Cracked, or How the Love of Seafood Saved Unova
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May 6th, 2013 (4:48 AM).
Gone. May or may not return.
The Misspelled Cyrpt
Chapter Twenty: Infiltration, Act Two
Harmonia was not happy.
While he had been in the trance, his mind hundreds of miles away in one of the Merry Gentlemen, it appeared the other Gentleman standing guard over him had been put to flight and his computer stolen.
This was a Bad Thing, and everyone who had come into contact with him that evening had had this impressed on their minds quite forcibly.
To make matters worse, Smythe had proven remarkably resistant to questioning. Harmonia had, at length, been forced to end the interrogation session when his normally quiescent sense of morality had started stirring in his heart; while not normally a man to flinch from the unnerving – his HawkEye was more perceptive than the manufacturers knew, and had opened up a dark and strange hidden world to him – he was not wholly comfortable punching a man to death, and had left Smythe alone when the blood and bruises became a bit too much. Despite his wounds, the man had grinned as Harmonia departed; this woman was, evidently, a point on which he was determined to remain silent. His grim non-cooperation had startled Harmonia as much as anything else; he hadn't known that Smythe was capable of such recalcitrance. Although, he told himself now, he
have known; he knew his history, after all, and he knew that Smythe had undergone worse than what he had submitted him to. He might be afraid, but he faced the objects of his fear with philosophical stoicism; however much of a coward he seemed, experience had proved his mettle and made him a braver man than most.
This oversight on his part soured Harmonia still further, and he snapped out commands for the heightening of security with such venom as would have done credit to a particularly vindictive cobra. Human underlings scurried away like frightened mice; their demonic counterparts glared balefully, drifting off to their duties with hissed assurances that their King would hear of this. Complaints and fears aside, however, Hawthorne House was soon bursting at the seams with security measures.
Curses and tomb-traps bristled from walls like fearsome clusters of carnivorous barnacles; teeth and tentacles trailed across floors and corridors, invisibly stroking the faces and shoulders of the security guards who patrolled in the corridors. They could not see them, of course, but Harmonia with his HawkEye and a few others with their natural gifts could, and this Party elite smiled grimly at the guardian terrors that grew and clicked in the shadows.
And then there were the things that not even they could see properly: the men and women with a sardonic wit in their eyes – the ones who looked as if they knew a dark and grisly joke at at humankind's expense, and enjoyed it immensely. Their true shapes were uncertain, but those with the eyes for it could sometimes, just for a moment, catch a glimpse of gold through bloody cracks in their flesh. Then, of course, the moment would pass, and they would flash you a knowing smile from an unbroken face, and walk on their way.
By eight o'clock that night, therefore, Hawthorne House practically radiated menace, and it was through a subdued atmosphere that Caitlin Molloy made her way to see Harmonia.
“Evening, Ghetsis,” she said. “How're you feeling?”
“How do you think?” snapped Harmonia. “It's a complete and utter f*cking disaster! Whoever's got hold of that computer, they've got access to
” He thumped a fist down on the desk. “That damn kid! If it turns out it's White and Halley who stole this when he made me stop chasing them—”
What Harmonia might have done had that turned out to be the case proved something of a moot point, however, as it was at this juncture that Caitlin thought she probably ought to interrupt.
“We know who did it,” she replied. “And it wasn't them. It was your mystery woman.”
Harmonia paused, fist stopping halfway through another thump of the desk.
“I've been over the security footage,” she said patiently, “and while I have no idea how she got into the building, she was less careful on the way out – I suppose because the Gentleman left and she thought he was going to Weland for backup.”
,” replied Harmonia sourly. “When I came back to my body I found half a dozen embalmed dogs sh*tting all over the carpet and barking like mad. It seems Weland forgot that a sense of smell decays with the nose; they couldn't track a damn thing. It took me f*cking forever to get them sent back.”
