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  #26    
Old October 22nd, 2011, 01:21 AM
Cutlerine
Gone. May or may not return.
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
Age: 20
Gender:
Nature: Impish
Chapter Eleven: In Which There is Mystery

'Mysterious things moved mysteriously, in such a mysterious way that all the mysterious forces of Earth's mysterious corners could not have penetrated their mystery. And so mysterious things happened, very mysteriously, and the consequences were, in point of fact, mysterious.'
— Sunday Rockefeller, The Mystery Book


In the south of Eterna, four stone towers rise around an old cobbled courtyard; they have been there for five hundred years, and time has ground its mark deep into their stones: they are soft-edged, worn smooth by the quiet passage of the centuries and the silent ivy that winds its way, year by year, around the courtyard walls. Between these towers stand four crenellated walls, the last clue that the Eterna City Pokémon Gym was ever part of a castle.

It stands alone on a hill; if it were not for the skyscrapers, it would be the most commanding building in the city. As it is, it seems slightly cowed and not a little tired, worn out from the effort of keeping modernity from taking over its hill.

If you think this, you're probably a tourist, and have read the ridiculously sappy guide that they give out free in the information centre. In real life, the Gym's been fully modernised on the inside, and though it does look slightly out of place, it doesn't look tired. How does a building look tired, anyway?

We pulled up outside it at about quarter past five; we'd have got there earlier, but where the black biker passed, the traffic got a bit confused, and so the cabbie had to extricate us from about fourteen almost-traffic-accidents on the way. There was some unpleasantness with the payment, which Iago and the cabbie almost came to blows over, but I put together a timely intervention with a credit card, and sorted it all out. Two minutes later, we were passing under the archway and into Eterna's ancient Gym.

“You'd think they'd put in a door,” Iago observed.

“Yeah,” I agreed, but since there wasn't really anything else to say, we said no more about it. Instead, Iago went over to the receptionist, whose desk looked slightly anachronistic when set on flagstones, and said:

“I'm here with Ashley.”

The receptionist looked startled.

“You—?”

The Kadabra produced some sort of card from within the many folds of his tail and showed it to her; this seemed to clear everything up, as she suddenly straightened up and pointed him over to a door marked 'Staff Only'.

“Right through there, sir.”

Sir? That's... unexpected, I thought, and followed Iago.

We made our way down a stone corridor, through a heavy door and down another stone corridor; the Gym was nice, I thought, but it was getting a bit monotonous. It could have done with some windows, too. Eventually, Iago stopped in front of a door that was emitting noises that indicated some sort of argument was going on in there, and turned to face me.

“Pearl,” he said, “stay out here.”

“What? Why did you bring me here if you didn't want me to come in?”

“Because... because... I don't know,” he admitted. “Look, just stay out here, all right? This is not something you want to get involved with.”

“Yeah, because I'm totally not involved already, am I?”

“Oh, the little human can do sarcasm,” said Iago, with at least four times as much sarcasm as I'd managed to get into my sentence. “Isn't she clever?”

“Don't patronise me—”

“I'm not patronising you,” Iago interrupted. “For a human, you are in fact quite clever. Unfortunately, that counts for nothing when you're dealing with a Kadabra.” He sighed and put one hand to his forehead for a moment. “Pearl, I can't say this any clearer. This doesn't concern you. It might well kill you. It's also highly classified. If you go in, there are people who would try and silence you, and I think that one set of people after your life is enough, don't you?”

“Fine,” I answered sulkily. “Go on, then.”

“I'm glad you have at least some small capacity to see sense,” said Iago, and went through the door. I got a glimpse of Ashley's back – but that was all I saw before it closed.

Immediately, a sly grin crossed my face. Iago thought I was stupid; that meant he was underestimating me. He probably expected me to stand right outside and wait like a good little human – and as anyone who knows me can tell you, Pearl Gideon definitely does not fit that category.

I pressed my ear to the door, but couldn't hear anything beyond low angry noises; the wood was far too thick. I'd thought that might happen, so I went over to the next door and listened at that; I heard nothing, so opened it cautiously and went inside. Thankfully, it was deserted – I had no idea what I'd have said if it wasn't – and seemed to be some sort of office. Shutting the door behind me, I looked at the wall that separated me from Ashley, Iago and the mysterious woman, and smiled: just as I'd hoped, it wasn't stone. The same thing had been done at my family home – the bigger rooms had been divided up into smaller ones with flimsy plaster walls. The first thing my dad had done to it had been to tear them all out, and I knew from experience that sound went straight through them.

“Oh yeah,” I said quietly to myself, smiling. “This is how a real detective does things.”

I pressed my ear to the wall and began to listen.

“—greement,” someone was saying – the leather-clad biker. “You stay under the radar, we don't interfere.”

“I—” began Ashley, but the woman kept talking, as bossy people often do.

“I mean, what possessed you?” She sounded almost incredulous. “Why would you do something like that?”

“These people are doing something—”

“We know, Ashley,” said the woman. “Researching the energy given off by evolving Pokémon. We've had an eye on them for ages.”

“And you haven't done anything?” asked Ashley. “But surely this is your remit!”

“The only illegal thing they've done is what they did in Jubilife with Rowan,” replied the woman, “and we don't have the authority to do anything about that. It's the police's job. Your job. Wait, let's not get off the point.”

“The point? I was rather hoping you might forget about it.”

“Oh yeah,” said the woman. “Forget that you released in the middle of a city. That's likely, isn't it? You know, in the same way that a tiger coming through the door and eating me is likely.”

“You're not very reasonable when you're angry,” observed Ashley. “I find it much easier to speak to you when you're calm—”

No! I have a right to be angry, Ashley, you've broken our agreement and you won't tell me why!”

“There was no other way to get what I wanted!” he cried back. “I wouldn't have done it if this was anything else – but there's something about this, Cynthia, there's something that doesn't feel right...!”

I didn't hear any more. I drew my head away from the wall, and blinked slowly in wonder. Cynthia. That was why the voice sounded so familiar. I'd heard it a thousand times before, on the news, during League Tournaments on TV, on the radio...

The black biker was Cynthia Buckley, the Pokémon Champion of Sinnoh.

---

“Liza!”

Tristan leaped up from where he'd been sitting on the steps and rushed to meet her as she left the Galactic building; as he approached the guards and noted the look in their eyes, he slowed, and in the end resolved to wait for her a safe distance away.

“Ah, the perfect welcome committee,” Liza said. “It's the one-man Laurel and Hardy show.”

“That's a compliment, right?” asked Tristan hopefully.

Liza paused to think.

“Sure,” she said, with a small smile. “Yeah, it's a compliment.”

“Oh. Thanks.” Tristan felt that she might be withholding part of the truth from him here, but said nothing about it. “So? What happened?”

“Lacrimére and his friends,” replied Liza succinctly. “They broke in and – well, it was probably the Kadabra, Iago. They caused a mass hallucination and stole quite a bit of information in the confusion.”

“Damn,” whistled Tristan. “That's bad.”

“I will forever be in awe of your mastery of stating the obvious,” said Liza absently, walking over to the road and looking up and down it for something unknown.

“You're in a good mood,” noted Tristan. “What's that about?”

“I had a productive conversation with your Mister Maragos,” Liza replied. A black sedan of the sort positively adored by villains the world over drew up beside her, and she got in. “Tristan. In.”

Tristan obeyed, somewhat confused, and as the car began to move away he asked:

“What's happening? What are we doing?”

“We're driving in a car,” replied Liza.

“I had noticed that,” snapped Tristan, somewhat crossly. “Look, what's going on? Where are we going?”

“Mister Maragos laid on a car for us, which was nice of him,” Liza replied, “and we're going to the Gym.”

By this point, Tristan was about five seconds away from biting off his own foot and using it to beat his brains out.

Why doesn't any of this make any sense?” he wailed, at which the driver turned around and told him to shut up, or he'd end up embedded in the ground, a position from which he doubted he would ever recover.

“We're going to the Gym because the Diamond was just seen heading there on a giant black motorbike,” said Liza mildly. It seemed to Tristan that she was taking a perverse sort of pleasure in his discomfort – but then he realised what she had just said, and blanched.

“A giant black motorbike? So... she's...?”

“Yes,” confirmed Liza. “The League's involved now.” She grinned a lazy grin. “This is becoming more and more exciting.”

“It's getting more and more dangerous—”

“It's much the same thing.”

Tristan was of the opinion that it wasn't the same thing at all, but thought it wiser not to say so. He was also of the opinion that Liza was dangerously unsound of mind, but saying that would probably have been even more ill-advised than saying that excitement and danger weren't the same thing.

“Oh dear,” he said, mostly to himself. “This isn't looking good at all.”

And as the sinister black car rounded a corner and began to head south, a second sinister black car, longer and slimmer, slid out of a nearby street, and started to follow it – only for the driver to stall the engine, curse inaudibly, and cause a minor traffic jam before managing to get the car moving again.

---

I heard footsteps moving over to the door, and quickly left the office to lean against the opposite wall in the corridor; Iago came out first, looking suspiciously at me, and then Ashley, looking somewhat abashed. Then came Cynthia, and her face was so familiar that it seemed like it wasn't real, but there it was: the sharp grey eyes, one of which was hidden beneath the sweeping curve of her knee-length blonde hair; the perfect nose, the small mouth... All that was missing was her trademark faint smile, for she was currently wearing a tight, disapproving line in lieu of that.

It wasn't hard to act surprised; even though I'd already known who she was, it was still a shock to actually see her in the flesh. My eyes widened and I gaped slightly; Iago looked at my face, and seemed satisfied.

“You're Pearl Gideon, right?” asked Cynthia, looking at me. It wasn't an approving sort of look.

“Uh... yeah,” I replied, startled. Oh my God, I'm speaking to the most famous woman in Sinnoh!

“Iago will escort you home,” she said. “I suggest you stay there from now on.” She looked at Ashley. “I need to thank Gardenia for letting me use this place,” she announced. “You can find your own way out, can't you?”

“Is that a joke?” asked Ashley sourly.

“Yes,” admitted Cynthia freely. “Now be good, boys.”

“Don't worry,” Iago said. “I've got it covered.

“Considering what you let Ashley do today, you'll forgive me if I don't believe that.”

With that, Cynthia turned on her heel and strode off down the corridor, helmet under one arm. I stared at her until she turned the corner, and then looked at Ashley and Iago.

“Was that...?”

“Yes,” confirmed Ashley listlessly. “Cynthia Buckley.” He sighed. “I apologise for her. She's not usually like this.”

“It's just that Ashley made her very angry,” Iago added.

Ashley frowned.

“No, we made her very angry,” he said. “You're supposed to—” He looked at me and broke off. “Well, anyway. We ought to leave. The next train to Jubilife leaves in twenty minutes.”

On the way out, we were all subdued: Ashley and Iago because of their telling-off from Cynthia, and me because I was thinking hard about everything I knew so far. What did it all mean? Cynthia was somehow in charge of Ashley, who had done something that Cynthia called 'releasing' in the Galactic building. Iago seemed to be... what, exactly? Was he a friend of Ashley's after all, or was he some sort of employee of Cynthia's, meant to keep an eye on him for her? That didn't fit so well with what I knew about him as a con artist; since the League was part of the government, I'd have thought it was out of the question for them to employ internationally-wanted criminals.

And on top of that I had to consider Team Galactic, who wanted Ashley, Iago and I dead, and were looking into some sort of scheme to obtain vast quantities of energy...

“This is worse than philosophy,” I muttered to myself. “This actually requires a straight answer.”

I paid for a taxi to get us back to the train station – Ashley and Iago were running low on funds again; they seemed to get through money at the same rate normal people got through oxygen – and sat in silence the whole way through, thinking furiously and getting nowhere. The train journey itself was also silent; Ashley fell asleep, though woke precisely thirty seconds before we pulled into the station, and Iago stared vacantly out of the window for the entire trip.

All in all, it was close to nine in the evening when I arrived back at my apartment – not late, especially not for me, but it had been quite an exhausting day. Ashley and Iago had insisted on escorting me there, presumably acting on Cynthia's orders, and bade me a tired goodnight at the door.

“I'll come here tomorrow,” Iago said. “There's some paperwork you need to do.”

“Paperwork?”

“Yeah, paperwork.” He scratched his head. “Basically it says you won't tell anyone about anything you saw, and that you're going to stay out of our affairs from now on.”

“Huh.” Right. Like I was going to sign anything like that. I'd get to the bottom of this mystery, whatever it was – and I'd get there on my own if need be. “Goodnight.”

“Goodnight, Pearl,” said Ashley, which startled me because he hadn't said anything for several hours now. “I'll be in touch when I find something out.”

I did my best to smile.

“Thanks,” I said. “I'll see you.”

“See you later, Pearl,” said Iago. “Well, hopefully not, but... you know.”

With that, they walked down the hall and out of my life – for the present at least. I unlocked the door and went inside, then immediately headed for bed. I was going to sleep now, so that I could get up early in the morning and call Stephanie. There were two mysteries to be solved now, and there was no way I was going to let either of them pass me by.

Morning came, and since I hadn't set the alarm I didn't wake up until ten thirty, which kind of ruined my plan. I'd half-expected this, so shrugged and put the kettle on while I called Stephanie.

“Steph? It's Pearl.”

“Pearl? Where are you?”

This was, I reflected, a slightly weird way to start a conversation, but I supposed it didn't matter.

“At home. In my flat.”

“You're back?”

“Yeah—”

“For good?”

“Um... yeah. Why not. Listen,” I went on, eager to change the subject, “have you found anything out yet?”

“It's ten thirty-nine,” Stephanie said, “so you've probably just got up. You're making breakfast right now, and then you'll take a while to get dressed... come over here in forty minutes and we'll talk.”

“You know me far too well,” I told her. “You found something out, then?”

“Sort of,” Stephanie replied enigmatically. “Like I said, come over and we'll talk.”

“About Ashley?”

“Amongst other things.”

Despite my best efforts, I couldn't get her to reveal anything, so I hurled my phone onto the sofa in frustration and set about finishing my breakfast preparations.

Fifty-three minutes later, I was walking up to the door of Stephanie's apartment; I reached up to press the doorbell, but it swung open before I'd touched it.

“Am I really that predictable?” I asked.

“I knew you'd be late,” said Stephanie. “Exactly thirteen minutes late, in fact.” She smiled. “Come in, Pearl.”

I came in, dropped my bag on the floor and threw myself onto her sofa.

“So,” I said, “tell me what you found?”

Stephanie said nothing, and I looked at her uneasily.

“Oh no. I know that look. What are you up to?”

No response, but Stephanie's smile broadened.

“What have you...” I trailed off, realising what she was up to. “Cal!

I jumped up and lunged for the door – but Stephanie held up the keys, and I rattled the handle to no avail.

“I locked it,” she said. “Shall we make a deal?”

“This is about the essay, isn't it.” I didn't say it like a question.

“Yeah, that's pretty much it.” Stephanie pocketed the keys. “That essay's due on Tuesday. Today is Saturday. That's three days to do what usually takes you over a week.”

“I think the Ashley stuff is more important than the essay—”

“Ah, there's the thing,” Stephanie said. “See, I don't think so. And neither will Professor Legumulous. So I'll make you a deal: you get your information after I get some proof that you've done the essay.”

I glared at her.

“What's to stop me from going and looking up this stuff myself?”

“Pearl, you said yourself that you'll get knifed if you do,” she pointed out. “And by the way, I want an explanation for that – after the essay, of course.”

“You,” I said, with the voice of one who knows, “are evil.”

“And you are indolent and hedonistic,” replied Stephanie.

“I'm a – a Stoic—”

“I think you mean an Epicurean,” she corrected. “This is all further proof that you should be studying. You should have learned that years ago.”

“Look,” I said, trying a different tack. “Something weird is happening, and everyone who's caught up in it knows about it. I am also caught up in the something weird. Therefore I need to know about it. That's – that's perfectly valid inductive reasoning!”

“Pearl, are you seriously trying to beat me in a philosophical argument?” asked Stephanie. “Think about that for a moment, and tell me whether you still think it's a good idea.”

I intensified my glare, but it made my face ache and so I had to stop.

“You're sulking,” said Stephanie, trying hard not to laugh.

“No I'm not.”

“Yes, you are.” She shook her head, smiling. “You can be so childish sometimes.”

“What!”

“You're right,” conceded Stephanie. “That statement wasn't wholly accurate.”

“Thank you,” I said with dignity.

“You're childish all the time.”

“Stephanie—!”

She looked at me innocently.

“It's for your own good.” She pressed her notebook into my hand. “You'll need this. Thanks for bringing it back, by the way.”

“Oh. Yeah. Sorry.” I remembered I'd left it on my desk before I'd left, and took it from her with no small sense of guilt.

“That's fine,” Stephanie said sweetly. “You need it more than me.”

“Why does everyone think I'm an idiot recently?” I complained.

“Because you've started to act like one,” she replied sharply. “Now go and work, or you'll never get the answers you're after.”

And so I left, with great haste and no little alarm, for I had what is technically known as a freaking enormous pile of work to do, and very little time in which to do it.

---

“We missed them,” said Liza. “That's annoying.”

“Why did we come here anyway?” asked Tristan.

They were sitting in the car, just outside the Gym; as they'd pulled up, a big black motorbike had roared away, which had seemed to cause Liza's spirits to sink somewhat.

“They came here,” Liza told him. “Buckley just left – we passed her, remember? She brought the Diamond, the Kadabra and Gideon here.”

Tristan stared at her.

“But... how did you know that?”

“Mister Maragos told me,” she replied. “He was in the park when he got a call from the Eterna base, and passed them on the way there – so he detailed an agent to tail them.”

“Why didn't that agent kill them?”

“Because,” the driver said, turning around in his seat, “if he'd tried to do so, he'd have been struck down with a vicious blow.”

Tristan blinked.

“What?”

“He couldn't have beaten Buckley, could he?” the driver continued. He had, Tristan noticed, a distinct Johtonian accent. “Beating her would be something that only happens once every hundred thousand years or so. You know, when the sun doth shine and the moon doth blow.”

“What?”

“Ignore him,” said Liza languidly. “He's just a running gag.”

The driver grinned and asked:

“Where to now? Mister Maragos told me to take you wherever you need to go.”

“I can't help but feel that I'm very out of the loop here,” Tristan said crossly. “Is Mars still angry with me?”

“I think it's safe to say she has bigger problems right now,” replied Liza.

“Cheer up,” said the driver. “You know what they say: when your chips are down and your highs are low – joy ride.”

“You are a singularly weird sort of man,” Tristan informed him.

“He's one of many.” Liza coughed. “That's enough. Uh... let's see...” She thought for a moment. “They know everything that Jupiter knows, which I should think isn't much more than Veilstone and Maragos...” Her eyes widened. “Veilstone.”

“Veilstone? They're heading for the main base?”

Liza smote her forehead in frustration, then decided that it would be better to smite Tristan, and consequently did so.

“Where else? Are you really as stupid as you seem, or are you just Sinnoh's best actor? I have to say that it seems very unlikely that one man can contain such a large quantity of idiocy.”

“I've had more than enough of this!” cried Tristan, and would have smote Liza back had not the driver intervened, and smote both of them. The general smiting levels inside the car were now approaching Old Testament standards.

“Look, tell me where you wanna go,” he snapped crossly, in yet another strange musical reference. “I'm a driver because I like driving in my car, and so I'd quite like you to tell me where we're going.”

“Cease this smiting!” cried Tristan, feeling that his path, like that of the righteous man, was truly beset on all sides by the iniquity of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men.

“He's right,” said Liza, whom life had taught the hard way to recognise and rectify her faults as quickly as possible. “Let's see... take us to the airport. We'll fly to Veilstone directly.”

There was a silence, and the car went nowhere.

“To the airport,” repeated Liza.

“Oh, I heard you,” the driver said. “But... think about it. I'm a driver. And you want me to take you somewhere where you can fly to your destination? When your life's in a mess, you take the National Express – but this isn't even a coach, it's a plane! It's ridiculous!”

At this, Liza's brow darkened, and Tristan instinctively recoiled from her – but it was towards the driver that her ire was directed, and to his ear that she put her mouth, and into his head that she whispered certain exotic words. And it was therefore his diminutive frame that stiffened, and his voice that issued from between his dry lips in a quiet 'Yes', and his hands that keyed the ignition and made the car drive away.

Tristan sat in silence for a while, and then asked:

“What did you say to him?”

Neither Liza nor the driver replied, and Tristan came to the conclusion that the exotic words so often employed by Liza were not ones to be spoken lightly, and therefore resolved never to speak of them again.

However, as has already been related, there were no East-side flights to be had at present, and they left dispirited – except for the driver, who of course was overjoyed.

“If he can't get East-side,” Liza reasoned, “the Diamond would head home, wouldn't he?”

“What are you basing that on?” asked Tristan.

“He's broke,” she replied briefly. “It's not as if he can afford hotels. He'll go home and wait until things have cleared up.”

“So, we're...?”

“Yeah,” said Liza. “Driver—”

“My name's Stravinsky—”

“Driver, take us to Jubilife,” she said.

Stravinsky grumbled for a moment, remembered the certain exotic words, and decided to immediately stop complaining and drive instead.

Tristan sat very quietly, and hoped that Liza never had cause to speak those words to him.

---

“Bond,” said Ellen.

“Yes, madam?”

Bond's voice was rather strained, though he was doing his level best not to show it.

“It's nothing personal, but...”

There was a short silence, which Bond eventually broke by saying tersely:

“I'm all ears, madam.”

“Well,” Ellen said. She sounded rather apologetic. “Well, it's just... you're not very good at this, are you?”

The car ground to another halt, half on and half off the pavement, and Bond turned to look at Ellen. It was the sort of look that only the very dignified can pull off, and it was intensified a thousandfold by the fact that Bond had been dead for over sixty years.

“Miss Ellen,” he said, “it has been a great many years since I last drove a motor-car. The last one I drove was of approximately the same complexity as a flea's mind. This one has so many buttons, levers and pedals that I might as well be attempting to pilot an aeroplane. Under the circumstances, I think I am doing exceptionally well!”

“Oh. Yes. Of course.” Ellen fiddled with the hem of her dress, somewhat subdued. “Well... carry on, then.”

Bond turned to face the road again, but before he could get the car started again, a policeman tapped at the window.

“Evening,” he said. “Do you know exactly how many road laws you're breaking he...” He trailed off, blinked, rubbed his eyes and blinked again.
The car, as far as it appeared to him, was empty.

“They're very annoying,” Ellen said. “This must be the seventh one now. Bond, tell him—”

“Madam, they cannot hear us.” Bond waved a hand before the policeman's face, but got no response. “And it appears as though this one cannot even see us.”

“That's not happened before. Why do you think that is?”

“I suspect there are some people who can, and some who cannot.” Bond shrugged. “It is often that way in books.”

“Oh yes.” Ellen smiled at that. “When can we stop and get some ink?”

“When we have warned that young man about his companion.”

Bond managed to start the car, much to the consternation of the policeman; as it pulled away, the good man of the law jumped and fell over backwards.

“How are we going to do that?”

This was a question that had been occupying Bond for some time. If so few people could even see them, then how on earth were they going to communicate a message to their target?

“Yes,” he murmured to himself, “it seems as if she might have her wicked way after all...”
__________________

For information about A Grand Day Out, a bizarre short story in video game form, click here.
  #27    
Old October 24th, 2011, 08:28 AM
Cutlerine
Gone. May or may not return.
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
Age: 20
Gender:
Nature: Impish
Chapter Twelve: In Which We Find Cars, Coursework and a Conversation

'The best example ever was in Bullit, where the eponymous hero chases a suspect through the hills of San Fransisco – but of course, if you're the kind of person who would read this book, then you probably already know that.'
— Gunther Holst, Car Chases and Other Badass Scenes


Closed curtains. Alternative Hoennian rock. Unmade bed. Nietzsche.

My God. If I hadn't been working, I'd have been, like, so indie and cool.

As things stood, I was slaving over my desk, attacking the keyboard with all the fervour of a Vigoroth on crack. I cracked the 'delete' key into 'del' and 'ete'; I didn't care. I was in the zone, and every word was falling into place with the inevitability of Ragnarok. I hadn't read a single one of the books I was supposed to be drawing on, but why should that stop me from turning out an essay of unparalleled genius? I was a tornado, an avalanche, an unstoppable tsunami of philosophical might. Let Nietzsche come! He wanted to transvaluate? So what? I could transvaluate with the best of them! I only needed to work out what it meant, and I'd be able to transvaluate the entire world!

So... yeah. By two o'clock, I'd given up. My energy had run out, and I drew the curtains, went out onto my ridiculously tiny balcony and thought about fun things while drinking coffee.

“You could do so much today,” I told myself. “The world is your oyster, Pearl. It's not like Stephanie's your only friend. There's Stella, and Paula, and Persephone, and Liam...” Realising how stupid I sounded, I cut myself short and changed tack. “I mean, you could go shopping, or catch a movie, or – well, anything. You're a rich kid in the city.”

At this point, I half-expected to fall asleep, and for the ghost of Friedrich Nietzsche to appear before me and tell me to work on the essay – but unfortunately, real life had stopped being a movie, and so nothing of the sort happened. Instead, my phone played a little jingle, and when I picked it up I saw I'd received a text from Stephanie:

PEARL! Get working, NOW!!

I contemplated chucking my phone over the edge of the balcony and down seven storeys into the traffic, but decided against it in the end, if only because I couldn't remember anyone's number without my contacts list.

“How does she do it?” I asked a low-flying pigeon, which looked at me, surprised, and consequently flew into a window. It bounced off, cooed abuse at me and flew away again. “Why am I so predictable?” I called after its retreating tail, but it had learned its lesson and didn't answer.

A second message came up:

Pearl... Get on with it.

I gritted my teeth, gulped the rest of my coffee and went back inside. Stephanie was my only lead; I had to get this done, or the mystery would stay just that: a mystery.

---

Two black cars speeding down the highway to Jubilife; if their close proximity wasn't enough to draw attention, then the fact that the second one was apparently driverless and kept accidentally turning its indicator lights on and off certainly was.

Now, as you will remember, there were three people in the first car, each of whom is here accorded epithets for no reason at all: Liza the Mysterious, Tristan the Idiotic and Stravinsky the Musical. And of these three people, two at least were intelligent enough to notice the car behind them.

However, the person who noticed was not one of these two people. As a matter of fact, it wasn't even the third one. It was Tristan's Croagunk.
At this point, we must step back in time, for we find ourselves asking a rather difficult question: namely, how did someone who was not actually present do the noticing?

It came to pass that Stravinsky was occupied in driving, and chattering inanely to Tristan, who was attempting to ignore him; for her part, Liza had her phone pressed to her ear, and was in urgent consultation with person or persons unknown.

“—look, I'm on the motorway, I have a bad signal—”

“—so he asked me if before I go, could I read his mind—?”

“—no, not at all – no, they'll be in Jubilife, but—”

“—but she didn't want to feel my bones—”

“—no, Jubilife – look, should I call you back—?”

“—so I said to Andy, I said: 'You're a star—'”

Under this pressure, Tristan was now beginning to consider how he might use the automated windows to attempt to cut his own head off. He thumped his thigh in a fit of angst, accidentally hitting the Poké Ball in his pocket.

As can be imagined, the effects were dramatic.

Firstly, and most importantly, a Croagunk materialised in the back seat. Secondly, the right leg of Tristan's trousers exploded as the matter within its pocket expanded to several tens of times its original size. Thirdly, Liza, startled, reflexively hit the Croagunk on the head using the nearest item to hand – her mobile phone.

Naturally, this caused the Croagunk to instinctively lash out in defence; presumably in the grip of some preternatural adrenaline rush, Liza moved so fast to dodge that its poisoned fist shot straight into the rear window, cracking the glass – like the mirror at Shalott – from side to side.

“My window!” cried Stravinsky.

“My Croagunk!” cried Tristan.

“My phone!” cried Liza.

“Gurrrrp!” cried the Croagunk, for, in being pounded onto the rear shelf, it had spotted a car without any driver, which, in its experience, was not something that happened. Ever.

The confusion then descended into a shouting match, which was abruptly cut short when Tristan followed his Pokémon's gaze and noticed that there were two unpleasantly familiar figures in the car behind him.

A pale man in a black tailsuit, and a young girl in a tattered blue dress.

“Oh God!” he shrieked, so loudly that all other noise in the car ceased, and everyone turned to look at him – including Stravinsky, which meant that the car almost, but not quite, came close to crashing.

“What is it?” asked Liza.

Tristan raised a trembling finger – but the figures were gone, and Liza saw nothing. However, this was actually more disconcerting for her than seeing someone, and she stared for a moment, bells ringing in her head, moths beating old faded wings against a tiger's heart—

She blinked, and tore her eyes away. She could feel something long forgotten pounding on the other side of a door in her mind; if she only had the key, she could let it through!

“Liza!” cried Tristan. “Did you see them?”

“Uh – what – yeah,” she replied, thinking he meant the car and not the ghosts. “The car...” She turned back to Stravinsky and shoved the Croagunk onto Tristan's lap. “We're being tailed. Lose them!”

“Yes,” agreed Tristan fervently. “Lose them! Now!”

“Don't worry,” replied Stravinsky. “Here in my car, you should feel safest of all; we can only receive in here.”

Tristan turned to Liza, distraught.

“Can you stop him doing that?”

She was a million miles away, hammering on a black steel door in a desert.

“What? What's he doing?”

Tristan gave up and hunched over his Croagunk, hoping against hope that his unearthly pursuers weren't trying to kill him.

“The black car behind us?” asked Stravinsky, looking in the rear view mirror.

“Yeah,” replied Liza as if in a dream; she smiled lazily and ran her fingers slowly through her hair.

Whether Stravinsky had the Second Sight, or whether he simply failed to notice the apparent emptiness of the car, is a moot point. He slammed his foot down on the accelerator and the sedan lurched forwards, beginning a heart-stopping slalom between lanes, skirting trucks and cars and even a caravan...

Tristan began to wonder whether or not Stravinsky might kill him before the ghosts did; he decided then and there, with the engine screaming in his ears, that he was a reformed man and that he should now make his peace with the higher powers. Unfortunately, not having previously been a man of faith, he got a little confused about what these higher powers might be, and ended up wavering between the Buddha and the Pope, which displayed an alarming ignorance on his part about the two religions in question.

---

Meanwhile, Bond was leaning very far back in his seat, his eyes very wide and his foot pressed very hard against the accelerator.

“Bond!” cried Ellen happily. “This is amazing!”

The estimable butler did not reply. In fact, his eyes were somewhat glazed.

“At this rate, we'll catch them soon!”

Bond opened his mouth, then shut it again, preferring instead to devote his concentration to keeping their purloined car on all four wheels and in roadworthy condition. This he displayed a remarkable talent for doing; had he been born fifty years later, he would almost certainly have become the driver for Sinnoh's only motor racing team. As it was, he was a butler – but one with a stupendous gift for driving. The faster he went, the less the car stalled; it was as if it were trying to tell him that this was the way to do it, that if he went fast, zig-zagging like a mad hare through wave after wave of traffic, he would surely catch his target...

“Good God,” he muttered, in a rare expression of emotion. “I'm rather glad I'm already dead.”

---

The road roared by alongside them; horns blared, cars swerved, a truck almost tipped over on its side. It was a proper car chase, lacking only some gunfire and an explosion to render it worth of the big screen – but there was still time yet, and anything could happen.

Stravinsky, a driver of lesser skill but greater experience than his buttling pursuer, was slowly but steadily pulling away from the spectres' car; he spotted an opportunity, cried out something about death or glory becoming just another story, and took a hard right around the front of a flatbed lorry transporting metal pipes. It was a textbook move, and the results were predictable: the lorry braked, swinging wildly to one side, and the cables holding its cargo down snapped, flooding the motorway with pipes. Cars fishtailed, trucks braked, people cried out and swore – and the pursuing car, caught up in the confusion on the other side of the lorry, was finally out of their hair.

For a long moment, there was dead silence; Stravinsky brought the car back into a lane of traffic, and drove on for about four miles while their heart rates returned to normal.

“What,” asked Tristan slowly, “just happened?”

“We lost our tail,” replied Stravinsky succinctly. Even he seemed a little shaken. “There's no way they're getting past that crashed lorry.”

“Who were they?” Tristan knew that they were ghosts, of course, but he had no idea why the ghosts should be chasing him; it seemed reasonable to suspect they were in the employment of some other power.

“I don't know,” said Liza. She seemed to have recovered from her strange trance; whether she could remember that there had been no one in the car or not is not recorded, but it seems unlikely, for she made no mention of it. “That worries me. They didn't work for the Diamond; he doesn't know where we are, and besides, we're just a pair of goons to him. They can't have been police – they'd've used a cop car.”

“Could they be League?” asked Tristan. Why ghosts would work for the League was unclear – but he couldn't think of anything else.

“League...” Liza's face darkened. “Could be, but again, why us? Team Galactic's goals concern them – but if they knew the half of it, they'd send out an Elite Four member right away, with a couple of Gym Leaders as backup – and they'd go right to the base. If they were chasing us, they might send ordinary Gym Trainers, who might try and tail us like that – but they have no reason to look for the Team, and no reason to choose us instead of the base.” She shook her head. “No, it doesn't make sense.” She looked out of the cracked rear window again, and was reassured to note a distinct absence of pursuing vehicles. “There's someone else involved in this. Someone other than Lacrimére, and other than the League...” Liza bit her lip and turned around again. “Driver—”

“I've told you before, my name's Stravinsky—”

“Driver, get us off the main road as quickly as possible,” Liza continued. “However stupid the Sinnish police are, they won't miss that enormous traffic accident.”

Stravinsky couldn't argue with this, and so he didn't, taking them onto a minor road as soon as they got to the next junction.

Naturally, no one saw the white eyes watching them as they went.

---

“So that's what transvaluation is,” I said to myself, nodding as if I understood what I'd just read. “Huh. Nietzsche really doesn't like Christianity, does he?”

As Professor Legumulous was to later tell me, this was a gross oversimplification, but it seemed justified at the time. I was back on the balcony, reading the books I was supposed to have read before starting the essay. I'd had a quick trip out to the university library earlier, and picked up about five of them – the maximum I thought I could reasonably be expected to pick anything up from in three days.

It was quite a nice day; Sinnoh's a northerly island and it's usually cold throughout autumn and winter, but this year the summer's warmth had lingered longer into September than usual. I was glad of it: I find it far easier to study lounging on a sunny balcony with a drink than in a library or something.

“No distractions, Pearl,” I told myself. “Back to the books.”

And I was about to start reading when someone knocked at the door. Cursing whoever it was, I laid the book aside and stalked back through the flat.

“What is it?” I demanded to know, yanking the door open and staring belligerently out. “Look, I'm being studious – oh. Hi, Iago.”

As swiftly as I could, I removed my glasses; they don't suit me, and I only wear them when I'm reading.

The Kadabra stared impenetrably at me for a moment, and then said:

“Good to see you studying. I brought that stuff for you to sign.”

“Right.”

There was a pause.

“Can I come in?” he asked.

“Oh. Yeah. Sure.” I stood aside and let him in; he looked around at the curious combination of obsessive tidiness and negligent disorder, shook his head and held out a sheaf of papers.

“OK, so I don't want to be here and you don't want me here. Let's get this done quickly. You sign these nondisclosure agreements and my knife and I don't make a return trip here at three in the morning.”

“You could lay off the threats,” I said, reluctantly replacing my glasses and glancing through the papers. “I know how much you want to stab me, you murderous bratchny.”

“Half right,” Iago corrected, fiddling with his moustache. “I am a murderous bratchny, but I don't really want to stab you. It takes ages – I have to hit people over and over before it really does anything.”

That was right; being stabbed to death by a Kadabra would be like being decapitated with a butter knife. I expected it would be very slow and very painful; hopefully, I'd pass out from blood loss before things got that bad.

Returning my attention to the contracts, I could see that they were, as Iago had said, nondisclosure agreements; since he was a con artist, I had half expected this to be a way of scamming me into signing over all my worldly possessions to him. I thought about the ramifications of breaking them, and decided that I could only get in trouble for doing so if I was found out – so all I needed to do was keep a low profile. Following this slightly skewed train of thought, I signed and resolved to break the contract at the soonest opportunity.

“How's the investigation going?” I asked, handing it back to Iago. He started examining the papers, making sure I'd signed each page, and said:

“All right. Ashley's called in a favour with someone in Veilstone; they're going to have a look around.”

