Pokémon are completely immune to everything Psychics can do.”

“What do you mean?” I asked. “Dark-types can't get inside someone like a Ghost can.”

“That's not strictly true,” said Stephanie, sounding triumphant. “They can. I found a record of an old dual Ghost/Dark Pokémon from the sixteenth century – something called Spiritomb.”

“You think that could be in Ashley?”

“It's a possibility,” Stephanie told me. “It would give him the Ghost powers, and explain why no one can read his mind.”

“But it wouldn't explain the shape-shifting,” I said thoughtfully.

“The what?”

“Hang on, the taxi's stopping. Tell you in a minute.”

I paid the driver, got out and walked over to the hotel; it was cold and the rain was beginning to get harder, so I ran over to the portico before putting the phone back to my ear.

“Sorry. What was I saying?”

“You were telling me about Ashley shape-shifting.”

“Oh yeah. That. Well, I know he can do weird stuff with his arms.”

I told her about the arm-blades and the bees as I went in.

Combee? Pearl, are you sure this is a good idea?”

“Hey, I can't back out now,” I said, nodding at Wednesday as I passed. “Look, we've had this discussion. What do you think about the shape-shifting?”

“I don't see how a Spiritomb could do that,” Stephanie said dispiritedly. “Maybe Dialga could. He's a god, after all.”

“Maybe.” I paused. “Is there anything else you know?”

“A lot. Where do you want me to start? The League? The secret Pokémon disasters? The vaults?”

I pressed the button for the elevator, and stopped to think for a moment.

“What do you know,” I asked, “about Darkling Town?”

---

They don't let their children out after dark in Hearthome. There's a reason for that.

When dusk falls over the city of show business, of glitz and glamour and gilt edges, the lights go out, and the theatres close. The Contest Hall doors are barred, and the night shift from the Gym patrol the leafy boulevards with torches and Haunter.

Silence falls.

And the Ghosts come out to play.

Walking through the midnight streets of Hearthome is always an unnerving experience. Rarely, if ever, does one see a Ghost, but they're there; you can hear them in the sound of approaching footsteps, of unexpected whistles and shrieks, of low, throaty chuckles. If you see anything at all, it will be a shadow on a wall, or a pale face that flickers in your sight for a brief instant before vanishing; occasionally, the star Pokémon coordinators on their posters will move to a different position, or leave the paper altogether for who knows where.

No, they don't let their children out after dark in Hearthome – and with good reason.

“Bond,” whispered Ellen, as they looked out over the dark, silent city below, “I'm scared.”

“I would be lying if I were to deny sharing some of your concerns, madam,” Bond admitted, “but I have faith we shall make it through.”

They stood atop a small hill west of the city, having made their laborious way down from the mountaintop over the last few hours; being much lighter than normal people, they had taken the journey in a series of jumps, drifting down from crag to crag like strange fusions of balloon and mountain goat. This was, it turned out, a far faster method of transport than the more conventional climbing, and so now, at midnight, they were just a few miles west of Hearthome, watching it with increasing trepidation.

We want to get to the train station, said Pigzie Doodle. From there, we can get to Veilstone relatively quickly, and without too much hassle. Thank God there are no Rotom around, he added. Plasmic bratchnies just love to mess around with the railways.

“What's a Rotom?” asked Ellen.

The vanguard of the future, said Pigzie Doodle in tones of such disgust that she dared not ask him more. Look, we should get going. It's midnight now; if we start moving now, we should get to Hearthome after dawn, when most of the Ghosts have retreated for the day.

Ellen relayed this information to Bond, who agreed that it seemed a sound idea, and together, the three of them began to climb down the hill and towards the city.

---

“Darkling Town? That's the key, Pearl,” said Stephanie. “That's the one time where there's solid, reliable evidence and eyewitness accounts about Ashley and what he can do.”

“Good. Are you going to tell me about it or not?”

The lift pinged and the doors slid open; I stepped in, pressed the button for the second floor and listened to Stephanie as they closed again.

“In 1891,” she told me, “Ashley returned to Sinnoh from wherever he'd been before, on Newmoon Island.”

“Newmoon Island?”

“It's this little place far north from Canalave. There used to be a town there – Darkling Town.”

“Used to be...?”

“Until Ashley came there.” Stephanie paused. “See, when you know there's someone like him around and you're a wealthy, egotistical kind of person, you want to own him. You must've seen what an asset he is for the League, even if he does spend eighty per cent of his time playing around with his detective agency.”

“Yeah. So, what – someone tried to catch him?”

“Yes. It was the Stone family, actually – you know, the mining dynasty from Kanto? Currently run Devon in Hoenn? They'd heard about him and, since the Stones haven't always dealt with their problems entirely legally, they decided he'd be good to own. So they sent some people after him, and they met him in Darkling Town.”

“I suppose he released?”

“If by 'released' you mean 'turned into a bladed monster and turned his attackers and Darkling Town into paste', then yeah. I don't think he was expecting anyone to try and attack him; he seems to have got a bit... carried away.”

I thought of Ashley and the Combee, or of Ashley and the Driftenburg. Yes. I could see that happening. One moment, he would be completely normal, then his eyes would flash yellow and... Well. I didn't doubt for a second that nothing in 19th-century Sinnoh would have been able to stop him.

Ding!

I stepped out of the lift, checked to see if Iago was spying on me (which he wasn't) and headed back to my room.

“Right,” I said. “So... what happened next?”

“The League turned up, thinking that some ridiculously powerful Pokémon had gone berserk,” replied Stephanie. “Two Elite Four members flew in, and sent a request for help about an hour later; the rest of the Elite Four and two of the Gym Leaders went in after them. In the end, it took the combined efforts of the Elite Four, the Champion and six Gym Leaders to stop Ashley.”

“Whoa. Stop there. That – that can't be right.” I thought of the bees. “He was beaten by a swarm of Combee earlier.”

“I think either his powers are waning with time or he's just not as angry as he used to be,” Stephanie said. “He was really pissed back then. Thinking about what you just said about him shape-shifting – well, they said he wasn't even recognisable as human until they got him back to the League HQ. Now I know why.”

“Jesus.”

“Yeah, I know. They only managed to stop him because a lucky Leaf Blade cut his head off and knocked him out.”

“Only knocked him out... you know, I'm not even surprised any more.” I unlocked the door, went in and flopped onto my bed. “Tell me more.”

“The Champion at the time was a woman called Allegra Fairfax,” Stephanie told me. “If half the stories about her are true, she was probably the most powerful lunatic in the history of Sinnoh. I can't think of any other example where someone so out of touch with reality ended up with such a high position.”

“Probably someone European,” I suggested. “A king, maybe?”

“That's really helpful, Pearl,” said Stephanie with deep sarcasm. “Thanks for that. Anyway, she had Ashley cut up and stored in pieces in different vaults. Spent years interrogating him – though no one knows why. She did a lot of stuff like that – like banning Mightyena from all official Trainer battles, and stabbing her mother-in-law in the chest with a bayonet. That was what got her sent to prison, actually.”

“Nice lady.”

“Mm-hm. Once she was out of the picture, the next Champion was Edmund Carthelwick, who negotiated a deal with Ashley: they'd let him go if he'd work for them when they needed him. He agreed, thinking he'd just leave as soon as he was released.”

“But? I feel like there should be a 'but' here.”

“There is. But Ashley found out he couldn't actually break free of the League's control. No one actually knows why – there's a theory that being chopped up for so long weakened him or something, but I guess the only way you'll find out is by asking him.”

“So now he's stuck with them,” I said.

“Yeah. He was imprisoned again by the last Champion – you remember him? Jonathan Farnese? – but he saw his chance when Cynthia came to power and seduced her so she'd free him.”

What?”

“They're lovers. You saw Cynthia with him, right? Didn't you know?”

“I... actually, yeah,” I said, thinking of Cynthia's reaction earlier. “It explains it perfectly – especially why she doesn't like me. She's the jealous type.”

“They've been together ever since she became Champion.”

“But Ashley? Seriously? I can't imagine him ever being in any sort of relationship...”

“He is human,” Stephanie reminded me. “And he's also at least a hundred and twenty years old. I bet he's had thousands of girlfriends.”

I tried to imagine it and failed. Ashley was just too... alien. No one could actually love him, could they? And he could never love someone either, I was sure. It just couldn't happen.

“I'll take your word for it,” I said at length. “For now, Stephanie, what does all of this mean? Is there anything conclusive you can say that would be the turning point in a detective movie?”

“You want a McGuffin? Pearl, this isn't a film—”

“Do you have one or not?”

“No. This was all I could find. If this was a film, I'd be a genius hacker and would've got the whole story already, but this is all I can get that we can reasonably believe to be true.” Stephanie paused. “Understand?”

I sighed.

“Yeah. Sorry. Look – thanks, Steph. You're a – a good friend.”

“I thought I told you this wasn't a film.”

“Shut up. It's close to twelve. I can only think in clichés at this time of night.”

Stephanie laughed, though it sounded a little off; she must be tired.

“It's OK, Pearl. I got pretty paranoid, but no one's come to kill me so far and I feel better for getting it off my chest. I should get back to bed now. I'll call this phone if I find anything else out.”

“Thanks,” I said.

“Now, get some sleep for once. You'll probably need it.”

“Who are you, my mother? Anyway, I doubt I'll be getting to sleep any time soon.” I sighed again. “We're on one of those all-night detective cases. It turns out that in the movies they skip over the bits where the hero sits around for hours thinking about what they need to do.”

“That's real life for you, Pearl,” said Stephanie. “Anyway, some people have work to do tomorrow. See you later, Pearl.”

“Bye. Thanks again.”

The line went dead, and I looked at the phone for a moment, alternately contemplating how hideous it was and how surreal that conversation had been. Then my thoughts were interrupted by Ashley, who threw open the door and proclaimed in ringing tones:

“Pearl! Quickly – to Stanner Square!”

---

“There we go, darlin'. Wasn't so 'ard, was i'?”

Stephanie shook her head, beads of nervous sweat shining on her brow. The man in black smiled, and pulled the gun away from her head.

“Atta girl,” he said. “Gimme that phone now.” She handed it over, and he retied her wrists. “Cheers. Don' go nowhere, will you. Be back soon enough.”

With that, he walked out, leaving her alone in the dark.

Yes, Stephanie Knew Too Much.

And serious repercussions had come to pass.
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Last edited by Cutlerine; February 22nd, 2012 at 07:13 AM.
  #60    
Old February 21st, 2012, 03:16 PM
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olih
Who says you can't go home?
 
Join Date: Jan 2011
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Great chapter! The part about Hearthrome's Ghosts added an interesting bit of culture to Sinnoh. Also, that's a theory to think about, Ashley being infused with a Spiritomb... I do wonder what Pearl thought of Cynthia being with Ashley, since Pearl's thought of Ashley as handsome once or twice, I believe. I'm not saying it means anything, though. Anyways, I enjoyed reading this chapter
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  #61    
Old February 22nd, 2012, 12:57 PM
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Silent Memento
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Join Date: May 2011
Location: St. Louis, Missouri
Age: 23
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Nature: Timid
And there's our first major character death in this story (since it's extremely doubtful that this man in black is going to leave loose ends lying about). I just wonder who he works for.

If he works for the League, I'm assuming that Cynthia will fly into a rage and send everyone to kill Pearl (including her Garchomp. I would now like to take this golden opportunity to tell Cynthia's Garchomp to go die in a raging inferno, you horrible jerk! Every single Pokemon I sent against that...thing was slaughtered by a mixture of earthquake and dragon rush. There's absolutely no reason why dragon rush should hit so many times in a row! It has, like, eighty-five accuracy, for crying out loud!)

If Team Galactic are his employers, then I can assume that Cyrus is going to redouble his efforts to kill the trio. Other than the fact that both he and Zero like to show people how smart they are, they're really nothing alike. Cyrus is the rare breed of cat that doesn't play with his mouse before he eats it; he strikes me as the kind of person who would go straight for the kill.

...You've succeeded in confusing me about Ashley. In my honest opinion, there's more than one way of gaining immortality in the Pokemon world (yes, I'm looking at you, Ninetales), so even Stephanie's theory about Spiritomb or some of the Darkrai theories I've seen on Serebii make a lot of sense.

Oh well. I'm just going to continue reading and see what happens. It's less confusing that way.

Sincerely,

Mem.
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  #62    
Old February 25th, 2012, 02:02 AM
Cutlerine
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Silent Memento View Post
And there's our first major character death in this story (since it's extremely doubtful that this man in black is going to leave loose ends lying about). I just wonder who he works for.

If he works for the League, I'm assuming that Cynthia will fly into a rage and send everyone to kill Pearl (including her Garchomp. I would now like to take this golden opportunity to tell Cynthia's Garchomp to go die in a raging inferno, you horrible jerk! Every single Pokemon I sent against that...thing was slaughtered by a mixture of earthquake and dragon rush. There's absolutely no reason why dragon rush should hit so many times in a row! It has, like, eighty-five accuracy, for crying out loud!)
Ah, Cynthia. She really isn't coming across as nearly as nice as when I imagined her. The thing is, she only turns up when she's angry, so all we've seen of her is vengeance and fury. I really need to show her in a different mood at some point.

As for Dragon Rush, I believe it has 75 accuracy. It's like Iron Tail, only instead of lowering defence it makes you flinch. Flinchy flinchy flinchy.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Silent Memento View Post
If Team Galactic are his employers, then I can assume that Cyrus is going to redouble his efforts to kill the trio. Other than the fact that both he and Zero like to show people how smart they are, they're really nothing alike. Cyrus is the rare breed of cat that doesn't play with his mouse before he eats it; he strikes me as the kind of person who would go straight for the kill.
Cyrus has already tried three times to go straight for the kill. The last time was enough to convince him that Ashley isn't going to die; now he's just trying (and succeeding) to delay him. Perhaps I didn't make that clear enough.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Silent Memento View Post
...You've succeeded in confusing me about Ashley. In my honest opinion, there's more than one way of gaining immortality in the Pokemon world (yes, I'm looking at you, Ninetales), so even Stephanie's theory about Spiritomb or some of the Darkrai theories I've seen on Serebii make a lot of sense.
I know, I know. But what could possibly combine all the disparate elements that form my superpowered detective? That is the question. Could it be that there is more to Spiritomb than we know about? Or is it that Darkrai can manipulate the matter of the body it inhabits? It could even be the doing of Dialga. The only limit is your imagination - and what actually turns out to be true, of course. We'll find out in due time.

