Cutlerine

Gone. May or may not return.

Age 25
The Misspelled Cyrpt
Seen March 15th, 2014
Posted November 15th, 2013
1,030 posts
9.6 Years
Chapter Forty-Seven: In Which Time Winds On

'The happy ending was invented by Hoennian bard Vikmat Strood in the year 1402. Before then, every story ended with at least one brutal murder, and preferably five.'
—Charlotte Shizpraer, 101 Outrageous Lies


“So how did you know?” asked Cynthia. “How did you figure it out?”

We sat on the veranda of her house on Gibbous Isle, the large island that housed the Pokémon League, a small city and a giant forest; it had been one week since we had climbed back into Sinnoh through the archaeological dig site at Sendoff Spring, and one week since I had last seen any of the people who had been with us at Spear Pillar.

“The Hoennians were bringing a meteorite to Sinnoh,” I told her. “They flew from Rustboro to Snowpoint to Veilstone because it was cheaper, but it vanished en route. Their plane must have flown near the Pillar, and the meteorite somehow fell through one of the rifts that Jasper said open up around it, travelling five hundred years back in time. When we were taking them to the police station, they mentioned that it was connected with some kind of alien virus and I guess the time travel brought it out of stasis, when it infected Ashley. He's not a god, he's half-alien.” I looked at Cynthia. “Am I right?”

She looked impressed. Very impressed.

“Mostly,” she admitted. “We don't know where they come from, but we have some idea of what they are: sentient colonies of microbes – viruses and bacteria and fungal cells all working together to form a single large organism. We call them Deoxys.

“They can travel through space under their own power, but oxygen is toxic to them and of the two that we know have come to Earth, only one survived. They both curled up and froze themselves into stasis – kind of like a huge crystal – but one mistimed it and was dead before it hit the ground. The other one landed near Spear Pillar in 1559, close to a remote mountain village home to a primitive tribe called the Shinowh. From what we learned from the Hoennian kids, it seems pretty likely that that one was their meteorite, and it went through one of those rifts. Something woke it up, probably the time travel, and, with over half the species that made them up dead from oxygen poisoning, the remaining microbes panicked and fled, resorting to infecting the nearest large animal to survive.”

“Ashley,” I said.

“No. A courtesan in the Shinowh court, Shiamat. She was heavily pregnant, and the shock of the sudden infection forced a fatal miscarriage, we think – but the micro-organisms jumped ship and were able to successfully inhabit and save the baby. Because so few of them survived, they weren't able to recover their sentience; they just sort of sat there in his body, multiplying and trying to render the baby suitable for them to live in. Eventually they got something they could survive in, and then they dug deep into his bones and slept.”

“Suitable for them to live in?” I echoed. “What does that mean?”

“We have no idea where they come from,” replied Cynthia simply. “We have no idea what they evolved to infect. Whatever it was, it was very far from human. They – they tore up his DNA and patched it back together, copying across huge chunks of new information that no one's ever decoded yet. They did...” Cynthia broke off for a moment, and stared out over the veranda at the forest for a while. “They did awful things to survive,” she said at last. “I don't know. One of our scientists once said that they chewed up his soul and spat it out.”

His soul. That reminded me of Spiritomb – the Geist, as they had been known in centuries gone by. It was gone now, sealed away again as soon as we had reentered our universe with Cyrus and his pendant. We'd made our way back to the Pillar as quickly as we could on Salazar's back, but we hadn't found what we thought we had. It wasn't that time was stopped in the Distortion World – it was that there was no time at all, and hence when we came back we could have returned to our world at any point in the history of the universe. Giratina had obviously tried to direct us to the same sort of time that we'd come from, but it was still about three-quarters of an hour out, and that meant that for forty-five terrible minutes, the people we'd left behind on the mountaintop had had to fight an unstoppable monster – and, miraculously, it seemed they'd held it back. None of them were quite sure how they'd done it: looking back, they all agreed that what they'd achieved was almost completely impossible.