“I checked the weather forecasts,” I said, as nonchalantly as possible. “Something flew over the northern pass and made a lot of Abomasnow very angry; the snowstorms won't let up for a week.”

“Yeah, air travel's out of the question,” agreed Iago. “We're hoping the roads clear soon.” He gave me a look. “Don't get any ideas, Pearl. You don't work with us.”

“I know, I know.”

I gave him my best innocent look, which always worked well on men (except Ashley) but which Kadabra seemed to be immune to.

“Huh. Sure.” He went over to the door. “See you later.”

With that, he was gone, and I had to force thoughts of Ashley and Team Galactic from my head, and return to my philosophy essay.

“OK, where was I? Transvaluation, that's right...”

I'm pretty good at making a lot out of one idea; so far I had one good point (this transvaluation one, in case you haven't already noticed), and I was milking it for all it was worth. I hammered out another eight hundred words on it, decided I'd gone overboard with the bit about the Budew, deleted five hundred words and wrote one hundred more; by seven o'clock, I'd got a workable draft of how the essay was going to run.

“Hell yeah,” I said, doing a fairly embarrassing fist-pump. “I am so smart.”

My phone rang, and I pressed the button to see a third text from Stephanie:

No you're not.

“Screw you,” I replied, though she never heard me, and threw the phone onto my bed.

I could get the essay done tomorrow; after all, Sunday wasn't a day for having fun. It was a day for nursing the hangover you had from Saturday night. And with Saturday night fast approaching, I had better work out what I was going to do. You might well argue that I obviously hadn't thought this through, because if I had a hangover I wasn't going to be able to do an essay – but as it was to turn out, it was kind of a moot point.

I picked up my mobile again and started scrolling through my contacts.

“Let's see,” I muttered. “How best to waste the evening...?”

---

“OK, Ashley, I gave you yesterday to get over this,” Iago said, “but I'm starting to get pissed-off now. What the hell are you hiding?”

The detective looked up from his seat as if he hadn't heard.

“What?”

“Don't 'what' me,” snapped Iago, slamming his glass down onto the table. “You released in the sodding Galactic building. Why? If it was just to get me in trouble, you certainly sodding succeeded!”

Ashley made a noncommittal noise.

“You're as bad as Cynthia,” he said. “I couldn't help it. I thought I was about to die.”

“You did that deliberately though, didn't you?” asked Iago. “You set it up so you'd have that excuse. Do you think I can't see through this? I have an IQ of 876!”

“Yes, I always thought the 5000 was a bit of an exaggeration.”

“Stop – sodding – joking!” cried Iago, sweeping his glass off the table with an angry movement; so weak was his arm that it barely travelled an inch from the edge. “It's not funny!”

“Well it is for me.”

“And it?” asked Iago viciously. “How is it for it?”

The atmosphere around Ashley dropped a full three degrees.

“'It' doesn't think,” he answered coldly. “It just is.” He stood up, and Iago wondered if he hadn't gone too far; after all, the last time anyone pushed him over the edge, Darkling Town had had to be removed from the map. “I did it because Jupiter would only have given up information under extreme duress. There was no other means of doing it.”

“That's just not true,” Iago replied. “You could have...” He trailed off, and Ashley gave him an inviting sort of look.

“What?” he asked. “Do tell, I'm all ears. What else could I have done?”

“OK, so I don't know,” Iago admitted.

“You see it too,” Ashley said. “The Galactics' security was too good for anything other than straight-up confrontation. If I'd tried to sneak around the edges, I would have got precisely nowhere.”

“Still...” Iago shook his head and changed tack. “Fine, then. What about the other stuff Jupiter told you?”

“What other stuff?” asked Ashley.

“She didn't just tell you about Maragos,” said Iago patiently. “I've been your keeper for five years now. I know when you're lying.”

Ashley sighed.

“She said Maragos was looking into the myths and legends of Sinnoh,” he replied. “She said he was demythologising.”

“That Bultmann thing?”

“Yes. Removing the fantastical elements to get at the core truths.” Ashley sighed again. “She said that the truths in those myths would let him become the ruler of Sinnoh.”

“The ruler of Sinnoh...?” Iago looked at him askance. “What the...?” His eyes widened. “Oh. You think...?”

“Yes. Like me.” Ashley gave him a very serious sort of look. “What Robin Goodfellow said to you in the park...”

“They stole it, didn't they? The Galactics.” Iago ran his hands through his moustache, much as a human might run them through their hair.

“I fear so.” Ashley paused. “It's why he wanted me killed, I suppose. This Cyrus Maragos... he wants to be the only one. He wants it running through his veins, boiling in his blood. I suppose I am a threat.”

Iago was silent for a while. When he spoke again, it was in a quiet, serious voice, and it was to ask a question that he'd never asked before.

“Does it hurt?”

Ashley looked away, and in the light his eyes looked yellow.

“Not often,” he admitted softly. “Less now.”

“But when you release?”

“Ah.” Ashley shut his eyes tight; he could hear something drumming on a door in the back of his head. “Yes. Always.”

Iago, not knowing whether to deride or sympathise, fell silent. It was probably for the best.
__________________

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

Last edited by Cutlerine; October 27th, 2011 at 01:23 AM.
  #28    
Old October 27th, 2011, 01:43 AM
Cutlerine
Gone. May or may not return.
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
Age: 20
Gender:
Nature: Impish
Side note: I've removed Nanaly the Staraptor; I just remembered she's from a different story and that my wires had got crossed somewhat. Sorry about that.

Anyway, on with the story:

Chapter Thirteen: In Which the Ghosts Confer and Pearl Makes a Startling Discovery

'A mystery, wrapped in an enigma, concealed within a riddle, obfuscated by a puzzle, hidden behind thirty feet of concrete. That's what the average detective novel case is, but somehow it always gets solved by the last page.'
— Popular fictional detective Samuel Stabbs, in an interview for Sinnoh Now!


Irritating radio. An aching arm. A pounding head. A weird smell.

Christ. It must be Sunday morning.

I groaned loudly, then hushed abruptly as a spike of pain dug into my head.

Damn,” I whispered to myself. “That ain't no normal hangover.”

“What hangover?” asked a familiar voice. “I don't smell any alcohol on you.”

I groaned again.

“Iag-o,” I moaned. “What are you doing here?”

“I think the question is, what are you doing here?”

That was an ominous sort of sentence if ever I'd heard one. I had to see what was going on, so I opened my eyes, took a brief look around and closed them again before I panicked.

“Iago,” I said, trying to keep the note of alarm from my voice, “why am I in hospital?”

“A better question is why am I here,” Iago said gloomily. “Ashley said I had to come and see you. He was too busy thinking.”

“No, I'd actually like you to answer my question.”

“Huh.” He sighed. “Can you feel a pain in your arm?”

“No...?”

“That's because you got Poison Stung by a Croagunk.”

My eyes flew open again and locked onto my left arm: it was swathed in bandages from knuckles to elbow. I couldn't see much of it beyond the fingers, but they were an unpleasant shade of purple.

“I can't feel my arm,” I said, beginning to panic. “I can't feel my arm—!”

“That's fine, that's normal,” Iago said wearily. “The numbness will wear off. They got you the antivenin and fixed up the hole; I expect they'll let you go home today.”

“Cal,” I said. “What happened?”

The Kadabra shrugged.

“I was kind of hoping you could tell me that,” he said. “Ashley's keen to know. We think it was the Galactics – Liza and Tristan seem to have a Croagunk, and they also seem to be the ones sent to kill us three.”

I frowned.

A Croagunk... an alley... Liam and Persephone and Paula...

“No,” I said. “I can't quite remember.”

“Huh,” Iago said again. “Well, call us if you remember. I put Ashley's number in your phone.”

“You're leaving?” I asked, as he got up.

“Well, yeah,” he said, as if anything else was unthinkable. “I mean, why the hell would I stay?”

With that, he walked out, and left me alone in an empty ward.

I frowned. Why was the ward empty? This was central Jubilife; people should have been being shot and stabbed twice hourly, especially on a Saturday night.

A moment later, a nurse came in and asked me how I was feeling; I looked at her as if she were more of an idiot than I was.

“How do you think?” I asked, aggrieved. “There's a toxic hole in my arm!”

“Yeah,” she said thoughtfully, “we wanted to know how that happened.”

“Join the club,” I said dispiritedly. “I don't remember.”

“Well, maybe you'll remember later,” she said. “The police were after you, though, so I'd remember soon.”

I glared at her.

“Do you have anything medical to do or are you just here to make me feel worse?”

“I was actually checking to see if you'd woken up,” she said, unperturbed, “and I'll take your blood pressure and temperature while I'm at it.”

Both were normal, and she assured me that a doctor would be in to see me later before gliding out as if on oiled castors.

“This place is weird,” I muttered, and set about trying to remember what happened last night.

---

“What do we do now?” asked Ellen.

She and Bond were sitting on a log in the middle of a small forest. Their car lay in what is technically known as a twisted heap back on the motorway; Bond was a good driver, but there was no real way to avoid a sudden lorry wreck right in front of him. If they already been dead, both of them would have become so very abruptly and rather painfully.

“I confess I don't know, madam,” replied Bond, his calm having returned now that he had left the vehicle. “We still have to catch up with that young man and get him on his own so that we can warn him.”

“I know,” replied Ellen. “But – and this is going to sound awfully silly, Bond, but I think it's true – I think he might be scared of us.” She looked up at him, pale and anxious. “Does that sound silly to you?”

Bond considered.

“No, madam,” he replied at length. “That would appear to make perfect sense. One must remember that we are what people would usually call ghosts.”

“Oh yes,” Ellen said. “We are, aren't we?” She thought about that. “I'd scare myself if I was still alive.”

Bond almost smiled, but that would have been too presumptuous of him.
“Yes,” he said. “I think we are approaching this the wrong way.”

“Well, what's the right way, then?” asked Ellen.

“Madam,” said Bond, “I have absolutely no idea.”

Ellen sighed and started fiddling with the shredded hem of her dress again.
“I suppose we ought to find him, really,” she said. “But how?

And it was at this moment that a pair of white eyes appeared in the middle of the clearing, right before their faces. They were accompanied by a nebulous, shifting cloud of purple-black gas, and a curious jingling sound that reminded one of a set of windchimes.

“Mans?” asked Ellen, surprised. “What are you...?”

For Mans was, as were Chicory and Huluvu, a Gastly, one of three that, along with Ellen and Bond, held possession of the remnants of Wickham Manor. As mentioned before, they didn't like to leave in case another Ghost took over, but evidently Mans had thought the situation warranted it.

Uh... Hi, Ellen, said he.

“What's he saying?” asked Bond. For reasons that he didn't fully understand, only Ellen had acquired the ability to understand what Ghosts were saying when they died; thanks to that, the three Gastly had been willing to overlook the fact that they were sort of human, and had become something akin to friends to them.

“He says hello,” said Ellen. “Mans, what are you doing here? I thought none of you could leave the house!”

Chicory and Huluvu have it covered. The Gastly jingled a little and bobbed up and down. How's your hunt going?

“Not terribly well, I'm afraid,” Ellen told him. “We chased him in a motor-car, but they got away.”

Yeah... Mans said. Well... that wasn't wholly unexpected.

“Pardon?”

We kind of knew you'd fail, said Mans, as delicately as he could. I mean – no offence, but you two haven't left the house in sixty-odd years. Some of them very odd, he added to himself.

“What – but... why didn't you say something?” cried Ellen. “It would have been nice to know something about the outside world before we left!”

We had bets going, Mans said. We wanted to see how far you'd get before you failed. He attempted a shrug, but it failed owing to his singular lack of shoulders. I won. He coughed. Er, look, I just wanted to tell you that we've got some friends on the outside, a Ghost called Pigzie Doodle.

“Pigzie Doodle?”

Yeah, don't question the name, he's a bit sensitive about it. Something about someone drinking too much at the christening, I think. Anyway, he hangs out in this sort of area, and we asked him to keep an eye on those people you wanted following.

Ellen's eyes widened.

“You mean to say—?”

Yeah. We know where they are.

“But – but that's marvellous!” Ellen turned to Bond excitedly. “They were tracking them too, Bond! They know where that young man is!”

“Is that so, madam?” asked Bond. “How... unexpected.”

Head to Jubilife, Mans went on. Pigzie will be waiting for you; Jubilife doesn't have many of your sort, so he should sense you arrive and find you shortly after you get there. OK?

“Yes,” said Ellen. “Wonderful.”

I need to go, then, Mans said. I don't like being outside the house.

And with that, he vanished as if he had never been.

“Where are they?” asked Bond of Ellen.

“In Jubilife,” she replied. “We're going to meet a friend of Mans' there, called—”

Just then, Mans suddenly reappeared.

By the way, he said. If they go on to Hearthome, don't go with them. There's an old Mismagius there, and she won't be as friendly as we are. She's perfectly capable of hurting you, too, so... yeah. Be careful.

“Oh. Thank you,” said Ellen, and added: “I wish you wouldn't keep appearing and vanishing so suddenly: you make one quite giddy.”

“All right,” said Mans; and this time he vanished quite slowly, beginning with the edges of the gas-cloud, and ending with the eyes, which remained some time after the rest of him had gone.

“Here,” remarked Bond, “one might make a comment about eyes without a Gastly, but I rather think it would be labouring the joke.”

“Yes,” agreed Ellen. “Now, shall we?”

“Of course, madam,” replied the estimable butler, and, taking up his young charge's hand, set off for the road and thence for Jubilife.

---

“And don't forget,” cried the doctor after me, “to come back tomorrow!”
He sounded decidedly half-hearted about it.

“Sure!” I called over my shoulder, with a far-too-cheery smile. “Whatever you say!”

My arm was stiff and sore but working; after a protracted argument with a doctor (during the course of which I'd threatened to put his head through a window) and a frustrating attempt to convince the police that I really couldn't remember what had happened, I was free. After I'd told them exactly what I thought of their suggestion that I stay in for observation, the medical staff had had no choice but to let me go, though they did gingerly press a tube of Chansey lotion into my hand and ask me to consider using it every once in a while. Preferably twice a day.

I still couldn't remember what had led to my spiked arm; my memory ended abruptly at the point where I'd started scrolling through my contacts. It had been explained to me that this was a result of the Croagunk venom – apparently, it acted primarily on the brain, sending you on a fairly hardcore acid trip from which, ideally, you never recovered – but that didn't help me remember anything. I would have to send out a mass text and find out who was with me last night, and if they saw anything.

More importantly, though, I had to get that essay done. Perhaps it was because I didn't remember it, but my poisoning didn't seem real; if I thought about it at all, it was as I might recall a dream. If it had a basis, it was in this whole Ashley/Galactic mess – and that meant I needed to figure that out. And to do that, I had to finish the damn essay.

It was while my mind was running along this sort of theme, playing motivational hero music in the background, that someone fell into step alongside me.

“Hello, Pearl.”

I jumped, almost fell into the traffic and was hauled back by a thin arm.

“Jesus Christ, Ashley! You scared the hell out of me.”

He shrugged.

“Sorry. I'm used to taking people by surprise; I suppose I do it instinctively now.”

“All right.” I gave him a look, then started walking again, in the direction of the nearest subway station. “What do you want?”

“To make sure that this little stabbing incident isn't going to trigger some sort of investigatory crusade in you.”

“Uh... right.”

“Is it?” he asked.

“No,” I answered, far too quickly. “No it isn't.”

Ashley sighed.

“Please, Pearl. Do you realise how much danger you are in?”

Looking back, I really didn't. I had never known real danger before; I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

“Yeah,” I said. “And I don't care.”

“I care,” he replied unexpectedly. “There's only one thing more tragic than a life cut short.”

“And that is?”

He looked at me sadly.

“If you keep investigating, you'll find out,” he replied. “It's the key to everything, really.”

Immediately, I memorised it: There's only one thing more tragic than a life cut short.

“I can't stop you,” Ashley went on. “Or rather, I can – very easily – but I won't. Not if you really want to. But you'll do this without me or Iago, and consequently in a great deal more danger even than you're already in.”

“I don't care,” I told him, pausing at the top of the steps that led down to the subway. “I'm not giving this up.”

He shrugged again.

“Whatever you say,” he said, turning to walk away. “Here is where our paths diverge. Goodbye, Pearl.”

“Bye,” I said after him. I wasn't entirely certain he wouldn't turn up again; he seemed to be quite like a bad penny in that regard.

“Oh, and Pearl?” Ashley called back, stopping for a moment. “I would leave Stephanie out of this, if I were you. You've no right to harm her as well!”

I stared, open-mouthed, and was about to ask him how he knew about her – but all at once he was gone, vanishing into the crowd like a ghost in the fog.

---

When I got home, I put all the mysteries in my head to one side for a moment – a feat that required an extraordinary amount of mental exertion – and got back to work on the essay. I had to know, I just had to; otherwise, I would get exactly nowhere.

But I couldn't help but let the puzzles trickle into my head: a forgotten stabbing, a mysterious 'release', a secret League project... how did it all fit together? And what did it mean?

I spent an hour wondering and wrote nothing; then, realising this, I attacked the laptop furiously for ten minutes, wrote a page and a half of nonsense, deleted it and started again. My arm was beginning to ache, so I took a painkiller and kept going; I couldn't stop now. I was back in the zone, or at least not far from the border of it, and so it was that by quarter past two I had a passable essay. Actually, it wasn't passable, it was awful, and it wasn't an essay, it was a crappy draft, but that would do; I just needed that information from Stephanie, and so I printed it out and rushed over to her place as quickly as possible.

“Pearl! What happened?” she said, as soon as I appeared. It took me a moment to realise she was staring at my bandaged arm.

“What – oh, that? Nothing. Just a little light stabbing. Look, I finished—”

Stabbing?” cried Stephanie. “Oh my God, I didn't really believe you when you said you'd get knifed—!”

“What? No! It wasn't that!” I paused. Wasn't it? Sure, there had been Croagunk venom in me – but it could have been a poisoned knife, which would be more Iago's style: he wouldn't have to be strong to kill someone with that. I shook my head; there would be time to think about that later. “I'm not sure what it was. I can't remember. Look, can I talk about it later?”

But apparently I couldn't; I had to spend half an hour telling Stephanie all about the events of last night and this morning (what I could remember of them) before she would even look at my essay.

“Pearl,” she said at length, “I'm sorry. I was wrong.”

“What?”

This was unexpected. Stephanie was never wrong.

“I shouldn't have kept on at you,” she said. “You were right, this is serious.”

“Oh.” I straightened up self-consciously. “Well, uh, I did tell you.”

“I mean... you could have died.” Stephanie's blue eyes bored seriously into mine. “You could just as easily be in a morgue this morning as in my living-room.”

I hadn't thought about it that seriously yet – and I didn't intend to. That was the sort of talk that would remove my carefully-sculpted confidence in one fell swoop.

“I suppose,” I said, in an offhand sort of way. “It doesn't concern me.”

Stephanie frowned.

“Weirdly, I can't tell whether you're braver than I thought or stupider,” she said.

“It's braver,” I assured her. “Definitely braver. Look, I've done my essay!” I waved it around. “Can I see the information now?”

“What – oh, about your detective. Yeah, I'm sorry about that. It's mostly conspiracy theories.”

“Huh?” Conspiracy theories? I knew Ashley was more well-known than I'd thought – but not that well-known, surely? “Show me.”

Stephanie fetched her laptop, opened it up and paused to look at me.

“He doesn't want you doing this, does he?”

“Not... as such,” I answered cagily.

“Maybe he's right,” Stephanie went on. “I mean – you almost died.”

“Maybe I did, maybe I didn't – I can't remember. Show me the stuff.”

I was raring to go; I'd done an awful lot of work to get here, and I wanted the rewards. Now.

“Pearl... I think you should let this go,” Stephanie said, and it was only our long-standing friendship that prevented me from punching her in the face.

What?

“You just got stabbed by a Croagunk!” she cried. “Don't you see how dangerous this is?”

“Yes!” I snapped back. “I'm the one who got stabbed, aren't I? You're not running my life—”

“No, but I don't want you to die,” she said brutally, which shut me up. It had a lot more weight coming from her than from Ashley; now, it sounded real.

“I...” I trailed off, thought for a moment and started again. “I'm not going to die, Steph. I'm not the dying sort.”

“Liar,” she said immediately. “No one's 'not the dying sort'. You're not a detective, not a cop, not a Trainer – you're just a student, out of your depth. Pearl, this isn't a fight you can win!”

“I'll get protection,” I said stubbornly. “I'll – I'll get a Trainer to take me through the Celestic caves to Veilstone, and to help me investigate Galactic there—”

“Don't you see? This is part of the problem!” Stephanie threw her hands up in the air; I could tell she felt like saying 'Lord, I just don't care'. “You can't do this without endangering anyone else, can you? It's not right for you to risk your life – but it's worse for you to risk other people's!”

She was like an echo of Ashley, and I frowned at the memory.

“He's spoken to you, hasn't he?” I asked, in a moment of inspiration.

Stephanie hesitated for just a moment too long, and I knew she had.

“Pearl, I was worried,” she said, giving up. “I got his number from his website and told him who I was. He was very sympathetic.”

“He would be,” I muttered. “OK, Steph, so this is dangerous – I get it. But it's just as dangerous to do nothing, right? Because that's what I was doing last night. Nothing. I wasn't even working!” I was on a roll now; I leaned forwards and made an expansive gesture that almost knocked over a mug of coffee. “Do I sit here and wait for some assassin to get me? Or do I go out there and solve this mystery?”

For what seemed like an eternity, Stephanie stared at me, mind teetering back and forth between agreement and disagreement – and then it fell, and she shook her head.

“I guess you're right,” she said. I didn't recognise the tone in her voice. “I...” She broke off and smiled, though it wasn't a particularly happy smile. “I guess that means you're brave, not stupid.”

“Hey. Thanks.” I waited for a moment, then asked: “So... the info?”

“Oh. Yeah, all right.” Stephanie double-clicked something and swivelled her laptop around so I could see. “This is all I could get. I think you'll agree, it's pret-ty weird...”

---

To cut a long story short—

—it was.

In fact, it was quite a lot more than pretty weird. It was very weird and extra weird and lots more weird besides. Apparently, Ashley was a robot from the future, sent back to kill his enemy's father; he was also one of many clones of himself, created by an ancient civilisation that used him to guard their secrets; he was a dark magic construct, formed of river clay thousands of years ago and disguised as a human.

“People are weird,” I said.

“Yeah, that's pretty much what I thought,” said Stephanie. “Not much help, eh?”

“Do you know what the root of all these rumours is?” I asked.

“I think so,” said Stephanie. “Look at this.” She scrolled down to reveal a few dates. “A couple of months ago, Ashley Lacrimére flew to Hoenn to be a consultant – that's all they say in the papers, but from what I can work out, he was helping the government with that Zero stuff. In 2006, he thwarted this guy called Ivo Robotnik who had one of those take-over-the-world schemes that villains keep coming up with – apparently there was a hedgehog and a fox involved. In 1999, he caught the jewel thief Tarragon Rafflesia in Patagonia. In 1982, he found his way into the Black TMs stuff in Kanto – he was the one who led Russell Curtis into it. In 1959, he—”

“Wait,” I said, holding up a hand. “He looks about fifteen. He can't be more than, what, twenty-eight at the most?”

“Exactly,” replied Stephanie. “I've met him, remember? He came here on Friday night to tell me not to let you go.”

“You were in on a Friday night?”

“Not everyone is Pearl Gideon,” she countered irritably. “Look, let's get back to the point, shall we? I've got a record for him stretching back to 1904, when he met a retired Sherlock Holmes on the Sussex Downs.”

“Holmes? Wasn't he fictional?”

“Apparently not. That's not the point, though. The point is—”

“—that Ashley has been around for a very long time,” I finished. My mind was going round and round very slowly, like I was Colonel Dedshott on ice; I couldn't quite make myself believe it. “Ashley Lacrimére's... over a hundred years old!”
__________________

For information about A Grand Day Out, a bizarre short story in video game form, click here.
  #29    
Old October 29th, 2011, 08:50 AM
Cutlerine
Gone. May or may not return.
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
Age: 20
Gender:
Nature: Impish
Minor note: I think I might go on a sort of hiatus, or at least post chapters less frequently - NaNoWriMo is coming up, and I'll need to work on that rather than this.

Chapter Fourteen: In Which The Ghosts Arrive, and Pearl Leaves

'In America, if there's something strange and it don't look good, you can call Ghostbusters. Unfortunately, we don't have that service in Sinnoh – you just have to get a priest and a flask of curried nightmares, and accuse them of fraud. No one knows why, but this seems to get rid of them about eighty per cent of the time.'
Sid 'Bram' Stoker, Home Exorcism for the Modern Sinnish Family



“All right,” cried Looker, bursting through the doors, “the jig is, as you say, up!”

Total silence greeted him.

“Eh? What is this?” He looked around, but it seemed his first glance had been right: the place was completely deserted. “Mon dieu!” he muttered to himself, putting away his gun. “Ah, Looker, this time you have made the mistake of the ages! The Team Galactic – they are no longer here, and therefore so is Liza Radley!” He thumped a fist decisively into his palm. “It must be le Diamant and Mademoiselle Gideon, of course. The detective and the reformed assassin... ah, they must be a duo formidable!

Looker ceased his monologue and went over to the stairs.

“Well,” he said, “if there is no longer Mademoiselle Radley, I shall look for clues. If I find them, enfin, I shall find out where she has gone now...”

---

There was a dead silence for at least two minutes.

“No,” I said at length. “That – that can't be right.”

“I know,” replied Stephanie. “That was what I thought. But there's definitely something to this. It makes sense of every theory – whether he can travel through time, or is immortal, or whatever, he turns up.”

“But it can't be true!” I protested. “How can he live forever?”

“I didn't say forever,” Stephanie said mildly. “He's only been around about a hundred years, from what I can tell.”

“You're kind of missing the point,” I told her. “People don't live that long.”

“Some people do—”

“They don't live that long and look that young,” I clarified. “Don't be pedantic.”

“All right, all right.” Stephanie shrugged. “I can't really accept it either. But from what we know...”

I shook my head.

“I don't know, Steph. It doesn't seem right...” I leaned back and sighed. “Well, whatever. It's not what I was looking for.”

“Well, what did you expect?” Stephanie asked. “You do know you asked a philosopher to do this, not a computer hacker or a researcher?”

“I know, I know.” I ground my teeth. “I don't know what I wanted. Something that would explain all of this.”

“I don't know anything about that,” she replied. “You could find someone who does.”

That got me thinking: who might know? League people – Gym Leaders and stuff – might, but I doubted they would talk to me. There was something else, some forgotten person I could ask – but I couldn't quite remember.

“Well, thanks anyway,” I said, scratching at my bad arm and regretting it as it lit up into a veritable Christmas tree of pain. “Gah. I have no idea what to do next.”

Stephanie smiled.

“It's probably for the best. I don't even need to read your essay to tell you that it's crap; you should go home and do it again.”

“Forget it,” I replied. “This is more important. They want to kill me, remember?”

“Oh yeah,” she said. “That little detail. I'd never have remembered that.”

After Iago, I was pretty much immune to regular sarcasm, which seemed to disconcert Stephanie a bit; she was used to being able to drive me crazy without any real effort.

“There's got to be someone who can tell me about Ashley,” I said, clasping my hands and resting my chin on them. “Somewhere in Sinnoh...”

Stephanie sighed.

If I thought this was a good idea,” she said, “and if I was going to help you—”

“This being a strictly hypothetical situation?” I asked.

“Of course,” she affirmed. “So if I were going to help you – which I'm not – I'd suggest you get yourself East-side. To Veilstone.”

“To Veilstone?” I queried, confused. “To look into Galactic?”

“Well, you could,” she admitted, “though I think I'd leave that to the detectives. What I meant is, Veilstone's like Jubilife for the East.”

“Ashley said he has East-side contacts,” I said, suddenly seeing it. “He was going to get them to investigate the Galactics—”

“And if they're anywhere, they'll be in Veilstone,” she said. “It's about the only lead you have.”

“But,” I asked, a problem striking me, “how do I get there? Coronet's sealed off...”

Stephanie smiled.

“Oh, come on, Pearl,” she said. “You're rich, aren't you? If you want to go East-side, I bet the world would have a hard time stopping you...”

---

OK, so I admit it. I am rich. I've tried as hard as I can to avoid writing it down, but I guess it had to come out in the end. Thirty years ago, my family had been nothing; a couple of years before I was born, though, all the forces of fate combined to elevate them: my dad inherited a couple of million Pokédollars from a relative he hadn't known he had, a lucky stock investment had brought in four million more, and he'd been able to buy up all the pieces of the failing Spectroscopic Fancy Company, which he'd brought back to life and sold back to the original owners for a ridiculous profit. That in turn catapulted him and my mother from merely rich to super-rich. Then I'd been born, and, well, been fairly comprehensively spoiled.

Why haven't I mentioned it before? It, well... It makes people look at you differently. People who a moment ago would be your friends suddenly decide that you're their most hated enemy. Even if I am stupid (something that is still open to debate), it didn't take me long to learn that hiding certain facts about my background was usually the best way to go about making friends.

Not all people are like that, of course – Stephanie isn't, for a start. She's not above using me as a convenient source of cash when she runs out, but she doesn't treat me any differently from anyone else. In fact, the difference between her and other people is one reason why my parents wanted me to go to university; I was told I needed to learn a little more about real life, and meet real people – a name which seemed to suggest that my current friends were, in some way, counterfeit. The actual learning didn't matter; I stood to become the third-richest woman in the country some day, and would never need a job. It was just...

Actually, that's enough of that. This is a story about my trip to the end of time, just like the title says; let's keep it at that.

Stephanie wasn't wrong: it was easy for me to figure out a way to get to Veilstone. I went home, dumped the essay, found some sunglasses, a hat and a long coat, and, suitably disguised, slunk off towards the nearest Pokémon Centre.

I got lost on the way – twice. Unlike most kids, I'd never even attempted to become a Trainer. Usually, they tried for at least a couple of days before coming home; if they were lucky, they lasted a few months, or, if they were really good, a few years. The best of the best made a career out of it, and were still doing it when they were twenty.

I, on the other hand, had never done it; I'd been afraid to. I hadn't wanted to leave home and go wandering through the countryside – it had sounded dangerous, and more than that, like hard work. And if there was one thing Pearl Gideon didn't like, it was hard work. (I've also noticed that recently she's taken to talking about herself in the third person, but I think I'll let that one pass.) So I'd never got myself a Pokémon, and consequently never been to a Pokémon Centre – and so it was with a certain amount of trepidation that I walked up to the automatic doors of the Hinah District Pokémon Centre.

Inside, it was pretty much as I'd imagined it: a glaringly orange colour scheme designed to burn out the retinas of anyone over the age of ten; a desk with a pink-haired receptionist; some stairs and a few doorways leading off into other rooms. There were a couple of kids talking amongst themselves at a glass-topped table nearby, and a Budew murmuring sweet nothings to itself between them. I frowned: I only had a basic schoolgirl knowledge of Pokémon, but I knew Budew were weak; those two Trainers were probably new, and not much good yet. They wouldn't be any help.

“Excuse me? Can I help you?”

I looked up, startled, and saw the receptionist was looking at me oddly; perhaps my disguise was slightly more conspicuous than I'd wanted.

“Yeah,” I said, coming over. “I need to get East-side through Mount Celestic, and it can't wait, so I'm looking for a Trainer to take me through the tunnels.”

There were more ways through the mountain than the passes and the air lanes; the whole place was shot through with caves like a cross-section of Swiss cheese. The downside was that these caves were full of wild Pokémon that, being quite strong, had absolutely no fear of humans whatsoever. Consequently, the only people who used the caves were Trainers and morons. (Since I wasn't a Trainer, I had a horrible feeling I fell into the latter category, but I was trying not to think about that.)

“I see,” said the receptionist. “Why are you dressed like that?”

“I'm a detective,” I replied. “Detectives dress like this.”

Actually, the only detective I'd ever met didn't, but that wasn't going to stop me; I was modelling my detective style on those old film noir movies from the 1950s.

“O-K,” said the receptionist, giving me a second odd look. “Try in the lounge; there are four or five Trainers in today.”

“Is that a lot?”

“It is,” she confirmed. “I don't even know why they're here at all, to be honest. There's no Gym in this city.”

“Yeah,” I pondered. “What would be the point of coming here?”

The receptionist shrugged.

“Beats me. D'you know—”

“Er, I need to go look for a Trainer...”

“Oh.” She drooped visibly. “OK, then. Bye.”

I got the distinct impression that the receptionist was somewhat starved of company; I supposed small children weren't the most entertaining people to talk to all day. And anyway, if five Trainers was a lot, she must spend most days alone in here...

I put her sad life from my mind (it wasn't hard, since I didn't really care) and went into the lounge; a moment later, I came back out, realising it was the canteen.

“First on the left,” the receptionist told me helpfully.

“Yeah, thanks,” I replied, feeling faintly foolish, and went in.

It was a large room, amply furnished with sofas, rugs and the biggest television I'd ever seen outside my house; dotted around were four kids sprawled at various angles over the furniture. They did this in such a way that they actually managed to cover five sofas between them – an impressive feat.

“...other news, the notorious 'Hamburglar' was arrested last night after a four-hour siege at an unspecified address in Chicago, America,” the newscaster on the TV was saying. “A bungled burger heist pulled off in conjunction with Captain Pete 'Crook' Jarvis led to him being chased by police to an abandoned warehouse, where they killed two police officers and wounded five more in the ensuing gunfight. Mayor McCheese is said to be 'overjoyed' by the news...”

I coughed.

“Uh, excuse me,” I said. “Is there anyone here who'll take me East-side through Mount Celestic?”

Four heads turned around to look at me, blinked, looked again, and stared in bemusement.

“Why are you dressed like that?” asked one boy, sitting up.

“I'm a detective,” I said, beginning to feel frustrated. Did no one else watch detective movies? Didn't they know the protocol? “Besides, I've got enemies after me; this is a disguise. Look, that's beside the point. Will anyone here take me East-side or not?”

The boy shook his head.

“Nah. I'm waiting for the Global Trade Symposium.”

“The what?”

“Over on the west side of Jubilife,” explained the kid next to him. “In a few days' time, there's going to be a huge event there – Trainers from all over the world will gather to trade Pokémon and stuff.”

“Oh.” So that was what the big building they'd been cleaning up for the past two months was for. “Are you all here for that?”

Four heads nodded.

“So none of you are going to take me East-side?”

“Nope,” said the first boy cheerfully. “We got here early and we'd like to keep it that way.”

“I'll pay you,” I offered.

“Sorry,” he said. “If I miss this, I have to wait two years before the next one.”

I ground my teeth.

“Isn't there anyone who isn't going to the stupid Symposium?” I asked desperately.

“She could try Marley,” said a girl who had previously remained silent.

“Isn't she here for the Symposium?” asked the boy.

“No.” The girl shook her head. “She's just passing through, from what I hear.”

“Wait,” I said. “Slow down. Who is this?”

“Marley,” replied the girl. “She's here too.”

I looked around, but saw no one.

“Really?”

“Not here here,” the girl said crossly. “I mean, staying at this Centre. She's probably in one of the practice rooms.”

“The practice rooms?”

“Second on the right behind the counter!” the receptionist called in from the front room. “Right past me!”

“Wonderful,” I muttered to myself. “You again.” Then, louder: “Well, thanks anyway.”

“No problem,” said the second boy, who was the one who had offered the least help of all. “Glad to help.”

I resisted the urge to put his head through the TV screen and tell him he'd done nothing (and believe me, it was only the fear of arrest that stopped me) and went out into the lobby again.

“Back so soon?” said the receptionist.

“Not to talk to you,” I said. My patience was wearing thin; not having had previous experience of Trainers, I didn't yet know that they were all seriously weird. “Just passing through.”

The receptionist sighed, crestfallen, and pointed silently in the direction of the practice rooms. I thanked her coldly, went through the door and found myself in a short corridor liberally studded with sturdy-looking steel doors. There were noises coming from behind one of them, so I knocked on it and went in.

Immediately, what felt like a solid wall of heat struck me full in the face; I closed my eyes and took a step back, coughing as the dry air prickled in my lungs. I forced my eyes back open a second later, and saw something that might have been the love child of a tiger and a chemical explosion beating the crap out of a punchbag in the centre of the room. It had also, for reasons unknown, decided to set itself on fire – hence the blast of heat. For the first time since coming inside, I was glad I was wearing sunglasses.

