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Old January 9th, 2013 (3:35 AM).
Cutlerine Cutlerine is offline
Gone. May or may not return.
    Join Date: Mar 2010
    Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
    Age: 23
    Nature: Impish
    Posts: 1,030
    Chapter Eight: The Young Miss Moritz

    Niamh Harper (Neeve, she would say with a sigh, it's pronounced Neeve) was one of those people who are, in the movies, invariably referred to as 'the specialists', or 'the cleaners', or some other variant on the same cloak-and-dagger theme. Like her fictional counterparts, she possessed uncanny efficiency, tremendous intellect and more concealed weapons than anyone might safely shake a stick at. Unlike them, however, she was one sixty-fourth faerie.

    So family tradition went, anyway, and Niamh had always maintained that the source of her preternatural luck was the blood she had inherited from her aelfen great-great-great-great-grandmother; all the really successful criminals, she reasoned, had a gimmick – Moriarty had the whole 'Napoleon of crime' thing, and the Zodiac Killer had had his bizarre messages, for instance – and it would be a damn shame to miss out on capitalising on hers. It paid, she thought, to think of a decent advertising scheme.

    Thus it was that Niamh (the name was supposed to be redolent of the mysterious aelfe from which she claimed ancestry, but all it really did was confuse people) had been contracted by Ingen several years previously as their 'clean-up expert'. (Apparently those in charge of hiring her had seen a few too many conspiracy films.) In that time, she had successfully prevented, among other things, a juvenile Megalosaurus from eating its way through an orphanage, an abortive attempt at creating a shoggoth from absorbing half the Ingen staff (Dr. Spitelle's fault), and a pair of snooping journalists from uncovering Ingen's secret facility on Volundr's Anvil off the east coast. Rather less successfully, she had attempted to stop the escape of a small group of Andrewsarchus into the depths of the Grimveldt Forest, from the security of which strange rumours were now drifting out across Unova of monsters raiding outlying settlements in the night – but then again, one couldn't be perfect all the time. Everyone made mistakes, after all, even people like Niamh.

    This, however, ought not to have been a mission on which Niamh would make mistakes. She simply had to travel to Accumula Town, relieve the unknown girl with the green hat of the escaped Archen, destroy it before it fell into the hands of any of Ingen's many competitors, and return home. Simple. She was going up against kids; while it was stupid to ever claim that nothing could go wrong, Niamh was fairly certain that, well, nothing could go wrong.

    As the astute reader will have guessed, this was not the case.

    And Niamh Harper was about to find that out in spectacular fashion.


    Smythe looked at Teiresias.

    “Should... should I chase them?” he asked tentatively.

    The Purrloin was silent.


    “No,” it said. “No.” It got to its feet and began to walk back down the Trail, towards Accumula.

    “What? Where are you going?” asked Smythe.

    “To Accumula,” replied Teiresias coldly. “There is nothing to be gained from chasing them.”

    “What? But we have to catch—”

    “Yes.” Teiresias paused, and looked back. “But we cannot chase them. I underestimated White's intelligence. We will have to alter our tactics; brute force is not the way to go.”

    “Oh,” said Smythe, his brain finally catching up with his mouth. “I see... you want to get to Striaton ahead of them and lay an ambush?”

    “They are Trainers. They will go to the Gym there,” Teiresias went on, as if he hadn't spoken – and now Smythe saw that its eyes were burning blue, seeing deep into something other than the forest around them. “White will not. She will go to – to...” It trailed off. “I cannot see where she will go,” it said. “Not yet. But we will have an opportunity to catch her and Halley, when they are separated from the Trainers.”

    Smythe blinked. He might not quite have Teiresias' intellect, but he wasn't stupid, and he recognised the blue eyes and cryptic proclamation.

    “You have prolepsia?” he asked, incredulous. It wasn't common. Fewer than one in five hundred thousand humans were born with the genetic abnormality that let them catch glimpses of future events, and while Smythe didn't know how common it was among Teiresias' kind, he definitely hadn't been expecting it.