The ancient temple itself had been razed literally to the ground; nothing remained of it but heaps of marble dust, blown out in wide circles around the point where Spiritomb had been. Nothing else had been touched; not the weeds growing in the cracks of the tiles or the people standing there, gazing stupefied at the space formerly occupied by Spiritomb. No one knew why, but the Pillar had simply ceased to be – had snapped out of existence at the same time as the Ghost, floor, walls and all. Perhaps it had slipped through a rift and flown away to another time and place; perhaps it had reacted with the explosive binding and somehow been eradicated in the blast. We would never know.

I blinked away the past, and flitted back to the present. Cynthia smiled suddenly, breaking the gloom that had settled over us with her words.

“But that's all in the past now,” she said. “Hundreds of years in the past. Ashley said he didn't mind. He never knew what it felt like to be human,
so he never missed it.”

I looked through the patio windows into the living-room, as if expecting to see him there. I didn't, of course.

“I guess he didn't,” I said slowly. “Weird, isn't it?”

“Yeah,” she agreed. “Weird.”

---

“I suppose this is it, Bond,” said Ellen, standing once more in the hall of Wickham Manor.

“Yes, madam,” agreed Bond. “I suppose it is.”

“Can you feel it?” she asked. “The – the pull?”

“Yes, madam,” replied Bond quietly. “I feel it.”

The Ghosts of Wickham Manor – Chicory, Mans, Huluvu, and, here to see them off and absolutely not because he was the slightest bit fond of them, Pigzie Doodle – hung back, watching the little drama unfold. None of them had seen this before; this was a very rare occurrence indeed – human ghosts did not come along every day, and it was usually rather a long time before they made it to this point in their existence.

Ellen had brushed her hair and beautified her poison-scarred face as best she could; since she was dead and her real clothes had long since rotted, she could not change into her best dress as she felt the occasion demanded, but she had made the best of what she had. Bond, for his part, looked immaculate as ever.

The silence between them deepened, and all the sounds of the old house seemed to become louder: the creak of the decaying boards; the soft swish of the curtains in the dining-room, where the windows had broken during a storm twenty years before; the dragging footsteps of the lame fox that had made its home in the coal cellar; the soft chatter of the birds in the attic. This was home, and for a long, long time it had been all Ellen knew; leaving it now, even when she was sick of it and of her unending existence, was frightening, and for a minute at least she was content to bathe in its familiar presence.

“I'm so tired,” she said eventually. “But I think it's over, Bond. We fulfilled our task.”

“Yes, madam,” he replied.

“I...” Ellen's throat closed up and the words would no longer come; after some deliberation, she settled on, “Goodbye, Bond.”

Bond gave a short bow.

“Goodbye, madam. And may I say it has been a pleasure to serve you.”

“Thank you.”

Now a faint light was gathering around her, and Ellen seemed to be swelling without actually changing shape or size.

“Madam, may I just say one thing more?” inquired Bond, and Ellen nodded.

“Of cour—”

She never finished. In the midst of the word she was trying to say, she simply disappeared, and left Wickham Manor – and the physical world – for good.

Bond stared at the spot where she had been, and felt the pull of the spiritual realm lessen and die.

“Ah,” he said. “This could prove problematic.”

Over the course of his recent adventures, he had come to realise that while the business that had held Ellen's spirit on Earth had been the revelation of Liza to the world as a killer, his was not. It was something rather more mundane.

Bond was sure that he remained on this world because he had not yet tendered his resignation to the Dennel family, and with Ellen gone, he was not entirely certain that he would ever get the chance.

So, said Pigzie Doodle. She ditched you and headed for Elysium, eh Jeeves? Human weakness, I say. This world's the only one worth staying in.

Bond started.

“Mister Ishmael, I—”

Can hear me? Yeah, I thought as much. One fewer ghost in the world, one free ghostly power – defaulting to the nearest spirit. You.