Behind the blazing monster stood a small girl who was just as weird as her pet: she looked like a fusion of Goth and ballerina, with a touch of extra evil thrown in for good measure. Dressed all in black and white, and with skin so pale it was almost transparent, she looked at me with a curious equanimity that I'd only seen once before, in Ashley.

“Return, Hamish,” she said, and the fiery monster vanished in a flash of red light; almost instantly, the temperature dropped about eight degrees. She stepped forwards, looked at me from under hooded eyelids, and asked: “Who are you?”

“I'm Pearl Gideon,” I told her, trying hard not to stare at her. I'd never seen anyone who was entirely monochromatic before. “I need to get through Mount Coronet.”

“What are you wearing?” asked Marley, though apparently without any real interest.

“I could ask you the very same question,” I retorted crossly; obviously no one at all in Jubilife knew anything about detective movies.

“You could,” agreed Marley. “You wouldn't get anywhere, though.”

I frowned. This was exactly like trying to talk to Ashley; it was like she was his little sister or something.

“Look, will you take me East-side or not?” I asked, changing the subject. “I can pay you.”

“How much?”

“I don't know. How much do you want?”

“I asked you first.”

“Uh... twenty thousand dollars?” I suggested.

“Thirty,” she said. “You're rich enough to afford it.”

“How do you know that?”

“Nothing you're wearing costs less than twenty thousand dollars,” she pointed out.

Damn. This girl was good.

“Fine,” I sighed, taking off the sunglasses. “Thirty it is.”

“Good,” said Marley. “When do you want to start?”

And so it came to pass that twenty minutes later, I was sitting next to her on a train bound east for Oreburgh, hoping against hope that she wasn't as weird as I thought.

---

“Are you sure about this?” asked Iago, looking around nervously. “If anyone sees us...”

“Calm down,” replied Ashley. “I'll just use one arm. I can hide it easily.”

“If Cynthia finds out...”

“She won't,” he replied forcefully. “At least, she won't if you don't tell her. If you do tell her, I'll probably have to get a new keeper, because either she'll kill you or I will.”

A discouraging amount of experience had taught Iago to know when he was beaten; his shoulders sagged and he sighed.

“Ash-ley...”

“Ah, you hate me now, but one day you'll look back on this and think: what a wonderful day out!”

“No, I'm going to hate you for all time. Filthy human scum.”

“If you were capable of hurting me, that'd hurt,” said Ashley calmly.

“If you believe that's an effective comeback, you need a crash course in insults.”

“Sticks and stones, Iago – though those wouldn't be much use either, would they? Now, stand aside and let me get through here.”

Iago reluctantly shifted to the right.

“If you lose control...” he said.

“I don't lose control,” Ashley said sharply. “Well, all right, sometimes I do – but not often. That is, I think, the main thing to be conscious of here.”

Both he and Iago were thinking of Darkling Town. It was universally agreed amongst those in the know that that hadn't been Ashley's finest hour.

“It'll be fine,” the detective continued, the grey draining out of his irises. “Don't you trust me?”

“Have I ever trusted you?”

Ashley's eyes flickered yellow, and his right arm shot out.

“No,” he said mildly. “I suppose you haven't. Shall we, then?”

The way now clear, he allowed Iago to pass through first, and then followed after, eyes grey again.

---

Being the astute people that you are, you will doubtless have noticed the absence of our favourite Galactic-affiliated duo in the last chapter and so far in this one – and those amongst you who are even more astute will have worked out that this must have something to do with the suspected Croagunk stabbing. Those of you who are exceptionally astute will have realised that Liza and Tristan must have been uncertain whether or not Pearl was dead, and so were waiting around the hospital to see if she came out the next day or not.

Those exceptionally astute people are, of course, correct, and so we find Tristan sitting in the car with Stravinsky on Sunday morning, watching the hospital doors and eating Kinder Eggs as quickly as he could unwrap them.

Where was Liza? She was at the Pokémon Centre with Tristan's Croagunk, who had been incapacitated during the events of last night and who needed to be healed. Tristan was unable to take him, having been banned from every Pokémon Centre in Sinnoh some years previously as the result of a series of unfortunate events involving (inevitably) three orphans and a count.

“There she is,” said Tristan, pointing to the young Miss Gideon, walking down the steps. “Damn it. She's not dead.”

“Yeah,” agreed Stravinsky. “I didn't think she would ever mend; I thought that never more would she crawl round, being embedded in the ground.”

“Will you please stop doing that?”

“Doing what?”

“Referencing!”

“Oh, you get it,” said Stravinsky, surprised. “Wow. You're better-educated in Sinnoh, aren't you?”

Tristan thumped his forehead against the dashboard.

“Just stop!”

Stravinsky smiled, and started whistling 'Hotel California'. Tristan sighed, pulled out his phone and called Liza.

“It's me,” he told her. “She's alive. What? Hey, it's not my fault – no one could have seen that coming! Well— Oh you are, are you? I...” Tristan trailed off and his eyes went wide. After a moment or two, he crossed his legs. “Ouch,” he said. “OK. I'll shut up now.”

He hung up and stared ahead glassily for a moment or two.

“She whispered those certain exotic words to you, didn't she?” said Stravinsky.

Tristan nodded dumbly, and the driver patted him on the shoulder.

“It's all right,” he said sympathetically. “You'll get over it. You'll spit out the demons, popping out of holes.”

“It's... how would she... are there even any bones there?” Tristan asked in a trembling voice.

“I'm not a doctor,” replied Stravinsky. “What does she want you to do?”

“Follow her,” said Tristan, eyes refocusing. “See what she's doing now, and tell Liza where she can find her when she gets back.”

“Why not kill her?”

“Because she doesn't think I can get it right.”

“She's not wrong there,” muttered Stravinsky, and started up the car. “I'd better I better I bet you would bungle it.”

“That's such a badly-done joke.”

“Do you want to get out and walk?”

Tristan shut up.

“I didn't think so,” said Stravinsky with dignity, and drove off in pursuit of the blue-haired figure in the street.

---

“Bond, I'm ti-red.”

“Madam, you cannot get tired any more,” sighed Bond. “You are dead.”

“But I am tired.”

Bond wondered if perhaps complaining was Ellen's way of passing the time; he was quite sure that neither of them could get tired. He certainly wasn't, and they had been walking for about twelve hours now.

“We're almost there, madam.”

At first, they had tried to hitch a lift – but that had failed, as no one could see them, and those that could perceived them as ghosts, and drove on faster. Then, Ellen had had the idea of grabbing hold of the cars and riding on the roofs – but this too had been unsuccessful; being incorporeal, both she and Bond found it difficult to hold physical objects, and the cars moved too fast for them to get a grip on them.

So they had resolved to walk down the side of the motorway, and a long and tedious journey it had been, too; however, they could not abandon their quest, and so had no options but to continue.

Now, as the first buildings of the nation's capital rose up from the horizon and into view, Bond felt a certain sense of relief; at least Ellen would soon stop complaining. If he hadn't been such a good butler, he would have sighed – it wasn't her fault, really. He would expect nothing less of someone who had turned fourteen in 1939, and had then been brutally murdered.

Not for the first time, Bond wondered why he and Ellen had survived death, if that was the right word, and no other members of the household had; presumably, there must be some reason, but he was a butler, not a thanatologist, and so knew not what this reason might be.

“Gosh,” said Ellen, interrupting his thoughts. “Look at Jubilife!”

Bond did, and Bond blinked, and Bond gaped.

Jubilife was huge.

It spread right the way across the horizon, and no matter how far Bond looked to the left or right, it didn't seem to end; not only that, but it soared up into the sky higher than seemed physically possible. The buildings were glorious spears of glass and metal, taller even than those they'd seen in Eterna; the people were vibrant and brightly-coloured, with dyed hair and strange clothes. There were more motor-cars, and bigger ones, and above it all a swirl of pigeons blew across the city like greying confetti.

“Have we gone even further into the future?” wondered Bond, when his voice returned. “This is... this is more than Eterna.”

“By a long way,” agreed Ellen breathlessly. “How did they build all this in just seventy years?”

“I have no idea, madam,” replied Bond. “It scarcely seems possible that it could be done in a hundred years.”

And they might have continued rhapsodising for several hours longer if a red light the size of a tennis ball appeared in front of them.

Ugh, said the light, in a Ghostly sort of voice, I hate Jubilife.

“What?” asked Ellen, puzzled.

“What?” echoed Bond, not knowing who Ellen was talking to.

Something that greatly resembled a human skull (albeit sans mandible) materialised around the eye, and then a shapeless black cloud appeared around that.

“Oh,” said Bond. “Is this Mans' friend, madam?”

“Excuse me,” said Ellen, “but are you Pigzie Doodle?”

The Duskull – for such it was – drew his fog together indignantly and harrumphed.

I don't like that name, he said petulantly.

“But you are him?” persisted Ellen.

Yes, admitted the Duskull at length. But don't call me that, it's embarrassing. Call me Ishmael.

“You're a whaler?”

No, I'm a device for cheap gags, replied Pigzie Doodle – or possibly Ishmael – dismally. You're looking for the two humans who came into your house earlier, right?

“That's correct,” confirmed Ellen.

What do you know about them?

“Nothing,” said Ellen. “Well, we know that that woman is... we know who she is.”

“We would rather not say, in case she hears,” added Bond, deducing correctly what Ellen was talking about. “We have no idea what she might be capable of.”

Pigzie Doodle rolled his single eye from one socket to the other and back again.

Oh boy, he said. It seems I have a lot of explaining to do...
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  #30    
Old November 7th, 2011, 05:36 PM
Silent Memento's Avatar
Silent Memento
Memories are forever...
 
Join Date: May 2011
Location: St. Louis, Missouri
Age: 22
Gender: Male
Nature: Timid
Wow. Cynthia, you're a huge hypocrite. How can you berate Ashley for releasing in a city as small as Eterna when Pearl did something similar in what could be the largest city in Sinnoh? (Yes, I do think that she released; she doesn't remember anything at all, she survived an attack that would have probably been fatal to her in just about any other case, and the Croagunk was beaten by someone who didn't even have a Pokemon - and as far as I can tell, the people who Pearl managed to recall seem more like drinking buddies than expert battlers).

Anyway, Marley's awesome. Nothing else needs to be said about her (and nothing can be said; her appearance was rather short).

I was a little surprised that Pearl was actually rich. I just thought that she was a normal college student. I guess she isn't, but it still doesn't explain why Team Galactic wanted to kill her instead of, well, take her hostage.

Stravinsky's an odd yet very likable character. You really do love to take the names of composers for your drivers, don't you? XD

I noticed a lot of references, but there were way too many to name in this review alone. A Series of Unfortunate Events is the main one, though.

Take your time for NNWM. Good luck.

Sincerely,

Mem.
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  #31    
Old November 8th, 2011, 06:12 AM
Cutlerine
Gone. May or may not return.
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
Age: 20
Gender:
Nature: Impish
Team Galactic do have their reasons, I assure you. Pearl being rich has nothing to do with their plot to kill her; it does have to do with one of the subplots, which is why I included it.

I won't reveal what happened last night in Jubilife just yet, but I will say that Cynthia has got no reason to be angry at Pearl.

Stravinsky is presumably related to Tchaikovsky in some way, because he has the same habit of making musical references - though he doesn't restrict himself to the twentieth century.

Marley is indeed awesome. There is a reason why she's the only one of the six Stat Trainers to make it into this story. Controversially, I like her even more than Riley; it's a combination of having a nicely different character design, and a team based around the Speed stat - such a team is inevitably destined to become really cool, you see.

Lastly, I'm glad to hear you're still reading and enjoying this. I hope you continue to do both, and I shall do my best to ensure you do.

F.A.B.
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  #32    
Old November 19th, 2011, 12:21 AM
Cutlerine
Gone. May or may not return.
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
Age: 20
Gender:
Nature: Impish
Like a serpent, like the kraken, like the great glass sea snail coming after Doctor Dolittle, I rise from the deeps; I bring with me that rarest of creatures right now, a new chapter.

Exit Cutlerine.


Chapter Fifteen: In Which a Great Power Becomes Enraged

'They always said Mount Coronet was a dangerous place; they said that people who went there never came back. I didn't believe them, of course, but perhaps I should have – I mean, I went there, and to the best of my knowledge I never returned. This was back when you could buy a brand new car for a shilling, and still have enough money for a night's dancing and electrocution at the car wash. Which reminds me, where did I put my keys? And why does the water come out of the taps all twisted?'

—That Crazy Guy from the Bus Stop, Ramblings


“So this is Mount Coronet,” I said, looking up at it.

It was certainly big.

I'd seen it before, of course, but never at such close quarters; from here, it looked like it might split the whole sky in two, let alone Sinnoh. The top vanished into a wreath of mists; the sides stretched and contorted into further peaks, receding into the distance both north and south. It was the single largest mountain on the planet, and it was unimaginably huge.

At Marley's insistence, I'd had to leave my detective costume at home; I had refused, however, to relinquish the sunglasses, because when it came down to it, they were the most important part. Detectives in hot places couldn't wear a trenchcoat – but stick a pair of stylish sunglasses on your nose and you either look like a secret agent or someone from The Matrix. I was confident that they were all I needed to play the part of a real detective.

“Yes,” said Marley. “It is.”

I frowned at her.

“Do you ever say anything helpful?”

“I said I'd take you through the mountain,” she replied. There was absolutely no trace of emotion in her voice; it was as if she were a Dalek, only without the distorted voice. Obviously.

“Fair enough,” I said. “Shall we go, then?”

Marley nodded, and we headed for the small white building that squatted against the mountain's flank. There was a sign above the door that said 'Cave Entrance – Trainers ONLY!!!!!' I had a feeling the five exclamation marks were there for a reason.

Inside, the place looked much like the ticket office at a train station; however, instead of travel deals, the leaflets advertised things like Power Bracers – Boost Your Power!, and Gabite – the smart man's solution to removing unwanted carcasses! I shook my head. Trainers were weird.

“Hello,” said the man behind the counter, who was one of those people who, if it weren't for their head, would be entirely spherical. I wondered how he got out of the door when he had to leave; he was about twice as wide as it was. “Can I help you?”

Marley pulled a slim black wallet from her black leather bag, removed a black-edged card from it and laid it before him on the counter. She liked, I noted once again, the colour black.

“You're travelling through?” asked the man.

Marley nodded, and he inspected the card. I guessed that it was her Trainer card, the little document that allowed a small child to roam the country alone with a pack of super-powered monsters.

“OK,” he said, and turned to me. “And you, ma'am?”

“I'm not a Trainer.” I adjusted my sunglasses for maximum effect. “I'm a detective.”

The man looked confused for a moment.

“Um, OK, but you can't—”

“I'm working on a very important case.” I waved a hand around airily; it turned out to be the bad one and protested the movement with a sharp jolt of pain. The resultant flinch probably ruined the effect a bit. “Lives are at risk,” I continued, holding my arm and acting as if nothing had happened.

“I'm taking her through the caves,” Marley replied. “It'll be fine.”

I glared at her. I didn't need the guy thinking she was in charge here. For once, I was in control of the situation.

“You've been through before?” asked the man.

“Many times.”

“Then I suppose you should be OK.” He looked at me doubtfully, sucked in a long breath through his teeth and waved us along. “Go on, go through. Before I change my mind.”

I gave him a look (I wasn't sure what kind it should be, so it was just a look rather than an angry look or anything) and followed Marley through another little door, and into the dark.

I took off my sunglasses and blinked hard as the door shut behind me; at first, there seemed to be no light whatsoever, and then I thought I could make out the shapes of stalactites, of swelling mounds and smooth depressions, their outlines faint in the gloom.

At that moment, the whole place lit up like a bonfire, and I had to put the sunglasses back on hastily; a moment later, my vision still stained white and blue from the after-image, I turned to glare at Marley and the fiery monster she'd called Hamish, who had reappeared at her side. I seemed to be glaring at her a lot; I suspected it would soon become a common thing.

“You could have warned me,” I told her reproachfully.

She shrugged.

“You could have expected me to bring light,” she replied.

This was not to be tolerated, and I briefly pondered whether it would be ethical to kick her; in the end, I decided that it probably wasn't, and instead asked:

“Do you know someone called Ashley Lacrimére?”

Marley frowned.

“No. Why?”

“You remind me of him.” I sighed. “Come on, show me the way.”

Marley looked at me for a moment with solemn eyes, then started walking into the darkness, Hamish following to light the way with his blazing body. I brought up the rear, which was probably not nearly as safe a position as it felt.

The inside of the mountain was maddeningly quiet. Marley said nothing and trod silently; the only noise was the incessant drip drip of water and my own footsteps. All around us, the scenery seemed to shift in an endless series of combinations of the same four elements: wall, boulder, hole, bat.

Bat?

I jumped a mile the first time a Zubat appeared; it responded to my cry of surprise with a squeak, and flitted away down the tunnel, screeching wildly.

“They don't attack,” Marley told me. “They aren't dangerous until we get further in.”

Well, that was ominous. I nodded nervously, and tried very hard not to wonder what she might mean by it.

After a while, I became used to the never-ending parade of Zubat; there must have been thousands of them in that tunnel, because two or three of them appeared at least every five minutes. I started counting them to pass the time: one, two, five hundred, two thousand – and gave up pretty soon. It was clear that it would be impossible to count them all.

“How long is this trip going to take?” I asked, after about half an hour.

“Two days.”

What?

I stopped and stared, aghast.

“What do you mean, two days?

Marley looked at me oddly.

“You didn't know? It's a long way.”

Two days! Two days away from all the comforts and amenities of civilisation! Worse than that, two days in a dark, dank, damp cave network that was inhabited by a large number of probably murderous Pokémon!

“You did know it would take two days, didn't you?”

“Of course,” I said hurriedly. “I'd be pretty stupid otherwise, wouldn't I? I mean, this mountain is huge.”

Marley made no reply; she raised an eyebrow and walked on, Hamish following after like a gigantic guard dog.

We must have walked for hours; there were about five hundred occasions when I wanted to stop, but I was damned if I was going to be outwalked by a small child. It was about the only thing I thought I might conceivably beat her at.

“How long have you been a Trainer?” I asked, about two hours later.

“You're talkative,” she commented shortly.

“I'm paying you,” I retorted. “You'll talk to me if I want.”

She sighed. It was the first time I'd seen her express any sort of emotion, and it was rather startling.

“Five years,” she said.

I managed to choke on a mouthful of nothing.

What? You're fifteen?

She looked at me oddly.

“Yes... Are you OK?”

“Yeah,” I coughed, putting a hand to my throat. “It's just – you look about nine.”

Marley apparently had no response to this, because she fell silent.

“Oh,” I said, feeling bad. “Sorry. I offended you, right?”

“Ssh,” she replied, holding up one hand.

“Right. Sorry—”

Ssh!” she repeated violently. Hamish put his head down low and looked at me with golden eyes; a low growl rumbled out of his throat. “You too,” Marley snapped in a whisper, and the noise stopped abruptly.

That was when I heard the sound.

---

...which, combined with the Dernier Reforms last year, said Pigzie Doodle, have basically completely overhauled the economy. He paused. Did you get all that?

Bond looked at Ellen.

“What did he say?” he asked.

“I'm not sure,” she admitted.

So you didn't get it, sighed the ghost. Look, the first rule of... everything, he went on wisely, is to know your enemy. After that, you need to know the country. Sinnoh has changed a lot since you were last around, and I've seen most of it happen. He sighed. I miss the king.

“There's no king any more?” asked Ellen.

Pigzie Doodle bounced up and down angrily.

Weren't you listening? He was deposed and executed in 1976, and the Royal Family fled abroad to Cambodia!

“Why Cambodia?”

It has no extradition laws with Sinnoh, and technically the former queen Shainah is wanted for murder here... Look, that's irrelevant. The point is – the point is... He broke off while he tried to remember what the point was. It was background knowledge, he said at last. I thought it would be helpful if you knew something about modern Sinnoh, but I suppose I can skip to the most relevant bit.

“Thank you very much!” said Ellen eagerly.

It was very peculiar listening to only half a conversation, Bond thought; he had the feeling that the Duskull was doing most of the talking, and that he was missing out on most of the information being imparted.

A few years ago, a minor politician named Cyrus Maragos – parents were from Greece, I think – delivered this crazy speech in Sunyshore, Pigzie Doodle said. I wasn't there, but I heard about it from a passing Gastly. It was quite short, but it was insane, all about liberation and revolution. It was good, too, and the guy was a good speaker – the crowd got so rowdy that a riot – not a leisure one, a real one – was about to break out. The police got involved, and Maragos was arrested, I think. He was freed a couple of days later, and then he sort of disappeared. The papers made a thing of it at the time – the Sunyshore papers, that is; no one had heard of him anywhere else. In about a week, everyone forgot about him.

About three months ago, a group of people appeared in Veilstone, calling themselves Team Galactic. Pretty much every Ghost in the city left very soon afterwards; they started building something there that makes our ectoplasm ache.


“What does all of this have to do with the people we're after?”

I'm getting there! cried Pigzie Doodle irritably. My God, delivering exposition disguised as dialogue is getting hard these days.

“Sorry,” replied Ellen, suitably abashed.

I should think so, said the Duskull, forming a vague pillar shape in what might have constituted some sort of Ghostly gesture of indignation. The cheek of it...! Anyway. Where was I? Oh yes. Because of all the disturbance, most of the Ghosts in Sinnoh were keeping a pretty close eye on the Team, and we found out that the man leading it was none other than—

“Cyrus Maragos?”

Oh, really, said Pigzie Doodle despairingly. You absolutely ruined the line. I suppose humans will be humans, even if they've been dead for seventy years. Yes, Maragos was – is – the leader, and he met with the woman you're after a few weeks ago. She's using the name Liza Radley at present; the young man she's travelling with is named Tristan Shandy. There's a couple of lame jokes if ever I saw one, he added, half to himself. I don't really know what they're doing, but they seem to be mostly devoted to blowing things up and trying to kill three certain people.

“I see,” said Ellen, who didn't.

What a lying little minx you are, said Pigzie Doodle affably. Well, that's what I know about these people. Come on, I'll take you to them – or at least, to where I saw them last.

So saying, he flicked his ectoplasm up into a rough ball and drifted away down the street.

Bond looked at Ellen.

“What is going on, madam?”

“I have absolutely no idea, Bond,” replied Ellen thoughtfully, “but we ought to follow him, I think.”

So they did, and hurried to catch up with the retreating Duskull.

---

Thump-thump-thump-thump...

“What is it?” I whispered.

Marley shrugged.

“Something big,” she stated ominously. “Below us and coming closer.”

Thump-thump-thump-thump...

It was like a series of weights being dropped to the ground in quick succession; whatever it was, it seemed to have more legs than was strictly necessary, or possibly even desirable.

A question rose unbidden into my mind, and I was obliged to ask it.

“Does it know we're here?”

“Yes,” replied Marley. “It probably heard our footsteps.”

Thump-thump-thump-thump...

“Should we, uh, run away?”

“We could, if we wanted to make enough noise to bring everything in the caverns down on our heads,” she said. “Alternatively, we could wait until it gets here, see what it is and deal with it accordingly.”

It was the most I'd ever heard her say, and the fact that it revolved primarily around our imminent danger spoke volumes about her character.

Thump-thump-thump-thump...

“So, I suppose your – uh – thing” – here I nodded at Hamish, who was crouched low next to her with his hackles raised – “can take whatever this is?”

“It's possible.”

“That isn't the sort of answer I wanted, really,” I said. “I was hoping for a 'Yes' or 'No'. Ideally a 'Yes', actually.”

“Quiet.”

Thump. Thump. Thump.

Marley looked around sharply.

“Did you hear that?”

“It's different,” I said. “Those were—”

“Human footsteps,” she finished. “From over there.”

Thump-thump-thump-thump...

The first set of footsteps had sped up; it seemed Marley was right, and it was tracking us by sound, for it got faster as the second set of footsteps got closer.

“Who's there?” I hissed in the general direction of where I thought the footsteps were coming from.

“Only me,” said a deep, melodious voice from behind me; I whirled around and did my best not to look surprised. There was a man emerging from the shadows at the other end of the cave, his feet thumping softly on the old stone. He wore dark trousers and a very weird silver coat, and his hair was short, spiky and blue. All in all, he presented quite an odd image – but then, this was Sinnoh in the Noughties. He was actually fairly normal. “It isn't often I run into anyone while walking these tunnels.”

“Quiet!” hissed Marley at the newcomer. “It heard you!”

THUMP-THUMP-THUMP-THUMP!


The footsteps were so loud now, and so sudden, that I almost jumped out of my skin; unable to contain himself, Hamish let out a loud bark. For this heinous crime, Marley slapped him on the snout and told him in no uncertain terms to be quiet.

THUMP-THUMP-THUMP-THUMP!


Whatever the thing was, it seemed like it was very nearly upon us now; it was possible to tell where it was, and the three of us turned to face the left-hand side-tunnel with a sense of mounting dread. At least, I had that. I don't know if Marley did, because I'm not entirely sure she had emotions as a normal human would understand them.

“What exactly is that?” inquired the newcomer. He seemed fairly calm, so I wondered if perhaps he had a grenade or other similar deadly weapon to hand.

“I don't know,” I answered truthfully.

THUMP-THUMP-THUMP!

Silence.

There was a very long pause.

“What happened?” I whispered. “Did it go away?”

“No,” replied Marley. “Listen.”

I listened, and I heard: long, low breaths, wheezing through the room like warm draughts.

“Ah,” said the man. “Might I suggest that we're dealing with—”

Something huge and white burst from the darkness of the chamber in unnerving silence, charging straight for him; he cried out in surprise and leaped out of the way. The creature didn't stop; as soon as it realised he had moved, it wheeled around, lumbering off to snap wildly at a location that thankfully held none of us.

“What is it?” I asked, but that proved to be a mistake – the beast's great white head turned around 180 degrees on its shoulders, and I saw for a moment that it lacked for eyes—

—before it had turned its body around to match its head, and started to charge towards us again.

“Don't talk!” Marley yelled over the monster's roar, tugging me towards the side passage it had emerged from. “It hunts by sound!”

At that, the beast made a weird noise that sounded like a demonic car engine and swung one huge claw towards the sound; since we were moving, it missed, and simply knocked an alarmingly large chunk of rock off the wall.
We reached the side-tunnel, ducked inside and took a few steps further in; outside, the monster rotated on the spot in near-silence, listening intently. If it was a Pokémon, I'd neither seen nor heard of anything like it before: six or seven feet tall and fifteen or twenty long, it was something like a snake, something like a scorpion and something like an industrial excavator.

“Hamish,” said Marley. “Flare Blitz.”

Apparently this meant more to the fiery monster than it did to me, because he leaped forwards with a bark, a sheath of blinding flame flaring into existence all around him. He was too bright to look at, but I assumed he tackled the white monster, and I assumed it hurt, because the next things I was aware of were a pained screech and the smell of scorching.

“Remarkable,” said the strange man, looking on with shaded eyes. “You'd have thought it wouldn't be able to survive that.”

I forced my eyes back open and saw that the white monster, far from being roasted, was fighting back; it kept lashing out blindly with its great claws, and Hamish kept leaping away from them. This would make another little sound, and the monster would attack there – and so on. It looked like it would go on a very long time, unless Hamish happened to jump the wrong way.

“ExtremeSpeed,” commanded Marley, so quietly I almost didn't hear her over the roar of the beast, and Hamish suddenly sped up: in the blink of an eye, he had crossed the dangerous space between the monster's claws and its mouth, and dug his claws into its belly. Unfortunately, it seemed that its carapace was too hard for that to work, and, perceiving its foe to be underneath it, the monster threw itself flat on the floor with a titanic crash. Hamish, understandably, yelped and thrashed – but while he didn't seem unduly harmed by the gigantic arthropod pinning him down, he was certainly unable to free himself, and as the huge claw swung down towards his head, I felt sure it would be for the last time—

“Flame Charge!”

All at once, Hamish caught on fire, and the monster, finding that its belly was starting to cook, jumped up hurriedly. It retreated three steps down the corridor, hunched low over the floor to protect its wounded underside, and holding its claws in front of its face like a boxer.

“If you can, now would be a good time to help,” Marley said to the man standing next to me.

“Me?” He seemed surprised. “Oh, OK.” He rummaged around in his pocket and drew out a plum; this didn't seem to be what he was after, because he stared at it for a moment, set it carefully on a nearby rock and resumed his rummaging. A moment later, the white monster had managed to hit Hamish with what I think is technically called a right hook, and knock him into the wall.

The monster thumped forwards, feeling for Hamish; though still glowing, he wasn't moving, and so, satisfied, it started listening again.

“Any moment now,” I said to the man. “We'd really appreciate it.”

The monster turned to face us.

“Idiot!” hissed Marley, and the man pulled something out; this time, it was a Poké Ball, and he threw it down as the monster began to charge towards us; something that looked like the unholy love child of a dog and a goat appeared, and, perceiving that it was in imminent danger of being squished, breathed a very large quantity of fire over the monster.

This had the expected effect of making it recoil in pain and anger, and Marley took advantage of the opportunity to produce a second Poké Ball from somewhere; this one contained a collection of cylindrical faces that I vaguely recognised from the televised tournaments as a Dugtrio. It, or maybe they, looked at the dog-goat, then at the fire, and finally at the giant monster in front of it – and turned to Marley with a look in its six eyes that said that if it didn't get an explanation very soon, it was going to run away in terror, or possibly eat her.

“Don't panic,” she told it, or perhaps them. “Surround it and keep the quake localised.”

Quake? That sounded bad. Was she expecting an earthquake?

The monster swiped at the dog-goat, which ducked adroitly under its arm and started breathing fire from its other side.

“I hope you know what you're doing,” muttered the man. “I'd like my Houndoom back in one piece, please.”

Marley didn't reply; she was looking intently over the battlefield. The Dugtrio had surrounded the white monster with surprising speed; confused by the roar of the flames, the big beast was rotating desperately on the spot, uncertain of what was happening around it. I was more concerned with the fact that it didn't seem to be much harmed by the fire: aside from some minor singeing, it was pretty much undamaged. Whatever Marley was planning, it had better work – because the Houndoom was going to have to stop for breath at some point.

“Now!” she cried, and the three entities that made up the Dugtrio vanished underground, leaving nothing but fragments of rock behind them; a second later, the floor beneath the white monster bucked, swayed – and gave way, sending it and two tonnes of stone and earth crashing down and out of sight.
For quite a long time, there was dead silence. The monster's disappearance had been so sudden and startling that it threw everyone, even those who'd been expecting it. Then, the Houndoom looked back at the man and did something with one side of its face that could have been intended as the raising of an eyebrow.

“We're done, I think,” the man replied, edging cautiously over to the vast pit and peering down. “That—”

He broke off and leaped back abruptly as a white arm, thick around as a tree trunk, shot up towards his face.

“Jesus—!”

Marley darted forwards and threw something towards the arm; it hit the hard carapace with a dink and then—

The creature was gone again. The ball, for such it was, juddered violently for what were probably the most suspenseful thirty seconds of my life, and then lay motionless atop the rubble.

“Whew,” gasped the man. “That was slightly too close for my liking.”

“I knew it wouldn't break out,” Marley said. “The Earthquake hurt it a lot.”

“What was it?” I asked, feeling that whether it made me look stupid or not, I probably ought to find out.

“A Cave Drapion,” replied the man. “A rare subspecies that has adapted its claws for digging. They're far bigger and tougher than the usual kind; they need to be, to burrow through solid stone.”

“I see,” I said, though in fact I didn't. I had no idea what a Drapion might be, but I wasn't going to let on.

“They also have no eyes,” said Marley. “They don't need them in the dark.” This seemed to remind her of Hamish, and she looked over at him, lying by the opposite wall. She sighed and recalled him to his ball, which plunged us all into total darkness for a moment; a moment later, however, she sent out something that even I could recognise, an Electrode, which obligingly lit up the tunnel when asked.

The stranger recalled his Houndoom and reached down for the Cave Drapion's ball.

“Yours, I think,” he said, offering it to Marley; however, she shook her head and refused it.

“I don't want it,” she replied. “They're too slow for me.”

The man switched his gaze to me.

“Would you like it?”

Actually, I could think of nothing worse. Why on earth would I want to carry around nine hundred pounds of angry scorpion-demon in my pocket? Then again, it couldn't break out (I hoped) and the whole woman-of-adventure identity I was cultivating demanded I accept it. Besides, if it was rare, I could probably get rid of it pretty quickly, and give it away to some Trainer.

“OK,” I said, taking the ball from him and putting it in my bag. “I will, thanks.”
The man nodded genially.

“Excellent,” he said softly. “Now, I must be on my way – I have to make Oreburgh by sundown.”

I wished him goodbye, and Marley nodded silently; he walked on back the way we had come, and Marley and I, she recalling her Dugtrio, continued east in the light of her Electrode.

---

Cyrus was the sort of man who planned things, of that there can be no doubt. He made plans, and, if they needed to be changed, he would simply implement a back-up plan. Rarely did he depart from these, for he was that rare creature, a man who learns from the mistakes of his predecessors, and knew well how the would-be destroyer of worlds, Zero, had been foiled by a rupture in a plan, and how Archie Taniebre and Maxie Roberts of Hoenn had been brought down by a lack of careful planning. He would not follow in their footsteps, of that he was determined – and that was why he had not killed Pearl Gideon on sight, back there in the tunnel. Something would have gone wrong, he was sure of it – probably that Trainer girl she was with. He could tell at a glance that she was good, and he knew well the power of children to meddle with the affairs of 'the bad guys', as they were so often called. It had happened before in Kanto, and in Johto and Hoenn, and he did not intend for it to happen in Sinnoh.

Cyrus leaned against the wall and thought. It would be tonight, he decided. When they stopped to sleep, he would visit Pearl and her protector, and at least one of them would never wake up again.
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  #33    
Old December 6th, 2011, 02:42 PM
Silent Memento's Avatar
Silent Memento
Memories are forever...
 
Join Date: May 2011
Location: St. Louis, Missouri
Age: 22
Gender: Male
Nature: Timid
I'm really sorry for stalling this review. I admit that I'm a lazy Yank, but there's no excuse for me not to have reviewed this chapter before now. Let me get started on a long one to hopefully make up for it:

Oh my gosh! A Drapion sighting! Those guys are awesome, but I'm guessing that Pearl isn't going to keep it. She's no trainer; if anything, the Drapion would end up being more trouble than it's worth in her hands.

I'm also noticing other aspects of Pearl's personality come out in this chapter, mainly her flaws. In this chapter, she showed a lot of quirks that a rich person is often portrayed as having.

Firstly, the aspect of being away from civilization was frightening to her; she's clearly a city girl at heart, and she's trying to be something she isn't when she tries to cultivate this sense of adventure. Adventure isn't just going on a journey; it's trying new things as well - and I honestly don't think that Pearl is nearly as adventurous as she thinks she is.

Secondly, she has the mindset of, "If I can't use this, I'll just try to give it away." It's clearly shown in her thoughts about what to do with the Drapion, and I don't think she's really thinking things through. I already mentioned that she's not nearly the trainer or adventurer that she thinks she is, but another thing that she's forgetting is that a lot of people aren't like that either. I put Drapion in a category that contains most dragons (save for Kingdra, Haxorus, and Altaria), Metagross, Aggron, Bisharp, Tyranitar, and Aerodactyl. They're simply far too wild and dangerous for the vast majority to consider training; that's why I've only seen Elite Four members and Champions train them (aside from Ghetsis, but he's another story altogether). They're cunning and savage predators with a serious aggressive streak, and there aren't a lot of trainers who could come close to taming them, let alone an average person who just happens to come along Pearl's path and wants the Drapion.

Still, that's just my opinion. If I'm wrong, feel free to correct me. That's just what I've noticed.

I'm amazed at how cool and calm Marley is under pressure. She's definitely competent enough to be Ashley's little sister - even though she says that she's never heard of him before. Still, that little frown can say a lot of things. Maybe she has heard of him but has never actually known him? Or am I reading too much into this?

Ishmael (I'll do him a favor and not call him "Pigzie Doodle"), your shattering of the fourth wall leaves me grinning every time I read your lines. This is why I love ghosts so much. They just have so much personality that isn't recognized by most writers. Kudos to you for giving them a voice (I've finally noticed that you've included at least one ghost in every single main fic of yours. I can't believe it took that long for me to realize that little fact).

