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Old June 3rd, 2013 (10:32 AM). Edited June 9th, 2013 by Cutlerine.
Cutlerine Cutlerine is offline
Gone. May or may not return.
    Join Date: Mar 2010
    Location: The Misspelled Cyrpt
    Age: 24
    Nature: Impish
    Posts: 1,030
    Interlude: Harmonics

    Once upon a time there was a boy, and once upon a time there was a girl.

    We know how this story should go.

    But the truth is rarely so obliging as to fall neatly into predefined stories, and so the boy, who everyone agreed had a quiet intensity about him, and who would never meet your eye, followed her home one night and killed her.

    He would never have been able to tell you why he did that, although he thought about it often enough. He didn't think about it at all on that first night, when he staved her skull in with a brick. Nor did he think about it while he was digging the pit out in the woods where her body would lie – beneath that of a dog, in case bloodhounds found the grave. (He was careful even then, even before the accident.)

    The boy would only think about it a week or so later, when the police came to each house on the street, and asked if anyone had seen her.

    He said he hadn't, but he thought she had seemed a little preoccupied on the days before she disappeared. This was in fact true, but it was only because she had begun to think that someone was following her.

    Nothing came of the investigation, and the boy was left to wonder.

    He never did come to a satisfactory conclusion. Years later, when he was a man, he would only ever be able to say that perhaps certain people are simply born to do certain things.

    He was, he decided, born to do a great many things, and lots of people would come to know it.

    Chapter Twenty-three: In Thunder, Lightning or in Rain

    However much I might have been impressed by the way N contacted us, I wasn't impressed by where he chose to meet us. The Flying-types landed in a body on the arch that soared over the entrance to Olga and Benito's World of Adventure, a theme park based on a cartoon I hadn't seen since I was twelve and which I hadn't known was even still running. Beyond the arch I saw the loops of rollercoasters looming through the rain; it was getting worse, and the park itself looked deserted.

    “How much do you think it is to get in?” I asked the others.

    “Too expensive,” replied Halley. “Let's break in.”

    “No,” said Cheren. “It's the off season, it won't be too much.”

    It was true enough. There weren't many visitors to theme parks at this time of year; most of them were closed during Unova's harsh winter, and quite a few stayed closed through the dreary spring as well. Those that remained open charged much less, confident that virtually no one would be visiting them anyway.

    “All right,” I sighed. “Fine.”

    “We can always go on a couple of rides as well,” suggested Bianca brightly.

    “Damn it,” muttered Halley. “I'm pretty sure the height restrictions mean I can't go on any of these any more.”

    “I doubt they'll even let you into the park,” pointed out Cheren. “Why don't you wait here?”

    “Why doesn't everyone except Jared wait here?” asked Halley petulantly. “N isn't going to talk to anyone else, anyway.”

    “Fair point,” said Cheren. “It'll save money anyway.”

    “Oh,” said Bianca, disappointed. “I kind of wanted to go...”

    “Then go,” said Cheren. “I'm not stopping you. But I'll wait here.”

    “And I,” announced Halley, “will wait with you.”

    Cheren stared.


    “I'm not going in there to be reminded of things that humans can do and cats can't,” she said firmly. “I'll stay out here and entertain myself by arguing with you instead.”

    “Oh, joy.”

    “I'd better leave Candy here too,” I said, dislodging her from my shoulder and transferring her to my hand. “I don't think she'd be allowed, and I'm not sure I want N doing... whatever it is he does to her, either.”

    “Jared, I don't think—”

    “I don't care, Bianca,” I said. “I feel better with her here.”

    I handed Candy to Cheren; she celebrated this change of ownership with a loud squawk and an immediate attempt to see whether or not Cheren's glasses were, as she suspected, edible.


    Bianca and I left Halley laughing and Cheren trying desperately to disengage Candy's teeth, and were sold two tickets by the bored man in the office; minutes later, we were wandering through a deserted, rain-streaked wilderness of sad-looking rides. Everything looked like it wanted nothing better than to give up and go home, and like it would have done so had it possessed legs; rollercoasters, dippers, twisters – even the signs, brightly-coloured and cheery, looked like their gaiety was somewhat forced. The only bright spot was the occasional yellow flash of the underside of the Emolga's wing membranes.