“Do you mean to say that I have acquired the late young mistress' ability to speak to Ghosts?”

Yeah.

Actually
, put in Chicory, I'm not sure that that's how it works—

Shut up
, snapped Pigzie Doodle. I'm inventing pseudo-science and capitalising on a situation here.

They bickered for a while longer, and Bond thought for a moment.

“Mister Ishmael,” he said at length, “what do you intend to do now?”

Me? The Duskull considered. I don't know. Travel some more. That's what I usually do. I'm thinking of heading to Unova soon; I've got some business with a Yamask called Jorland.

“Will you perhaps be requiring the services of a butler?” asked Bond diffidently.

What? Why would I need a butler?

“Everyone,” said Bond, with sweeping dignity, “needs a butler.”

Pigzie Doodle nodded slowly.

I can accept that argument, he said. And actually, I could probably use someone as prone to victory as you are.

“And when will sir be leaving?”

I don't know. I was going to go after you guys had buggered off, but only half of you did.

“Then if you'll excuse me, sir, I shall go and pack you a valise at once. We may catch the next tide.”

Oh, I like this, said Pigzie Doodle, his monstrous ego swelling like a puffball. A valise, eh? Fancy. And going by ship, by the sound of it. Well, why not? After all, I've got a butler now. I'm classy.

Give it a rest, Pigzie
, sighed Hans. If Bond's going with you, this is our house now, and you're kind of outstaying your welcome.

Bond glided back into the room, a well-travelled valise in his hands.

“Sir,” he said. “If you please.”

Why, certainly
, said Pigzie Doodle, drifting with him down the hall towards the door. Oh, I'm going to like this. We'll go somewhere where people don't know my name isn't Ishmael, and they'll look at me and think, 'There's a Ghost with breeding. He keeps staff...'

---

“...until the seatbelt lights are off,” said the pilot on the intercom. “Thank you for choosing Sinnoh Air, and we hope you have a very pleasant flight.”

Kester sat back in his seat and looked across the aisle at Sapphire.

“Well, I'm going home at last,” he said with a heartfelt sigh. “Thank God this saving the world stuff is over.”

She smirked at him.

“You know you love it really.”

“Yeah, just like I love a good kick in the balls.”

“Oh, come on,” she said. “Don't you feel that little thrill as you—”

“No,” he replied firmly. “No, I don't.”

“Not even—”

“No. I hate it and I want to go home.”

Kester turned back to Felicity, who was in the seat next to him, and sighed again.

“What about you?” he asked.

“I don't know,” she replied. “There wasn't much I could do, in the end. I don't have any weapons that work against Ghosts.”

Kester put his arm around her and held her close.

“You were there,” he said. “That was probably the only thing that stopped me turning and running away.”

Felicity smiled.

“In that case, it was worth every moment,” she replied. “But there is still one thing I don't understand.”

“And that is?”

“Where is Puck?”

“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen!” called an English-accented voice over the intercom. “This is your co-pilot speaking. The regular pilot has fallen unconscious owing to an accident with a high-powered burst of electricity, and I'll be flying the plane for you today. Don't worry – I'll get you all there safely!”

Kester froze.

“Oh, no,” he murmured, going white. “Not again. For God's sake, Puck!”

“Now, passengers,” continued the Rotom, “let's get you into the air!”

One or two of the ground crew thought they heard someone screaming as the plane lifted off, but they could never be sure; all that was ever known was that that particular aircraft vanished for twelve years until it was found being used as a den by chimpanzees in the Congo river basin.

---

Later that night, when the League people had finally left the remnants of the Pillar, Tristan finally judged it safe to emerge from his place of hiding behind a large boulder and have a look around. He didn't think it particularly safe to be a Galactic right now; after all, the Team had recently failed to destroy reality, and that, combined with their more widely-known offences at the Veilstone building, meant that it was fairly likely that they would be public enemy number one at the moment.

