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Old May 28th, 2013 (6:42 AM). Edited May 29th, 2013 by Cutlerine.
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 Twenty-Two: Sage Advice

    One might perhaps have expected a demon from the mythic past to be less than au fait with modern computing technology. Such an expectation would have done no more than betray one's ignorance of exactly how much spare time a demon from the mythic past has on his hands. With only a little assistance from Niamh – confined to the vagaries of Windows 7; the last machine Ezra had encountered had run Windows 98 and a few things had been shuffled around – Ezra soon had the innards of Harmonia's data spread out before him like the carcase of a lion. Now, to carry the simile further, he had begun to pick over the entrails like a marabou stork.

    “Most interesting,” he mused. “Miss Molloy has outdone herself...” He looked across at Niamh, who had fallen asleep a while ago with the proviso that he wake her if he found anything; she had been awake for close to twenty-four hours now and, while she didn't particularly want to waste time sleeping, she knew that her performance would be adversely affected if she didn't allow herself to rest.

    Or something like that. Those probably hadn't been her exact words, now that Ezra thought of it; they were more than likely his.

    Ezra stretched and sighed, and let his human shape slough away like a spider-husk. He uncurled, dark and shining and new, and brought the part of himself which served as a head back to bear on the laptop.

    “Right,” he said. “I suppose I ought to see if I can't find out where exactly they performed this miracle, then.”

    And in the depths of his being things lit up like the ghosts of long-dead Christmas lights, pale and sad, and things that were not fingers stroked the keyboard with a loving, feather-light touch.


    “Now we have you,” said an old man in robes and a stupid hat. “You will listen to our demands.”

    I stared. Though he looked very much like the old man in robes and a stupid hat who we'd stopped in Pinwheel Forest, he was not that particular old man in robes and a stupid hat; he was a different old man in robes and a stupid hat, and to be honest, we were racking up the old men in robes and stupid hats at a faster rate than I was comfortable with. Were we to meet a third, I would have thought that fate was taking things too far; old men in robes and stupid hats were unusual in a way that even Teiresias wasn't, and I didn't much care to have so many of them being flung around with such abandon.

    Where exactly he had come from was another problem. I was pretty sure that there had been no one in the lobby until he'd started speaking, and now there was an old man in robes and a stupid hat brandishing a large automatic pistol.

    I blinked.

    That hadn't been there a moment ago, either.

    “What exactly is going on here?” I asked, puzzled. “I don't think I'm even thinking straight, let alone seeing it.”

    The old man sighed.

    “This en't the time for explanations,” he told me. He had a South African accent – or perhaps an Australian one. I wasn't entirely certain of the difference. “This is more the time where you comply with my demands or get shot.”

    “Gothitelle or something,” Cheren said, eyes fixed on the old man. “Space is bending. That's why the door's shut as well, I expect.”

    “Look, you're not being very good hostages,” said the old man. He sounded aggrieved. “Will you just—”

    “Have you considered that maybe we aren't hostages?” asked the girl with the hair.

    The old man looked nonplussed. This was evidently an aspect to the situation that he hadn't considered.


    “Well,” said the girl, idly fiddling with her fingers, “I don't know about you, but I think people with these” – here the Druddigon materialised between us and the old man – “don't really make good hostages.”

    The old man, to his credit, didn't swear and shoot blindly at the Druddigon. That would have been the instinctive response; it would also have been the one that ended with his skull between the big dragon's jaws. It takes a big, strong bullet from a big, strong gun to get through a Druddigon's hide, and his little handgun did not look like it was up to the job.

    He sighed.

    “Right,” he said. “So, this throws a spanner in the f*cking works, doesn't it? How the hell was I meant to know you were bringing a bloody Druddigon?”

    “You weren't,” replied Cheren reasonably. “Which is probably why you're going to hand over the Munna.”

    “Ah,” said the old man. “The Munna.”

    “Yes, the Munna.”

    The old man scratched his chin.