    “Yes,” replied his partner, eyes fading to white again. “It is certain. Our opportunity for ambuscade lies in Striaton.”

    “I see. It—”

    “Whatever you have to say, say it as we move,” Teiresias interrupted. “I refuse to drag your swinish flesh through the dark paths again today. We must return to Accumula and use your human methods of transport.”

    “Oh... right.” Smythe thought of the nightmare realm through which Teiresias chose to travel, and heaved a silent sigh of relief. “I guess we'd better go, then,” he said, surprising himself by sounding almost cheery.

    “Yes,” agreed Teiresias. “We had.”

    It stalked on, and, almost whistling with restrained happiness, Smythe followed.


    “I see,” said Cheren, nodding. “You notice the important details, Lauren, and formulate effective strategic responses... you'd be a good Trainer.”

    “Oh, I don't know about that,” I replied, looking away. “I'm just... I just noticed that it didn't move, that's all.”

    It was an hour since we had left Teiresias and Smythe on the trail, and an hour since we'd seen any sign of them; they didn't seem to be following us, or at least they weren't being obvious about it, and we'd continued on our way north to Striaton slightly more at ease than before. Lelouch had wandered up to us a few minutes into our search for him, holding his head in his stubby arms and hissing groggily, and he was now back in his Ball; Cheren had given him a Potion and the Snivy was now fairly healthy again, but he'd decided that he deserved a rest after his treatment at Teiresias' hands.

    Of course, Halley, Cheren and Bianca had all wanted to know what I'd done to Teiresias and how I'd done it, and I'd just come to the end of my explanation: I had noticed that Teiresias could only concentrate enough to raise its fear aura if it was stationary, and also that it was almost impossible to get close enough to it to move it. That left only one option: try and hit it with some force without getting near. I knew most Rock-type Pokémon knew Rock Throw, and I was pretty sure that Candy was at least part Rock-type; to my relief, she'd been able to work out what I wanted her to do, and had in fact got quite into the whole Rock Throwing business.

    “No, I mean it,” said Cheren. “You have a knack for it.”

    “Yeah,” agreed Halley. “Looks like you got the brain and Jared got the brawn. If I put the two of you together I might actually get a decent bodyguard.”

    I ignored her; I had no idea what to say in response to that.

    Bianca beamed at me.

    “You don't need to be so modest,” she said. “You can accept praise, you know.”

    “Uh... OK,” I replied. “Thank you.”

    “That's better,” she said with satisfaction, and was about to say something else when Munny made a loud blooping noise and started bobbing up and down in what was either excitement or acute indigestion.

    Cheren stared up at it with interest.

    “Oh? What is it?”

    “It senses something,” said Bianca, a look of concentration on her face, and with a small jolt of excitement I realised that Munny must be trying to communicate with her telepathically.

    “That's so cool,” I murmured.

    “It says... there are a lot of wild Pokémon around,” she said, frowning. “Much more than normal... oh, they were running away from Teiresias, and there's lots of them hiding a little further up the trail.”

    Cheren clapped his hands.

    “Excellent!” he cried. “I've had enough spectral persecution for one day. Time to actually do some Training.”

    I started. It had almost slipped my mind that that was what Cheren and Bianca actually did: catch wild Pokémon, and fight others with them. I'd been so focused on Teiresias and the problem of Halley that I'd forgotten this trip was anything more than a way of evading the Green Party's supernatural hitman.

    “Yeah,” agreed Bianca. “Put that demon stuff behind us for a while...”

    “If it gets us off the radar, it's fine by me,” Halley said. “What isn't fine by me, though, is standing around not moving in the woods when we could be moving in the opposite direction to the evil monster hunting us.” She leaped up onto a low branch overhanging the trail, and pointed ahead. “So let's move.”

    “I don't think it's actually following us right now,” said Cheren mildly, but Halley was having none of it. Obviously Teiresias had spooked her more than I'd thought.