    “This actually represents Olga and Benito's Dread Adventures pretty well,” Bianca pointed out. “It isn't very cheerful.”

    I thought back a few years.

    “No, I guess it wasn't,” I agreed, thinking of the episode where Benito's legs are stolen by the Limb Bandit. “Then again, I don't know what anyone expected of a show whose premise is literally 'a Swedish child and a Mexican child explore a bleak grey afterlife together with an array of dogs named after philosophers'.”

    “Now that you mention it,” said Bianca thoughtfully, as we passed the teacups, “it was quite weird.”

    “I think it's symptomatic,” I replied. “Symptomatic of all Unovan media. We don't make normal TV shows, or radio shows, or whatever. You must have noticed?”

    Bianca looked confused.


    I sighed.

    “The most popular soap opera in this country is Skómst, which features three different mythical creatures and frequent appearances from an ése. Doesn't that tell you anything about our TV output as a nation?”

    “Yeah,” said Bianca. “I guess we make our own because the rest of the world's TV is too sensible.”

    That took me aback a little.

    “Oh. I... hadn't thought of it like that.”

    Here, we were interrupted by an insistent hoot from the Tranquill, and realised we'd stopped walking; Bianca apologised, and we started up again, following it and its fellows deeper into the park. A little way off was a dispirited-looking man dressed as Raoul the Clockwork Ghoul (a recurring villain, I recalled, from the show); he had the head of his costume tucked under one arm and was huddled under the roof of a carousel, smoking a cigarette. He stared at us without enthusiasm as we drew near.

    “Do you want me to put the head on and do the mascot thing?” he asked.

    Bianca's eyes lit up.

    “No,” I said, before she could reply. “No, thanks. You, uh, you carry on.”

    “Right,” he said, and turned away.

    Bianca pouted at me.

    “Why'd you say that?”

    “Could you really believe in Raoul the Clockwork Ghoul if you'd seen him a moment ago with his head off, smoking a cigarette?”

    She considered.

    “Yeah, I think so,” she said. “It seems like the sort of thing Raoul would do. I mean, he's a robot, he can take his head off if he wants. Though robots don't really smoke, I guess, but maybe ghouls do.”

    I frowned.

    “You know a lot about Olga and Benito's Dread Adventures,” I told her.

    “Uh – not that much,” she replied, suddenly somewhat embarrassed. “I mean—”

    “You still watch it?”

    “I like cartoons,” she said defensively.

    “I'm not condemning them,” I replied. “What you do with your Saturday mornings is none of my business.”

    “OK. Just... As long as you're not.”

    “And—” I broke off; something wasn't right. I could feel something tugging at me, but not on any part of my body that I could name; it was as if something was pulling at my soul.

    I was not surprised to see N leaning against the railings around the Ferris wheel.

    “Jared,” he said, smiling. “You found me. Is it your turn to hide now?”

    He stretched out his arms, and the Pokémon landed on them, chittering and squawking; he made a soft cooing noise, and the birds flapped off in that clattering way that pigeons do. The Emolga lingered for a moment, and then he dismissed them with a twitch of his nose and a guttural chuck.

    “We're not here to play hide and seek,” I replied.

    “No, you're here to question me, aren't you?” He sighed. “I can't promise you the answers you want. You know how it works. But I'll do what I can; you came a long way to find me, and a quest always justifies the handing out of a few answers.”

    I nodded. I knew how it worked. When I was near N, I always did; it was holding onto the understanding afterwards that was the problem.

    “Come with me,” he said, vaulting the fence into the queueing area. “Please. We'll talk as we ride.”

    I looked at Bianca.

    “Er... I'll be back in a minute,” I said. “Sorry about that.”

    “Nah, it's OK,” she replied. “I'll go on Wizard Corkoran's Wild Coaster while I wait. And maybe the magic carpet. And maybe—”

    “OK,” I said hurriedly, before she got carried away. “I'll see you in a bit.”