    “Fair enough,” he conceded. “The Munna.”

    This time, I saw how the trick worked: in the split second before Munny had fully appeared, I saw the air around it unfurl and draw back like a curtain; Cheren was right, I realised – one of those Pokémon that could move the fabric of reality around a bit was at work. Something like a Gothitelle, or – what was that other one? I couldn't remember the name.

    “Munny!” cried Bianca, rushing forwards.

    “Stop!” cried Cheren, trying and failing to grab her arm.

    “Gotcha!” cried the old man with satisfaction, snatching Bianca's arm and twisting her up close to him. The barrel of his gun came to rest against her temple. Munny looked like it was about to do something – but before it could move to assist its mistress, it disappeared again, folded back out of the visible universe.

    There was a very palpable silence.

    “Oops,” said Bianca, in a small voice.

    “Yes, oops,” replied Cheren, his sarcasm potentially more dangerous than the old man's gun. “Ack. Your move, old man.”

    “My name,” said the old man with dignity, “is Rood. I'm a sage.”

    He paused, as if expecting this admission to meet with gasps of wonder and delight, but none were forthcoming, and he sighed theatrically.

    “Sage Rood?” he repeated. “No one heard of me?”

    I looked at Cheren; if anyone had heard of him, it would have been him. However, he seemed as ignorant as the rest of us.

    “Seven Sages of Plasma?” asked Rood hopefully. “Seven Seas of Rhye? Seven Deadly Sins?”

    “I know the last two,” said Cheren. “I can only assume you're being facetious with those. But I have no idea who these Seven Sages are. Perhaps you'd care to enlighten us?”

    Rood grinned.

    “Nope,” he said. “I wouldn't care to engage you in any witty badinage, I'm afraid. We know you. You're a trickster.”

    “Not really,” said Cheren. “I'm mostly honest.”

    “Brutally so, though,” argued Rood. “Which, in this world of liars, is tantamount to—” He broke off abruptly. “Ah, you see? You almost got me going there.” He shook his head craftily. “Clever boy,” he said. “If you were more congenial to our glorious leader's general aim, then there might be a place for you in the new world order. However,” he said philosophically, “as you're not, there en't, so you're just going to comply with our demands or watch me redesign your girlfriend's head to include a fancy new blood fountain.”

    I had a feeling that was meant to be a joke, but no one was laughing. Doubtless Halley would have been in hysterics.

    “Actually,” I said suddenly, “I remember the Seven Sages of Plasma. Gorm said the same thing, didn't he?”

    Cheren gave me a look.

    “Now really isn't the best time, Jared,” he said. “In case you hadn't noticed, the situation is extremely delicate—”

    “Yeah, it is,” agreed Rood. “So! Time to comply with some demands.”

    “You keep saying that,” snapped Cheren, “but you haven't made a single one yet. Get to the point, would you?”

    “OK, OK.” Rood looked vaguely hurt. I wondered if he was perhaps slightly senile; he seemed to be more than one marble short of a full set. “Demand number one: lose the Druddigon.”

    I blinked. I had almost forgotten about it, despite the fact that it took up about as much space in the room as the rest of us together.

    We all looked at the girl with the hair. She had remained uncharacteristically silent so far; perhaps it was the sudden loss of her advantage that had done it. I doubt people who go through life with a Druddigon are used to someone else being in command of the situation.

    “How do we know you won't just shoot – um, her?” she asked.

    Rood blinked.

    “How do you know that? Well, let me see... No, wait, you don't. Hostage negotiations are founded on a system of trust, my girl. Well, trust and hostages. It's pretty pointless to have hostage negotiations without the hostage. Although I could probably manage it – this is my specialist area, kidnappings and such.”

    “He won't do it because if he shoots Bianca right now, he loses his advantage,” said Cheren calmly. “And if he loses his advantage, there is nothing at all to stop us from killing him.”

    “Killing?” said the girl with the hair uneasily. “That's... a little strong, isn't it?”

