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Old September 16th, 2012, 01:10 PM
Cutlerine
Gone. May or may not return.
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
Age: 20
Gender:
Nature: Impish
Ave, all! It is I, Leclerc the Cutlerine! And, returning to my habitual silliness because I'm terminally silly and can no longer deny it, I bring you all another offering of words and points, an unlikely collocation of letters, the fifth of my adaptations of the main series games and another story that I rate 15 for swearing and potential darkness:

Crack'd
or
How the Love of Seafood Saved Unova



Chapter One: Shopping with the Reaper

When I found an Unovan wildcat sitting by the bins outside the Rochehilde Centre, I wasn't particularly surprised. Black City had been built abruptly right in the middle of the Grimveldt Forest, and the local wildlife had quickly discovered that trash was a lot easier to come by than prey. Consequently, there must have been hundreds of wildcats all over the city, seeking out scraps of meat wherever they could find them – I saw them every day, sleek ripples of black and grey, a little larger than normal cats and much, much fiercer. They were nothing special, and like I said, I wasn't surprised to see one.

But I was surprised when it started talking.

“Hi,” said the wildcat, springing fluidly to its feet and pacing over to me. “Do you have a minute?”

I stopped. I stared. I gaped.

“Thanks,” the cat went on. “Um, quick question: do you know anything about people transforming randomly into cats?”

“You're a talking cat,” I said.

“Uh, yeah,” agreed the cat. “That's good. Stay with me. You're doing better than the last man I talked to – he ran away.”

“A talking cat.”

“Uh huh. We've established that. Do you know why I might be a talking cat? I mean, I'm sure I wasn't a cat before I fell unconscious, but I don't remember what I actually was. In fact, I don't remember very much at all from before this morning.”

“A talking cat.”

“Oh, you're one of those ones,” sighed the cat, arching its – or rather her, since its voice was unmistakably female – back. “So boring and close-minded. You see one talking cat and you go mental.” She turned and started to stalk back over to the bins. “Never mind. I'll wait for the next guy.”

I watched her for a moment, then blinked hard. Nope. Still there.

And yet she couldn't be real. There was no such thing as a talking wildcat.

“OK,” I muttered, walking on by. “You're just going a little bit crazy, Jared. Nothing to worry about. Just keep walking and hope for the best.

“Hey!”

I didn't stop. I didn't want to acknowledge the existence of the person talking.

“Hey, I'm real, just so you know! At least as real as you are!”

“I can't hear you,” I muttered, and thought hard about the weather, trying to crush strangeness with banality. The street was deserted; no one wanted to be out and about on a day like this, when the clouds glowered darkly overhead and the wind cut through you like an icy knife. Right now it wasn't raining, but I was willing to bet it was only a lull between two showers—

“Maybe even more real than you!”

I stopped and ground my teeth.

“Leave me alone!” I snapped, without turning around. “You said you'd wait for someone else!”

“There isn't anyone else,” replied the cat pragmatically. “And I'm cold and I want to use your house to sleep in.”

At this juncture, I felt it prudent to plead with the gods. It wasn't that I believed in them, more that I was getting increasingly desperate for a way out of this insanity to present itself.

“Please,” I begged the sky, “please end this madness!”

“Madness? You ain't seen nothin' yet. Let me come with you and we'll talk!”

I reached for my earphones, stuck them firmly in my ears and turned the volume on my iPod all the way up. I was not going to listen to a talking cat. I had a mammoth task ahead of me and not much time to do it, and there was no way that I was going to let some damn hallucination distract me.

I stalked down the road, blocking out all noise but the music; I didn't know if the cat was still following me, but I sincerely hoped it wasn't.
Something sharp pricked my calf, and I looked down, yelping in pain.

The wildcat looked back. It did say something, but it was lost in the blare of the music. Shaking the cat off, I continued on my way. There was only an hour and a half until Regenschein's closed, and it was still twenty minutes away.

So the walk continued: me steadfastly ignoring her; she keeping up with equal determination. It started raining again, and I thought she might leave to seek shelter – but no. She stayed, the rain matting her fur and plastering it across her body, turning her into the very image of abandonment and sadness.

I stopped at the corner of the next street, beneath a shopfront canopy, and sighed. Taking out my earphones, I asked:

“Are you trying to look as pathetic as possible to gain my sympathy?”

“That was the idea, yeah. Is it working?”

“No,” I said shortly. “It isn't.”

I shoved my earphones back in, and kept walking. I mean, the very fact that the wildcat was trying such a trick was proof of its untrustworthy nature, and living in the city you tend to suspect the worst of strangers – especially if they're talking cats, and possibly hallucinations to boot.

Actually, I wasn't so sure about that last bit now. She was getting drenched and leaving pawprints on the wet pavement, and unless my imagination was paying incredible attention to detail, that was probably a sign that she was in some way real. But I wasn't ready to accept that yet; after all, she was a talking cat. That's not exactly the sort of thing that's... well, that's possible.

As I drew nearer to Regenschein's, I saw a few more people on the streets; some limped or held arms at odd angles, and those I knew were the ones on their way back. I scanned their bags carefully: bulky, most of them – they’d managed to get stuff then. Others weren't so lucky – they were just as battered, but had come away empty-handed. It was going to be a bleak day for them tomorrow.

There were a few people on their way there, too, and that was about it: the day before Eostre was traditionally a holiday, and only those who needed to went out today. Even Black City stopped for Eostre, despite it all; everyone liked an excuse to shelter from the harsh weather and get drunk by the fire. It was a timeless joy that transcended even the rapid modernisation of the last century.

Then at last the great marble façade appeared, complete with an elegant tower that bore its own clock: Regenschein's, Black City's premier department store, and the last place to sell out in the Eostre present shopping frenzy owing to its vast quantity of stock and high prices. Here came the desperate folk who had left it too late to buy presents elsewhere, those who suddenly remembered a person they'd forgotten to buy for before, the people who, in spite of all the warnings that places were selling out, continued to blithely tell themselves that they'd be able to get something nearer the time – in short, people like me, Jared Black, who were universally regarded as terminally disorganised.

“Ooh, you're going shopping?” asked the cat as I pulled out my earphones and wound them around my iPod. “I love that sh*t! Can I come with you?”

I started. A talking cat was one thing – a swearing talking cat was quite another. It gave her a kind of earthy reality, a concrete solidity, that placed her firmly in the real world. Only that, of course, wasn't possible.

“No,” I said at last. “I don't think they let cats inside.”

“Huh. That's pretty racist of them.”

“No, it's just that it's a classy place.”

“That's pretty racist of you.” The cat twitched her nose. “What're you buying, then?”

“Presents. Now go and bother someone else – look, there're loads of people around here.”

There were as well. I was getting a bit worried that someone would see me talking to a cat and decide I was a lunatic.

“Oh no. I've decided on you now, and you don't get a say in it. I'm a very determined girl.”

“You're not a girl. You're a cat.”

“Well. I was a girl. Before I was a cat. I think.” The wildcat paused. “I could've been a boy that both changed species and sex, I guess, but that'd be weird.”

I did not dignify that with an answer. A talking cat was already pretty bloody weird, thank you very much, and I saw no reason to waste my breath pointing it out.

“I'm going to wait here, if I can't come in,” said the cat, sitting down in the shelter of a doorway. “See you when you get back!”

“Not if I can help it,” I muttered under my breath. I'd leave from one of the other entrances, and go home and away from this madness as quickly as possible.

I narrowed my eyes, thrust my iPod deep into my pocket, where it probably wouldn't break, and tightened my grip on the metal pipe I'd brought with me. Five years of shopping for gifts far too late had taught me a thing or two about late buying tactics.

Regenschein's was ordinarily an elegant place, Black City's Harrods; it rose like a slim pillar of pale ice from the surrounding area, setting itself apart with a small, tasteful sign that gave its name, and with the burly doorman who scowled at those who looked poor when they went in, and smiled at those who looked rich.

Now, though, it was a war zone.

I'm not normally a violent guy – and neither are any of the other people who shop at Regenschein's the day before Eostre. But when you're in a situation like that, you have to do whatever you can to survive. The usual rules of human decency went out of the window at times like this; there was an unspoken agreement that no one was to blame for what went on during the brawl, and that the police were never to be involved.

I passed the doorman, who had donned his riot helmet and shield for the occasion; he nodded at the length of pipe I was carrying and said:

“You might want something a bit more threatening than that.”

“Bad year?” I asked.

He sucked in a long breath through his teeth.

“Worst I've seen for a while.”

“I was here in '08.”

The 2008 Eostre sale at Regenschein's had been the bloodiest in recent history; it had been a miracle that the store had been repairable, let alone that I'd managed to escape unscathed. The doorman, suitably impressed, said no more, and opened the doors for me. Immediately, a shoe that may or may not have still had a foot in it sailed out, heading directly for my head, and he blocked it expertly with his riot shield.

“Careful in there,” he said grimly, and after exchanging with me the nod of old soldiers, he shut the door after me.

As soon as I entered, I was sucked into a massive storm of sound and fury; knowing that it signified nothing, I didn't allow myself to be distracted by it, and instead took in my immediate surroundings at a glance. Someone fell over heavily right behind me, and a display case toppled over a little way ahead; immediately, it was covered with scavenging shoppers, like piranhas converging on a corpse in the water. To my left, two old ladies were duelling with walking sticks over a silver candelabrum; to my right, a man hung from a light fixture, desperately clutching his hard-won remote-controlled aeroplane as competitors leaped and swung at his heels. All around them were more fights, and around them were even more, and around them were still more; without stopping to think about the danger of everything, I plunged straight into the fray and headed towards the main display rooms.

Mum, Harlow, Cordelia, Anastasia, I thought, deflecting the first blow – a porcelain table-lamp swung by a middle-aged woman – with the haft of the pipe. Four people, four presents. Go! The lamp shattered, and the woman, vaguely surprised, followed it up with a baseball bat; I had experience of people who used these, and, knowing that she had no room to swing it properly, ducked under it and rammed her aside with the side of the pipe. She disappeared into the crowd with a despairing wail, and I forced my way past a man defending a ten-kilo sack of pet food to get to the fallen display-case.

Unfortunately, there was nothing left on it except a china shepherdess of such exquisite ugliness that even now no one wanted it, so I jumped over the wreckage and headed for the lifts. The fifth floor would have toys, if any were still left – so maybe I could find something there for Harlow.

The twenty feet to the lift was a difficult journey; at least three people lunged for me through the hubbub, thinking that maybe I had something on me. I beat two of them back with the pipe, and the last one, seeing that I had no items yet, gibbered at me like a savage in an old movie before retreating into the mob.

There was one final knot of four people at the lift doors, each intent on getting in as soon as it arrived; knowing what was to happen, I stepped back as the doors opened, and watched as about nine people flooded out, sweeping my four competitors away with them. Somewhat smugly, I slid alone into the lift and slammed my hand down on the button to close the doors. Someone darted in after me, and then suddenly the noise and confusion was cut off and replaced with mild music as the lift began to rise.

I leaned back against the wall, breathing heavily, and looked left at the other person who'd got in. He was tall and gaunt, and his clothes ripped and bloody in places; he looked like he'd been living rough in the jungle for about five years. The way he leaned on the handrail suggested that something had happened to his leg – but he was clutching a 1000-piece jigsaw victoriously to his chest. Those were a favourite of the elderly – he was lucky to have got away with both it and his life. Most people would only have managed one or the other.

“Been here half an hour,” he wheezed, seeing me looking. “Like a madhouse here, it really is.” His breath came in ragged gasps; if it hadn't been for the fact that he was wearing a suit, however rumpled it might be, I might have mistaken him for a soldier halfway through dying on the battlefield. “It's killing me.”

“You did well to get a jigsaw,” I observed. “The elderly usually grab those.”

“Don't I know it,” he replied, wiping a curious mixture of blood and sweat from his eyes. “Let me tell you, a Zimmer frame makes a surprisingly effective close-quarters weapon.” He paused. “Going to the toy floor?”

“Yeah, I need something for my little brother.”

“I'm going there too, for my niece.” He looked at me. “Alliance?”

I agreed; two people stood a far better chance of surviving the chaos than one alone, and of getting hold of what they wanted. We shook on it, just as the lift pinged to a halt, and the doors slid open.

Immediately, we both leaped into action; I went first, knocking two warring parents out of the way so my injured compatriot could get past.

“Over there!” he cried, pointing. “Lego!”

I looked, and saw them too: two or three large, flat boxes on a shelf three aisles away. It was a miracle no one had taken them already – Lego was about as popular an Eostre gift as you could find – and so we threw ourselves towards them at once, driving like icebreakers through a sea of bodies. Someone punched me in the eye; another trod heavily on my foot. A third person made a grab at the thin man's jigsaw, but I fended her off with the end of the pipe and sent her crashing through a fight over a cuddly Blitzle.

I flung myself through a gap, and hauled my friend after me; now, there were just a couple of people between us and the Lego...

WHAM!

I reeled back a step, head spinning; out of the corner of my eye, I saw something blurry heading straight for my face, and ducked instinctively. I heard someone squeal and saw my attacker overbalance and tumble over me; recovering my senses, I jumped back up just in time to see the aggressor was a little grey-haired lady who was even now in the process of stuffing the bricks back into her handbag.

As soon as she saw I was moving again, she took another swing at me. Desperately trying not to kill her – she was quite old and looked a bit fragile – I prodded her gently with the pole. This proved to be a mistake: the brick-bag connected squarely with my chest and, if the arm whirling it had been twenty years younger, I'd probably have snapped a rib. As it was, it just hurt. A lot.

I fell to the floor, winded, and looked up to see the old lady readying herself for the final blow—

—only for the thin man to tackle her, catching her full in the side and throwing her back into the crowd.

“Get up!” he cried. “Come on!”

“Yuh,” I gasped in response, and struggled upright. We had just got moving again when the old lady, with a bruise on her forehead and fire in her eyes, sprang up before us and whacked me with her bag again.

I saw it first!” she screeched, her voice resounding like the cry of some avenging harpy. From nowhere, a group of elderly people materialised around her, each brandishing their own weapons and looking as if they were about to murder us.

Move!” yelled the thin man, shoving me past. The next thing I knew, I'd turned and saw him at the centre of a ring of old folks, their eyes all fixed hungrily on his jigsaw.

“Come on!” I cried back. “Push on!”

One of the old people lashed out at him with a walking stick; he ducked it, put the jigsaw inside his coat and drew out what appeared to be a rapier from his pocket.

“Go on without me!” he replied, parrying a second blow and slashing at an old woman's snatching hand. “I'll keep them busy!”

“But your niece—!”

“She has parents – they can buy her presents.” His blade was a blur, flickering from point to point around the circle as the encircling elderly attacked. “Go!”

“But—”

“Go!”

He turned to look at me, and it was that momentary lapse of concentration that was his undoing. Someone released a Jack-in-the-box from a shelf into his hand; the Jack's pointy hat jabbed his thumb and he dropped his sword with a yelp. A moment later, he was just a face between the clawing hands of the old people, screaming wildly; a few seconds later, he had vanished entirely in a swell of cardigans and wrinkled skin.

No!”

I lashed out at the nearest old person with my pipe, but I was shoved aside; I was no match for five of them at once. There was nothing more I could do, and if I stood still I would be crushed – so I left the thin man and ran for the Lego.

As I got close, I noticed a man on his hands and knees, searching for something on the bottom shelf; I stepped onto his back and jumped off without breaking stride, crashing into the top of the shelves where the Lego was and snatching up the boxes mid-leap. Toys, pieces of wood and one teenager with an armful of Lego rained down on the unfortunates on the other side of the shelf; thankfully, I landed on a fat man's belly, bounced off and kept running. One woman watched me open-mouthed, and shouted in a high, keening wail:

“He's got Lego!”

Immediately, every eye locked onto me; I swore under my breath and shoulder-barged another shelf, knocking it over and clearing a path for the next five yards. Then it was back into the fray, only this time everyone was focusing their efforts specifically against me. I gave as good as I got, and when I decided I could take no more I started throwing Lego sets behind me. Each one would distract my pursuers for just long enough for me to get another foot ahead, and soon I could see the little brown door that meant salvation; I fought as close to it as I could, dumped all but one of the Lego sets and flung myself through just as the entire crowd piled onto the heap of Danish construction toys, crushing them entirely. If I'd been caught up in it, I would almost certainly have broken something, or possibly everything.

Here on the other side of the door, though, all was quiet. The shelves were perfectly straight and ordered; there were a few people wandering around and browsing, apparently completely unaware of the chaos reigning outside. This was the book department, and since very few people read books in Black City, very few people gave them as Eostre gifts – hence the calm and peace.

I leaned against the wall for a few moments, breathing hard and trying not to think about what fate might have befallen the thin man, and then set off in search of Cordelia's present.

“What did she want?” I muttered, settling the pipe in a comfortable position over one shoulder and tucking the Lego set more securely under my arm. “Time something?”

I looked up and down the fiction aisles, hoping to jog my memory; I found nothing, so repeated it, and then saw something that I recognised as being one of the books Cordelia had said she'd like for Eostre.

My Trip to the End of Time, by Pearl Gideon,” I read from the cover. “Non-fiction? I thought she didn't read that stuff.” It didn't matter; I had two out of four presents, and I headed towards the back stairs, thinking things over. Dad's present was a collective gift from the family, so I only had Mum and Anastasia to provide for now. One of those would be easily placated with a photograph album or a nice picture frame or something – anything vaguely tasteful, really. The other would be harder to please; I knew exactly what she wanted, and it was going to be almost impossible to get.

I hacked and bashed my way downstairs to the third floor, where I stalked and hunted a man in his thirties who I'd seen picking up some scented candles; I ran him to ground in the luxury soft furnishings aisle, wrapped him tightly in an exotic rug and ran off with the candles while he was struggling to get free. On the way, I saw an abandoned shopping basket, and availed myself of it; my hands were getting full, and it was becoming trickier and trickier to effectively wield the pipe.

The next and final stop was the sixth floor, and the prospect of going there made even me, the hardened last-minute shopper, stop and shudder. If all I had been through so far today was a battle, then what lay up there was the apocalypse; the people up there were more fiercely dedicated to what they had come to seek than any others. Their fight began weeks before any others, and ended long after they did. For the sixth floor was where the video games were sold, and so it was where the hardcore gamers congregated, exchanging for a short while Xbox controllers for knives, and computer mice for makeshift maces. In short, I really didn't want to go there – but I had to get Anastasia what she wanted, and so I had no choice.

The stairs leading up there were ominously deserted; from above, I heard a sudden burst of machine-gun fire. I gulped. This wasn't going to be a pretty sight.

I paused at the top of the stairs and peered around the corner. Hell stared back at me: hundreds and hundreds of people, fighting with more fury and less honour than I'd ever seen human beings display before. In the corner, I could see a sort of fortress of broken TVs and games consoles; all around it were nooses of looped extension cable – evidently traps of some kind, because some people were dangling from them by their legs, thrashing and cursing, while others stole their hard-won electronics. This was a whole different situation to the fight downstairs. Those were brawls – this was all-out war.

“OK,” I told myself, trying to stop myself hyperventilating. “It's not so bad.”

At this point, I saw someone drop silently from the ceiling onto the back of someone picking up a dropped game; they bore them away through a trapdoor and vanished from sight.

“OK, it is that bad,” I admitted. “But it won't be too hard. Just one game, yeah? One game... that every other gamer in Black City wants to get their hands on.” I drew in a deep breath, told myself that I would be richly rewarded for doing this, and, filled with a sort of mad desperation, stepped out into the room.

Almost immediately, people began to notice me: who was I? I didn't look like a gamer. What was I doing here?

“Annie, you had better be really f*cking grateful for this,” I muttered, as a group of wild-eyed guys waving razor blades around began to walk towards me.

“What,” began one, bringing his razor rather too close to my face for comfort – but he never finished, owing to the pole I swung into his arm. His friends lunged for me instantly, but I swung the pole left – thwack – and right – crack – and they fell to either side of me like a pair of ragdolls. I rammed the first guy in the chest with my shoulder and knocked him down, then ran past them, heading for the PC section. I snatched my foot away from a trap, ducked a brace of DVDs that sailed overhead like razor discs, and rolled behind the cover of a nearby rack of WiiU controllers; not daring to stop, I jumped up again immediately and ran forwards just as a spear thudded into the floor where I'd been a moment before.

“Jesus!” I cried, glimpsing it out of the corner of my eye. “Who the hell has f*cking spears?”

“You shall not pass!” screamed a nerd who popped up in front of me; I batted him aside and he crashed through a veil of gaming magazines.
“Is everyone here going to make stupid references like – sh*t!”

Another spear passed through the rack of controllers and vanished, right next to my head; I doubled my pace, rounded a corner and cut down the pepper-spray-wielding girl who tried to ambush me there. For a moment, I thought I'd hit Anastasia – but thankfully, it was some random stranger, and I leaped over her as she fell without a second thought.