    She smiled and waved, and I joined N in the queueing area. We were waved through into a carriage by a slightly confused and very bored attendant, and then, with a jolt, the wheel began to move and the carriage rose from the ground.

    “Have you seen The Third Man?” asked N, as the tarmac started to fall away beneath us.


    “Orson Welles and Joseph Cotton? On the Wiener Riesenrad?”

    I shook my head.

    “Ah, never mind,” he said. “The wheel appealed to me because of that.” He was silent for a moment. “I wanted to learn to play the zither because of that film.”

    “I see.” I paused. The rain blurred the world beyond the glass walls; I imagined this was how a jellyfish saw the world, and thought that this was what it must be like, rising steadily and gently through a universe of water. “N, who are you?”

    “Do you know how Galvantula hunt?” he asked. “They sit in the middle of a web that stretches across miles of forest. Whisper-thin threads that wind between trees, carefully insulated with coils of rubbery silk where they touch the earth. And when something touches a thread, the vibration travels all the way back to the spider in the middle, and it flicks lightning down the wire to paralyse them.

    “That's who I am,” he said. “I'm the spider. Do you see?”

    “I think so,” I replied. A rollercoaster car rumbled past at eye level, and I dimly heard Bianca screaming in delight. We were quite high now, and I hadn't even managed to get a straight answer out of him. I needed to get him to cut down on the dramatic pauses.

    That was what I was meant to do. Instead, I asked, “What does that make me?”

    “The cat,” he replied. “You should look it up.”

    “OK,” I said. “How are you connected to Harmonia?”

    “He's my father,” he replied. “In a sense.”

    I gaped.

    “Your father?”

    “In a sense,” he repeated. “Not biologically, of course. Not strictly speaking legally, either. But he considers himself my father, and I suppose I do as well.”

    “Yeah, but...” I shook my head. “Wow. I didn't see that coming.”

    He smiled.

    “No one does,” he assured me.

    “Huh. You support him?” I asked.

    “Oh yes,” he replied. “I thought you knew that already.”

    “I wanted to make sure,” I replied. “I mean – you're unity, aren't you? How can you want to divide people and Pokémon?”

    “You're division, aren't you? How can you want them to remain together?” he asked.

    I hesitated. He had a point, though the words necessary to express it were beyond me.

    “I see what you mean.”

    “My essence is unity. That does not mean my opinions necessarily must be. Despite what fate has made of us, we do have free will.” N drew a little circle in the condensation on the window, and shaded one half of it in. “At least, I assume we do. If we don't, then I guess no one does.”

    “You know what Harmonia's doing, right?” I asked, changing the subject.

    “Yes. Every detail.”

    I did not ask what it was; he would not – indeed perhaps could not – tell me.

    “How can you support it?”

    “I know he won't succeed.” N peered out of his little semicircular window; we were nearly at the top of the wheel's arc now, and the rain had got so severe that you couldn't make out anything of the world beyond the glass but a dim blur. “Everyone will betray everyone else, you see. Weland will betray Harmonia. Harmonia will betray Weland. Teiresias already has betrayed both of them, by the sound of it.” He paused. “Ezra will betray Niamh,” he said softly. “Or the other way around. I'm not sure who breaks the thread first.”

    I didn't ask if he knew Niamh. He was the spider, after all; it all converged on him.

    “Who's Weland?” I asked. “And who's Ezra?”

    N sighed.

    “King Weland the Undying is the Archdevil, the Ur-Alf, the Hellerune; he is Lord-of-all-the-ghosts; he is the Ancient of Nights. He is,” he said, “the king of the demons.”

    That was just great. There were more demons than Teiresias involved in this mess, and it seemed they were even bigger and nastier than it was.

    “He's helping Harmonia, isn't he?” I asked, dreading the answer.

    “Yes. I'm sure you can find the rest about him yourself.”

    N started drawing on the window again; his finger traced a line of short, deft strokes that the rain warped into odd, trickly jumbles. We had just crested the top, I thought – but I was judging solely from the movement of the carriage; I could see nothing at all but flickering grey outside, and hear nothing but the susurrus of raindrops on metal.