Quote:
Originally Posted by olih View Post
Great chapter! The part about Hearthrome's Ghosts added an interesting bit of culture to Sinnoh. Also, that's a theory to think about, Ashley being infused with a Spiritomb... I do wonder what Pearl thought of Cynthia being with Ashley, since Pearl's thought of Ashley as handsome once or twice, I believe. I'm not saying it means anything, though. Anyways, I enjoyed reading this chapter
You've actually just given me an idea for a marvellous subplot that I'll probably weave in around the Canalave City point. Thanks for that, and thanks for reading. I hope to have another chapter up sometime next week.

F.A.B.
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  #63    
Old March 7th, 2012, 12:12 AM
Cutlerine
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Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
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Chapter Twenty-Five: In Which Ellen and Bond Go From the Frying-Pan Into the Fire

'Most Haunted House: While Hearthome is known for its high Ghost population, the highest single concentration of Ghosts in any one dwelling in Sinnoh is Corvada Castle in the Celestial Hills. While only three or four of them have ever been seen, numerous Ghost Trainers such as Fantina Cousteau have conclusively proven that there are at least twenty-eight spirits somewhere within it. The occupants are, apparently, completely unaffected.'
—The Big Book of Sinnish Records


“What?” I asked. “What's going on?”

“Come with me,” said Ashley. “I'll explain as we go; there's no time to waste.”

Sighing, I dropped both my old and my new phone in my bag, hoisted it onto my shoulder and followed him out.

“We're not getting any sleep any time soon, are we?” I asked.

“Pearl, we have almost exactly forty-eight hours before a bomb of devastating potential goes off somewhere in this damp and Gothic city, and we have no idea where it might be. I think that anything as minor as sleep can be safely disregarded under the circumstances.”

“They never show this in the movies,” I complained.

“Perhaps you ought to try reading a book for once,” replied Ashley, reaching the stairs and gliding down them like a ghost. “None of those trashy crime novels, either – something realistic, where problems take hours or days to solve instead of minutes.”

“Hey, I—” I broke off, realising something was missing. “Where's Iago?”

“Here,” replied the Kadabra. I blinked; I was sure he hadn't been there a moment ago. It must, I decided, be my current state of fatigue that was responsible; I'd had a pretty tiring day what with the two near-death incidents and the break-in at Courmocan High. “How did you not see me?”

“I – it's been a tiring day,” I said. “Uh, where are we going?”

“Stanner Square,” replied Ashley, sweeping past Wednesday and towards the doors. “To the Jeffrey Lebowski Embryonic Research and Genetics Institute.”

“The what? Why?”

Blade Runner is set in a future Los Angeles,” Iago told me. “None of the significant locations in it exist in Pastoria, but there are loose parallels.”

“The most obvious being the Tyrell Corporation, a biotechnology giant based in a pair of big pyramid-shaped buildings,” Ashley put in.

“So we looked for biotechnology concerns in Pastoria—”

“And came up with the Jeffrey Lebowski Embryonic Research and Genetics Institute,” concluded Ashley. He pushed open the doors and almost in the same motion slid into the waiting taxi outside. “Finding it was the part that took so long. There are fifty-four biotechnology companies of one sort or another based in Pastoria, but the only ones that have a vaguely pyramid-shaped building were that and Anthea Laboratories.”

“And of those, only the Lebowski Institute does any work on humans,” Iago added. “Anthea is just an experimental concern attempting to sequence new crops.”

The speed and density of their explanation set my head spinning, and it was with some effort that I managed to bring it back into alignment with reality.

“So... what're we actually doing?” I asked.

“We're going to the Jeffrey Lebowski Embryonic Research and Genetics Institute to look for clues,” replied Ashley, with a trace of annoyance. “Haven't you been listening?”

“Well, I have, but—”

“Well, perhaps if you'd spent less time talking to Stephanie and more time assisting with our investigation you would know.”

“How do you know—?”

“You put two phones in your bag when we left; you've obviously bought a new one to call her from,” he said dismissively. “Now, keep up with the plot, please. We have a genetics institute to get to.”

It took about forty minutes to get to the Institute; it was about three miles west of the Ganmet Monument, in a district that looked like it had been born of an architect a hundred years before his time: everything was glass or steel, ultra-tall and ultra-thin; those few buildings that didn't conform to the type were spherical or pyramidal.

“Whoa,” I said, staring out of the window. “I never knew that there was anywhere so modern in Pastoria.”

“They don't advertise it,” said Iago. “They rely on the Goth tourism. That and the hippies who come to watch Pokémon at the marsh, and they don't particularly like glass buildings either.”

“What about Trainers?” The city had a Gym, didn't it? It must get quite a bit of Trainer traffic.

“They don't bring that much money in unless they really go nuts,” he told me. “This isn't Gibbous Island.”

The taxi pulled up at the side of Stanner Square and we got out; Ashley made me pay by the simple expedient of walking away and leaving me there. By the time I'd caught up, he and Iago were at the main doors to the Institute – which was indeed pyramid-shaped, and plated in glass. It also appeared to be completely deserted: all the lights were off, and I could see no sign of anyone within.

“Do we break in?” I asked, looking around nervously.

“We don't need to,” replied Ashley. “Someone already did it for us.”

He pushed the door lightly, and it swung freely open.

“What...?”

“The lock is buckled and partially melted; I'd suggest Tristan's Croagunk has been to work here.” He glanced at me. “Come on, then. Let's see what they want.”

He slipped inside, and, with a brief look back at the dark, deserted square, I followed.

---

“Do you think he'll come back to get us out of here?”

Kester considered. On the face of it, the answer seemed quite obvious.

“No,” he said finally. “I think we're stuck here.”

“Damn,” said Sapphire, after a suitable pause.

“Yeah,” agreed Kester. “It's a real shame.” He looked over at Felicity. “What do you think, Liz?”

“I think he's coming back,” replied Felicity.

“Really?”

“Yes. He would not really leave you here. He would be lonely without anyone to show off in front of.”

Kester raised his eyebrows.

“I hope you're right,” he sighed, and leaned back against the concrete wall of the cell. “But I tell you what – I am going to kill him when he gets back.”

“I think there's a queue,” Sapphire told him dryly, which did absolutely nothing to raise their spirits. For there is nothing quite so singularly depressing as indefinite imprisonment – the more so when you are unlawfully imprisoned.

And most of all when you know that the only way you are likely to escape is if Robin Goodfellow decides to come back for you.

---

The lobby was all modern and shiny, and seemed to have borrowed its design scheme from a Macbook; everything had soft, curved edges and a clean, white look. We crept carefully through it – or at least I did; Ashley strode and Iago sauntered – and down one of several long, pale halls.

“How do you know where we're going?” I asked Ashley.

“Footprints,” replied Iago. “Pearl, you know how good his vision is—”

“Actually, no,” said Ashley.

“Oh.” Iago looked startled for a moment. “Well. OK.” I hid a smile; it was nice to see him wrong for once.

“So how do you know, then?” I asked.

“Listen,” said Ashley. We did – and sure enough, after a moment my ears caught a faint sound, too distant to make out properly. I couldn't tell what it was, only that it was; I turned to Ashley and asked him what was making the noise.

“I think it's a person,” he said, and I swear his ears grew slightly as he listened. “No, more than one. Even I'm having a little trouble at this distance.” He shrugged. “We'll find out in due course. Now, come on! If you want to get any sleep at all tonight, Pearl, we need to make some headway right now.”

We continued down the corridor, turned left down another and then right; now, I could make out the noise properly myself: the sound of someone's clothes shifting about them as they moved. Not Team Galactic, then, I thought; their spacesuits all seemed to be fairly skin-tight, which I supposed worked all right for Liza but which was probably a hassle for anyone who wasn't as slim.

“Not the Galactics,” murmured Ashley, at the exact moment that I thought it, and mentally I patted myself on the back. I was right.

Ashley motioned for us to be still, then paced up and down the corridor, listening; after a moment, he decided on the right door and pushed it open.

“Hello— oh!”

He turned to Iago and I.

“Well,” he said. “This isn't quite what I was expecting. Come and have a look.”

I did, and turned on the lights to reveal three people tied to office chairs, thoroughly bound and gagged, and blindfolded for good measure. At the sound of our voices, they all started squirming and mmphing through their gags.

“What the hell?”

“I know,” agreed Ashley. “Bizarre, isn't it?”

“Should we kill them?” asked Iago, which made all three fall silent again.

“We're not going to kill them. Why is that you feel this need to kill everyone we meet?”

“I know.” Iago glanced at them. “I just wanted to scare them.”

Ashley stared at him for a moment, shook his head and returned his attention to the three people in the chairs.

“Let's see,” he said, circling them like a shark. “Female, mid-forties, dog owner, mother of two. Male, early seventies – late sixties? – something around then, ex-military, evidently put up a fight when they got him. Male, sixteen or seventeen, Goth, just arrived in Pastoria this evening.” He stopped and pondered. “Now, I suppose the question is, why would the Galactics leave them here?”

“Aren't we going to untie them?” I asked.

“No,” replied Ashley sharply. “These people can't be trusted not to go straight to the police as soon as they're free; we really don't need anyone finding out that we broke into a genetics institute at quarter to one in the morning on a quest to save Pastoria. It'll cause a lot of unnecessary interference, Lydia.”

“What? Did you just call me—?”

“Sorry. That was remiss of me. My apologies, Miss Soames,” Ashley said meaningfully, and the penny dropped. These people could hear us – and so to cover our tracks when they eventually escaped, we needed false names.

“Yes. Right. Sorry, um, Zachariah.”

He stared at me and mouthed, Zachariah?

“Uh, yeah. Sorry, Mister Clutterbuck.”

Ashley tipped his head back to face the heavens and muttered some brief supplication to whatever powers might be capable of delivering him from my idiocy, then sighed and started talking again.

“We have to figure out why it is that they left them here,” he continued. “They're evidently a clue – or perhaps one of them is and the other two are decoys. Ah, but which one? There's the thing... No. We don't know that yet.”
“Actually, we do,” said Iago, holding up a piece of paper. “This was on the desk over there. Mister Clutterbuck.” He pronounced the last two words with a kind of unholy glee that I'd previously thought was the sole preserve of vengeful demons.

Ashley grimaced.

“Thank you, Herr Spatzendinger. May I compliment you on how well you're hiding your accent?”

Iago glowered, but, not to be outdone, countered in a heavy German accent.

“Ach, vell, you know. I try.”

I tried very hard not to laugh and just about succeeded. Ashley, the faintest of smiles on his face, grabbed the paper off him and read it out aloud, changing the names as he went.

“Hello, Messrs Clutterbuck, Spatzendinger and Soames. As you will no doubt have realised by now, there are three people in this room. Investigate them, and if you succeed, you will learn the location of the bomb.” He lowered the paper. “It's signed Liza.”

“Makes sense,” Iago said, nodding. He still used the faux-German voice. “I'm not even sure if ze uzzer vun can read.”

“She gives nothing away,” noted Ashley thoughtfully. “Hm. There are three of us and three of them, for a start. I suppose we ought to investigate one each, but—”

“—but one, I am not letting you out of my sight and two, that vould mean leaving Lydia to investigate one on her own,” finished Iago.

“Hey, I can do this myself, Spatzendinger,” I protested. “Maybe a bit slower than you, but I can do it.”

“We'll see,” said Ashley. “You can investigate the old man. Herr Spatzendinger and I will investigate the other two together.”

“You can't be serious!” cried Iago, his accent slipping for a moment in his passion. “Lydia? Investigating on her own?” He stared at Ashley for a moment, and repeated: “Lydia?”

“It's not ideal, I realise that,” said Ashley, and it was interesting to see that infuriating calm turned on someone else. To those on his side, I discovered, it was actually quite pleasant. “But we have only a little under forty-eight hours to find and deactivate this bomb. Time is not a luxury we have right now.” He looked at me. “Besides, Miss Soames is not that stupid. She'll be fine, with a few pushes in the right direction.”

“Thanks, Mister Clutterbuck,” I said with feeling, and the warmth drained from Ashley's face.

“Yes, I'd forgotten about that,” he muttered under his breath, and then bent down to pull the wallet from the pocket of the Goth boy. Unsurprisingly, it was made of black leather and studded with little spikes. Ashley flicked through its contents, pulled out a piece of paper and put it into his pocket, and replaced it. “Nestor Schultze,” he said aloud. “Sixteen, resident of 44 Forvell Road, Sunyshore. Herr Spatzendinger, search this lady here – and Miss Soames, I suggest you search the gentleman in the middle there.”

“OK.” I stepped up to him, and felt a frisson of excitement run down my spine; Ashley had given me little tests before, but never a proper bit of detectivery. Always, he either knew the answer or was simply one step away from it; this was my big break, my chance to prove that I too could solve a case. I would show him that I could discern the shape of the truth from its shadow, that I could work out the size and smell of reality from the footprint it left on an axe handle, or a body – in short, I would prove that I was, though maybe not as good as him, still a fine detective.

I looked down at the old man, tense in his bonds, and wondered:

Now where the hell do I start?

---

Midnight is a curious time. When it comes around, when the two hands of the clock meet for a perfunctory minute at the twelve, one finds oneself uneasy in the streets, forever glancing over one's shoulder to ward off the stalking shadows. In the West, it has been named the witching hour; in Sinnoh, where witches have never been particularly feared, they call it the ulñanacar, the 'hour of the dead'.

It was the hour of the dead now, and they were creeping into Hearthome by streetlight.

Ellen and Bond were no longer alive, it was true, but neither of them felt particularly dead, and both were acutely aware of the fact that a lack of true life would not protect them tonight. Whatever they were made of, and whatever strange force quickened it, would be devoured by any Ghost they met without hesitation. Usually, there was a body to shield the spirit from direct spectral attack; without any flesh to cover them, Ellen and Bond were currently feeling very vulnerable.

Pigzie Doodle, on the other hand, was drifting along about fifteen feet in front of them, attempting to look as if he had nothing to do with them.

“Could you stop whistling nonchalantly, please?” asked Ellen timidly. “This situation is eerie enough already.”

Huh. Suit yourself. He stopped and turned left around a corner. Come on. There's one of those sinister black car rental stores somewhere around here. We need wheels if we're going to make it through the city before we're noticed.

A throaty chuckle emanated from the mouth of an alley, and it was with the greatest of efforts that Bond stifled Ellen's shriek.

“Hush, madam,” he whispered, one white-gloved hand clamped over her mouth. “We must not give away our presence!”

Ellen, eyes wide and shining for all the wrong reasons, nodded silently, and he let his hand drop. Bond placed a finger on his lips, just to make sure the message hit home, and led her on down the street.

OK, said Pigzie Doodle, glancing around nervously. I think we got away with it. Just two streets that way and—

And what, exactly?