“Spears!” I yelled again, as another pair of them shot out from behind a rack of Blu-rays and passed either side of me. “Again with the spears!” I ducked under the one in front of me and straightened up to see the counter at the end of the aisle, the clerk protected by toughened glass. He was the one I was after; video games weren't actually kept on display, after all, only their cases. I'd get the game directly from him—

A tall man with bronzed limbs and a bare chest stepped out in front of me. His hair hung around his head like a white curtain, and on his back was a ridiculous quantity of spears.

“Turn back,” he told me.

“What the hell is this?” I asked, not unreasonably.

“If you go on, you will perish.”

I sighed. I guessed there never really was much hope that I'd reach the counter without encountering at least one supreme lunatic.

“Come on, then,” I said resignedly. “Give it—”

A spear hurtled towards my head at alarming speed, and I threw myself flat on my front to dodge it; in a trice, the man had another weapon in hand, and was about to pin me to the floor like a butterfly when I knocked his feet out from under him with a sweeping blow from the pipe. I might have stayed to make a pithy remark, but I wasn't willing to take the risk, so I scrambled to my feet, pushed a rack of PS3 games over onto him to make sure he stayed down, and headed for the counter.

“Hello,” said the clerk brightly. “What can I do for you?”

“Do you have any copies of Bjørn?” I asked.

“Sure,” he replied, and fed one through the slot in the glass. I paid, and left.

“That was easy,” I said to myself, and was immediately set upon by a seriously pissed-off spearman.

---

Two and a half hours later, there was a heap of untidily-wrapped presents under my bed and a load of tiny pieces of tape stuck under my fingernails and on the carpet; I slumped in my chair, exhausted, and flung the roll of tape at the wall. It bounced off and landed with a soft whumph on top of my duvet.

“Take that, presents,” I said. “Defeated for another year.”

The whole lot was done now: gifts, cards, labels – all wrapped, named and hidden from prying eyes. That was one of the advantages of buying them all so late; both of my siblings were adept at finding hidden presents if they had enough time. Harlow was the worst – you can't reason with an eight-year-old if they're stubborn enough, and he was – but Cordelia was pretty bad as well. I think it's because our parents called her Cordelia; if there's any name guaranteed to turn a girl weird, it's Cordelia. I'm ninety per cent sure that there hasn't been a normal Cordelia in the whole history of Western civilisation.

I closed my eyes and leaned back. My whole body ached; I was so bruised that I'd gone the same colour as a Smurf, and my arms and legs stung from a thousand cuts of all sizes from paper cut to sword wound.

“I am never doing that again,” I muttered. I'd said the same thing last year, so I didn't really believe myself – but it had to be said. Regenschein's on the day before Eostre was just too much for mere mortals such as I.

There came a cheeping noise from the shelf, and I opened one eye a crack.

“Oh, you're finally awake, are you?” I asked. “Took you long enough.”

Candy squawked at me and hopped down from the shelf to the bed to investigate the tape and see if it was killable. It wasn't, so she pushed it aside with her beak and turned to look at me.

“What do you want?”

She jumped onto my lap and stared deep into my eyes in that unnerving, unblinking way that only she could manage.

“Food? Didn't I feed you this morning?”

“Skeep,” she chirped, and I sighed.

Fine,” I said, patting my shoulder. “Up.”

Candy climbed up my sleeve and gnawed my ear affectionately; I winced and pushed her heavy beak away.

“I told you not to do that,” I said, getting up and opening the door. “It really, really hurts. Last time I had to have stitches, remember?”

She stared at me innocently. I knew she did remember – whatever my uncle said, she was damn clever – but she'd never let on unless it suited her.

I went downstairs and was just entering the kitchen when the phone rang; I put Candy down on the counter, where she engaged a stray fork in a duel to the death, and answered it.

“Hello?”

“Hiya!”

My blood ran cold. In all the confusion, I'd completely forgotten about her.

“How did you get this number?” I asked in a dry whisper.

“Oh, that's simple,” said the wildcat, laughing. “I stole your phone and searched your contacts.”

“You what?” My hand flew to my pocket, but it was empty; the phone really was gone.

“Call me paranoid, but I had a feeling you were going to try and ditch me.” There was a certain veiled menace in her voice, I thought; I had underestimated her, and I really hoped it didn't end with my throat clawed out. “So I thought I'd have a back-up plan.”

“What – what do you want?”

“Tell me where you live and I'll come and bring your phone back,” she said. “It's starting to get dark and I want to come indoors.”

“Can't we just meet somewhere and—”

“No. I won't give it back unless we meet at your house. And I'll know if it isn't, because your house will smell of you, and cats have a pretty good sense of smell. As I discovered earlier by falling into a dumpster.”

“Fine.” I gave her my address and she hung up. I leaned back against the wall, suddenly feeling even more exhausted than before. “God damn it,” I muttered. “Thieving little...”

There was a sudden squawk from my side, and I looked up to see that Candy had tripped over the fork and fallen over. Now she was grovelling before it and occasionally looking at me to see if I would come and convince it to spare its life.

“You're so damn defeatist,” I told her, taking the fork away and noting with regret that she had put it completely beyond use in the course of the fight. “Here, let's get you something to eat.”

I sighed, and started rummaging in the cupboard for a tin of dog food. It almost definitely wasn't what she would have eaten back when her kind weren't extinct, but it didn't seem to do her any harm – and given that she wouldn't eat anything else except the very largest insects and any confectionery she could get her claws on, it was pretty much all we fed her. If we gave her the choice, she'd probably live exclusively off chocolate and Skittles – hence her name.

I found a tin, opened it and set it on the counter for her. Then I closed my eyes and thought. I might have survived the battle at Regenschein's and got the presents, but I had a literal cat burglar to deal with now – and I had a feeling that things were about to get a whole lot worse.
__________________

For information about A Grand Day Out, a bizarre short story in video game form, click here.
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Old September 16th, 2012, 02:46 PM
Zayphora's Avatar
Zayphora
Don't mess with the lights...
 
Join Date: Apr 2012
Location: Somewhere beyond the Veil
Gender: Female
Nature: Sassy
AAAAAAAAAAAAAAWWWWWWWWWWEEEEEEEE
EEESSSSSSSSSSSOOOOOOOOOOOMMMMMMMMMEEEEEE


Any story that begins with a talking cat and an epic battle for holiday gifts, mixed in with LARP spear-wielding lunatics and some awesome continuity from your previous story is awesome. When it's Cuterline that's writing it? Epic. When the title is once again ridiculously lengthy? Epicer. When there is a possibility that a certain blue-haired doppelgänger will make an appearance? Even more epic. I AM EXPLODING WITH EPIC.

I have been stalking the fanfic section for the past few days, looking for this, and you haven't disappointed me. WILL BE ANXIOUSLY AWAITING THE NEXT CHAPTER.
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Last edited by Zayphora; November 5th, 2012 at 04:58 PM.
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  #3    
Old September 17th, 2012, 10:06 AM
Cutlerine
Gone. May or may not return.
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
Age: 20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Zayphora View Post
AAAAAAAAAAAAAAWWWWWWWWWWEEEEEEEEEEESSSSSSSSSSSOOOOOOOOOOOMMMMMMMMMEEEEEEE


Any story that begins with a talking cat and an epic battle for holiday gifts, mixed in with LARP spear-wielding lunatics and some awesome continuity from your previous story is awesome. When it's Cuterline that's writing it? Epic. When the title is once again ridiculously lengthy? Epicer. When there is a possibility that a certain blue-haired doppelgänger will make an appearance? Even more epic. I AM EXPLODING WITH EPIC.

I have been stalking the fanfic section for the past few days, looking for this, and you haven't disappointed me. WILL BE ANXIOUSLY AWAITING THE NEXT CHAPTER.
Yes, I tried to capture what I thought would happen in Black City, the beating heart of consumerism, when all the shops were almost sold out - and I'm glad to say that I think I succeeded.

As for our friendly neighbourhood talking wildcat... Well, there's more to her than meets the eye, as we'll see later.

Thanks for reading!

F.A.B.
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  #4    
Old September 18th, 2012, 04:29 PM
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c1234321
 
Join Date: Apr 2011
Gender: Male
Hello dear Cutlerine, it is I again! I already am in love with this story. Black's character is already fun and shows he has more skill than the majority of the people in the city in which he lives within the first chapter.

I would like to inquire about Black's pet, who I think is called Skittles? Is she just a regular bird brought to life by the same technology that brought fossil Pokemon back to life, or is she a fossil Pokemon? Either way I feel like I am really going to enjoy her presence throughout this story.

The talking cat is pretty funny. I like her. She's conniving, she's cunning, she's clever, and I'm running out of adjectives that start with c! But seriously she is pretty amazing. I can not wait to see more of her!

I have a feeling Black's family is going to be either normal in contrast to the rest of Black City or infinitely weirder. Just hunches. Actually, Im gonna say theyre just weird. Just the vibe I'm getting.

The intense battle scenes. Holy mother of Arceus. That was crazy! I mean yes you have alluded to the violence in the Pokemon world with the riots in Sinnoh and other examples but seriously? A legitimate bloodbath? Dang. How are the people in this world alive and out of prison? And why didnt the clerk care Black was nearly impaled with a spear?? Crazy stuff but fun and interesting to read nonetheless.

On a side note, nice self promotion at the bookstore, there. Speaking of which, sorry I did not comment on the ending of Time but...there was nothing I could have said after that which would not have cheapened the ending.

All in all, a brilliant beginning that is sure to provide a fantastically whimsical story overlaid with intensely dark moments, making for an overall amazing story. I look forward to the rest!
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Old September 19th, 2012, 01:03 PM
Cutlerine
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Join Date: Mar 2010
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Originally Posted by c1234321 View Post
Hello dear Cutlerine, it is I again! I already am in love with this story. Black's character is already fun and shows he has more skill than the majority of the people in the city in which he lives within the first chapter.

I would like to inquire about Black's pet, who I think is called Skittles? Is she just a regular bird brought to life by the same technology that brought fossil Pokemon back to life, or is she a fossil Pokemon? Either way I feel like I am really going to enjoy her presence throughout this story.
We'll find out more about Candy in Chapter Two, but yes, she's a fossil Pokémon, and yes, she's going to be providing comic relief in the style of Monsanto in Snow.

Quote:
Originally Posted by c1234321 View Post
The talking cat is pretty funny. I like her. She's conniving, she's cunning, she's clever, and I'm running out of adjectives that start with c! But seriously she is pretty amazing. I can not wait to see more of her!
Good, because you'll be seeing plenty of her over the next chapters. She's my primary supporting character.

Quote:
Originally Posted by c1234321 View Post
I have a feeling Black's family is going to be either normal in contrast to the rest of Black City or infinitely weirder. Just hunches. Actually, Im gonna say theyre just weird. Just the vibe I'm getting.

The intense battle scenes. Holy mother of Arceus. That was crazy! I mean yes you have alluded to the violence in the Pokemon world with the riots in Sinnoh and other examples but seriously? A legitimate bloodbath? Dang. How are the people in this world alive and out of prison? And why didnt the clerk care Black was nearly impaled with a spear?? Crazy stuff but fun and interesting to read nonetheless.
Well, the Pokémon world is just like ours - and in Pokémon Black, there's a lot of weird stuff going on. Have you talked to the people in the houses in Black City? I can totally see them doing stuff like this. In White, I think there's a little less, though saying any more will compromise my first major plot twist.

Quote:
Originally Posted by c1234321 View Post
On a side note, nice self promotion at the bookstore, there. Speaking of which, sorry I did not comment on the ending of Time but...there was nothing I could have said after that which would not have cheapened the ending.
Yeah, I can never resist doing that.

Quote:
Originally Posted by c1234321 View Post
All in all, a brilliant beginning that is sure to provide a fantastically whimsical story overlaid with intensely dark moments, making for an overall amazing story. I look forward to the rest!
Ah, good. That's my favourite kind of thing to write: whimsical, semi-realistic, and dark as that crow that broke up the battle.

Thanks for reading, and I hope I can live up to your expectations!

F.A.B.
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  #6    
Old September 19th, 2012, 01:42 PM
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Zayphora
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Join Date: Apr 2012
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CRAP. I think I just realized that this story isn't going to include what I thought it would, and is instead going to involve one or more of these things-

Spoiler:

a. The fact that there is a CAT in this leads me to believe that this is some sort of crossover from the real world

Or...
b. Bach's time machine in Opelucid, and the alternate universes involved in it.

And has NOTHING to do with what I originally thought it did.


*sadness*
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Old September 19th, 2012, 02:34 PM
Cutlerine
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Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Zayphora View Post
CRAP. I think I just realized that this story isn't going to include what I thought it would, and is instead going to involve one or more of these things-

Spoiler:

a. The fact that there is a CAT in this leads me to believe that this is some sort of crossover from the real world

Or...
b. Bach's time machine in Opelucid, and the alternate universes involved in it.

And has NOTHING to do with what I originally thought it did.


*sadness*
In my imagining of the Pokémon world, there are real animals as well as Pokémon - with just Pokémon alone, there aren't enough to keep a realistic ecosystem going. Besides, that raises the question of where humans come from. No, my Pokémon world is our world - only with some superpowered monsters and five island nations shoved in.

Basically, the cat isn't a crossover from any other kind of reality, and so keep hoping. You might get what you wish for - or something like it.

F.A.B.
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Old September 22nd, 2012, 02:48 PM
Cutlerine
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There is a certain Trainer in Pokémon Black and White who is named Jared, and who has an Archen. I didn't realise this until after I created Jared, but feel free to imagine they're the same person if you like.

Chapter Two: Magpies

“...And so, sir, in conclusion, we haven't found him or it yet,” finished the underling.

There was a pause, and it was not a pause in which nothing needed to be said; nor was it a pause in which he and the man he was talking to shared a companionable moment of peace. This was the kind of pause that happens the second before the clouds burst and the volcano explodes. This was the kind of pause that actively hunted down and killed noises that tried to break it.

In short, this was a very, very bad pause.

The underling waited. All sounds seemed to have ceased, strangled by the silence; he could no longer hear the cars outside, or the movement of feet in the halls. He couldn't even hear the sound of his own breath – though that might have been because he was holding it.

Then at last, at long, long last, his boss spoke.

“It's been forty-eight hours,” he said. “Don't you agree that in that amount of time he could have taken it anywhere at all?”

“He hasn't left the country,” said the underling in a voice that had more than a little of the mouse about it. “We are a trace—”

“In that case, you must find yourself asking yourself something,” the boss said softly, rising from behind his desk. His gaze remained on the window; he had not looked at the underling since he had entered the room. “That question being, of course, why have you not found him already if he is still in the country?”

His voice was quiet – calm, even – and yet it pierced the underling to the core, sliding deep into his breast and sinking icy claws into his heart.

“Zuh,” he replied, his larynx having apparently been replaced with a mango.

“You don't have long,” the boss continued, looking out of the window as if nothing much was happening. “You must find him and get that artefact back at once. Do you understand?”

The underling nodded furiously.

“Good. Now go on and get looking.”

The underling turned to go, legs turning to water in his relief – only to freeze as that calm voice called out:

“Oh, and Smythe?”

The underling turned, and saw that the boss was now looking right at him, his synthetic eye gleaming like blood in the sunlight.

“Failure will of course count as treachery to the Party,” he said lightly. “With all the attendant issues that implies.” He smiled warmly. “Now, hurry along. We'd all sleep easier with that artefact back in our hands, don't you think?”
“Y-yes, sir.”

The underling's voice was thin and weak; he sounded on the verge of collapse. He wasted no time in hurrying out of the room and away down the corridor, the memory of that voice, that eye, that horrible smile, resounding in his head like the echo of a thunderclap.

“Right,” he muttered to himself, watching his fingers shake. “I think I need a drink.”

---

Dun-ding!

The doorbell. Immediately, I sprang into action: Harlow was at his piano lesson, Mum was out at Granny's, and Dad was observing his Eostre's Eve ritual of getting hammered with his best friend Steve, but Cordelia was still here and I didn't want her answering the door. The talking cat was my problem and I was going to deal with it before anyone else found out and complicated matters.

“I've got it!” called Cordelia from the hall. Damn, I thought, I probably should have been answering the door instead of thinking back then.

“No!” I cried, lunging for the door – but it was too late. I burst into the hall to see her pull open the door and stare out at the apparently empty space beyond.

“Down here,” said the wildcat, and Cordelia's gaze travelled downwards.
There was a long, long pause.

“So, uh, is Jared in?” asked the cat.

Cordelia nodded mutely, and turned to look at me. I could see a fear that the laws of reality had suddenly collapsed burning in her eyes, and shrugged helplessly. It wasn't as if I had any answers.

“Hi,” said the cat, slipping past Cordelia. “It's me!”

“Yeah, I know. You're... hard to mistake.” I hesitated. “I, uh... I guess you learned my name from my phone?”

It wasn't the right question. I hadn't meant to say something so pointless; I'd meant to say something like, “Give me the phone and get the hell out of here.”

“Yeah,” replied the wildcat. “I also learned that Anastasia's going to kill you if you don't reply to her texts soon, but hey! Can't have everything. Oh, and that reminds me – my name's Halley.”

I didn't ask how that reminded her.

“Where's my phone?” I asked, not acknowledging the introduction.

“Somewhere safe,” said Halley elusively.

“You didn't bring it?”

“I thought you'd throw me out as soon as you got it back,” she explained. “So I thought I'd keep—”

“Jared!”

Halley and I jumped and turned to look at Cordelia, who had just slammed the door. Hard.

“OK,” she said, “will someone please tell me what's going on here?”

“Easy,” said Halley. “I woke up today in the woods to find I had amnesia and had turned into a cat. I came into the city looking for help, found Jared here and stole his phone so he'd let me into the house and give me a place to stay for the night. As well as,” she added, turning back to me, “a base of operations while I try and discover exactly what happened to me.”

“Wait, I didn't—”

“A talking cat?” asked Cordelia faintly.

“Yeah, Jared went through that stage earlier,” Halley told her. “You get over it pretty quickly. Anyway, Jared, you have no choice if you want your phone back.”

I grimaced, but she was right: I had no choice. My phone had cost not much less than £300, and I couldn't afford to lose it.

“Oh, fine,” I grumbled. “But stay out of sight, yeah? My mum hates cats, and I really don't want to have to explain to everyone why there's a talking cat in the house.”

Halley purred.

“Sure, I get it,” she said. “Stealthy as a f*cking ninja, that's me. I'm like – like Adam Jenson, that's how sneaky I am.”

“A talking swearing cat,” muttered Cordelia, and I could tell she was going down the same path of thought as I had earlier.

“Hang in there, Cords,” I said sympathetically. “You'll get there, just give it a moment.”

“Hey!” cried Halley. “You're ignoring me!”

“Shut up,” I replied. “My sister takes priority.”

“Is that who she is?” asked Halley. “That makes sense.” She paused. “Any other brothers or sisters I need to know about?”

“One. Harlow. He's eight, likes dinosaurs and isn't in right now.”

With a sudden burst of mental exertion, I drew together the disparate threads of the current situation in my head and tried to make some coherent sense out of them.

“OK,” I said, frowning. “Cords, she's not leaving until we help her. Any ideas?”

“Uh... yeah,” she answered, pulling herself together with a visible effort. “She's English.”

“That explains a lot,” I muttered, realising that Halley had indeed been speaking with a marked English accent all this time. “She's already taken over my life.”

In 1702, the English had conquered Unova, sparking a chain of progression that had led to our humble nation rising to become a global superpower after the Second World War; unaffected by the battles raging in Europe, and full of formerly British money, Unova had quietly asked to leave the Empire in 1945, and Britain hadn't been in any position to refuse. Now we were up there with America on the world stage – and unlike them, our power still wasn't waning. Judging by the ease with which Halley had conquered my home, she could've been a pretty effective vanguard for some kind of revenge attack.

Not that we had any problem with the English these days – in fact, we kind of liked them. We used their language, after all, and our pound was based on theirs; if we hadn't been annexed for the Empire, we'd still be a backwater island nation worshipping trees in the middle of nowhere.

“Oh,” said Halley, sitting down and scratching her head with a rear paw. “Wow. Really should've realised that one myself.”

“So... why were you in Unova?” asked Cordelia, beginning to get into the swing of things.

“I don't f*cking know, do I?” replied Halley irritably. “That's why I'm here – so you can help me find out.”

“You swear a lot—”

“You don't swear enough,” countered Halley pettily.

“Uh – shall we go in and sit down?” I suggested, both to avert the imminent cat fight and because I was acutely aware that if Mum, Dad or Harlow were to turn up now, I'd face the unenviable task of explaining why I was talking to a wildcat in the hallway.

“OK,” said Halley. “Lead the way.”

I did, and a moment later we were arranged on the sofas in the living-room – Halley, with the unerring instinct of a cat, had claimed the comfiest seat, and Cordelia and I sat opposite her, feeling like something had gone wrong with the seating process but uncertain what exactly it was.

“So,” I began, but was interrupted by a mournful cheep; I looked over the arm of the sofa and saw Candy stalking in, looking vaguely indignant at being left behind in the kitchen.