Cyrus is an absolutely amazing villain. I think that he could very well succeed with his ultimate plan (whatever it happens to be) because he has literally everything going for him. Intelligence? Without a doubt. Competent hired help? Check, especially if you include Liza and subtract Tristan. Charisma? Also without a doubt. Ability to flit between the world of civilization and the underworld of criminal activity? Check. Legendary Pokemon wanting him to win? Giratina says, "Check."

The only other villain in your fics that I thought would win was Zero, and since he decided to give the good guys too much of an advantage, he ultimately failed. Cyrus isn't going to do that - and that's why I'm giving my edge to him at the moment. Ashley and Iago alone aren't going to win this fight, and since Pearl's too much of an unknown...well, that's my reasoning.

Overall, I loved this chapter. I'm impressed, and I'll be watching out for the next chapter.

Your friendly on-again-off-again lurker/reviewer,

Mem.
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  #34    
Old December 7th, 2011, 11:30 AM
Cutlerine
Gone. May or may not return.
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
Age: 20
Gender:
Nature: Impish
Greetings, comrade Memento! It has been a long time, both since I posted a chapter and since I heard from you last. That second has just been sorted out, so I suppose that as soon as these exams are over, I should get working on the first. The beginning's already there, it just needs an end. And a middle. And editing. Sigh...

Returning to this chapter, your observations strike me as astute (as ever). This chapter, as well as containing some long-overdue action, got me to the next event in the Platinum storyline (meeting Cyrus in Mount Celestic) and gave me a chance to flesh out Pearl a bit more, like you said. I have to confess, I wasn't really happy with her at first, but now I must say she's growing on me.

I do actually disagree with you on your 'Pokémon too dangerous to control' bit - but only about Kingdra. It's definitely one of those Pokémon too savage for most people in my opinion. Giant evil sea dragon that probably smashes people into a pulp that it can suck through its tubular mouth. Yep. Definitely too savage for common usage.

I'm glad someone agrees with me about Ghosts. I always thought that they're the biggest goldmine in the Pokémon world in terms of writing material, and pretty underused as well. So I've always tried to use them as much as possible - whether with Puck, Priscilla or Pigzie Doodle.

Oh yeah, and Marley is really cool. When I sat down to think of which Stat Trainer to include in the story, there really was no contest.

And as for Cyrus... he has a concealed weakness of his own. Which I'm not going to point out, because I enjoy reading your speculation.

Until next time, comrade Memento.

F.A.B.
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  #35    
Old December 14th, 2011, 02:31 PM
Cutlerine
Gone. May or may not return.
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
Age: 20
Gender:
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Ave, loyal follower(s). I'm back, with this. It ain't much - it'll take me a chapter or so to get back into this - but it's a start.

Chapter Sixteen: In Which Some Travel, Some Rest, and Some Fight

'Eh? Who the hell are you? No, I don't want to answer any questions!'
— Interview with Pigzie Doodle


Tristan Shandy and Liza Radley: where were they now? Pearl and her hired Trainer were travelling through Mount Coronet; Ashley and Iago were presumably likewise engaged; Bond and Ellen were haunting in Jubilife. The one duo we have not visited for some time is the Galactic one, and now seems as opportune a moment as any to do so.

Stravinsky and Tristan, upon following Pearl, had ended up outside her apartment building; after an incredibly dull wait enlivened only by the radio presenter, Lazlow, when he accused one of his guests of being a pimp, they followed her away again, to the place where, unbeknownst to them, Stephanie dwelt. Here again, they waited – and then they followed her to the Pokémon Centre, where they called Liza.

Liza, you will have noted, had not been with them so far that day. The reason for this was that she was at that time at an Internet café, writing a few statements to be made by the Commanders to the Team and emailing them to Cyrus to distribute. She had, it must be remembered, promised to help him with the somewhat demoralising incursion in their Eterna base, and this was the main way by which she chose to do it; a good stirring speech, she had often found, was one of the most effective ways of rallying an army of idiots. It had worked for most of history's tyrants; it would work for her.

Joining her partner and her driver at the Centre, Liza wondered what Pearl was doing. Why would she go to a Pokémon Centre? Being endowed with a brain, she took but a moment to deduce she was looking for a Trainer; the reason why she might be doing this took her a moment longer, but she very swiftly worked out that, since transport lines between East and West Sinnoh had been cut, it was likely that Pearl wanted to get through Mount Coronet. This was plausible if she had found out about the Veilstone base, which wasn't particularly unlikely. Liza pondered all of this for a moment, and then suddenly broke into a grin.

Tristan watched her uneasily.

“That isn't a good grin,” he commented. “That is not a 'let's buy Kinder Eggs for Tristan' grin. That isn't even a 'let's leave Tristan alive for now' sort of grin. That's a murder grin.”

Liza looked at him.

“Shut up,” she said, smile disappearing abruptly. “Not everything has to do with you.” While Tristan received a consoling pat from his Croagunk, which perceived the abyss of despair into which these words had flung him, Liza leaned forwards and spoke to Stravinsky.

“Driver!”

Stravinsky very nearly told her again that he had a name and that it was Stravinsky, but thought better of it. Besides, the joke was getting stale.

“What is it?”

“Find somewhere for us to stay and take us there,” Liza said. “I've a plan to carry out.”

---

“We cannot help but think that this is not a good idea,” said the Desk Sitter.

Cyrus started, turned around and saw them resting on a rocky protrusion, for all the world as if they had been there forever.

“Where did you spring from?” he asked.

“We were here before,” they replied. “Just not in plain sight. Look, are you actually planning to hit her on the head with a rock?”

Cyrus looked at Pearl, lying wrapped in her coat a little way down the passage, and then at the large stone in his hand.

“Yes,” he said defensively. “There's nothing wrong with that, is there?”

“But you have a gun,” the Desk Sitter protested. “And we feel that this rock plan is not likely to kill her instantly – she might cry for help.”

“The gun will wake up that girl, and might just draw the ire of some predatory Pokémon,” reasoned Cyrus. “Did you see that Drapion? I really wouldn't want to encounter another one any time soon.”

“You could run,” suggested the Desk Sitter. “Do not fear; your death would be as inconvenient for us as it would be for you.”

“I could run,” repeated Cyrus in disbelief. “That's your best idea?” He shook his head. “And you call yourself a Supreme Evil Being.”

The Desk Sitter frowned and loomed a little.

“We are Supreme Evil,” they replied. “That's why we are – look, forget it. Hit her with the rock and have done with it.”

Cyrus nodded triumphantly, turned back to his target and resumed his steady creeping toward his target. He crept, and crept, and crept a little more; now he was right next to Pearl, and he raised his arm in preparation for the strike—

The Desk Sitter coughed.

“Er, Cyrus,” they said. “We would be very careful, if we were you.”

Cyrus froze, and looked slowly to his left.

Marley's Electrode looked back.

“Now,” began Cyrus, and the Electrode's face cracked into the signature sadistic grin of their kind. Its surface began to hum with white light, and, deciding that he would prefer to remain unincinerated, Cyrus dropped the rock and beat a hasty retreat over to where the Desk Sitter was sitting.

But Electrode were not such reasonable creatures as to accept surrender; it made a very strange and rather threatening grinding noise, and began to roll toward them, the glow surrounding it growing more intense with every revolution.

“We would like you to run away now,” said the Desk Sitter nervously. “Really fast.”

The Electrode began to quiver, little rifts opening in its plastic skin to disgorge tiny beams of light, and Cyrus was forced to concur.

“It would probably be best to try later,” he said, and fled, just in time to avoid the first ball of electricity, which exploded with a violent whine on the wall behind him.

---

At this moment, several people were sitting in a restaurant in Eterna, deep in conversation. One was a Rotom. Two were a couple. Three were the people Pearl had met earlier in the park. And together with another, they made four.

“...so it doesn't look like anyone's even heard of it,” finished the fourth person, whose name, as the astute reader will have deduced, was Sapphire. “It's just vanished.”

“So could we just have lost it?” asked the second, who was, of course, Kester.

“Oh, yeah,” replied Puck. “Yeah, we totally just dropped it on the way here, while managing to keep the bag it was locked in.”

“OK, OK, so we didn't just lose it.” Kester chewed his lip. “So... how could it have disappeared?”

All eyes turned to Puck, who, gratified by the attention, drew his plasma together in a worldly sort of way and said:

“Well, any competent Ghost could've taken it—”

“But wouldn't you have sensed them?” asked Sapphire.

“Oi! Don't interrupt!” snapped the Rotom. Then, grudgingly: “And yeah, I suppose I would. Unless they were very strong and managed to hide their presence, or were very weak so that I didn't even notice.”

“Anything else?” asked Kester.

“Well, I—”

“Anything useful,” clarified Felicity.

Puck chuckled.

“She's sharp, that one,” he observed, apparently to himself. “I was going to tell you about the time I stole the Crescendolls from their home planet—”

“Puck!”

“All right,” he sighed. “Look, I, er, know some people in this country. The sort of people who'd be likely to know about things being stolen and the like. I could go and talk to them, if you want.”

“Are they crooks?”

“Yeah,” admitted Puck. “Three thieves, two murderers, a rapist and a mob boss, actually. Do you want to tag along?”

His three companions exchanged glances, and uniformly replied in the negative.

---

OK, whispered Pigzie Doodle, this is where I last saw them.

“Why are you whispering?” asked Ellen. “They can't hear you. And there isn't anyone here.”

They stood in a back road, which the night before had been the site of an incident involving a Croagunk's claw and a student's arm; today, however, there was absolutely no one around. It had taken them a very long time to get here – they had had to walk, and Ellen had insisted on stopping to rest a few times – and frankly the emptiness was somewhat disappointing.

Right, said Pigzie Doodle. Never mind that. He bobbed to the left, and then to the right. Ah, he said. Do you feel that?

“What did he say?” asked Bond.

“He asked if we felt that,” replied Ellen.

“Might I be so bold as to what we are supposed to be feeling, madam?”

Ellen turned back to Pigzie Doodle.

“Yes, Pigz—”

Ishmael.

“Ishmael, what is it that you feel?”

The Duskull sighed.

If Mans wasn't such a good friend of mine, I'd gladly consume your essence, he told her. I had hoped ghosts would be a bit more like Ghosts, but apparently human ghosts are, despite being ghosts, still human and not Ghosts.

“The word 'ghost' doesn't sound like a word any more,” observed Ellen.

Shut up. Look, you're supposed to be feeling the energy trail that that woman leaves behind her. It's about as broad as the streak of stupidity running through your skull, and leads off over there.

“Oh!” Ellen glared crossly at him for a moment, then pouted and looked away. Bond watched, vaguely confused and wondering whether he ought to intervene on the part of his young ward.

How childish. I guess death doesn't age you like life does. Anyway, oh ye of little brain, come with me and we'll find her.

So saying, Pigzie Doodle rolled his eye over to the other socket and began to drift away down the street.

“What happened?” asked Bond, bewildered. “Madam, what did he say?”

“Humph,” replied Ellen shortly, and stomped off after the Ghost. Bond stared after her for a moment, speechless, then sighed and followed. One of these days, he thought, he really ought to tender his resignation.

---

“Here we are,” announced Stravinsky. “A hotel.”

Liza looked out of the window, and watched a slate fall from the roof to the pavement.

“No,” she said. “Somewhere nicer.”

Stravinsky sighed, resisted the urge to thump her hard, well, fast and strong and drove off. A few minutes later, they arrived at the specified 'somewhere nicer'.

“Here we are,” he said. “A nicer hotel.”

Liza looked out of the window, and saw a neon light flicker.

“No,” she said. “Somewhere nicer.”

Stravinsky clenched his teeth, resisted the urge to thump her harder, better, faster and stronger and drove off again.

“And driver?”

“What?” he asked.

“Stop making veiled references,” replied Liza sweetly, with a smile that could have and once had killed a puppy. Stravinsky gulped, nodded, and drove off, trying very hard not to think of music.

When at last they had found somewhere that Liza deemed inhabitable, Tristan and Liza got out; Stravinsky gave them his number and told them to call him when they needed him, and then vanished off to the mysterious place where drivers go when they aren't driving. For their part, the Galactic duo went inside, to obtain rooms; this done, they retreated to sleep, wash and generally recover from the past few days, which had not been kind to them.

Having done this, they reconvened in the parlour, which was empty save for a pair of old ladies knitting opposite ends of an enormous, multicoloured scarf; aside from seeming oddly familiar, there was nothing threatening about these two, so Liza felt it safe to broach the subject of her plans.

“I've just called Cyrus,” she told Tristan. “He's setting a trap for Gideon and the Diamond at Veilstone.”

“What sort of trap?” asked Tristan.

“A honeytrap,” replied Liza, with one of those enigmatic smiles that always mean business in the movies.

“And what exactly do you mean by that?” Tristan put his hand in his pocket, discovered a Kinder Egg capsule in there and pulled it out for further investigation.

“I can't tell you,” replied Liza maddeningly, as Tristan popped open the capsule and stared at the bizarrely-shaped pieces of plastic within.

“Oh, what's this?” he murmured, and then realised what Liza had just said. “I mean, what? Why can't I know?”

“You're too low-ranking.”

You're too low-ranking,” Tristan retorted, which was, as retorts go, not particularly effective.

“That makes no sense,” Liza pointed out. “Seeing as I'm not. Either way, I'm not going to tell you; it has to be a totally secret operation, since it's quite dangerous and would probably scare most of the Team out of the Veilstone building if they knew about it.”
Tristan thought about asking more, but decided that Liza was scarier than any trap, and didn't. He returned his attention to the Kinder Egg, and started putting together the little pieces.

“You are so very childish,” Liza told him.

“Oh,” said Tristan, not listening. “It's a rabbit in a waistcoat playing a trombone that squirts water from its ear. Of course; why didn't I see it before?”

Liza sighed, got up and went to her room, muttering about idiots and apparently failing to see the pair of pallid figures standing by the door.

---

When we awoke – or, more accurately, when Marley poked me into consciousness with her toe – it was to a somewhat disconcerting sight: the Electrode, at some point during the night, had apparently ruptured in several places, and was leaking electricity all over the floor.

“He found something to fight,” stated Marley. “That should have woken us” – she looked at me, considered, and went on – “should have woken me up. Perhaps he gave chase.”

Whatever the cause was, she knelt down and sprayed the Electrode with something that was presumably a Potion; within seconds, the holes in its skin had sealed themselves, and it was ready to go once more.

“Why doesn't that work with humans?” I asked Marley.

She looked at me as if I were as far beneath her as an ant below God.

“Because they're not Pokémon,” she replied. “Do you know anything about biology?”

I shook my head.

“Learn, and then you'll know.”

With that, we started going again, which was hungry work; there'd been no breakfast either, and I was positively famished by the time Marley judged we'd gone far enough to warrant a break and something to eat.

Swiftly, we fell into yesterday's pattern: walking, walking, walking until all the seconds and all the hours became one indistinguishable moment; at length, Marley decided it was night time, and we stopped again. We had experienced nothing like the Drapion attack yesterday, but we were bothered a couple of times by slow-moving beasts that even I could identify as Graveler. Marley would stop me in the middle of the tunnel, then point to the roof ahead; a second later, part of it would detach and fall to the ground with an earth-shattering crash, revealing itself to have eyes, limbs and a surprising grin in the process. When this happened, Marley would indicate for me to cover my ears, issue a command to her Electrode and then do the same herself; a second later, the most unpleasant noise I'd ever heard would echo down the tunnel, and the Graveler, justly affronted, would beat a hasty retreat – or as hasty a retreat as a ton of granite can manage, anyway.

So the day passed, and then another of those uncomfortable nights spent horizontal – I hesitate to call it sleeping – on a bed of stones; thankfully, that was the last night I would spend there, and, after a close encounter with something creepy that climbed along the walls and fled when Marley shone light on it, we beheld literal light at the end of the tunnel. Half an hour later, I was blinking, shading my eyes and thanking whatever higher powers might exist for the gift of fresh air.

We sat on rocks by the side of the mountain path for a while while our eyes adjusted to the light, and I took in the sounds of the river that wound through the valley below, of the wind around us, of the birds wheeling overhead; it was good, I reflected, to be alive. If being dead was anything like being in Mount Celestic, then I might be better off being cremated than buried.

“Oh God,” I sighed, when my sight had recovered. “Look at all this grass! It's so... so green!

Marley blinked at me.

“Yes,” she replied. “It's grass.”

“Yeah, but – after being in there – and the sky – and it's outside...” I trailed off, acutely aware that I was babbling incoherently, and shrugged. “It's nice,” I finished lamely.

Marley shook her head and recalled her Electrode.

“More importantly, it's East Sinnoh. Are you going to pay me now?”

I thought. I had to get to Veilstone – that'd be easy enough, though; I could go by train. What about when I got there? I couldn't really go up against Team Galactic on my own; nor could I find those contacts of Ashley that I was in search of alone.

You can do it on your own, a little voice in my head assured me. You're Pearl Gideon. You can do anything. It was persuasive, I had to admit – but I recognised it as the same voice that had frequently got me into large amounts of trouble as a child, and shut it out with practised ease. I was going to need, I realised, some help.

“Marley,” I said at length, “would you mind if I changed the terms of our agreement?”

She looked at me suspiciously.

“We had a deal,” she said. “I take you here for thirty thousand dollars, no less. I've taken you here, now it's your turn.”

“I just want to extend it,” I told her. “Come with me to Veilstone and keep guarding me, and I'll double your money.”

“I'm not a bodyguard.”

“Everyone starts somewhere,” I pointed out hopefully. “This could be a valuable first step onto the careers ladder for you—”

“I have a career already. I'm a Trainer.”

I sighed and pulled my purse out of my bag.

“This is going to last all day unless I give in, isn't it?”

“Very probably.”

I counted out the money and handed it over.

“There,” I said. “Happy now?”

“Yes.” Marley stood up abruptly and threw down another Poké Ball; this one, much to my surprise, apparently contained something as big as the Cave Drapion and twice as toothy, and I watched, amazed and not a little afraid, as it spread leathery wings and turned to face its master with an affectionate scream.

Marley climbed up onto the back of this monstrous apparition, gave me a cursory wave, and flew off into the sky without so much as a backwards glance. I stared after her for a while, not quite believing what I'd just seen; I knew that giant Flying Pokémon like that existed, but I'd never seen one other than Staraptor, and I'd never really taken a long look at one of those, either, for fear of being brutally slaughtered.

“She is weird,” I muttered to myself, and stood up. I brushed some dirt off my jeans, decided I needed a change of clothes and some civilisation by tonight at the latest, and started walking down the trail. It ought to lead to some sort of Trainer-y outpost like the one that guarded the Oreburgh entrance to the mountain, and from there it probably wouldn't be too far until the next town. That would be Hearthome, I guessed, which was perfect: a nice big city, full of beds, shops and all the other necessary accoutrements of life.

After a while, the rocky crags gave way to a river at the base of a steep valley; there was a bridge over it, which looked far less safe than it actually was, and an ancient man standing halfway along, smoking a cigarette and staring at the waters below. I almost said hello to him, but thought better of it at the last moment, and didn't.

Beyond the river were yet more stony hills; I was beginning to wonder if I'd ever get to Hearthome now, but as I crested the first, I saw a grassy meadow spread out below – and, more importantly, a house on the other side.

Civilisation at last!

I smiled in relief and started on my way down. I could practically smell Hearthome now, and I was damned if I wasn't going to get there before nightfall.

---

“They're here,” said Ashley.

Iago didn't need to be told. He could sense it just as well as Ashley could, and using much the same means; both of them had a wild animal intuition that regular humans did not.

“How many, do you think?”

“Five.” Ashley's face was inscrutable. “I suppose this is the danger of acting outside the boundaries set by the League.”

“Can you tell me why I accepted this job again?” Iago sighed. “You're nothing but trouble.”

“I could tell you,” Ashley said, “but I don't suppose it matters. Put the knife away, Iago, I'll handle them.”

Iago's knife vanished into his tail, and he started climbing a tree. Ashley watched him go, then turned around and broke the wrist of the man standing there.

“You people are so funny,” he said, pushing him firmly in the chest and sending him flying to the floor. “Even after Darkling Town, you still come after me.” He ducked a bullet, turned around again and strangled the second assailant with a single swift movement.

The remaining three came at once, shooting from opposite sides; unfortunately for them, Ashley was no longer between them, and one of them managed to hit another in the shoulder. A second later, he descended from nowhere to land behind the wounded man and wrap one arm around his neck.

The fourth he speared through the throat; the fifth tried to flee, but Ashley staved in the back of his skull and he fell to the floor as if someone had cut his strings.

Iago sighed.

“Cynthia's gonna be pissed,” he remarked. “That's the second lot this month.”

Ashley grimaced, and forced himself back to normal.

“I'm going to need a new shirt,” he said.

“What about a new coat?” asked Iago. “That one looks beat.”

“No, I like this one,” replied Ashley, looking at the tattered sleeve regretfully. “I'll mend it when we get back.”

Iago jumped down and landed lightly on his feet.

“Right,” he said, suddenly business-like. “Shall I call the cleaners?”

Ashley considered.

“No, don't bother. Let's just dump them in the bushes.”

So saying, he set to work. There was no time to waste – he was aiming, after all, to get to Hearthome by nightfall.
__________________

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

Last edited by Cutlerine; January 4th, 2012 at 04:04 AM.
  #36    
Old December 24th, 2011, 10:18 AM
Cutlerine
Gone. May or may not return.
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
Age: 20
Gender:
Nature: Impish
Chapter Seventeen: In Which There is an Unexpected Reunion

'The Lost Tower. Historic burial place of deceased Pokémon, and good for an hour's visit. Spend much longer there, however, and you swiftly become somewhat depressed, if only because the place seems to attract mourners for some reason. There is absolutely nothing suspicious about it at all. Really, nothing. It's not like there was any sort of Ghostly accident there at all.'
— Miss Infa Maisun, The Government-Approved Guide to Sinnoh


Tristan was feeling good. He had what amounted to a free day – they didn't seem to be going anywhere – and he had three Kinder Eggs left in his private stash to consume over its course.

In short, today looked set to be fun.

“Heh,” he said to himself, holding his little plastic rabbit up to the light and turning it this way and that for a full examination. “Finally! Alone, in a nice hotel, in the city – and no Liza.” He leaned back in his chair, almost tipped it over backwards and hurriedly re-verticalised himself. This was not a word, but it did involve much humorous windmilling of arms, and drew the momentary attention of the two old ladies by the fire. However, after but a moment, they went back to their knitting, and were promptly forgotten.

This was not the only consequence of the re-verticalisation. It also made Tristan raise his head, and therefore see the two pale and spectral figures standing by the door.

“Oh, cal,” he breathed. It seemed like his prediction of fun for today was about to be proven very much wrong.

The tall figure in the black tailsuit darted forward, and Tristan attempted to jump backwards out of his way; unfortunately, he was still sitting down, and so he actually achieved nothing whatsoever. In a moment, the ghost was upon him, and Tristan watched in horror as he reached out towards him—

—and held out a calming hand, the index finger of his other hand pressed to his lips for quiet.

“Eh?” said Tristan. This was not, in his experience, how ghosts usually approached their victims. In his confusion, he forgot his fear, and the other ghost, that of the little girl, took advantage of this to join her compatriot. “Er – excuse me, but aren't you going to kill me?” he asked them.

This drew the attention of the old ladies again, who gave him a pair of questioning looks.

“Er, not you,” Tristan said, though as he had turned white as chalk and started to tremble, neither of the two ladies was inclined to believe him. “It's – it's just—”

He stopped abruptly, smiled nervously and then went back to looking terrified. The old ladies looked at each other, raised their eyebrows and returned to their knitting once more.

“What do you want?” Tristan hissed furiously – and the little girl suddenly leaned in close to him, which caused him to produce a curious strangled sort of noise and jerk upwards a couple of inches in his seat. She opened her mouth, and Tristan closed his eyes in preparation for having his soul sucked out...

When, a couple of seconds later, he failed to feel any sort of hideous agony, he opened one eye just a crack – and saw that all the little girl was doing was mouthing something. He frowned. Was she trying to talk?

“Are you – is this a ghostly curse?” Tristan asked cautiously.

The little girl and the tailsuit man looked at each other as two intelligent people will when confronted with a third person of staggering idiocy, and in the background, the old ladies gave Tristan another set of very strange looks. They were beginning to suspect that this young man might not be quite right in the head.

The two ghosts shook their heads, and mouthed some more. Tristan, summoning up some courage, stuck a finger into the tall one's chest.

“Good grief,” he murmured, eyes wide with horrified fascination. “You really are dead.”

This was more than the two old ladies were willing to put up with, and they left abruptly for saner pastures.

“Look, what do you want?” asked Tristan urgently, once they had gone. “I don't understand!” He felt in his pocket and found his wallet; pulling out a handful of notes, he thrust them at the spectres. “Here! I'll pay you, just – go away!”

The banknotes fluttered through the little girl's chest and down to the floor; she and her companion stared at them blankly for a moment, and then returned their gaze to his face.

“Please,” begged Tristan. “Life's not treating me well. I just want a day of rest...” He clapped one hand to his brow in a most melodramatic way, and slumped forward in his chair. “I've been led thither and yon, tugged back and forth and blamed for all sorts,” he went on, in the voice of one gripped by the blackest flavour of despair. “My driver's a joker, my partner's” – here he felt around in midair for the right word, and failed to find it there – “someone, and all in all this whole Galactic thing is more trouble than it's worth.”

The little girl tried to interrupt, but Tristan had got into his stride now, and it would have been difficult for her to stop him even if he'd been able to hear her.

“I thought it was going to be so much more than this,” he went on. “My cousin was in the evil Team business, and I remembered him saying at the Feast of Seymour last year that it was the best career choice he'd ever made. And when I lost my job this summer, it seemed the obvious choice, you know? So I was going to apply to Team Magma, where my cousin worked, but that got destroyed when all that Zero business happened – and I don't speak Kantan, so I couldn't go with the Rockets. And then I heard about Team Galactic, and I thought...” Tristan gave a woeful sort of shrug, and let out a sigh so mighty it almost blew the child-ghost's midriff away. “But it isn't any good,” he said, as if imparting a great secret. “I should have tried to find another job as an accordion-maker. Ah, those were the days!” All at once, Tristan perked up, and his face cracked into the soft, sad smile of fond reminiscence. “One day, I remember, I saw this novice who'd got all the buttons wrong – I had to put them back into the Stradella bass system for him!”

He laughed a little, and the ghosts once again exchanged glances. If they weren't very much mistaken, it was going to be even harder to get through to this man than they had thought – for he was, it seemed, an idiot.

---

Thankfully, I reached the suburbs of Hearthome a few minutes before sunset, saving me from another night in the wilderness; I asked a passerby, got directions to the closest station and took a train to the city centre, where I was once again surrounded by the comforting skyscrapers that came with advanced civilisation.

That was only half the battle, though – I was still pretty filthy, and I desperately needed a change of clothes and some food into the bargain. I wandered around, looking for a hotel, and was suddenly accosted by Ashley.

“Hello, Pearl.”

“What?”

I almost jumped into the traffic in my surprise; as far as I was aware, he hadn't been there a moment ago and there didn't seem to be anywhere he could have been hiding.

“Ashley?” I said, trying to regain my senses. “What the – where did you come from?”

“I was looking for a hotel, and so, it seems, are you.” He sighed. “You aren't going to stay at home, are you?”

“Uh... no,” I replied, still attempting to pull my mind back together. “What – have you been spying on me?”

“Not personally, no,” he answered. “I can't answer for the League, though; they have secrets to protect and you're uncomfortably close to finding them out.”

“Secrets like...?”

“Me,” he said pleasantly. “Come on. I know a hotel that will suit you.”

And with that, he started off down the street. I stared after him for a moment, and then ran to catch up.

“Wait!” I cried. “Aren't – what's with you? I thought you said you wouldn't be helping me!”

“I said that you would be in danger if you kept investigating on your own,” Ashley said. “And then you said you would keep on investigating anyway, and so I contacted Stephanie, who told me you'd be getting a Trainer to take you through the mountain. That was a clever idea, by the way; I should have thought of that myself. Anyway, I went through the mountain and got here an hour ago, to wait and see if you came – and you did, despite being led here by Marley and attacked by a Cave Drapion.” He paused. “If that wasn't an indication that it really wasn't possible to dissuade you, then I don't know what would be. I didn't want you to come – but if I can't stop you, I can at least protect you.”

I gaped.

“This... that was all a test?”

Ashley shrugged.

“I'm quite clever,” he said in an offhand manner. “It wasn't too difficult to set up.”

Something else clicked in my head then: he'd mentioned Marley by name.

“Do you know Marley?” I asked him.

He nodded.

“Very well,” he replied. “She doesn't know me, though.”

“What?”

“Haven't I made it clear yet?” said Ashley. “I stand to face severe punishment by the League if I tell you anything about myself – and believe me, they will find out. You have to find it all out yourself.” He lowered his voice. “Though I will say that Stephanie hasn't quite finished her little investigation of me; you might get some more information from her. Get a new phone before you call her, though – yours is being tapped.”

“What? Isn't this illegal?”

“Yes, and your father's acquisition of Sebastiano del Piombo's The Raising of Lazarus was illegal as well,” Ashley told me. “Hasn't being rich taught you anything? Money transcends the law.”

The conversation was going in an uncomfortable direction – I didn't particularly like to dwell upon the slightly unsavoury side of my dad's business – and I tried to steer it back to the reason for my quest to go East-side.

“Did your friends in Veilstone find anything out?” I asked.

“I don't really have friends,” he admitted. “They're acquaintances. And they've told me that they can't find any trace of the Galactics except a warehouse in the industrial district that's always guarded by those space-suited goons of theirs. They could get a warrant to search the premises, but I don't want to attract unnecessary attention.”

Ashley's contacts could get a search warrant? They must be pretty important, I thought; then again, was it surprising that they were? After all, if Ashley really had been around for a hundred years – something I still wasn't entirely sure I believed – then he was bound to have built up a fairly impressive list of contacts, and even more people who owed him favours.

“Here,” he announced, stopping. I looked up, and approved: this was the Khartoum Hotel, which had nothing to do with Khartoum and everything to do with the last word in Hearthome luxury. Tall, elegant and within easy walking distance of every single one of the city's major attractions – the Contest Hall, the cathedral, the shopping district and the club scene – a night at the Khartoum cost about the same as a new car. I'd stayed here before, but never when I was paying, and I cast a sidelong look at Ashley.

“You've already booked rooms here, haven't you?”

“Yes.”

“And I'm going to pay for them, aren't I?”

“Yes.”

I sighed.

“How long are you staying here?”

“Just tonight. I've only booked one room, as it happens, and that's yours. I don't sleep much any more.”

I filed that away under 'curious information about Ashley' and asked:

“What about Iago?”

“The Khartoum management doesn't allow Kadabra,” he said in disgust. “Illegal, and worse, immoral, but there's nothing I can do about it in such a short period of time.”

“Where's he staying?”

He shrugged.

“He'll find somewhere. Come on, you look exhausted.”

This was weirdly considerate for someone who habitually thrust me into awful situations, and I followed gladly.

The Khartoum was every bit as fantastic as I remembered, and even more so after a couple of days in a cave network; I showered, ordered a colossal meal from room service and promptly fell asleep. I was far less fit than Marley, and the walk had tired me more than anything I'd done for about four years.

I would probably have slept right through to about noon if Ashley hadn't reappeared at nine o'clock and poked me into wakefulness. How he'd gained access to my room I had no idea; it must have been a detective thing, or possibly an Ashley thing.

“Uhhhh,” I groaned, with considerably less coherence than either he or I would have liked. “What the hell?”

“Wake up, Pearl,” said Ashley. “We need to go; there's no time to waste – the nice people at the Gym reminded me of my duties, and now we have to make a stop on the way to Veilstone.”

“What?”

“Just get up,” he sighed. “I've bought you new clothes already – they're on the chair. I'll be waiting in the lobby and if you don't come down by half past I'll send in Iago with the knife.”

The door slammed, and I sat up, blinking sleep out of my eyes.

“What's so urgent?” I wondered, and then, as my mind caught up with Ashley's words: “Wait – he got me clothes?”

I did need them, but I didn't exactly trust Ashley's sense of style. I couldn't imagine him ever having had a girlfriend, or indeed any sort of personal relationship, and had a horrible sinking feeling concerning what he might have bought. Throwing aside the covers, I leaped out of bed as fast as possible, and half-ran, half-fell over to the chair, dreading what might await me—

“Oh,” I said, staring. “That's... that's fine, then.”

It seemed Ashley had good taste – or, to be more precise, an uncanny knowledge of what I liked. I couldn't have chosen anything more me even if I'd gone shopping myself; besides, he'd probably bought it all in half an hour, while it would've taken me at least three hours.

I showered again (I still felt filthy; that had been one grimy cavern) and dressed, noting as I did so that Ashley apparently knew my sizes slightly better than I did. That took me until half nine, and when I opened the door, it was to the unsettling sight of a Kadabra with a knife.

“Whoa,” I said, staring at Iago. “He was serious.”

“Of course he is,” he replied. “He doesn't have a sense of humour.”

I thought for a moment, decided Iago was wrong, and then decided not to tell him, as he still had the knife.

“Right,” I said. “Shall we go, then?”

We did, and found Ashley tapping his foot impatiently in the lobby.

“Finally!” he cried. “Pay them and let's go, Pearl, there's a car waiting outside.”

“A car?” I asked, approaching the reception desk.

“Yes,” he said, as I handed my credit card over to the receptionist. “Since Fantina isn't here, it's my job to keep the mist in check.”

“The mist?”

The machine beeped, and the receptionist gave me back my card, which almost felt lighter with all the money that had left its account. He smiled and thanked me, and I started walking out with Ashley and Iago.

“Yes, the mist,” Ashley confirmed. “At the Lost Tower.”

We went outside and, sure enough, there was a car; it was low and black and looked rather fast. Ashley opened the door for me, and Iago pushed past to get in first; I think he wanted the seat on the left for some reason. I got in after him, and Ashley went around to the front.

“You're pushing it, Ashley,” said the driver, a plump woman with yellow sunglasses, which were very weird but looked surprisingly good on her. “I've been waiting half an hour—”

“Then stop complaining and drive,” he told her. “Go on, go! I want to get this over with as much as you do.”

“Fine, fine,” muttered the driver, starting the engine and pulling away. “I didn't know you had a girlfriend,” she added, jerking her thumb at me.

“I don't,” replied Ashley. “She's a girl, yes, but not a friend; merely a colleague.” He turned around in his seat.

“What's she doing here? We don't need her—”

“She's working in Veilstone with us,” Iago cut in, “and the Lost Tower is on our way. Now shut up and drive.”

Ah. Yeah, I'd forgotten how rude he was. I was beginning to suspect that he wasn't that much like a regular Kadabra; he seemed suspiciously human – real Kadabra, I think, don't use the pronoun 'I'.

The driver said nothing, though the silence that now surrounded her was definitely of the offended sort.

“Where was I?” mused Ashley, apparently failing to pick up on this. “Oh yes, the mist. Pearl, this is a state secret, so I'm going to have to ask you nicely not to repeat anything I say now. Will you do that?”

“What happens if I do?”

“I visit you in the middle of the night,” answered Iago, “and you don't wake up in the morning.”

“O-K,” I said slowly. “In that case, I think I might be able to agree.”

“Excellent,” said Ashley brightly. “In 1982, there was an unprecedented disaster over the Lost Tower, when a migratory flock of Drifloon and Drifblim hit a violent thunderstorm just above it; 95% of them – that's about six thousand – burst in the lightning. Now, do you know how a Drifloon works, Pearl?”

I weighed up the pros and cons of pretending that I did, and decided on balance that I'd better confess that I didn't.

“No,” I admitted.

“There's a surprise,” said Iago, but Ashley silenced him with a look.
“Like most Ghosts, they're composed of living gas,” he said. “In their case, this gas is contained with a balloon-like structure made of keratin. However, this is very fragile, and if a large hole is torn in it the Drifloon can't grow it back fast enough to retain its gas. In this case, six thousand of them lost their gas, and, because that gas is exceedingly soluble, ended up carried down to the ground in the rain of the storm.

“Over the next few weeks, a grey mist was observed rising from the ground all around the Lost Tower. After a while, the area was so thickly covered that it was impossible to see three inches in front of your nose, and a short while after that it started consuming those people who entered it.

“It turned out that it was the gas from the Drifloon flock. It had merged to form one gigantic entity, composed of about thirty cubic metres of Ghost, and it was expanding with every person it devoured; if it kept growing at the rate it was, it would have consumed Hearthome within a month, which would have given it enough power to swallow every living thing in Sinnoh. Something had to be done.