The Duskull froze, every molecule of his gaseous being stopping dead in midair. He looked almost solid.

Cal, he said in Nadsat.

“What was that?” asked Ellen, staring around wildly.

“I confess myself ignorant, madam,” replied Bond, gently pushing her so that her back was to the wall, and he was between her and the street, “but I fear I have to tell you that whatever it is, I can hear it too.”

You can? Ah. That means they're really strong. I was sensing something powerful, but—

But what, brother? Would you belittle us?


Eyes were appearing in the darkness all around them now, and Bond felt Ellen shrink into the small of his back. Unconsciously, his hands went to his bow tie, adjusting it; if there was company, a butler ought to make himself presentable.

Uh... crap. Pigzie Doodle span animatedly on the spot. I can't even count you all. Look, these guys have nothing to do with me. I'm... I was leading them here so that you could devour them.

And what about yourself? The voice was female, Bond decided, although it was hard to tell. He thought it came from the yellow-red eyes just in front of him, the ones that stood a little apart from the others – as if their owner was feared or loathed by her fellow Ghosts. As if, he realised with a sinking feeling, she were the leader.

Me? Pigzie Doodle laughed uncertainly. I, um, ate earlier. Full banquet of childhood memories at the Jubilife Airport, and agony for afters.

The lead Ghost's eyes blinked, and rolled upwards in amused exasperation.

Ghosts aren't so selfless as to help even their brethren, she said. You have some clever ploy, little brother. Her voice was low and predatory now; Bond felt Ellen shaking like a leaf behind his back. He had to confess that he was quite alarmed himself, but he stood firm and waited to see if Pigzie Doodle could sort it out. If not, he might find himself forced to intervene. What trickery do you have planned, little Duskull? asked the Ghost. What glorious deceit?

It's a plan to make my name echo through the ages, replied Pigzie Doodle frankly. Evidently he had decided that honesty would be the best policy. I want to be known, and remembered. Two thousand and eighty-four years already, and no one knows my name. I say it's about time I changed things.

How tedious, sighed the Ghost. Another Duskull who wants more than his immortality. You Old Ghosts are so... tiresome.

Ah. Does that mean I die now? inquired Pigzie Doodle.

Perhaps even Bond's heart might have skipped a beat here – but he was dead, and the organ in question had long since rotted away to nothing. Consequently, we shall never know whether the dialogue managed to push him across that fortified boundary that separates a butler from his emotions.

It does indeed, agreed the Ghost. But not by my hand. You're just a Duskull, after all. No, she continued, burning eyes snapping around to stare straight through Bond, I want that child.

Ellen. Bond might have known it would come down to this; it had been known for centuries that most Ghosts' preferred prey was children. Alive, they were tempting; dead, he suspected, they were irresistible.

He sighed. It looked like he would have to intervene.

“Madam,” Bond said politely, clearing his throat, “I regret to inform you that the young mistress is not currently available for eating. She has important business to conduct in Veilstone. Kindly stand aside.”

The unseen Ghost's eyes widened, and a furious murmuring broke out among her acolytes; obviously, it was not the done thing for the prey to resist like this.

Stand aside? the Ghost said incredulously. Did you just tell me to stand aside?

“It was a polite request, madam,” Bond corrected. “It would not be my place to tell you to do anything. After all, I am but a butler.”

Uh, Jeeves? You might want to stop that. She can consume you slowly or she can consume you quickly, and believe me, you want quickly.

Bond did not hear Pigzie Doodle, of course, and Ellen was currently in no fit state to convey the message. Hence, he simply continued to meet the Ghost's stare, and thought quite hard about what he was going to do next.

A butler? Now I really must devour you, said the Ghost hungrily. All that suppressed emotion... the rage and frustration of years and years of service, both in and after life, compacted into a little pill no larger than one of your fingernails. I will hang your soul from my neck, and drink it slowly over the next hundred years. Imagine! A century of ecstasy...

All right, calm down, you're making me hungry, said Pigzie Doodle peevishly. If you're going to devour them, get on with it so I can escape while you're busy.

Oh, I'm sorry. Did you say something, little brother? The Ghost spat the last word with such force that something dark flashed between her and Pigzie Doodle, striking him between the eyes; he collapsed in on himself and fell to the pavement like black rain, the skull-shaped plate of his face clattering down a moment after. For a moment, his eye flared crimson and his mental voice degenerated into a string of bloody images – and then the light went out and he fell silent.

Bond stared. Ellen wound her arms tightly around his waist and held on like a baby monkey.

That's better, said the Ghost. I do loathe the Old Ghosts. Always trying to make themselves seem more important, making themselves seem bigger than they are. It's fraud – and not even convincing fraud at that. She paused, perhaps savouring the moment. Now, then. Shall we get down to business?

“Madam, I have made my position clear—”

All at once, the Ghost's eyes jerked away from his to scan the sky, and around her, some of the smaller Ghosts started to disappear into the night, startled.

That *****! hissed the Ghost. She's back again! And she knows no one can stop her... She'll eat the butler – but she may leave the girl, which is something – but the butler! The *****!

Bond stared at her, bemused. What exactly was going on here?

“May I enquire as to what is happening?” he asked politely. The Ghost whirled and fixed her eyes on him.

You won't survive, she said savagely. She's coming. The new girl. I hope this is the last night she hunts here; we don't like her type here. The Ghost turned and addressed those of her followers who were still there. Well, don't just float there! She's coming, and I suggest you get out of here if you want to make it to dawn.

There was a flurry of vague wind sounds, and the spectral eyes disappeared. Bond waited a moment, but nothing happened; he could neither see nor sense anything hostile approaching.

“It would seem,” he said, “that we have escaped unscathed.”

Ellen dared to peek out from behind him, found his words to be true and stepped away hurriedly.

“Um, yes,” she said. “Of course.” She fidgeted for a moment, then looked up at Bond pleadingly. “Can we get a motor-car now?”

Ugh. Yes please, said Pigzie Doodle, his eye flickering back into life. And can someone pick me up? I can't quite seem to hold myself together right now. I'm not sure what that Mismagius did to me, but it was strong.

Ellen asked Bond to pick him up, and Bond knelt to scoop him into the curved plate of his skull-face. Surprisingly enough, nothing leaked out from the eye sockets; evidently the Duskull still had energy enough to keep himself from falling down there.

Ah, that's better. The pavement's filthy – I think I have chewing gum stuck to my left lower incisor. And – oh. Oh.

Ellen paused. This did not sound like a good 'Oh'. This was not the 'Oh' of an excited child opening a Christmas present. This was the 'Oh' of someone who has just noticed something very, very bad indeed.

“What is it?” she asked. “What is it, Ishmael?”

Why did those Ghosts leave? he asked. I was out cold for that bit, so why did they leave?

Ellen looked up at Bond. She hadn't really taken in anything the Ghost had said.

“Bond, why did the Ghosts leave?”

“Madam, they said 'she is coming', whoever that might refer to,” replied Bond. “They seemed rather afraid of her.”

That would make sense, said Pigzie Doodle grimly. OK. Run.

“What?”

RUN!

Ellen burst into a run, and Bond, working out what must be happening, followed after.

“Does 'she' refer to another Ghost, yet more powerful than the last?” he inquired of Ellen. In his arms, Pigzie Doodle rambled:

I can sense her too. My God. I've never felt anything like her. This one's older than me – much, much older, and that's saying something. Oh God, this hurts. She's like – like white gold, like Jadis, like mercury...

He trailed off, and Ellen told Bond:

“Yes. I – I think it might be...”

“In that case,” began Bond, but whatever he was about to say was lost, for at that moment she arrived, and, as Bond might have put it, their situation became somewhat uncertain.
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Last edited by Cutlerine; March 15th, 2012 at 05:54 AM.
  #64    
Old March 7th, 2012, 01:58 AM
Silent Memento's Avatar
Silent Memento
Memories are forever...
 
Join Date: May 2011
Location: St. Louis, Missouri
Age: 23
Gender: Male
Nature: Timid
Spoiler:
Let me think about the identity of the newcomer. Female ghost-type? Incredibly old? Different from all of the others? New to the hunting ground? If I were to guess the identity of this ghost, I would say...Skuld. If I'm right, things are going to get very interesting. If I'm wrong, things are still going to be interesting because I'll likely get to learn about a new character.


Puck somehow managed to get Kester, Sapphire, and Felicity imprisoned and left them there to rot...did I mention that he's one of my favorite characters ever?

Wait a minute. You said that dragon rush has seventy-five percent accuracy? ...Insert swear-filled ranting and raving here.

As always, I'll be waiting for the next chapter to arrive when it does.

Sincerely,

Mem.
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  #65    
Old March 8th, 2012, 03:04 PM
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olih
Who says you can't go home?
 
Join Date: Jan 2011
Location: everywhere
Gender: Female
Nature: Adamant
Who might this new ghost be...? I noticed you forgot to italicize some of Mismagius's speech, but other than that, great chapter! The reintroduction of Kester, Sapphire, and Felicity was interesting.
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  #66    
Old March 15th, 2012, 05:53 AM
Cutlerine
Gone. May or may not return.
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
Age: 21
Gender:
Nature: Impish
Quote:
Originally Posted by Silent Memento View Post
Spoiler:
Let me think about the identity of the newcomer. Female ghost-type? Incredibly old? Different from all of the others? New to the hunting ground? If I were to guess the identity of this ghost, I would say...Skuld. If I'm right, things are going to get very interesting. If I'm wrong, things are still going to be interesting because I'll likely get to learn about a new character.


Puck somehow managed to get Kester, Sapphire, and Felicity imprisoned and left them there to rot...did I mention that he's one of my favorite characters ever?

Wait a minute. You said that dragon rush has seventy-five percent accuracy? ...Insert swear-filled ranting and raving here.

As always, I'll be waiting for the next chapter to arrive when it does.

Sincerely,

Mem.
Thanks. I predict a little more delay before we see a new chapter - an idea for a different story has gripped me by the throat and I can't rest until it's done - and I appreciate your patience.

And yeah, 75% accuracy. It's really, really annoying - but really good when it's my Garchomp using it.

Quote:
Originally Posted by olih View Post
Who might this new ghost be...? I noticed you forgot to italicize some of Mismagius's speech, but other than that, great chapter! The reintroduction of Kester, Sapphire, and Felicity was interesting.
Ah yes, thanks for pointing that out. I'll go fix it right away. As for the trio from Guide... they're not done yet. They're actually quite important to the story. As is pretty much every character I've introduced.

You know, eventually, every character from The Thinking Man's Guide to Destroying the World and My Trip to the End of Time, by Pearl Gideon will recur, even if only in an incidental role. It isn't random people who have adventures; some people are born to strange sights, things invisible to see, and have to ride ten thousand nights until age snows white hairs on them.

F.A.B.
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  #67    
Old April 1st, 2012, 03:01 AM
Cutlerine
Gone. May or may not return.
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
Age: 21
Gender:
Nature: Impish
Chapter Twenty-Six: In Which We Encounter A Second Man in Black

'Do you have any previous experience? Circle one (1) of the following:
I have worked as: a member of an antagonistic Team/a petty crook/a criminal mastermind/a henchman or minion/a demon's thrall/none of the above.'

—From the Team Galactic Application Form


Silence.

I was awake now, or at least I thought I was, but there was still total silence. No traffic outside, no radio music, no birdsong...

Complete silence.

I was sitting down, for some reason. Why was that? I'd gone to sleep in a bed, hadn't I? Or had I? My head was pounding and I couldn't even think, let alone remember; it was like the morning after I'd been stabbed by the Croagunk, but a thousand times worse.

OK, Pearl, I thought to myself. Open your eyes. Ignore the pain and work out what's going on.

And so, with an immense effort, I pulled my eyelids apart—

—to see utter blackness.

My heart rate soared and all at once I snapped back to full wakefulness on the back of a wave of adrenaline; in quick succession, I realised that I was blindfolded, gagged and tied to the chair I was in. In addition, I could feel something in my ears; I guessed they must be the reason I couldn't hear anything.

Oh, cal, I thought. Oh cal oh cal oh cal oh cal—!

I screamed then, or tried to, and tried to wrench myself free in the grip of a wild burst of all-consuming panic; I felt my muscles tense and clench and my fingers curl into fists so tightly that a surge of pain washed through my palms, but nothing happened. I was too well-secured.

I'm not altogether sure what happened next. I think it was more of the same – more thrashing and crying out for help – but I can't be certain. Everything had that heady, confused immediacy of panic about it, and it jumbled itself in my mind like sand caught in the surf. All I can safely recall are the little things that jumped out and stuck in my head, discrete flies in the emotional amber: I broke three fingernails against the chair arm; I burned my wrists with the rope; I tried to kick free and my shoe fell off.

I think it must have been about five minutes later that I stopped and slumped back in my seat, all my passion leaving me in one sudden rush. I took the chance to stab my panic in the back while it was taking this break, and, having thus calmed myself, tried to take some sort of rational stock of my situation.

OK, Pearl, I thought. Stay calm. Be cool. What are you tied with? Tape, it feels like – so that's not going to come undone. Where is it? Wrists, ankles, elbows, waist. OK, someone really doesn't want you going anywhereor maybe, I thought in a flash of inspiration, they're inexperienced and they don't have faith in their ability to tie someone up effectively. That line of thought was interesting, but didn't lead anywhere, so I moved on. What else is there? Earplugs – pretty good ones, by the sound of things – and a gag and blindfold. I pondered that for a moment. The blindfold and gag seem to be tape too, which is going to be hell to get off since they go all the way around your head. There's something else to the gag, too – a rag or something, in your mouth. Ew. I hope that's clean.

At that point, I realised I was in danger of driving myself insane, so I stopped analysing my situation for a moment and took a few deep breaths before continuing.

The most important thing, I said to myself, is that you're here and tied up at all. That means that whoever kidnapped you doesn't want you dead.

Doesn't want you dead yet, corrected an annoying little voice in the back of my head, which I ignored, partly out of irritation and partly out of fear.

So there's hope that you could get out of this alive, I went on. Right? So stay focused, Pearl, and stay cool, and you might just get through this.

OK. That was the future dealt with. Now for the past: how the hell had I got here?

I thought back to the night before. At Ashley's direction, I'd gone through the old man's wallet, and found out his name and address – though right now I couldn't remember either of them. After that, we'd left, and Ashley had decided he wanted to go to sleep. I remembered thinking that was weird, but I wasn't going to argue with the possibility of sleep and neither was Iago. We'd headed back to the Hrafn, said hello to Wednesday on the way past, and...

I frowned. Past then, everything was shrouded in some black amnesiac fog; I couldn't remember any of it.