    “If he's willing to kill, we must play for the same stakes,” said Cheren. His eyes were utterly expressionless. I wasn't Lauren, I couldn't read people like she could – but it seemed to me that he believed every word he was saying, and a chill ran down my spine. “Isn't that right, Rood?”

    The old man smiled.

    “You see? You could go on to great things, you know.” He sighed. “Never mind. You're too righteous to join us. Let's move on – recall that Druddigon, and we can get to demand number two.”

    “Do it,” commanded Cheren, and reluctantly the girl obeyed. Without the Druddigon between us, I wondered whether or not I could cross the distance between Rood and me before he could pull the trigger. Too risky, I decided – especially with Candy still on my shoulder; I couldn't rush into a fight without making sure she was well away from it, or there was a large chance she would be crushed.

    “OK,” said Rood. “We can all breathe easier now. Demand number two: one of you must have some means of contacting Ezra Schwarz or the woman who's travelling with him. Do it now.”

    Cheren and I looked at each other, and then at Bianca. Candy, not to be left out, nibbled my earlobe until I looked at her too, but that was less important.

    “Who is Ezra Schwarz?” asked Cheren politely.

    “Don't f*ck with me,” Rood said patiently. “You must be working with him. You met his agent in Striaton; you must have met him in Nacrene too – he got the dragonstone, and the King says he felt you touch it.”

    His eyes lit on me when he said that, and for a moment I remembered being the dragon, riding the storm-blast on wings of flame – then, as quickly as it had come, the memory passed. I shivered again. It wasn't a good day for thinking.

    “No doubt all that is true,” said Cheren, “but we don't know who this Ezra guy is.”

    Rood looked slightly concerned.

    “I don't think,” he said, after a short pause, “that you're lying. Which, frankly, bothers me.”

    “I'm not lying,” replied Cheren. “Like you said: brutally honest.”

    Rood scowled.

    “I hate it when people throw your own words back at you,” he said. “Well, f*ck. You have no clue who Ezra is, do you?”

    “No,” I said. “None at all. So, do you have a demand number three, or are you going to give Bianca and Munny back and let us go?”

    Rood gritted his teeth.

    “I think I might have to do that,” he said reluctantly. “The King would... well. Unfortunately, his way is working better than the pursuit way, so it seems for now we obey his rules.”

    He pushed Bianca away roughly; being Bianca, she tripped over in her haste to get away, but Cheren stepped forwards and caught her before she fell.

    “I suppose I'll be on my way, then,” said Rood dismally. “I'd better tell Bronius... he was meant to show up here too, but it's as well he's late now... what a clusterf*ck.”

    So saying, he turned his back on us and vanished into thin air again, courtesy of the hidden Pokémon. Moments later, Munny reappeared – and this time, it stayed there when Bianca came to hug it.


    I stood there, watching her childlike happiness, and heard Cheren saying something and the girl with the hair saying something else; I felt Candy's claws on my shoulder and the hiss of her breath in my ear. I should have felt relieved – happy – something like that. But I wasn't.

    Something was wrong. Something Rood had said? Something about him in general? I wasn't sure. Would Lauren be able to work it out, I wondered. I hoped so.

    Whatever it was, there was something about Rood that struck me as terribly, terribly wrong, and as I stood there I couldn't help but feel that something had happened here that we had not seen, and which would soon enough rise out of the darkness to greet us with fiery eyes and a brace of wet, sharp teeth.


    “OK, what's going on— Iris?”

    I turned and looked. For some reason, it seemed Burgh had entered the building; quite why this was, I wasn't entirely sure, but later on it was revealed that the girl and her mother had called the Gym with reports of a rogue Druddigon and called him out to deal with it.

    “Iris,” repeated Burgh, staring at the girl with the hair. “I might have known it was you... And thank Woden it is you,” he added. “A wild Druddigon is more than I feel up to today. Or any day, really.”

    “Burgh,” replied the girl. “Sorry. I was helping these guys out. Someone stole this girl's Munna.”