    “Don't care. Don't trust it. Move.”

    So we did, moving quietly so as not to frighten off any Pokémon ahead. I had my doubts about how effective this would be – after all, I'd spent a lot of time in the woods before, and I knew that Pokémon and animals alike were far more adept at noticing approaching humans, especially when scared, than any of us – but I was willing to play along. After all, Cheren and Bianca were Trainers. They had to have some level of skill at this.

    A few minutes later, I held out my hand for them to stop. The broken cuffs jingled, and I hastily clamped my fingers over them to keep them still.

    “What is it?” asked Bianca.

    Sssh,” I hissed. “There. Right there.”

    I pointed at the Purrloin crouching ahead of us, half-concealed by the undergrowth.


    I looked at her.

    “Can't you see it?” I asked incredulously. “It's right there.”

    Cheren's eyes were darting around so fast they looked like they might spring free of their sockets and go on a brief aerial reconnaissance mission; I guess not noticing something must have been pretty galling for someone who usually sees everything.

    “I see her,” hissed Halley. “I have a bizarre urge to challenge her for her territory, but I'm holding it in.”

    “I still don't,” began Cheren testily, and then his eyes widened. “Ah.” He frowned. “Why isn't it running away?”

    “Because you three smell of fear,” Halley said. “You've been bathing in it all morning, thanks to Teiresias. Any animal with a decent sense of smell is going to be confused by you, since you look bold but smell terrified.”

    “I don't see it,” said Bianca petulantly.

    “Look, it's right there,” I said, pointing. The Purrloin shrank back from my finger, and I hurriedly withdrew it.

    “I still can't see it.”

    “No matter,” whispered Cheren. “You will in a moment.” He reached into his pocket and took out Lelouch's ball. “This should be simple enough.”

    He threw the ball in a high arc, up among the branches and leaves of the canopy; I didn't see where it fell, but it must have been somewhere beyond the Purrloin.

    The little Pokémon didn't move. It was thoroughly confused; it probably suspected a trick, given that its nature was to hunt by deceit – in contrast to the wildcats, which were physically stronger and tended to drop on their prey from the trees and wrestle it into submission – but it couldn't work out what it was.

    You sound like Cheren, part of my mind told me, but it wasn't true; Cheren was smarter than I was. He researched these things – I'd just seen it happen a few times back in White Forest.

    “Now,” said Cheren quietly, and Lelouch appeared behind the Purrloin, rearing out of the bushes with the total predatory silence only reptiles and birds can achieve. For a moment, he hung there motionless, and I could see his jaw widening in response to his serpentine instincts, about to unhinge and swallow the Purrloin whole—

    —and then his training asserted itself, and he shut his mouth, looking faintly displeased. Almost as an afterthought, he swatted the Purrloin hard on the leg with his viny tail, and the little cat started so hard it looked like it was on the verge of cardiac arrest.

    It whirled, instinctively sweeping its sharp tail across its attacker and following it up with its claws – but Lelouch didn't seem to even notice the thin scratches opening up across its chest; nothing bled from them, and I realised what the advantages of being made of plant matter must be – no pain, difficult to incapacitate... I wondered if Lelouch even had organs.

    The Snivy blinked slowly, and swallowed the Purrloin's head.

    I stared. Had I just seen that happen? Had Lelouch actually just...?

    Yes. Yes, he had.

    The Purrloin twitched and writhed furiously, scratching at his face and throat, but half-inch claws aren't much good at slicing through plant stems, and Lelouch didn't falter. A moment later, the Purrloin slowed – and a few seconds after that, it slumped, unconscious.

    Lelouch made a peculiarly human coughing sound, and spat the Purrloin out onto the leaf litter.

    “Well, that was the most disturbing way I've ever seen anyone win a Pokémon battle,” said Halley lightly. “Seriously? You get him to suffocate his enemies with his mouth?”