“At the time, there was an Elite Four member who specialised in the Ghost type, Wesley Samuels, and he came down to get it back under control. He couldn't catch it – with that many minds, it found it very easy to resist capture in a ball – but he managed to get it trapped in the basement. Every so often, though, bits of it seep out, and in recent years that's been Fantina's job to sort out, since she's the only Ghost user in the League right now and is conveniently nearby.” Ashley sighed. “However, she's visiting her homeland right now, and Cynthia's too busy to come here in person, so the Gym's called me up and ordered me to do it, as someone who 'can probable sort it out'. Right now.” He indicated the driver. “This is Catherine – she works at the Gym.”

I stared at him for a long moment.

“Sorry,” I said, feeling somewhat confused. “That isn't a joke, is it?”
Ashley looked puzzled.

“Why would it be?”

“Er... no reason.” I shook my head. “Wow. How does that get hidden so well?”

“Sinnoh as a region is very prone to Pokémon-based disasters,” Ashley said. “There are minor ones every few days, three major ones every year and an apocalyptic one every decade. The government does its best to keep them hidden, or the country would be in a state of permanent panic; that's why the Sinnish League has so much more funding than its equivalent in other countries.”

“Isn't that sort of immoral?” I asked, feeling faintly uneasy.

“Not really,” Ashley replied. “The alternative is people complaining all the time, and that really would be annoying. To be honest, I thought you'd be more surprised about the Driftenburg.”

I stared at him again.

“You cannot be serious,” I said at length.

“No, I am,” he said. “Wesley had a rather odd sense of humour, and he named the spectral phenomenon the Driftenburg. It's quite clever, when you think about it – crashed dirigibles and all that.”

“Is this your life?” I asked him, slightly in awe. “Is this what you really do?”

He smiled.

“No, I'm just a detective,” he replied. “But since... for a long time, I've been obliged to do what the League wants, when the League wants. Hence this regrettable break in the investigation.”

We were now passing the city limits and heading onto the motorway, and all at once the car sped up; I supposed the Gym wanted the Driftenburg problem sorted out as soon as possible.

“Ashley, I have to tell you to stop talking now,” said Catherine. “You can't tell her any more than that, even if she is working with you.”

“That's all I was going to say,” Ashley told her soothingly. “I was just telling her about the Driftenburg. Speaking of which, how far had it got before you called me?”

“It had leaked out onto the ground floor. I hate to think how far it's got now.”

“You had the place evacuated?”

“Yeah, but it's probably overtaken the whole tower—!”

“No one is hurt,” Ashley interrupted. “That's the most important thing. Besides, it doesn't matter how far it's got. It's always been scared of me.”

A giant, man-eating Ghost, scared of Ashley? I knew there was something weird about him – whatever had transpired in the Galactic building in Eterna proved that. But what could possibly be up with him that he could strike terror into a monster like that?

“Might be the sort of thing that I don't want to find out,” I muttered to myself, and the car tore on towards the Tower.

---

Liza Radley, sitting at her table with a cup of coffee, spread the remaining five identity cards out in front of her. She had already discounted Sophia Wright and Lucy Gardner – but Riley Carter, Samantha Wilson, Jane Smith, Alex Knowles and Berenice Anders all had yet to be investigated. The problem was, she had to find each house first, and none of the remaining ones were in Jubilife.

“Sinnoh was the last place,” she muttered. “I must be close now.” She drank some of the coffee, made a face and set it aside; apparently, she didn't like coffee. That was odd – surely she must have tried coffee at some point since the desert? Or perhaps not, she realised; she had been very busy, and she couldn't remember now what she'd eaten yesterday, let alone six months ago.

All at once, Liza felt that old force pressing at the corner of her mind again, demanding to be let in; she focused hard, and something crystallised behind her eyes: a sunset over an old tower, and she was with a hundred other people, facing something huge and twisted that bore down upon them like the wrath of God—

Then the moment passed, and Liza sighed. Why could she never remember the whole thing? Everything occurred in fractions, bits and pieces of history bursting out of the box in her skull in fits and bursts. But whenever one fragment slotted into place, it revealed a hundred more holes; when she remembered one thing, she forgot a dozen others.

“There's something there,” she said aloud. “But what it is, I just can't see...”

“Do you want more coffee?” asked the waiter, abruptly interrupting her ruminations.

“What? Oh, no. Actually, can I have some tea instead?”

“Sure,” said the waiter. “I'll bring it right over.”

Liza smiled at him until he'd turned around, then let her face relax into a scowl again. Something was rotten here, and the key was in one of the five cards laid out before her. And if Cyrus' plan progressed at the planned speed, she only had two weeks left to find it.
__________________

For information about A Grand Day Out, a bizarre short story in video game form, click here.
  #37    
Old December 24th, 2011, 02:56 PM
Silent Memento's Avatar
Silent Memento
Memories are forever...
 
Join Date: May 2011
Location: St. Louis, Missouri
Age: 22
Gender: Male
Nature: Timid
Oh my...I've got a theory about Liza. Like all of my theories, it's insane, radical, and probably way off the mark, but...

Spoiler:
Liza is one of the victims of Darkling Town. She's a ghost that's somehow manifested herself into a human body. That's why she can only remember things in small amounts; unlike Bond and Ellen, she doesn't realize that she's dead. I honestly don't think that Darkling Town is anything like this story's version of Kester's business from last year; a main character wiping an entire town off the map is very, very serious and has to be considered a major part of the plot.


Speaking of Bond and Ellen, I wonder how they're going to get their message through Tristan's thick skull. That guy's...wow. What a moron.

I found your explaination of why Lost Tower has the fog to be very realistic. Those poor Drifloon and Drifblim...

Now that my review is done, I would like to take the time to wish you a very happy holiday (if you celebrate them; if not, I'll wish you a happy winter season) and an especially happy New Year's Eve and Day.

Sincerely,

Mem.
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  #38    
Old December 31st, 2011, 08:04 AM
Cutlerine
Gone. May or may not return.
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
Age: 20
Gender:
Nature: Impish
Quote:
Originally Posted by Silent Memento View Post
Oh my...I've got a theory about Liza. Like all of my theories, it's insane, radical, and probably way off the mark, but...

Spoiler:
Liza is one of the victims of Darkling Town. She's a ghost that's somehow manifested herself into a human body. That's why she can only remember things in small amounts; unlike Bond and Ellen, she doesn't realize that she's dead. I honestly don't think that Darkling Town is anything like this story's version of Kester's business from last year; a main character wiping an entire town off the map is very, very serious and has to be considered a major part of the plot.


Speaking of Bond and Ellen, I wonder how they're going to get their message through Tristan's thick skull. That guy's...wow. What a moron.

I found your explaination of why Lost Tower has the fog to be very realistic. Those poor Drifloon and Drifblim...

Now that my review is done, I would like to take the time to wish you a very happy holiday (if you celebrate them; if not, I'll wish you a happy winter season) and an especially happy New Year's Eve and Day.

Sincerely,

Mem.
With my entry for the Holiday Hop's writing competition finished and submitted, I finally have time to respond to your post. Firstly, thanks for still reading; I've been very bad at updating this story, mostly due to extreme business but partly due to laziness as well. I'll have a new chapter up in the next couple of days - maybe tomorrow, as a New Year's Day present thing.

Anyway, I'm glad you like the Driftenburg. In the next chapter, we finally meet it, which is going to be fun to write; I realise that this story took a while to properly get going, but I can tell from the way I've started to stay up late at night, excited by possible plotlines, that I've finally got into it.

As for Liza, I won't tell you everything about her - but you aren't a million miles from the truth. Darkling Town is not forgotten; we'll learn more about it in due course.

Thanks for your season's greetings, and I'll return them to you (slightly late, given that today's New Year's Eve and Christmas is long since past) twofold, since you're the only regular responder to this story.

Anyway, I must away; there are things to write, and Christmas biscuits to be eaten.

F.A.B.
__________________

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Last edited by Cutlerine; January 2nd, 2012 at 12:23 PM.
  #39    
Old January 2nd, 2012, 12:35 PM
Cutlerine
Gone. May or may not return.
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
Age: 20
Gender:
Nature: Impish
Chapter Eighteen: In Which Pearl Has a Close Encounter of the Spectral Kind

'I met a most singular man to-day, a detective who works under the name of the Diamond. I believe he learned his trade from Mr. Sherlock Holmes, the renowned consulting detective. However, none of this is half so peculiar as what he has shown himself to be capable of today. It took five of the Gym Leaders and two Elite Four members to suppress him, and he was brought to me so firmly imprisoned that his bonds could have held back an army of demons. Within five minutes, he was loose again, and in the end we had to take exceedingly drastic measures to secure him, the likes of which would doubtless have killed any other man. Whatever he is, I am quite certain that this man cannot be human, and though I fear what he might do, I am eager for him to calm down, that I might question him and find out precisely what he is and from where he came.'
— Allegra Fairfax, private diaries


We were about half an hour out of Hearthome when Iago threw up.

It was very abrupt: he wound down the window, stuck his head out and vomited an impressively large stream of greenish fluid in a line down the road.

“Jesus—!” I jerked away from him reflexively, hunching up against the window. “Iago? Are you all right?”

“It's the Driftenburg,” replied Ashley distantly. “He can feel it.”

Iago flopped back into his seat and wiped sick from his moustaches.

“Christ,” he moaned. “Every damn time...”

“What? What's happening?” I asked. Things were rapidly getting very confusing, and quite foul-smelling with it.

“He's a Psychic type,” said Catherine. “They're weak to the Ghost type – and they can sense them when they're nearby, too.”

“However,” continued Ashley, “such is the strength of the Driftenburg that he can not only sense it from miles off but is also seriously disturbed by it.”

“Disturbed doesn't sodding cover it,” groaned Iago. “Aauugh... Stop the car!”

“No,” replied Catherine. “We've delayed enough already.”

“I'll die—!”

“No, you won't,” interrupted Ashley calmly. “Not unless you walk right into the mist. You just feel sick.”

Iago howled wildly and clutched at his temples; I regarded him uneasily.

“Er, maybe we ought to stop—”

“No,” said Catherine. “The Driftenburg's probably filled half the tower by now. When it leaks out even a little bit, it breaks the doors right open with the pressure and rushes out.”

Iago fumbled in the depths of his tail, and drew out an odd joint and a lighter; the way he was shaking, it was a miracle he managed to bring them together, but he did, and stuck the lit cigarette between his teeth.

“Hey, you can't smoke in here,” began Catherine, but Ashley waved her into silence.

“It'll calm him down,” he said. “Which should make for a quieter journey.”

Cal!” screeched Iago, thumping as hard as he could on the seat and not even making a dent. “My head's going to explode!”

I wondered whether I could edge any further away from him, and decided in the end that I couldn't; I'd run out of room.

“Inhale,” Ashley advised. “Get those toxic fumes inside you.”

“Sod off,” growled Iago. “Can't – why doesn't this hurt you?” He leaned forwards as far as he could, thrusting his muzzle into Ashley's ear, and shrieked: “Why doesn't it hurt you? I know it should, it should burn your sodding brains out, but—”

“I'm human, Iago,” answered Ashley patiently. “Whatever happens to me, I'm still human. That's why it doesn't hurt.”

“I hate you,” snarled the Kadabra, and, flinging himself back into his seat, took a furious drag on his joint. “I hate you, even if you do smell like jealousy...”

“That'll be the odd kicking in,” said Ashley, wrinkling his nose in distaste. “One of the few times the vile stuff has its uses.”

I shook my head. This was getting seriously surreal.

Within a minute or two, the car was almost entirely full of sweet smoke, and Catherine and I wound down our respective windows to avoid getting stoned ourselves. Ashley didn't seem to mind too much; he appeared to have retreated into that strange trance state I'd seen him in on the bus.

“Pearl,” whispered Iago into my ear, sounding vaguely scared, “I don't want to alarm you, but I think I'm dead. Do you think I'm right?”

“I think I preferred it when you were just in pain,” I sighed.

“Your hair is really blue,” he said frankly, picking up a lock and staring at it, open-mouthed. “Did you know that?”

“Yes. Yes I did.”

At that point, another spasm of pain gripped him, and he curled up into a ball on his seat, whimpering about the ceiling coming down to crush him. I wondered if this meant we were close, and looked out of the window to see a side road signposted 'Lost Tower 4 miles', and Catherine bringing the car onto it. We were getting close, and looking ahead, I thought I could make out a dark shape further down the road. My breath caught in my throat; was this the Driftenburg...?

When we got closer, it turned out just to be a stopped car, but that in itself was cause for worry, because there was no one in it.

“Damn it!” Catherine slammed her foot down on the brakes, and turned to scowl at Ashley. “See what you've done with your delays? We've probably lost someone already!”

Ashley frowned.

“There's something wrong here,” he said. “The Driftenburg doesn't retreat after killing someone, it keeps on spreading – which means that whoever this car belongs to stopped it of their own accord and went ahead on foot.”

“But it's in the middle of the road,” I pointed out. “Who'd leave their car there?”

“Ashley's right,” said Catherine slowly. “If you were being eaten while you were driving, what would you do? You'd brake reflexively, or try and drive away – either way, the car would probably crash.”

“Or at the very least, it would come to a halt at some angle other than perfectly parallel with the road,” Ashley added. “Quite right, Catherine. Let's take that to the logical next step, shall we? Pearl, it's your turn to answer a question: why would someone stop their car and get out?”

“Uh... they wouldn't run away from the Driftenburg, because they'd get away faster if they drove, so... they were going towards it?”

“That's right,” replied Ashley. “Which can only mean one thing.” He opened his door and got out. “Someone's interfering with the Driftenburg.”

Cal!” cried Catherine, thumping the steering wheel. “This is turning into a total disaster.” She took off her sunglasses and rubbed her eyes furiously, then got out and slammed her door shut. “Pearl!” she snapped, turning around. “Stay here and keep an eye on Iago. We'll be back soon.”

I looked at Iago, who looked back, smiled slyly and told me that he was in agony beyond all human comprehension.

“Can't I come with you?” I asked.

“We can't leave him on his own,” Ashley replied. “He's stoned and sick from the Ghosts. Don't worry, we'll be back soon.”

With that, he turned and walked away down the road. Catherine at least gave me another look, even if it was hidden behind her sunglasses, and then followed him.

“God,” said Iago, leaning back and staring upwards. “Pain is really something, you know? It's just so – so painful, yeah?”

“Yeah,” I agreed. “It is, isn't it?”

In a couple of minutes, Ashley and Catherine were out of sight, and I turned to speak to Iago again.

“Back in a minute,” I said, opening the door. “I'm going out.”

“If you see a fishmonger's, can you buy me some crabs? I really want some crabs.” Iago licked his fangs. “Actually, make that langoustines. No, prawns. No – well, something with a shell that lives in the sea, all right?”

“Shellfish? Uh, got it,” I replied as I got out. “If I see some, I'll get it for you.”

“Thanks, Pearl. You're the – well, not the best, but you're pretty good.” Then he started screaming again, so I shut the door on him and walked off in the direction the others had taken. Maybe Ashley had forgotten, but I hadn't: I still had things to find out about him, and following him on his secret League business seemed a pretty good way to find out.

---

“Bond, what are we going to do now?” asked Ellen. “He can't hear us, and I'm afraid I think he might be—”

“An idiot, madam?”

“Well, yes, Bond. An idiot.”

They were sitting on the sofa on the other side of the lounge; they had swiftly grown tired of listening to Tristan's ramblings, and had wandered off to think of a new plan. After a while, he had noticed that they had disappeared and, thinking that they had dematerialised or some such ghostly thing, he had got up and left.

Now they were alone, and neither of the ghosts of Wickham Manor really knew what they should do next.

“Perhaps we ought to ask that Duskull, madam,” suggested Bond. “He might have an idea.”

“He might,” agreed Ellen, “but he said he never wanted to see us again when we got here – that was why he left.”

“Ah,” said Bond, thinking that if only he had the ability to talk to Ghosts and not Ellen, he might have managed to get something done. “Did he perhaps leave his address, madam?”

“No.”

“Any means of contact at all?”

“Well, we could always ask Mans to talk to him again,” said Ellen, “but I rather think that Pigzie Doodle wouldn't answer.” She looked thoughtful for a moment. “It was probably because we didn't know anything. He didn't seem to like that – which I thought was very unreasonable of him,” she added petulantly.

“Indeed, madam,” replied Bond, though he knew exactly how the Duskull must feel. “In that case, might I suggest we do a little research?” He tapped Ellen's books, which he had been carrying with him all this time and of which he was thoroughly sick.

“Research?”

“Yes, madam. Research – into ghosts.”

“Whatever do you mean, Bond?” asked Ellen, puzzled.

“There are a great many stories that mention ghosts moving things around or possessing people to speak through them,” he explained. “If we can see if there is any truth behind these, and how we might perform them—”

“—then we might be able to talk to Tristan!” exclaimed Ellen excitedly. “Bond, how clever!”

“I try,” replied the servant with estimable modesty. “Besides, what sort of butler would I be if I could not even come up with such a simple plan as that?”

And so saying, he stood up and conducted Ellen out of the hotel and off in search of a public library.

---

I could see the fog from here.

Ashley and Catherine had been fairly easy to follow; they hadn't got too far before I'd seen them, and I'd kept pace fifty metres behind them without them noticing. I had stuck to the edge of the road, where the trees grew close to the barrier rail, and in their shadow I was reasonably well hidden.

“Do you need any help?” asked Catherine. “Should I get my Misdreavus?”

“I don't think so,” replied Ashley, staring into the mist. It was dense and grey, and seemed almost a tangible object; it resembled nothing so much a twenty-foot concrete wall. “All right,” he said, addressing the fog. “Go back now, or I'll have to make you go back, and you won't like that.”

The surface of the fog suddenly began to boil; I started, and a strong wind whipped up out of nowhere, blasting outwards from the wall of mist. My hair was instantly ruined and I held it in place as best I could while still trying to concentrate on what Ashley was doing. All at once, a series of images and sounds flickered through my head: screams, thunder, a blue door, grass rippling in the wind, a man passing through a gate, half an orange, an eerie whistle...

“Stop complaining,” said Ashley dispassionately, and the mental slideshow ceased abruptly. “Now get back in the cellar, or I'll start torturing you.”

The Driftenburg boiled more furiously than ever, its surface rippling and twisting as if two monsters were fighting just beneath it, but it obeyed: slowly, it began to withdraw through the silent forest, shrinking back foot by foot across the leaf litter.

“That's better,” said Ashley. “Now—”

Suddenly, the Driftenburg lunged forwards, punching forwards in one powerful tendril towards Ashley's head—

—only to stop dead a few inches before it, as if it had hit an invisible wall. I couldn't see Ashley's face, but I would have bet anything that right then his eyes were burning yellow.

“I told you to go back,” he said, and the same awful transformation had come over his voice as had in the Galactic building: deeper, harsher, and accented in a way that indicated he didn't properly know how his own mouth worked.

Catherine swore and backed away from him, hand on the Poké Ball at her belt; obviously, she knew what this was, and feared it.

“Ashley!” she cried. “Calm down!”

“I am perfectly calm,” replied Ashley, still not looking at her. In front of him, the Driftenburg quivered, little waves of it trying to pull away and retreat – but it was locked in place, incapable of moving. I stared in horrified fascination; what the hell was going on? What was Ashley doing, and how? “I just think this foolish creature needs to learn the error of its ways.”

What happened next was indescribable; there wasn't actually much to see. The wall of fog began to shake, its outlines blurring as every molecule of it tried to pull away from Ashley and was drawn back by some irresistible power. That was all that I could see – but it wasn't even the half of it.

The Driftenburg screamed, and everyone in East Sinnoh must have heard it: it tore through my head like a bullet, shedding images of blood and pain at random. I saw a howling fox, its leg caught in a trap; a screeching monkey in the grip of a Braviary; a child with a round red hole where its face should have been, lying on a barren clifftop...

I must have screamed myself. I don't remember, but it seems impossible that I didn't. My mind was on fire, memories and thoughts burning in an all-consuming heat; I dimly recall falling over without even trying to stop myself, and landing hard enough on my face to draw blood, as I later found out.

Ashley!” shrieked Catherine. “Stop! I order you to stop!”

“Why?” he asked, and his voice seemed to issue from every point in space at once, a fearsome cacophony of misaligned syllables. “It must learn.”

“For one, you're killing your assistant!”

“Pearl?” Ashley sounded very far away. “She is... exceptionally bad at spying.” He sighed, and his breath whirled about the forest like a tornado. “I shall stop,” he said reluctantly, and all at once the Driftenburg's screams died away, down to a low moan. “Will you go back now?” he asked, and I sensed the big Ghost leave – very, very quickly.

It was about then that I came properly to my senses, and sat up. My face felt wet and tasted salty; I touched it, and saw blood and tears on my fingertips.

“Oh God,” I whispered, drawing in a deep, shuddering breath. “Oh God.”
A shadow fell over me, and I looked up to see Ashley standing there, holding out a hand and looking very normal.

“Pearl,” he said softly, “this really wasn't a very good idea on your part.”

I felt tears gathering at the corners of my eyes again; I blinked furiously, trying to get rid of them, but there was no stopping them and they ran freely down my cheeks.

“Oh,” said Ashley. “No, don't cry. You're just in a mild state of psionic shock. It'll fade in a moment.” He took my hand and pulled me up; instinctively, I leaned into his chest, burying my face in his shoulder. “Ah,” he said, sounding vaguely uncomfortable. “Um – I haven't done this in a while. Er, there there.”

He patted my shoulder uncertainly, and gently peeled me off him. I sniffed deeply, pulled myself together and wiped my eyes.

“Sorry,” I managed to say. “It was – well, sorry.”

“Yes, weaker minds than mine find it hard to take the Driftenburg's voice,” he said thoughtfully. “I suppose I should have considered that, but when I... do that, I tend to get a little carried away.” He paused, perhaps thinking of some time when he'd got too carried away. “It usually ends badly.”

“You don't say.” I pulled away from him, and felt my nose, satisfying myself it wasn't broken. Then, this necessity over with, I looked Ashley square in the eyes – the normal, grey eyes. “Ashley, what are you?”

“I'm a detective,” he replied. “Isn't that enough for any one man?”

“Stop being cryptic, Ashley,” said Catherine, coming over with a certain weariness in her step. “That's one of the reasons people hate you so much.”

He raised his eyebrows and turned away.

“Very well,” he said. “Go back to the car; I need to go to the Tower and check that the Driftenburg is doing as it's told.”

With that, he stalked off to the Lost Tower. I think Catherine might have offended him. After all, wasn't it a detective's prerogative to be cryptic?

---

“Pearl!” cried Iago. “What the hell did you think you were doing, leaving a stoned, ghostsick Kadabra on his own in a car? I could have died!”

“I'm happy to see you too,” I said, dropping back to my seat and sighing. “How are you still conscious? I'd have thought your skull would've exploded when the Driftenburg screamed.”

He looked puzzled.

“It screamed? I didn't hear anything.”

“Well, it was sort of in your head—”

Iago threw up his hands in exasperation.

“That's it, then. Obviously I wouldn't have heard it – I have no psychic powers, not even enough to hear something like that.”

“But I heard it, and I'm not psychic,” I pointed out.

“Hum. OK, I'll give you that,” Iago said grudgingly. “Fine, I guess I was just too stoned to notice – which is sort of what I was aiming for, so that's really not such a bad thing.”

A moment later, Catherine got back into the driver's seat.

“Damn,” she said. “Iago, how d'you stand that guy?”

“Ah. He released?”

“Not fully. But even so... he's terrifying.”

“Yeah, I know.” Iago shook his head. “Have you seen the photographs of Darkling Town?”

“No...?”

“Don't. You'll have nightmares.”

Darkling Town? What was this? I made a mental note to get Stephanie to look that up for me. From the sound of it, it was some place where Ashley had 'released', as Cynthia had put it, on an epic and very scary scale.

Just then, Ashley arrived.

“It's sealed,” he said. “The wax holding the Cleanse Tags in place had broken; I melted it and stuck everything back down.”

“That thing's held in by wax?” I asked. “Isn't that basically asking for trouble?”

“Cleanse Tags don't work if not held by wax,” replied Ashley, as if it were something that everyone should know. “No one knows why.”

“There seem to be a lot of things like that in this country,” I muttered.

“So you fixed it all?” asked Catherine.

“Yes.”

“Good,” she said. “What about that car? Did you pick anything up with your detective skills?”

“A member of a known criminal syndicate,” replied Ashley smoothly. “There were signs of interference at the cellar doors; I would hand the whole case over to your people, but I happen to have a vested interest in this group, so I'll deal with it myself. As long as you have no objections,” he added.

“No, that's just one less thing for me to do. Where can I drop you off?”

“Since you've come this far, do you think you could see your way to dropping us in Solaceon?” asked Iago. “We're going to Veilstone.”

“Fine,” said Catherine. “If it'll get rid of you, it's fine by me.”

And with those less than encouraging words, she put the car into reverse, turned around and drove off back to the motorway.

---

“Have you found anything, madam?” Bond looked around. “Madam?”

It seemed that Ellen was not where he had left her.

“Madam, are you in here?” he asked.

A pale hand rose up over the back of the sofa and gripped it hard; a moment later, the top half of a face joined it.

“Bond,” said Ellen, eyes wide, “I think ghost stories have moved on significantly since I last read any.”

“Is that so, madam?”

Ellen stood up slowly, vaulted over the sofa and went to stand by Bond, all just a little too quickly for it to be convincingly nonchalant.

“I think children nowadays might be a little more, um, jaded than they were in 1939,” she said, as calmly as possible. “I... thought I needed a break.” She smiled up at him weakly. “Did you find anything?”

“There are lots of reports of ghosts being able to possess people, madam,” Bond said, deciding to humour her. “However, there seems to be very little academic literature that takes the possibility of the existence of ghosts seriously, and I couldn't find anything that would tell us how to use any spectral powers we might possess.”

Ellen chewed her lip.

“I suppose we have no choice,” she sighed. “We need to plan this properly – and talk to Mans to see if he knows anyone who might help us.”

“Such as Pigzie Doodle?”

“I'm not sure we'll be seeing him again, Bond,” said Ellen stiffly. “No, we'll have to see if Mans knows anyone else.”

“It would be much faster to ask Pigzie—”

“He never wants to see us again,” Ellen told him. “I think we offended him by existing for too long in the same area as him.”

Bond nodded deeply, to better give the impression that he understood.

“Ah. Of course. I should have known.”

“Well, I wish you'd told me earlier, Bond. Then I might have been able to stop him getting so cross with us.”

“I think, madam, that you would have tried to console Pigzie Doodle, only to find him... inconsolable.”

“Perhaps you're right,” said Ellen. Then: “Now can we leave? I don't like being in the same room as... these books.”

Bond hid a smile – it would hardly be proper for a butler to laugh at his employer – and, taking her by the hand, led her out.

“That's better,” said Ellen, as soon as they were outside the library. “Would you get hold of a motor-car now, please?”

Bond's inner smile disappeared in an instant. Of course. He had to arrange transport.

“Right away, madam,” he said, through gritted teeth. “If you would just care to wait here, I will return momentarily.”

A lesser man might have muttered angry nothings under his breath as he glided away. Bond, needless to say, did not.

Ellen watched him until he turned a corner, and then turned to look at the traffic – only to see a rather familiar shape hovering before her.

Well, well, well, said Pigzie Doodle, trying and failing to cross the stubby protuberances that passed for his arms. Look who's come crawling back.

---

If there is one person who is liable to be overlooked in this chronicle, it is Stephanie Sinistral, loving daughter, excellent student and annoyingly right best friend to Pearl Gideon. We must not forget, however, that it was she and not Pearl who was making the most headway with the investigations, being the one with ready access to a computer and no criminal organisation breathing down her neck.

And so we will take a brief moment to see what she was doing as Pigzie Doodle met with Ellen, as Liza languished in a coffee-house, and as Pearl was driven to Solaceon.

Having some free time, a curious mind and a helpful disposition, Stephanie was seated in front of her computer with a mug of hot chocolate (it was cold that day in Jubilife) and wide eyes. Where Ashley Lacrimére was concerned, the Internet had some very interesting stories to tell.

“In 1891,” she read aloud, “Lacrimére returned to Sinnoh after travels abroad, first alighting on Newmoon Island, at the now-forgotten port of Darkling Town. What happened next is nothing less than the stuff of legend...”
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Last edited by Cutlerine; January 4th, 2012 at 04:05 AM.
  #40    
Old January 3rd, 2012, 01:20 PM
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Silent Memento
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Shoot, I forgot to mention a grammatical error (I don't know why, but it totally slipped my mind in my last review). It's at the end of the sixteenth chapter, where you use "she" to describe Iago. There's two other errors that I caught in the current chapter:

Quote:
“Shellfish? Uh, got it,” I replied as I got out. If I see some, I'll
get it for you.”
You need quotation marks at the beginning of the bolded part.

Quote:
“No, you wont,” interrupted Ashley calmly. “Not unless you walk right into the mist. You just feel sick.”
The "won't" needs an apostrophe.

Otherwise, I didn't catch anything. Now for the characters:

Iago has pretty much solidified his place as my favorite character in this fic (so far). I mean, I know that he's a really horrible Pokemon (you said so yourself on Serebii), but I can't help but be drawn to him. I don't know why, but...ah well.

Bond's really cool. Not only does he have the most awesome name for a butler ever, but he's just so calm and unflappable as well. There's not that many people who could work for Ellen, but Bond, like you said, is not an ordinary person. I also love that you gave the two ghosts in the Eterna mansion some screentime, much like you did with the character that Darren Goodwin is based on (the researcher in Petalburg Woods).

The part with the Driftenburg was awesome, and it's made me believe in my theory about Pearl a lot more because of this reason:

Spoiler:
Catherine wasn't nearly as affected by the Driftenburg's scream as Pearl was, and Iago didn't hear it at all. It just makes me think that Pearl is special, much like Ashley and Cyrus are. I really don't know how it is, but that's my theory, and unlike my theory on Zero, I'm sticking to my guns.


And now I'm very interested in what happened at Darkling Town. I'll be waiting patiently for the next chapter, whenever it comes.

Sincerely,

Mem.
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  #41    
Old January 4th, 2012, 03:51 AM
Cutlerine
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Silent Memento View Post
Shoot, I forgot to mention a grammatical error (I don't know why, but it totally slipped my mind in my last review). It's at the end of the sixteenth chapter, where you use "she" to describe Iago. There's two other errors that I caught in the current chapter:
Oh yeah. I should have caught those; I suppose it's because my computer went slow and I started typing faster than it could update the screen, so it missed out every few characters. I thought I'd gone back and replaced them all, but obviously I missed some. However, the 'she' for Iago is just a baffling error, probably born of... actually, I don't know. Thanks for pointing them out.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Silent Memento View Post
Otherwise, I didn't catch anything. Now for the characters:

Iago has pretty much solidified his place as my favorite character in this fic (so far). I mean, I know that he's a really horrible Pokemon (you said so yourself on Serebii), but I can't help but be drawn to him. I don't know why, but...ah well.

Bond's really cool. Not only does he have the most awesome name for a butler ever, but he's just so calm and unflappable as well. There's not that many people who could work for Ellen, but Bond, like you said, is not an ordinary person. I also love that you gave the two ghosts in the Eterna mansion some screentime, much like you did with the character that Darren Goodwin is based on (the researcher in Petalburg Woods).

The part with the Driftenburg was awesome, and it's made me believe in my theory about Pearl a lot more because of this reason:

Spoiler:
Catherine wasn't nearly as affected by the Driftenburg's scream as Pearl was, and Iago didn't hear it at all. It just makes me think that Pearl is special, much like Ashley and Cyrus are. I really don't know how it is, but that's my theory, and unlike my theory on Zero, I'm sticking to my guns.


And now I'm very interested in what happened at Darkling Town. I'll be waiting patiently for the next chapter, whenever it comes.

Sincerely,

Mem.
Well, before you get too comfortable with your theory, don't forget that Catherine works in a building full of Ghosts every day, and Iago was not only further away but had scrambled all of his senses with Oddish leaves. I'm not saying you're wrong, but there are always alternative explanations - which is always good, from my point of view. Especially since this is (loosely speaking) a mystery/detective sort of story.

Bond is very cool. It's because he's from 1939 and a butler: a winning combination. It means I can model him on such butlering greats as P. G. Wodehouse's Jeeves or (to a lesser extent) Beach. Also on Kuro♥♥♥♥suji's Sebastian Michaelis, even if only a little bit. I also think that if you have a detective story, you can't not have a butler. It's sort of required, isn't it?

He and Ellen, otherwise known as the two ghosts from the Old Chateau, are actually rather important. They don't seem to be yet, but they are. Since they're ghosts, I had to ask myself the question: why? Why are there two ghosts in the Old Chateau, and what's stopping them fully leaving this mortal coil? The answer ended up becoming embedded in the middle of this story, so they got chucked into the melting pot with the rest of the characters.

As for Iago... well, I've made my feelings on him pretty clear. As time goes on, and we get to the point where he does the things that he does, you'll see exactly why I don't like him. The problem is that what he does is so very understandable - but he's still repellent, especially considering the other Kadabra in the story, and therefore what Iago says about human nature. I didn't mean for him to come out that way, but his character sort of made itself without letting me have a go, which means it's now unavoidable.

I now realise that none of that made sense to anyone who hasn't read the next two chapters, so I'll hurry up and write them to illustrate my point.

As ever, thanks for stopping by. It's much appreciated.

EDIT: Also, what's this about Cyrus being special? I'm not going to confirm or deny it, but I'm curious to know where this theory came from.

F.A.B.
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Last edited by Cutlerine; January 4th, 2012 at 04:06 AM.
  #42    
Old January 7th, 2012, 02:24 PM
Cutlerine
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Chapter Nineteen: In Which There is Pseudo-Science and Philosophy

'Technically, those wanting to visit a Kadabra reserve need a permit, but in practice, the Kadabra let in those who they want to see and no one cares. The ability to read minds gives Kadabra an incredible ability to slice through bureaucracy; if ever one becomes President, the country will probably be four hundred times as efficient. Unfortunately, we'd probably also get a thought police who can actually read your thoughts, which would be utterly terrifying.'
— Simon 'Si' Onix, Si's Guide to Psychic Politics


“But I didn't come crawling back,” pointed out Ellen, puzzled. “You just appeared.”

Pigzie Doodle did something that resembled a barrel roll, which was presumably his way of indicating irrelevance.

You were about to, he said. I just cut out the middle man.

“Are all Ghosts as confusing as you?”

No. Most of them just hate you. There is a certain select group of us, however, founded by a Dusclops in the nineteenth century, who hate you with style. Pigzie Doodle paused. I am a member of that group.

Ellen wondered if she was meant to be impressed, decided that she was and widened her eyes, which seemed to please him.

Finally, I get through to you, he crowed. Excellent. Now, first things first, I need to tell you that I'm not helping you out of compassion.

“I was wondering why you were.”

No, it isn't compassion. He rolled his eye back and forth in a pensive sort of way. I'm even older than you, Ellen Dennel, and Sinnoh is just the latest stop in my grand tour of the world. I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Battleships on fire off the Cape of Good Hope. I watched London burn in the dark, near the Tanhauser Gate. None of those moments will ever be lost in time; they're locked behind this skull, unfading. I will never die. Do you understand how insignificant you and your problems are in comparison?

Ellen did not.

“I do.”

Lying minx. Anyway, the point of my inverted Rutger Hauer homage was to ram home the fact that I am eternal, and despite being a ghost, you are transitory. One day, whatever ties you to this earth will dissolve and you will leave. I will remain. When the world turns to dust, I will be here; when the sun explodes, I'll ride the shockwave to new planets. Do you understand?

If anything, Ellen understood even less.

“I do,” she said again.

You are such a bad liar. The point is... it would be rather magnanimous of me, wouldn't it? To help you, when I could just as easily drift away and leave you to your own helpless devices. But... Pigzie Doodle attempted a shrug. If I were to help... then there might be a place in history for me.

“What? Why would there be a place in history for you?” Ellen was really confused now. What on earth was he talking about?

Do you know what will happen if you contact Tristan Shandy and tell him who Liza Radley is?

“No...”

She will remember, replied Pigzie Doodle simply. She will remember everything. And there will be one almighty fight about it.

Ellen started.

“You mean to say...?”