“Not now,” I told her. “Go and find something to bite.”

She wasn't having it: she'd seen Halley now, and I could tell by the gleam in her eyes that she was wondering if she might be edible. I wasn't going to distract her; it'd probably deflate Halley's ego a bit to have her tail bitten.

“That's not a normal bird,” she stated, catching sight of Candy. “Is that... is that a dinosaur?”

“Sort of,” I replied. “She's an Archen. Like an Archaeopteryx, but a Pokémon.”
“In that case, isn't she quite lively for something that's been dead a hundred and fifty million years?”

“My uncle works at the fossil research lab in Nacrene. They re-sequenced her from fossils, but they didn't have all the DNA so some of the gaps are filled in with eagle. It made her a bit... feisty, so they were going to destroy her – but my uncle kind of liked her, so he stole her and gave her to us to look after last year.” I sighed. “It seemed cool at the time, but she's actually quite annoying.”

Candy climbed up the side of the sofa, leaving a trail of ragged holes in the fabric, and hopped down to examine Halley more closely; sensing that something was up, the wildcat backed away, arching her back and fluffing her tail – but Candy was undeterred, and lunged clumsily for her nose.

Sh*t!” squealed Halley, and swatted her on the side of the head with one paw; immediately, Candy flung herself flat on her belly and hid her wings under her head. “Huh? I thought you said she was feisty?”

“She is,” I answered. “Until something hits her. Then she gives up and hides.”

“Right. I'm going to ignore that.” Halley turned back to me and Cordelia, and, taking advantage of her diverted attention, Candy scrambled over to me, climbed up my leg and sat in my lap. “So. Can either of you think of anything else that might help me?”

“Uh... no,” admitted Cordelia. “You really haven't given us much to go on.”

“Well—”

I heard the front door swing open, and without even pausing to think I stood up, sending Candy flying, grabbed Halley and sprinted for the stairs.

“Wow,” she muttered, dazed. “You have some serious reflexes there.”

“I shop the day before Eostre,” I replied, launching myself into my bedroom and dropping her on the desk chair. “I need them.”

“Yeah, I've been meaning to ask – what is this Eostre ****?”

“Jared?” called Mum's voice from the hall. “Cordelia?”

“Hello!” I called back. “I'm just – just finishing wrapping the presents!”

A moment later, I heard Cordelia say something, and I breathed a sigh of relief. She was safely distracted.

“What was that?” I asked Halley.

“What's Eostre?”

“Er – Easter,” I explained. “That's what you call it in England.”

“Oh yeah,” she said. “You're pagan here in Unova, aren't you?”

“Yeah. Our high priests are terrifying. They've been scaring people away from Christian missionaries for hundreds of years.”

A combination of geographical isolation and rabid druids had kept Unova pagan for longer than the historical record had existed; our ancestors had been Anglo-Saxons, and we'd been worshipping the ése ever since our country had been founded. We didn't really believe in faeries or dragons any more, true, but Woden, Thunor, Frige and the rest certainly resonated more with us than any One God ever had. Why have a single god for everything when you could have a whole pantheon of them? If nothing else, it allowed for more festivals – like Eostre, the feast-day of the goddess of the dawn.

By this point, you're probably wondering why I know so much about Unovan history and religion. The short answer is that I'm Unovan, and the long answer is that this stuff is drilled into our heads pretty comprehensively in school. I don't know whether there's some guilt about our former status as a British conquest, but people in Unova place a lot of importance on their heritage. I'm not that crazy about it myself – I mean, I live in Black City, where things that happened five minutes ago are generally considered ancient history – but I still know it. Everyone does.

“Look,” I continued, “just stay here until later, OK? I'll – I'll come back and talk when I can.”

“All right,” replied Halley, taking the command surprisingly well. “I could use a sleep anyway. Do you have anything to eat?”

I seriously considered throwing her out of the window for a moment, then remembered that cats can survive that and also that she was my only hope of getting my phone back.

“I'll see what I can do,” I told her through gritted teeth, and stalked out.

---

Eostre's Eve was never quite as good as Eostre itself, and this one in particular wasn't great: I spent the whole evening in a state of heightened tension, waiting and wondering if anyone was going to walk in and ask why I had a wildcat in my room. I could tell Cordelia was feeling the same way; like me, she started whenever anyone said anything that sounded even remotely like 'cat', and slipped away with me after dinner to get back to Halley and make sure she hadn't got up to anything disastrous.

Thankfully, she hadn't, and was asleep under my bed in a nest of spare wrapping paper.

“Stop it,” she mumbled when I poked her. “You can't hurt me, I'm dead...”

“What?”

“Huh?”

She blinked and opened her eyes.

“What the – oh yeah, I'm in your house.” She cast an eye over herself. “Also still a cat. Huh. So that wasn't a dream, then.”

“I wish it was,” I muttered. “We're just here to make sure you're all right.”

“Yeah, I'm fine,” replied Halley lazily. “Just... y'know, whenever you have an idea, come tell me.”

“That's why I came,” said Cordelia. “I was thinking – perhaps you should retrace your steps from yesterday. See if it triggers any memories.”

“It's worth a try,” agreed Halley. “OK. We'll go tomorrow.”

“Uh, tomorrow is Eostre,” I reminded her. “We're not going to be able to get away from the family. If you go tomorrow, you go on your own.”

Immediately, I wished I hadn't mentioned it. Nothing would have given me greater pleasure than sending her off on her own and out of my life – whereas now, she'd probably hang around all day tomorrow.

“Right. Well, I guess I can do that,” she said. “It's not like I need you to come or anything.”

“Yeah. Right,” I replied, relieved. “If you find something—”

“I'll let you know.”

“I was actually going to say that if you find something, you could bring my phone back,” I said, “but OK.”

“Whatever,” responded Halley, rolling over and curling up again. “See you tomorrow, then.”

A moment later her breathing slowed, and I realised she'd fallen asleep – just like that, as if there was some switch in her skull she could flick to change between consciousness and unconsciousness at will. It was probably a cat thing.

I looked at Cordelia.

“It's not just me, is it? She is really weird?”

“Yeah,” she agreed. “She is.”

I sighed.

“I suppose I should be grateful that she's asleep and not terrorising everyone in the house,” I said. “Still... I wish she'd be slightly more helpful.”

“Maybe she can't be,” suggested Cordelia. “If she doesn't remember anything.”

“And what, she's covering it up by being a b*tch? Yeah, that really makes sense.”

“It does, actually,” Cordelia said, raising a disapproving eyebrow as I swore. “It fits her personality.”

I gave her a hard look.

“Stop being clever,” I told her, and went back downstairs before anyone realised Cordelia and I were getting along unnaturally well.

---

Tick.

---

Eostre dawned, as ever, in a blaze of glory; it was as if Eostre herself had descended to Middangeard and set the skies afire to usher in her festival. Gone were the rain and wind of the last few months; Eostre stood for the dawn, and on her feast-day it was more spectacular than ever, a burning hole in a freezing sheet of azure.

I stretched luxuriantly and lay in bed for a moment, feeling the sunlight on my closed eyelids, and smelled the scent of wet leaves and fresh air that wafted in through the window.

“OK,” said Halley, sounding very scared indeed, “what the f*ck is going on?”

I opened my eyes and looked down at her, sitting bolt upright at the end of the bed and staring around in agitation.

“What?” I asked. “What is it?”

“This,” she said. “Where am I? What happened? Who're you?”

“What?” I sat up. “Halley, it's me. Lauren. We met yesterday, remember? I found you in the bushes.”

“No, no, no,” snapped Halley, leaping onto the windowsill and pulling the curtain aside as best she could. “Yesterday, this” – she indicated the waving treetops of White Forest – “was a city. F*cking skyscrapers and everything. Yesterday, you were a boy named Jared, who found me on his way to a department store. At some point in the night, the world went batsh*t crazy, and I have to know what happened. Now.”

“Wait,” I said, frowning. “A boy named Jared? Who found you on the way to a department store?”

“Yes!”

“I dreamed that,” I told her. “I dreamed I was in a city, walking through rainy streets, and you were there...”

Halley stared at me. Her eyes had gone so wide they looked like they might fall out.

“You dreamed that?”

“Yeah.” I shrugged. “It's normal. Everyone in Unova dreams like that.”

“So if I ask your... uh... your equivalent of Jared's sister, they'll have had dreams of being a girl named Cordelia who let me into the house yesterday?”

“Yeah, that's right.” I paused. “Although that's less weird than mine, because she is a girl named Cordelia.”

Halley groaned.

“Just when I thought we were straightening this out! So she's the same in both... realities, whatever?”

“Well – they're just dreams—”

“No! Not just dreams! A hell of a lot f*cking more than dreams!” Halley jumped down from the windowsill onto the duvet, and stalked up to my lap to glare directly in my eyes. “Listen, whatever your name is. Yesterday I woke up in a forest, then walked into a city. I found a boy named Jared Black, and tricked him into letting me into the house by stealing his phone. That was not a dream. That happened.”

“OK!” I cried, trying to shuffle back and failing owing to the wildcat on my legs. “I get it!”

Halley stopped.

“What? You give in so easily?”

“Yes, just – stop staring like that.” I shivered. “It's creepy.”

Halley stared.

“I told you to stop!” I protested, but she didn't.

“You're pathetic,” she told me. “You can't seriously believe me, can you? I wouldn't f*cking believe me.”

“Can you not... not swear so much?” I asked tentatively, but she wasn't listening.

“Go on, tell me,” she said. “Do you believe I can be telling the truth?”

I paused. To be honest.... no. I didn't. It was weird that Halley knew the part of the dream where she stole the phone – but then, she'd probably dreamed that. Everyone's dream fitted together in Unova; scientists said that there was some kind of psychic field, some 'Dream World' as they called it, that lay over the country and synchronised our dreams so that they formed a coherent reality.

Then again, shouldn't it be impossible for non-Unovans to participate in the Dream World? Only Unovans had the dreams, as far as I knew, and they stopped when we left Unova to resume when we returned. When you thought about it, the whole thing was a bit strange, but it was just the way things were; we'd all lived with the dreams since birth, so they'd never felt unusual at all.

“I don't know,” I said helplessly. “I don't think so. Unless you can get into the Dream World.”

“The what?”

I told her about it.

“How come I've never heard of any of this?” she asked. “I'm English. Our countries have a history. Surely someone English noticed this weird sh*t at one point?”

“I don't know,” I repeated. “Look, it's probably nothing—”

“No, it isn't!” snapped Halley. “Do I have to say it all again? Yesterday, I wo—”

“Lauren? What's all that noise?”

Damn – Mum had overheard Halley's shouting.

“Nothing!” I called back. “Just – um – accidentally put the radio up too loud.”

“Well, turn it back down,” she replied. “It's Eostre.”

Silence; we were in the clear.

“Look,” hissed Halley, “I can't give you any proof except that I know your dream as well as you do. But I'm telling you, girl who isn't Jared, things happened yesterday exactly as I said, at least to me. Maybe in this insane parallel world of yours, things happened like you said – but for me, things were different. They were modern and electric, not old and wooden. Got it?”

She thrust her face close to mine, black lips pulled back over sharp, pearly teeth, and the moon's pale fire flickered in her eyes.

“Yeah,” I said, nodding vigorously and praying to Frige she wouldn't bite my throat out. “Yeah, I get it.”

“Good.” Halley returned to the windowsill, sat down and sighed. “I don't understand this... OK. Time to do some detective work. You don't seem like the kind of person who buys their presents late – so why were you out when you found me?”

“Well, I'd forgotten something,” I admitted. “So I was just going to the forest to get some flowers.”

“Oh my God,” said Halley. “Tell me you aren't the sort of person who buys flowers for people.”

“What's wrong with that?”

“Everything,” she replied forcefully. “God damn it, you are nothing like Jared. At least he wasn't afraid to beat people up if he needed to. But anyway. Go on.”

“That's it. I was going to get flowers for Annie and I found you lying in a bush, wailing at the sky.”

“That sounds like me. OK. I bet I didn't have to trick you to get you to take me home, right?”

“No!” I cried. “I felt sorry for you, and—”

“Of course you did.” Halley nodded grimly. “This is bad. I want to get back to the other world. Jared was cool.”

“I'm cool,” I protested weakly, but didn't even succeed in convincing myself.

“No, you're not,” she told me. “You're some kind of peace-loving hippy. Your idea of solving my problem is probably chanting and group therapy.” I crossed off 'talking about her problems' from the list of ideas in my head. “What I need is action. I need help from the kind of guy who's willing to hit people with a metal stick.”

“Why?” I asked, which I felt was a perfectly reasonable question.

“Because... because it's more exciting and probably more useful if I run into danger,” Halley told me, glancing out of the window.

“Are you going to run into danger?”

“Judging by the ominous black van pulling up outside, I might already be there.”

“What?”

I slid out of bed and scrambled to the window; peering out over the sill, I saw that there really was a black van pulling up outside, and that it really did look very, very ominous.

“Motor vehicles aren't allowed in White Forest,” I said, a sick knot of anxiety rising within me. “This is a nature reserve...”

“I suggest you get dressed and get ready to run,” said Halley quietly. “Sh*t's about to go down, Lauren, and I really don't want to end up in the middle of it.”

The door of the van opened and a man in a dark suit climbed out.

“All right,” I agreed, staring down at him fearfully. “I think you might be right.”

I threw on a T-shirt and a pair of jeans and left the room; Halley suggested I speak to Cordelia, so I tapped on her bedroom door and crept in.

“Dilly!” I hissed. “Are you awake?”

“The man outside, yeah?” she asked. She was at the window, looking out under the edge of the curtain. “I don't like the look of this.”

“She's exactly the same as yesterday,” muttered Halley, evidently confused. “So is it just you that's different or what?”

Since she didn't mean to be talking to me, I didn't answer, and spoke to Cordelia instead:

“Dilly, Halley thinks he might be after her.”

“I guessed,” she replied. “He came in a van, as well – there are probably people waiting in the back to help him. Whoever Halley is, they really want her.”

“F*cking fantastic,” sighed Halley. “Look, we can discuss this later – right now, I just think we should get out of here.”

“But shouldn't we tell—”

“You want to explain this to your parents? Good luck with that. You can do it after we get out of this mess, because I'm willing to bet that guy isn't going to stand around and let you talk.”

“He's coming up to the door,” said Cordelia urgently. “Lauren, I think you and Halley ought to get out of here. Like, now.”

“What about you?”

“Plausible deniability,” she said, being irritatingly clever. “I could deny I ever saw her if I needed to; no one except you has seen me with her. You, on the other hand...”

“All right, I get it,” I said. My hands were shaking, and I stuffed them into my pockets to try and hold them still. I didn't want to be chased out of the house by mysterious men in black. I didn't want to have to run away. I didn't want any of this; all I'd ever wanted to do was help a wildcat get her memory back and now—

Then again, this was helping her. I had said I would help, and I meant to stand by that. Whatever had really happened yesterday, whatever this Jared guy was like, I was going to fulfil my promise. And if there were sinister forces after Halley – well, that just meant she needed my help even more. If we left the house, we'd also lure the men in the black van away from my family, and that could only be a good thing. Everyone would win, the bad guys would be thwarted, and all I had to do was go with Halley and make sure she got away safely.

I took a deep breath.

“OK,” I said. “I guess we should go.”

The doorbell rang.

Definitely time to leave,” agreed Halley. “Now come on, let's get out of here!”

There was an aggrieved muttering from Mum and Dad's room; they didn't want to be up early on Eostre – no one really did, unless they were very traditional and went to the dawn services in the temples – and I knew we had to hurry. In a moment, they'd be up to answer the door.

“This house is completely different to yesterday,” murmured Halley as we crept down the stairs, Cordelia close behind. “I mean, it's the same shape, but the decoration's completely different.”

It made sense; like all the buildings in White Forest, our house was mostly made of timber and glass – it made them blend into the background, fade into the forest. They fitted around the trees rather than displace them; they felt natura—

Dun-ding!

“All right, all right, we're coming!” yelled Mum from upstairs, and Halley swore softly under her breath.

“Hurry up,” she whispered. “Where's the back door?”

“This way,” I replied quietly, and led her through the kitchen.

“Wait!” hissed Cordelia. “You need these!”

She tossed me the keys from the hall table, and naturally I failed to catch them; they sailed past my head and bounced off the door.

“Sorry,” I said, abashed. “I'm not very good at—”

“I don't care right now,” snapped Halley. “Just get the door open!”

“Oh. Right.”

Clumsily, I snatched up the keys and unlocked the door, then gave them back to Cordelia as she caught up. Overhead, I heard the stairs creaking.

“Open up!” called an officious voice from the front, and followed that up with a series of equally officious raps on the door. “Government-sanctioned search!”

“That does not sound good,” murmured Halley. “All right, let's go!”

She bounded out into the broad square of forest that formed our garden; I was about to follow, but hesitated, struck by one last paroxysm of indecision.

“Go, Lauren,” urged Cordelia. “For Woden's sake, you really are pathetic sometimes!”

I smiled weakly, trying to quell the slimy knot of nerves in my stomach.

“Bye,” I said, hugging her. “I – um – I don't know when I'll be back.”

“Yeah, I'd noticed that,” she said. Mum's footsteps were heading across the hall. “Now go!”

I turned and ran, and I just had time to hear an explosion of shouting voices from inside—

—then Cordelia had thrust the door shut, and all I could hear were the birds in the trees and the wind in the grass.
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  #9    
Old September 22nd, 2012, 04:41 PM
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Zayphora
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Whoa. YOU CALL THAT A PLOT TWIST? THAT IS A PLOT EXPLOSION WITH SOME DYNAMITE THROWN IN. Lol. Well, it's now confirmed that I was totally and absolutely WRONG. :D well, guess what? I has another prediction then.

Spoiler:
Halley belongs to Bach, the time machine guy from Opelucid, and he sent her through his machine as his test.

If this isn't relevant at all, well then maybe Halley IS Bach, and somehow got turned into a cat when traveling between dimensions.


Anyway, lé truly phenomenal chapter. It's impossible to be let down by your writing.
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Old September 23rd, 2012, 11:49 AM
Cutlerine
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Originally Posted by Zayphora View Post
Whoa. YOU CALL THAT A PLOT TWIST? THAT IS A PLOT EXPLOSION WITH SOME DYNAMITE THROWN IN. Lol. Well, it's now confirmed that I was totally and absolutely WRONG. :D well, guess what? I has another prediction then.

Spoiler:
Halley belongs to Bach, the time machine guy from Opelucid, and he sent her through his machine as his test.

If this isn't relevant at all, well then maybe Halley IS Bach, and somehow got turned into a cat when traveling between dimensions.


Anyway, lé truly phenomenal chapter. It's impossible to be let down by your writing.
Ah, glad you enjoyed it. As for the rest... well, it's pretty far fetched, but hey! So is ninety per cent of the stuff I write.

Anyway, the next chapter is coming along nicely, and should be up soon.

F.A.B.
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Old September 23rd, 2012, 04:31 PM
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Huh. That was odd. I am not sure exactly how to react to that. I personally am going to say that both realities are coexisting with each other, just in opposite times of day so that when those in the White Forest world are asleep, those in the Black City world are awake and vice versa. But still, pretty interesting.

I am really liking Halley. Except for all the swearing. I mean I understand that her being snarky and sarcastic and a bit overbearing is just her way of covering up how defenseless and weak she feels on account of her loss of the memory of who she is, thus leaving her to create an identity for herself, which would make her want to seem like somebody strong, but it kind of gets annoying after a while seeing her swear so often. But maybe thats just me. Apart from that though, I am loving Halley.

I think I like Lauren more than I do Jared. I mean, yes Jared is cool and physically powerful and able to react in a violent way if necessary, but I can relate more to Lauren. Scared, lost, just trying to be helpful. She just makes me want to hug her and tell her everything is okay. Even though she has to run away with a psychotic cat on a country-wide holiday. Poor Lauren

I wonder if Lauren and Jared will ever be in the same world as each other. It wouldnt surprise me if that were to happen. OMG sudden idea. Since the original legendary dragon of Unova split itself, perhaps it was powerful enough to create two separate worlds, one where Reshiram (and truth I think according to the games) was the creator, and one where Zekrom (and I think ideals) was the creator. It would then make sense for Lauren, who lives in the Pokemon White universe where you capture Zekrom, to be helping Halley because the ideal of helping those in need appeals to Lauren, while Jared, who lives in the Pokemon Black universe where you capture Reshiram, wants to discover the truth about Halley, even if it is just to get her away. Or, if any of those factors are reversed, then so too is the backstory. God, I love how I already am making crazy predictions.

Well, it is already shaping up to be another masterpiece. I cant wait to see how many twists and turns await. I also look forward to meeting Ghetsis and seeing what you have in store for N and the Shadow Triad. Oh before I forget, your grammar was good this time. Keep up the good work
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Old September 24th, 2012, 09:45 AM
Cutlerine
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Huh. That was odd. I am not sure exactly how to react to that. I personally am going to say that both realities are coexisting with each other, just in opposite times of day so that when those in the White Forest world are asleep, those in the Black City world are awake and vice versa. But still, pretty interesting
It's all a matter of perspective. In-game, Unova is a land of people at loggerheads; it's a land where people look at ideas and see them entirely differently. Halley's apparent ability to slip between Black and White Unovas is related to this.