“Ah. I see.” Caitlin paused. “Well, um, anyway. Sairse was apparently in the west wing fiddling with a broken curse – I think the woman must have disarmed it somehow – but a couple of the regular guards tried to stop her. Doesn't seem like they got very far with that, but they remember her face, and the route she took out of the old drawing-room in the east wing took her right past one of the external cameras.” She placed a blurred photograph, evidently enlarged and sharpened as much as was possible, on the desk before him. “And here she is.”
Harmonia snatched it up eagerly and perused it for some time.
“I see,” he said at length. “And do we know who she is yet?”
“That's where I come in,” replied Caitlin. “The way she dealt with the security here shows she's a professional, which means she must pass through the same spheres of life that I do. I've put out feelers among my contacts; we'll have answers some time tomorrow.”
“Good,” said Harmonia with feeling. “The sooner we get this mess sorted out, the better.”
“Yes, of course.” Caitlin hesitated. “There is one more thing, Ghetsis.”
“There's someone waiting outside to see you,” she replied. “One of Weland's people.”
“Well? Send him in, then.”
“If you're sure,” she said. “It's just that he isn't any of the normal messengers.”
Something cold curled snugly around Harmonia's heart.
“No?” he asked, trying hard to keep his voice as level as he could.
“No,” replied Caitlin. “He says he's the Chief of the Palace Guard, and he needs to talk to you about the rebels.”
“I am the night,” muttered Halley to herself, slinking along the fence that separated Hawthorne House from the rest of the King's Road. “None shall see me coming, and when my vengeance is visited upon them, yea, they shall sh*t themselves in terror.” She paused and scratched her head. “I think that sentiment might be missing something in terms of poetry. Well, whatever.”
It was half past eleven, and back at one of Castelia's Pokémon Centres Cheren, Bianca and Lauren were waiting with bated breath; they had, in fact, been waiting for some time now, as Halley had taken the scenic route and stopped to listen to a lonesome jazz saxophonist, playing to the moon atop the Telborn Bridge. She had been gone about two hours already, but saw no harm in making them wait. After all, she had decided, it would be interesting to see what they might notice if they were awake at midnight.
Reaching a brick pillar at the corner of the square enclosure, Halley coiled and ran vertically up it; such was her speed that she almost crashed head-first into the urn on top of it, but she checked herself in time and wound around the edge of it, dropping down to the other side.
“There,” she said to herself. “Fence surmounted. I'd like to see you do
She picked her way across the lawn, pausing to push over a small and peculiarly hideous piece of statuary, and reached the shadow of the wall without incident; here, thinking over her actions and deciding that maybe the little statue was some kind of demonic idol, she doubled back and set it back on its feet.
“No sense in tempting fate,” she said, patting it on the head and finding out too late that it had sharp little horns. “I could do without – ouch! – calling down the furies of hell on my head.”
Back to the wall, then, and up onto the sill of a ground-floor window; from here, it was the work of a moment to reach the window's hood-moulding, and from there leap across to the roof of the porch, where she had a startling encounter with a large bat.
it shrilled, rising up from the slates like a materialising demon.
“Sh*t!” yelped Halley, jumping backwards and almost losing her footing. “Ah – what the f*ck? Oh,” she said, finally realising what it was. “Oh, just a bat.”
” repeated the bat insistently. It looked something like a fox and something like an octopus; Halley was by no means an expert on chiropteran biology, but she was pretty sure that bats like that weren't normal.
“Unova,” she said, regarding the bat with disgust. “Full of weird sh*t, isn't it?”
The bat shrieked again, and wobbled its tentacular nose.
“Not impressed,” replied Halley, stalking past it. “Find someone else to bother.”
Realising that it had failed to intimidate the intruder, the bat – which was indeed of a species unique to Unova – seemed to deflate, and flapped off hurriedly into the night.
“Good riddance,” said Halley, scrambling up the edge of a cartouche with an imperious-looking Latin inscription on it. “Rats with wings. And squid arms, apparently.”
She looked around. There were just a couple of sets of windows between here and one of the lower roofs, and somewhere on that roof was a skylight that was just asking to be broken.