Exactly, he replied. She lost her memory. I've been keeping an eye on her since she showed up, to tell the truth; I felt her presence right away and wanted to see whether it was time to flee Sinnoh. It seems she doesn't remember much from before last year.

“Then she doesn't—”

Remember killing you all, no. I read about that in the papers, actually. It seemed commendable, cleansing a nice spooky manor of humans – until I realised she'd killed most of the Ghosts as well.

“Do you mind? That was my family!” A mixture of anger and sorrow rose in Ellen's chest, to be swiftly joined by excitement: she hadn't felt so much about her family for many years.

I refuse to apologise on principle. Anyway, where was I? Oh yes: Liza Radley. The point is, if you tell people about her, it will be the final unmasking. People these days are a lot more knowledgeable about her kind than in the olden days. If Liza is revealed for what she really is, then either the people she works for or the Pokémon League – or both, I suppose – will destroy her. And therefore, if I am a part of that process... Pigzie Doodle trailed off.

“You are written into the history books as someone who helped to destroy... whatever she is,” finished Ellen, finally understanding. “I see, I see.”

Yes, replied the Duskull smugly. And that's why I'm helping you. Not for you, not for Sinnoh – but for a place in history, something I can look back on in four hundred years time and boast about to whatever Johnny-come-lately Ghosts are around then.

“Very well,” said Ellen. “We would gratefully accept your help, Pig— Ishmael.”

Well remembered. Now, you want to contact Tristan Shandy, yes?

“That's so, but if we are aiming to defeat her, don't we need to tell someone more important?”

Hey, let's start small, eh? Firstly, my dead little child, there's no way for you to talk to the living.

No way to talk to the living? That couldn't be! There had to be something they could do...

“Can't I write him a note or something?” she asked.

You can try, but something will always stop you, said Pigzie Doodle. The pen will break, the paper will be blown away, the ink will run out... It is a law of the universe that no communication may occur between the living and the dead, and so the universe itself will stop you.

“But we have to tell him!” cried Ellen. “That woman he's with—” She broke off. “Can't you tell him?”

I suppose I could, admitted Pigzie Doodle. But see, there's a little problem with being a Ghost: humans never believe you. They mistrust you on sight, especially Ghosts who feed off them like Duskull. It's the same reason that Wurmple never trust a Starly; they know better than to trust their predator. So, unless you can produce a Ghost that humans respect and love who is willing to work with a cruel and vicious emotivore like myself, we can't use that method to contact them.

“But we really have to find some way—!”

I know, I know, sighed Pigzie Doodle. You feel you have to warn him before he comes to any harm. He paused again. And I can tell you how to do it.

“You can?”

Yes, I can. He sounded very pleased with himself. It's a lovely old-fashioned rule, rooted in ancient magic, or possibly ancient science. It's often difficult to tell them apart if you look at the olden days. Arthur C. Clarke said something similar and yet totally different.

“How?” asked Ellen. “How can we break a law of the universe?”

Where the universe is weak, so are its laws, replied Pigzie Doodle. There is one place in Sinnoh where the fabric of space and time has worn thin from repeated abuse; there, the laws of nature are... more like guidelines.

“There is? Where's that?” asked Ellen eagerly.

I don't know that yet, replied the Duskull, somewhat anticlimactically. But I know how we can find out.

---

“Do you recall that I said I'd found evidence that the man in the car was a member of a known criminal syndicate?”

I thought for a moment. We were walking through Solaceon Town, a nice enough village with aspirations to be something larger and more important; Catherine had dropped us off near the edge, and we were making our way... somewhere. Ashley hadn't actually told me where.

“No,” I replied. “Can we get something to eat?”

“What?”

Ashley appeared to be suffering from selective deafness.

“Can we get something to eat?” I repeated. “I'm really hungry. And you probably are as well,” I added. “Or you should be.”

“I'm with Pearl on this one,” said Iago. “Shocking as it may seem, I'm going to agree with the idiot.”

“You just don't want to go there,” Ashley told him. “You hate it there.”

“Correction: they hate me there.”

“You could stay here—”

“I'm not allowed to leave you alone.”

I watched this curious exchange with a now-familiar feeling of confusion and vague hopelessness, and asked at length:

“What are you talking about?”

“We're going—”

“After lunch,” interrupted Iago, and Ashley glared at him.

“Fine,” he conceded. “After lunch, we're going to Veilstone via the Kadabra reserve on Route 215.”

A faint thrill of excitement and nervousness ran through my stomach.

“The Kadabra reserve? Why?”

“I told you I had East-side friends,” he replied. “I did, however, neglect to mention that they are not actually human.”

“That's... unexpected,” I said. “Uh, can we discuss it over lunch?”

“What is this unnatural obsession with lunch?” wondered Ashley. “Everyone wants it today!”

This was singularly weird, and both Iago and I informed him of it in no uncertain terms.

“Fine!” he snapped. “Find somewhere to eat, and we'll eat – but you're paying, Pearl.”

I was only too glad to, and just a few minutes later we were seated at a table in pleasant little café in a pleasant little square (with a pleasant little fountain) in the pleasant little village that was Solaceon.

“This place is very... pleasant,” said Iago suspiciously. “I'm not sure I like it.”

“It's fine,” I told him.

“Yes, you wanted lunch,” grumbled Ashley. “So you'll eat it and like it.”

The food arrived, and Iago and I set to eating; I'd got something for Ashley, but he still didn't seem interested. I wondered if he'd eaten anything at all since we'd first met.

“As I was saying before lunch so rudely interrupted,” he said, “the man who was in the car left a Galactic uniform by the cellar doors.” He threw a scrap of silver fabric with a stylised G on it onto the table.

“Wait – you're saying Team Galactic let out the Driftenburg?” I asked, fork hovering forgotten an inch from my mouth.

“That's right,” replied Ashley. “And the unfortunate man who actually cracked the seal was devoured for his pains – either that or he ran away naked and without his Pokémon, which seems implausible.”

“He had a Pokémon?”

Ashley fished in his pocket and came up with a ball.

“Yes,” he said indifferently. “I wasn't sure what to do with it.”

“Is it valuable?” asked Iago, eyes lighting up. “I could sell it on...”

That reminded me of the ton of scorpion-demon I had; I looked down at my bag on the floor, and nudged it further away from me with one toe. When Ashley wasn't looking, I'd give that to Iago and see if he could sell it for me – but right now, it was just dangerous.

“We'll see later,” replied Ashley. “I doubt the proprietor of this café would look kindly on me releasing it in here. Anyway, the Galactics released the Driftenburg, presumably to slow us down; if they know the Driftenburg exists, they must also know that I would be called in to stop it, and that I wouldn't fail to do so. It was too much of a coincidence for it to escape just when I reached Hearthome.”

“OK,” I said. “So what does this mean for us?”

“Nothing, really,” Iago told me. “Just that the Galactics know we're going to Veilstone. Also, we should now start assuming that Team Galactic knows everything about Ashley – which is plausible, given that pretty much every single fact about him is written down in the League headquarters, where someone could break in and read it.”

“OK,” I repeated. “Why are we going to the Kadabra reserve? You said your friends could get a search warrant, and Kadabra can't get warrants.”

“Well done,” said Ashley. “Very astute of you. The truth is that the acquaintances I have in Veilstone are not the same acquaintances I have in the reserve. The former are important; the latter are simply likely to have overheard what the Galactics are doing. Kadabra are gossips by nature, sharing their thoughts in common, and the collective mental power of the reserve's inhabitants covers the west side of Veilstone. If we can get any information about what the Galactics are doing that necessitated delaying me at the Lost Tower.”

Damn. How could one brain get so much information out of one car and a discarded silver spacesuit? And more to the point, when was I going to get even half as good as Ashley?

“Are you finished?” asked Ashley, as soon as I'd put the last forkful into my mouth. “Right, we're leaving.”

“Hey, what's the rush—?” Iago began, but Ashley grabbed him by one scrawny wrist and dragged him outside. It was quite entertaining to watch, actually: Iago kept wrenching at Ashley's fingers, and completely failing to dislodge them. I shook my head. It must be hard to be a Kadabra without psychic power; they were more or less completely useless without it.

I threw down a few notes on the table, then rushed out to join them as Iago, claws scoring lines in the pavement, was hauled off around the corner. I ran around and almost tripped over Iago's tail: Ashley had dropped him, and was nowhere to be seen.

“What's up?” I asked.

“Not me, that's for sure,” muttered the Kadabra angrily, and climbed awkwardly to his feet. “Damn it! That was very undignified!”

“You're not really a dignified sort of person,” I pointed out.

“Shut up,” he grumbled.

“Where's Ashley?”

“He went in there,” he said, jerking a clawed thumb at a nearby door. “It's a cab depot.”

“They have a cab depot in Solaceon?”

“Yeah. They do surprisingly good business, actually – they get the people wanting to travel between Hearthome and Veilstone, because the cab firms in the cities charge a hell of a lot for trips outside the city limits.” Iago's eyes suddenly lost their focus. “They have twenty-one staff in total and sixteen cars; their registered Sinnoh business number is 4923787; they're jointly owned by Roy Lamperouge and Steve Plath—”

“Iago?”

“Eh?” He looked at me. “Oh. Sorry. I think I hit my head when Ashley dropped me, and that tends to trigger a burst of memories.”

“Those were pretty specific memories.”

He shrugged.

“Well, I have a pretty specific memory,” he said. “By which I mean it's millions of times better than yours.”

“Yeah, but you can't forget the bad stuff, can you?” I pointed out. “Like when you were conned out of everything.”

“Oh, how wonderfully human,” growled Iago sourly. “I show you a miracle of nature, and you point out its disadvantages just because you can't have it.”

I smiled at him, and he growled at me again; the argument would probably have escalated, but Ashley reappeared just then, and guided us into a taxi that had mysteriously appeared in the road behind us. I supposed that with sixteen cars and not too much business, the firm probably had about five stockpiled at their depot.

“To the fox reserve, yes?” asked the taxi driver. Iago looked like he was about to smite him, but, realising that his smiting would have no effect at all, abandoned it.

“No,” replied Ashley coldly. “To the Kadabra reserve, if you please.”

“All right, if that's how you have it,” said the driver mildly. “But to the reserve?”

“Yes. Stop half a mile before the entrance to let us out, then use a different road to go half a mile after the entrance; wait there, and we'll join you to be taken to Veilstone.”

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

“You'll be paid far more than you deserve,” Ashley told him.

“Oh. That's all right then.”

And he drove off and took us out of Solaceon.

---

“So, Kadabra,” said Ashley, as the countryside flashed by. “Tell me what you know about them, Pearl.”

All right, I thought, challenge accepted. I could talk about Kadabra better than most – they're pretty important in philosophy, and though it often seemed like I didn't, I did actually study that.

“They're all one,” I replied. “They have a belief system that seems a little bit like Taoism, wherein they perceive themselves as being participants in a single stream of life that pervades all members of their species.”

“Well done,” said Iago dryly. “Now do it without quoting the textbook.”

“Leave her alone,” Ashley told him. “I don't mind how she gets the answer, as long as she gets it.” He returned his attention to me and smiled encouragingly. “Go on, Pearl. Tell me more.”

“The key difference is that they believe this life force only fills them,” I said. “Because every single Kadabra, Abra and Alakazam is part of a huge network of psychic connections, they believe that there is only one of them alive, and they therefore have only the bare minimum of individuality.”

“Yeah,” said Iago. “Like you humans are any better, following your fashions and your systems of government and your scientific progress. What's that if not an excuse to give up individuality?”

“Ignore him. If he speaks again, I shall quell him.”

This was apparently a serious threat, and Iago shut up.

“Kadabra sincerely believe Alakazam to be the most perfect organism in existence, being a higher form of Kadabra,” I said. “I say 'organism' because, like I said, they believe there's only one of them. Consequently, they've never had a good relationship with humans, and there've been quite a lot of wars between them and us.”

“Which we won,” pointed out Iago, unable to contain himself, and Ashley stared at him so intensely and for so long that his triangular eyes almost retreated into his skull in fright.

“Carry on,” Ashley said.

“Which the Kadabra did indeed win,” I conceded, “and so kept the humans out of their ancestral homelands until the invention of machine-guns, which fired consecutive bullets so rapidly that they couldn't block them all with their minds, and later flamethrowers, which fired fire with the same effect.”

Iago pouted.

“There were a few genocides and a really nasty period of slavery and oppression and such, and then, when more enlightened times came around, a lot of Kadabra tribes were given their old land back, where they're allowed to live mostly unmolested.”

“You know more than I expected,” Ashley said. “Perhaps it's all that food; I ought to feed you more often.”

“I also know that Kadabra eat mainly meat and that most of them are allergic to gluten,” I added helpfully.

“Yes, that'll do,” he said. “What do you know about Kadabra social gestures?”

“Er... nothing,” I admitted.

He sighed.

“Oh well. So much for your philosophy, Pearl; it seems there are things in heaven and earth not dreamt of in it.”

“Is that a joke?” I asked, not quite daring to believe it.

“It was a good one when I first thought of it,” Ashley said gloomily. “But times have moved on, it seems. When you meet the Kadabra, don't try and shake their hands, keep looking them dead in the eye, and let them speak first. If they offer you anything, accept it with gratitude. If the Abra want to play with you, don't let them. Even if you can, don't try and hide anything in your mind from them. Most importantly, don't pretend to be sorry for all humans have done to them, don't pity them, and try not to lie.” Ashley looked grave. “Humans lie in everything they do: they phrase things to imply something other than what happened, or to spare someone's feelings; the way they dress or the way they stand are all part of a desire to project a certain image. It's anathema to Kadabra; they can neither lie nor be lied to, so they prize truth.”

I looked down at myself. Ashley had carefully chosen these clothes so that I'd like them – but I was willing to bet that Kadabra were less fond of expensive designer jeans and dyed hair than I was.

“Crap,” I said.

“Indeed,” agreed Ashley, raising his eyebrows. “You'll have to try extra-hard, I'm afraid – though at least you aren't wearing any make-up. They hate that.”

The car stopped, and Ashley opened the door.

“Come on,” he said. “Enough discussion; there's work to be done.”

Outside it was raining, and there are few things quite as depressing as a forest in the rain; the ten-minute walk to the reserve was a pretty nasty one. If I had been wearing make-up, it would have been ruined; as it was, my hair turned into wet blue strings and refused to go back. I supposed it was probably better for meeting Kadabra – if the style was all gone, it would be more truthful.

After a while, the trail rounded a sharp corner, and the large wooden gates of the reserve appeared as if by magic before us. There was a large blank plaque atop it, and absolutely no sign of anyone around.

“Is there a bell we can ring or something?” I asked, trying to shelter my head from the rain and failing.

“No,” replied Iago. “They'll hear us thinking and someone will come along to let us in.”

Silence fell again, and while I was waiting I started to worry about the reception we were going to get. I knew Kadabra lived their lives at the speed of thought; they would have heard us by now. They must have noticed me, and decided to make me wait.

“The Kadabra must like you too though, right?” I asked. “I mean – since you are a Kadabra, and you're... well, you're Ashley.”

“No,” replied Ashley.

“Me neither,” said Iago.

My heart sank.

“Oh dear.”

“Admittedly, it's Iago who causes the most problems,” Ashley said. “They don't hate him any more than they hate me, but they're more wary of me, since I could make trouble for them if they irritate me.”

It was at that point that the unmistakeable voice of a Kadabra sounded in my head: slow and laboured from the effort of converting thinkwaves into inefficient words.

Humans. We are Kadabra. Who are you?

“You know who I am, and that is enough to earn our entrance,” replied Ashley; I supposed this was the sort of blunt talking you had to do with Kadabra, but I couldn't help thinking how rude it was. “With me is my attendant, Iago, and a student of philosophy, Pearl Gideon.”

I felt curiosity drip into my skull, and knew it came from the Kadabra.

Philosophy...

For a moment, everything tasted very strongly of cantaloupes – even stronger than cantaloupes themselves – and then the sensation abruptly stopped.

The philosophy of Pearl Gideon is incomplete, partially incoherent and worthless, the Kadabra decided, and I realised with a small jolt that they'd just read my mind. What do you want with us, Diamond?

“I have questions to ask you,” said Ashley. “I would like to ask them inside, so that I and my companions don't get wet.”

Two humans and a demon.
The voice paused, the Kadabra presumably mulling it over. You may enter, Diamond.

“Demon?” I asked Ashley in a whisper. “What do they mean, demon?”

“It's interesting,” he replied as the gates swung open, “that you looked at me when they said 'demon', and not Iago.”

Not really knowing what he meant by that, I followed him through the gate, across a little clearing and into one of the four large, dome-shaped buildings that I could see nearby. Cloaked by trees and dead leaves, it was almost invisible; when I got close, I could see it was actually made of cement, which dented the fairyland sort of impression. We passed over a roofed veranda, through a small round door, and ended up in a dimly-lit chamber which was full of Kadabra.

I stopped and stared. I couldn't help it. I must have seen about twenty Kadabra in my whole life up until then – and here were at least double that, all in one place. They sat on low benches in rows, facing inwards towards a central aisle; this aisle lay between us and a dais at the other end, on which three immensely ancient- and sagacious-looking creatures sat, legs crossed and eyes shut. Before each one was a little pot containing a pair of polished silver spoons, and I had no doubt that I was in the presence of a trio of Alakazam.

Three, I thought. All in one place! Most people never even see one. Then: Crap. They'll have heard that. Crap! That too. Aah! Stop thinking!

“Don't stop thinking,” Ashley whispered to me without moving his lips. “You'll come across as a liar.”

Diamond.

The voice was so old, and so slow; it brought with it ideas of glittering clarity, of unparalleled strength, of cold and mines and harsh white light...

“Pearl,” said Ashley softly. “Come back.”

I blinked, and the diamonds disappeared from around me.

“She has never heard Alakazam speak before,” Ashley told the assembled company.

We know, replied the ancient voice. We have seen it already.

I couldn't have said which one the voice came from, but it didn't matter: they were all one, weren't they? Their outlines seemed to blur together before me, and I felt beads of boiling hot sweat break out on my forehead; I wiped them away, blinked hard and willed the blurring away. Listening to these people was much harder than I'd thought it would be.

Diamond. What do you want?

Why didn't they already know, I wondered. Surely they had already read Ashley's mind?

“I want to know what you know about the humans who call themselves Team Galactic,” he said. “They want me dead.”

Your death would not be a loss.

“They also want Iago dead.”

His death would not be a loss.

“They also want Pearl dead.”

Her death would not be a loss.

“Talk about a limited vocabulary,” I muttered under my breath, and then bit my tongue: the Kadabra had probably overheard me thinking that.

“Iago and Pearl would miss their lives, if no one else would,” Ashley replied. “And I intend to see to it that they do not have to.”

The Alakazam and their attendant Kadabra were silent for a while.

You are always so difficult, they said at length. Why are you always so difficult?

“You do not exactly make things easy for me,” he retorted. “Tell me what you know about Galactic.”

Send the man who looks like a Kadabra away. We refuse to speak to him.

“You could broadcast the thought directly to me only—”

You will do it our way.

Ashley turned to Iago.

“Wait on the veranda,” he said, and Iago left without another word.

And the woman, the Alakazam said. The walls seemed to be crawling around me; Ashley turned to me, took one look at my face and asked if he could be excused for a moment. Without waiting for a response, he took my hand and led me from the room; I took one step and almost fell over, and the rest is quite blurry until we joined Iago on the veranda.

“Pearl? Are you all right?” Ashley tipped me backwards gently until my face was in the rain; that did the trick and I snapped back to reality with a jerk.

“Whuh? What – how did we get out here?”

“You had a bad reaction to the telepathy,” Ashley told me. “How do you feel?”

“Like a bubble made of lemon,” I replied, rubbing my head. “Also drunk.”

“I see.” He nodded, as if he really did. “Wait here with Iago. I'll be back soon.”

He went back inside, and I looked over at Iago.

“Seriously, what happened?”

He shrugged.

“You went weird from the telepathy. You're probably just not used to it; don't worry about it.”

“Oh... OK.” There was something else I had to say, something weird that I'd heard while in my trance... ah, that was it. “Iago?”

“Yeah?”

“Why do they call you a man who looks like a Kadabra?”

He was silent for a while, and I began to think he wasn't going to answer; I was just about to apologise for being insensitive when he said:

“Because that's all I am, Pearl.”

I knew something was up even before I'd processed what he'd said. This wasn't his usual tone; this was bleak, and unattractively full of self-pity.

“Kadabra and humans are both – relatively – smart creatures,” Iago went on. “There's just one key difference. Humans have their own minds, and Kadabra share theirs in common.”

“But you can't,” I said softly, seeing it.

“There's a brain cell somewhere in that skull of yours after all,” Iago said. “Yeah, this” – he indicated himself – “is what happens if you're a square peg in a society of round holes. I'm defective and I don't fit and—” He broke off sharply, aware that he was starting to ramble. “Shut up, Pearl,” he said eventually, and took to staring at the rain.

I had no idea what to say to him, and was pretty sure that whatever I did would only make it worse, so I said nothing and looked out at the rain with him. Even if he hated me, even if Iago hated everyone, company might make him feel slightly better. We stayed that way until Ashley returned; when he did, he immediately detected that something was wrong, worked out what it was and told Iago to go on ahead back to the car. Unusually, he obeyed without a word.

“He's really quite pathetic, isn't he?” remarked Ashley, leaning on the veranda railing and watching Iago hurrying away through the driving rain. “Split in two down the middle, with a mind that makes him think like a human but a body unfit to bear his thoughts. Humans discriminate against him for his body, and Kadabra for his mind. It's little wonder that he hates everyone around him. He's not really proud to be a Kadabra; it's just an excuse to dislike humans.”

“That's horrible,” I said. “It's just... God. Isn't there anything—?”

“Don't pity him,” Ashley advised. “Humans are at their worst when driven into a corner, and Iago has been in a corner for a very long time. If there ever was anything but bitterness in him, it's long since rotted away.”

“How can I not pity him?” I asked, starting to get angry. “How can you not pity him?”

“Because if he thought it would benefit him, he would kill you without a second thought,” replied Ashley. “He thinks like a human, yes. But don't make the mistake of thinking that he has the morals of one. He was raised by Kadabra, after all, and they do not understand morality; since they all exist as one organism, they don't need a code of ethics for how they treat one another. Iago has, of course, come into contact with the idea of right and wrong – but he sees it as a construct for the continued functioning of human society rather than an immutable law. For him, there is only what is good for Iago and what is bad for Iago. Someone as amoral and intelligent as him...” Ashley shook his head. “He is dangerous, Pearl. He's entertaining and often funny, but he is a very dangerous creature.”

“I'd kind of already worked that out, Ashley. You know, on account of how he keeps almost murdering me with a knife. It's noticing little details like that that gets you ahead in life.”

“You're angry with me,” observed Ashley. “How odd.”

“I'm not angry, I'm being facetious.”

“It is a very angry sort of facetiousness.” He sighed, took off his glasses and rubbed the raindrops off them. “Come on. Let's go back to the car. I need to tell you and Iago about what I heard from the Alakazam.” He glanced behind us. “Besides, I think they wanted us gone a while ago. The only reason I stayed to talk to you here was to annoy them.”

“Why would you do that?” I asked as we started walking.

“Because, contrary to popular opinion, I do actually have emotions, and one of them is annoyance,” he replied frankly. “The Kadabra and Alakazam are superbly talented at eliciting it from me. They're worse than swans.”

“Swans?”

“I hate swans,” Ashley said. “I can't stand them.”

“What, to eat?”

“No, in general,” he replied. “I don't like geese either. They're very angry birds, and they all seem to hate me in particular.” He shivered. “I was chased for two miles by a goose once.”

I suppressed a grin. Ashley Lacrimére, the great detective, the Diamond, Sinnoh's great national secret, was scared of waterfowl.

“Don't you laugh,” he said, glaring at me and pushing open the gate. “Have you ever fought a swan?”

“No.”

“They're much stronger than you think,” he said darkly. “I've only broken a bone once, Pearl, and it was a swan that did it.”

“Are you looking for sympathy?”

“No,” he said firmly. “I simply wish for you to understand that my fear of swans and geese is wholly rational and rooted in real trauma.”

“I don't think it can be rational,” I said.

“Well, I don't think it's rational to change your entire wardrobe every time the fashion changes,” he countered. “I also don't think it's rational to think that wearing sunglasses and a long coat makes you a detective. And I think it's very irrational to pretend that you don't need glasses to read.”

“Stop stalking me!” I cried.

“I'll stalk whosoever I please,” Ashley replied. “I'm a detective.”

“Aagh! You're so annoying!”

The really annoying thing was that he'd somehow managed to turn a conversation about his inadequacies into one about mine. I hate it when people do that.

“I know,” said Ashley, smiling. “I'm often told that I would be the worst person to be trapped in an elevator with. Although personally I'd find it worse to be trapped in one with you, if only because you would probably get cross enough to punch me eventually.”

“Gah!” That was all I could manage now, and it was a sign that I should probably stop talking before I got worked up into a vengeful fury and did something stupid like kick a tree. I've been down that road before, and it only leads to a broken toe and a night in the Accident and Emergency ward. So I shut up, and we made our way back to the car in silence.
__________________

For information about A Grand Day Out, a bizarre short story in video game form, click here.
  #43    
Old January 9th, 2012, 12:35 PM
Cutlerine
Gone. May or may not return.
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
Age: 20
Gender:
Nature: Impish
Chapter Nineteen: In Which Little Happens but a Lot is Said

'After Jubilife, Veilstone is the second most important city in Sinnoh. Boasting a hugely successful financial district and the world's oldest suicide booth (a sixty-metre spike-lined pit inside a steel hut), it is far and away the biggest contributor to the Sinnish economy. It also has a long history of meteor showers, and even today there are strike shelters strategically placed around the city.'
—Ordi Nannsevei, The Big Book of Sinnish Cities


“Doesn't it seem to you like ordering their deaths was actually what got them involved?” Cyrus asked the Desk Sitter.

“Perhaps if you had done it as we told you to, things would have gone according to plan,” they replied haughtily.

“Look, I know you're knowledgeable about murder, but you are a little out of touch,” Cyrus pointed out. “When was the last time you killed anyone?”

The Desk Sitter paused.

“It does not change the fact that they are not dead yet.”

“Yes, I'm working on it,” said Cyrus irritably. “Stop needling at me.”

“There is very little else for us to do,” the Desk Sitter told him.

“Well, this trap should work,” Cyrus replied. “I mean, Liza came up with it.”

“Ah yes,” said the Desk Sitter. “That one. We like her.”

“I know.” Cyrus pinched the bridge of his nose and leaned forward on his desk. “But you can't deny that it's the actual order to kill them that got them involved. If they end up stopping us, you'll be to blame.”

“We were told they had to die,” the Desk Sitter said. “We do not fully understand why.”

“That's what makes it hard to see what's going on,” Cyrus replied. “I can only hope this all becomes clearer when we reach the point that the other you came from.”

“It is enough to make anyone confused,” agreed the Desk Sitter. “Even us.”

“You're very arrogant for a hallucination.”

“We are not a hallucination,” said the Desk Sitter indignantly. “We are great and powerful, and humankind has feared us since—”

“Since they first looked out of the cave and saw the eyes looking back out of the dark, yes, I know,” said Cyrus wearily. “You've said it all before.”

“You keep forgetting our fearsomeness.”

“You don't give me a chance to.”

Cyrus and the Desk Sitter glared at each other for a while.

“Well, I'm going to get back to work,” Cyrus said eventually. “Don't bother me.”

“We do not bother. We destroy.”

“Not right now you don't, you lunatic monster,” muttered Cyrus, and went back to his papers.

---

“How's your head now?” asked Ashley.

“Better, thanks,” I replied, vaguely surprised that he'd bothered asking me.

“Good. I thought you might faint in the reserve, and that would have been bad – the background consciousness of the Kadabra would have given you horrific mind-altering nightmares that could well have driven you permanently insane.”

“Really?”

“No, not really,” admitted Ashley.

“Are you going to tell us what the Kadabra told you or not?” asked Iago snappishly.

“All right, all right,” said Ashley mildly. “Calm down. They told me that they haven't been listening out for Galactic, so they don't know much about them – but they did overhear an unusual series of thoughts moving around the city.”

“What do you mean, an unusual series of thoughts?” I asked. “Are they thoughts about unusual things, or what?”

“Thoughts about unusual things in Veilstone? Come on, Pearl, you're smarter than that, aren't you?” asked Iago. “In a big city, people are thinking about all kinds of things, from murder to fraud to any of about four thousand fetishes.”

“All right. So what are unusual thoughts?”

“They were a dialogue,” said Ashley. “A dialogue between Cyrus Maragos and someone else, all taking place within Maragos' head.”

“OK, that is unusual,” I said. “How do they know it was Maragos?”

“Because the other person kept calling him by name,” replied Ashley. “During the course of this dialogue, several references were made to a message that was apparently delivered to the other person, who then passed it on to Maragos.”

“And this message is...?”

“To have the three of us killed,” said Ashley matter-of-factly. “Which means that there is someone beyond Team Galactic who wants us dead, presumably to stop us interfering in the Team's affairs – which means that it must be in their interest to see to it that they succeed.”

“Does that help us at all?”

“What do you say to doing some of the detective work for once?” asked Ashley. “Tell me if that helps us.”

“Uh...” I thought about it. Come on, Pearl, you're a detective now. You can do this! “I guess it means we need to look for who this person is...”

“No, it doesn't help us,” interrupted Iago wearily. “To find this person, we need to find Maragos. Ultimately, everything ends with him.”

“Yes, it does,” agreed Ashley. “It's strange... What I want to know is whether this is the same Cyrus Maragos who gave the speech in Sunyshore – and if so, what changed him from minor politician to criminal mastermind.”

I hadn't made the connection before, but now that Ashley had said it, it was so blindingly obvious that I felt like an idiot for missing it. He'd been in the news, I remembered; there was definitely something weird about him, and there couldn't be that many people named Cyrus Maragos in Sinnoh...

“You think he's the guy we're after?”

“Maybe,” replied Ashley. “Anything is possible, after all.” He looked out of the window. “Ah. It's stopped raining.”

“I hate comments about the weather,” said Iago. “They're so irrelevant. Then again, humans like to busy themselves about inconsistencies, don't they?”

I gave him a look, and he looked back for a minute before glaring at Ashley.

“What did you say to her, you mutant bratchny?”

“I merely enlightened her about the precise differences between Kadabra and humans,” he replied with a little smile. “She was very sympathetic, actually.”

Iago turned his eyes on me, and they blazed with such ferocity that I shrank back in my seat.

“Well, it wasn't sympathy as such,” I began weakly, and trailed off with a nervous laugh.

“Don't you ever—” snarled Iago, but Ashley tapped him on the shoulder.

“Ah, leave her alone,” he said. “She can be very annoying, yes, what with her insistence on eating and coming along with us, but I have to say that Pearl is growing on me. Haven't you noticed that I've stopped being horrible to her?”

“Don't worry, I'll do it enough for both of us—”

“No,” said Ashley sharply. “I like Pearl now, and that means she has my protection. Do I make myself clear?”

Iago muttered something into his moustache and fell silent. Ashley smiled at me over his head, and left me feeling slightly weird for the rest of the journey, though I couldn't have said why.

---

“So, Ishmael,” said Ellen, “how is it that we can find out where this weak point is?”

Following Team Galactic, replied Pigzie Doodle. It's simple. From listening to what Liza says, they're conducting some sort of investigation into space and time – that's where I got the idea of there being a weak spot from.

“You aren't basing this on any factual evidence, then?”

Hell no! cried the Duskull. I made up this whole plan on the spot. But it makes sense, right? If there's a weak spot in the fabric of spacetime, it stands to reason that the laws of nature are weak there, too. And if they're going to find this weak spot, then we can follow them and find it too.

“You made this all up, didn't you?”

Yes I did. Do you know why? Because I'm smart. And hey, here comes Jeeves.

“Who?”

Ellen looked up, confused, and saw a sinister black motor-car coming around the corner, apparently driverless; as it came closer, she could make out the translucent form of Bond at the wheel.

“Madam,” he said, bringing the car to a halt next to her and getting out to open the back door. “Your motor-car.”

“Where did you get it?” asked Ellen. “It looks just like the other one!”

“There is a chain of shops, madam – purveyors of sinister black motor-cars to those of ill intent. They appear to have branches in most major cities. I... acquired... both of the motor-cars from them.”

“Oh. That's all right, then.” Ellen indicated Pigzie Doodle. “Bond, Pigzie Doodle came back!”

Bond looked. Indeed, he said, it seemed that the Duskull had returned. Why, he enquired politely and without the slightest hint of suspicion, was this?

Fortune and glory, kid, said Pigzie Doodle. Fortune and glory. He chuckled, and the energy made his eye bounce up and down inside him. No, but in all seriousness, I'm going to help you guys speak to Tristan Shandy so you can alert everyone to what Liza Radley is, and then I'm going to earn my place in history.

Bond turned to Ellen.

“Madam, what precisely did he say?”

“He knows of a way we can contact Tristan!” And Ellen explained it all to Bond, only she was a little confused by all this 'spacetime' business, and it might have come out a little garbled.

“I see,” said Bond, who, having had things explained to him by Ellen, almost certainly did not. “Most intriguing. In that case, we ought to make our way to Veilstone, should we not? I believe Pigzie Doodle—”

Ishmael! snapped the Duskull furiously.

“—said that they were based there,” continued Bond without pausing, which was understandable since he could not hear him.

Good God, I need to change my name, said Pigzie Doodle dispiritedly. Why on earth haven't I done it already, that's what I want to know. And I suppose my question's never going to be answered. Actually, who named me? And he fell into a pensive silence.

“Yes, I believe that's right, Bond,” said Ellen, getting into the car. “Shall we go, then?”

“Naturally, madam,” replied Bond, shutting the door behind her and returning to his seat in the front. “Is our spectral benefactor coming?”

Yeah, yeah, muttered Pigzie Doodle. I'm coming. He drifted in through the roof and came to a rest above the passenger seat. Hit it, Jeeves.

“Did he say something, madam?”

“He said: 'Hit it, Jeeves',” Ellen told him helpfully. “Whatever that might mean.”

“Very good, sir,” Bond said to Pigzie Doodle, who looked at him in an appreciative sort of way.

Now, I like that, he said, and the sinister black motor-car made its sinister way through the darkening streets of Jubilife.

---

On balance, I decided I didn't like Veilstone. OK, so it was huge, full of shops, clubs and some amazing hotels – but it was also full of dust. There was a thin grey layer of the stuff over every street; you'd have thought that all the people walking down each street would have churned it away years ago, but it seemed to cling tenaciously to the ground like a drowning man to a rope. It wouldn't rise into the air and dissipate; it stuck to the soles of your shoes, and to the sides of buildings, but that was as far as it would go. It was like the whole city was painted grey, and it made the place pretty ugly.

“What's with this dust?” I asked, as we left our taxi behind and headed for the nearest subway station. “It won't go away.”

“No, it won't,” agreed Ashley. “No one knows why.”

“That is such a shoddy explanation.”

“Yes, but you can't very well dispute it. It's not as if you know why.”

He had a point; I sighed and tried not to get any dust on my jeans. It probably wouldn't wash out.

“I have a theory that it isn't really dust, but tiny Rock-type Pokémon that resemble granite dust,” Ashley said.

“Really?”

“No, not really,” he said. “Come on, Pearl. You've fallen for exactly the same trick twice this afternoon, and it's not even three yet.”

“Huh. Are we going to the Galactic warehouse you mentioned?” I asked. “The ones your East-side 'acquaintances' told you about?”

“Actually, we're going to see my acquaintances,” Ashley said. “I don't actually know where the warehouse is, and the fastest way of finding it would be to ask them.”

“Some detective.”

“That was wholly uncalled-for,” Ashley said, raising his eyebrows. “I don't have to keep being nice to you, you know. I could go back to treating you like a lobotomised Panpour.”

“What's a Panpour?”

“Something that should never have been born,” Iago replied darkly, which kind of put an end to the conversation.

Ten minutes later, we got to a subway station; as we descended the steps, I asked Ashley why he was taking public transport instead of a taxi, and he replied that he was tired of paying for them. At that point, I pointed out that I'd been paying for them, which he chose to ignore.

The train was quite crowded – which struck me as strange, since it was only three o'clock. Most of the people on board were kids as well, and a lot of them were dressed pretty weirdly. I didn't actually realise the significance of any of this until we got off and went back up above ground to the street, where I saw that we were directly opposite Veilstone City's Pokémon Gym.