    It was then that Burgh seemed to notice the rest of us.

    “Hey,” he said, vaguely surprised. “Jared. And you guys,” he added, obviously having completely forgotten who Cheren and Bianca actually were.

    “Yes,” replied Cheren dryly. “Us guys.”

    “It was one of those Sages,” I told Burgh. “Like the guy in Nacrene – same robes, same hat, same everything.”

    “Wait wait wait,” he said, holding up a hand. “Too many things at once. What exactly is going on here?”

    So I told him – or rather, I competed with Iris to tell him – and he nodded wisely at everything we said.

    “I see,” he said, so thoughtfully that it was clear that he didn't. “Well, then. The League needs to be informed – didn't you say you knew Shauntal?”

    “'Knew' is putting it a bit strongly,” I told him. “We met her once. She said there wasn't much she could do to help, but she would do what she could.”

    Burgh sighed.

    “Ah yeah,” he said. “I remember. She set us up for a fight with Harmonia...” He shook his head. “Those anti-battling organisations Harmonia set on us – we're really not doing well against them. All our resources are tied up trying to shut down protests at the League and dealing with accusations – not so much money but time, and we don't have the staff to give it all. And then there's the Striaton Gym.”


    “Haven't you heard? The triplets have quit.” He made a vague but expansive gesture with both hands. “It was all over the news this morning. They owned the building, too, so we've lost the property. We have to find new premises and a new Leader.”

    “Burgh, I can—”

    He cut her off abruptly.

    “No, Iris,” he said. “You're a Dragon-type specialist, and we can't have two Gyms of the same type without making it clear just how badly-off the League is right now. Besides, Drayden wants you to succeed him, and you know he's only a month or two off retirement.”

    “Why have they quit?” asked Cheren, returning to the point.

    “Chili's hurt pretty bad, replied Burgh softly. “He won't be able to Train again... well, not for a long time, anyway. His brothers feel that their place is at his side, so they've given their notice and gone on leave. The Gym sign comes down in about six weeks.”

    Cheren nodded slowly.

    “Teiresias,” he said, and the tone of his voice said it all.

    “Bastard,” I agreed..

    Iris looked at us in some confusion.

    “Am I missing something?” she asked, in a voice that strongly implied that if she was, someone had better explain it to her, and that they'd better do so right now. I'd never heard anyone but Cordelia use that particular voice before, and it made me a little homesick for a moment. I would call later today, I decided. Cordelia and Annie, if not my parents.

    “Uh... yeah,” admitted Burgh, the magnitude of the story placing it outside his ability to retell. “Look, come back to the Gym with me, guys. This is the sort of story you need to sit down to tell or hear, and I'm knackered anyway.”

    We agreed, and half an hour later were sitting around a small square table in a back room somewhere in the Gym, having laboriously explained to Burgh all that had occurred since Nacrene, and to Iris all that had occurred since Black City. I was amazed at how Byzantine the story of the last few days seemed to have become; it wasn't really apparent except in the retelling, but it was full of twists and branches and odd details that made it hell to recount.

    “O-K,” said Iris doubtfully, “assuming all this is true—”

    “You have my word that it is,” put in Burgh dutifully.

    “Burgh, your word depreciates in value with every joint you smoke,” she said wearily. “No offence.” Her tone made it quite clear that offence was meant, and if it wasn't taken then it was due in no way to her lack of effort.

    “It's for my art!” he protested.

    “Of course it is. Anyway, assuming this is all true – why haven't we done something?”

    “We are doing something,” said Cheren. “We're following N.”

    “I meant the League. Harmonia isn't just being mean, for Frige's sake, he must be breaking the law—”

    “I wasn't aware there was a law against liaising with demons and chasing cats,” Cheren replied. “More's the pity. And anyway, we have no idea what he's planning to do – we need information. And for that, we need N. He knows everything about everything.”