“Piece of cake,” she said confidently. “Harmonia won't know what hit him.”
It took only a couple of minutes for her to reach the gutter, and from there it was the work of a moment to gain the security of the roof. She padded along the slates towards the nearest skylight, feeling more smug than perhaps she ought to have felt, and then stopped dead when the clot of darkness welled up from nowhere in front of her.
“Halley,” said Teiresias.
“Sh*t,” said Halley.
“I have been waiting,” replied the fiend. Halley made a half-hearted attempt to flee – but those unseen hands held her paws tight, as she knew they would.
“So I see,” she replied. “Uh... so. Weren't you meant to not be chasing us any more?”
The darkness seemed to roll, as if its surface were composed of waves, and two lights of indeterminate colour appeared somewhere in the middle of it.
Halley had good night vision, but she still could not see what Teiresias really looked like, and for that she was grateful.
“I am not here on behalf of Harmonia. I come here as a private individual.” Something like a paw, or perhaps more like a wheel, extended from the mass of darkness and scraped along a slate. “You have information that I require.”
“And what might that be?”
“Their name is not to be spoken here,” Teiresias went on, its voice lowering to a hiss like the shifting of shrouds in silent tombs. “But they are the stranded. And I must find them.”
“Listen, I have no idea what you're talking about there,” replied Halley. “I'm an amnesiac, in case you hadn't worked that one out already. It may be that I know something about these 'stranded' you mention – but if I ever did, I've forgotten it.”
Teiresias was silent. This was, Halley thought with a sense of rising panic, far more intimidating even than its grave-mould whisper.
“But,” Halley went on desperately, “inside this building is information that might jog my memory.” She gave it an earnest look. “So, y'know, if you were to just let me go on my way without eating my soul or whatever it is you demons do, I'd be much obliged.”
“Memory,” said Teiresias, a slow anger rising in its dead voice. “They took your memory to hide from me...”
Something cracked loudly at its core, and the two halves of a bone clattered down over the slates and into the gutter. Halley did not look too closely, but she saw enough to know that it was human.
“I cannot let you go,” said Teiresias, as if nothing had ever happened. “You will not survive the trip to the offices; security is tight here, and it has been tightened following a recent break-in.”
Halley snorted – partly in derision, and partly as a way of putting the bone out of her head.
“So what? I can avoid security with my eyes shut—”
“Not when the guardians are of my kind,” said Teiresias, calm and implacable. “I cannot let you go in there. You will have to remember, and tell me now.”
“Not possible,” replied Halley. “I can't just force memories back into my skull at will.”
“You have no choice—”
“Or what, exactly? You're going to kill me?” Halley laughed. “You won't get
if you kill me, will you?”
Teiresias was silent for a moment.
“I could kill White,” it said. “Or your associates.”
“Kill them, then,” replied Halley, lip curling back over sharp white teeth. “It's not going to jog my memory or anything.”
“I see,” it said at length. “This is a difficult situation.”
“No, it isn't,” she replied. “You just let me go in there and root around, and I'll be back, and if I remember anything I'll tell you. Simple, right?”
“No.” Teiresias hesitated for a moment. “I shall assist you.”
“No, you just let me— hey, what did you just say?”
“I shall assist you.” Having finally decided on a course of action, the demon's voice seemed stronger; it had not sounded so sure of itself before. “You would never survive this on your own: I will have to come with you, and ensure your survival. And when we are done, you will tell me where I can find the stranded.”
“Uh... OK,” agreed Halley, nodding feverishly. “Sure, sure. You got yourself a deal.”
“Then let us go,” said Teiresias, and Halley could just about make out it shifting within its cloak of shadow. “There is little time to waste.”
It swept over to a skylight and the hands that held Halley dissolved on the air; she stretched for a moment, then followed Teiresias as it slipped down through the space where moments ago there had been glass.