Maybe I was drugged
, I thought. That would explain the headache, and maybe why last night's so fuzzy.

Just then, I felt fingers brush my ears, and I would have jumped right out of my skin if I hadn't been tied down. All that time with no stimuli whatsoever – and then, entirely without warning, a sudden human touch. It was a wonder I didn't pass out.

Whoever the mystery person was, they removed the earplugs, and the sounds of the world closed in around me again: birds outside, a distant wind, leaves rustling. No cars, though – so we couldn't be in the city.

“All right,” said someone. It was a man's voice, with a faint accent – was that Hoennian? Or Swedish? “Are you awake there?”

“Mmph,” I replied, trying hard not to sound sarcastic. I didn't really want to make this guy angry, but equally I couldn't talk.

“Ah. I suppose that must mean yes.” Footsteps, moving away a bit – and then coming back. An odd metal sound, and now something cold on my cheek—

“This might sting,” said the man. “Actually, it definitely will. And probably hurt a lot more than stinging. In fact, I'm not altogether sure why I said it might sting in the first place.”

That sounded ominous, but I didn't have time to work out what he might mean by it: as soon as he'd finished speaking, he ripped the tape off my face, and what felt like my entire scalp with it.

He waited for my shriek to die away, and said:

“You're welcome. I mean, I have just ungagged you. I could have left you like that, you know – perfectly justifiable, seeing as how I'm a criminal and all. A master criminal, you might say.”

“Really,” I managed to whisper through cracked lips and a hell of a lot of pain. My mouth tasted of cloth; I'd spat out whatever was in it, but it was full of that unpleasant dry sensation that you get when you accidentally fall asleep with your mouth open.

“Oh yes,” said the man, who I now saw was dressed all in black, wearing sunglasses and sitting opposite me. “Well, I'm not so much a criminal right now, seeing as how I'm working for a respectable organisation, but still. I have a long and distinguished career behind me as a crook.”

I coughed and tried to clear my throat.

“Where am I?” I asked, looking around. There weren't many clues – this was just a bare room, unfurnished save for the two chairs and a table nearby. From the light, I could tell there was a window behind me, but I couldn't see it.

“Somewhere west of somewhere else,” replied the man in black enigmatically. “From whence there is no escape.”

I stared at him. In the midst of my confusion, in the midst of my fear, a little bolt of disbelieving ridicule struck me.

“Did you just say 'whence'?”

“Yes,” said the man self-consciously. “What's wrong with that?”

“Nothing,” I said, swiftly deciding not to tell him it sounded stupidly pretentious, “it's just not a very commonly used word.”

“I'm a master of words,” the man in black told me, with a touch of pride. “Words, crime... In fact, there's very little I can't do.”

A curious thing happened then. I could've sworn I heard, somewhere in the back of my head, Ashley's voice muttering dryly to me:

A veritable polymath.

I had to suppress a smile. It was true: the man in black was peculiarly ridiculous for a kidnapper.

“What do you want with me?” I asked. It was a grim and uncertain sort of matter, and considering it brought me firmly back down to earth.

“Me?” He touched his breast. “Me? I want nothing with you other than payment. Now, my employers, they want you detained here until someone can come to collect you.” He shrugged. “Apparently they have no dedicated kidnappers of their own, so they hire in people like me to do it.”

“And who are those employers?” I asked.

The man in black smiled patronisingly and waved a condescending finger.

“Now, now, now,” he said, shaking his head in what must have seemed to him to be a very graceful way, “you and I both know that I can't tell you that. Of course, you have to ask me, because when people get kidnapped they always ask their kidnappers who they work for – but I can never answer, because it is tradition that the kidnappers never tell those they've kidnapped who they work for.” He sat back and took a bottle and a glass from the table. “It's how things work. Tradition, you know?”

He poured a liberal quantity of something disturbingly red from the bottle into the glass and sipped at it.

He's clearly an idiot, said the mysterious voice again, and this time I was sure I heard it. It was definitely Ashley, and it was definitely coming from inside my head. Feeling that if I ventured nothing, I would gain nothing, I thought back tentatively:

Ashley?

The voice made, however, no response, and I gave up. There would be time to ponder this strange phenomenon later; for now, I had to try and get some information out of the man in black. He really did seem to be an idiot, so I had fairly high hopes I'd manage to get something.

“Do you have any other questions?” asked the man in black. “I think you've done the Big Two now – you know, 'Where am I?' and 'Who do you work for?' – but you might have more, for all I know.”

“Who are you?” I asked.

“That's basically a variation on 'Who do you work for?',” he said, clicking his tongue in annoyance. “You should know I can't answer that.”

“OK, OK.” I thought. “Um... What can I ask you?”

“You may ask me,” said the man in black after some consideration, “how you were kidnapped, and how I came to be here. Yes. Yes, that'll do. So.” He looked at me expectantly, and with a couple of misgivings about his sanity, I asked him:

“How did you kidnap me?”

“Ah!” said the man, setting his drink back on the table and leaning forwards eagerly, “now that was all very clever. Totally ingenious – well beyond anything the Diamond has had to deal with before, I should imagine.”

I raised an eyebrow. I seriously doubted that.

“You may scoff,” said the man, shaking his head sorrowfully, “but you haven't heard my plan yet. It's a work of pure genius. Also, don't forget that I could kill you at any moment,” he added. “There are foul beasts well beyond mortal ken lurking behind you right now.”

I heard the rustle of limbs and the scrape of claws behind me, and suddenly felt a whole lot more serious. This guy was a kidnapper and a criminal – was it really that big a step to believe that he was a murderer, too? I looked back at his face, inscrutable behind his tinted sunglasses, and bit my tongue to stop myself saying anything.

“That'll do,” he said, pleased. “Now, to kidnap you, I had to learn of the Diamond's one weakness.”

Ashley had a weakness? Did he mean swans? I pictured the man in black scaling the walls of the Hrafn Hotel at night and stealthily slipping waterfowl into Ashley's room through the window, incapacitating him while he slipped into my room and drugged me in my sleep—

“Pay attention!” snapped the man in black petulantly. “Don't go slipping off into daydreams while I'm monologuing. It's very rude.”

“Sorry,” I said. “Won't happen again.”

“Now, as it so happens, my employers were able to furnish me with this information,” he continued, making a steeple of his fingers and leaning forward even further. He was almost bent double now, and looked very stupid indeed, though you could tell he thought it was a striking pose. “And so I discovered that Mr. Lacrimére is a borderline chocolate addict.”

I came very close to laughing out loud here, but, remembering the unknown thing behind me – whose shadow I now noticed, all sharp edges and points, on the wall in front of me – I held it in.

“When early that morning he left to get chocolate to sustain him as he thought, I slipped in, clubbed the Kadabra on guard over the head with a monkey wrench and injected you with a potent sleeping drug. Then I disguised you as an elf so that no one would ask questions, carried you into the back of my van, and drove out here.”

An elf? I looked down at myself, and saw with some surprise that I was dressed all in green.

“What was that part about the elf?” I asked, failing to see the relevance.

The man in black looked at me askance.

“Are not elves universally reviled in Sinnoh?” he asked.

“No. We don't even have elves. I don't think anywhere does, actually.”

“Blast. That's forty minutes of my life I'll never get back. And the money for the costume and the make-up kit!” The man in black sighed mightily and looked despondently at the floor for a while, after which he took a consolatory gulp of his drink. This seemed to revive his spirits a little, and he sat up again. “Well, I was misinformed then. No matter. I still caught you, from right under the Diamond's nose. Now, the other question, if you please.”

“What other question?”

“Oh, keep up!” he cried, slamming his glass onto the table. “For God's sake, I'm being an excellent villain here, and you're spoiling it all! Don't you remember that I said you could also ask me how I came to be here?”

“OK, OK!” I replied, alarmed. I had no wish to discover what it was that lurked behind me, and I had a feeling that if I irritated the man much longer the monster and I would soon be on frighteningly intimate terms. “How did you come to be here?”

“Well,” he said, striking an elegant pose, “frankly, it was a stroke of luck that I ran into my employers when I did. A series of unfortunate events had robbed me of my previous job, my rightful recognition as both a master criminal and a great global hero, and of my best friend.” He sighed again, with scarcely less might than before. “I had planned to set up my own Team, but unfortunately I lacked both the capital and the manpower, and so I took to wandering the world in a state of disconsolation, falling back on my old street performance tricks to fund each aeroplane flight.” Here, he gave me a look, and I guessed I was supposed to say something.

“What sort of street performer were you?” I asked tentatively.

“An acrobat,” he answered, with an air of melancholy. “A Baroque acrobat.”

I thought about asking how an acrobat could possibly be Baroque, but in the end decided against it, seeing as I wasn't entirely certain what Baroque meant.

“OK.”

“Well, I had flown into Jubilife from Barcelona,” continued the man in black, “and was performing in Hagai Square – do you know it? It's so beautiful in the spring – when I was approached by a man in a suit who knew my name.”

I did know Hagai Square, and I therefore knew that it was about as close to a demolition site as a functional city square could be without actually being demolished. The only people there were drug dealers and kids with knives, and I didn't think any of them would have given a Baroque acrobat anything but a mugging. For the first time, I began to wonder exactly how much of this story was true.

“He said to me, 'Are you—?'” He broke off. “Ah, but I can't tell you my name,” he said. “I'll use a fake one.” He thought. “He asked me, 'Are you Theophilus Danderine?'”

I tried to suppress more laughter, half-succeeded and snorted loudly through my nose.

“Are you all right?” asked the man in black. I nodded, not trusting my voice, and, satisfied, he continued: “And I said, 'Yes, that's me.' And then he said, 'I represent—' Ah, but I can't tell you who he represented. I'll think of a fake organisation... He said, 'I represent the Sinnish Bakery League, and we have a job we think is admirably suited for a man of your skills.' And I said, 'What might that be?' To which he responded by telling me to meet him in a certain place if I wanted to know more. So, to cut a long story short, I did, and got this job. In the process, by a remarkable coincidence, I was reunited with my friend, who, as it happened, had also been contacted by the Bakery League for a kidnapping job.”

Fighting the urge to laugh at the idea of a Theophilus Danderine being employed by the Sinnish Bakery League to kidnap me, I asked:

“Am I allowed to ask who he's kidnapping?”

“He's kidnapping someone you know very well,” said the man in black with a sinister smile of unsurpassed melodrama. “And I'm sure you'll meet soon, don't you worry about that.”

All desire to laugh left me in one sharp rush. That sounded ominous.

“What do you mean, meet?” I asked. “Who is this?”

“All in good time, Pearl, all in good time,” said the man in black, evidently pleased at having finally got a scared reaction out of me. “For now, let me just tell you the story of how I got into crime.”

“Why?”

“Because it's very important,” he said. “It's important that I be as fully developed as possible.” He grinned broadly. “After all, I am the main character.”

---

Town Called Malice, rendered in all the wondrous glory of a ringtone. A groan. A hand, groping across the table.

“Whuh?”

“Good morning, Cynthia darling.”

The voice was very cold, and very familiar. All at once, Cynthia was very wide awake.

“Ash? What—?”

“Where's Pearl?”

“What?” She sat up and brushed a lock of her overlong hair from her face. “What do you mean, where's Pearl?”

“I mean, where have your associates spirited her off to?”

“What are you talking about? We haven't done anything!”

“You mean to say it wasn't the League?”

“No!” Cynthia swung herself out of bed and felt on the table for her hairbrush. Whatever happened, she had to comb her hair every morning, or it tangled; wearing it four foot seven inches long meant that it was insanely prone to tangling. “No, Ash, I trust you—” She broke off abruptly, brush six inches from her head. “Wait. She's gone missing?”

“Yes.” He paused. “I... Cynthia, I'm concerned. If it were you, I know you wouldn't harm her. But whoever this is...”

Cynthia brought the brush down hard on her head and started dragging at her hair with the sort of force that indicated extreme concentration.

“Is it the Galactics?” she asked. “Could they be—?”

“No, darling, it couldn't be them. They already have me exactly where they want me, unfortunately. The problem is, if it isn't the Galactics and it isn't the League—”

“Then who the hell is it?” breathed Cynthia, yanking hard again and taking out a clump of three-foot hairs with a wince.

“That's what worries me,” said Ashley. To anyone else, his voice would have seemed as cold and distant as ever, but Cynthia, who had seen perhaps more of his wild and alien mind than anyone living, could detect a hint of worry in there – and it surprised her. To her knowledge, he only ever expressed worry about two people, and neither of those was Pearl. “Cynthia, have you identified the people who attacked me outside Hearthome?”

“I had Lucian go over them,” she said. “They were drones.”

“I hate those things,” remarked Ashley, remarkably calmly. “An obscene use to put a human body to.”

“I hate them too, Ash, but that's not the point. They look like Sporeola from Italy.”

“Medici?”

“I think so.”

Ashley paused.

“I sincerely doubt the Medici have had Pearl kidnapped.”

“She is the weakest one in your close circle, Ash,” reasoned Cynthia. “There's me, Maylene, Pearl, Iago and... well. Her.”

She didn't really like to think about her, or mention her either. She was an unpleasant reminder that Ashley was much than her lover, a relic from times past when he had walked the pages of history as something less than human and much more.

“I don't dispute that that's why they've had her kidnapped,” Ashley said. “Only that it is they who have done it. The Medici gave up on me two hundred years ago.”

“What about the cruise liner in the fifties?”

“I thought we'd agreed never to mention that,” said Ashley sharply. “Please. It was a very unpleasant time for all concerned.” Cynthia heard his shiver in his breath down the line. “I shall never be able to stomach sangría again.”

“Sorry, Ash. I forgot. But we can't rule out the possibility.”

“Fair enough, fair enough.” Ashley paused again. “Can you spare anyone? With Pearl gone, I have to spend even more of my time on this investigation and I can't look into this.” He almost sounded angry, Cynthia thought. “Is anyone free?”

“Fantina's in Europe right now,” she said. “I could get her to investigate, but she won't be pleased—”

“Someone has kidnapped my friend,” Ashley replied forcefully, and Cynthia knew for certain that something was up then; Ashley never called anyone his friend. He had a lover, and her, but that was it. He avoided friendship like the plague, ever-conscious of his immortality; Cynthia was well aware that the only reason he had ever seduced her was to earn his freedom – discounting her, he had had no other lovers since 1943. She counted herself lucky that he was still capable of love, and that she'd managed to trap him with it. Not that she would ever use that metaphor herself. “I think I'm entitled to irritate Fantina a little.”

“All right, all right!” said Cynthia. “I'll call her.” She hesitated. “So why... what's so special about Pearl?”