    “And we can't really attack Harmonia openly,” said Bianca, seizing her chance to join the conversation with zeal, “because whatever we do, he can pass it off as an underhanded League reaction to his Liberation policy.”

    “He will always be the injured party, yes,” agreed Cheren. “Furthermore, I'm certain that most of the demons with him – Teiresias seems to be something of an anomaly – are only visible to those they wish to be seen by. And other than their presence, there really isn't anything to connect him with any serious wrongdoing, no matter what we suspect of him.”

    Iris punched the table, and then tried very hard to look like she didn't regret it.

    “But that's not fair at all!” she cried.

    “No, it isn't,” agreed Cheren. “It is smart, though. Harmonia isn't an opponent to be taken lightly. If his demons can somehow make the populace vote for him, he'll be completely unassailable – although quite what the demons are getting out of this, I'm not sure.”

    “I think they're probably all that's stopping people abandoning him entirely,” said Burgh. “Have you noticed? The polls indicate he's still bottom of the league, despite all his press coverage. I don't know why anyone thinks he might still win the election – but they do. It's probably the demons.” He delivered a sage nod with these words, as if they were somehow something more than a few random assertions collected into one speech.

    “Er... perhaps,” said Cheren diplomatically, “but he's planning something else. Something that he needs N for. Something that he needs an impossible man for, something that – I presume – involves the dragons from your visions, Jared.”

    Iris' ears pricked up.


    “Yes, dragons.” Cheren looked at me. “Remember them? The last few times you've met N, and when we went to the Library – visions of dragons, black and white like the Twin Heroes' symbols.”

    “And when you called him yesterday,” said Bianca. “He told you to chase the dragons.”

    I nodded.

    “OK,” I said. “But we don't know what they are.”

    “That's where I come in,” said Iris. “I can ask Drayden, if you like. No one knows more about Dragons. Or dragons, for that matter,” she added thoughtfully.

    “That would be very helpful, thank you,” said Cheren. “There's also—”

    “Oh, and Sandjr,” Bianca said. “We need to figure out the significance of that. Unless it was just a clue to N's namesake...”

    “That's true,” agreed Cheren. “Ah, N has so many answers here, and we have none!”

    “Well, we know where he is now, don't we?” I asked. “Nimbasa. Halley found out last night.”

    “Seems to me that you guys need to get after him as soon as possible, then – before he moves,” Burgh said. “Or before Harmonia makes a move. Iris, if you're done in Castelia, it'd be good if you went and spoke to Drayden, and I suppose I'd better talk to Shauntal – though she's pretty tied up with the triplets right now. Aspertia and Virbank have both been after Gyms of their own for years; they're going to be fighting tooth and claw to get one now, and we've got to liaise between the two of them.” Burgh shook his head. “F*cking politics! It's a killer.”

    “Yes,” said Cheren dryly. “Harmonia's taught us that much already.”

    Burgh laughed, though it wasn't exactly a pleasant one; it was too tired to be born of genuine good humour.

    “Yeah. Right, then. You'd better get going. Hell, I'd better get going. I have to report to the police about the so-called rampaging wild Druddigon...”

    Iris gave me her number, promising to call when she got information (she told me not to hold my breath; Drayden was mayor of Opelucid, after all, and he was notoriously busy) and we left. Not long afterwards, we were approaching the Pokémon Centre, to see a somewhat lost-looking Halley sitting by the bins at the side. When she saw us, her concern melted swiftly into fury, and she lost no time in stalking over to intercept us.

    “Where the f*ck have you been?” she demanded to know.

    “On a rescue mission,” replied Cheren. “Details later; we need to get going now.”

    “No, you listen,” she hissed angrily, but had to fall silent as we were entering the Centre; once safely past the receptionist, she broke out again into a vengeful murmur. “That won't do it,” she growled. “Do you know how difficult it is for me to move around this place without one of you guys pretending to be my owner? I was sitting out there by the f*cking bins for hours!”