A moonlit corridor; a tall, dark figure orbited by bands of greyish light – and then blackness, as the huge shadow of Teiresias swept across Halley's vision, overcoming the dark figure before it could so much as turn. A moment later there was nothing except a gigantic crouching shape, indistinct even in the silver light, and two great blind eyes hanging in the middle.
“Dead,” rumbled Teiresias. It had two voices now, Halley noticed; one was its own, and one was something a little more human, that echoed its words in a distant, despairing scream. Perhaps that was the soul of the thing it had just devoured, she thought, and instantly regretted having the idea. “Follow me.”
(Follow, follow, aaagh follow... me...)
“All right,” she said shakily, and stalked along in Teiresias' wake. It cast no shadow, she noticed; the moonlight seemed to swerve around it and join up again on the other side.
They made their way around a corner, and a few tooth-studded tentacles rose up from thin air on either side of them, hissing, Halley retreated, but Teiresias stood its ground – and a moment later, black rot spread up the tumorous limbs from their bases, and they dwindled into little heaps of mould that soaked into the carpet like ditchwater.
“My power waxes,” said Teiresias, half to itself.
(Waxes, waxes, power waxes...)
“The King is as good as his word.”
“What was that?”
A man's voice, and a door opened to the right; a blue-jacketed guard stepped cautiously through, stared in incoherent terror and vanished beneath the cloak of Teiresias' pounce.
Halley looked away. She was not particularly averse to violence, but what Teiresias did was not for mortal eyes.
They left what remained of the body and continued until they reached a stairwell; twice more did fleshy tendrils attempt to ensnare them, but each time Teiresias destroyed them without moving.
“Two nights' time,” said Teiresias. “In two nights the moon will be dark. And I will be whole once again.”
Two voices echoed its own now, and one was unmistakeably that of the fallen guard.
From atop a newel post, something almost but not quite like a flayed owl hooted a soft warning; something dark and solid arced from Teiresias' core and scooped it into the fiend's body.
The hooting stopped.
“Up,” commanded Teiresias.
(Up, up, up... Up up...)
Halley followed it as closely as she dared, hesitant about coming too near and wary of falling too far behind; Teiresias was deadly, yes, but it was currently on her side. However afraid of it she might be, her enemies had far more to fear.
And fear indeed they did: in a small room two floors above them, the demon Sairse felt her curses blink out of existence one by one – and yet there came no report of increased demonic presence in the building. The only demons here were those who had been present all night.
Silently, she called out to them, voice resonating down the dark paths, and silently they came, gathering on the upper floor, counting each other, working out who was missing.
And they realised who was missing from the count.
As one, they turned and fled.
“They run,” it said. “My comrades fear me.” It did not sound sad, merely pensive. “It seems my association with the King is at an end.”
(An end, at an end, an end... The King is at an end...)
Halley didn't quite dare ask what it meant; she had a feeling that if it remembered she was there, it might turn around and consume her as it had done the guard.
“I regret that,” Teiresias went on, tearing something bloody from a wall and crunching it with unseen mouthparts. “For a long time it seemed to me that he must command my loyalty. But I see now that my needs must come first. I am not of his kind; I am a useful footsoldier to him, but no more.”
(No more! No more, no more... please, God, no more...)
The stairs ended and gave way onto a landing with several corridors leading off it. “I must do what is best for myself,” it said. “I am not Unovan. I care not for the fate of this land.”
(Fate, fate... The fate of this land...)
Teiresias stalked towards the left-most passage and something like a coil of entrails slipped down from the ceiling to strangle it; it passed straight through the fiend's body, and with a small, tinny wail it was sucked in and vanished.
Halley winced. Not again.
Two guards, approaching from opposite corridors, guns raised; their eyes converged on Teiresias, a motionless totem of unremitting darkness, and they opened their mouths to say—
Something dragged them beneath the floor.
It was far too fast for Halley to see properly: a flicker of movement like the lightning strike of a snake, and then the carpet closed over them like water. But she saw enough to know that the clutching things were no serpents; they were hands, though their fingers were too many and too flexible to be human. As they began to move on once more, she thought of the hands she had felt clutching at her ankles in the past, and shivered. Those wounds the Glasya-Labolas had mentioned were clearly healing now, though it seemed to have taken several hundred years; it had gone from strength to strength since they had last met.