    “I'm making use of his strengths,” said Cheren stiffly. “The combination of reptile and plant is fascinating – it opens up a variety of tactics—”

    “I honestly could not give a single fu— fun-size Mars bar,” finished Halley glumly, looking up at me. “Damn you, Lauren.”

    I smiled at her.

    “Thank you.”

    “I seriously can't tell if that's irony or not,” she muttered. “That infuriates me.”

    “I bet it does.”

    Cheren fished around in his pockets and pulled out a Poké Ball; a moment later, he was the proud owner of a new Purrloin, and had, for reasons known only to himself, christened it Justine.

    “Well,” he said, “that was successful. Now, if only I could get a signal out here I could look it up in the Pokédex...” Here, he spared a moment to stare balefully at his phone. Unova's mobile communications networks were unreliable at best and explosive at worst; anywhere outside of the major cities had only patchy network coverage, and the phone masts, manufactured mainly by companies who didn't meet the quality control requirements of other countries, had a tendency to burst into flame when too much data ran through them. “Ah, well,” said Cheren, more jovially. “I have a Purrloin now, at least, and that's something.”

    “So, um, this is kind of embarrassing,” said Bianca, “but I still didn't actually see the Purrloin.”

    I stared at her.

    “Um... you are joking, right Bianca?”

    “Nope,” she said sadly. “I'm... not really very good at being a Trainer, I think.”

    “Oh, don't worry,” I said brightly. “Cheren didn't see it for ages, either. It's just experience, that's all.”

    “You think?”

    “Well, I wasn't born able to see hiding animals like that,” I said thoughtfully, “so I guess it must be practice. I've lived in the woods all my life, remember.”

    “I guess...”

    Bianca didn't sound entirely convinced, and I wanted to do more for her – but I wasn't certain what else I could say without knowing her better, and now wasn't the time to start questioning her about her history and lack of self-confidence. I sighed, and pushed Candy away from my ear, which she was trying hard to stuff her beak into.

    “Yeah. Just practice.” I made myself smile; smiling is infectious, and hopefully Bianca would smile too. “Come on, then. I'm guessing the other Pokémon around here were scared off by that fight, but we might be able to find more. At the very least, we'll end up closer to Striaton.”

    “Yes, good idea,” said Cheren, obviously pleased to have been presented with a way out of a situation he clearly found awkward. “Come on, Bianca.”

    He recalled Lelouch and started walking; it was a good thing, I thought as I followed, that I was here, or poor Bianca wouldn't have had any comfort at all except from Munny – and the Munna's comforting consisted mostly of bumping into her head over and over again, as it was doing now.

    I sighed, and let Candy hop down onto my wrist.

    “What're we going to do about that, Candy?” I whispered, falling to the back of the group. “What're we going to do...?”


    Picture, if you will, the villain's lair. Let the image fill your mind: a castle, a thunderstorm, a fearsome crack of lightning that illuminates for one brief and violent instant unspeakable horrors; picture the guttering candles, wax oozing from their tips like pale snakes with questing, transparent faces; picture the ancient paintings whose eyes have long since been cut out to provide spy-holes for unseen watchers; the dungeons, the long-forgotten skeleton still in his manacles, the attic where the mad wife gibbers in her chains; the lopsided tower, lit fitfully by a cluster of dying lanterns – and finally, the villain himself, committing black and ancient deeds from before the time of man, bringing unto himself creatures that the ése never meant to see the light of day.

    This was what would have sprung to the mind of Lauren White if asked to envision the place from which Teiresias had begun its mission. Needless to say, it was not correct.