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I am really liking Halley. Except for all the swearing. I mean I understand that her being snarky and sarcastic and a bit overbearing is just her way of covering up how defenseless and weak she feels on account of her loss of the memory of who she is, thus leaving her to create an identity for herself, which would make her want to seem like somebody strong, but it kind of gets annoying after a while seeing her swear so often. But maybe thats just me. Apart from that though, I am loving Halley.
Don't worry about the swearing. I know it's annoying - it's meant to be annoying - but it won't last too long. I plan to use it as a vehicle for something that's coming up soon - something that will also cut back on her swearing.

I think I like Lauren more than I do Jared. I mean, yes Jared is cool and physically powerful and able to react in a violent way if necessary, but I can relate more to Lauren. Scared, lost, just trying to be helpful. She just makes me want to hug her and tell her everything is okay. Even though she has to run away with a psychotic cat on a country-wide holiday. Poor Lauren :([/QUOTE]

Same. I like Lauren a lot, which is probably why she's better characterised. Jared has more sympathetic strengths too, I just... haven't got around to revealing them yet.

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I wonder if Lauren and Jared will ever be in the same world as each other. It wouldnt surprise me if that were to happen. OMG sudden idea. Since the original legendary dragon of Unova split itself, perhaps it was powerful enough to create two separate worlds, one where Reshiram (and truth I think according to the games) was the creator, and one where Zekrom (and I think ideals) was the creator. It would then make sense for Lauren, who lives in the Pokemon White universe where you capture Zekrom, to be helping Halley because the ideal of helping those in need appeals to Lauren, while Jared, who lives in the Pokemon Black universe where you capture Reshiram, wants to discover the truth about Halley, even if it is just to get her away. Or, if any of those factors are reversed, then so too is the backstory. God, I love how I already am making crazy predictions.
You may be onto something there, but you have to think bigger. I like to zoom out my stories bit by bit, revealing plots behind the plots behind the plots; whatever's going on, it's probably truly colossal in scale. For example, in Guide Fabien and Blake have a scheme, and so do Barry and Felicity - but they're caught in Devon's scheme, which is in turn superseded by the Magmas' and the Aquas' schemes, which are later revealed to be mere reflections of Zero's plan - the consequences of which are then shown to be even greater than first imagined.

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Well, it is already shaping up to be another masterpiece. I cant wait to see how many twists and turns await. I also look forward to meeting Ghetsis and seeing what you have in store for N and the Shadow Triad. Oh before I forget, your grammar was good this time. Keep up the good work :)
Oh, I have plans for N. That should be good - as should the Shadow Triad's role.

F.A.B.
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Old September 25th, 2012, 05:11 AM
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Woo!Yet another story from you.

Parallel worlds, talking cat...only you can write stories like this in the Pokemon Fandom. Oh by the way I think I am getting better at finding the hints you throw...I figured it out that the bird is Archen when you mentioned the word defeatist....or maybe you made it easy this time.

As for the whole dual world thing...there are few things that grab my attention.

Cordelia, Anastasia <--The names are slightly close to Anthea and Concordia, two of N's sisters or servants or something. And the fact that Cordelia remained the same in both world's means...I think I am sniffing something here...oh well I will just hold this one till you introduce the other sister perhaps.

The world in which Lauren lives seems to be still the same pagan worshiping Unova, based on the narration and conversation while Jared's world is well quite modern. As per the data you have revealed so far one of these two worlds are not real and just a dream. I am betting on the second one to be real..I guess, or this might be a case of a parallel world in which people in one world can see the other in their dreams...which means the dream world might just be a link between these two.

Our little Halley seems to have the power to shift between these worlds, which means as a human she might have tried disrupting the dream world experiment or something..........which is precisely why Plasma is behind her, or so I think those people are.

That's all I can speculate for now. I think you love making people speculate and mislead them...:o Let's see how much of my speculation must be correct.
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  #14    
Old October 1st, 2012, 01:39 AM
Cutlerine
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Sorry I haven't replied in ages; in the eternal battle between life and Internet, life had the upper hand all last week, and kept punching me into the floor screaming, "Draw for me! Draw for me!"

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Originally Posted by dracoflare View Post
Woo!Yet another story from you.
You have no idea how happy reading those words makes me.

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Originally Posted by dracoflare View Post
Parallel worlds, talking cat...only you can write stories like this in the Pokemon Fandom. Oh by the way I think I am getting better at finding the hints you throw...I figured it out that the bird is Archen when you mentioned the word defeatist....or maybe you made it easy this time.
Yes, I was trying to tell everyone she was an Archen without actually mentioning it. I couldn't think of a way for it to come up in conversation until Halley arrived, but I didn't particularly want it to be a mystery. There are quite enough of those already.

Quote:
Originally Posted by dracoflare View Post
As for the whole dual world thing...there are few things that grab my attention.

Cordelia, Anastasia <--The names are slightly close to Anthea and Concordia, two of N's sisters or servants or something. And the fact that Cordelia remained the same in both world's means...I think I am sniffing something here...oh well I will just hold this one till you introduce the other sister perhaps.
Lots of people remain the same. Pretty much everyone, in fact - with the notable exception of Jared/Lauren. That's probably where the nub of the mystery lies. Looks like Halley picked the most interesting person possible in Unova.

Quote:
Originally Posted by dracoflare View Post
The world in which Lauren lives seems to be still the same pagan worshiping Unova, based on the narration and conversation while Jared's world is well quite modern. As per the data you have revealed so far one of these two worlds are not real and just a dream. I am betting on the second one to be real..I guess, or this might be a case of a parallel world in which people in one world can see the other in their dreams...which means the dream world might just be a link between these two.
Well, we'll see about all that quite soon. Since the dual-world thing isn't really the main mystery of the story, I plan to resolve it fairly quickly, or at least clarify it a bit.

Quote:
Originally Posted by dracoflare View Post
Our little Halley seems to have the power to shift between these worlds, which means as a human she might have tried disrupting the dream world experiment or something..........which is precisely why Plasma is behind her, or so I think those people are.

That's all I can speculate for now. I think you love making people speculate and mislead them...:o Let's see how much of my speculation must be correct.
Oh, I do, I do. Sometimes you're all so very close, and sometimes so very far away... It's incredibly exciting. Makes me want to write.

Speaking of which, the next chapter has been 90% done for a week now, and I'd better finish it while I have the time.

F.A.B.
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Old October 1st, 2012, 03:19 AM
Cutlerine
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Chapter Three: By the Pricking of My Thumbs

I stared at the door. Just like that, I'd run away. Run from the government man, harbouring someone they badly wanted to get their hands on. If I wasn't very much mistaken, I'd probably just become a criminal.

“Up here!” cried Halley, from atop the fence. “You can climb, right? If not, you're going to learn. Fast.”

“I can climb,” I replied, slightly nettled; I might not be good at catching stuff, but I was a White Forester, born and bred. Most of my childhood had been spent up trees.

“Then prove it,” she said shortly, and dropped out of sight.

I sprinted to the fence, jumped up and easily vaulted the top; a moment later, I touched down lightly on the other side.

“OK,” said Halley, staring at me, “I thought it was cool when I realised I could do that. But that was f*cking awesome.”

“It's a White Forest thing,” I replied, looking out down the dirt track that ran along the back of the house. “We spend our childhoods running around in the woods.”

I felt a little shudder of panic rise in me, but pushed it down. Forget about what might be happening back in the house; those people wanted Halley badly, and that meant they probably also wanted me. I had to focus on getting away.

“Where do we go?” I asked.

“I don't know. Just away from here,” said Halley, crossing the track and loping past another house towards the main trail. “How big is this place?”

“Not very big. About six hundred houses.”

“Too small to hide in. We have to get out of here, then.” Halley thought for a moment. “Is there a train to other towns or something?”

“Yeah, but I don't have any money,” I pointed out. “My bag's still at home—”

“Sh*t. We're f*cked.” Halley slowed and sighed. “Unless we just run blindly into the woods, which is probably a bad idea, we can't—”

“Wait!” I cried, a good idea suddenly popping into my head and temporarily pushing aside any fear or reluctance. “We can go to Annie. If we explain the situation, she'll help us.”

“Annie.... that's Anastasia, right?”

“Yeah,” I nodded, setting off again with renewed confidence. “It's this way to her house—”

“What, uh... what relation is she to you?” asked Halley tentatively. “Because I think she was Jared's girlfriend, and—”

“Oh, she's mine too,” I said, slightly disconcerted; Halley's knowledge was definitely beyond what I thought it should be. I hadn't mentioned Anastasia at all yesterday, and yet she knew about her – and if she couldn't participate in the Dream World, maybe she really had slipped between realities yesterday.

“Oh. Ah, OK,” replied Halley, clearly surprised. “That – I didn't expect that. But I guess it makes sense, since everyone else apart from you seems to be exactly the same as in Jared's world. Cordelia was, and from the sound of it your mum was – so I guess Anastasia is too. Everyone has the same character, the same personality, the same relations... everyone except you.”

“Do you really think there is another reality?” I asked apprehensively.

“Uh, yeah? Have you been listening to anything I've been saying at all?” she retorted. “I've been telling you that I've fallen into some weird parallel universe all morning!”

“It's actually only half past seven—”

“It's a turn of phrase!”

She stalked along in silence for a while, looking around at the trees and timber houses with mingled wonder and disgust, and I had a chance to think again about what had just happened.

I had fled the house because it had been invaded by sinister government operatives who wanted to get hold of Halley. There, I'd said it. It was crazy, but that wasn't what bothered me; I was happy to accept pretty much anything that I actually saw as being possible. (The druids at the temple always used to say that only fools and philosophers doubt the evidence of their own eyes.)

No, what really worried me was what those people might be doing back in the house. Would they hurt anyone, or arrest them even when they couldn't find Halley? I hoped they wouldn't; I didn't even want to think about that. And while I was certain that going with and helping her was the right thing to do – after all, she was going to need a human to speak for her, to avoid drawing attention to herself – it looked like it might be dangerous to be around her. From the sound of it, this Jared, my Dream World self, was the kind of person who could face danger and punch it with equanimity, but I wasn't. I was someone else: sixteen, shy, fairly ignorant about the world beyond the sleepy Unovan countryside... For her sake as much as mine, I wished Halley would slip back across the world of Jared Black. Lauren White wasn't nearly as much of a hero.

But I'd do my best, I told myself, holding my feelings in check. I'd help Halley as much as I could, no matter what the difficulty. It was the right thing to do and I'd see it through. And if I could help it, I'd try not to think about what the man in black and his acolytes might be up to.

“I just thought,” said Halley, sounding worried. “If there's a forest here instead of a city – what else is different? Is Unova still wealthy?”

“Wealthy?” I almost laughed, despite myself. “We only became independent twenty years ago. We haven't had a chance.”

What?” Halley turned to look at me sharply. “Um... the Unova I know is a global superpower. It's right up there – more important than America. And it's had independence since the Second World War.”

“Really? This is Jared's world?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, that sounds nice,” I said. “But we weren't really sure about whether or not the country would be able to stand on its own, and we kind of liked the British after all that time, so we stayed until 1990 or something like that. Then there was a big traditionalist revival and a return to old-style Unovan culture – except the language, because no one really wants to learn it.”

I could actually speak Unovan – it was a compulsory subject in all schools – but very few were properly fluent, and even fewer actually spoke it on a regular basis. It consisted of ninety-two syllables expressed in various combinations of twenty-nine runes, and sounded a lot like a Swede speaking English while affecting a mix of Welsh and Romanian accents. Consequently, it sounded very familiar to everyone in Northern Europe while also being totally incomprehensible to them.

“This is some weird sh*t,” mused Halley. “What about the rest of the world? Is China an emerging superpower? Is the world in recession?”

“Uh... I don't really know,” I admitted. “It sort of sounds familiar, though.”

“So some things haven't changed.” She sighed. “I don't know. This is all just too confusing.”

“I know,” I agreed. “Do you have any idea why that man is after you?”

“No,” she replied curtly. “It's like I've been cut out of my own memories. I remember everything else, just not anything to do with me.”

“It must be hard,” I said sympathetically. “If you want to talk about it—”

“I'm not that sort of girl,” Halley told me frostily. “From what I can work out about me, I'm the bubbly, happy-go-lucky sort who sometimes indulges in a sh*tload of criminal activity and often murder. You know. Like in Jennifer's Body.”

“What?”

“You don't get to see many movies here, do you?”

“No...”

“F*ck. This is going to be a dull trip.”

“I'm sorry,” I said, feeling somehow like I'd done something wrong. “I—”

“Please, for the love of God don't apologise for sh*t like that. It makes you seem so much more pathetic, and believe me, you seem pretty pathetic already.”

I was about to say sorry and then thought better of it.

“Uh, turn right here,” I said instead, and rounded Elm Corner. In the distance, I heard the sound of the van starting, shattering the forest calm like a gunshot.

“Bugger,” muttered Halley. “They sound like they're coming this way.”

I listened, and had to agree. The van was coming closer, and fast.

“In the bushes,” I suggested, and turned to see a long grey-and-black tail vanishing into a shrub. “I guess that's a yes,” I said to myself, and joined her.

A moment later, the van rumbled past like a solid thunderclap, trailing music from the open windows in glistering streamers. I caught a snatch of conversation as it went past – “the hell did she go” – and then it was gone, heading south towards The Cornrow.

“I cannot live like this,” moaned Halley. “Hiding in bushes. Ducking around trees. I should be driving the cars, not slinking about in the f*cking shrubbery.”

“You're a wildcat. How do you not like bushes?”

“Hell-o? Not in spirit. I was turned into a cat, remember? I used to be human. I think I used to live in a city somewhere. This is not the world I live in, and I'd rather not be here.”

I hadn't really thought about that. It hadn't occurred to me that there might actually be people who didn't like it here; White Forest seemed pretty much perfect to me.

Halley sighed.

“Let's just get out of the bushes and over to your girlfriend's house before those guys in the van think of going there.”

“Oh. Yeah.”

I got to my feet and back on the trail; Halley followed a moment later, rubbing leaves off her flanks on my jeans.

“Ugh,” she groaned. “God. The sooner we get out of this place the better.”

“It's not far to Annie's house,” I assured her. “We're practically there.”

One last corner and we were on Ash Street; Anastasia lived two doors down from the other end.

“Is this it?” asked Halley when we stopped.

“Yeah,” I replied. “You might want to stay out of sight at first. Just so I can explain things.”

“Right. Good idea. Will she be up, though? It's only... actually, I don't know what time it is, but it's not long after dawn.”

“It's half past six,” I told her, looking at my watch. “And she'll definitely be up. She doesn't like to waste time.”

I knocked softly on the door, trying to attract Anastasia's attention without waking her parents; I succeeded, and a moment later she appeared at the door in the swirl of minor chaos that usually attended on her, looking like a cross between an exquisitely beautiful Muscovite noblewoman and a train wreck.

“Lauren?” she said, surprised. “What are you doing here?”

“Annie!” I cried, hugging her. “I need help. Badly.”

“What? OK, uh, come in.”

“Before I do,” I said, disentangling myself, “I have to tell you something.”

Anastasia fixed me with a piercing stare that no one else in Unova could replicate; I think it might have been something she inherited from her Russian ancestors.

“What's happened?” she asked shrewdly. “Lauren, what's wrong?”

“Um, it's kind of difficult to say,” I began, but at that point Halley lost her patience and slid into view.

“I'm a talking cat, government agents are chasing me and they're after Lauren too because she's harbouring me. We need money for a train. Give it to us and let's get the hell out of here.”

Anastasia stared.

“What?”

Halley sighed.

“I can't help but feel I've done all this before,” she remarked. “All right. Let us in and Lauren will explain everything.”

“Um, this is Halley,” I said, indicating her. “Halley, this is Anastasia.”

“We established that some f*cking time ago,” she said sourly. “Can we just get inside before someone sees us?”

Anastasia looked at me with a helpless look in her eyes.

“Sorry,” I said, feeling bad for interrupting her morning. “But I – we – really need your help.”

“OK,” she replied, running a hand through her hair distractedly. “OK. I guess you'd better come in.”

I followed her into the hall and up into her bedroom, which was less of a place for sleeping and more of a haven for gaming; one wall was dominated by an intimidatingly large screen, and below it was a messy row of consoles, all connected by a tangled web of wires and cables. Anastasia wasn't quite as big a fan of the peaceful woodland life as most people in White Forest; she was always complaining about the lack of reliable Internet access, and seemed to acquire a new video game practically every other day. Right now, the vast screen was displaying a pause menu, but behind it I could see something that looked like the box of the Eostre gift I'd got her.

“I was testing out your present,” Anastasia told me. “Thanks, by the way. I've never been so glad to see a pile of dead animals.”

As far as I'd been able to work out from the packaging, Bjørn was a game in which you played a hard-bitten ex-cop panther whose family had been murdered by a Swedish mafia kingpin who also happened to be a bear. Apparently it offered hours of absorbing gameplay, most of which seemed to revolve around shooting a variety of cheerfully insane enemies.

“This place is awesome,” breathed Halley, looking around. “I so wish I had thumbs so I could play with all this.” She paused. “OK, so apparently I like video games. Not the most useful thing to remember, but it's a start.”

“OK, Lauren,” said Anastasia, looking down at her, “I think I need some answers now.”

So I told her the whole story – from finding Halley in the bushes yesterday to the escape from the government agents by way of Halley's conviction that she'd slipped across universes – and waited for a response.

Anastasia sat on her bed, fiddling with a thumbstick, and stared into space.

“Let me get this straight,” she said, obviously trying very hard to stay calm. “This girl's turned into a cat, lost her memory and is being chased by the government – and you haven't questioned it so far?”

“Well, I have a bit,” I replied. “But, you know, only fools and philosophers—”

“Yeah, yeah, I know.” Anastasia sighed. “It's just that it seems... well, it's pretty crazy.”

“Uh, living proof sitting right here,” interjected Halley.

“Well, yeah, but...” She broke off. “I don't know.”

“I know it's crazy,” I pleaded, “but I really need your help. We have to get some money to get a train out of here, and I can't go back to the house because those guys are probably watching it and—”

“Calm down,” said Anastasia, putting a hand on my shoulder. “You're babbling.”

“Sorry.” I paused and tried to collect my thoughts. “It's just... it's been a bit of a shock.”

“Understatement of the f*cking century,” put in Halley, but we both ignored her.

Anastasia sat there for a while, sliding her teeth back and forth across one another as she did when deep in thought.

“I could come with you,” she said, but I shook my head.

“That's not happening,” I replied firmly. “I'm not getting anyone else involved. Besides, I don't have time to wait for you to get dressed.”

Despite venturing into society slightly less often than J. D. Salinger, Anastasia was as fussy about her appearance as any high-flying socialite; it rarely took her less than an hour to be ready for anything at all.

“I...” She struggled for the right words for a moment, gave up and sighed. “Lauren, I can be fast—”

“That agent and his goons will probably be here soon,” Halley interrupted. “You know, asking if anyone's seen Lauren around. And it sure would be appreciated if you hadn't disappeared in mysterious circumstances, and could give a little false testimony to misdirect the agents. And then, pretending to get text messages from Lauren, keep feeding them false information as to our whereabouts as the search progresses.”

“I get it.” Anastasia nodded. “OK. But are you sure? I can come—”

“No.” The stubbornness in my voice surprised me; I'm not usually the strongest-willed person around. But now, for some reason, I was sure: we needed the cover Anastasia could provide if we were ever to get out of this tiny village, and I didn't want to involve any more people in this mad adventure if I possibly could, especially people who didn't actually have some means of defending themselves. If Anastasia had been a Trainer or something, I'd probably have taken her with me – as it was, she'd just be one more ordinary person like me, only without my gymnastic ability. “Think about it. We're going to be running and hiding, and making swift escapes and stuff. It's not exactly your forte.”

“It is if we're talking Deus Ex,” she muttered. “No, OK. Point taken.”

“Then hurry up! We don't have time to argue about this—”

“Yeah, I get it.” She paused, then sighed. “OK, Lauren, I might not be able to help you as I'd want to, but... I trust you. Even when you're acting like your sister. “So...” She reached under her bed for her bag, pulled it out and blew the dust off it – there was nowhere to go in White Forest that really necessitated taking along a handbag – and extracted her wallet from within. “I've got £25 here,” she said, examining the contents. “That should be enough for a train to Nacrene City at least.”

“Thank you!” I cried, hugging her tightly. “Annie, you saved my—”

“Yeah, OK,” she said, gently prising me off. “But remember what you were saying right now: you don't have time for this. You need to move fast. White Forest is tiny, and it's going to take them about five minutes to find you here.”

“Ah. Yeah. Right.” I looked at Halley. “I guess we should go, then.”