    “All right. He sounds, uh, famous enough to look up, I guess. Who is Ezra?”

    “Another demon,” he said. “He wants to kill Weland.”

    “He wants to seize the throne?”

    “No. He has nobler goals.”

    “Which you're not going to tell me about.”

    “No, of course not.” He grinned. “You're learning the rules fast.”

    “You don't give me much choice.” I sighed. “OK, so, what else... oh, how are you connected to King Naudri?”

    “I am King N of All Humans,” he replied. “I inherited his throne. I am the first with the birthright for several thousand years.”

    Lightning – and then thunder almost immediately. I shivered. It was cold up here, and I didn't much care to be in something tall and made of metal during a thunderstorm.

    “Is that why Harmonia named you N?”

    He looked at me with something halfway between pity and exasperation, as if he had expected me to work this much out by now and was only now starting to think that perhaps that wasn't a realistic expectation.

    “Names are very important,” he told me. “I wouldn't trust anyone to supply something so important; I chose mine for myself, and I chose it because it is the name I was born to bear.”

    “Right,” I said, feeling as if I had just had something very important explained to me and had failed entirely to see it. “Um... is there anything else I should know?”

    “Of course,” he replied. “Libraries of it. But you know I can't give it to you; you have to go out and earn it. It's the price you pay for being a hero.”

    “I know,” I sighed. “I get it.”

    “'We have given you the blade, but you must find the dragon yourself',” quoted N.

    “Where's that from?”

    “An old story,” he replied. “Forgive me. Stories are the spider's prerogative.”

    “Right.” I paused. “Anything... uh, any idea what I should be doing next?”

    “Act on the information I just gave you,” he said. “That would be a good start.”

    The carriage was sinking fast now. Had the wheel sped up? Or had I just misjudged our position on its circumference earlier?

    “We won't meet again for some time,” N said, suddenly business-like. “In the darkness where my cousins live. Please don't contact me; I can't do any more and I don't want to disappoint you.”

    It seemed reasonable, though rational thought would surely have told me that his words made very little sense.

    “All right,” I agreed.

    We descended for a few minutes in silence; the thunder boomed out twice more, louder than before, and the rain's drumming rose to fever pitch, as if it were trying to drown it out.

    “One more thing,” I said, struck by something. “Just before we go.”


    “Who do you see when you look at me?”

    N considered for a moment.

    “People think it's very hard to hold two things in your mind at once,” he said. “But everyone is born with the ability. It's only after they start to see that most things in the world have only one outward face that they lose it. When I see you, now that I know who you are, I see Jared Black, and at the same time I see Lauren White. It isn't a question of transforming from one to the other,” he said. “There is no conflict. You are simply two things at once.”

    “I thought you might say something like that,” I admitted. “It makes me feel a bit better to hear it, though.”

    N smiled at me – that odd, gentle smile, which changed the shape of his face entirely, and made those who saw it suspect that perhaps he was not human at all but was in fact an angel.

    “Then take the information and wield it freely,” he said, as the door clunked open. He jumped out into the rain, feet kicking up plumes of water from the puddles outside; in what seemed like less than a second, he was soaked to the skin, his hair hanging wet and limp around his head in green hunks and his thin shirt so firmly plastered to his body that it seemed to be part of his skin. I realised for the first time how oddly he was proportioned; his body didn't look right, somehow – too thin, too long, too... something. His shoulder blades and collarbones seemed to rise up from within him like eruptions of volcanic rock from deep below ground; the rain running down his face trickled through hollows I had never seen on anyone else's face before, tracing an alien physiognomy. For a moment, as he tipped his head back and swallowed a mouthful of rainwater, he looked frighteningly alien – a visitor to Earth who had disguised himself so as to fit in, but not quite well enough.

    “Well, Jared,” he said. “It's been a pleasure.”

    “Uh... yeah, I guess,” I said, stepping reluctantly out of the carriage. “It was good to see you.