That had come out far more defensive than she'd meant it, she realised, and swore under her breath.

“She's a friend, Cynthia,” replied Ashley, sounding vaguely amused. “Only this, and nothing more. There's nothing special about her except how... not special she is. I spend too much time with the gifted, I think. I like her ineptitude.”

That had better be all you like about her, thought Cynthia darkly, and then shook the thought from her head. It was stupid of her.

“Now, darling, I'd better go. Tell Fantina to call me as soon as she finds anything.”

“Yes. Sure.”

Almost without noticing, Cynthia became aware of two dark shapes hovering in the corners of her vision.

“I'll see you soon,” continued Ashley. “Once this mess is cleared up and I see Maragos in League hands.”

The black-gloved hands moved swiftly: one over her mouth, another around her arms. Cynthia's eyes widened—

—and then the phone dropped silently onto the carpet.

“Goodbye,” it said. “I love you.”

Unsurprisingly, there was no response. After all, the room was empty.

---

It rolled around her temples, crashed down her sinuses, rumbled along her synapses and burst into little explosions behind her eyes; it cracked across her eardrums in jagged lines, and roared in her pineal gland, wherever that was. What was it, Liza wondered. Was it thunder? No, too protracted. A bulldozer? No, if a bulldozer was this close to her, she'd be in the process of being run over. Jet engines? No, that was just stupid.

“Turburweggip, umn.”

A voice? It might be, she supposed, but what sort of human could have this earthquake for a voice? And what language was it speaking?

“Tummerwackup, ummin.”

Actually, that sounded kind of familiar. It sounded a lot more like words now.

“I said, time to wake up, woman.”

Cold water and an unfriendly toecap swiftly moved Liza from drowsiness to reality, and she jerked her eyes open with an almost audible snap.

“What the hell!” she shrieked, and then managed to focus. Before her was a veritable Goliath – probably the biggest creature she had ever seen that still looked vaguely human. He must have measured three feet from shoulder to shoulder, and his black clothes looked like they weren't meant to be nearly as skin-tight as they'd become. “Jesus Christ,” said Liza, shaking water out of her hair. “Your mother had some serious child-bearing hips.”

The giant's brow lowered, almost completely obscuring his eyes, and Liza once again felt the toecap. Steel, she thought, clutching gingerly at her sternum. Definitely steel.

She was in a small, windowless concrete room, sitting up against one wall. On the plus side, she appeared to be completely unrestrained; on the minus, she had a sneaking suspicion that the colossus in black would be more than adequate restraint in himself.

“OK,” Liza wheezed, trying to get her breath back. “I get it. No sarcasm.” She broke off to cough for a moment. “What's this about? Is this another client being overzealous? Because I'm not taking offers right now. Check my Criminet status.”

Social networking for global villains had taken off in a big way in the last few years; Liza had registered eighteen months ago and the number of job offers had tripled overnight. Currently, though, her status was 'On a job', and so no self-respecting client ought to be getting in contact with her.

“No,” said the giant, and his voice sounded like a landslide in a distant valley. “Not that.”

“Then what?” Liza climbed to her feet, leaning heavily against the wall, and stared up at him with considerably more insolence than she felt. Though there were a remarkable number of things she did not know about herself, she was certain that she could be snapped in half fairly easily by this man.

“Not my business to know,” rumbled the giant. “Just caught you.”

“For who?”

Whom, a little voice at the back of her head corrected her, but Liza let it go; such fleeting missives from the past were common enough, and if she'd heeded every one she would gone mad a long time ago. Perhaps she had already, she reflected distantly. After all, her mind was pretty damn broken.

“Some people who want you and some others,” replied the giant shortly, and he would say no more on the subject.

Liza closed her eyes and felt for broken ribs.

“Who else?”

“People you know.”

You don't talk much, do you? Liza thought, but she didn't dare say it, on account of the possible snapping in half.

“I'm working with some very powerful people right now,” she said instead, testing the giant's reaction. “People who wouldn't like to see me kidnapped.”

“I'm working with some more powerful people,” rumbled the giant. “Now shuddup, woman.”

Liza raised an eyebrow, but said nothing. They stood in silence for a while, until she asked:
“So... are you just going to keep me in here?”

“No.” The giant sniffed deeply. “We're waiting for someone to come and pick you up.”

“Where will they take me?”

“Not my business. Or yours,” added the giant, upon reflection.

Liza sighed, and slid back down the wall to sit on the floor. Whatever was going on, it seemed it was going to be tediously cloak-and-dagger.

---

I'm really not sure why the man in black didn't take me straight to wherever his employers wanted me in the first place. I mean, when the man in the brown tweed suit came to pick me up, he asked him to come along too. He didn't seem to have been expecting that, and seemed quite nervous during the helicopter ride. At least, I assume it was a helicopter, from the noise – I was blindfolded again for the journey, and all I could hear was the clattering roar of the rotors.

I have no idea how long the trip was; just like before, time seemed elastic, stretching out in weird strings. All I know is that it gave me far too long to worry about what might happen to me at the other end. Where was I being taken? Was I going to be killed? Would the man in black's employers have better fashion sense than the brown suit guy?

By then, I knew I was working myself up to the point of hysteria, and forced myself to take some deep breaths – which did absolutely nothing to calm me down. A few minutes later, when the helicopter touched down, I was about ready to explode with terror.

There were a few long moments of absolute silence, and then someone grabbed my arm and pulled me up.

“Come on,” said a cold voice – the brown suit guy, I thought. “Time is of the essence.”

“Where are we?” I asked. My voice sounded all wrong: small and wavering, like a broken blade of grass, or a beaten Budew.

“Yes, where are we?” It was the voice of the man in black, and he sounded like he was blustering. A lot.

“That's not important. It's time to move.”

“What the devil is this?” cried the man in black. “I demand to know what's going—”

There was a click, and the man in black's tone changed abruptly.

“Or I could just go along with you and not complain,” he said. “Out of interest, what calibre is that?”

“.458,” replied the brown suit guy. “It's meant for big game.”

“Ah,” said the man in black. “Er. Lead on, then.”

I gulped. Things were not looking good.

We left the helicopter – I could tell because I almost fell down the steps, and because of the sudden rush of fresh outside wind – and walked across what was presumably the helipad to a door that opened with a peculiar grinding sound. I reached out to touch it as we went through, and found it was made of stone.

Where the hell are we, I wondered. What kind of place had stone doors?

We walked down a long set of cold corridors, with so many twists and turns that before long I was more dizzy than scared.

“When do we get there?” I asked.

“Silence,” commanded the brown suit guy. “Unless you have a burning desire to discover what the inside of your chest looks like.”

I didn't even dare reply. I was entirely certain that he was serious.

At length, we came to a halt, apparently at random, and I was manoeuvred up against a wall.

Don't people get put against a wall when they're about to be executed by firing squad? I wondered, and then immediately put the thought out of my mind. It didn't bear thinking about.

A moment later, my blindfold was removed, and I saw that I was right, that the person dealing with me was the brown suit guy. Bizarrely, I seemed to be in a dentist's waiting-room – and sitting and standing around, looking about as confused as I felt, were about ten other people. I recognised two as the kids from the park in Eterna, Kester Ruby and Felicity Kusagari, and another one as the man in black. There were two other men in black as well, one very large and burly and one positively gigantic, and a man in a green overcoat, and a girl a few years younger than me with a blue hat. Then there was another boy, and Liza and Tristan, and—

“Stephanie?”

“Pearl?”

We would've got further than staring, but the man in the brown tweed suit stopped us with a wave of what I now saw was a ridiculously large gun.

“The sound of the human voice is incredibly irritating,” he said. “My fingers are liable to become twitchy if I hear much more of it.”

No one spoke after that. I tried for a moment or two to communicate with Stephanie via a system of meaningful glances, but gave up pretty quickly; we really weren't having much success.

A moment later, another man in an identical brown tweed suit brought in another captive, and I realised with a jolt that it was Cynthia. Her hair was a mess, and she hadn't been given time to get dressed, but it was definitely her. Even if I hadn't recognised her, the abuse she was hurling at her captor would have given it away in a second.

“...I don't care if you've got a sodding elephant gun, I want to know where we are! Are you listening? No, I know you're not going to shoot me, you grazhny bratchny, or you wouldn't have sodding kidnapped me. So where the hell—”

The man escorting her clamped one hand over Cynthia's mouth.

“Here,” he said, shoving her forwards. He looked very tired, I noticed. “She's your problem now, Preston.”

Preston – my brown suit guy – didn't seem best pleased by this, but his compatriot withdrew with such speed that he didn't get to complain.

“Shut up and stand over there,” he said to Cynthia, who very nearly punched him in the face; as it was, she just glared daggers at him and stomped over to me.

“Pearl?” she said. “Is that you?”

“Who else would it be?” I asked, with a wary glance at Preston. However, he seemed to have admitted defeat with Cynthia, and chose to ignore us.

“It's difficult to tell with that weird make-up on. What are you wearing, anyway?”

“I'm disguised as an elf,” I said, not having the energy to explain. “Anyway, I could ask you the very same question.”

It was true. She was wearing black silk pyjamas and – more confusingly – a hairbrush jammed into her hair.

“Whatever. Do you know where we are?”

“No. I just got here.”

At this point, the Kester kid stepped forward as if to say something, but Preston presently reasserted his dominance by aiming his elephant gun at him, and he stepped back again smartly. Apparently only Cynthia got to break the rules.

“What?” Cynthia turned to look at him. “Do you know where we are?”

Kester looked at Preston, and Preston shook his head. Perhaps predictably, Kester remained silent.

“Let him talk to me,” commanded Cynthia, but Preston shook his head.

“Orders from above,” he said. “You, her and one other person only. No one else is to speak.”

“Well, who else is it?”

“He's not here yet,” replied Preston. “He's the last one.”

Right then, without any sort of warning or ceremony, a man appeared in the seat next to me. He had steel-coloured hair and sharp green eyes, and he was in the middle of lifting a forkful of lobster to his mouth.

Everyone froze. I mean, I knew that teleportation was possible – Psychic-types could do it – but I'd only ever seen it a couple of times, and I didn't doubt that more than one of those present had never witnessed it before.

The man with the fork paused too; the only parts of him that moved were his eyes. They roved left, then right, and then he put down the fork carefully on the magazine table beside him.

“Blast,” he murmured genially. “He must have got out.”

“Indeed he has, Mr. Stone,” said Preston. “I believe he's ready for you all now.”

“It's true,” agreed a voice from nowhere. “We are all assembled, and I am very pleased to be able to welcome you to my new... well. Shall we say lair?”

As if enough bizarre things hadn't happened already today, the walls fell backwards and away, like the painted pieces of scenery I now saw they were; beyond, sandy flagstones stretched away into infinite darkness in all directions.

“What the hell...?” I stared out into the vast space, trying in vain to make out any details – but there were none. Wherever we were, it was bigger than anywhere I'd ever been before, and I'd been to some pretty big places in my time.

“Hell indeed!” said the mysterious voice, and I saw a figure approaching through the dark. It was tall and thin, and try as I might I couldn't distinguish anything of it beyond something black that flowed out behind it. “Yes, Pearl, we are indeed in hell. I made it, I live in it, and I invite you all to share in it!”

“Oh my God!” cried Kester abruptly. “It's you!”

Everyone else except me turned to stare at him.

“Um... not to insult you or anything,” said the girl with the blue hat, “but the rest of us had already kind of figured that one out, Kester.”

Kester went red.

“Ah,” he said. “OK.”

“If you please?” said the figure, which was now close enough for me to make out its black globe of a head. “I was about to do the dramatic revelation.”

“Sorry.”

The figure stepped forwards into the lit area that had once been the waiting-room, and pulled the globular mask off to reveal he had the same face as the man who had just teleported into the seat next to me.

“Welcome, friends, enemies and countrymen,” he said, with an avuncular and supremely threatening grin. “I'm so glad to see that everyone survived the first act. I've been unavoidably detained at Hoennian President Loganberry's pleasure, but I'm here now, and we can all begin Act Two of my grand plan.” He looked over at me. “But of course,” he said. “You have no idea who I am, do you Pearl?”

I shook my head. I hadn't wanted to admit it, since everyone else seemed to recognise him, but I hadn't the faintest clue who this guy might be.

“Allow me to introduce myself.” He held out a long, pale hand. “My name is Zero, and I'm here to kill you all and destroy the world.” He smiled broadly. “Again.”
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  #68    
Old April 1st, 2012, 12:07 PM
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Silent Memento
Memories are forever...
 
Join Date: May 2011
Location: St. Louis, Missouri
Age: 23
Gender: Male
Nature: Timid
I know that the guy who kidnapped Pearl was none other than Fabien. And is that giant who kidnapped Liza...Barry Hawksworthy?! I thought that he had been ripped apart at a molecular level when Kyogre had been reassembled. How the hell is he still alive? There's a third man in black who's obviously Blake, who kidnapped Stephanie. So, I'm guessing that Goishi is with Blake or Fabien. Darren Goodwin and Sebastian Emerald were also kidnapped...so, where the hell is Iago, Ashley, and Puck?

And Zero has made his appearance again? What the freaking ninth circle of damnation is going on here? My mind has just exploded into little pieces - and those pieces have been torched in hellfire, frozen in liquid nitrogen, and vaporized into nothingness.

The too-long/didn't read part? Mind = blown.

Mind you, this is a good chapter, but I'm now completely and utterly confused about the plot. I'm guessing that that was your intention, though, so, kudos and congrats. I am a bit confused as to how Ashley communicated with Cynthia before she was kidnapped, but otherwise, the plot itself doesn't seem to have any gaping holes in it.

Fate almighty, I don't know how you're going to top off this chapter. All I know is that - in some spectacular fashion - you're going to try to do it and succeed.

Sincerely,

Mem.
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  #69    
Old April 2nd, 2012, 12:41 PM
Cutlerine
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Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
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I think I know exactly how to top off this chapter, Silent Memento: with a gentle reminder of yesterday's date.

F.A.B.
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  #70    
Old April 2nd, 2012, 03:50 PM
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Silent Memento
Memories are forever...
 
Join Date: May 2011
Location: St. Louis, Missouri
Age: 23
Gender: Male
Nature: Timid
Quote:
Originally Posted by Cutlerine View Post
I think I know exactly how to top off this chapter, Silent Memento: with a gentle reminder of yesterday's date.

F.A.B.
...You tricked me even worse than you did in TTMGTDTW's ending. Ugh...I can't believe that I fell for it so badly...well, congratulations for being the only person to fool me on April Fool's.