“You think?” Until that moment, I hadn't been aware that cats had eyebrows; however, it seemed they did, because Halley raised one. “Come on, Sherlock. We need to get moving.”

We went downstairs quietly, mindful of Anastasia's sleeping parents; if they woke, there'd be witnesses to prove I was here, and Anastasia wouldn't be able to do anything to throw our sinister pursuers off our trail.

I paused on the threshold of the door, and turned back to Anastasia.

“Um – bye,” I said nervously, suddenly realising that I was going to be leaving White Forest – and literally everyone I'd ever known in my entire life – behind.

Dosvedanya,” replied Anastasia, kissing me. “Come back alive, OK?”

“I'll do my best.”

At my feet, Halley rolled her eyes and muttered something about there never having been a story of more woe.

“Shut up, cat,” said Anastasia sharply. “We're having a moment.”

“No, she's right – we have to go,” I told her. “The trains only leave once an hour, and I don't want to be stuck waiting on the platform while people are after me.”

“OK.” Anastasia smiled anxiously at me. “Good luck.”

She shut the door; both she and I knew that if it remained open, I'd take another fifteen minutes to leave – time that we just didn't have.

I sighed, and turned to the road. It seemed like all the doors of my life were slamming in my face.

“No going back now,” I told myself nervously, and set off at a brisk walk for the station, Halley padding along at my heels.

---

Portland Smythe was not a happy man. Not merely because he was called Portland Smythe – an interesting name to be sure, but not one that really suited him – although that did factor into it, as a minor irritation that formed a continual curtain of background anguish in his mind; no, the real cause of his unhappiness was that his quarry, a mysterious young woman known only as Halley, had somehow evaded him.

Portland knew that she had some sort of connection to the theft of the artefact, and he knew that she had gone to ground somewhere in White Forest; he also knew that she was currently, for reasons unknown, in the shape of an Unovan wildcat, and that she had been asking around the area for help. From a few witnesses, he had gleaned that she had been spotted in the society of one Lauren White, and this morning he had led four of the Green Party's agents on a slightly illegal raid of the property; however, neither White nor Halley had been on the premises.

This meant, he thought, that they had escaped. And that meant, he knew, that he was going to have to find them – and soon, or he would have to face the consequences.

Portland sighed, and mused. White and Halley were probably trying to flee the Forest, he thought, which meant he ought to check the train station. There, the trains left hourly, and since it was coming up to seven, he need only wait around for a few minutes to make sure his quarry didn't get aboard.

“It won't take long to look,” he murmured aloud. “It can't be more than two minutes away, and the place is tiny.”

He turned the van around and headed back north.

“Get ready,” he called to the men and women in the back. “We've got a lead to follow up.”

This done, Portland glanced to the creature sitting in the passenger seat. It was long and tall and lithe, a creature of slim bones and taut muscles tightly bound in purple fur. You might have called it a Liepard – but no Liepard ever had eyes like those, smoking pits of white fire, and no Liepard ever sat so still and so upright, watching the world around it like some menacing totem.

And no Liepard ever spoke the language of humans before, and certainly not in a voice that reverberated in the air like the prelude to a landslide.

“She is here,” it said, and its voice came with the rank smell of grave-earth. “I feel her presence.” It sniffed the air deeply. “Yes, she is here,” it confirmed, its head sinking low between its shoulders and its eyes closing to ash-white slits. “And we are getting closer.”

Portland shivered, and drove on. Sometimes, his Pokémon scared the crap out of him.

---

When we arrived at the station four minutes later, there was a surprise waiting for us: Cordelia, standing by the single wooden platform that connected White Forest with the rest of the world.

“Dilly?” I asked, staring. “What are you doing here?”

“I thought you might go to Annie's house, so I got her number from your phone and called her,” she answered. “She told me you were heading to the station, and I realised I'd better bring you a few things before you forgot them. One: mobile.” She handed me my phone – and, because she was Cordelia and never forgot anything, its charger as well (something I would never, ever have remembered myself). “Two: jacket. Your purse is in the pocket.” I was glad of the jacket: it was freezing at this time of year, and I really wanted more than a T-shirt on. As for my purse – well, it had no money in it, but it had a credit card that would give me access to my savings when we needed it. “Three: protection.”

Candy stuck her head over her shoulder, saw me and squawked with joy, hopping over onto my bare arm and almost slicing open an artery as she went.

“But I can't – ow! – take her,” I began, but Cordelia cut me off.

“Candy's main goal in life is to bite as many things as possible,” she said. “Add that to the fact that you're her favourite person and I think she'll be a good asset.”

“But we're meant to keep her secret – if Ingen find out—”

“Tell people she's an exotic parrot from South America. They're not going to contradict you.” Cordelia looked at her watch. “I need to get going. Everything's still in chaos back home.”

“Is everyone OK?”

“Yeah, just shaken up and worried about you. Don't worry, though – I'll keep an eye on them.” That was reassuring; Cordelia was as efficient and single-minded as Terminator, and when she said she'd do something you could bet your life she'd do it. “I can handle this end of things if you take care of yours, OK?” She gave me a reassuring smile.

“OK,” I said dutifully, squashing the rising concern within me. “Thanks.”

“It's nothing. The next train leaves in ten minutes; I bought your ticket already, so just get on board before anyone sees you.” She handed me a scrap of orange and green paper – it looked like we'd be saving Anastasia's money for later.

“Got it—”

“Bye.”

“Goodbye.”

She didn't hang around. A moment later, Halley, Candy and I were alone on the platform.

“She's like the SAS of organisation,” whispered Halley, so as not to be overheard by the man in the ticket office. “And you say she's related to you?”

“I don't know either. She's just... she's always been like that. When she was little, she had a rotation system for cuddling her soft toys. If you gave her the wrong one she set up a pretend court martial and executed it at dawn for treachery with a knife.”

“Jesus.” Halley clapped a paw over her mouth. “Oops. Too loud. I'm going to shut up now.” She jerked her head in the direction of the ticket office, and I nodded.

“Good idea.”

In the distance, I heard the van's engine rumbling.

“They're coming,” I breathed. “Hide!”

“Eh?” queried the man in the ticket office, looking out of his booth. “Is someone there?”

We dashed across the platform and into the bushes; in a moment, we had disappeared from sight. One of the advantages of living in White Forest is that it's incredibly easy to hide; everywhere you look, you see more shrubbery.

Once installed behind the bushes, I checked my phone's clock. One minute since Cordelia had left; nine to go until the train left. That meant seven and a half until the train arrived for us to board.

The van pulled up, and I heard the doors opening. Two sets of footsteps crunched across the leaf-strewn trail – a man and some four-legged animal, by the sound of it. Maybe a dog or a Liepard.

“Hey!” cried a familiar voice – the ticket man. I knew him well; I knew everyone in White Forest well. You have to actively try in order to not know everyone in White Forest well. “Hey, you can't bring that van here. It's a nature reserve.”

“This is official government business,” said the same man who had knocked on our door earlier that morning. “We would appreciate it if you did not attempt to hinder us.”

I peeked through the leaves, and saw that the man was tall and exotic-looking; he didn't have pale Unovan skin but the bronzed tropical variety instead, and his hair was long, black and carefully slicked back over his skull. Next to him was the Liepard I'd suspected, and it was a lean bruiser of a beast, the biggest I'd ever seen – and I'd seen quite a few. They were fairly common around here, and had a long-running feud with the wildcats that saw purple and tabby fur scattered over the village streets at least twice a week.

Beside me, Halley flinched, but I couldn't ask why without giving away our position. Maybe it was an instinctive wildcat response to seeing a Liepard, something that had seeped into her mind when she'd transformed. Candy was spooked too, but I clamped her beak shut in one hand and held her still with the other. The last thing I needed was for her to give us away.

“Oh, I, uh – I see,” stammered the ticket man. “Is there anything—?”

“Yes, actually. Have you seen Lauren White?”

“Lauren? Well, I think I heard her a minute ago – talking to her sister about something—”

“So they're here,” hissed a third voice, a slow dead voice like the pattering of earth onto a grave. “Yes, I think I detect...”

My eyes widened – it was the Liepard that had spoken, and though I'd met a talking animal yesterday, I definitely hadn't expected to meet another so soon.

The Liepard stalked across the platform, head sweeping back and forth across the ground, and I saw the white marbles of its eyes and the ashen smoke that wisped from them. Sweat pricked on my brow and a cold dread rose within me: those were not the eyes that should have rested beneath that brow, not the eyes of any animal that I knew...

Halley pressed a paw over my mouth, and the shock caught me just in time to stop me crying out in fear.

“What in the fields of Neorxnawang...?” breathed the ticket man.

“I don't have to answer your questions,” said the agent. “If I were you, I would ignore everything that is happening right now. You should try and spare yourself the effort of worrying about it; I'd rather not leave a trail of traumatised civilians in my wake.”

He sounded almost kind, and for the first time I wondered who he was when he wasn't hunting people for the government – a husband? A father? Even the bad guys have families, I thought, and—

The Liepard's face swung up just inches away from mine, separated by nothing but a few paltry leaves; I froze, breath dying in my throat, as the smoking eyes fixed on mine—

“They're gone,” said the Liepard in its corpse-mouldy voice. It sounded puzzled. “It's almost as if... No. I don't know.” It turned away from us and loped across to its master – or maybe colleague, since it seemed so intelligent. “They have left. I detect no trace of their presence.”

“What?” The agent seemed confused. “Well... Maybe they bought the ticket, then retreated, knowing we would come here to look for them. In which case, they must be hiding somewhere until the next train comes.” He stroked his chin. “That gives us an hour to find them,” he mused. “All right. Come on; I have an idea of where to start looking.”

He turned and walked out of sight, scratching his head; with one last demonic look at the platform, the Liepard followed, padding away silently as if setting out to hunt. The van started up and drove away, and then there was silence.

For a very long time.

“OK,” said Halley at length. “What the f*ck was that?”
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  #16    
Old October 1st, 2012, 03:19 AM
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Misheard Whisper
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I am loving the hell out of this so far, and I owe you a review or three from like ages back. I clicked on this thread out of curiosity, and boy, was that a mistake! I'm meant to be working on Champion Game (which is WAY overdue for an update) right now, but I got stuck. This story drew me in right from the beginning, which is something that doesn't happen often with fics. So well done on the beginning. I haven't actually read more than a few pages of your works before, which I regret somewhat now. This is mostly due to a not-at-all misplaced sense of envy of your writing skills and disgruntlement that you are, in fact, clearly better than me. I was hoping to have a rival of some sort in you, but I . . . well. Anyway, this is as much of a concession as you're going to get from me. Gosh.

So, the fic itself. Well, to begin with, the concept. The world. The characters. Um, that's not making things any clearer. Let's go with the world. I don't know how much of this crosses over with your other fics, but this is my first encounter with your real-world-plus-Pokemon shebang. First off, it works. I am usually somewhat leery of real animals and Pokemon in the same fic. I barely even notice here, though, which means you've managed to blend the two pretty seamlessly. Same goes for the geography and culture - from the brief snippets of history you've given us here, I can see a rich, fascinating world. Nordic/Anglo-Saxon deities and pagan festivals in Unova? It's . . . absurd, but it's just crazy enough to work. And work it does. I believed Eostre when reading this; I saw the rush, felt the tradition and the tension.

Okay, the concept. While it may seem unnecessary to mention it, I did come up with a concept rather similar to this once. I'm struggling to remember details, but it wasn't Pokemon. It sort of involved going to sleep on one side of the world to instantly wake up 180° E (or W) of where you were as a completely different person, then vice versa at the end of the day. Hmm, might be different enough to dig up and have a shot at. Anyway, I digress.

To begin with, in any kind of art or literature I am fascinated by the concept of dualism - which is one of the reasons I loved Black and White so much. I can imagine the whole 'truth vs ideals' thing coming into play here, but who knows? I basically love you to bits for blending the two Unovas like this. I want to know more: do the Unovans in Jared's world have alternate dream lives like Lauren's do? He didn't mention it, but he probably wouldn't have cause to. Maybe he will when Halley wakes up tomorrow. :B

Ooh ooh, you know what this reminds me of? The Goron Temple in Phantom Hourglass - and well, a number of other similar ideas in games and literature. In the Goron Temple level, you can't get through the traps because the switches to deactivate spikes and lower bridges etc are in another hallway you can't access, and vice versa. So you have to control another character through the alternate passage, switching back and forth between the two to beat enemies and nullify traps. Matthew Reilly did it in his book Six Sacred Stones in an ancient Chinese temple in much the same way. Eee, duality again! Anyhow, that's how I can imagine this playing out; I picture Halley escaping with both Jared and Lauren, but not independently. Maybe to a certain extent, but I get the feeling they'll need each other's help.

For that matter, what's up with Halley? My head is breaking when I think about this, but whatever. It's possible that there are actually two Halleys that switch places when they sleep - ie the Halley that Lauren rescued will wake up today in Black City wondering what the f*ck happened. Or, uh, you know what? This is making my head hurt a bit much, so I will leave the issue for now and assume that all will be explained in time.

Your characters in general are strong too, from what I've seen of them. Dialogue is realistic and consistent, with believable variation between characters. I love the name Cordelia, and knowing you, I am hoping for some Lear parallels. *crosses fingers*

Well, I don't have much more to say, other than to briefly note that I have a very close friend named Lauren which makes reading this slightly uncomfortable. But that's not your fault, naturally. I just thought it needed mentioning. I'm not even sure why. Have a pleasant day, and I look forward to reading more. Your brand of humour is rather engaging, but I will elaborate on that in a further review; if I say everything now, there won't be anything left to say later beyond commenting on the story updates. :L

So peace out.
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Old October 1st, 2012, 03:58 AM
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Originally Posted by Misheard Whisper View Post
I am loving the hell out of this so far, and I owe you a review or three from like ages back. I clicked on this thread out of curiosity, and boy, was that a mistake! I'm meant to be working on Champion Game (which is WAY overdue for an update) right now, but I got stuck.
You're here?! Oh, you have no idea how happy that makes me. I love your stuff, but owing to a combination of profound laziness and continual efforts to do as much writing, drawing and gaming as possible, I don't review it as often as I should. Hell, I haven't for a really long time now. I must fix that sometime.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Misheard Whisper View Post
This story drew me in right from the beginning, which is something that doesn't happen often with fics. So well done on the beginning. I haven't actually read more than a few pages of your works before, which I regret somewhat now. This is mostly due to a not-at-all misplaced sense of envy of your writing skills and disgruntlement that you are, in fact, clearly better than me. I was hoping to have a rival of some sort in you, but I . . . well. Anyway, this is as much of a concession as you're going to get from me. Gosh.
I've just spent five minutes attempting to formulate a coherent response to that, and finally I must concede I can't. The best I can offer is thanks, but it seems a mite inadequate.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Misheard Whisper View Post
So, the fic itself. Well, to begin with, the concept. The world. The characters. Um, that's not making things any clearer. Let's go with the world. I don't know how much of this crosses over with your other fics, but this is my first encounter with your real-world-plus-Pokemon shebang. First off, it works. I am usually somewhat leery of real animals and Pokemon in the same fic. I barely even notice here, though, which means you've managed to blend the two pretty seamlessly. Same goes for the geography and culture - from the brief snippets of history you've given us here, I can see a rich, fascinating world. Nordic/Anglo-Saxon deities and pagan festivals in Unova? It's . . . absurd, but it's just crazy enough to work. And work it does. I believed Eostre when reading this; I saw the rush, felt the tradition and the tension.
This is a world I've been building for a long time, and it's continuous right through my other stories. I've never had any truck with the theory that the Pokémon world basically replaces Japan; the individual regions have different climates, ideologies, and, to my mind, different people that indicate that while they might be situated somewhere near Japan and taken in cultural influences from it, they're definitely nations in their own right. Which gave rise to my decision that they were island states in the Pacific Ocean (except Unova, which I view as somewhere between the Canaries and Iceland, give or take a few hundred miles), which gave rise to... well, to these reimaginings of the stories. Things flow naturally on from that point: Unova is probably distantly related to Europe, and since I've placed it quite close to Britain and Ireland culturally, I thought I might as well stuff it full of Anglo-Saxon paganism. I view Hoenn as being close to South-East Asia, so I made the dominant religion Buddhism and the climate tropical. And so forth.

As for Pokémon and animals... I just think there aren't enough Pokémon to create a viable ecosystem, and that Pokémon themselves have so many details and features that are left open to interpretation in the games that it'd be a criminal waste of resources to leave them all as they are in the official vision of their world. Besides, a great many Pokémon don't really seem suitable for farming. While probably useful for making electrical wiring, I can't see Ampharos wool being used in clothing (except as an incredibly devious way of murdering someone), for instance, so people must need to farm sheep.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Misheard Whisper View Post
Okay, the concept. While it may seem unnecessary to mention it, I did come up with a concept rather similar to this once. I'm struggling to remember details, but it wasn't Pokemon. It sort of involved going to sleep on one side of the world to instantly wake up 180° E (or W) of where you were as a completely different person, then vice versa at the end of the day. Hmm, might be different enough to dig up and have a shot at. Anyway, I digress.

To begin with, in any kind of art or literature I am fascinated by the concept of dualism - which is one of the reasons I loved Black and White so much. I can imagine the whole 'truth vs ideals' thing coming into play here, but who knows? I basically love you to bits for blending the two Unovas like this. I want to know more: do the Unovans in Jared's world have alternate dream lives like Lauren's do? He didn't mention it, but he probably wouldn't have cause to. Maybe he will when Halley wakes up tomorrow. :B
I always try and recreate the spirit of the games in the stories I write about them. Ruby, Sapphire and Emerald were all about the clash of titans and the balance between artifice and nature, so I stocked the story full of fights, ended with a titanic conflict and made the crux of the matter a terrible natural disaster that was not at all inspired by Matthew Reilly's Temple. Diamond, Pearl and Platinum were less conflict-driven and much darker: in the end, the protagonist fails to save the world, and only the intervention of a higher power saves the day. Everyone loses: Giratina's world is stuck with Cyrus, Cyrus fails to change the universe, and you fail to stop him. So I made that story darker, more serious and more driven by character and mystery than by action.

Which brings me to Crack'd. Black and White tell a story about old and new, truth and ideal, the clear-sighted and those blinded by visions of what should be; they also present two distinct versions of Unova, each of which is just as valid as the other. I couldn't decide between one or the other without sacrificing the heart of the games themselves, so I went with both - and that, in fact, decided the main thrust of the story in one go. It gave me Jared and Lauren, told me what the significance of N should be, and most importantly, gave me a reason to bring some of my favourite (and, I think, the most overlooked in terms of potential for stories) Unovan Pokémon into the things. I shall not yet reveal the precise species, since that would be far too big a hint as to what's coming, but I have a real soft spot for them.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Misheard Whisper View Post
Ooh ooh, you know what this reminds me of? The Goron Temple in Phantom Hourglass - and well, a number of other similar ideas in games and literature. In the Goron Temple level, you can't get through the traps because the switches to deactivate spikes and lower bridges etc are in another hallway you can't access, and vice versa. So you have to control another character through the alternate passage, switching back and forth between the two to beat enemies and nullify traps. Matthew Reilly did it in his book Six Sacred Stones in an ancient Chinese temple in much the same way. Eee, duality again! Anyhow, that's how I can imagine this playing out; I picture Halley escaping with both Jared and Lauren, but not independently. Maybe to a certain extent, but I get the feeling they'll need each other's help.
Reilly. Awesomeness. He's a big influence on the way I write action, as you might have noticed from the preponderance of long dashes that keep cutting sentences off, and while The Six Sacred Stones wasn't in my head as I started this, key elements from his thrillers do keep turning up in my stories - namely, big angry animals (preferably mutants), escalating consequences, ridiculous stunts and a few ancient traps.

But that's not really relevant: the answer is yes. Lauren and Jared are different people with very different skillsets, as you've pointed out - and more differences are yet to come. Halley will need both of them in order to get through this.

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Originally Posted by Misheard Whisper View Post
For that matter, what's up with Halley? My head is breaking when I think about this, but whatever. It's possible that there are actually two Halleys that switch places when they sleep - ie the Halley that Lauren rescued will wake up today in Black City wondering what the f*ck happened. Or, uh, you know what? This is making my head hurt a bit much, so I will leave the issue for now and assume that all will be explained in time.
It will. Halley's concept has changed a lot since I first thought her up, and to be honest I'm still not entirely certain how her storyline is going to end, but whichever option I choose, it will all make sense in the end.

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Your characters in general are strong too, from what I've seen of them. Dialogue is realistic and consistent, with believable variation between characters. I love the name Cordelia, and knowing you, I am hoping for some Lear parallels. *crosses fingers*
If only I'd been reading King Lear while thinking up Cordelia's character. She would have turned out so differently. I do want to get some Lear references in there somewhere, but it's not going to be easy.

Actually, that reminds me of a wonderful piece of dialogue I read once. It's when someone is saying something incomprehensible to someone else.

"You're talking complete Lear," says the someone else, frowning slightly.

"King?" asks the first someone hopefully.