Like Eterna's, it was old and belonged to a time before the rest of the city had even been dreamed of; it had once been a watchtower or something, judging by the look of it, and it had been expanded at the base to accommodate the arenas within. That wasn't the main attraction, though – that was the huge crowd of weird-looking kids gathered outside in the street, and the large temporary stage that had been set up in their midst. TV cameras and boom mikes were dotted around, swinging from side to side as if looking for prey; there even seemed to be fencing at points around the street, to keep the traffic out. Whatever was going on, it was planned and it was big.

“What's this?” Ashley wondered. “Oh, I remember – Wake was supposed to visit Marlene for a televised battle today.” He sighed. “How tiresome. I'd better catch her before the fight begins.”

Of course – the odd kids were Trainers. That made sense, given what I'd learned about Trainer fashion sense from Marley.

“A Gym Leader battle?” I asked, interested. “Can't we stay and watch?”

“Well, you can,” he said. “But I have a Galactic warehouse to infiltrate, and I'm not putting that off.”

I would have said more, but at that point I was shoved forwards by a group of Trainers trying to get out of the subway station and almost knocked over.

“I think we need to get out of this crowd,” murmured Ashley, and started to slink off to the left. Iago and I followed close behind, and after a few uncomfortable minutes, we had reached the barrier fence and got out of the crush. We made our way along the edge of the crowd, dodging the occasional surge of excited teenagers, and then along the side of the Gym building; it took far longer than I would have liked, but we did eventually get to the door, whereupon we were immediately stopped by a man who looked like he was strong enough that he had to register his hands as deadly weapons.

“Sorry, guys,” he said. “Gym's closed. Can't you see that?”

“Maylene will make an exception for me,” said Ashley.

“Really.” It was not a question. The big man leaned back and folded meaty arms. “What, you her boyfriend or something?”

Ashley raised an eyebrow, which made me ridiculously envious – I can only lift both at once.

“To be honest, I would have thought you were too busy grieving to come into work today,” he said. “In my experience, jilted lovers tend to be a lot less composed than you are. But then you are composed,” he went on, sounding interested now, “so you either have incredible emotional strength or you didn't care about her, which was rather nasty considering you've been married a year already. Now why wouldn't you care? I suspect an affair – and in fact you're going to take your new lover out today, right after you finish work. I think she'll like it, unless she's allergic to seafood.”

The man stared at him, and so did I. Unless I was very much mistaken, I'd just seen the full power of a true detective at first hand.

“Wha...?”

“Oh, please,” said Ashley, shaking his head. “You make it far too easy. There's a pale band of skin where your wedding ring used to be; since the skin is quite noticeably more tanned, you've obviously been wearing it at least one summer. Now, I'll admit that I guessed at the length of your relationship, but I was fairly certain it would be a year or under; if I recall correctly, 65% of Sinnish marriages currently end in divorce, and 81% of those fall apart within the first eighteen months. In addition to that, you don't seem the sort of man who'd have the intellect to conceal an affair adequately for any length of time.

“I knew you had broken up because the ring was gone and yet you're far too well-turned-out for a martial artist Trainer coming to work at the Gym, even on a day like this. You're wearing an expensive aftershave, your fingernails are freshly cut – you missed the left edge of that one, by the way – and you're also freshly shaven. Finally, and most obviously, you aren't dressed like your colleague over there.” Ashley indicated another massive man over by the stage; he literally towered head and shoulders above the rest of the crowd, and was dressed in that white outfit that martial artists wear. “Why would you be in work and so nicely prepared when you should still be upset over the collapse of your marriage? You must not have cared about your wife at all, so chances are you were having an affair, something that becomes more likely when we consider that the extent of your preparations today indicate that you probably planned to meet with your lover straight after work – which wouldn't leave you time to prepare later.

“As for the seafood, I noticed as we approached the edge of the tickets in your pocket. I can make out the word 'The' and the first letter of the next word, 'C'; the only shows in Veilstone at the moment that begin like that are The Cheese Thief, a play at the Morlow Theatre, and The China Dragon, a ballet at the Dupont. You are clearly not a ballet man, so it's far more likely you're going to the Morlow; The Cheese Thief is also a romantic comedy, ideal for a date. And what do you eat after you've been to the Morlow? You're a Gym Trainer, you don't have enough money to go to an expensive restaurant – and there is an excellent cheap seafood place two streets away from the Morlow that would suit your purpose admirably.”

The big man was still staring, and so was I. I had been hit by a horrible feeling that I was never going to be a good detective.

“You...” He seemed to be struggling for words. “How...”

“I just told you how. Now let me in.”

“Uh... no!” He recovered himself. “You can't come in.”

“Actually, I have an I.D. card here that says I can,” said Iago, holding it up.

“Yes,” said Ashley, far too quickly, “we have I.D. Look.” He grabbed the card off Iago and thrust it at the giant guard. He studied it carefully, suddenly looked very worried and opened the door.

“Right,” he said. “Go on in, sirs, ma'am.”

“Thank you,” said Ashley. “Come, Pearl.”

He swept in through the doorway, and I followed, still in a sort of trance.

“That. Was. Incredible,” I hissed. “Jesus, Ashley, that was like something out of a movie!”

“Yeah, it was also completely pointless,” said Iago, more cynically. “Was that really necessary?”

“I forgot about the I.D.,” Ashley said stiffly. “And it sometimes works. The surprise makes people rather suggestible.”

“Huh? Ashley, is that you?”

“Oh, Lord,” groaned Ashley. “It's Wake.”

Standing before us were the two people who'd be competing in the battle outside, and they could not have been more different: one was the size of a bear and muscled to match, and the other was about eleven, tiny, and skinny as a rake. If my senses hadn't been dulled already by the shock of Ashley's detective power, I'd probably have been almost as shocked as I was when we met Cynthia: these were two of Sinnoh's Gym Leaders, 'Crasher' Wake and Maylene Roberts, and they were both within three feet of me.

“Ashley!” roared Crasher, snatching up his hand in a bone-crushing handshake. “It's been too long – I was beginning to think that you were avoiding me!”

“Yes, I wonder why that is,” said Ashley, withdrawing his hand and shaking it back into shape. “I actually came here to see—”

“And Iago!” cried Crasher, grabbing for the Kadabra's hand and missing; Iago had jumped backwards to avoid having the wrestler break his arm. “I guess it's because you go around with Ashley, but I don't see much of you either.”

“Yeah, blame Ashley,” muttered Iago. “Why don't you meet Pearl?”

Crasher turned to face me, which was actually quite alarming – it was like watching a mountain suddenly rotate on the spot.

“So you're Pearl, eh? I've heard about you!” He lurched towards me, and I stepped to one side before he crushed me. I decided that perhaps I didn't like him quite so much; he wasn't a nasty person, but he seemed to be quite dangerous. “Cynthia doesn't think much of you,” he confided.

“She doesn't?”

“I think she thinks you're trying to st—”

“Crasher!” interrupted Maylene suddenly, in a clear, high voice. “I think Mister Lacrimére is in a hurry, and I'd like to deal with it soon, so we can start our battle on time. Would you like to go outside for a while?”

“Outside?” Crasher considered. “Aha! To entertain the crowd, of course! Leave it to me, Maylene. I am a fabulous warm-up act!” And he strode out, bellowing his famous theme song: “The ring is my roiling seeeaaaaa...!”

The four of us who remained stood still for a moment, savouring the sudden silence. Then Maylene jumped up and wrapped her arms around Ashley's neck.

“Ashley!” she squealed. “You've come!”

Much to my surprise, Ashley smiled and hugged her back.

“Yes, I have,” he said. “Evidently you missed me.”

“Have you brought—”

“Not today,” he said sadly, peeling her off him and setting her back down on the floor. “Another time, yes?”

“OK,” agreed Maylene. “Did you come about the Galactics?”

“Yes.”

“I'll go get the address,” she said, and ran off down a corridor. She looked like a nimble little monkey, all thin limbs and spiky hair. Ashley watched her go for a while, and then turned to see me staring.

“What?” he said. “I like children.”

“I have never seen you show so much affection,” I told him. “What have you done with the real Ashley?”

“No, seriously,” said Iago. “If he wasn't a detective, he could be a children's entertainer. For some reason, they love him, and his massive ego feeds off that.”

“That's not true. I just like them, that's all, and they like me back.”

Maylene came back a moment later holding an envelope.

“This is what my people gave me,” she said. “This is the address.”

“Thanks,” said Ashley, ruffling her hair and taking the envelope from her. “You were right, Maylene, I was in a hurry, so I can't stay today.” Maylene looked disappointed, but nodded understandingly. “But I do have another favour to ask of you.” Ashley indicated the door, through which we could faintly hear the sound of Crasher's singing. “Can we use the back door?”

---

Fifteen minutes later, we were in the heart of Veilstone's industrial district, looking up at one warehouse among a sea of hundreds; here, the dust on the ground had mixed with spilled oil to make a black paste, and there was graffiti on almost every wall you looked at. Ragged cranes rose up in their hundreds from behind the buildings; somehow, they seemed to me to be trying to escape. This was a bleak place, and it wasn't friendly.

It also had a lunatic Frenchman in it, which was something I wasn't expecting and didn't really want.

“Ah, Mademoiselle Gideon!” cried Looker, abandoning his staring at the warehouse and coming over to join us. “And le Diamant!”

“What about me?” asked Iago. “Actually, no, I don't want to talk to you.”

“Monsieur Looker,” said Ashley, smiling. “I suppose your investigation of the Galactics brings you here?”

“Looking for the Galactics, ah, it can only lead me to Mademoiselle Radley,” explained Looker. “But I am not so sure now that this place is, how you say, of any significance.”

Ashley looked interested.

“What makes you say that?”

“Why, monsieur it is completely empty!” said Looker. “There is nothing in there. I can find no secret passage or concealed clues.”

“Nothing at all?” I asked. “There has to be something, right?”

“If there is, I expect le Diamant could find it,” said Looker, casting a reverential glance at Ashley. “If you would thank?”

“Eh? I think you mean 'If you please',” said Ashley. “But yes, I'll take a look. Pearl, you're coming with me.”

“Why?”

“Because I need someone to explain things to as I find them out, and Iago has been in a bad mood since we left the reserve.”

“Why not Looker?” I asked. “He's your number one fan.”

“Yes, why not Looker?” asked Looker eagerly.

“Because he's too eager,” said Ashley. “There's no point if someone agrees with everything I say. I need someone who fights back a little bit – just enough for me to prove them wrong.”

“Oh yeah. That really makes me want to go with— hey, let go of my arm!”

“I am not listening to you right now.”

So saying, Ashley dragged me into the warehouse and slammed the door behind us.

---

Iago and Looker exchanged looks.

“He knows what he is doing, non?” asked Looker.

“How the hell should I know?” replied Iago irritably. “He's Ashley Lacrimére. Half the time he's a genius and half the time he's making stuff up as he goes along.”

“Ah, I see,” said Looker, who, thanks to the language barrier, did not. “Let us hope this is the best of halves!”

Iago stared at him for a moment, tried to decipher what he'd just said and gave up.

---

“Wow,” I said. “Looker was right.”

There really was nothing in here. The warehouse wasn't that big, and even in the gloom we could see clear across to the other sides; there was nothing there. No crates full of suspicious artefacts, no cages full of unevolved Pokémon, no gigantic van-based batteries... Nothing that seemed connected with Team Galactic at all. In fact, nothing period. This place was empty.

“Oh.” Ashley looked around. “Ah. Pearl, I'm sorry.”

“What? Why?”

“This is a trap.”

What? How can you tell?”

“When I walk into a room and the door locks behind me, it usually indicates a trap.”

“The door what?”

I turned around and wrenched at the handle – but Ashley was right. It was stuck fast.

“What do we do?” I asked, trying not to hyperventilate. “What do we do? Is there going to be nerve gas? People with guns? A giant, angry Pokémon? Will they flood the place? Oh God, they're going to flood the place, aren't they? Drowning sounds like such a painful way to go—!”

“Pearl!” snapped Ashley. “Shut up!”

I did. He grabbed my shoulders and looked at me very intently; far away in the back of my head, a little voice told me that life was finally turning into a movie, and that I'd seen this exact scene in the cinema a few weeks ago.

“Listen very carefully,” he said. “I shall say this only once. You're not going to die, Pearl. Do you remember what I said in Hearthome? The reason I've let you come with me is so that you don't get hurt. I can guarantee that whatever is in this room, I can protect you from it.”

“Really?”

“Yes, really,” snapped Ashley. “My God, this is like trying to talk to a stuffed animal.”

“Sorry.”

“Now, as to your earlier question...” Ashley let go of me and cast his gaze across the room. “This warehouse is definitely smaller on the inside than it is on the outside, which allows for the possibility of hidden compartments in the walls and ceiling. Look up at those ventilation ducts there: they're abnormally large. This can only be one sort of trap.”

“What is it?” I asked, noticing for the first time a low, booming droning. It had been there all along, I realised, but now it was getting louder, as if something were coming closer—

“A honeytrap,” said Ashley, and the bees arrived.
__________________

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

Last edited by Cutlerine; January 13th, 2012 at 02:18 PM.
  #44    
Old January 11th, 2012, 06:57 PM
Silent Memento's Avatar
Silent Memento
Memories are forever...
 
Join Date: May 2011
Location: St. Louis, Missouri
Age: 22
Gender: Male
Nature: Timid
...I ought to get off my lazy arse more often and actually type out a good review before two chapters go by. I'm truly sorry about not doing that.

I just noticed that you had a new chapter up, but I'll go through the first one beforehand:

I (platonically) love Ishmael a whole lot. Honestly, he's even more of a jerk toward Ellen than Puck was to Kester, which shocks me. Maybe that's why I have such strong feelings toward the guy; I love the characters that you just want to strangle and hug at the same time (Agent Washington).

Anyway, there were a few typos where you spelled Maylene's name as "Marlene", but otherwise, I can't see anything.

I find your idea of the Kadabra society to be rather intruguing, although I find it confusing that they couldn't stop machine-guns with a single Barrier; I thought they had that in their arsenal of attacks. It also explains why Iago is so...fractured. I know he'll kill me for this, but I really do feel bad for him.

Much like Pearl, I was stunned at Ashley's astute observations of the jerk who cheated on his dying wife. It was almost eerie to see him dissect the information he had so effortlessly. Of course, he's had years of experience and has met with Holmes and Watson, so it makes a lot of sense for him to be such a great detective.

I wonder what kind of Pokemon is in the Pokeball of the now-deceased man sent to release the Driftenburg. It's probably not that important, but it is a rather interesting detail.

I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to cut the review short. I posted the damn thing while I was distracted and hit the wrong button. I guess that's life, huh?

Sincerely,

Mem.
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Last edited by Silent Memento; January 12th, 2012 at 12:25 PM. Reason: Accidentally posted it before I was finished. Damn...
  #45    
Old January 13th, 2012, 01:15 PM
Cutlerine
Gone. May or may not return.
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
Age: 20
Gender:
Nature: Impish
Quote:
Originally Posted by Silent Memento View Post
...I ought to get off my lazy arse more often and actually type out a good review before two chapters go by. I'm truly sorry about not doing that.
I don't mind. It is nice, I'll grant you that, but you're under no obligation to. Unless, of course, you object to the imaginary kitten I drown every time a chapter gets no response.*

Quote:
Originally Posted by Silent Memento View Post
I (platonically) love Ishmael a whole lot. Honestly, he's even more of a jerk toward Ellen than Puck was to Kester, which shocks me. Maybe that's why I have such strong feelings toward the guy; I love the characters that you just want to strangle and hug at the same time (Agent Washington).
Ishmael is great; I like him a lot. He's not nearly as nasty as Iago, and almost as much fun to write as Puck was. In fact, he complements Puck rather nicely, being a spirit of Olden Times to Puck's Now Generation - something that has hidden significance.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Silent Memento View Post
Anyway, there were a few typos where you spelled Maylene's name as "Marlene", but otherwise, I can't see anything.
I didn't get them all? Damn. I can't stop writing 'Marlene' for some reason. It really bugs me.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Silent Memento View Post
I find your idea of the Kadabra society to be rather intruguing, although I find it confusing that they couldn't stop machine-guns with a single Barrier; I thought they had that in their arsenal of attacks. It also explains why Iago is so...fractured. I know he'll kill me for this, but I really do feel bad for him.
I suspect that a few high-power bullets break a Barrier, and the next few tend to hit the Kadabra creating it before they can make another. Besides, I had to think of some reason why Kadabra wouldn't have become the dominant race in the Pokémon world - a most inconvenient oversight on the part of the game designers.

Yes, Iago is a piteous creature, doomed to think like a human. I'd feel bad for him too if I didn't know what was coming up with him.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Silent Memento View Post
Much like Pearl, I was stunned at Ashley's astute observations of the jerk who cheated on his dying wife. It was almost eerie to see him dissect the information he had so effortlessly. Of course, he's had years of experience and has met with Holmes and Watson, so it makes a lot of sense for him to be such a great detective.
Er, the wife wasn't dying. Ashley says that he's a 'jilted lover' and that they broke up; I'm not sure where you got the idea of the wife dying from. The guy was a jerk, but probably not that big a jerk.

As regards Ashley's powers of detection, I wrote that literally immediately after watching last week's episode of Sherlock, which explains it. It was very fun to write; I'm going to have to include more Holmesian bits like that.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Silent Memento View Post
I wonder what kind of Pokemon is in the Pokeball of the now-deceased man sent to release the Driftenburg. It's probably not that important, but it is a rather interesting detail.
Yes, it probably isn't important. At all. This is not a hint.

Anyway, I've had the next chapter all written up for a couple of days now, and I really must get around to posting it. Thanks for the response, and know that you'll be rewarded with the most revealing chapter yet.

F.A.B.

*No animals were harmed during the posting of this message.
__________________

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  #46    
Old January 13th, 2012, 02:14 PM
Cutlerine
Gone. May or may not return.
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
Age: 20
Gender:
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Chapter Twenty: In Which Bees Hate You

'Combee (Frendomelissa dimorphus), like Miltank, is a tricky creature to keep. It seems that the danger posed by Pokémon increases in time with its usefulness to humanity, for Combee are both producers of the world's best honey and the greatest misogynist threat the world has ever seen. If you live in Sinnoh, it is likely you already know what I mean; if not, I shall explain. Female Combee eventually evolve to the hive organism and aerial honey-factory Vespiquen, which occupies a place of particular power in the Sinnish ecosystem; male Combee do not evolve, and leave the hives as soon as they are born to join swarms of other males. These swarms are driven by a unifying hatred for females and the power they wield, and roam the land in an attempt to kill every female organism on the planet.'

—Coriolanus Rowland, Coriolanus Rowland's Guide to Pokémon Husbandry


“Male Combee,” said Ashley, stepping in front of me with his eyes fixed on the vent. “Stay out of sight, Pearl; we may be able to avoid confrontation.”

“What do you mean?” I asked, panic rising in me. “Ashley, what do you—”

“Ssh!” he said sharply. “Male Combee are resentful of females, because female Combee evolve into Vespiquen and they don't. If they see any female organism at all, they'll kill them – but as long as they don't notice you, they won't attack.”

The bees spread out across the ceiling; they were each like fragments of honeycomb, with multiple faces and intimidatingly large stings. Their wings thrummed and their mouthparts clicked, and each of them bore three identical creepy little smiles.

“It was a clever plan,” Ashley admitted. “Lure us here by letting Maylene find out about the warehouse, then send in bees – you're a woman, so they'll attack, I'll defend you and so they kill me too.”

“I'm not being reassured!” I hissed in his ear. “Ashley, reassure me!”

The bees kept on coming; it seemed like most of the warehouse was a solid mess of sticky honeycomb and insectoid legs. Their relentless buzzing vibrated right through me, setting my teeth humming in their sockets and my stomach jumping, and I knew that in a moment, they would notice I was a woman and go on the offensive.

“Neither of us will die,” Ashley said calmly. “The only difficulty is that I daren't break down the door, since that will release them, and in all honesty I'd rather keep them contained so that as few people get hurt as—”

“Ashley!”

I'd seen it. Just one Combee, that happened to fly a little closer than the others; one Combee, that caught a glimpse of something blue behind Ashley's shoulder; one Combee, that saw a pale heart-shaped face and had a bolt of red lightning shoot through its head. I saw its tiny smiling faces each suddenly turn sour, its little eyes pop with rage, and its mouths open in three hideous snarls.

The next moment, the bees were on us.

They flew forward in a great curl, spiralling like a hunting Fearow, those inch-long stings all zooming towards my face in one great blood-curdling rush of terror—

—and then something pushed me to the floor and I heard a series of soft thumps as the Combee thudded harmlessly into something that definitely wasn't my head. I opened my eyes cautiously and found my field of vision blocked by what appeared to be a shield made of paper.

“What the hell?” I murmured, halfway between stunned and amazed, and was about to sit up when a strong hand pressed me back down.

“Stay there,” said Ashley – and his voice was, while not as distorted as it usually was when he released, slightly different; it was as if someone were doing an impression of him that was just half an accent off. “Don't move.”

The papery shield whipped away from me, and I saw that it wasn't paper, it was skin, and it was attached to Ashley's shoulder where his arm usually was, exploding through the sleeve of his shirt and his coat and spreading out into a huge, flat blade. The Combee wheeled away from us, buzzing in alarm at this new and alien threat; a few of them flew towards Ashley, stings out, but he whipped his shield between him and them so fast that my eyes could barely catch the movement. The ensuing gust of air blew half of them away, and the rest embedded their stings harmlessly in what had once been his arm.

“Damn!” he cried. “I can't stop their stings if they hit dead-on... How much venom is that?”

“What the hell!” I shrieked, staring at him as he turned and swept away another attacking cloud of bees; these hit his shield at an angle, and ricocheted away to crash into each other and the floor. Where they impacted, they cracked and let out streams of honey, gluing themselves to the floor.

“Shut up, I'm busy saving your life!” roared Ashley, eyes burning yellow; bees whirled around him, and his right arm shot out and expanded into a second shield-blade. One half of the swarm crashed into the left arm, and the other into the right; he flexed his shoulders, and the bees fell away in waves. Honey splattered across the concrete and over my jeans; so deep in shock was I that I didn't even notice the stains. Ashley was shifting shape in order to do battle with a swarm of three-headed bees right in front of me. That kind of took precedence over everything else.

Deciding Ashley was too strong, the Combee darted past him and towards me instead – but he turned and slammed his two shield-blades into the wall and floor either side of me, curling over the edges to enclose me completely within a shell of pale, flawless skin.

Damn, I thought distractedly. Wish my skin was as good as his.

No sooner had I thought this than the two shields tore away from me, leaving deep grooves in the walls where their edges had struck home; mashed wings and honey flew away to either side and spattered across the floor.

“Come on!” shouted Ashley, staring around at the bees with a wild look in his eyes. “You want me, not her!”

The Combee were not in agreement, and they dived towards me again, stings outstretched – but they thumped harmlessly into the flesh of Ashley's arm as it blurred back into position to cover my face.

“Ugh. This toxin appears to be powerfully psychotropic,” he muttered, which would have made me look up in surprise if I hadn't been staring rigidly ahead and wondering what in God's name was happening around me.

Ashley withdrew, his shields liberally studded with snapped-off stingers and bespattered with honey, and so did the bees; after losing about four thousand of their number in less than five minutes, they appeared to be reconsidering the wisdom of the attack.

“Hell's teeth,” said Ashley, one of his arms shrinking and reforming back into a human one,the stings popping out of the fluid flesh as it did so. “This is inordinately painful.” He shook it and it expanded into a shield again, then repeated the process with the other arm. Things were getting more surreal by the second, I noted vaguely.

The Combee, apparently deciding that they might as well try and kill me before Ashley repaid the favour, buzzed forth once more for another assault; again, Ashley blocked them, but this time they came in such quantities that they flowed over and around him, zooming past and heading straight for me—

—and suddenly I snapped back to reality, my self-preservation instinct kicking in and making me roll over and to the right. Five hundred bees, unable to stop themselves in time, crashed into the wall and broke into a delicious, toxic mess of honey and stingers; a thousand more saw the error of their predecessors and turned at the last moment to follow me—

—only for something to grab my ankle and drag me out of their way, allowing Ashley's shield-blade to sweep the Combee as one into the corner of the warehouse and crush them against the wall.

“Get up and keep moving,” said Ashley, letting go of my leg and reforming his arm into a shield. “If one manages to sting you, the others will go into an attacking frenzy.”

“OK,” I said, adrenaline rushing through my system and telling me to survive now and ask questions later. I jumped to my feet (which was pretty impressive, if I do say so myself) and stood behind him, eyes on the bees; we were at the centre of a column of clear air defined by the wary distance the Combee kept from Ashley.

“I'm not sure how many stings I can take before I pass out,” muttered Ashley to me. “I think I must have been stung about four thousand times now, and I'm starting to feel dizzy.”

“Are you trying to make me even more scared?”

“No, I am merely telling you the facts. It's common courtesy in a life-or-death situation.”

“Well, I have to say I'm pretty new to those – oh, cal!”

The Combee surged towards me again, and Ashley angled his shield so as to bounce most of them away; even so, a good four hundred ended up embedded in his arm, and I watched him wince through worried eyes. I had no idea what was happening, or how he was able to shift his shape like this, but what I did know was that if he slipped up even once I was going to very rapidly become dead, and that was something I really didn't want.

I ducked the lone survivor of the bee crash, and it hit the back of Ashley's head, sting first. Ooh. That had to hurt.

Ashley turned and swept at another swarm of bees, but the gust of air he generated simply blew them out of his reach; he couldn't attack them like this, only defend – and watching, I had to wonder how long he could do that. His breath seemed laboured now, and though his eyes still blazed yellow, his movements were definitely slowing down. I had the horrible feeling that I wasn't going to get out of this warehouse alive, and I didn't like it one bit.

---

Liza put down the phone, thought for a moment, and went to find Tristan; since he was in his room watching TV with his Croagunk, it turned out not to be a long search.

“Come on, you two,” she said. “The boss called. It's time to head out.”

“Really?” asked Tristan. “Can't, say, you go on ahead and I'll stay here?”

“You don't have a choice,” Liza told him. “Get up and get your things ready. Stravinsky's waiting in front of the hotel with our tickets.”

“Tickets?” Tristan paused, puzzled. “Where on earth are we going?”

“Pastoria,” replied Liza. “We're the explosives team, remember? And we've got a bomb to set.”

“A bomb?” Tristan seemed to be a few steps behind in his understanding of the situation. “What? Why are we putting a bomb in Pastoria?”

Liza wondered whether she ought to tell him or not, decided that it didn't matter, and walked out, calling over her shoulder.

“Come on,” she said. “I'll tell you on the way. Our flight leaves in fifty minutes.”

What?” Tristan leaped to his feet. “Whose idea was it to book a flight so ridiculously soon – ah, it was yours, wasn't it?” he said, as Liza stopped and gave him a look. “And what a very fine idea it was, there's no doubt about that—”

“Shut up, get your stuff together and meet me in the car,” Liza snapped. “And in future, when you open your mouth, try not to put your foot in it.”

She stormed off down the stairs, and Tristan stared after her for a moment.

“Well,” he said, turning to his Croagunk. “That went as well as could be as expected, don't you think?”

“Gurrp,” replied the Croagunk, without apparently understanding what he had said, and hopped off the bed.

“Come on, then,” said Tristan. He tucked his oversized frog under his arm and walked out; he hadn't actually brought any luggage, since their food and accommodation were paid for by a credit card given to Liza by the higher-ups of the Team, and it wasn't necessary for him to bring anything but himself and his Croagunk. There was some unpleasantness at the front desk where Tristan explained he was checking out and the receptionist asked him to pay; however, Liza turned up with the card in the end and rescued him. A few minutes later, Tristan was in the back of Stravinsky's car and heading off to the airport.

“Get your Croagunk off me,” Liza told him, pushing the unfortunate amphibian off her lap and onto the floor. “Ugh. Nasty creature... what's its name anyway?”

“Jackie,” replied Tristan.

“How typically uninspired of you,” said Liza. “Name your Fighting-type after Jackie Chan. Huh.”

“Oh, he's not named after Jackie Chan,” Tristan told her cheerily.

“What? Who's he named after, then?”

“Jackie Gleason,” said Tristan, which left Liza very confused and made Stravinsky burst out laughing. For once, it seemed, he'd won – if only with his idiocy.

---

I was getting desperate now.

Ashley was struggling to stay conscious, I could see. His skin was black with crushed stings and the yellow fire in his eyes had dimmed; whatever arcane energies fuelled his strange morphing abilities, they were running low. He must have been stung several thousand more times by then, and I imagine that there must have been more venom than blood in his veins.

For their part, the Combee were wary. They could see that their opponent was tiring, but he had killed half the swarm now, and they had no desire to be completely exterminated. Wings humming, mouths clicking, they circled us; occasionally, a few would dart forwards and Ashley would block their path, but for the most part, we existed in a horribly tense stalemate, bees on all sides and safety on none.

It might have gone on forever had Ashley not stumbled and almost fallen; immediately, a cloud of Combee broke away from the rest of the swarm and swirled towards us. I threw myself flat on the floor, felt the wind of their wings pass over my back and—

—watched the bees slam sting-first into Ashley's side, driving deep and sticking like arrows. He brushed them away lethargically, crushing them into crumbs, and shielded me as another group of Combee buzzed towards us.

“Pearl,” he said softly, through the din, “I'm going to pass out soon.”

“Don't you dare!” I replied, which came out much less sympathetic than I'd intended it to.

“I love you too,” he said dryly, a bee bouncing off his forehead. “Look, these bees can't kill me, but they can knock me unconscious with enough poison – watch out!”

I curled up tight, pressing myself against him as the bees aiming for my head glanced off his shield; he stood up, setting me back on my feet, and continued, keeping a wary eye out for further bee attacks.

“Don't worry,” he repeated breathlessly, and fell over.

Cal!”

Immediately, I dropped to his side, slapping his face and hoping against hope that he'd open his eyes—

He didn't.

I looked up at the bees, which were staring at him in disbelief. They held a hurried, buzzing debate, came to the consensus that they should attack me, and swooped down in a great giddy spiral, their tiny eyes locked on mine...

I saw the bees approach in glorious slow motion. They seemed to drift toward me as if time had become treacle, and they rippled through it languidly, without fear of my escape. There was nowhere for me to go, after all, and I was far slower than them. My mind shrank to a tiny point deep inside me, where it wouldn't trouble me with such things as fear or anguish; a sense of extreme clarity overcame me, and for one beautiful second I could see every vein in every bee's wings, every mote of dust in the air; I saw the honey on the floor shining like divine fire in the palm of God, and the pillars of sunlight that illuminated them glowing softly like Ampharos. The world was opened up to me in all its beauty, and I couldn't do anything except stare.
Then the moment passed, and I returned to mad screaming terror as the Combee bore down upon me like a tidal wave of demon honey—

WHOOSH!

The explosion came first, to be honest, but I didn't really hear it over the cacophony; what I did hear was the tornado-like roar of the purple-tinted wind that followed. It shredded the Combee in midair, tearing their wings asunder and fracturing their brittle bodies; bits of insect fell everywhere, bouncing off the far wall and pattering against the floor.

And then suddenly it was over, and everything was quiet once more. After the all-consuming drone of the bees, the silence hit me like a fist; I crouched there by Ashley with my hands still held over my face, incapable of moving or even full rational thought. I couldn't handle it. Too many impossible things had happened in too short a time: a swarm of Combee had tried to kill me, Ashley had shifted shape to protect me, Ashley had been beaten... The list went on and on, and terminated in the final, awful reality that I had come within three inches of death.

“Ashley?” cried a child's voice. “Are you OK? Ashley!”

Maylene, I thought, and took a deep breath. My mind revolved slowly on its axis and became something approximating normal, and I stood up on shaky legs.

Maylene was already over here, kneeling by Ashley's side in concern; in the doorway stood my saviour, a lithe figure that was slightly too short and too canine to be human. Its sharp snout and pointed ears gave the Lucario the look of Anubis, and, judging from what it had done to the Combee, it had something like the same power. Behind it were an assortment of martial arts masters, little men with onion-shaped heads and officious-looking bureaucrats; behind them was a titanic wall of flesh in blue trousers and a luchador's mask – Crasher Wake had come along too, it seemed.

“Dan!” shouted Maylene, turning around sharply. “Help me!”

Without a word, the closest martial artist rushed over and scooped Ashley up off the floor; his eyes widened as he saw the vast, flat blades that drooped from his shoulders, but he still said nothing.

“Someone call Cynthia!” yelled Iago from out of sight. “She'll be even more pissed if she hears this second-hand!”

A whirl of confusion and noise and people rushing to and fro ensued; someone was kind enough to escort me from the building and into a car, and before I knew it we were at the Pokémon Centre, and someone was speaking into my ear.

---

The discerning reader will, of course, already know what must have happened for the timely intervention of Maylene and company to take place. It does not take the detective skills of the Diamond to work that much out.

However, purely in case you perhaps want to confirm your suspicions, the causes are laid out here; they begin with a faint and peculiar noise, the suspicious nature of which was first picked up by our moustachioed antihero.

“Do you hear that?” asked Iago.

“Hear what?” replied Looker, listening.

That.” One of Iago's ears stood up, like that of a dog that has heard an ultrasonic whistle. “It's...”

He walked over to the warehouse door and pressed his ear against it.

“Pretty thick,” he said, “but I think I hear... ah, cal!”

Iago whirled away from the door and grabbed Looker by the lapels.

“Have you got a mobile phone?” he asked urgently.

“Pardon? If you could speak a little slower, monsieur Kadabra—”

“I'm not monsieur sodding Kadabra, my name's Iago! And I want to know if. You. Have. A. Sodding. Mobile. Phone!”

Iago's voice increased in volume as the sentence went on, and by the end he was practically screaming into Looker's face – or as close to his face as he could get given his height, which was his neck.

“I have one right here,” said Looker timidly, producing it from his pocket.

Thank you,” cried Iago, snatching it off him. He dialled swiftly, muttering in a very specific and highly crude way about the inadequacies of the French, and set the phone to his ear. “Hello? I need to speak to Maylene. She's busy is she? Crasher Wake, eh? Well, how about you tell her that her favourite state secret is in the process of being murdered by a swarm of angry bees!”

It wasn't really a question by the end. Iago had once again got louder as he spoke, and was shrieking by the word 'bees'.

“I— oh, for Christ's sake! I – fine, I'll hold.” Iago glanced at Looker. “Damn receptionists,” he said confidingly. “I always get the stupid ones.”

“Ah,” said Looker, backing away from him with rather less subtlety than one might have expected from an elite agent of the International Police. “Is that so, mon ami?”

“Yeah. It's not like I care about Ashley or anything,” Iago said with sudden eagerness. “It's just that if he does end up dead, I can probably expect to be arrested within twenty-four hours.”

“Naturally,” agreed Looker. “I do not doubt that you have the heart of lead, as they say.”

“Heart of stone,” corrected Iago. “Or heart of gold, I guess, but that's pretty unlikely since I'm about as kindly as a bucket of battery acid – oh, hey,” he said, as the phone twittered in his ear. “That made her listen, did it? Yeah, I thought it might. She knows where we are; get her here with that Lucario of hers now. Now sod off and do as you're told.”

Iago thumbed the button on the phone and handed it back to Looker.

“There.”

“What exactly is it that is happening?” enquired the French detective. “I confess, I am a little confused.”

Iago waved at the door.

“Put your ear to that and listen,” he said, and Looker did; a moment later, his eyes widened and he drew his head back sharply.

“Ah, this plot,” he said. “She is so fiendish... It can only be the work of Mademoiselle Radley!”

And he began to stride around in circles, gesturing wildly and pontificating in French, all of which was greeted with a quizzical eye and stony silence by Iago.

---

Cyrus looked at the computer monitor pensively. Things had panned out just as he'd expected, which was good; with any luck, he'd keep the Diamond busy for another half a week at least.

“That went well,” observed the Desk Sitter, but since Cyrus had company, he chose not to answer.

“Sir?” asked Saturn. “Shall I send someone for the girl?”