Consequently, he had had a look for clothes he could use to disguise himself as an ordinary citizen; in one rather battered helicopter with buckled runners that he had discovered on the other side of the peak, he found a few sets of cold-weather gear, and, with Mount Coronet's weather now returning to normal freezing cold, he was glad to change out of his thin Galactic uniform.

Returning across the expanse of rock where the Pillar had once been, he beheld a figure climbing up the stairs and onto the peak; aware that he had no good reason to be here other than being a member of Team Galactic, Tristan hurriedly ducked back and behind the helicopter, watching as the figure limped tiredly out onto the stone. Shortly, it was joined by another figure, though where that one had come from he didn't know, and they stood as if speaking for a while before turning and walking back down the steps. A few minutes later, there was a sound like a car turning inside out, and then silence.

When he was quite sure they were gone, Tristan emerged from hiding and crept back to the stairs; he peered down, and saw that he was right: there was now no one here but him.

“Excellent,” he said, and began the long walk back down to ground level.

He passed the place where the League helicopter had been, and began to work his way down the steep trail that would take him into the cave network and thence to the ground. He hoped he remembered the way, he thought. After all, the caves were long and complicated, and he hadn't been there for quite some time.

“There's no new world,” said Tristan, catching himself by surprise to see what his reaction would be; much to his astonishment, he found he didn't actually mind all that much. He stopped dead and almost fell down a cliff, one thought resounding through his skull: it didn't matter! After all, now that he thought about it, he didn't actually mind emotions all that much. And this world wasn't so bad after all; it had organised crime and Kinder Eggs, and that was pretty much all Tristan desired in life.

He started walking again, a little smile spreading over his face. No, it didn't matter that the new world had failed to materialise. After all, really, wasn't Cyrus just a little bit insane? Tristan couldn't quite see what had possessed him to follow the man so blindly. Perhaps there had been some sort of hypnotism involved, he thought sagely. Yes. Hypnotism. That was probably it. You could never tell with a hypnotist. Tricky blighters.

“Now,” he said aloud, as he came to the cave mouth, “I just have to find Jackie.”

And whistling a jaunty tune, Tristan walked into the cave and his part in this tale came to an end.

---

Cyrus sat back and rested his head against the wall, eyes closed. It was strange, he thought, that now his emotions didn't seem to bother him at all; throughout the build-up to his great attempt at universal reform, they had worried him like dogs with a bone, but now he felt oddly... free. Just a pure mind, arising from the interacting mechanisms of his brain, and through that organ in command of a body that had defined limits and capabilities.

Perfect.

He might not have been able to save the world, he decided, but whatever it was that had happened to him in the Distortion World had saved him at least.

Of course, Cyrus didn't know that his body now lay in a hospital bed, having never fought free from the unconsciousness of Sheol; he didn't know that he was never predicted to wake from his coma; he didn't know that if ever he did, he would be arrested immediately for crimes against humanity and vanish into the iron halls of the Sinnish penal system.

All he knew was that he was somewhere where the sun shone and a breeze blew, and everything clicked forward one notch at a time, cogs in a vast, beautiful machine that neither dreamed nor loved.

Cyrus sighed. He was going to like it here.

---

While Cyrus had fallen into a coma, Stephanie had woken from one: Beleth's spell had held her in the grip of a nightmare for a long time, but as the Geist was caged in stone once more, her eyes opened and the monsters stopped trying to break into her room; the walls changed from dull concrete to warm plaster, and the light from cold yellow to soothing white. She was in Jubilife General Hospital, and she was fine.