    “Yes. I love this rain!” he said suddenly, as if some passion he had hitherto been trying to hold back had broken loose and taken over him. “It makes me feel so alive— hello, Fenwick!”

    A small, mousy man in a thick coat and hood was hurrying towards us, unfurling a gigantic umbrella as he went. He didn't seem particularly pleased to see N.

    “My lord, you're drenched,” he observed, aghast. “You'll catch your death—”

    “No, I won't,” he said. “I'm a little tougher than that. Give that umbrella to Jared; I don't think he likes the rain.”

    He was right. I was always a bit concerned that maybe the studs on my jacket might rust or something when it rained.


    “But nothing,” said N in terms that brooked no argument. “I neither want nor need it, and Jared does. Hand it over.”

    Reluctantly, Fenwick handed me the umbrella, which I accepted gladly; N might feel alive in this sort of weather, but I was fairly certain I wasn't far off death.

    “Thanks,” I said.

    “Not at all,” said N. “Now, Jared, I'll have to go now, or Fenwick will have an apoplectic fit.”

    Fenwick reddened at this, which in fact made him look closer to an apoplectic fit than ever.

    “My lord N—”

    “I'm coming,” he said gently. “Goodbye, Jared. I'll see you later.”

    “Bye,” I called, and I watched them, the short man and the tall, unnatural boy, until their silhouettes became one with the rain and disappeared into the curtains of water.


    Ezra had, in his eagerness, pushed Harmonia's laptop a little too hard, and it had begun to cry blood out of the fan vents. After that, it stopped working, and no amount of demonic fiddling could restore it to life.

    However, before it had perished, it had divulged another secret: the tracking program previously discovered by Halley. This meant that, with half a day's perambulation around the dark paths, and another few hours spent searching the physical world, Ezra and Niamh found themselves standing outside a theme park in the rain. Or at least, in a place where it was raining; they weren't in the rain themselves, given the way the raindrops ricocheted off something invisible that hovered above their heads. Niamh did not know what this something might be, but she also knew that raindrops shouldn't be ricocheting, and so wisely decided not to question it.

    Fleisweg,” said Ezra in some surprise, staring at the figures walking towards them on the other side of the gates. “He looks exactly the same as the last one.”

    “The last one?”

    “The last King,” said Ezra. “The King who was killed by Eodred, an archer in the army of the Twin Heroes, in the year 32.”

    “Oh.” Niamh blinked for a moment. “Uh, how?”

    “I have absolutely no idea, and I'm not sure it would be polite to ask. Or perhaps he won't mind; I don't know, I haven't met him yet. Shall we say hello?”

    Without waiting for an answer, Ezra stepped forwards towards the approaching figures, who were now separated from them by just a few metres of car park; here, he stopped, and lowered himself respectfully onto one knee.

    “Your Highness,” he said, bowing his head. “E—”

    “Ezra Schwarz, yes,” replied the King, coming closer and looking at him curiously. “I wondered what you looked like.”

    Niamh watched him carefully, and shuddered. She did not like this so-called King; in fact, she felt a strong urge to shoot him on the spot. The only things she had ever seen before that looked and felt as wrong and warped as he did were certain of the monsters she had been hired to destroy. Her eyes ran across him quickly, cataloguing the deviancies in his form: his eyes were an impossible colour, his musculature oddly anchored; his cheekbones were too thin, his brow too weak and the end joint of each finger far too long, with the nail overlarge and curved over the sides like a shield. Something in the set of his mouth argued for a few too many teeth, too, and her practised eye detected an abnormal skeletal structure beneath his skin. One of these oddities, she might accept as a genetic condition or something; two or three, even, if it came to it. But all of them together? No, thought Niamh, this man was not human, or if he was it was only in the same way that a tiger is a cat.

    “You can get up,” said the King. “I haven't really been crowned or anything. I just bear the blood.”

    Ezra got stiffly to his feet, and regarded him respectfully.

    “I saw your predecessor,” he said. “You are very like him.”

    “I know,” replied the King. “I have his name, or its son. I'm N.”