    “We haven't been gone hours,” said Cheren reasonably. “You couldn't possibly have—”

    “Cher-en!” reprimanded Bianca. “We did leave without telling her where we were going...” She looked at me; I held up my hands in a way that said I was staying out of this one.

    “Right,” said Halley, rubbing against Bianca's legs. “I was all alone, and—”

    “Of course you were,” she said, picking her up and carrying her upstairs after us. “Cheren, you could be a bit more charitable—”

    “You know,” said Cheren acidly, “if you wore the collar, Halley, everyone would think you were just a regular tame cat, and they wouldn't question what you did.”

    “F*ck you,” she replied, probably less eloquently than she would have liked. Cheren did not deign to reply, and she wriggled out of Bianca's arms and stalked off in a foul mood.

    She was somewhat mollified by the revelation that we were going to Nimbasa on the strength of her advice, and was almost entirely placated when Candy climbed onto the bed and Halley was able to pull her tail; after that, it was a bit easier living with her on the walk to the train station, during which Bianca and I (Cheren refused, as a matter of principle) filled her in on what had happened earlier in the day.

    “He mentioned a King, did he?” she asked of Rood. “Interesting. There seem to be a hell of a lot of kings floating around Unova for a country without a monarchy.”

    “Meaning?” asked Bianca.

    “This 'Undying Majesty' guy – who, judging from his guards, is probably the guy in charge of the demons – and N,” Halley explained. “King. Teiresias called them both King. You think these Sages are linked to Harmonia?”

    I sighed.

    “I really wouldn't be surprised,” I said, thinking about how complicated and interconnected everything else seemed to be. “I really wouldn't.”

    The one thirty-two to Nimbasa departed as advertised, and I took advantage of the jourey to make good on my promise to myself earlier and call Black City.

    First was Cordelia, who seemed to have been expecting my call, and proceeded without preamble to shatter my calm entirely:

    “Mum and Dad have reported you as a missing person and called the police,” she said matter-of-factly. “So it's not just going to be the Green Party after you now, it's the—”

    “Woden hang 'em,” I groaned. “That's not good.”

    “No, it isn't,” she replied. “I suggest you stay—”

    “No,” I interrupted. “I'll... I'll call my government contacts,” I said, thinking suddenly of the League.

    “You've acquired government contacts?” Cordelia didn't sound surprised (was it even possible to surprise her?), but she certainly seemed to approve. “Good. That will help considerably. I've had to tell them everything, by the way.”

    “Did they believe any of it?”

    “No,” she replied, “but then again, I didn't expect them to.”

    I sighed. Could I not be left alone to pursue demonic electoral treachery for just a couple of weeks?

    “Right,” I said. “Thanks. I'll... I'll have to contact my people.”

    “Yes, it doesn't seem like you have any other choice,” agreed Cordelia. “Well, I'll see you, then.”

    With that, she hung up. I listened to the tone in mild stupefaction, wondering if she missed me at all, and called Annie instead: I was certain she'd show some signs of missing me, at least.

    I was right. We talked for half an hour and made each other quite sick with longing for the other's presence, and probably would have gone on longer had the train not gone into one of the tunnels leading into Nimbasa's huge station hub and the signal cut out.

    I sighed and hung up.

    “Guys,” I said, “the police are after me.”

    That got everyone's attention pretty fast. Cheren looked annoyed; Bianca looked concerned; Halley, for reasons best known to herself, grinned.

    “Good for you,” she said. “I always knew you had it in you. What's it for? Armed robbery? Assault and battery?”

    “No!” I snapped. “My parents have reported me as a missing person, unfortunately. I'm going to have to call the League and see if they can't intercede... I mean, it's in their interests for me to keep investigating, right? Since N isn't going to talk to anyone else.”

    “Yes, you'd better do that,” agreed Cheren. “We don't want any interference.”