And then and there she decided, with the vengeful certainty of one who knows, that this was Pearl's fault and that she had better have a very good explanation for this. Unfortunately for her, Beleth was no longer available to be questioned about his motives, given that he was currently trapped in a stone in a pendant that had been locked in the deepest, most secure of the League's vaults; all that could be deduced was that he had spent a long time – years, perhaps decades – gathering information about everyone who might be included in his plan, and had deduced that Pearl had Johnson's Syndrome and that Stephanie was the one most likely to figure it out and tell her. Perhaps this was right, perhaps not. All that Stephanie could know for certain was that Beleth had been in life court fool to the fifth Earl of Ecruteak in 1232, a role that he had fulfilled with expertise derived from his underlying psychosis – a psychosis that eventually led him to murder each and every member of the Earl's court and hang them around the building while he ate them. A man that mad might never have needed a reason to trap Stephanie in her own mind at all.

Real life, however much the gods believe it is a story, always leaves a few unanswered questions in its wake. It galled her to admit it, but there was no way for Stephanie to figure out Beleth's motives, and soon enough her life returned to normal.

---

As the woman who once was Liza began to wake, the two halves of her personality, timid and savage, began to writhe and fight for supremacy; without Ronwe's dreaming mind to back them up, neither was able to assert themselves, and both collapsed down into a new blank persona with a shock that sent a physical shiver running through the brain they shared. Whenever Liza had been created before, it was always with amnesia – the first time, about her identity as Ronwe, and the second time, about her battle with Ashley and Marley – and this precedent, combined with the mental trauma of actually being a person in her own right this time, caused her mind to temporarily shut down, furiously scribble out everything it knew and hope that it learned something useful in the future.

She sat up on the ledge at the base of the stairs, and stared at her moonlit surroundings.

“OK,” she said, getting shakily to her feet, “I'm on a mountain covered in corpses. That's... I'm sure there's a reason.”

She looked at her hands and wondered why they seemed strange; then she realised that she had no idea what she looked like. From her voice, she'd worked out she was a woman, but other than that she knew nothing at all about herself except that her leg hurt.

“What the hell is going on?” she asked the heavens, but there was no answer. Briefly, she entertained a notion that God might have appeared there to reply – but as soon as the thought had entered her head it left, her mind crossing out another bit of information from the past with the furious energy of one who is desperately trying to adjust to terrifying new circumstances.
She sat down on a rock, and felt her face. Did it feel normal? She guessed so. It had two eyes and a nose and a mouth, which was a good sign. A couple of cuts and bruises, but that was OK, those would heal. After a while, she gave up; she needed to see herself to get an idea of who she was.

“What's my name?” she wondered aloud, and a fleeting thought crossed her mind; she snatched at it eagerly, and tried to read it even as her subconscious was erasing it. “Lizzie? Elise? Something like that...”

It was no use; she couldn't remember. She supposed it didn't matter all that much, anyway. She could choose whatever name she wanted.

“Maybe someone knows me,” she decided. “Let's... let's go up the steps. Steps have to be made by someone, and they have to lead somewhere, so... there might be someone at the top of the steps.”

She felt much happier now she'd decided on a course of action, and set off up the stairs; the peak was high and the night was cold, but she did not shiver as she went. She only looked like a human, after all; in reality, she was little more than a dream. The ragged bodies heaped on the stairs were a little disconcerting, but she must have seen a lot of death before she lost her memory, because they didn't bother her that much.

“Maybe I was a soldier,” she said, an idea coming into her head. “A soldier for... the army of whatever country I'm in.”

What countries did she know? She had to admit that though she could conjure up a map of the world in her head, she couldn't actually name a single one. This was bizarre, she thought. All right, so she had forgotten who she was – but forgotten the names of all the world's countries? This had been a very thorough bout of amnesia.

She reached the top, and was dismayed to see nothing there but a huge expanse of flat stone, liberally covered in corpses.

“Is that all?” she wondered, limping out into the middle of the platform. “No one here?”

“Just me,” said one of the corpses, sitting up with an effort – the effort due, it was to be presumed, to the bloody hole that ran right through its chest.

She jumped back and almost cried out, but the corpse put a finger to his lips and stretched out a placatory hand.

“Please!” he cried. “I'm not here to harm you.”

“You've got a sodding hole in you!”

“Do you really think I haven't realised?” snapped the man. “Please, could you give me a hand up?”