"No. Edward," replies the other crushingly.

Ah, that was a good book. A good, good book indeed.

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Well, I don't have much more to say, other than to briefly note that I have a very close friend named Lauren which makes reading this slightly uncomfortable. But that's not your fault, naturally. I just thought it needed mentioning. I'm not even sure why. Have a pleasant day, and I look forward to reading more. Your brand of humour is rather engaging, but I will elaborate on that in a further review; if I say everything now, there won't be anything left to say later beyond commenting on the story updates. :L

So peace out.
Everything needs mentioning, just like everyone needs a butler. There's just no arguing with it.

Thank you for stopping by and reading - seriously; I write for pleasure and to please, and it means a lot to me that I can make people happy by doing so - and I hope I can fulfil your high expectations.

Also, it seems I posted a new chapter just as you posted your review, so... enjoy!

F.A.B.
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  #18    
Old October 1st, 2012, 02:39 PM
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Misheard Whisper
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Also, it seems I posted a new chapter just as you posted your review, so... enjoy!

F.A.B.
My timing, it is eternally impeccable. F.A.B., Thunderbird One. Also, I am incredibly pleased to hear of your appreciation of Matthew Reilly. One of my favourite authors, for sure; what he somewhat lacks in storytelling and finesse, he more than makes up for in pure tension and blistering action.

And I appreciate the history/geography lecture. A few things make a lot more sense now.

So, ah, Chapter Three. I first want to mention the one thing that stuck in my mind from this chapter: Liepard's voice. Holy hell, that thing scared the pants off me. The way you described it lent it exactly the quality you wanted, I think, and it is a particularly vivid description that made me shiver. Actually, the Liepard in general freaks the hell out of me. Fabulous.

At any rate, we've gotten both exposition chapters done, one in each world, so I guess we're on to the meat of the story. Definitely an enjoyable chapter, though not quite as much seemed to go down as in the first couple. It goes without saying that I'm curious as to what the Green Party want with Halley, and what the 'artefact' is, yadda yadda yadda. But to find those out, I can only wait - and wait I shall, with bated breath.
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  #19    
Old October 2nd, 2012, 10:26 AM
Cutlerine
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Originally Posted by Misheard Whisper View Post
My timing, it is eternally impeccable. F.A.B., Thunderbird One. Also, I am incredibly pleased to hear of your appreciation of Matthew Reilly. One of my favourite authors, for sure; what he somewhat lacks in storytelling and finesse, he more than makes up for in pure tension and blistering action.
There's little to say other than that I agree here, and to reiterate what I said earlier (and by earlier I mean several months and possibly a year ago), I appreciate you getting the reference. Literally no one else has ever given any sign that they even know what a Thunderbird is.

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And I appreciate the history/geography lecture. A few things make a lot more sense now.
Yes, I imagine it does. Most of what I invented about that isn't relevant, but I find that writing as if everyone knows it already - in other words, as someone living in that world would write it - tends to result in that information sort of bleeding through in drips and drabs through the narrative.

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So, ah, Chapter Three. I first want to mention the one thing that stuck in my mind from this chapter: Liepard's voice. Holy hell, that thing scared the pants off me. The way you described it lent it exactly the quality you wanted, I think, and it is a particularly vivid description that made me shiver. Actually, the Liepard in general freaks the hell out of me. Fabulous.
Ah. If you're not familiar with my stuff, then you'll not have come across one of my dark moments before. Yeah, I tend to write quite light-heartedly in general, but have a weakness for the brutal and the dark - and such elements invariably creep into my writing. Quite honestly, I usually don't notice it's dark; it's all one with the story to me.

Although I did spend quite a bit of time on the Liepard. I wanted to get the description of its voice just right, and it seems I did.

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Originally Posted by Misheard Whisper View Post
At any rate, we've gotten both exposition chapters done, one in each world, so I guess we're on to the meat of the story. Definitely an enjoyable chapter, though not quite as much seemed to go down as in the first couple. It goes without saying that I'm curious as to what the Green Party want with Halley, and what the 'artefact' is, yadda yadda yadda. But to find those out, I can only wait - and wait I shall, with bated breath.
Well, we'll soon find out. Things will pick up again in the next chapter, I think; that is, unless I once again severely underestimate my propensity for writing entire chapters of dialogue. It's happened before, and I don't doubt it'll happen again one day.

Thank you for reading and leaving your opinions!

F.A.B.
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  #20    
Old October 12th, 2012, 02:07 PM
Cutlerine
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Chapter Four: Greek Prophets with a Dash of Satan

Trees, endless trees, blurring into one another in an eternal parade of leaf and bark; the railway route south to Nacrene City was scenic, but it did get a little dull after a while. Add to that the fact that the ancient steam train was slow and prone to sudden inexplicable stops – and that it was a four-hour journey to Nacrene even without delays – and you'll understand why I couldn't help but feel that we weren't fleeing fast enough.

Because the thing in the shape of a Liepard was hunting for us in White Forest, and it was infinitely more terrifying than anything I had ever encountered before. It wasn't an animal, I was sure of that – it was a demon, something from outside the normal world, some foul changeling beast or an ettin in Liepard form. I didn't know why it hadn't noticed us and I had to admit that I didn't care all that much; I was just glad that the government man had trusted its word.

Halley, on the other hand, sitting on the seat opposite me in the compartment, seemed less affected – as did Candy, who was attempting daring acrobatic manoeuvres on the luggage rack.

“It was blind,” muttered the wildcat. “I'm sure of it – and obviously didn't have a sense of smell, either, because it should've detected our scents.”

“Uh huh,” I said, not really listening; in response, she poked me with a claw.

“Ow!”

“Listen to me,” she insisted. “This is important. That thing was not a Liepard. I felt it – I don't know – with some animal sense or some sh*t like that. It wore the body of a Liepard, but it was only a shape: the eyes didn't work, the nose, the ears – if they did it would have found us like that.” She tried to snap her fingers, remembered she no longer had any and settled for making an airy gesture instead. “The point is, it didn't have access to any senses. It had some other way of detecting us and it failed. Why?”

“I don't know,” I replied. “Candy, careful.”

She squawked at me as if to say that she didn't need to be careful; the train went over a bump and she fell from the luggage rail into my lap.

“I warned you.”

Candy got to her feet with a philosophical air and began to climb the curtains. I sighed, picked her up and put my jacket over her; immediately, thinking it was night time, she curled up on my lap and began to sleep.

“What were you saying?” I asked Halley.

“This Liepard. I can't believe you're not wondering about it. That thing is clearly the most dangerous f*cking thing in White Forest and we escaped it by about this f*cking much.” She held up two claws close together, to show exactly how much we'd escaped it by.

“That's another thing,” I said. “Could you please not swear so much? It's kind of annoying, and I am helping you...”

Halley rolled her eyes.

“Give me a f*cking break,” she muttered. “The girl's serious. We were just chased by government agents and a monster beyond mortal f*cking comprehension and she's telling me to stop—”

“Halley!” I snapped. “I'm serious.”

She stopped mid-sentence, evidently stunned; I don't think she thought I had it in me to actually be forceful.

“I'm worried too,” I told her earnestly. “And I want to help, especially as it looks like we're both in trouble now. But... I just think it would be easier for me to work with you if you weren't so... sweary.”

Halley looked at me for a long moment, her pale green eyes expressionless.

“All right,” she said at length, looking away. “OK. Sorry. We'll do things your way.”

“And – what? Really?” I broke out into a smile. “Oh, that's great! Thanks so much.”

Halley's head whipped around and settled into a glare. A hard glare.

“Yeah, OK,” she growled. “Don't start thanking me for this shi— shipbuilder's manual.” She blinked. “Wait, what? Is that what comes out when I don't swear? Random words? Jesus, this is going to be weird.” She looked up at me. “Blasphemy's OK, right?”

“I guess. Just keep my gods out of it.”

“I can live with that.” Halley kneaded the seat with her paws and lay down, curling up. “All right. Let's move on: the Liepard.”

“That was scary.”

“Well done. Ten points for perspicacity. Now, can you think of anything that could masquerade as a Liepard like that?”

“An ettin,” I said immediately. “An evil fairy. A—”

“Something that actually exists would be nice.”

“I believe they exist,” I replied simply, trying to hide my irritation. I'm fairly easy-going, or so people tell me, but this was something that was actually important to me. I studied the Treatise twice a week after school; I might not have a perfect record of attendance at all festivals and religious events, but I did believe, and I didn't particularly like Halley attacking that belief without cause.

“Right.” Halley hesitated, the memory of our recent altercation visible on her face; eventually, she let it slide. “Fine. We'll, uh, agree to disagree there.” She sighed. “But I don't get this. What that thing was... and, for that matter, what the fu— fudgemaker's reunion ball was it doing working for the government?”

“I don't know.” I thought for a moment. “It doesn't seem like something the government would have anything to do with.”

“What? Listen, I don't know much about governments, but I'd say shady stuff like this is right up their street.”

“Not ours. The Free Unova Party is in power.”

“Free Unova?”

“The nationalists. They helped free Unova in the Eighties. They're big on Unovan culture and stuff – which means they're strictly religious. Whatever that monster was, they wouldn't even dream of consorting with it. It's... definitely unholy.”

“Oh yeah, I forgot. This is Lauren White's world, where everything is backwards.” Halley twitched her nose. “Hey, your name's White – and Jared's is Black. That's can't be a coincidence. Anyway, that's not relevant. If the Liepard isn't with the government, then who are these people that are after us?”

“I don't know.” I thought of the other people who might reasonably claim to be part of the government – mainly the other political parties – but I couldn't really see any reason why any of them would be hunting Halley down with a leopard cat from hell. “But I don't think that man is who he says he is.”

“He's pretty evasive about who he says he is in the first place,” observed Halley. “I don't like this. We need information – but where the hell are we going to get it?”

“I don't know!” I cried. “Can we just get to Nacrene and take it from there?”

“All right, all right,” she sighed. “Fine.”

We lapsed into silence, and the trees rushed by to nothing but the clacking and hissing of the train for a time.

“Hey,” said Halley after a while. “Lauren.”

“What is it?”

“Do you have an iPod or something I can play with? I'm bored.”

“I'm not sure we have the same taste in music,” I said hesitantly. My phone held as many songs as its tiny memory could hold – it was old even by Unovan standards, which meant that people outside the country could hardly even recognise it as a phone – and none of them were likely to be to Halley's taste.

“Why? What do you listen to?”

“The kind of music that you'd probably call sappy and sickening.”

“Oh. Folky poppy crap about lovers meeting, or how wonderful life is, or about the lengths to which one nonexistent lover is willing to go for the other?”

“I guess so,” I admitted. “Is that a bad thing?”

“Just keep your music to yourself,” Halley advised me.

The train rattled on, and far behind us, something in the shape of a Liepard turned granite thoughts in our direction.

---

Impossibly, they were waiting for us.

The first thing I saw when the train cruised to a halt in Nacrene's sleepy station was a man in a dark suit, the sole figure on the platform; the second thing was the lithe purple shadow stalking over to him from the ticket office.

“They're here,” I hissed, not taking my eyes off them. “Halley! They're here!”

“How the f*ck did they do that?” she cried. “They were at White Fo—”

“Halley!”

“What? Oh, the swearing. OK, sorry. But how did they do that?”

“I don't know. What do we do?”

“How about hide?” Halley vanished beneath her seat in a swirl of tail. “I mean,” she continued from out of sight, “that seemed to work pretty well last time.”

“Should we get off and make a break for it?” I asked. “Nacrene's quite big – we could lose them—”

“Not once that thing's noticed us,” she replied grimly. “I have a horrible feeling that once it finds you, you stay found. Until it chooses otherwise.”

“But my ticket only takes me this far – I can't stay on the train!”

Halley's face reappeared, an isolated image of astonishment.

“I can't believe you just said that,” she said. “Lauren. There are monsters chasing us. Hide.”

She had a point, and I crouched beneath the window, carefully arranging myself so I was out of sight from the window; as an afterthought, I grabbed my jacket with the still-sleeping Candy and put it under the seat.

“Glad you've seen sense,” whispered Halley. “Now shut up and hope they don't actually come on board.”

As if on cue, the train doors opened with a rattling clunk.

“Ah, sh— shooting the Duchess of Malfi,” she said gloomily.

Footsteps down the deserted carriage aisles. Shivers down my spine. Now a voice:

“The whole damn train is empty.” It was the agent. “It's going to take some searching to find them, if they're here.”

“They are here,” came the reply, and it as I had feared: the words definitely issued from the dry, desiccated mouth of the Liepard. “No one else will have embarked at White Forest other than they.”

“It's still a big search... I mean, I don't know how long I can get them to hold the train here, Teiresias.”

Teiresias. The demon had a name; now I could label my fear, look it up in books of legend. Perhaps someone had encountered it before; I knew that fiends like that rarely died unless killed, and it might just have been recorded in one of the lesser Treatises.

“Let it continue. We can leave when we are done.”

There was a horrible disquieting undertone to that – some implication, some hidden threat – that I couldn't work out – and instinctively I retreated underneath the seat, curling up as tightly as I could to try and fit in the tiny space usually reserved for luggage. Unovans tend to be tall, but I'm way shorter than average, and I just about managed to fit.

“Stay silent,” mouthed Halley at me, completely unnecessarily. Of course I had to be silent; my heart was already beating against my ribs so hard I could feel it in my knees pressed tight against my chest; if I added any more noise to that I was sure I'd be heard miles away.

The footsteps were coming closer – both the heavy, measured tread of the man and the soft, near-silent tread of Teiresias, undetectable to anyone except a forest native.

“Actually, this is stupid. You check that way, I'll check this way.”

“As you wish,” murmured Teiresias, and its soft footsteps faded into the distance.

“All right,” said the agent to himself. He sounded close to our compartment. “Just check in each of these, yeah?”

I heard a door sliding open – a whirr terminating with a clunk as the door slid home – and then another, and then another, each one closer than the last. I shot a terrified look at Halley – what would we do? Whatever it was that had fooled Teiresias, I was sure it wouldn't work on a normal man with normal senses. However, she made no reply, huddling deeper into her recess and shading the glow of her luminous eyes.

Whirrr-clunk. Just a few feet away.

“This is going to be a long day,” the agent muttered.

Whirr-clunk.


That had to be the next door down, it was so close—

Whirr-clunk.

OK, it wasn't, but that one had to be—

Whirr-clunk.

Our door.

“Is there anyone in any of the— huh?”

I froze, lungs and heart suddenly immobilised as if in death; what had got his attention? Had he seen the edge of my jacket, too close to the edge of the seat? Had I left something – my phone, my wallet, my sense – out in plain view on the seat cushion?

“Cool,” said the agent, bending down to pick up a pound coin on the floor. “That's one bit of luck, at least.”

With that, he turned his back and retreated, and I heard the sound of sliding doors retreating down the passage.

Halley looked at me, and I looked at Halley.

“Is this guy for real?” she whispered. “He's an idiot!”

“Ssh!”

The door was still open, and I didn't want any sound that might betray our presence reaching the ears of either of our pursuers. For a long minute, the footsteps continued – and then, abruptly, I heard the sound of a door slamming shut, and realised the man had passed into the next carriage.

“OK,” I hissed, “what did you want?”

“The man's a moron!” replied Halley. “He didn't even think to check under the seats.”

“Maybe this isn't his normal job,” I said charitably. “Maybe he usually works in an office, as a – a clerk or something, and today they ordered him to—”

“Stop being kind to the enemy,” hissed Halley. “Listen to yoursel—”

She broke off abruptly as a violet shadow passed the door, swift and silent as a ghost, and continued down the corridor. Evidently Teiresias had finished checking its half of the train, and was hastening to meet its comrade. A moment later, the train started moving again, and I looked at Halley in mild panic: now we were trapped on board – along with those hunting us.

“What do we do now?” I mouthed.

“Stay hidden,” was the reply.

I tried. I really did. And I'm flexible, yeah, but I'm not a cat – and so, just a few minutes later, I felt the first sharp stabbing needles of cramp bite into my leg. For a second, I managed to hold on – but I'm no good with pain, and at last I thrust my leg out into open with an agonised yelp.

“What are you doing?” cried Halley, but it was too late: the heel of my shoe caught the wall with a resounding thump, and footsteps came running down the train—

“Get up and run!” howled Halley, shooting out from under the seat. I struggled out after her, still clutching my leg and trying to drag Candy out after me, and got to my feet just in time to see Teiresias and the agent materialise in the doorway.

“Ah, there you are,” said the man. “Right. Lauren White and Halley... um, Halley, my name is Portland Smythe and I am here to take you into custody on behalf of the Unovan government.”

“I still cannot detect them,” breathed Teiresias, taking absolutely no notice of him. “I know they are here – I have followed your footsteps – but I see nothing before me...”

“What?” Smythe looked surprised for a moment, then recovered his cool with a visible effort. “No point worrying about that now. Let's just—”

I felt Candy stirring in my jacket and without thinking threw her at Teiresias.

The sudden flash of colour and movement startled Smythe, and he took an instinctive step back; Teiresias, still apparently unable to locate us, stood stock-still, staring blankly ahead as Candy awoke fully in midair and realised that there was something new and threatening in front of her. Predictably enough, she spread her wings, flapped vaguely and managed to guide herself into landing on the fiend's snout, from where she sank her teeth into its throat—

—and fell away to the floor, a mouthful of yellow fur coming with her and releasing a thin trickle of ashy grey dust.

“Ah,” said Teiresias slowly, apparently not noticing. “I see you.”

“Oh sh*t,” muttered Halley in frantic fear. “Oh sh*t oh sh*t oh sh*t oh—”

“You were clever, but I have found a way around your trick now.” Teiresias sat back on its haunches as Candy rallied for another attack, and the floor around its feet started to blacken and give off a rank smell I'd only encountered once before, when I was eight and the river had burst its banks, and we had found a single bloated white hand among the debris.

My knees went weak, and I reached for the seat back for support – but I missed, and stumbled against the wall instead. Snakes uncurled from nowhere in my belly, and climbed through my abdomen, pushing their sleek bodies through veins and guts and arteries, to loop themselves around my heart and choke it out of shape...

Halley's claws stabbed into my calf, and reality returned with a palpable snap like a released bowstring.

“F*cking run,” she whispered hoarsely, and vanished between Smythe's legs.

I looked around, and in one moment of stilled time I saw Teiresias rising to its feet, slow, unhurried, and Smythe staring at the mouldering floor with horror in his eyes, and Candy burying her head in drifts of purple and yellow without any perceptible effect – and screaming a prayer to Eostre for help on this her feast-day, I flung myself bodily at Smythe, knocking him off-balance, and fled down the aisle.

As soon as Teiresias was out of sight, my mind returned halfway to normal. I was scared, yes, but nowhere near as scared as I had been; something told me that that demon's power lay in fear, that if I could see it I would never be able to resist it—

“Lauren!”

Halley was waiting for me at the end of the carriage, pawing desperately at the door that connected it to the next.

“Get this door open!” she shrieked. “I have no bloody thumbs!”

A wild laugh burst from my lips – apparently some part of my mind wasn't consumed by the idea of escape and the fear of pursuit – and I unlatched the door without thinking, leaping the short gap into the next carriage as soon as I could squeeze through.

Something hit my back, squawking defiantly; Candy had caught up with us. I didn't think about how she could have done so until a breath of wind hit the back of my neck and almost knocked me down; I stumbled, tripped and fell into an instinctive forward roll to save momentum, jumping up a moment later to keep on rushing down the aisle.

“Run, run, run,” came the soft dry voice of Teiresias. “You have nowhere to go, and I have more forces than you can name at my disposal.”

“Jesus f*ck!” wailed Smythe from the distance, somewhat spoiling the moment. “What is this?”

Teiresias grunted in displeasure; it probably hadn't meant to include Smythe in the awful aura of decay and despair it had cast over the carriage – but I didn't care, it made things easier, Smythe was distracted and where were we running to—?

Another gale, this one tinged with blood and fungus, and the world around me caved in like a rotten tree, leaving oblivion in its wake.

---

I don't drink, and while I know that that kind of things happen in the cities, I'd never experienced that terrible feeling of waking up and not knowing anything abut why you are where you are before. But when my eyes opened to a red-tinged world, I could think of no reason why I would be in a train carriage, or why my hands were in cuffs, or why my head felt like someone had buried it in a heap of mouldering meat for a week.

Until, that is, I saw the white-coal eyes of Teiresias, sitting on the seat opposite, and memory returned like the fall of Tiw's sceptre on the heads of the guilty.

“Frige preserve me,” I mumbled through faintly numb lips.

“Oh, thank Christ,” said Smythe, suddenly swooping into view. “I thought you two were dead.”

“No, I think you just beat the sh*t out of us,” rejoined Halley in a dull groan. “Ah. Wait. Sorry, Lauren.”

I didn't reply. I was having trouble keeping my eyes open for longer than a couple of seconds; the red glow was receding, but there was still a nasty lethargy around my eyelids.

“Jesus.” Smythe dropped into one of the seats opposite and sighed. “That went so horribly wrong. Teiresias...”