“The office,” announced Teiresias, coming to a halt.
(Office, office... Office...)
Halley looked up. The door they stood before had Harmonia's name on it, and there was a considerable quantity of blood soaked into the carpet. Whatever had been guarding this door, Teiresias had destroyed it fairly comprehensively, and had done so before she had even seen it.
“OK,” she said. “I'm... going to search in here now.” She paused. “There isn't anything waiting for me in there, is there?”
There was a
and the door fell off its hinges, revealing an empty office beyond.
“No,” replied Teiresias.
(No, no, oh please Woden no...)
“All right, then,” said Halley, and padded cautiously in. There was a computer on the desk, and that seemed a good place to start; she jumped up onto the chair, and then climbed onto the desktop. “OK,” she said, a sudden grin twisting her face in two. “Time to do what I do best.”
She pressed a paw down on the keyboard, and the screen lit up. A few swift keystrokes, and the Green Party's digital security came apart in shreds; a few more, and Halley was looking at a map of Unova that only Harmonia was supposed to be able to access. There was a little blue dot blinking in the eastern half of Nimbasa, and, puzzled, Halley sought the map's legend.
She read it, and her eyes widened.
“Well now,” she said slyly. “Harmonia, what
you been up to...?”
“So where is this... Tomb-Gaol?” asked Niamh.
Ezra looked grave.
“In the court of King Weland the Undying,” he said. “Specifically, it's comprised of a complex accessed via the Great Western Transept.”
They were once more two people, and were ensconced in the relative safety of a hotel room Niamh had booked in her name; once she had reached it, Ezra had detached himself soundlessly from her mind and taken up a seat in the only chair, forcing her to sit on the bed. A quick look through Harmonia's files indicated that Smythe was being held in the aforementioned Tomb-Gaol, and it was on this topic that Niamh was now questioning Ezra.
“So let's go there,” she replied. “Actually, no. You're about to tell me why we can't do that, aren't you?”
Ezra inclined his head.
“You know me so well,” he said. “By forcing me to attack the fetch, you've given us away to Weland. He knows we're coming; the Court will be locked up so tightly that not even the wind can pass in or out without being intercepted.”
“Ah.” Niamh felt her cheeks redden; it had been pretty foolhardy of her to charge the fetch – but then again, it hadn't been the sort of monster she had thought it would be. She had learned now; in future, she would leave that particular kind of threat to Ezra. “That would be my fault, then.”
“Yes.” Ezra sighed. “Never mind. You were only doing your job, I suppose; you're a monster-slayer, after all.” Cigarette smoke started curling from between his lips. “We're going to have to change our plan,” he said. “Although I have to confess, I'm not sure how.”
“Can we lure Weland out?” asked Niamh. “Or another member of the Court that we could hold hostage, and then exchange them for Portland?”
“While I probably
contain most of Weland's subjects individually,” replied Ezra, “I doubt Weland cares enough about their well-being to give up Smythe for them. His plan to retake Unova is more important. However,” he added, “we do have one advantage. Our enemies don't know that there are two of us; I expect they'll think that you are just a body I happened to possess. It wouldn't occur to most of my kind to leave the mind of a host intact. Our appearance at Hawthorne House, in addition to yours at the Striaton Gym, will make it seem as if they have only to deal with me.”
“Does that help us at all?” asked Niamh.
“I have no idea,” replied Ezra. “But I thought we might count it. Oh, wait,” he said, face falling. “They must know there are two of us. That old man saw both of us in the forest, and it was quite clear we were working together.” He sighed. “Oh well. I wasn't sure what the advantage was anyway; I suppose I can hardly be sad to lose it.”
“Yeah.” Niamh scratched her head and clicked through a few more of Harmonia's emails. “Hey,” she said abruptly. “There's just one king in Unova, right? Weland.”