She offered a tentative hand and the man pulled himself to his feet.

“Thank you,” he said. “I realise this must come as something of a shock to you, but I'm a strülden, you see, and—”

“A what?”

The man paused.

“A vampire,” he explained. “Someone tried to kill me, but their stake missed my heart.” He poked one finger in the hole and wiggled it, which made our nameless heroine feel a little ill. “They did scratch it, though, which hurt me rather badly and made my body fall apart. I've been repairing it for the last three hours from bits I've scavenged from all these other corpses.”

A vague thought told her that vampires weren't real, but obviously their existence was simply something she'd forgotten; after all, this man was one, and she wasn't going to doubt the evidence of her own eyes.

He bent down and picked up a handful of meat from some sort of white dog, then stood up and pressed it into his chest as he spoke.

“Now, who might you be?” asked the vampire, and the amnesiac felt oddly as if he was testing her, as if he thought he knew who she might be and wanted to see if she did as well – but then the moment passed, and she forgot.

“I don't know,” she admitted. “I can't remember anything.”

“I see.” The vampire stroked his chin with bloody fingers. “Well, my name is Jasper – Jasper Platinum” – here he paused, gauging her reaction to the name, but there was none – “and I believe the people I came here with think I'm dead. I was about to go and find them to tell them I'm not – would you care to join me? Perhaps we can uncover a clue to this... mystery... of your identity.”

“Oh. Thanks!” she said eagerly. “And... can you tell me where I am?”

“This is Mount Coronet in Sinnoh,” Jasper told her. “Does that ring any bells?”

She shook her head.

“Sinnoh... that's north of that, uh, big square country, right?”

Jasper smiled and looked deep into her eyes, his Ghostly senses finding the immortal spirit that made her up and the vast power stored within her core, and his almost-human mind realising that he had just found an excellent replacement for Ashley.

“Close enough,” he said, and led her away to the stairs.

“I was thinking,” said the amnesiac, as they descended, “that I should maybe choose a name for myself?”

“Yes, things would be easier if I knew what to call you,” agreed Jasper, tensing suddenly. “What sort of name did you have in mind?”

If it was Liza, he had better throw her off the mountain now and have done with it; he couldn't allow as potent a threat as her to—

“I don't really know,” she said forlornly. “Er... what do you think of Amelia?”

Jasper breathed a silent sigh of relief.

“I think it's perfect,” he answered warmly, happy to be able to inform the League that it now had the power of part of the Geist on its side with none of the attendant evil. “It, er, fits.”

“It does, doesn't it?” replied Amelia, a look of deep satisfaction coming over her face. “Amelia. Yeah, that's me.”

“It certainly is,” agreed Jasper, and they walked away into the night.

---

The Queen had been doing some thinking lately – nothing really brilliant, nothing that was going to put her on track for a Nobel Prize or anything, just plain, simple Skarmory thinking. She had been thinking about the two times she had been defeated in combat by those strange Skarmory-things with the whirling wings above their heads, and she had identified the common factor in both situations.

They had both had little creatures with them.

There had been the funny patch of darkness with a white face that had tried to shoot her in the first one, and the second one had been full of humans; what the effect of these passengers was she wasn't entirely sure, but the only opponents that had ever beaten her had had them with them. Therefore, the Queen decided, she needed some humans of her own to sit on her back and perhaps offer tactical advice if necessary. Then she could go and find those metal birds and reclaim her throne.

And so the night of the great confrontation atop Spear Pillar found her ranging around the mountains, searching for humans to pick up. The Queen had chosen to hunt by night since the metal birds seemed only to fly by day, and she wasn't yet ready to face them – she wanted some humans before she did that.

Ah. There, on the slope of the big mountain – two humans coming down some stairs, picked out vividly by the moonlight and her own superb avian eyesight.

The Queen swooped silently down towards them, landed on the ledge before them and screeched out a request for comradeship in a voice like twisted steel.