    No, Unova's Green Party had its headquarters in a large and unnecessarily magnificent building in Gaunton, Castelia; it had begun life as the residence of the penultimate British High Commissioner for Unova, and retained almost all of its original splendour. Owing to its erstwhile owner's peculiar architectural fancies, and his patent disregard for the more classical trends of his day, it was a vast and colourful Gothic pile after the manner of Pugin, beginning at the ground in a tangle of white limestone and ending in the sky in a multiplicity of blue-green Undella slate roofs. No two architects would ever be able to agree on whether or not it was beautiful, but anyone at all would concede that it was certainly among the most impressive buildings in the city. It bore its eccentricities with the brash swagger of a cartoon pirate, and had revelled in its own majesty since the year of its completion in 1944.

    It was down the twisting halls of this overweening edifice that Caitlin Molloy bent her steps, down to what had once been the Commissioner's office and was now that of Ghetsis Harmonia. She knocked on the door, and at the sound of a cheery 'Come in!' entered to find him seated behind his desk, flicking through a weighty-looking book of immense proportions; as she drew near, Harmonia looked up, grinned, and laid the book down in front of him.

    “Ah!” he said, smiling mischievously. “If it isn't my friend from Johannesburg.”

    Caitlin Molloy was not in fact from Johannesburg. She could, however, do a fine South African accent, although this was not something she did as a general rule.

    “Afternoon, Ghetsis,” she said, returning his smile at the shared joke. “I brought you the report from Striaton.”

    She tossed a manila folder down on the desk, and Harmonia's eyebrow rose.

    “Ah me,” he said, stroking his chin meditatively. “That looks thick.” His HawkEye clicked upward to lock onto Caitlin. “Any chance of a synopsis? I will read it, just... not right now.”

    “It's difficult to know what to do,” replied Caitlin, dropping into the seat opposite him. “There's two possibilities here. Either the powder actually converts dreamed objects into real ones, which would allow us to synthesise the lost artefact easily, given access to Dr. Fennel's lab – or it stimulates dreams of another life. Given the way the prevailing winds blow over Unova, Fennel theorises that this could be the cause of the whole Dream World – the mist is generated by the Munna and Musharna near Striaton, desiccates and gets spread across the country. Hence the dreams.”

    Harmonia nodded thoughtfully. Like everyone in Unova, he had spent at least some time wondering about the cause of the so-called Dream World; it had never, to anyone's knowledge, been satisfactorily explained, although various theories had been put forward to explain it. In fact, it was Dr. Fennel's potential explanation for the existence of the strangely unified dreams of Unova that had first caught his eye as he scanned the scientific literature of the week before.

    “I see,” he said slowly. “What're the chances that the powder really does turn dreams to reality?”

    “I don't know,” replied Caitlin frankly. “It doesn't even sound possible, to be honest, but stranger things have happened... it's just one step up from Zoroark venom. It's... well, if it's true, it changes everything.” She shrugged. “Fennel was eager to help – you know what these researchers are like, always after funding. We waved a vague offer under her nose in exchange for this report on the Dreamyard.”

    “The Dreamyard?” queried Harmonia. “What's that?”

    “Ah. It's what the people around Striaton call the old Sytec manufacturing plant. There was a lot of waste around there that was never properly disposed of, and the Musharna flocked there to nest. People in Striaton have more regular and Dream World dreams than anyone else in the nation, and they remember them better too – and it's all from the abandoned lot. So they ended up calling it the Dreamyard.”

    “I see.” Harmonia opened the folder and began to leaf through its contents. “Woden's patch,” he muttered. “Psychochemical disturbances in the dream matrix? Hyperbombastic ritual dream exchanges? Thunor, this is hard going... she's really trying to impress.”

    Caitlin shrugged.

    “Like I said, she wants funding.” She watched Harmonia for a moment. “What do you want to do?”

    The red lens moved up to look at her, though the head attached to it remained inclined towards the folder.

    “Let's do it,” he said decisively. “We've got nothing to lose after all; we have plenty of funds at our disposal, with our new allies. Throw some gold at her and see what we can do – if it works, we could potentially finish this thing tomorrow.”

    Caitlin nodded.

    “I'll get right on it, Ghetsis,” she said. “See you later.”

    “Goodbye,” he replied distractedly, returning to the report.