“No,” replied Cyrus, which made all three of the others look up nervously. Was the plan being changed again? It was a stressful business, this Galactic commander work; they were all worked off their feet as it was. Charon had his research team to deal with (and they were lamentably slow-witted), Mars had the mess from the Eterna and Windworks incidents to finish cleaning up, and Saturn was the second-in-command, which essentially meant he did the things that Cyrus didn't want to. (It will be noted that Jupiter was not present; she was at home with her boyfriend and a large bottle of wine, drowning her post-traumatic stress disorder in cheap alcohol.) “No, I don't want you to send someone,” continued Cyrus. “I want you to go yourself.”

“Me?” asked Saturn, pointing to himself. “As in, me, sir?”

“No, the other you,” replied Cyrus irritably. “Yes, of course I mean you, you cretin.” He waved a hand in the direction of the other commanders. “Take Mars with you too,” he said.

“Two Galactic commanders? For a simple kidnapping? Isn't that a bit... excessive?”

“I can assure you it isn't,” Cyrus informed him. “Both of you need to requisition Golbat from the storerooms, by the way. I expect you'll need them.”

“We have Pokémon of our own—”

“A Toxicroak and a Purugly are admirable enough, but you will need the Golbat,” said Cyrus patiently. “Believe me.”

“Yes sir.”

Saturn and Mars retreated from the room.

“Honestly,” said Cyrus to the Desk Sitter, “it's so much harder to get decent higher administration than I thought it was. I have the greatest respect for the Aqua and Magma leaders now – if they had to go through half the effort I have with these people then it was a miracle they ever summoned anything.”

“Ehehehe,” laughed Charon nervously, and Cyrus turned to glare at him.

“What are you doing here?” he demanded to know. “You're meant to have left!”

“Oh, sorry,” said Charon, making no attempt to leave. “I assumed that it was just those two leaving – the lesser commanders, you know. After all—”

“Get out,” said Cyrus flatly.

“—you surely wouldn't treat me, the genius even you—”

“Get out.”

“—recognise, in such a way—”

“Charon, if you don't leave right now I'm going to repurpose this Newton's Cradle in a very inventive and extremely painful sort of way,” said Cyrus, picking it up off his desk. “Now get out.”

“Right,” said the scientist, getting up and going to the door. “Of course. We geniuses need our alone time, right sir?”

He winked and stepped out, shutting the door behind him.

Cyrus and the Desk Sitter stared at each other.

“That man,” proclaimed Cyrus in a low, strained voice, “is the very worst substitute for a human being that I have ever had to work with.”

“He seems to stimulate emotion in you,” remarked the Desk Sitter. “That isn't desirable, is it?”

“He's more than undesirable,” muttered Cyrus darkly, and turned back to the video on the screen. Lacrimére was gone now, and all that remained were a couple of Gym Trainers, poking around at the sticky mess of bee corpses and making sure there were none still alive; if they escaped into the city, they could have a serious issue on their hands. “Well, I suppose we can't do anything more than wait now,” he sighed, eyes fixed on the grainy image. “The rest is down to the Diamond.” He picked up a phone (a cheap, disposable one; he wasn't stupid) and began to dial. “Now,” he said, a sudden smile spreading across his face. “Let's get this little game started...”

---

I know exactly where I was when I got the call. I was in the Pokémon Centre, in the hospital room where Ashley was being treated; there were burly Gym Trainers standing guard at the door, and no one was allowed in except for a certain doctor, who was, it seemed, on the payroll of the League. Maylene was there, and Iago and Looker – but not Crasher; he had been refused entry to the hospital area on the grounds that he would disturb the patients.

Ashley himself was all right, it seemed. He hadn't lied – the Combee venom had done no more than knock him out, though the doctor said there was enough of it to kill a bull elephant in his system. Given twelve hours or so, he would shrug off the effects on his own, but the hospital care, I was told, would have him back up in a quarter of that.

I was mostly OK now; Looker and one of the Gym Trainers (who, being male and not blind, seemed to have become infatuated with me) had, between them, managed to calm me down. After what I'd seen and experienced, I had a thousand questions – but I knew that I couldn't ask them of anyone except Ashley, and he was currently unconscious. Hell, I had no idea if even he'd answer; he was so fond of being cryptic that I sometimes think it's a wonder I ever even learned his name.

It was at that moment that Ashley's mobile phone started to vibrate across the bedside table.

Instantly, everyone fell silent – that is to say, everyone else fell silent and I, sensing that something was wrong here, followed suit.

“Is... is that Cynthia?” asked Maylene anxiously.

“We already called her,” replied one of her Trainers – the adulterous one who'd been watching the door, in fact. “She wouldn't be calling back on that phone.”

“What's the matter?” I asked, for once not pretending to know what was going on.

“No one apart from Cynthia has the number of that phone,” replied Iago slowly. “That's the phone that only rings in emergencies, Pearl – when Sinnoh needs a weapon.”

“Oh.” I stared at it. “Is someone going to answer it?”

Everyone looked at each other and shuffled their feet. The phone kept vibrating.

“Anyone at all?” I asked. “It's probably important.”

“Allow me,” said Looker, stepping forward with a flourish. “As an elite of—”

“No, I'll do it,” decided Iago, and snatched up the phone a moment before Looker's hand touched the table. “Hello?”

The tension was so thick that you'd have struggled to cut it even with a knife; this was the sort of tension you'd need a bandsaw to deal with.

“Who is this?” asked Iago. “No, I asked you first. I said, I asked you first – well, what the hell do you want to talk to her for? Oh, fine. Talk to her then.”

He held out the phone.

“It's for you,” he said. “No clue who this is – but it's a man's voice, quite deep, probably a good singer.”

“For me?”

“Yes, my little blonde parrot, it's for you,” said Iago sardonically. “Now take the damn phone.”

With some trepidation, I did, and a curiously familiar voice met my ears:

“Hello, Pearl.”

“Who is this?” I asked immediately.

“Not yet. I have a message for you that's in your best interests to hear. If you'll guarantee me that you won't interrupt, I'll tell you.”

“I won't interrupt,” I said impatiently. “What is it?”

“By now you will have stepped into and survived my honeytrap,” the voice said. “Although I can't claim all the credit for that – the idea came from an associate of mine. But I digress. The point is that this is only the beginning of what I have in store for you.” He paused. “You may speak now, if you wish. This is the interval.”

“What? What do you mean, this is only the beginning?”

He chuckled, and it was kind of sinister.

“Somewhere in Pastoria is a bomb, Pearl. A bomb that has the power to destroy at least a quarter of the city, and probably more.”

A sudden chill ran through my body; it travelled by way of the veins, and froze each muscle as it passed.

“And when does it go off?”

“Oh, you interrupted,” said the voice despairingly. “And you were doing so well. I'll have to have the time put forward an hour.”

“When does it go off?” I demanded.

“I'll put it forward another hour if you're not quiet,” he snapped, and I fell silent. “That's better. Now, you have two days, six hours, forty-two minutes and twelve seconds until this bomb explodes – in other words, Pearl, it will go off at midnight on Friday.”

“I've got one more question,” I asked, suddenly realising who this man must be. “Why are you telling me this, Maragos?”

Around the room, eyes widened.

“Finally,” said Maragos despairingly. “I thought you'd never get it. The reason I'm telling you this is that this bomb is extremely well-concealed. You know as well as I the efficacy of the police; this case is out of their league. I'm afraid to say that only one man in Sinnoh has any chance of finding and defusing it before the timer reaches zero – and that man, if I'm not very much mistaken, is currently lying before you in an unconscious stupor.” I could almost hear his smile down the telephone. “That'll be all, Pearl,” he said. “I'll see you later, I'm sure.”

The line went dead, and I lowered the phone, staring at Ashley and willing him to wake up.

“What did he say?” asked Iago. “It was Maragos, right?”

“Yeah,” I replied. “It was. Basically...” I thought about it. “Basically, it's business as usual.”

“Ah, crap.

“Yeah,” I said thoughtfully. “Yeah, that pretty much sums it up.”
__________________

For information about A Grand Day Out, a bizarre short story in video game form, click here.
  #47    
Old January 16th, 2012, 07:53 AM
Silent Memento's Avatar
Silent Memento
Memories are forever...
 
Join Date: May 2011
Location: St. Louis, Missouri
Age: 22
Gender: Male
Nature: Timid
Quote:
Er, the wife wasn't dying. Ashley says that he's a 'jilted lover' and that they broke up; I'm not sure where you got the idea of the wife dying from. The guy was a jerk, but probably not that big a jerk.
Yeah, after reading it a second time, I realized that they had just broken up. Oops.

Anyway, the plot thickens. Nice work incorporating the bomb in the games in your fic. I thought that it was strange that the bomb in Pastoria (D/P/Pt games) had such an pitiful effect, while the one at Lake Valor blew all of the poor Magikarp to tiny bits.

Anyway, I find Ashley's new powers to be even stranger. He literally used his skin as a sword and shield. Still, I laughed like a jester when Pearl thought about how "flawless his skin was." That was absolutely priceless.

Iago's ranting at the receptionist was also funny, as well as Looker's obsession with Liza Radley. I can definitely see the Pink Panther reference now. Best theme song ever...of all time.

And now they're going to Pastoria? Wow. My favorite Sinnoh city and the home of one of my more evil protagonists. Those are good memories...

Anyway, I'm really excited for the next chapter. Many kudos for this one.

Sincerely,

Mem.
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Quotes are nothing but words.
  #48    
Old January 17th, 2012, 01:57 PM
Cutlerine
Gone. May or may not return.
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
Age: 20
Gender:
Nature: Impish
Quote:
Originally Posted by Silent Memento View Post
Yeah, after reading it a second time, I realized that they had just broken up. Oops.

Anyway, the plot thickens. Nice work incorporating the bomb in the games in your fic. I thought that it was strange that the bomb in Pastoria (D/P/Pt games) had such an pitiful effect, while the one at Lake Valor blew all of the poor Magikarp to tiny bits.

Anyway, I find Ashley's new powers to be even stranger. He literally used his skin as a sword and shield. Still, I laughed like a jester when Pearl thought about how "flawless his skin was." That was absolutely priceless.

Iago's ranting at the receptionist was also funny, as well as Looker's obsession with Liza Radley. I can definitely see the Pink Panther reference now. Best theme song ever...of all time.

And now they're going to Pastoria? Wow. My favorite Sinnoh city and the home of one of my more evil protagonists. Those are good memories...

Anyway, I'm really excited for the next chapter. Many kudos for this one.

Sincerely,

Mem.
Ye gods... Has it been so long already? Sorry I haven't replied sooner; I discovered Skyrim over the weekend and... well, it doesn't need to be explained.

Uh, anyway. Yeah, Pastoria's coming up soon, which will be nice; I have a mortal fear of the city that stems from a Rock-type monotype run I did of Platinum, where I had to beat Crasher Wake with a Graveler, a Rhyhorn, an Onix and a Probopass. My God, it was hell.

So yeah, Pastoria ought to be interesting - especially because of the little modification I've made to the Galactic Bomb. It's also going to be weird, because if my calculations are correct, we're close to halfway through the story now, and things are starting to get revealed. Weird things.

As ever, thanks for replying, and I'll do my best to get another chapter up soon, though school is currently somewhat time-consuming.

Actually, I had a friend who could play The Pink Panther theme tune on the saxophone. It was fantastic. Ah, happy days.

F.A.B.
__________________

For information about A Grand Day Out, a bizarre short story in video game form, click here.
  #49    
Old February 5th, 2012, 01:20 AM
Cutlerine
Gone. May or may not return.
 
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
Age: 20
Gender:
Nature: Impish
Yeah, I did actually have this finished a couple of days ago, but I've only got around to posting it now. And since it's just finished snowing, I've got to make this brief so I can go outside and play in the snow like a four-year-old.

Chapter Twenty-One: In Which There is a Reference

'There had been rumours over the last few years about a man named Cyrus Maragos. They say he's a genius, a master criminal, and even sometimes a necromancer. Intrigued, I started tailing him three years ago, but though I followed clues from Gibraltar to Timbuktu, I never once got anywhere near him. It was like trying to catch Suicune, or Carmen Sandiego.'
—Narcissus Rex, Noir Memoirs


“...Oh,” said Tristan. “So that's what you meant by 'honeytrap'.”

“Yes,” replied Liza. She had just finished telling him about her plan to kill Lacrimére; it seemed it hadn't worked out quite as she'd hoped, but Cyrus – being the resourceful man that he was – had turned the situation to their advantage. It might be that they could not actually destroy the Diamond, but they could certainly keep him occupied until they were finished. It was a dangerous game when the opponent was so strong, but there was nothing to be gained from conceding it now; all they needed was a couple of days' reprieve to finish the prototype, and then a day or so longer to let them hunt out and capture the lake Pokémon.

“We are reaching our destination,” said the pilot over the PA system. “We should be touching down in Pastoria in fifteen minutes.”

“Are you ready?” Liza asked Tristan. He nodded.

“Sure. Give me the materials and I'll have it done in no time.”

“They'll be waiting for us when we get there. I'd tell you who's going to meet us, but you probably wouldn't manage to recognise him.”

“Is that an insult?”

“Only if you understand it.”

“Oh. That's OK then,” said Tristan, looking vaguely confused but content, and settled down in his seat to await the landing.

---

After I relayed Maragos' message, the room went very quiet. Which, as it happened, made Cynthia's entrance all the more startling.

“What the hell is happening here?”

The doors flew open so hard they bounced off the walls, and the Champion stormed through them so fast that her hair flew out horizontally behind her. Before anyone could so much as register her presence, she was at the bedside, staring deep into Ashley's eyes with the sort of look you might find on a kicked puppy.

“Ashley...”

“Before you say anything,” said Iago, recovering, “it wasn't my fault.”

Cynthia's face turned without the rest of her body moving an inch, and her eyes locked onto his as if they were about to fly out and strike him down.

You,” she said in what was probably the most terrifying voice I'd ever heard, “can consider yourself fired.”

Iago stared at her. He looked like he'd been unexpectedly castrated.

“Er, Cynthia—”

“Now I do realise I must have given you a bit of a shock, Cynthia, but this seems like a distinct overreaction.”

Ashley sat up and blinked; he looked at each arm, shook them out and watched them return to their original shape.

“Right,” he said. “Will someone please explain the shocked silence to me? I do hate feeling that I've missed things.”

“Ashley!” cried Cynthia, and hugged him so tightly that I thought she might snap him in half. If I'd been thinking straight, I'd probably have thought that was an intriguing reaction, but I wasn't.

“Ouch,” he said, but got no reprieve, for a moment later Maylene did the same. “And ouch again. What's all this for?”

“You're... OK,” I answered, since no one else seemed to want to. “And that's... good. Yeah. That's good.”

“Why are you so surprised?” With a sudden movement too deft for me to actually see, Ashley escaped Cynthia and Maylene and appeared on his feet at the end of the bed. “I did say I'd be fine. I'm especially surprised at you, Cynthia. After all, you've seen me come back from worse than that, and – and I'm being insensitive again, aren't I?” he concluded, looking at the faces of the assembled company.

“Just a little,” Iago said.

“Ah. Well, never mind.” Ashley patted Marlene on the shoulder, and then, with some trepidation, did the same to Cynthia. “Now, our Grecian nemesis must have known that that wouldn't kill me; in all likelihood, he was trying to slow me down. I expect he has something else planned out, and since we're at the end of our investigation he's probably contacted us to feed us another clue. He wouldn't trust Iago, which means that I need to ask... Pearl.” He turned to face me. “Well? What did he say?”

I stared at him.

“You really don't care that you were just stung to death, do you?”

“Death is a very unsatisfying mistress,” he told me. “I try not to let her rule my thoughts.”

“Is that a joke?”

“Quite possibly,” he agreed. “Now, will someone please tell me what is going on?”

“First,” said Cynthia, grabbing his chin and turning his face to hers, “you're going to tell me what in God's name happened to you.”

“Ah,” said Ashley, nodding his way free and taking a nervous step away from her. “Dearest Cynthia, if I'm right, then some sort of disaster is about to happen—”

“Believe me, there's going to be a bigger disaster happening right here in this room if you don't start talking,” Cynthia said, voice dangerous.

“Bigger than Maragos blowing up Pastoria?” I asked, finally finding my voice, and everyone in the room turned to stare at me.

“You see?” Ashley said, gesturing at me. “A disaster, and on a rather large scale as well.”

“OK,” said Cynthia begrudgingly. “Pearl? Tell us about Maragos blowing up Pastoria, and then let me get back to interrogating Ashley.”

“Yes, you'd better tell us,” Maylene added. “We'd better tell Crasher, too.”

“You can tell him later,” the doctor said firmly. “He'll disturb the patients.”

“I don't want him here either,” agreed Iago. “He's probably the most annoying person in Sinnoh. Why the hell he was made a Gym Leader, I have no ide— and I'll shut up now,” he decided, as Cynthia shot him a look.

“Right,” I said uncertainly, once again the centre of attention and not at all sure that I liked it. “Well, Maragos said he'd planted a bomb somewhere in Pastoria, and...”

---

“There is no way in God's own earth that I can get on that – that thing,” said Ellen firmly.

Oh, come on, complained Pigzie Doodle. I know it's not an airship, which would most definitely be better, but they did have planes back in the 1930s, you know. Admittedly, Sinnoh didn't have more than a couple of them, and they weren't passenger ones, but still. There's no need to be afraid of it.

They were standing on the runway, staring up at a large and imposing passenger aeroplane, and neither Bond nor Ellen seemed to be in the mood to appreciate it.

“Madam, I must say that despite appearances, I believe we might be able to trust this craft,” Bond ventured. “After all, a great many living people are entrusting their lives to it – and we, being already dead, have surely nothing to fear.”

That's what you think, Pigzie Doodle said darkly. In the land of flesh, the spirit is choked; special evils are reserved for those who evade the dangers of the meat men. He shuddered, and a ripple went through his gaseous body. Childhood imaginary friends, for instance. Without a child's love and attention, they have to derive their sustenance from other places. Oh, and unicorns. I hate unicorns. So many of them are dreamed up, and only a few make it into respectable literature or film. Then you have the other Ghosts, of course – people like me, in fact, who subsist on thoughts, memories and souls—

“Ishmael? Would you please be quiet and listen?” asked Ellen. “I—”

Why don't you be quiet and get on the damn plane? the Duskull snapped back at her. It can't kill you, can it? Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure that Liza Radley beat it to the punch.

“I don't understand—”

Just get on the plane.

Pigzie Doodle gave Bond a suggestive sort of nod, which was about the only movement he could make, being mostly head; of course, being the excellent servant he was, the butler understood immediately, and took hold of Ellen's hand.

“Come, madam,” he said. “We cannot be put off by idle fears. This will be the fastest way of getting across to Veilstone.”

“Do you promise that it won't fall out of the sky?”

Bond looked up at the other aeroplanes. He had not seen one fall yet – and that didn't seem like the sort of thing he would be likely to miss.

“I give you my word, madam,” he replied solemnly, and led her across the asphalt.

Finally, sighed Pigzie Doodle. Ugh. What is it they say? Never work with children or animals. I'm definitely taking that advice from now on. He turned to face his two companions, and saw that they were no longer with him. Hey, wait for me! he cried, and whizzed after them to catch up.

---

“Dear me,” muttered Ashley, as we rounded the corner. “First Eterna, now this. It will take more than a fancy dinner to placate Cynthia this time.”

“A fancy dinner?”

“Yes – the last time I did something she disapproved of, I flew her to Paris and we had dinner there. I don't recall where, just... somewhere in Paris.”

We had finally made our escape from the Pokémon Centre; after I'd explained what Maragos was up to, Ashley had talked at Cynthia, Maylene and anyone who would listen until they were so confused they agreed to let him go, and not to tell Crasher about the bomb until he'd got ten minutes' head start. I had the distinct feeling that neither Ashley nor Iago were entirely comfortable being surrounded by members of the League, and that Ashley in particular was very glad to have got away from Cynthia.

“Why don't you want Crasher to know about the bomb?” I asked.

“He's not really the sort of person I want to work with,” Ashley admitted. “He's one of those unfortunate people who don't understand long words or irony.”

“He means he's a sodding idiot,” clarified Iago. “Which is worse than a regular idiot, because that's what you are, and I assume you understand long words, being a philosopher. Actually,” he went on, taken with this new line of thought, “that's all philosophy is, isn't it? Long words, cunningly arranged to give the impression of intelligent thought.”

“Shut up,” said Ashley affably. “Right. To Pastoria, then.”

“You don't seem too worried,” I noted, stopping at a crossing.

“Why would I be?” he replied. “I sincerely doubt that our Mister Maragos can come up with anything I can't foil. Cross now.”

“But there's a car comi—”

Ashley yanked me across the road, narrowly evading the broad grille of an oncoming truck; for the third time that day, I thought was about to die – and after nearly being shaken apart by a Ghostly scream and stung to death by misogynist bees, it would have been a disappointingly banal way to go.

“Are you crazy—?”

“Iago won't be able to cross for a while,” said Ashley, very quickly. “Which means I have a couple of minutes to speak to you without being overheard.”

I stared at him. What was this?

He led me out of the path of the pedestrians and glanced back; across the road, Iago was shifting from foot to foot, watching impatiently for the lights to turn red.

“What?” I asked.

“He has to report everything I say and do to the League,” he explained. “And I want to tell you something that is strictly top secret.”

My ears pricked up, and a surprised smile spread over my face; quickly, I changed it into a sly grin, and gave a knowing nod.

Ashley looked at me oddly.

“Are you having a neck spasm?”

“Uh, no, it was a knowing – actually, forget it. What was it you wanted to say?”

“The League's been infiltrated,” he said. “Someone knows everything about me, Pearl – and that means that someone got the information out of the League. Despite what Iago said earlier, it would be tantamount to suicide to try and break in to get at it; the Sinnoh League is probably the strongest in the Northern Hemisphere, and as you have probably worked out, they're very conscious of security. No, someone from within the League got at it – which means that Galactic has someone important working for them there.”

“A mole,” I breathed. Now this was proper detective fiction. We'd have to be careful about what we said around everyone, and have a list of suspects that we whittled down to two, and we'd almost choose the wrong one until the other made a small but fatal mistake that alerted us to his true identity—

“Pearl? Please don't go off on one of those wild fantasies of yours,” Ashley said, snapping his fingers in front of my eyes. “Stay focused, if you would – ah! Iago's coming. Look, just be careful what you say, understand? I have a horrible feeling that Maragos is getting a little desperate, and men like him are at their most dangerous when desper—”

“What the hell were you playing at?” Iago demanded to know, catching up and gasping for breath. “Running into the road like that?”

“It isn't as if a car could kill me,” pointed out Ashley.

“And what about Pearl?”

“What about Pearl?”

“Fair point,” conceded Iago. “Doesn't matter if she dies, does it?”

“Hey,” I said, annoyed, “at least the world benefits from my existence—”

“And it doesn't from mine?”

“No. You're a nasty bratchny barely worthy of sentience.”

“Ooh. Ouch.” Iago grinned broadly. “I'm hurt. Now, are we going to Pastoria? I have a feeling that we'll be in a lot of trouble if we let it blow up – and besides, I just saw Crasher Wake on the other side of the road.”

Ashley and I exchanged glances. Then, as one, we grabbed Iago and fled for the subway.

---

“A bomb in Pastoria,” said Ashley, making a steeple of his fingers and leaning back in his seat. “A bomb capable of levelling a quarter of the city.”

We were half an hour out of Veilstone, heading south at high speed through the Fulsom Woods in a first-class train carriage; naturally, I'd had to pay for the tickets. There had been some unpleasantness at the ticket office regarding whether or not a Kadabra was entitled to ride first class, but this had been resolved by the simple expedient of slamming the shutters to the ticket window on the clerk's fingers. Well, I had had a hard day, and I didn't really feel like talking things over.

“There are two things that worry me about this situation,” Ashley went on. “Pearl, would you like to guess at what they are?”

“Uh... you're worried that thousands of people will die?”

Ashley considered.

“There are now three things that worry me about this situation,” he amended. “One being that thousands of people might die. What about the other two?”

“I can't believe you didn't think of that first—”

“I'm approaching it as a logical problem, not an ethical one,” Ashley said. “It's more helpful – look, I don't need to justify myself to you. Are you going to answer the question or not?”

“All right, all right... You're worried that... that we're doing exactly what Maragos wants?”

“Correct.” Ashley looked despondent. “As I told you earlier, this is a delaying tactic on his part. He knows I can't refuse to stop the bomb going off; he intends to buy himself a couple of extra days' time. The worst of it is, he probably has a second scheme ready in case I solve the bomb case too quickly, or if he finds he needs more time. He holds all the cards, and it stops me from getting anywhere near him.”

“Clever, isn't he?” said Iago admiringly. “You've got to admit he's clever.”

“Oh, I do,” replied Ashley. “It doesn't make him any less reprehensible. If he's doing what I think he is, of course – and that's another thing. I need more evidence about that.”

“What do you think he's doing?” I asked curiously.

Ashley paused, and glanced at Iago.

“I'm sure she's already seen that much,” the Kadabra told him. “Go for it. Whatever.”

“Pearl,” said Ashley, choosing his words carefully, “do you recall that I am in some ways rather... different... to normal people?”

“Yes,” I answered earnestly, thinking of bees. “I can honestly say that I don't think I'll ever forget.”

“Well, based on what that thieving Rotom is looking for here in Sinnoh, I think that Maragos may be attempting to, er, make himself like me. Do you see?”
“He wants immortality and weird arm-blades?”

“There is more to it than that – but essentially, yes. And you can see how this might be a bad thing.”

I certainly could. Maragos was the bad guy, and if he ever gained whatever strange abilities Ashley had, then it would probably be the worst thing that had happened to the world since the invention of marzipan.

“Uh huh...”

“The thing is, I have no real evidence to back up this assertion,” sighed Ashley. “I need to find out more in order to know for certain what's going on, and I can't do that if I'm off defusing bombs in Pastoria.”

“Well... maybe someone in the League could do that for you—”

Ashley gave me a meaningful look.

“Oh,” I said. “Or maybe not.”

“What?” asked Iago, but he got no answer.

“Well, maybe I can do it for you,” I suggested. “I could investigate Maragos, and you can solve the bomb mystery.”

“That's a fantastic idea,” said Iago. “It'll get you killed, which will mean you can't divulge any League secrets. Like the Driftenburg.”

“He's right,” Ashley told me. “Not about it being a good idea, but about you being killed; if you can't survive a swarm of Combee without me, you won't be able to take on the Galactics alone.”

He had a point. I was better off sticking with the shape-shifting immortal detective than running around on my own.

“Right. Er, what was the other thing you were worried about?” I asked.

“Ah, that.” Ashley nodded slowly. “Maragos has a bomb that can destroy at least a quarter of Pastoria. Those were his exact words, yes?”

“Yeah...?”

“Pastoria covers approximately fifty-three square miles. To completely destroy a quarter of that would at least two hydrogen bombs, and probably more. So the question we must ask ourselves is: what sort of weapon, what kind of monstrous bomb, could Maragos possibly have put there?”

I stared at him. I hadn't thought of that – but then, I didn't know the area of Pastoria, or the blast strength of an atomic bomb. Did he just memorise all this stuff on the off chance it would come in useful one day?

“You may close your mouth, if you wish,” Ashley said kindly. “You'll look prettier that way.”

I realised I was gaping and shut my mouth hurriedly; I'd been doing far too much of that lately. It wasn't my fault – it was just that everyone around me kept being so damn amazing. At this rate, I was never going to catch up with them and become a decent detective.

“So what do we do?” I asked at length.

“We hope we defuse that bomb in time,” Iago replied. “Or, failing that, that we escape the city before it goes off.”

“Be quiet. Pearl, how long exactly did Maragos say we had?” asked Ashley.

“Two days, six hours...” I thought for a moment, and gave up. “Look, it's going off at midnight on Friday, OK?”

“No,” said Ashley. “That's not what I asked. What exactly did he say? How specific was he?”

“He was really specific,” I said. “Went into the seconds – what use is this? Surely there isn't a clue in the time—”

“You don't get it,” Ashley interrupted. “Maragos is clever, Pearl. He doesn't want us to give up and just chase after him in the hope of getting him to stop the bomb for us; he wants us to have a good chance of working it out. He gave us his first clue there – didn't you think it was strange that he counted the time down to the last second? He did it for a reason.”

“So,” summarised Iago, “you'd better start remembering. Or else Ashley's going to get cross, and I think we all have a good idea about what happens when he does that.”

“OK, OK.” I thought hard. What was it? Two days, six hours... then what? Four minutes? No, longer... Thirty? No, it wasn't a round number, it was something harder... thirty-two minutes? Forty— forty-two! That was it. And how many seconds...?

I thought for a while longer, and then said:

“I think – I'm not sure, but I think – that he said it was two days, six hours, forty-two minutes and twelve seconds.”

Ashley looked sharply at Iago.

“Search your memory,” he said. “See if you find a match. I'll try and come up with possible connections, but it may be a reference.”

“Got it,” sighed Iago, and closed his eyes.

“What's he doing?” I asked.

“Going through my prodigious memory in the hope of recovering some data relating to that specific time,” Iago replied without moving. “Now shut up and let me concentrate.”

I turned to Ashley, but he too was deep in thought; his eyes were hooded, unblinking, and he was staring out into space, occasionally muttering something incomprehensible under his breath.

“Fine, then,” I muttered. “I'll talk to myself.”

And I did, until they both violently shushed me, at which point I gave in and stared out of the window instead.

---

Veilstone had been dusty. Pastoria was... moist.

I'd been there before, but it was still an unwelcome surprise. The air was damp and cold, as if it had just rained – as indeed it probably had. Pastoria was the wettest city in Sinnoh by a long way, catching the rain that fell from the clouds that travelled east from the sea and ended up stuck on the side of Mount Coronet.

“Ugh,” I said, turning up the collar of my coat. “I hate Pastoria.”

“It's very atmospheric,” observed Ashley, looking around at the neo-Gothic buildings and wind-ruffled puddles. “I would have thought you liked it.”

Well, it was a good place for a horror movie, I could see that much. Dark and damp, with buildings that looked like they could once have been outhouses at Dracula's castle – it was undeniably creepy, but it wasn't a detective sort of place, and it was also just kind of depressing. There's only so much Gothic architecture and rain that a person can take before she starts thinking she's trapped in an Edgar Allen Poe story and commits suicide.

“No,” I replied. “It's horrible.” Then: “So, where are we going?”

“Nowhere just yet,” Ashley said. “I haven't thought of anything. How about you, Iago?”

“Ssh. Not yet.”

“All right.” Ashley turned to me. “I suppose we should find a base of operations, since we're going to be here a few days. Do you know any good hotels?”

“In general or in Pastoria?”

“Don't be facetious, it doesn't suit you. In Pastoria.”

“No.”

“In that case, I shall trust in the knowledge of this taxi driver.”

“What taxi driver?”

“This one. Taxi!”

One rounded the corner, and Ashley hailed it; a minute or two later, we were all inside and heading for the somewhat Norsely named Hrafn Hotel. Ten minutes into the journey, Iago had his idea.

“Found a match,” he said abruptly. “Got the link. It's Donnie.”

“Darko?” asked Ashley, turning around in the front seat.

“Yeah.”

“Oh, of course!” cried Ashley. “Twenty-eight days, six hours, forty-two minutes, twelve seconds!”

“That is when the world will end,” stated Iago. “Yeah. It's a Frank line.”

“Excuse me, but what is this?” I asked.

Donnie Darko,” said Ashley.

“A 2001 film by Richard Kelly,” said Iago. “Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Drew Barrymore, Patrick Swayze, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Noah Wyle and Mary McDonnell. Runtime 113 minutes, or 133 if you're watching the director's cut. Set in 1988, where the title character (Jake Gyllenhaal) keeps seeing a man in a rabbit suit named Frank, who incites him to commit crimes and tells him that in twenty-eight days, six hours, forty-two minutes and twelve seconds, the world will end. It failed to break even at cinemas, having been shot on a budget of 4.5 million dollars and only grossing—”

“Enough,” interrupted Ashley. “I think she gets the idea. It's a reference, Pearl; the numbers are too similar for it to be a coincidence. Maragos has given us our starting point.” He smiled. “Iago. Do you remember what Grandma Death says to Donnie?”

“Of course. 'Every living—' oh, yeah, that's quite funny, isn't it?”

He chuckled, and I had to ask what the line was; they might leave me out of their League business, but I was damned if they were going to leave me out of their jokes.

“'Every living creature dies alone',” said Ashley, laughing and unnerving the taxi driver, who edged away from him. “Oh, I laughed so hard when I heard that. The other people in the cinema were very annoyed.”

I didn't know what was weirder: the fact that Ashley found that funny or the fact that Ashley watched films.

“Er, O-K,” I said. “What does it mean, then?”

“I have absolutely no idea,” confessed Ashley. “Rest assured, though, that I will work it out presently. I just need a little more time to think.”

It might just have been me, but I didn't think that was true somehow; I had a strange feeling that Ashley knew exactly what it meant, and that he didn't want Iago listening in.

Wait. Was... was Iago the Galactic mole? Everything fit, didn't it? He'd do anything if the price was right; he had a defective heart, utterly barren and devoid of compassion. Was that why Ashley didn't want to say anything – he thought Iago might report it to Maragos?

I smiled to myself and gave Ashley a knowing wink, to which he replied with a puzzled look.

“Why— actually, I won't ask. I need to think.”

“We're here,” announced the cabbie, as the taxi drew to a halt. “That's four hundred and seventy-two dollars, then...”

I sighed and handed over my credit card. Not for the first time, I wondered if perhaps Ashley only kept me around as a source of cash.

---

Many miles away, a busy passenger aeroplane was making its way through the newly-cleared sky over Mount Coronet; the air hostesses had just come around and offered everyone an unspeakably foul but mercifully small portion of what might in some alternate reality be called a meal, and our spectral friends, comfortably seated in seats 31A to C, were beginning to feel that perhaps there was something to be said for air travel after all.

(It might be asked where the three human passengers who had been meant to occupy seats 31A, B and C were, for this was a popular flight; the answer was that they were currently in the car park, deep within that deep and dreamless form of sleep known as catatonic. Upon hearing this, it might be asked why they were catatonic in the car park, and to find an answer to that question one would have to ask Pigzie Doodle, for just as those unfortunate souls' minds were now diminished, so he appeared to have grown.)

“This is rather nice, isn't it?” said Ellen, looking around. “We're so high up!” Here she made an expansive gesture towards the window. “And it really does seem quite safe.”

“Indeed, madam,” agreed Bond, as if he had never entertained a doubt in his life about the safety of heavier-than-air travel.

I told you it'd be fine, said Pigzie Doodle, picking childhood memories out from between his teeth. But no one listens to a humble Duskull. No one even asks why someone who's been around longer than Christianity hasn't evolved yet.

And so it will be seen that they were all enjoying themselves, for Ellen and Bond enjoyed the novelty and Pigzie Doodle enjoyed feeling superior to them, and events might have continued in this vein until the plane landed had not at that moment there come a very distinctive sound from without.

“What was that noise?” asked Ellen.

Pigzie Doodle froze.

Er, he said. Well. You know that wonderful sound when a small child laughs, and it brightens everyone's day?

“Ye-es?”

Well, it wasn't that, it was an engine exploding. Buckle up, kids!

And then, as Bond would later put it, things got rather interesting.
__________________

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

Last edited by Cutlerine; February 5th, 2012 at 01:47 AM.
  #50    
Old February 13th, 2012, 04:45 PM
Silent Memento's Avatar
Silent Memento
Memories are forever...
 
Join Date: May 2011
Location: St. Louis, Missouri
Age: 22
Gender: Male
Nature: Timid
Oh, Skyrim. If I hear one more "arrow to the knee" comment, I'm going to massacre a whole freaking village - and I haven't even played the game yet.

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

Another thing doesn't make sense. If Iago is the traitor, he has to be suspicious at this point. That's two times where Ashley's cut him out of the loop in this chapter alone. If he's reporting knowledge to Cyrus, it has to make him nervous and feel like they're on to him. If Ashley's trying to make Iago feel comfortable in order to lull him into a false sense of security, he's doing a really poor job at it; he's drawing more attention to himself than Pearl, for fate's sake. If he's doing it to intentionally drive Iago away, I don't get it; it would be so much more useful to give a spy false information.

However, there's other possibilities (another really insane theory of mine that probably won't make a lick of sense. Joy.):

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

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


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

I'm really excited to see what the next chapter is going to turn out like. I'll be waiting.

Sincerely,

Mem.
__________________
Quotes are nothing but words.

Last edited by Silent Memento; February 13th, 2012 at 05:54 PM.
 
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