The two humans stared back, evidently somewhat alarmed. Of course; she was a predator, and they were prey. It was natural that they should be afraid of her. She would have to remedy this somehow.

The Queen lowered her great body to the ground and stretched out her wings so that the tips of the feathers brushed the stone; when this turned out to be inadequate, she turned her head and tapped her back with her beak.

The male human stepped forwards and looked at her curiously.

“I do believe it wants us to get on its back,” it said in the strange soft language of humans. The Queen, not knowing what he meant, waited patiently; perhaps he was working out her message.

“What is it?” asked the female human. It had a magnificent brown mane, the Queen noted – obviously a highly desirable mate. Perhaps the male human had stepped forwards because it thought she was contesting its claim to it.

“A Skarmory. And I have only seen one Skarmory of that size this far from Gibbous Isle.” The male human turned back to the female. “Well, since my colleagues appear to have abandoned us, and we have no other method of transportation, shall we ride? It will certainly be an adventure.”

The female human looked from the male to the Queen and back again. There was trepidation in its eyes, but also something strange and terrible that the Queen had never seen before; yes, she thought, it would be an excellent passenger to have along. She would like to see anyone fight her with it on board and live to tell the tale.

“All right,” it said. “Let's do it.”

“Excellent,” replied the male human. “Follow me, then.”

Victory! The Queen screeched happily, and flapped off with her new humans safely installed on her back. She would be unstoppable with these two in tow. Now, if she took them to a human nest, like Hearthome or Celestic, and dropped them off, all the humans would be grateful to her for saving them, and they would offer up their strongest warriors to ride on her back...

Lost in simple-minded dreams of boundless grandeur, the Queen flew off to the east, crowing wildly like an exultant raven.

---

Cynthia and I sat there on the veranda for a while longer, watching the forest shivering in the breeze.

“It's funny, isn't it, how everything turned out so well,” I said. “Jasper not really being dead, Liza alive but having forgotten everything, Cyrus never waking up... Just like a real Sinnish myth.”

“Yeah,” agreed Cynthia. “Just like a story. Everything gathered up neatly at the end – except Looker never got to catch Liza.”

“He was very nice about it,” I reflected. “Even though it must have been a terrible disappointment.”

“Yeah. Poor guy.”

I didn't envy him. Looker had had the task of going back to France to inform his superiors that his target had been absorbed into, and rebuilt out of, an ancient evil composed entirely of human sin, and had now lost her memory, her old personality and pretty much everything else – not an easy thing to explain.

There was a noise from inside, and we both looked around to see a delicate-looking young man with glasses and brown hair coming out to join us.

“Hello, Pearl,” he said, bending down to kiss Cynthia. “I didn't realise you were here.”

“I'm staying nearby while Lucian teaches me about being psychic,” I explained. “How are you?”

“Alive,” said Ashley simply. “Truly alive for the first time in my life.” He hugged me tightly. “Thank you again,” he whispered in my ear, and I remembered that moment in the Distortion World when I'd realised what I wanted, the very best gift I could think of for the man who'd saved my life and hundreds of others so many times.

“I want you to make Ashley and Marley human,” I'd said to Giratina, and it had recoiled sharply, demanding to know what was wrong with their heritage. “Nothing,” I'd said. “But they don't want it, not really. Ashley wants to be able to live with the possibility of death. He wants to be a father to his daughter and a lover to Cynthia. And Marley isn't right. She shouldn't be the way she is; she's missing humanity. She doesn't understand the world, and she hates herself for it.” I had shrugged then, and said with a lot more bravery than I'd felt: “They want to be mortal.”

Giratina had gone quiet, and muttered softly to itself, and finally had announced that it thought it could perhaps see its way toward doing that.

Thank God for Johnson's Syndrome, I'd thought. If I hadn't been able to glimpse their emotions, their dreams, I would never have realised how much they loathed the alien infection, how much the so-called legacy of Izh had scarred their minds.