    Caitlin left, and twelve minutes later a message was winging its way towards Striaton.


    By the end of the day, Munny and Lelouch had put paid to about six assorted Patrat, Purrloin and Lillipup between them; Smoky, whom Bianca had all but kicked into action, had dealt with just one, and then only because it had been a particularly pugnacious Lillipup and had tried to bite his tail. He had sat up, torched it and gone back to sleep without ever opening his eyes.

    There had been no further sign of activity on Teiresias' part, but when we pitched camp that night we agreed we'd keep watch in case it and Smythe returned while we slept; Halley offered to watch all night, citing her animal instincts, ability to see in the dark and heightened sense of smell as reasons. I refused to let her, though; she needed sleep as much as the rest of us, I argued, so we set up a rota. Cheren seemed to think she had some ulterior motive in offering to take the entire watch, but I couldn't see what it would be – she was nervous, that was all, and who could blame her? Teiresias was a nasty foe.

    After we'd eaten, Cheren gathered a few meaty scraps into a little heap, and let out his new Purrloin, which looked around wildly at us for a while before bolting for the undergrowth.

    “Well, that was successful,” said Halley snidely. “Champion material right here.”

    “I know what I'm doing,” replied Cheren calmly. “She'll come back. Wait.”

    A few moments later, the Purrloin – Justine – did in fact return, slinking quietly out of the bushes and doing her best to remain in the shadows, out of sight.

    “Cheren,” began Bianca, delighted to have finally spotted something, but he held up a hand.

    “Ignore her,” he said. “We're not supposed to have noticed her.”

    Candy's large eyes flicked over to the Purrloin in the shadows, and she looked up at me inquisitively.

    “No,” I said, shaking my head as vigorously as possible. “No no no. Don't even think about it.”

    She made a small noise of avian disappointment, which was something like a squawk, something like a sigh and a lot more discordant than either, and went back to digging a shallow bowl in the dirt near the fire. She had done that last night too; I wasn't sure why. I'd never taken Candy out on extended trips in the woods before, and it seemed to be bringing out a variety of responses in her that I expected Uncle Gregory would have been interested in; he was always going on about how there was no way to accurately work out the behaviour of extinct animals from their fossils alone, and about that being the reason why he'd gone into the re-engineering business, and if they'd just give him ten more years and a million more pounds of funding he'd have solved the Gleinhauser Proposition, whatever that was.

    A moment later, Justine materialised next to Cheren's leg, and quietly began to steal the leftovers he'd piled up.

    “What's she doing?” I asked softly.

    “Purrloin are thieves,” replied Cheren, just as quietly. Justine did not look up at the sound of his voice. “They take the kills of others, or steal from campsites. If you give them food, they tend to believe that they're tricking you into feeding them, which makes them quite happy and therefore easier to tame... watch.”

    He picked up a meaty bone he had kept in reserve and held it under Justine's nose.

    The Purrloin froze. Her sharp green eyes focused on the end of the bone, travelled along its length, passed up Cheren's arm and came to rest on his face.

    A sly grin passed over her muzzle, and she ran a thin tongue over her fangs. Then, very delicately, she took the bone in between her jaws and climbed onto Cheren's lap to gnaw on it.

    He looked up at me.

    “See?” he said. “Easy.”

    I grinned and shook my head.

    “That's adorable,” I said.

    “I know!” squealed Bianca in agreement, so loudly that Justine jumped in surprise and inhaled half her bone.

    “Thunor—!” cried Cheren, staring wild-eyed as the Purrloin began to asphyxiate. “How the hell—?”

    One hand on the bone and one on her back, he started pulling and patting at the same time; a moment later, the offending article shot out, and Justine collapsed, gasping for air, on his lap. Bianca stared speechlessly.

    “I... um... sorry, Cheren,” she said at last. She sounded like a toddler who knows they've done something so bad there is no alternative but to pretend it didn't happen.