    He held out a hand for Ezra to shake, and Ezra did so – very carefully, as if this hand might suddenly turn into a valuable vase and fall to the wet asphalt to shatter.

    “This is Niamh Harper,” said Ezra, gesturing at her. “We're working together on a project.”

    N smiled lazily, and Niamh stuffed her hands into her pockets so that she wouldn't break his freakish, ivory-tombstone teeth.

    “Regicide,” he said. “I know all about it.”

    “Of course you would,” growled Niamh softly, under her breath. She transferred her attention to N's companion instead – a little mousy man, weedy and looking very much overwhelmed by the King's visitors. As well he might, she reflected; she had cleaned herself up at the hotel, but she still had an atmosphere around her that told you she was dangerous. Portland had once told her that for strangers, being around her was like having a dinner party with a live grenade balanced on a stick in the middle of the table; everyone wanted to get on with things and have a good time, but no one dared to move too much for fear of a sudden deadly explosion.

    She had laughed, she remembered, and told him he was silly and had no way with words.

    She missed him.

    “Well, then,” said N. “Why are you here?”

    “We came to tell you what Harmonia is doing – what Weland is doing,” said Ezra urgently. “You must understand, whatever they've told you, it's lies—”

    “I know,” he replied. “I'm not an idiot. I know what they want to do.”

    Ezra stared.

    “And you'll lend your support to it?”

    N hesitated.

    “Please don't be angry,” he began, and Niamh began to feel very angry indeed. This was the paragon of humanity? This was a man who could sway the minds of half the demons in Unova, who could by simply choosing to act up to his own f*cking title could save untold lives and give her a chance to get Portland back?

    “What do you mean?” asked Ezra. There was no longer any warmth in his voice.

    “Please don't be angry, but I have my own reasons for doing what I'm doing,” N said. His voice was gentle, placatory, but Niamh could see nothing of the sort in his eyes; they remained cold and dead. Were other people even there for him, she wondered. The bastard wasn't human, and obviously wasn't a demon either; did he think himself so superior to either species that neither mattered? “I have to keep going with this, or things will... things will be very much worse,” he finished lamely. “I'm sorry. I can't tell you more than that.”

    Niamh saw the look on Ezra's face, and she saw the cold indifference hiding behind the obsequious politeness in N's voice, and she thought, F*ck it.

    And she punched him in the mouth.

    N went down easily – in fact, he slammed into the ground as if flattened by a falling star; he was light, far lighter than any man his height had a right to be. The man at his side squealed in dismay and almost stepped forwards – but Niamh looked at him for just a fraction of a second, and he retreated in terror instead.

    “Bastard,” she spat. “What are you, anyway?”

    N stared up at her from the ground, unhearing, and touched his mouth. There was blood on his fingers.

    “I understand why you did that,” he said, in that horrible calm voice, and Niamh kicked out at him—

    A grey band of light held her foot fast two inches from N's ribs.

    “If he says he has his reasons, Niamh,” said Ezra, though he didn't sound entirely convinced, “then he has his reasons.”

    “People are going to f*cking die!” she snapped back, wrenching her foot free so hard that the light dissolved and turning to face him. “Doesn't he get it? If things go on as they are, Unova's f*cked – the world's f*cked!”

    “It is and it isn't,” said N. “The world as you know it is, but a new—”

    “Funnily enough,” interrupted Niamh, “I'm pretty fond of the world as it is.”

    “But the new world would be better,” he said earnestly, rising to his feet. “I'm afraid I can't tell you how – that's not how it works. But it will be, I promise.”

    Niamh stared.

    “We don't even have kings any more,” she said. “We don't want one person making all our decisions. We like to be consulted. That's why Weland has to die.”

    She hadn't thought of it before, but it was true: freedom was important. Niamh was no idealist; she knew that people would always be unhappy, would always fight and f*ck and murder for the scraps from the rich's dinner table (that was her world, after all), but she felt quite strongly that people did at least have the right to decide what was best for themselves. That went for the demons, too; how many actually wanted to support Weland's insane war on humanity? Everyone, Niamh decided suddenly, was due a little f*cking autonomy, soul-eating demon or not.