    The train drew to a halt and we got off; the crush in the station removed any possibility of conversation, and for five minutes we concentrated on fighting our way through the station and up out of the ground exits. Once out, we found it had started to rain – a light, insistent rainfall that fell from the slate-coloured sky as evenly and continuously as from a shower head. Candy shivered and cheeped forlornly, and I tucked her into my jacket. She wriggled happily, dug her claws firmly into my stomach, and poked her head out the top so as not to miss anything that went on. Wondering why exactly I was putting myself through this for her sake, I turned to Halley and asked:

    “Which way?”

    “I'm not sure,” she said. “I've never been here before. Where are we now? Geographically speaking?”

    “Almost the dead centre of the city,” replied Cheren, stepping out of the way of a gaggle of people exiting the station. “Ah... hang on, let's get out of the way before we stop and talk.”

    We moved out of the way and huddled together close to the wall of the station; it seemed like it might provide some shelter from the rain, but, as we soon discovered, it didn't.

    “Well, N was in the eastern half and heading eastwards, the last I saw,” Halley told us. “Is there anything he might be heading toward?”

    “He could be planning to leave the city and go east through the forest,” Cheren proposed.

    “Or he could be visiting one of the theme parks,” suggested Bianca. “They're mostly on the eastern fringes of the city, right?”

    “That's right,” I said, recalling long-ago trips to Nimbasa's eastern edge and the colony of theme parks that fought for supremacy there. “They are. Why would he go there, though?”

    “I don't know. Why would he leave the city?”

    “Fair point. We have no idea what he's up to.”

    I sighed.

    “So, what do we do? Just get a bus east and keep looking out of the windows in case we spot him?”

    Cheren shrugged.

    “Might as well. You never know, perhaps he'll find us – he's run across us 'by accident' a suspiciously large number of times. Either he's looking for us, or whatever connection you with him will draw him to you.”

    I stared.

    “Really? You think it might work?”

    “Well, we can take a bus or we can walk,” he said, “and in this weather, frankly, I don't feel like walking.”

    “I'm liking this train of thought,” said Halley. “Cheren! For once, we agree.”

    “Yes, so it would seem. Hmm... we want a 436, I think. Or a 36.”

    Cheren was studying his phone; I wondered how he'd managed to find the bus routes online so quickly. Then again, I thought, this was Cheren we were dealing with: in two minutes, he'd have virtually any piece of trivia you cared to mention at his fingertips.

    Gear Station was surrounded by more bus stops than you would have felt justified in shaking a stick at; it took us a while, even with Cheren's maps, but we did eventually find Stop Q, where the 436 and 36 stopped, and shortly afterwards we were out of the rain and alone on the upper level of a dilapidated double decker. I wasn't sure whether or not we'd see anything through the water splattered across the windows, but right now it didn't seem to matter; I just wanted to be out of the rain.

    Something yellow flashed by in the rain; I peered out of the window and saw an Emolga, flitting between lampposts. I was just in the process of realising how uncommon it was to see one when I noticed the second Emolga landing next to it, and the Tranquill, and the three Pidove.

    By this point, there was no more room on the lamppost, and half of them flew in a group to the next one. They sat on the top and stared at me.

    I stared back.

    The bus started moving again, and the little group of flying Pokémon launched themselves into the air again, keeping pace with it as it moved.

    “Cheren, Bianca,” I said slowly. “I think we're being followed.”

    They looked out of the window, and I could tell immediately that they saw what I meant.

    “How unusual,” said Cheren. “Those... they aren't intelligent enough for someone to order them to trail us like that. They can't grasp such sophisticated instructions – they wouldn't understand the order.”

    “Perhaps they would,” said Bianca softly, “if you told them in their own language.”

    I nodded.

    “Well, then,” I said, my eyes following the cluster of Flying-types wheeling and flapping outside the window. “It looks like we might've found him...”

    Halley chuckled.

    “I don't think so, Jared,” she said pityingly. “He's been in control of this situation from the start. No way we'd have found him if he didn't want us to.”

    “What do you mean?” I asked, though I knew already what she was about to say.

    “We haven't found him,” she said. “He's found us.”

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