With respect and complete and utter embarrassment,

Mem.
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  #71    
Old April 23rd, 2012, 11:11 PM
Cutlerine
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Join Date: Mar 2010
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Chapter Twenty-Six: In Which Crasher Wake Reappears

'Much like the mods and rockers of 1960s Britain, the Goths and hipsters of Sinnoh are violent enemies, and have been ever since they discovered each others' existence. Perpetually warring over which subculture is the more nonconformist and counter-cultural, they have been responsible for the largest gang wars of recent Sinnish history – the most infamous, the famous Sunyshore battle of 2009, resulted in sixty-nine arrests and left fourteen people in hospital. However, the fights rarely last very long: the hipsters cannot remain long all in one place, because otherwise they stop being hipsters, and so they tend to disperse after half an hour.'
—Emilia Hawthorne, The Tourist's Guide to Sinnoh

The city at night. In the south, the chimneys of the industrial district cut across the eye of the moon; in the west, the townhouses of the rich gaze smugly down from their lofty perches in the Coronet foothills. Most are asleep in bed, and those who are not are inside, sheltering from the cold and the Ghosts. Another night in Hearthome.

Through the night came a blurring orange comet, blitzing through the streets like a bullet, trailing blue lightning in its wake. It tore down a residential road, setting a horde of tame Growlithe barking wildly, and hurtled into a park, scattering the Shinx that had come out to feed. It zoomed across ponds, whizzed past factories, flew by Pokémarts.

Whoa, thought Puck to himself. I'm getting some serious déjà vu here.

He came to a halt by a distinctly sinister-looking car dealership and looked back down the street; if he was expecting pursuers, he was relieved, for it was empty.

I think I've lost them, he said. Good. Spiffing, you might say – but that would be tantamount to asking for a kick in the balls, so you probably wouldn't. He drifted higher up into the sky, and observed with interest a small stand-off occurring in a nearby street. Hey, look at that, he said. Ghosts – the human kind. You don't see many of them around these days. And a Frosla— He broke off abruptly. Hang on. Is that...?

Puck flew a little closer, and was rewarded by a faint, twisting pain in the core of his being – the wrenching ache that indicated his sense for other Ghosts was being overwhelmed.

Thundurus' spiky tail, he said, surprised and not a little alarmed. It's her. Puck flew closer still, and winced as the pain intensified dramatically. Yep. Definitely her. He backed away hurriedly, climbing higher into the night sky. Time to leave, I think. I'm not particularly interested in a reunion with her.

And with that, the Rotom shot away in a bright line of plasma, an orange star detached from the firmament, falling away to the horizon like a distant meteor.

---


Pastoria had never looked so nice: morning dawned and brought with it cloudless skies, without a hint of impending rain. Unfortunately, I really didn't have the energy to appreciate it – Ashley had only let me get to bed at about three o'clock and even with eight hours' sleep, I felt tired beyond all reasonable belief.

“Where the hell is all my energy?” I moaned sleepily at the ceiling. “How can I be this tired?”

All at once, I heard footsteps in the corridor, and I groaned loudly. That would be Ashley, wouldn't it?

There was a knock at the door.

“Pearl?”

Dead on. I closed my eyes and grimaced.

“All right, Ashley. Give me a minute.”

“You can have fifteen and then I need you downstairs,” he said. “It seems Crasher Wake has caught up with us.”

That woke me up.

“What?” I cried, sitting up. “What do you mean?”

“I went for a walk early this morning,” he told me, “and saw a taxi coming down the road, sagging heavily on the right. Curious as to what could be causing such a bizarre phenomenon, I followed it to the traffic lights and peered in at the window.” So deep was the following sigh that I heard it clearly through the door. “You can imagine what I found there – Wake was staring out at me. I made away as swiftly as I could, but I was close to the hotel and he turned up in the lobby a few minutes later, asking after me. He had the taxi door wedged around his waist; it seems he'd destroyed it while getting out. Huh. It would have been funny, had he not been so very annoying.”

“So what do we now?” I asked.

“We are to go to Pastoria's main police station,” Ashley replied. “Wake wanted me to come immediately, but I said I would wait for you to wake up first.”

“Oh!” I said, oddly touched. “Thanks. That was nice of you.”

“I assure you, it's more selfish than it sounds. I don't particularly want to face Wake without support.”

“That's still nice,” I said. “It's gratifying to be chosen as someone's moral support.”

“Oh no, it's purely massive support. In order to balance out Wake's one hundred and fifty-six kilograms, I'm going to need to add both Iago's forty-three and your fifty-five kilograms to my forty-nine. Though even with that, I think he's going to dominate the room.” He sighed again. “Anyway, I'll see you downstairs.”

I glared at the door.

“It's fifty-three,” I muttered crossly, and gave his retreating footsteps the finger.

---

She was tall, and cold, and unimaginably beautiful.

And Ellen knew at once that they were all going to die.

The ice-white apparition before them was terrifying – not because of any defect in her looks, but precisely because of that chill beauty she possessed. Those glittering eyes; that shining skin – even her shape, long and curved and curiously boneless, seemed without peer in the entire human race. Ellen, Bond and Pigzie Doodle were looking at perfection.

And true perfection is impossible, and so it was that Ellen fainted dead away in fear.

Oh no, breathed Pigzie Doodle. Jeeves, grab the kid and get out of here.

Bond did not move. He could not hear the Duskull, it is true, but any butler in his right mind would have immediately sprung to his mistress' aid in such a situation, and he remained standing there, staring straight ahead into the Froslass' eyes.

No no nonono! cried Pigzie Doodle. Don't look at her! Just grab the kid and get me the hell out of here!

The Froslass drifted back slightly, extending a hand, and Bond took an uncertain step forwards.

OK then, ditch the kid and just save me! We'll work out a system of winks for communication – just don't look at her and get the hell out of here!

Bond did not break his gaze. He hadn't so much as blinked throughout the entire time that the Froslass had been in his field of vision, and now he took another step forwards.

Oh, Christ, moaned the Duskull, ineffectually trying to pull himself back into a single cohesive shape. Don't you get it? She only seduces you so she can EAT YOU!

Whether the sudden sharp increase in the volume of Pigzie Doodle's voice had finally broken whatever barrier kept it from Bond's mind, or whether some other unknown stimulant checked him, Bond stopped abruptly, one foot still in the air. He lowered it carefully to the ground, cleared his throat and said, without removing his eyes from the Froslass:

“Madam, if you would be so good as to step aside, my mistress and I would like to pass.”

The Froslass froze. She had been doing this for three and a half thousand years, and this had never happened before. Had she heard correctly? Had the ghost-man really just said what she thought he had?

Since no reply seemed forthcoming, Bond repeated the request.

“We are travelling along this pavement, madam. Would you please step aside? My mistress is the last representative of a very old and important family, and I'm sure you would understand as a fellow member of society that she therefore cannot be kept waiting.”

Bond had based this presumption that the Froslass was a 'member of society' partly on the status that the other Ghosts seemed to accord her, and partly out of an instinct for flattering those who were close to killing him. It did not seem to be having much effect, however; apparently, their aggressor was still somewhat stunned by the fact that he was resisting her. Bond failed to see what was so extraordinary about it; after all, he was a butler, and no butler worth his salt ever lets his emotions get the better of him – even if faced with the best succubus that Hell has to offer.

He's... what the hell? Pigzie Doodle's eye spun wildly in the puddle of his body. You're resisting it?

“Madam?” repeated Bond again. “If you would be so kind...”

The Froslass's ancient eyes narrowed, and she spread her arms. Bond noted the swirling ice crystals gathering in her palms, and hurriedly picked up Ellen with his free arm.
“In this case, madam,” he said rapidly, stepping out into the road, “I must regrettably push past you. I hope you won't take it personally—”

The first Ice Beam hit the ground an inch from his heels, and Bond broke into a run, tearing down the street at a speed only attainable when one's continued existence is under extreme threat. From behind him came an ear-splitting shriek that burst the bulbs in the streetlights and sent a startled nightjar flapping from a tree, and a moment later Bond felt a wave of preternatural cold bearing down upon his back.

He resisted it! cried Pigzie Doodle weakly, staring wildly around. Can you credit it? I mean, he's been dead seventy years, but you wouldn't have thought the libido would've decayed that much...

“It would seem,” Bond muttered to himself as the street blurred past at breakneck pace, “that things have become tense again.”

With that, he devoted his energies wholly to running, and it would be no exaggeration to say that the longest night of Bond's afterlife was now well and truly underway.

---

Amazingly, Wednesday was still on duty at reception, and I had to wonder if the guy ever slept. He was leaning on the counter and talking animatedly to a man in thick glasses and his mousey wife, looking nothing like someone who had just spent at least fifteen hours (and probably more) on duty in a terminally dull job.

“...and so you see, that idiot killing that blasted otter was the worst possible thing,” he was saying in that rumbling, accented voice of his. “We couldn't go anywhere until we'd covered every last hair of its skin in gold. But,” he went on, “you didn't come here to listen to an old man ramble about his younger days. What was it you wanted?”

“A – a room, please,” said the man, looking slightly disconcerted.

“Ah, all right,” said Wednesday. “Do you have a reservation?”

“No. Is that a problem?”

“Yes, I'm afraid. There are no rooms available at present. Sorry, but you'll have to try somewhere else.”

The couple left, and I went up to the desk.

“Miss Gideon,” said Wednesday. “What can I do for you?”

“Have you seen Ashley – the man who was with me – around here anywhere?”

“Mister Lacrimére? Yes, I saw him go into the restaurant earlier. He was probably going to avail himself of our all-morning buffet breakfast – as you may wish to as well,” he added courteously.

I thanked him and went in search of Ashley in the hotel's gloomy Gothic restaurant; I found him sitting opposite a rather jittery-looking man, separated from him by a small ocean of coffee cups.

“Ah, Pearl,” he said, noticing me. “I'm sorry I wasn't in the lobby; I'm having some trouble getting Mister Samson here to move.”

Mister Samson actually appeared to be having some considerable difficulty in stopping moving, from the look of him; I wasn't sure how much coffee he'd drunk, but from the look of him and the empty cups it was enough to give a Blissey a heart attack.

“Uh, hi,” I said. “What's going on?”

“When Wake found the hotel, he left this man from his Gym here to watch over us and make sure we come to the station,” explained Ashley. “His name is, as I've said, Samson, and he's a sailor by trade. He's also been drinking coffee here since half-three in the morning, and is consequently a little wired, as they say.”

“He's out of his sodding mind on caffeine,” said Iago more bluntly, appearing from somewhere to lounge against the back of a nearby chair. “Look, just tip him out of the chair into a cab and let's get on with this. I don't want to spend any longer with Wake than is absolutely necessary.”

“Right.” Ashley turned back to Samson. “Hello? Can we go now?”

All at once, Samson burst into life, springing to his feet and nearly overturning the table.

“Go? Yeah! Let's go! Come on! To the police station! Go!”

So saying, he ran so fast out of the restaurant that he didn't have time to open the door, and knocked it open with his face. This didn't seem to worry him unduly, and he waited for us in the lobby, hopping impatiently from foot to foot, without looking in the slightest like he was in any sort of pain.

“Oh joy,” said Iago. “I can tell this guy's going to be fun to have around.”

“Iago, would you do me the largest of favours and shut up?” asked Ashley sweetly. “Thank you. Now, come on. The sooner we leave, the greater the chance of us getting to the station before Mister Samson manages to do himself any serious injury.”

We left, Ashley guiding Samson gently through the doors, and after a short ride in Samson's car (during which Ashley insisted on driving, on the grounds that Samson was in no way fit to take the wheel) we pulled up outside the Pastoria Central Police Station, five doors down from Wake's ridiculously over-the-top ziggurat of a Gym and twelve up from the army recruitment office that had been blown up last year. We put Samson in a taxi home and went inside; here, at the merest mention – and sometimes even sight – of Ashley, we were waved through layers of security without question, and ended up in a modern-looking office that seemed to be chiefly occupied by a large quantity of Crasher Wake.

“Ashley!” he cried in a voice so vast it was a wonder it fit in the room. “Good to see you.”

“Yes, it's an absolute pleasure,” replied Ashley in that dry way of his. “Who is this?”

He looked past Crasher to a woman so small in comparison that I hadn't noticed her at first; she looked oddly familiar, but I couldn't place her face.

“D.C.I. Siobhan Rennet,” she said, extending a hand. “It's an honour to meet you, Mister Lacrimére—”

“Please, call me Ashley,” he replied, shaking it. “Lacrimére is only my surname for legal reasons; it's very difficult to obtain a Sinnish passport with only a forename.” He smiled, and for a brief moment seemed to turn on a high-powered beam of charm: his face lit up with a divine, dazzling beauty, and for a dizzying second I think everyone in the room – even Iago – fell half in love with him. Then the moment passed, and he was once more ordinary Ashley Lacrimére, as distant and dispassionate as ever. “Have I met your brother?” he added, as if nothing had happened. “He works in the Jubilife force, doesn't he?”

I realised then that that was why Rennet looked so familiar: she was related to Nathan Rennet, the inspector who'd interviewed me back at the Hinah District station. It seemed so long ago now; had that really just been the other day?

“My cousin,” corrected Rennet, who now, partly because she had lived in awe of Ashley for so long and partly because of his blast of handsomeness, seemed to be having difficulty breathing. “He's at the Hinah District Station.”

“Mm.” Ashley nodded. “That'll be it.”

“Um... should we get down to this bomb business?” asked Rennet. “I mean – that's why you're here, isn't it?”

Ashley gave Crasher a look.

“Wake, did you not tell D.C.I. Rennet—”

“Call me Siobhan—”

“Did you not tell Siobhan why I was being called here?” he finished.

Crasher looked sheepish.

“Well, no,” he admitted. “It slipped my mind.”

“I see,” said Iago acerbically. “That wouldn't be hard, would it? I mean, what with its incredibly small size and all.”

“Yeah,” agreed Crasher, apparently missing the insult. “A small point, easy to forget and all that.”

Iago squeezed his eyes shut.

“Give me strength,” he muttered, and slumped back against the wall.

“But don't worry!” Crasher went on, turning to Rennet (with some difficulty, as he was wedged pretty firmly into the corner). “Ashley will find the bomb. After all, he caught the Zodiac Killer, didn't he?”

Rennet frowned.

“But I thought that was never solved—”

“That,” said Ashley, pinching the bridge of his nose in despair, “was highly classified information, Wake. And it wasn't catching as such, it was more of a... a tense battle to the death between man and machine. Anyway,” he said, moving on swiftly, “you are correct, Siobhan, I am here to investigate the bombings. I suppose it's too much to ask that Crasher told you what I asked him to look into, is it?”