    “I can't help you,” said N. “And I can't tell you why, either.” His face looked unhappy, but his eyes were calm as ever: balls of ice, bloodless, inhuman.

    “Ezra, I think we ought to leave,” said Niamh tightly. She felt like she was going to explode, and she knew it was probably because of Portland but Woden fIcking hang 'em this guy was annoying and she was going to beat him into nothingness if they stayed. “Or.”

    “Yes, I can see your 'or',” said Ezra, stepping between her and N. He was now taller than before, she noticed. Quite a lot taller. “Your Highness. N. Whatever you wish to be called. I... don't pretend to understand your decision. Nor do I pretend to approve of it. Your actions are not those of your forefathers.”

    “I am them,” said N cryptically, “but they were never me. I have to do things differently.”

    “Doubtless.” Ezra sighed. Niamh couldn't see his face, but his head bowed a little. “We'll leave you now, your Highness. You have... complicated our plans a lot. And a lot rests on our plans.”

    “I'm sorry,” said N. “I really am.”

    “Goodbye, your Highness,” said Ezra, and he took Niamh's hand, and together they stepped away and into the dark.

    Fenwick scurried back over to N, wide-eyed and staring.

    “Who were they, my lord? Are you OK? Your lip—”

    N wiped the blood from it.

    “It's fine,” he said. “See? No cut.”

    It was true. There wasn't.

    “As for who they were...” N sighed. “It doesn't matter. We'll see them again, but I don't think they'll be as polite next time. I don't think Ezra will baulk at attacking me again.”

    The rain pattered on; it seemed to be easing a little, but that could just have been wishful thinking on Fenwick's part.

    “I see,” he said, though he didn't; it was just the easiest thing to say when N started talking about things that only spiders saw, or whatever it was he called it.

    “Mm,” said N, who knew exactly what the limitations of Fenwick's understanding were. “Come on, Fenwick. There's no sense in standing here all afternoon.”

    And they started to walk again, the rain splattering in freezing curtains around them.


    Ghetsis Harmonia was not happy.

    It is true that these days, it was almost a terminal affair with him, but today he felt it especially acutely.

    Rood had failed, and failed, moreover, due to Harmonia's error of judgement. If it had been his incompetence – if it had been Molloy's bad choice of Sage – if it had been almost literally anything else – the sting would have been mitigated. Not completely nullified; there was no amputating the barb on failure's armoured tail. But he would at least have been stung through a thick pair of jeans instead of on his bare and unprotected thigh.

    Harmonia thumped the table and refocused his HawkEye in rage. Now he was making inappropriately elaborate metaphors.

    Something had to be done. He needed good news, and he needed it soon. The past couple of days had been horrendously bad for the Party; the successes of his opponents could prove to be his downfall. The only enemies he'd beaten in that time were the League, and they weren't exactly putting up much of a fight at the moment.

    At that moment, his phone rang. He regarded it with the air of someone who has caught a flicker of movement out of the corner of their eye, and does not know whether it was the boy delivering the paper or a Bengal tiger taking up a good pouncing position.

    After a long pause, he picked it up.

    “Hello?” he said cautiously.

    “Good news, Ghetsis,” came the voice of Caitlin Molloy. “We found the mystery woman.”

    Relief flooded through Harmonia's system with such force that it threatened to spurt from his nostrils.

    “You have? Who is she?”

    “Her name is Niamh Harper,” she replied. “Apparently, she's – get this – a freelance monster-slayer. Not to be taken lightly, by all accounts; frankly, I'm not sure she finds humans very intimidating opponents, after some of the things she's meant to have killed.”

    “Oh.” Harmonia paused. “Well. Do we have any idea of her weaknesses?”

    “Yes, actually.” He could almost hear the grin in Caitlin's voice. “She's going after us for the sake of helping out one man that she's absolutely devoted to – one man that we already have as a hostage.”

    Harmonia's heart skipped a beat.

    “You can't mean...”

    “Yeah,” said Caitlin. “We've got her over a barrel, because we've got Portland Smythe.”

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