“What?”

It was not a 'what' you could reply to: ice-cold and razor-sharp, and tinged with that arid darkness that characterised the hell-beast's voice. Consequently, Smythe chose to say no more about his partner's methods.

“I'm sorry,” he said at length, taking off his glasses and looking me squarely in the eyes. His irises were violet, I noticed, which struck me as strange; in stories, it was always the beautiful heroine who had violet eyes, not the villain. “I'm not a mercenary. I'm a civil servant, and I'm not used to this.”

“Don't reveal too much,” Teiresias reminded him quietly.

“F*ck you,” he mumbled. “I'm not a monster and I don't want people to think I am.”

Despite everything, a flower of compassion bloomed within me; I had been right – this guy wasn't a bad person or anything, he was just out of his depth. If I hadn't just been knocked out and handcuffed, I probably would have given him a hug.

The thought cleared my head a little, and I felt up to looking around; Halley, it seemed, was on the seat to my left, in an oversized cat carrier that seemed to have come from nowhere, and Candy was wrapped in my jacket, sleeping soundly. I sighed. I wished I could do that; sleep seemed like it would be a nice, easy way out of this situation.

“Anyone going to tell me where we are?” asked Halley, breaking the silence. “I get that we're on the train, but what time is it? Where are we going?”

“And what do you want with Halley?” I added quietly. For some reason, I wasn't scared any more. Teiresias might have sprung from the blackest depths of hell, but Smythe was a good man, I was sure. He wouldn't hurt us.

“Oh. Yeah.” Halley blinked. “Probably ought to have asked that one first.”

Smythe frowned.

“Don't play dumb. You know something about the theft.”

“Theft?”

“I told you not to play dumb.” Smythe put his sunglasses on again and leaned back in his seat. “Doesn't matter. I'm sure you'll be more accommodating when we get you back to Party HQ.” He paused. “Anyway, we're still on the train. Waiting for the next stop.”

“Which is?” I asked.

“Accumula.”

Accumula. That was a long way from home, I thought dismally – a long way from the verdant trees of White Forest in spring; a long way from my family; a long way from Anastasia.

“Annie,” I said aloud, suddenly thinking of something. “Did you speak to my girlfriend? Anastasia?”

“Hm? Yes, we did,” replied Smythe. “She lied about where you went, if that's what you want to know.”

“Then how'd you know we were—?” began Halley, only for Teiresias' voice to cut through hers like a mortician's scalpel.

“I'm... resistant to lies,” it said softly. I noticed with a chill that it seemed completely unaffected by the little wounds around its neck and breast, each pouring streams of dust down its legs each time it moved its head. “And very persuasive.”

A little star of panic swelled and burst in my breast; had the fiend done something to—?

“He scared her,” explained Smythe quickly, obviously realising what was going through my head. “Nothing more.”

“O-OK,” I said, unsure if I was relieved or worried.

“I don't want to hurt anyone,” Smythe continued earnestly. “I'm just doing what has to be done. For the best.”

“For whose best?” queried Halley.

“The world,” replied Smythe quietly, and would say no more.

The journey continued with nothing notable occurring except that I grew steadily hungrier and thirstier with the waning sun; I'd eaten and drunk nothing since Eostre's Eve and, since it was approaching five o'clock, when the ancient train finally pulled into Accumula's station, I was pretty desperate for food by then. In addition, the cuffs were biting deep into my wrists, and all in all, I was really looking forward to getting off the train, even if I would be exchanging it for the comfort of a prison cell.

“All right,” said Smythe, rising from his seat, “time to get off. White, grab that... bitey bird thing.”

“She's a rare parrot from South America.”

“Whatever. Just keep it away from me, OK?”

With some difficulty, I picked up the wrapped and sleeping Candy, and held her close against my chest as Smythe picked up the cat carrier with Halley in and motioned for me to leave the compartment. What would happen now, I wondered? Where would we be taken, and what would happen to us when we get there?

My thoughts continued in this vein for a while – mingled with regret at not being more useful to Halley – and the next thing I knew we were passing through the arch that led out of the station, with people staring at us and murmuring. For the first time, I realised what I must look like today: wild-haired, unkempt and handcuffed, clearly under the guard of an important-looking government agent and a massive, dust-bleeding Liepard. I hate being looked at – I'm almost terminally shy – and right now I wanted nothing more than to vanish into the bowels of the earth.

Accumula looked pretty, I told myself, trying to take my mind off my mounting embarrassment. Much larger than White Forest and with far fewer trees, it stretched away in a curve of aged stone across the three hills it was built on – and there, to the south, it swooped down into the hollow between them, a dark pocket in the town's heart.

And the people! So many more than I was familiar with, and I knew Accumula was one of Unova's smallest settlements, with Anville and White Forest beating it to the title by just a few hundred inhabitants. And all – all of those citizens seemed to be staring at me. That young woman with the baby in the pushchair – that boy with the glasses – that blonde girl with the green hat...

Hang on, I thought as we crossed the car park and emerged onto the street. Those last two really are staring. And they're coming over here.

“What's going on?” asked the boy, drawing level with us. He looked about my age and very serious, his cold blue eyes unsmiling beneath neat black hair.

“Nothing that need concern you,” replied Smythe coolly. “I work for the government, I'm making an arrest – that's all you need to know.”

“Really,” said the boy, his eyes roving slowly up and down, slowly devouring every last detail of Smythe's appearance. He saw something, I knew; no one could look at our group with those eyes and not see that something was wrong. “So you have some proof of that, then?”

Smythe hesitated. Right on the edge of my vision, I saw Teiresias close its hideous eyes, and the street began to empty, people propelled away from us by some dark compulsion. In the cat carrier, Halley stiffened, catching the edge of the feeling.

“We are alone,” said Teiresias softly, as the last pedestrian cleared the corner. For one moment, the boy and his friend stared in shock – and then the air around the hell-beast's skull began to darken and thicken, like burning sugar, and with a cry of alarm red light flashed before my eyes—

Then all at once something lithe and green was winding itself around Teiresias' limbs, a streamer of emerald flame in the weak light – a pinkish blot seemed to have replaced the sun and swooped towards Smythe with a bubbling shriek – and the green-hatted girl grabbed my arm, the contact a brief gust of reality in the chaos of the moment.

“Run,” she said, and I almost did, but I was thinking of Halley, and I cried out:
“The cat! The cat!”

The girl understood, and snatched the carrier from Smythe as the pink blot circled his head, emitting strange gossamer circles of sound that forced him to his knees.

“Silence it!” roared Teiresias, its voice a gaping tomb, its head flicking this way and that. “It blinds me!”

But I was no longer listening – no longer even present. I was flying, running down the street with the green hat girl, Halley in her arms and Candy in mine, and before I knew it the conflict was a distant bell-chime and I was being dragged to a halt by the girl in an alley somewhere.

“Stop!” she panted, hanging onto my arm; why was she out of breath, I wondered; I could keep up this pace for hours— “We got away!”

I took a deep breath, willed my heart rate to slow and let sense return in giddy waves. The first thing I registered was the girl's appearance: blonde, pale, prettier than me – but not, I reminded myself sharply, prettier than Anastasia. No one had that honour, in my eyes at least...

“She's no good with fights,” said Halley, watching me struggle to regain my wits. “She scares easily and gets distracted by random thoughts.”

The girl dropped the cat carrier as if it were a red-hot coal.

“You can talk!” she cried.

“I can also hurt,” replied Halley acidly. “As in fact I'm doing right now. Because you dropped me.”

“Oh! Sorry.” The girl scrambled to pick up the carrier and turned it so she was facing Halley.

“So you should be,” muttered the wildcat. “I'm Halley. The stupefied one's Lauren.”

“Er... hi,” said the girl, unable to decide whether to stare helplessly at me or at Halley, and wavering between us both. “I'm – my name is Bianca, and that guy is Cheren.”
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  #21    
Old October 12th, 2012, 11:00 PM
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dracoflare
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After reading many fanfictions from other authors and my own, I must say I have missed your writing for the past two weeks or so. It's like eating homemade food after eating the flimsy food in my college food court lol.

I was surprised actually. In the last chapter when Teiresias failed to spot Lauren and Co., I thought he was betraying the organization for some hidden reason, but it seems that was not the case.

About his powers, based on the description, I believe it to be a Dark Pulse.

Quote:
Originally Posted by serebii.net
The user releases a horrible aura imbued with dark thoughts. It may also make the target flinch.
But then again you might have your own version of some other attack or it could be a completely different power.

Whatever it was, it was definitely scary. Those descriptions are really amazing and did what they ought to do.

I liked your intro of Cheren and Bianca, I am glad that you are using both of them. I am really looking forward for their involvement in the next chapter, or the coming chapters.

I wonder how the government agent and Teiresias managed to catch up with Lauren though. But I can guess that, them being supported by the organization hidden in the dark, it is not much of a surprise. They could have taken a flight or something? Not sure.

I know life's a *****, but I am looking forward for your next update!
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  #22    
Old October 14th, 2012, 01:23 AM
Cutlerine
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dracoflare View Post
After reading many fanfictions from other authors and my own, I must say I have missed your writing for the past two weeks or so. It's like eating homemade food after eating the flimsy food in my college food court lol.
Ah, you're too kind.

Quote:
Originally Posted by dracoflare View Post
I was surprised actually. In the last chapter when Teiresias failed to spot Lauren and Co., I thought he was betraying the organization for some hidden reason, but it seems that was not the case.
No, Teiresias is no friend of Lauren. It's just that... well, I can't say very much without giving things away, but something about Halley interferes with the way he perceives people.

Quote:
Originally Posted by dracoflare View Post
About his powers, based on the description, I believe it to be a Dark Pulse.

But then again you might have your own version of some other attack or it could be a completely different power.
I never actually thought what it might be. I just thought about what Teiresias is, and what sort of power might therefore be appropriate for him. It isn't intended to be any sort of Pokémon move in particular.

Quote:
Originally Posted by dracoflare View Post
Whatever it was, it was definitely scary. Those descriptions are really amazing and did what they ought to do.
Thank you. I spend more time writing Teiresias than on any other character; since it's in his nature to inspire fear in others and prey upon them in that way, I've been trying to reflect that in the way I write about him. And I'm not particularly used to writing fear, so it takes me a while.

Quote:
Originally Posted by dracoflare View Post
I liked your intro of Cheren and Bianca, I am glad that you are using both of them. I am really looking forward for their involvement in the next chapter, or the coming chapters.
Me too. We'll be seeing a lot of them soon enough - and through different eyes, too.

Quote:
Originally Posted by dracoflare View Post
I wonder how the government agent and Teiresias managed to catch up with Lauren though. But I can guess that, them being supported by the organization hidden in the dark, it is not much of a surprise. They could have taken a flight or something? Not sure.
Ah, I know exactly how they got there, but I won't tell anyone just yet. You'll find out soon enough.

Quote:
Originally Posted by dracoflare View Post
I know life's a *****, but I am looking forward for your next update!
A masterly bit of understatement there. My life has changed recently, and I'm only just getting used to the fact that my social life now requires a far greater expenditure of time than it used to, owing to the iniquities of public transport. I do try and write on trains and buses, but I can't work properly unless I'm typing; the screen is an extension of my mind, where I can cut, add and rearrange the words continually until I get finished sentences. I'm terrible at just getting down a story and editing it later; I always have to edit as I go along.

Anyway. I must away!

F.A.B.
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  #23    
Old October 25th, 2012, 06:34 PM
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Wow this is great. Is the perspective of the story going to change every time the main character(s?) wakes up?
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  #24    
Old October 29th, 2012, 01:26 PM
Cutlerine
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Adin Terim View Post
Wow this is great. Is the perspective of the story going to change every time the main character(s?) wakes up?
Thanks. And pretty much, yeah - for now. There's a specific moment when the Unovas switch over, and that's not going to remain the same throughout the story.

Now, for an explanation as to why there have been no updates recently and probably won't be for some time; I feel, as a (mostly) fairly fast writer and sort-of regular updater, that I owe it to those of you who read Crack'd to explain. At the moment, I am still working on the story - when I can. But my free time is primarily taken up with a different story these days, and one which I can't, unlike normally, put off until later, as it is intended as a gift for someone on a specific date and must be finished to a high degree by a specific date, as well as sent to the printer's and bound.

So yeah. My apologies, but there's going to be a little bit of a hiatus for a while.

F.A.B.
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  #25    
Old November 4th, 2012, 08:32 AM
Cutlerine
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And I'm back! Yeah! An object at rest cannot be stopped!

Chapter Five: The Thick of It


Tock.

“Oh, sh— Short Round's baseball cap. This is doing my head in.”

I hauled my eyes open with the strenuous effort more often associated with dock labourers loading up a freighter, and stared at the green ovals hovering just above me.

“Whuh,” I mumbled. “Time?”

A voice issued from somewhere in the sea of grey around the green.

“The time isn't the problem, Jared. The problem is the fact that the world seems to have done a f*cking backflip again.”

Halley. That was the name of the voice – and those ovals were eyes, and those brindled waves were fur...

I sat up, and felt a lean furred weight fall from my chest.

“Where am I?” I asked.

“Pokémon Centre hotel room,” replied Halley. “Not sure how you remember things, but Cheren got you in here claiming you were a Swedish Trainer. Apparently they don't use Trainer Cards in Sweden or something.”

Cheren... Yeah, I remembered that. He was cold, calculating and utterly calm; no one without his bland, omniscient eyes and quietly insistent logic could have pulled off such a ridiculous lie. In fact, I'm not sure he could have done it if he didn't know for certain that they didn't have Trainer Cards in Sweden; he seemed to draw strength from facts.

“Oh yeah.” I scratched my head. “Ouch. That fight didn't do me any favours, especially after Regenschein's.”

“Fight?” Halley frowned. “Did you do some fighting?”

“Yeah – I almost threw Smythe off the train, remember? While you and Candy were fighting the Liepard... thing.”

Halley stared.

“I so wish I could remember that,” she said wistfully. “It must have been glorious.”

“What?” I blinked. “Did you get amnesia again?”

She sighed.

“Don't tell me I have to explain this again.”

“Explain—?”

“OK, listen up and don't ask questions,” Halley continued without pausing. “Unova seems to be hosting two parallel universes – one modern, industrialised world in which you're a boy named Jared Black, and one old-fashioned, backwater nowhere in which you're a girl named Lauren White. I think they're connected through dreams or something, but I keep sliding between them – with you one day, with Lauren the next.”

A memory flashed into my mind with startling clarity – like a single pearl on a bed of rose petals, a lone white seal bounding through slate-grey shallows – and I saw, as if I had suddenly been recalled to sleep, my hand pushing a bangle onto my wrist before a sunlit window. Only it wasn't my hand, it was browner and slimmer, and the nails were painted the green of spring leaves, and I don't wear jewellery...

“Lauren,” I said slowly. “I never noticed before.”

Halley's ears pricked up, and she sat up straight on the bedspread.

“Noticed what?” she asked eagerly.

“That I wasn't me in my dreams.” I didn't know why, but I felt like the veil covering some great cosmic secret had been whisked aside; I could see something incomprehensible with incredible clarity – but I didn't quite understand what it was. “It always seemed so natural,” I continued. “But I wasn't me – not Jared. I was Lauren White, and...” I frowned; I could remember nothing more.

“And?”

“I don't know.” The secrets slid away and the curtains of reality fell back into place. “I just had a strange feeling.”

“So you believe me? About the two worlds and the dreams?”

After that experience, I didn't think I had any choice.

“Yeah,” I said hesitantly. “I do. It's – it's what they call the Dream World, isn't it?”

“That's what Lauren said,” Halley answered. “Strange, really... I'd have thought she would believe me more easily than you, not the other way around.”

“Did she... I... whatever, believe you?” I asked.

“I don't know. She was confused.” Halley yawned. “She seemed bright enough, but weak-willed. I guess she clings to what she knows.”

“So strange,” I murmured. “I... yeah.” I broke off.

There was a silence, which after a while Halley broke.

“So yeah. To answer your question, it's thirteen past nine.” She looked up at me gravely. “Now put some clothes on and have a shower. You stink of teenager.”

“Is that your heightened feline senses talking?”

“No. You're just filthy.”

With that, she turned around and slid under the beside table with the peculiar combination of grace and idiocy that only cats can achieve, curled up and went back to sleep.

---

Twenty minutes later, I was clean, dressed and descending the stairs to the Centre's lobby, a large, whitewashed area that smelled strongly of dog; asking the receptionist the way in a passable imitation of a heavy Swedish accent, I eventually got myself to the canteen, where I saw Bianca talking merrily to a composedly silent Cheren.

“Hi,” I said, sitting down at their table and letting Candy down off my shoulder. “Sorry. Have you been waiting?”

Cheren looked at me, and then at Bianca's plate – which, I saw was almost full. His own, needless to say, was scrupulously clean with the knife and fork lined up neatly at the side. I got the feeling he'd been done for about half an hour.

“Yes,” he replied, “but not for you.”

Bianca gaped, and Candy stole a strip of bacon from her plate to gnaw dreamily by my hand.

“Cher-eeeen,” she moaned. “I'm not being slow—!”

“You've taken about forty minutes so far,” he told her mildly. “In that time, you've told me absolutely everything you know about Jared, a sizeable amount of conjecture about what might conceivably be known about Jared in the future, and your attitude towards your Tepig – again.”

Bianca made a peculiar noise partway between a squeal and a yelp, and turned to me with a demand for support forming on her face.

“Jared—”

“I just got up. I know nothing about this.” I paused. “Actually, I don't even know who you are, except that you're Trainers.”

We hadn't spoken much last night beyond my explanation of who I was, why I had a talking cat and why we'd both been under arrest. I actually still had the handcuffs dangling from my wrists; Bianca's Tepig (a plump, affable creature that for some reason she'd called Barry) had been able to melt through the chain links, but I hadn't wanted to risk it cooking my wrists in trying to destroy the actual cuffs. Halley had told me that they, with my studded jacket and black jeans, made me look a lot like a moron who couldn't decide whether he wanted to be a punk or a Goth.

Anyway, Bianca's natural compassion and Cheren's desire to figure out exactly what was going on had combined to form an agreement that they would help Halley and I out, and so they'd got us into the Pokémon Centre. After a quick meal, I'd gone straight to bed, and this was the first I'd seen of them since.

“Get some food first,” advised Cheren. “If only to stop your Archen from eating Bianca's.”

I frowned.

“How did you know she was an Archen?”

“Toothed beak, long feathered tail, clumsy attempts at flight and clawed wings,” he replied. “Also, I read that there were some recent developments in re-engineering at Ingen's research facility at Nacrene. Which would explain why she's alive – though not why you have her.”

“She's... kind of illegal,” I said awkwardly. “Hang on. Let me get something to eat.”

By the time I came back, Candy and Bianca had become Best Friends Forever as only animals and people who like animals can, and Halley was sitting in my chair.

“I got bored,” she said.

“Shut up,” I replied conversationally. “You're trying to keep a low profile. Now get out of my seat and sit under the table or something.”

She sighed contentedly.

“I want to be pissed-off, but I have to say I've missed this. Lauren would've sat me on her lap and cuddled me, and I would have had no choice but to try and remove her spleen with my teeth.”

“Right,” I said, shoving her out of the way and sitting down. “What were you saying, Cheren?”

“Nothing. You, however, were talking about why you have an Archen.”

“Oh yeah.” I outlined the circumstances that had led to Candy's creation and subsequent exile to my house; as I spoke, the star of the story tried and failed to break the neck of a rather sturdy salt shaker.

“She doesn't seem very 'feisty', as you put it,” observed Cheren dispassionately.

“That's because she's fairly tame now,” I replied. “It's harder to make her angry these days. When we first got her she completely filled the garden with her kills.”

“I see.”

“Yeah. My uncle said it was fascinating, and the neighbours whose pets she'd killed almost murdered us.”

“But she's so cute,” said Bianca, watching Candy with wide eyes. “How can she kill anything?”

“She's trying to kill that salt shaker right now,” Cheren pointed out. “And when she ate your bacon she hit it on the table first to make sure it was dead.”

“She's not killing, she's playing,” decided Bianca, and I could tell that nothing at all was going to change her mind on that score.

“OK, whatever,” I said, swallowing a mouthful of egg and deciding never to eat at a Pokémon Centre again if I could help it. “You were going to tell me about yourselves?”

“Yes.” Cheren pushed up his glasses with his middle finger and sat up straighter, as if he were about to recite some well-learnt lesson. “We're actually fairly new to this; we started Training two weeks ago as part of Professor Juniper's summer journey scheme.”

“Oh yeah, I remember that.” It had been on the news a few months ago, and heavily advertised since; Unova's leading Pokémon researcher, Aurea Juniper, had been trying to revitalise Unova's lacklustre Training industry, and had somehow got hold of a government grant to send a few hundred sixteen-year-olds out into the wild with Pokémon for a few months. “But I thought that didn't start until this summer?”

“Not officially, no,” agreed Cheren. “A couple of us are going early, though – test cases. To make sure that there aren't going to be too many casualties.”