“Those three names? Ernest Sargasso, Anne Richards and Nestor Schultze?”

“Oh. He did.” Ashley nodded his thanks at Crasher; if there was any mockery in the gesture, it was so subtle that I missed it, and therefore so did he. “Excellent. Pearl, Iago, you weren't awake at the time, but when I said I would come to the station later, I told Wake to use the intervening hours to investigate those three people we found.”

“I thought we were going to do that?” I asked, though I was secretly quite relieved; I thought that divining the old man's life would probably have been a little too much for an amateur detective like me.

“The police can do it faster,” he replied. “They have more resources and more manpower; we would have lost a whole day in following up the leads, whereas I suspect that Siobhan might have results already.”

“We do,” she confirmed, spreading some documents over her desk. “We put everyone we could spare on it, and we've already got quite a bit of information. The biggest part is that they were all found early this morning tied up in the Jeffrey Lebowski—”

“Yes, we know that,” said Ashley impatiently. “That's where we found them; they were left there as a clue for us by Team Galactic.”

“Ah. OK, that's one mystery solved.” Rennet paused. “Could we go openly against Galactic, do you think? Mount a proper police inquiry and raid their premises?”

Ashley shook his head.

“You wouldn't come up with anything,” he replied. “There will be full deniability, I'm sure; if pressed, they'll throw all the blame on the grunts they have on the ground and say it was nothing to do with them – and I'm certain that they'll have ample evidence prepared to prove that that's true. No, if we want to catch the Galactics, we'll have to work beyond the law – which means I do it.”

“Right. Uh, the people. Well, the other thing about them is that they're all criminals.”

“I suspected something like that,” said Ashley. “Carry on.”

“Ernest Sargasso – the older man – he's a retired soldier. He served in the Sinnish contribution to the UN force in Korea during the war, and although it was never proved, it seems pretty likely that he committed a few war crimes – rapes, murders, that sort of thing. Once he got back he was pulled in for a series of petty thefts and vandalisms over the years – even one count of assault – but he was smart, and we never had anything to pin on him for certain. Then – well, do you remember the Branck case?”

We all did; it had been big news a couple of summers ago. A fifteen-year-old girl, Emilia Branck, had been murdered (and possibly raped, police had said) on a walking trip through the Celestic highlands, and her body hidden in a tall tree, where it remained unnoticed for months until one of the decaying wrists snapped and a hand fell onto a family picnic. The killer had never been found.

“He was the number one suspect when we started investigating that,” Rennet told us. “Everything pointed to him – but we just couldn't find any hard evidence, and we gave him up to investigate Chris Durrell. Though he didn't turn out to have done it, as you know.”

“Nice guy,” I commented. “Are they all like that?”

“No,” said Rennet. “Ann Richards is just an ordinary shoplifter. Not quite compulsive, but she's certainly at it a lot – thirteen convictions over the last five years. Mostly things from the World Bakery Store on Kammer Street – Linzertorte and stuff.”

“What's a Linzertorte?” asked Crasher.

“The Linzertorte, one of the oldest known recipes in Europe, if not the world, consists of a very short and crumbly pastry base topped with fruit preserves, most commonly redcurrant jam,” explained Ashley. “It is topped with a lattice of thin pastry strips and often eaten at—”

“It's like a big jam tart,” I told Crasher, seeing the look of confusion crystallising on his face.

“Ah,” he said. “OK. Go on.”

“That's about all we have on her as a criminal,” continued Rennet. “Richards doesn't seem to have much else against her; other than the shoplifting, she's an unremarkable citizen.”

“There's no such thing,” proclaimed Ashley. “What about Schultze?”

Rennet hesitated.

“I don't really know how to put this,” she admitted. “I've never come across anyone like him before.”

“Oh?” Ashley's eyes lit up. “Now, this sounds interesting. Do continue.”

“Frankly, he's insane,” said Rennet. “He thinks he's some sort of vampire or evil wizard or something – calls himself the Great Magyor. From what he's said and the journal he had on him, he's come to Pastoria to start building an army of the dead to destroy the living.”

“Fascinating. Have you tried contacting his parents?”

“We called his home address in Sunyshore, but there was no answer. Apparently he and his family are pretty reclusive – his parents more than him, since he's seen around Sunyshore a fair bit with some of the rougher Goths. He's been arrested a couple of times, too, for knife-fighting and drugs.”

Ashley nodded.

“You haven't let him go, have you?”

“No, we thought you might want to talk to him and we need to get him seen by a psychiatrist anyway, so he's still here,” said Rennet. “We had to let Sargasso and Richards go though, I'm afraid – we didn't have any grounds for holding them.”

“I know. Don't worry about it.”

Ashley fell silent and checked the time on his phone.

Did you want to speak to him?” asked Rennet.

“No, not right now,” said Ashley. “Thank you, Siobhan, you've been most informative. Keep looking into the lives of those three people – find out absolutely everything you can, no matter how irrelevant it may seem – and I'll be back later to hear it.”

He turned to me.

“Pearl, since you're liable to attempt to spy on me and otherwise be annoying if I don't invite you along, feel free to join me.”

With that, he opened the door, and probably would have walked out if I hadn't grabbed his arm and pulled him back.

“Wait! Ashley, where are you going?”

He sighed.

“I forget I hadn't told you,” he said. “Come on. We're going to the ice cream factory.”

---

Far to the north, further north even than Snowpoint, where the icebound forests give way to cliffs and the roaring ocean; where the skuas and the gannets shriek wild cries into the face of the wind and swoop screaming at the waves; where the occasional Sealeo hauls itself, worn out by the currents, to the stony scrap of beach at the base of the towering rockface – there, where there always seems to be a storm lashing at the deep in bleak, blind fury, and where authors get carried away on wild flights of Dickensian descriptive fantasy – there, a great ragged shape was silhouetted against the blank white sky, riding the blast like a spectral galleon at anchor.

Jupiter blinked.

“Is that what I think it is?”

“Yes,” confirmed Mars. “Yes, it is. Would you like to look through the binoculars?”

“Not really. It would be a bit disheartening.” He took them anyway, and peered out of the window of the jeep and across the empty space beyond the cliff. Yes, that was definitely what he thought it was, and it was definitely their target.

“What on earth is she doing, do you think?” he asked.

Mars shrugged.

“How am I supposed to know?” she replied. “She must do this often, or the boss wouldn't have told us to bring the Golbat.”

Jackson yawned in the back seat, and pressed one broad paw to the back of Mars' seat, an indication that he was now awake and desired food; she pushed it away, irritated.

“Not now. You eat too much as it is.”

Jackson's eyes flew open, and then immediately narrowed to thin slits. Eat too much? Him? That simply wasn't true. He wasn't fat at all. In fact, he was pretty damn svelte for a Purugly of his age...

He subsided into angry, rambling thoughts, and promptly forgot his hunger – which suited Mars fine.

“Anyway, I don't think we should fly out there and try and take her in the air,” she said. “It's too risky.”

“Agreed.” Jupiter looked out of the window again. “But when are we going to get a chance? We've been here for two hours now, and she hasn't stopped doing this. She must be frozen solid by now.”

“She'll come back to land sometime soon,” Mars said. “She can't stay out there all night, or she really will freeze solid. We'll get her, don't worry. We just have to wait.”

Just then, the shape bucked under the impact of a particularly strong gust of wind, then turned and soared away overhead, speeding south with an ancient, bone-chilling roar.

“Like that,” said Mars, and Jupiter gunned the engine. After several days of hunting and hours of waiting in freezing cold cars, it looked like the chase was finally on.

---

“OK, so are you going to explain this whole 'ice cream factory' thing to me or not?” I asked. “Because I don't see one around here, and I can't even begin to work out why we need to go to one.”

We were walking down a particularly Gothy-looking street, where the shops sold mainly black things with silver spikes on and silver things with black jewels on, and where virtually everyone in the crowd looked like they'd just come from the set of a Tim Burton film. This wasn't my world, and I felt ill at ease; from the looks I was getting, the people here didn't particularly appreciate being treated to a view of the latest in Sinnish fashion.

“We're making a stop to buy something on the way,” Ashley told me. “It's down here.”

“What are you buying? A goat's skull and some bat-shaped earrings?”

“Pearl, I can quite easily revert to treating you abysmally if you want me to.”

“OK, OK.” I sighed. “Why do you have to be so mysterious all the time?”

“He's an immortal shape-shifting detective,” pointed out Iago. “I think he probably has the right to be mysterious if he wants to.”

“Stay out of this,” I told him sharply. “You just make things worse.”

“Well, screw you too,” he said amiably, and startled whistling happily to himself.

“Come now,” said Ashley. “There's no need for such blatant hostilities. Let's keep our emotions under control, shall we?” I was about to deliver a cutting retort, but before I'd even got my mouth open he exclaimed, “Ah! We're here.”

I looked around, but saw no shops that looked like the sort that Ashley might ever consider entering.

“Are we?”

“Yes, we are,” he affirmed. “Give me your credit card, please.”

What?”

“Well, I have a limited allowance from the League and you have a considerably larger one from your father,” he explained with an air of infinite patience. “It makes sense for us to conserve my funds, doesn't it?”

“You mean I have to pay for everything? It makes sense for you, maybe.” I clamped my fingers down tightly on my bag. “You're not having it.”

Ashley smiled, turned and started to walk away.

“You probably ought to have done that a moment ago,” Iago told me.

“Done what?”

“Grabbed your bag.”

I looked down at it, but nothing seemed out of the ordinary; I looked up, and saw Ashley raise his hand to display one of my credit cards over his shoulder.

“What the—?” It took my mouth a minute to catch up with my brain, and then I cried: “Hey! Give that back!”

No sooner had the words left my mouth than he vanished into the crowd – and thanks to his long, dark coat, he blended in pretty well among the Goths. I searched fruitlessly for him for a moment, gave up and stamped my foot instead.

“Now that's what I call petulant,” observed Iago. “Foot-stamping and all. I suppose there's nothing like a spoilt rich girl for acting like a brat.”

“I'm perfectly justified in acting like this!” I cried. “He just stole my credit card!”

“He's borrowing it,” clarified the Kadabra. “I'm sure he'll give it back. And you know Ashley – he's got morals and all that, so he'll only take the money he needs from it. You won't get it back to find a hundred thousand dollars are missing or anything.”

“I'd better not,” I said darkly. “Look, that still doesn't excuse it—”

“See, if it was me,” Iago went on thoughtfully, completely ignoring me, “I'd steal everything that was on it and flee Sinnoh to pursue my lifelong dream.”

I waited, but it seemed that was all he was going to say.

“You're supposed to ask 'What's your lifelong dream, Iago?'” he said, slightly annoyed.

I sighed.

“What's your lifelong dream, Iago?”

“I'm going to retire to an island in the middle of the ocean,” he said. “Miles and miles away from any civilisation – a little craggy rock in the middle of nowhere. Then I'll build a big Gothic castle on the mountainous bit (there has to be a mountainous bit; it's important) and divert a river to run through it, travelling through a series of channels cut into the floor of the corridors. There'll be a grate at either end of the channels, so the barracuda don't swim out of the castle. Oh yeah – there are barracuda. That's what the channels are for. I'll put barracuda in them, and feed my political enemies to them. Of course, there's always the possibility that I won't have enough political enemies to keep my battery – that's the name for a group of barracuda – alive, so I'll have to set up a source of human flesh. I'll probably establish a little village in the forest on the island, and keep everyone inside trapped there by fear by having a genetically-engineered barracuda-bear patrol the woods. Actually, if that sort of technology is feasible by this point in time, I'll get a butler with a barracuda head. If it isn't, I'll make do with a regular butler and a trained Charizard. I'll also spy on the villagers, watch their culture and mythology evolve, and turn it into a hit soap opera.”

I stared at him.

“Jesus. You've really thought this through.”

“I know,” he replied, apparently without noticing my surprise. “Kadabra tend to do that, and I have quite a lot of time on my hands.”

“You also have a weird fascination with barracuda,” I pointed out.

“They're the most perfect fish in the ocean,” he replied. “I love them. They combine elegance and beauty with fearsome jaws, size and speed. What's not to like?”

“You are really weird.”

“Why is it that people always think I haven't noticed that?” He snorted. “Seriously, Pearl. Do you really think I could be a Kadabra who sounds like a Jamaican, used to be a world-class con artist and now lives under the protection of the Sinnish Pokémon League and not know that I'm weird?”

“OK, OK! There's no need to be so aggressive.”

“It's the best defence. Plus, I'm keeping you distracted and entertained while Ashley's away.”

“This is pretty far from entertaining—”

“Oh, no. Pearl's annoyed.” He clapped his hands to his cheeks and opened his mouth wide in mock horror. “Whatever will we do?”

I looked at him for a moment, considering whether punching a Kadabra would result in my arrest on combined charges of assault and assumed racial prejudice; eventually, I decided it would, but only if someone saw, and resolved to hit him the next time we were alone.

“I can't believe people as pointlessly nasty as you actually exist.”

Iago laughed, which produced a sound almost impossible to recognise as laughter and which caused passers-by to give us a wide berth.

“Stick around with Ashley and you will,” he said, with a sharp-toothed grin. “I guarantee it.” He looked up. “And speak of the devil, here he is now.”

I glanced down the street, but could see no one but the Goths; Ashley's hair was brown, which was fairly distinctive among all the black, but I couldn't find it anywhere.

“Where?” I asked. “I don't see him.”

“Right,” said a Goth, detaching himself from the crowd and coming to stand by us. “Here's your card back.”

I looked at him again, and froze, eyes wide in surprise.

Ashley?”

If I hadn't heard his voice, I probably never would have guessed it was him: in the few minutes he'd been gone, he had apparently dyed his hair, put on a hell of a lot of make-up, pierced his ears and completely changed his wardrobe for one with more of an emphasis on black, studs and skulls.

“You're a Goth,” I said, which was the first thing that came into my head and therefore sounded extremely stupid.

“Not really,” he replied. “It's a disguise.”

“You were fast,” commented Iago. “A new record, I think.”

I turned to him.

“He's done this before?”

“All the time,” said Ashley. “Cynthia likes it – and my continued liberty rests on keeping her happy. Haven't you noticed that she only wears black? She'd quite like to be a full-on Goth, I think, but it would be inappropriate for the Champion to be seen to be taking sides in the Goth/hipster war.”

“I wouldn't mind,” said Iago. “Let the Goths win, I say. They can't be as annoying as the hipsters. It's not humanly possible.”