“Well, there's something here about another one,” she said. “Look – 'Sairse said it would be an honour to serve under the Regent to the King of All Humans, in recognition of the compact between our peoples.'” She looked up at Ezra. “Make any sense to you?”
“The King of All Humans?” he queried. “It says that?”
“Read it yourself,” she said, handing him the laptop. “Look.”
He did, and his eyes widened still further.
“But that's impossible,” he said, brow creasing. “I saw him die – I saw them all die.” He bit his lip, and the cigarette smoke dissipated. “This changes everything,” he said. “If they have returned...” He looked up. “Niamh,” he said, “we have to find this man – this King. We can stop Harmonia if we can explain to him what Weland is trying to do. He will listen; his kind always did.”
“What? Who is this person?”
“Before the dawn of civilisation – before even prehistory – there was a kingdom here in Unova,” replied Ezra. “It was destroyed when the first tribes of modern Unovans came here; the survivors covered their retreat by unleashing the last dragon and fled to their last fortress in the west. And there they lived in peace and seclusion as the country fell into war – until the Heroes came, and tamed the beast, and razed the last city of the First Kingdom to the ground.”
“The First Kingdom,” breathed Niamh. “It was real?”
“Very real,” he said. “It was the greatest civilisation ever to rise up on earth, and the greatest that ever will. Its kings were the Kings of All Humans –
Kuningor va Jorwal
, in the old tongue – and their bloodline was eradicated in the Bronze Age by the Twin Heroes. And,” he added, with great emphasis, “
they have apparently returned from the grave
Niamh sought desperately for words, and eventually came up with:
“Oh indeed,” replied Ezra. “Something impossible is happening, Niamh, and we need to get to the bottom of it. If we can find this King and tell him what Weland is doing...” He paused. “Well. He will stop Harmonia and may even break the pact with Weland. Which could well result in a full-blown revolution in the Shrouded Court, as my people are forced to declare sides. In other words—”
“Chaos,” finished Niamh. “And a way into the Court.”
“Where we can kill Weland and rescue Smythe,” agreed Ezra. “Exactly.” He grinned. “Now,” he said, “let's see what else Harmonia's laptop has to offer...”
“Why are you doing this?”
That was not Teiresias' voice, thought Halley in alarm.
She looked up and around the edge of the monitor, and saw that a cluster of tall, indistinct figures had appeared outside the office; the more closely she looked at them, the harder they were to see, and after a moment she found that looking at them out of the corner of her eye worked best. Each carried an object of uncertain shape in its right hand, around which grey bands of light orbited ceaselessly; the only other detail she could easily make out was that each was topped with a burning red pair of eyes.
“I serve no master,” replied Teiresias, undaunted. “Jormal's Cycle comes to its peak, and my power returns.”
(Returns, returns... My power returns...)
“You have made an enemy of His Undying Majesty, Teiresias.”
“I know how this ends,” said the demon. “I saw it all earlier tonight.”
(Saw it all, all... Tonight...)
That was right, thought Halley; Teiresias was proleptic. It could see the future. It must have seen that these beings would come for it, and she was willing to bet that it knew it was going to kill them all.
The indistinct figures drew back a little, hesitant.
“Ah,” said one, who seemed a likely candidate for the leader. “I don't think I need your gift to tell me that we ought to be elsewhere.”
“It's too late,” Teiresias told it with undisguised delight, and swept forwards in a great curling rush of shadow—
The figures broke and ran, but the souls were screaming out already –
Too late! Too late!
– and Teiresias came crashing down like the wrath of the gods—
And Halley knew that once it was done, it was going to come after her looking for answers that she couldn't supply, glowing blackly with the power of freshly harvested souls, and she knew that if she couldn't give it the answers it wanted something very bad would happen, and so before it had a chance to notice she slipped across the room and up onto the windowsill – and a moment later she was gone, leaving nothing behind but an open window and a ringing alarm.
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For information about A Grand Day Out, a bizarre short story in video game form, click
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