“Right.” I was about to say something about how disheartening that sounded, but at that moment my phone (which Halley had conveniently retrieved for me on our way to the station the day before) rang, and, apologising, I answered it.

“I'm sorry,” said Anastasia immediately. She sounded like she'd been crying. “Jared, I—”

“Annie? Hey, it's OK,” I replied, before she could launch into a downward spiral of self-loathing. “It's OK. We got away. Those government people... well, they're still looking for us, but we got away.”

She was silent for a moment.

“I'm still sorry,” she said eventually. “I just – Jared, that monster...”

Her voice cracked, and I felt a sudden aching desire to put my arms around her, to tell her that everything was fine, that I understood and forgave her – but of course, I couldn't. We were separated by hundreds of miles of city and forest, connected only by the imperceptible ripple in the air that carried our voices to each other's ears.

“It's OK, Annie,” I said softly. “It really is. We're all OK. We fought that Liepard off – and the guy with it.”

“I know, I know, but...” She couldn't find the words, but I knew exactly what she meant, and said so.

“It's OK,” I repeated lamely. “Really. The important thing is that you're safe – and you are, right?”

“Uh – yeah. I guess. Just, um, shaken up.”

“That's better than nothing,” I said gently. “Come on. Go and shoot some Swedish bears or something.”

She almost laughed, which under the circumstances was about as good as I was going to get.

“When are you coming back?” she asked, a note of pleading in her voice.

“I don't know,” I replied. “When it's safe, I guess.”

“And when will that be?”

“I don't know.” I hesitated. “Soon. I hope.”

“OK.” Her voice was not in agreement with her words. “There's someone asking for me now, Jared. I have to go.”

“Are you sure? You don't sound like you want to.”

“Of course I don't,” she said, a note of her old sourness creeping into her voice. “No, I... I have to go.”

“You can call me any time,” I told her. “OK? Any time.”

“Yeah.” She swallowed, and I wondered what that bastard Teiresias had done to her – what horrors it had shown her to reduce Anastasia to this. “I know. OK. Um... goodbye.”

“Bye, Annie. Call me soon.”

“I will.”

She hung up, and I returned to my breakfast to find I'd suddenly lost my appetite.

“How is she?” asked Halley, unusually gently.

“Bad,” I replied shortly. “I don't want to talk about it.”

“Fine by me,” she answered. “I'm told I'm not a good listener.”

“Sorry,” I said to Cheren and Bianca. “My girlfriend. She's not feeling particularly well right now. What were you saying?”

“That was it, really,” Cheren told me. We've plotted out a route through Unova that'll take us via all the Gyms; I'm not sure we'll be able to take on more than one or two before the summer's out, but we'll do our best.”

It made sense. I'd never been interested in becoming a Trainer myself, but I knew it wasn't easy. The Gym Leaders were tough; they had vast catalogues of Pokémon at their disposal, and so were always able to pick out a team just that tiny bit too strong for each challenger who faced them. I guess that was why there weren't that many Trainers in Unova any more – for a nation of kids that were used to immediate pleasure, it was too much time and effort.

“Right.” I thought for a bit. “Won't it take, like, several circuits to actually beat them all?”

“Yeah, that's what I said!” cried Bianca, as if this were the most amazing coincidence in the world. “But we want to travel too, you know? And see the world!”

“See Unova,” corrected Cheren dryly. “There is a world beyond this country. Difficult as it may be to believe.”

Unova was fairly isolated on its little island in the Atlantic; there were only two countries on our landmass, and the northern one, Patzkova, was pretty much the textbook definition of wilderness. The British had tried to conquer it, after they took Unova; however, the terrain, natives and wild animals had all put up one hell of a fight, and, given that there was absolutely nothing of value in Patzkova beyond the fighting spirit of its inhabitants, the armies of the Empire had decided it really wasn't worth the effort. Over a century later, Patzkova was still mostly unchanged: there was something vaguely resembling a modern city in the northeast corner of it, and the rest was a seething mass of hostile forest.

“Right.” I paused. “OK. So, um... what are we doing today?”

“Bianca and I were going to head north to Striaton,” replied Cheren. “You're welcome to tag along, if you like. I don't know what use it will be to you, but we'll be walking along the Trainer Trails rather than taking the train, so it would be a good way to get off the radar while you consider what you want to do next.”

That sounded like an excellent idea. Unlike conventional roads, the trails through the wilderness favoured by Trainers were overgrown and meandering, often led in several different directions at once and had patchy mobile phone coverage. If Halley and I wanted to vanish, we could do a lot worse than travel with Trainers – even if it did mean giving up the comforts of civilisation.

“I think I'll take you up on that offer,” I told him. “Halley? What do you think?”

She sighed.

“All that time I spent getting out of the f*cking woods into the city and we're heading straight back out there again? All right, I see the need to go, but... Christ. I'm not looking forward to it.”

“That's settled, then,” I said. “We'll go with you. Candy, put that down.”

She had grabbed the edge of my plate in her toothy beak, and bit down reflexively on hearing the reprimand in my voice; there was a crack, and she stepped away, spitting out a mouthful of porcelain and looking at me guiltily.

“Thanks a bunch,” I told her, picking her up and looking her in the eye. “Bad dog.”

“Dog?” asked Bianca.

“She doesn't understand the concept of birds,” I sighed. “Believe me, we've tried. But everyone we know who has a pet has a dog, so she thinks that 'dog' means 'pet'... Look, it's complicated.”

“It sounds it.”

“Yeah. Uh, is it OK if we go now?” I asked. “I really don't want anyone asking about the broken plate. Given that I'm supposed to be from Sweden. And that I'm on the run from some sinister government organisation.”

“Oh yeah!” cried Bianca, jumping to her feet and overturning her plate. “We should totally go!”

“How the f*ck did you two become friends?” wondered Halley. I'm pretty sure both Cheren and I were thinking exactly the same thing at that moment, but we didn't have long to ponder it. We'd broken two plates and spilled a considerable quantity of food: now was definitely the time to bail. We got up, retrieved Halley from under the table, and left.

---

Accumula was more or less the worst possible place that their targets could have escaped them, Smythe thought to himself as he trudged down the little town's main street. Given that the Green Party was currently canvassing here for the upcoming general election – and that Harmonia himself was actually going to make a speech here today – it seemed more or less impossible for him to avoid making a report today. It was expected of him; in fact, he was supposed to be meeting up with his superiors today, with Halley and her new accomplice in tow. What exactly he was going to say to them was beyond him.

Just as irritating was the fact that Teiresias had vanished. Officially, it wasn't supposed to be working with him on this; it had volunteered for it – it had some special interest in Halley, or something – and so its presence on the mission had to be concealed from Harmonia and the rest. Thus, Smythe would be taking the full blame for their failures to date – when in fact the convenient failure of Teiresias' vaunted powers had been responsible for most of it. It just wasn't fair.

A bell chimed, and Smythe leaped out of the way as a gaggle of kids on brightly-coloured bikes zoomed past, chattering wildly.

“Shouldn't you be in school?” he asked, far too quietly for anyone to hear, and, shaking his head in dissatisfaction, continued on his way.

Actually, now that he thought about it, Smythe disliked this whole situation they had with Teiresias' kind. Those... things were lending their support to the Party, and that was all well and good, but he didn't like them hanging around the place, popping up in unexpected places and generally creeping him out. He didn't like the way they'd become so important, that was it. They were changing the whole feel of the Party. Sure, they were doing better in the polls – but Smythe wasn't wholly sure that this was the same party he'd joined any more; it seemed darker now, more... demonic.

Bugger. There was a fleet of electric cars coming down the road – black, white and blue, for some reason the official colours of the Unovan Green Party. They swept by, overtaking him in an instant, and hummed along in the direction of Neurine Plaza.

Smythe checked his watch. Yes, it was almost time for the speech. He supposed he'd better get there; afterwards he had his appointment with Harmonia.

He sighed, girded his loins, and strode off towards the plaza, a lone hero striking out across the grey.

---

“Excuse me. Where did you get those?”

I blinked, and looked around to see who'd spoken; as it turned out, it was a rather Gothic-looking girl who was wearing far too much eyeshadow for so early in the morning.

“Get what?” I asked. Behind me, Cheren tapped his foot impatiently; we were all eager to leave the Centre, but I could tell he especially didn't appreciate delays messing up his carefully arranged timetable.

“Those bracelets.”

I stared at her. At my feet, Halley suppressed a snigger.

“You mean these?” I asked, holding up my wrists to show her the handcuffs.

“Yeah, those.” She smiled self-consciously. “They're cool, that's all.”

“OK. Uh, thanks, I guess. They're, um, home-made.”

“That is so cool,” she said, staring at them. “I've got to get me some of those.”

I nodded in vague confusion.

“Uh... thanks. Anyway, I, er, have to go now...”

“Oh, yeah! Of course. Sorry. Thanks!”

She waved and walked off in the direction of the canteen, doubtless going to tell her incredibly alternative friends about the seriously cool new accessory she'd discovered.

“I cannot believe that anyone would like those,” muttered Halley. “F*cking hipsters.”

“I don't think she was a hipster,” I said, as we entered the lobby. “I—”

“Shut up, you're meant to be Swedish,” hissed Cheren, and I fell silent.

“Still, I can't imagine anyone would like that look,” chattered Bianca blithely. “I mean, all that black and spikes and stuff. It's so aggressive! Not cute at all... I like cute things.”

I stared at her. Was she not aware that she was describing the very clothes I was wearing? This was fashionable in Black City – the latest thing. I didn't know what they did out in middle-of-nowhere Nuvema, but where I came from, this was just about the last word in cool.

“Ignore her,” Cheren informed me lightly, without moving his lips. “Some days, that's the only way I can survive.”

We left the Pokémon Centre, and almost immediately a wave of sound washed over us: a crowd was laughing nearby. A large crowd.

“What's that?” I wondered.

“I'm not sure.” Cheren frowned. “It sounds big.”

“It's coming from over there,” said Bianca, pointing down the street. “I think it's coming from that square we saw yesterday, Cheren.”

“People are staring at me,” whined Halley.

“That's because your species is technically classified as vermin,” I said. “Now shut up before someone realises you can talk.” I looked up from her to Cheren. “Shall we investigate, then?”

“Hm. I think we will. We can afford a short detour.”

“Oh, lighten up, Cheren,” moaned Bianca, as if she hadn't heard his answer at all. “Let's go! It might be fun!”

“All right, all right,” he sighed. “Lead on.”

Bianca bounced off ahead, and Candy launched herself off my shoulder to cling to her back, squawking with joy.

“So how did you two meet?” I asked Cheren conversationally, as we walked after them.

“When we were five, I was looking for an illustrated children's encyclopaedia in the school library,” he told me. “As it turned out, Bianca had it. She'd propped it up on building blocks to make a house for some stuffed animal.” He raised his eyebrows. “I'm still not entirely sure how we got from there to here, actually.”

Somehow, that summed up the pair of them perfectly: Cheren looking for a book, Bianca using it as a toy. I smiled, for a moment forgetting Teiresias, Smythe and the mess they were making of my life, and walked on down the street with an extra spring in my step.

The crowd noises were dying down now, and I heard a man's voice ringing out above them; I couldn't quite make out the words, but it sounded familiar. Eager to find out what exactly was happening, we rounded the corner and found ourselves at the back of a crowd several hundred people strong, gathered in a plaza and listening attentively to the tall man with the synthetic eye standing on a podium in front of a banner emblazoned with the words 'Green Party 2013'. He had just finished telling some kind of joke, I surmised, because there was a ripple of laughter spreading through the crowd.

“OK, OK,” he was saying, “enough joking around, or I'm not actually going to get to the end of this speech before the council throw us out the square. Times have changed – and so have we. I think you'll find that we're no longer the butt of every political joke in the country...”

“Who's that?” I asked Cheren, staring at the man. “He looks familiar...”

“Ghetsis Harmonia,” he replied. “Leader of the Green Party and, if I remember correctly, the second person to have a HawkEye fitted.”

That was it – I knew I'd seen him before, and now I knew where. He'd been on the news a while ago; having lost his right eye in some kind of accident, he'd volunteered to be a test subject for Ovotech's new artificial sight system.
“He's standing for Prime Minister this year,” observed Cheren. “He's doing quite well so far, too. I believe it's a combination of unusual name, the eye, and a winning personality.”

“I see.”

“...you all know our stance on climate change, on sustainability, and all that,” Harmonia was saying. “That's not news anymore – and neither are our policies. We've made them entirely clear to you over the last few weeks. No, what I really wanted to do with this meeting was to talk about something new we have planned – something that will be taking place if we make it into power.”

“Where did Bianca go?” I wondered. I couldn't see her in the crowd.

“Who cares?” asked Halley. “Isn't the real question here why his hair is green?”

“That's not that unusual here,” Cheren told her. “It's the world's rarest hair colour – most common in Unova and Patzkova and virtually unheard of anywhere else.”

“You know, it's really hard to be facetious when this guy knows everything,” sighed Halley.

“That's not true,” Cheren replied mildly. “I don't know everything, and I suspect you know it.”

“Pedant.”

“I refuse to be drawn into a slanging match,” Cheren said with dignity. “Now, if you don't mind, I'd like to hear what Harmonia has to say.”

“...liberation.” A murmur of confusion ran through the crowd. “Yes, that's correct: liberation. But not any old form of liberation, ladies and gentlemen; there's no ruling elite, no dictatorship to overthrow. There are no humans in our liberation scheme. Just Pokémon.”

Another babble of bewildered voices; I exchanged glances with Cheren, but he just shrugged.

“Mr. Harmonia!” yelled a reporter from near the front. “Mr. Harmonia, what exactly do you mean by that?”

“Come on now,” Harmonia chided gently. “Give me a chance to explain before hitting me with the questions at least.” That earned him a small chuckle, and he waited for it to die down before continuing. “Listen,” he said. “I know this is going to sound strange, but hear me out: I propose we set each and every one of the Pokémon currently in captivity free.”

The crowd practically exploded in uproar; for a moment, I thought a riot was going to break out, and wished I had my trusty iron pipe with me.

“Career suicide,” muttered Cheren, as Halley leaped up into my arms to avoid being crushed underfoot. “Why? Why would he say that?”

“I asked you to hear me out!” boomed Harmonia over the din, the speakers turned up all the way to the max – and abruptly, the turmoil in his audience ceased. “Thank you,” he said, motioning to someone out of sight to turn down the volume again. “I know this sounds strange. I expected that reaction. But I want you to understand what I mean – what thoughts went through my head when I thought of this – before you discount my plan entirely.”

He leaned forwards on the podium, that gleaming red HawkEye sweeping over the crowd like the single eye of Woden from atop the gallows.

“Pokémon are inexplicable,” he said simply. “We know the laws of biology – of physics – of the universe – and almost every species breaks at least one. A Charizard should not be able to generate fire from the empty glands in its throat. A Vanilluxe should not even be alive. It has no organs – nothing, just soft-scoop ice cream and teeth. These creatures are not part of the normal order of creation – and what do we do with them?

“We eat them. We farm them. We harvest their bones and we force them to fight one another. We have done it for thousands of years. And let me ask you – what is the result?”

Harmonia paused, and the burning red eye swooped over the crowd again. I could almost feel its presence on my forehead, as if it projected some kind of heat beam; irrationally, I found myself wondering if he could see right through us with that thing. Everyone in the audience was frozen in place; the man's presence was electric.

“We have been playing with forces that we are not capable of even beginning to comprehend,” he said. “In Unova alone, there are fifty-six fatalities and ninety severe crippling injuries among Trainers each year. Add to that the estimated nineteen thousand Pokémon undergoing mental or physical abuse, and the result is a huge pool of suffering in this one nation alone.

“And Unova is not a major Pokémon-using nation,” Harmonia continued, holding up one hand to forestall interruptions. “Look at Hoenn – people wanted power, drew on Pokémon, and the world was nearly choked in volcanic ash. Look at Sinnoh – they may not state it outright, but the destruction of Spear Pillar had its roots in the same cause.” He shook his head sadly. “Look at Kanto, twenty years ago,” he said. “One Pokémon asked why it had to obey flawed humanity. The authorities have not yet been able to finish counting the deceased.”

He sighed.

“I could go on. The Raichu storm in Malaysia. The uprising of the Ghosts in Dresden. The Decoyote attacks in Texas. This is nothing new, people. Every year – every month – some new tragedy occurs. The losses on both sides, human and Pokémon, are incalculable.

“So what do I propose we do?” he asked. “Simple. Our kinds go their separate ways. The Green Party is concerned with creating a better world for all species, and I have to say that in our considered opinion, this one act of division will save more lives, of more species, than any edict of sustainability or carbon trapping.”

Harmonia paused, head sinking slightly, as if wearied from his speech.

“I don't expect you to rally to my cause right away,” he said. “I don't expect you to agree without an argument. In fact, I welcome it: I would be concerned if people didn't challenge me on this. But I want you to think, and I want you to wonder if perhaps your opposition to my proposal stems from truth – or simply from tradition. It is the way things have always been, I'm told – but that's what we used to say about slavery, and human sacrifice.”

He drew back from the podium and inclined his head in a brief bow.

“Thank you for listening. I will be available to take questions later this afternoon, at the Bertram Hotel on Wooster Street. Ladies and gentlemen, my gratitude for your time.”

With that, he disappeared behind the podium, and the crowd dissolved into ranting, animated chaos.

---

“Well,” said Cheren at length. “He's never going to win the election that way.”

I stared at him.

“Is that it? He wants to have every Pokémon in captivity released into the wild. That's not just career suicide, that's bloody mental.”

“I agree,” he said patiently. “And that's why he isn't going to win the election. Come on, let's find Bianc—”

“Chereeen! Jareeeed!”

Bianca's voice cut through the chatter of the dispersing crowd like the needling sound of a screaming child; it was also pretty much just as irritating, and Halley, Cheren and I all winced at the noise.

“OK, found her,” Cheren murmured, as she bounced up to us, Candy clinging determinedly to her hat.

“Hi,” she said. “Where were you? That was weird, right? Why would anyone want to separate humans and Pokémon?”

“I'm not sure,” began Cheren, but Halley interrupted.

“Because he sees the truth,” she snapped. “That Harmonia guy's the first person I've heard in Unova who makes any kind of sense.”

That took us all aback, and we stared at her as she wriggled free of my grip and dropped lightly to the pavement.

“What?” I asked. “You're not saying you agree with him?”

“If I'm not saying that, then what am I saying?” she retorted. “He's right. When humans and Pokémon come together, bad sh*t happens. Like Zero trying to destroy the world last year. Like Rayquaza being shot down over London. Like that Arctic research station defrosting the frozen Jellicent at Christmas.”

“But Pokémon are people's friends,” protested Bianca, which was probably the last sentiment in the world that might have earned Halley's sympathy.

“Really?” she asked. “That's what you're saying? Do you not understand how animals work? They stay where they're most comfortable – where there's food, shelter, water and someone to look after them – because it's advantageous to them. Pokémon are no different. Those few that are intelligent don't exactly love us, either.”

“Us? You're a wildcat,” I pointed out, more to score points than to actually rebut her.

Temporarily. Anyway, look at the Kadabra and Alakazam. Look at the Ghost-types. Those are as close to the speaking representatives of the Pokémon world as you're going to get, and they all hate us.”

“The Kadabra were bound to hate us,” Cheren replied. “They lost the war.”

There were no Kadabra in Unova, which was just as well; most people found them kind of disturbing. They'd lost out to humans long ago in the race to be Earth's dominant species, and mostly kept to themselves in their reservations these days. In theory, the past was behind us; in practice, the Kadabra had never forgotten, and would in all likelihood never forgive.

“Because we deliberately infected them with Gastly spores,” retorted Halley. “So that their global hive mind was almost f*cking destroyed by the Gengar eating it from within. They never did anything like that to us – and it's taken them over a hundred years to rebuild their collective consciousness. And that resulted in an explosion in the Gengar population, which means that for the last century, there's been a massive rise in the rate of fatal Ghost attacks – on humans and Kadabra – worldwide.”

“Bravo,” said a soft voice. “And that's just one of so many examples, isn't it?”

“Yeah!” agreed Halley. “I – wait, who said that?”

I looked up, and saw that the crowd had all but vanished – all but one person, who was standing alone a short distance away, in the middle of the plaza.

“That would be me,” he said, stepping forward. “Excuse me. That was an interesting speech, was it not?”

“Yes, it was,” replied Cheren, swiftly nudging Halley behind him with one foot. “I don't think Harmonia will win after that, though.”

“We'll see,” said the young man thoughtfully, drawing nearer. “Sorry, I haven't introduced myself.” He held out a hand. “My name is...”

I didn't need him to tell me. I'd known the moment I set eyes on him; he had triggered something deep inside me, some strange response that came from a more primal place than reason or emotion: I knew nothing about him, but he was as familiar to me as the sound of my own name.

“N,” I said without realising, staring into his lifeless, ice-coloured eyes. “Your name is N.”
__________________

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