Just in case this was some bizarre dream, I blinked hard – but when I opened my eyes, everything looked exactly the same as before. This was real all right; it just didn't seem to make any sense/

“OK,” I said slowly. “So you're disguised as a Goth. Am I allowed to ask why?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“Because of this visit to the ice cream factory,” answered Ashley. “I need to pretend to be The Great Magyor.”

“Who?”

“Nestor Schultze.”

“Who?”

“The mentally unstable Goth boy.”

“Oh, right. The psycho kid.”

“Yes, all right. The 'psycho kid'.” Ashley spread his arms. “What do you think? If you'd never seen his face, could you confuse us?”

“Definitely,” I replied, staring at him.

“You're sure? I modelled the style of Goth on what he was wearing when we saw him last night, but I couldn't get a Cradle of Filth T-shirt, so I was not certain I would pass—”

“Ashley? Seriously. You look fine. And by fine I think I mean scary.”

“Excellent. Here's your card back, and let's go.”

I replaced my credit card in my purse without even thinking about how much he might have spent, and trailed after him down the street, still vaguely shell-shocked.

“How did you have time to dye your hair black and pierce your ears?” I asked at length. “I can see how, if you knew exactly what you were getting, you could buy the stuff and change, but you didn't have time to do that much.”

“My hair colour is mutable,” Ashley replied in an offhand manner. “I would have thought our little adventure in the warehouse in Veilstone would have taught you that I have quite a sophisticated command of my body's shape and appearance, Pearl.”

“You can change it at will? Oh, God, I'm jealous.”

He smiled, amused – something that was made significantly creepier by the fact that his lips were now as black as Iago's heart.

“Yes, I thought you might say that. I imagine you change yours relatively often.”

I did, actually. Last month my hair had been green, which hadn't suited me as much but which had let me spy on someone from within a bush without being seen at one point with relative ease.

“As for my ears, every time I have them pierced they heal over within moments of having the needle withdrawn, so I just forced the spike of the earrings through the lobes,” he replied, in such a casual voice that you would never have known he was describing something unspeakably painful. “It aches a little, but it will stop once I take them out.”

I shook my head.

“Jesus. You're weird.”

“Actually, since you called me weird too, two out of three of us in this group are weird and therefore constitute the norm,” said Iago. “So you're weird, Pearl.”

“Shut up,” I replied.

“How eloquent,” he retorted snidely, but said no more; it seemed he'd vented his quota of spleen for today.

“Have we finished fighting?” asked Ashley. “Good. Taxi!”

---

In Hearthome, something was breaking the silence.

It roared around corners and thundered down streets, skidded across plazas and zoomed over zebra crossings, all with a heedless disregard for anything in its path; its tyres crunched on tarmac and squealed on concrete, and its passengers hung on for dear life.

Ellen was convalescing in a semi-solid pile on the back seat, and Pigzie Doodle was desperately trying to gather himself on the plate of his face; Bond, however, was sitting bolt upright, spectral knuckles white on the steering wheel, every ounce of his considerable stores of concentration bent upon one object: getting them and the car to the station intact.
For they did not drive alone that night. They had a pursuer, and she was possessed of the capability to hurl both beams of ice and ominous balls of shadow at them. And she was, Bond thought as he swerved around a statue, very unstinting with both.

He had been driving for fifteen minutes now, and he still hadn't found the station; the problem was, he had no idea where it was, and had just been heading in the same general direction that they had been travelling in before. Unfortunately for him, it seemed the Froslass knew the streets somewhat better than he did, and kept appearing unexpectedly at the side or in front of them, from which position she seemed to be a much better shot.

Another impact made the car rock on its wheels, and Bond raised an eyebrow a fraction of an inch.

“Dear me,” he murmured. “I fear this car will be quite unusable when we are done with it.”

You're telling me! cried Pigzie Doodle. For God's sake man, listen to me! Open up your – your inner ears or whatever and listen! Take a left here and then – no, I said a left – oh, sod it all, we're going to die.

Bond, wholly oblivious to the Duskull's pessimistic ramblings, turned left and came face to face with a sign proclaiming that Sinnish General Gas was examining a mains pipe up ahead, and would he please use another route—

Bond, unwavering, drove straight through the sign.

Uh, you do know what that sign meant, right? asked Pigzie Doodle nervously. There's going to be a big hole in the road. A really big hole, if it's a mains pipe. Jeeves, please tell me you're not driving into a big hole in the road—

Bond noticed a big hole in the road.

“Ah,” said he, noticing also that the speedometer told him they were travelling towards the big hole at seventy miles an hour. And “Ah,” said he again, noticing also that their Ghostly pursuer was gaining on them from behind. And “Ah,” said he a final time, noticing, as they drew near, the extreme depth of the hole.

There was no hesitation in Bond's eyes as he pressed his foot down still harder on the accelerator.

Oh no, breathed Pigzie Doodle. Oh no. Nonononono. Don't you even think about it—

Bond went one better than thinking about it: he did it. One of the car's front wheels passed over a sign resting at an angle, and the right half of the chassis followed it up and off the ground; at terrifying, giddying speed, the sinister black car flipped over sideways, flying through the air and descending, now upside-down, now sideways, towards the road on the other side—

—only to finish turning and land, with a spectacular impact that flung even Bond a little way from his seat, on all four wheels once again, having turned a full three hundred and sixty degrees in midair.

“I see,” said Bond thoughtfully, not allowing the car to slow even for a moment. “This motor-car must be designed for use in stunts.”

Holy cal!
screamed Pigzie Doodle, hysterical now. Are you serious? Are you actually sodding serious? Cars can't do that in real life! And then, his hysteria suddenly evaporating: But I suppose we're avoiding the Froslass now, which is... um, which is great. Uh, keep it up, Jeeves. Bond. Whatever your name really is. A thin tendril of darkness rose timidly up from the puddle of his body, bearing his eye on top. I... hey! We're really close to the station! Right here! Turn RIGHT!

By a happy coincidence, Bond did indeed turn right, just as twin Ice Beams shot through where its rear window had been a second before, and a moment later he brought the motor-car to an elegant, skidding halt next to the ticket office.

The man inside stared out at an apparently empty, completely ruined car, and said timidly:

“Hello?”

A moment later, the doors of the car sprung open, and something white swooped out of the sky with a fearsome screech; at this, the ticket man decided it would be best to close the booth, and lowered the steel shutters over the window, closing out whatever insanity lurked outside. He must, he thought, sitting trembling behind the counter, have been mad to have taken the night shift here. He'd heard the stories, just like everyone else – of Ghosts that came in the night, eager to drain the minds and souls of any human they met – but he'd thought they always happened to someone else, and now they were here, real and bursting into his life with screams and wrecked cars...

Leaving the ticket man to his private misery, Bond sprinted for the platform, Ellen over his shoulder and Pigzie Doodle cradled in the crook of one arm. It wasn't as elegant as he would have liked, but when one was running for the life of one's employer, he supposed that no half-decent butler could do anything else.

His eyes shot up towards the electronic display hanging from the roof, and the quick mind behind them instantly divined its purpose.

“There's a train leaving in one minute from Platform Two,” Bond read to himself. “How fortuitous.”

A shriek reminded him of their pursuer, and he jumped off the edge of the platform down onto the tracks, throwing Ellen and Pigzie Doodle up to the other side and climbing up himself. Millimetres from his coat-tails, a Shadow Ball exploded as it hit the rails; shards of wood and iron sprayed high into the air, but Bond ignored them and snatched up his burdens once again.

“This is Platform Two, is it?” he muttered, looking around in distaste. “Hm. I'm not entirely sure I approve.”

This was said in regard to the fact that Platform Two, like the rest of Hearthome's main railway station, was made mostly out of concrete – but there was no time for aesthetic critiques now, Bond knew, and he ran for the train—

—only for it to start moving, just as he came close enough to press the button for the doors.

Sprinting alongside the train faster than he had ever been able to in life, Bond threw first Ellen, then Pigzie Doodle aboard; he was about to leap for the door himself, but the edge of an Ice Beam clipped his left heel and he stumbled, almost falling. In that one moment, the train began to accelerate, and the door vanished into the night with alarming speed.

Bond raised both eyebrows. It was an extreme reaction, but the situation called for it.

Recovering his balance, he ran along the platform as if the hounds of hell were after him – and indeed, something almost as horrific was. Cheered by the sight of her prey flagging, the Froslass redoubled her efforts, and now Bond's view of the train was obscured by dark flashes and shining crystals. He had been about to leap, but could no longer see where he was jumping; wary of falling and forever losing the train, he pulled back at the last moment.

A quick glance ahead confirmed a suspicion of his. He was running out of platform. Bond switched his gaze back to the train, and it became apparent that things were even worse than that: the train was pulling away from him, and now he was level with only the last carriage.

Three yards to the end of the platform, and a Shadow Ball hit the carriage, making it rock on its tracks. Bond sped up still further, pushing his ectoplasm to the limit.

Two yards, and he was level with the lights on the back of the train. The Froslass crowed in triumph; she knew that now there was no way her prey was escaping her.

One yard, and the train was ahead of Bond now, further than his arms could reach.

The end of the platform—

—and Bond leaped out from the edge, grabbing wildly for something, anything at all to arrest his fall—

—and his left hand closed around some sort of pole, some metallic protuberance on the train's back, and he hauled himself clear of the tracks, up the side and onto the roof.

Bond turned, straightened his tie and watched the Froslass shrinking into the night, her screams of fury fading with the increasing distance. He bowed as best as he could while clinging to a roof (after all, that was merely common courtesy) and then inched his way along the train, pressed flat to the steel to shield himself from the wind, until he reached the open door, where he slid down and into the carriage.

He sighed with satisfaction, shut the door and carried Ellen and Pigzie Doodle to the nearest empty seats – which were very near indeed, as the carriage was wholly unoccupied. A moment later, Ellen, who was looking more solid and human-shaped, blinked uncertainly and sat up.

“What happened?” she asked, looking around. “Oh! We got to the station. Did – how did we escape?”

Bond's shoulders moved in an almost imperceptible shrug.

“I simply drove us here, madam. Nothing out of the ordinary.”

“Oh. Good.”

And the train rattled on into the night, bearing its passengers westwards – and out of Hearthome.
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  #72    
Old April 27th, 2012, 08:20 AM
Silent Memento's Avatar
Silent Memento
Memories are forever...
 
Join Date: May 2011
Location: St. Louis, Missouri
Age: 23
Gender: Male
Nature: Timid
Wow. Bond is a total badass. Who else can resist the charm of an immortal Froslass, escape, and finally evade her by making a car do a 360 degree flip over a chasm? Oh, and then modestly play it off like it was nothing special? He has that "it" factor that Puck has, except in a totally different manner. What an awesome character.

I have a question about the Mars section: was Jupiter supposed to be with her? I thought she was still recovering from her...encounter with Ashley. I believe that it was Saturn who was supposed to be with Mars; that's why you used the word "he" instead of "she" multiple times.

I'm very interested in seeing the Goth character that Ashley's going to interrogate. I just wonder if he's as crazy as mine...

Anyway, I'm sorry for not getting back to this story immediately; my life is as hectic as it's ever been. I just hope that this review helps in some way.

Sincerely,

Mem.
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  #73    
Old April 29th, 2012, 02:50 AM
Cutlerine
Gone. May or may not return.
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
Age: 21
Gender:
Nature: Impish
Quote:
Originally Posted by Silent Memento View Post
Wow. Bond is a total badass. Who else can resist the charm of an immortal Froslass, escape, and finally evade her by making a car do a 360 degree flip over a chasm? Oh, and then modestly play it off like it was nothing special? He has that "it" factor that Puck has, except in a totally different manner. What an awesome character.

I have a question about the Mars section: was Jupiter supposed to be with her? I thought she was still recovering from her...encounter with Ashley. I believe that it was Saturn who was supposed to be with Mars; that's why you used the word "he" instead of "she" multiple times.

I'm very interested in seeing the Goth character that Ashley's going to interrogate. I just wonder if he's as crazy as mine...

Anyway, I'm sorry for not getting back to this story immediately; my life is as hectic as it's ever been. I just hope that this review helps in some way.

Sincerely,

Mem.
Oh, good, you liked it; I was a little afraid I might have gone over the top with Bond a bit. Then again, I go over the top all the time, so perhaps I shouldn't be surprised.

And yeah. It is meant to be Saturn. It's just that since the whole story converted itself into 1,761,792 hash symbols rather than text, I've had some difficulty remembering what happened in previous chapters.

As ever, thanks for reading. With important exams now only a month away, chapters will slow to an almost nonexistent trickle, but rest assured that they will come. Eventually.

F.A.B.
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  #74    
Old May 4th, 2012, 06:47 PM
c1234321's Avatar
c1234321
 
Join Date: Apr 2011
Gender: Male
First, please let me say that i absolutely love everything about this story. Everything. It captivated literally from the very first chapter. However, I cannot claim to have been a faithful follower of this story, as I began reading it....like yesterday. Still brilliant job so far. Cant wait to see how it ends. Now, like the others who have replied here, I wish to provide my own conspiracy theory. Mine is about Stephanie. I think she is being vastly overlooked, mainly because she is a minor character. Still, I think she is going to be important, and I feel like she is hiding something about her intellect from Pearl. Maybe this is just me reading into things too much, but I think that, based on the fact that she earlier seemed to know exactly what Pearl was thinking, in regards to the essay, and that just seemed vastly suspicious to me. I have been seeing a sort of Ashley-esque intelligence in her. Still, this might just be me reading into things too much. Still, fantastic story.
  #75    
Old May 13th, 2012, 04:05 AM
Cutlerine
Gone. May or may not return.
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
Age: 21
Gender:
Nature: Impish
Quote:
Originally Posted by c1234321 View Post
First, please let me say that i absolutely love everything about this story. Everything. It captivated literally from the very first chapter. However, I cannot claim to have been a faithful follower of this story, as I began reading it....like yesterday. Still brilliant job so far. Cant wait to see how it ends. Now, like the others who have replied here, I wish to provide my own conspiracy theory. Mine is about Stephanie. I think she is being vastly overlooked, mainly because she is a minor character. Still, I think she is going to be important, and I feel like she is hiding something about her intellect from Pearl. Maybe this is just me reading into things too much, but I think that, based on the fact that she earlier seemed to know exactly what Pearl was thinking, in regards to the essay, and that just seemed vastly suspicious to me. I have been seeing a sort of Ashley-esque intelligence in her. Still, this might just be me reading into things too much. Still, fantastic story.
Ah, new blood. Welcome! I hope you enjoy the story, and that its ending lives up to your expectations. As for your conspiracy theories, I can neither confirm nor deny them. However, this new chapter ought to give you plenty of food for thought; it's pretty weird.

F.A.B.
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