    “That's... all right, Bianca,” Cheren said, voice strained. “Just – ah – try not to kill my Pokémon in future, all right?”

    “Yeah...” Bianca's head drooped. “Sorry...”

    Halley snickered.

    “See, that's comedy,” she said. “Good old slapstick. There's nothing funnier than serious injury.”

    “Yes there is,” I said. “Justine could've been hurt.”

    “You're missing the point,” she sighed. “That's exactly why it was funny.” She waved a paw dismissively. “Whatever. I'm not going go be able to convince you about this one.”

    “On the plus side,” continued Cheren as if neither of us had spoken, “the experience does seem to have endeared me to Justine somewhat.”

    It was true: while Purrloin weren't really known for their loyalty, I was pretty sure the star-struck look in Justine's eyes indicated that the saviour of her life had now earned her undying respect. It was a pretty big bone for such a small cat; I supposed I'd feel the same way if Cheren had removed something the size of my forearm from my throat.

    “Hmm. A little training, and she might even be up to helping Lelouch with the Striaton Gym,” Cheren said to himself. “Strange as it may sound, I guess I should be thanking you, Bianca.”

    Immediately, she perked up again.

    “OK!” she cried happily. “That's all right, then. Do we have any pudding?”

    “No, you ate it all the night after we left home,” he sighed. “I didn't buy any more in Accumula because it didn't seem worth it.”

    “Oh yeah.” Bianca seemed vaguely disappointed, but she couldn't stay that way for long, and by the time we retired to our tents that night, she seemed to be back to normal. Halley, on the other hand, seemed quieter than ever; even when Candy hurled a rock at her, her curses seemed to lack their usual colour and flavour. I asked her what was wrong, but naturally she said nothing – or rather, she did say something, but that something was a torrid stream of invective, which shut me up pretty quickly.

    At least, I thought as I lay there in the dark, watching the glow of the fire through the thin fabric, she's still up to doing that. I was still thinking about it when I fell into uneasy dreams, a little before midnight.


    There a certain moments in life that defy conventional explanation – moments when a chance collocation of events coheres and gives rise to a result infinitely greater than the sum of its parts; moments when disparate strands of destiny cross over, briefly form an accidental Gordian knot, and pass on unchanged. These moments are taken by some to be evidence of wyrd, or fate; others, to be evidence of God.

    Niamh Harper was abhorrent of suspicion and possessed of a good vocabulary, so she saw them as serendipity.

    If any particular event that afternoon had occurred differently – a minute later, a minute later, a few feet to the left – nothing would have come of it. But as it happened, a man refused the offer of a second drink before leaving for work that morning, citing lack of time; and a woman's alarm clock in Nacrene ran out of power during the night; and a child dropped his toy car on a walk through the park in Accumula; and a busker's bicycle had a flat tyre, and he was forced to go to his usual spot on Neurine Plaza on foot.

    And the woman was late for work, and the decrepit Anville Rail Service train was even later than advertised; and Portland Smythe tripped over the car and twisted his ankle so badly he could not muster the speed to make it to the station in time to catch his train; and he repaired to a nearby park bench to recover and wait for the next one.

    And Niamh Harper, worn out and stressed from the long train journey, was not looking where she was going as she left the carriage; and the man, who handed out flyers at Accumula Station, was overcome by a small wave of dizziness owing to dehydration; and the two of them collided, sending leaflets fluttering everywhere.

    And as she helped him gather the leaflets, she noticed they advertised a coffee-house two streets away near Neurine Plaza, and decided that she was in need of refreshment and rest before continuing her search; and as she made her way to the coffee-house, the busker finally arrived at work and began to play.

    And on the street next to the Plaza, Niamh subconsciously heard the unmistakeable strains of jazz flute, and without knowing why looked around for the only jazz flautist she had ever known—

    And over the iron railings of the park she saw Portland Smythe, and at the same moment he looked up at the sound of the flute and saw her too.

    Their jaws dropped.


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