And we had seen Ashley's statue, a vast, hideous tree of boils and spines and blades, and Marley's smaller one, blocky on one side and tumorous on the other; Giratina had shouted three words that shook the universe in their direction – and a thousand pieces of stone blasted away from them, leaving two smooth, unformed cores behind. I later learned that at that moment, Ashley collapsed in the other world; by the time we got to him, he had come to and was embracing Marley so tightly it looked like she might snap in half. Both of them were crying, and their minds showed up on my emotional radar as twin sunbursts of joy.

“Hey,” I said, patting Ashley on the shoulder. “Don't worry about it.”

He withdrew, the seeds of tears in his eyes, and smiled warmly – a real human smile, not that fake mask he had used to charm his way through his existence before. I knew that behind that smile was real compassion now, just as he was now truly in love with Cynthia, and he had real hatred of Spiritomb. Before, he had had facsimiles of feelings; now he had the real thing.

“You are the kindest person in the history of the universe,” he told me. “If I wasn't with Cynthia, I would marry you.”

“Ashley,” said Cynthia, mock-warningly. “Stop flirting with Pearl.”

“Yes, darling,” replied Ashley dutifully, and sat down next to her.

We talked for a while – about my new job, working for the League; about what might have happened to Iago; about the therapy Marley was undergoing so her new emotions would stop knocking her out with their intensity – and then about less serious things, about the minutiae of daily life, about how annoying buses were, about Ashley's recent discovery that, as a full-blooded human, he could now get drunk. The time passed, and gradually the thought of the end of time slipped away, and quiet, blissfully normal life resumed.

I sat back, drinking the last of my tea, and spared one last thought for the movie I'd built up in my head as we'd made our way through the investigation.

Roll credits
, I thought, and fade to black.





Chapter Forty-Eight: Or Not.

Except that this wasn't a movie, and it wasn't over.

Ctrl+S. There. I sat back and stared at the screen happily: I'd written it all up, all four hundred and forty-seven pages of it. It had taken three weeks of interviewing everyone else I could track down and a month of solid typing, but I'd finally finished my account of the Galactic business. OK, so it couldn't be published as it was – the higher-ups in the League would definitely have the parts about the Driftenburg and where Liza went censored, for instance – but still. I thought it was pretty damn good.

“I did it, Choppy,” I said. “Finished.”

He came over and licked my hand, not really understanding but picking up on the happiness in my voice. Choppy – for such I had christened him – was one of only three Absol who'd survived the battle atop Mount Coronet, though in his case he'd left a leg and a kidney behind. Consequently, he'd sort of gone into retirement, and had been quite happy to follow me home to Corvada Castle rather than keep roaming the world in search of calamity; I'd wanted to do something to help the Pokémon that had given so much for us to be able to stop Cyrus, and keeping one as a pet was both beneficent and fairly low-maintenance, so it suited me well.

“Nice,” said a familiarly-accented voice from just behind me. “Kind of naïve at the end though, don't you think?”

I jumped and turned around in my chair to see a Kadabra standing there, reading the screen over my shoulder.

“Problem is, you write it as if everything's all sealed up neatly with a happy ending,” he continued. “Sorry, Pearl, but that just ain't how it works.”

“How did you get in here?” I asked quietly.

“With consummate ease,” replied Iago. “Now, Pearl, we need to talk.”

At that moment, Choppy started barking loudly, and would probably have cut Iago open had the Kadabra not at that moment touched my arm—

—and suddenly brought the pair of us somewhere else entirely. My bedroom dissolved into some kind of cell: four concrete walls, a single barred door and a lot of mould on the walls.

“What?” I asked helplessly, staring around. “What? What?”

“Yeah, you can thank Cynthia for that,” said Iago calmly. “Her little talk with good old Rowan in Canalave told me exactly where to go to find this.”

He held out his arm, and I saw that three or four links from the Chain were wrapped around it like a bracelet. I remembered the fragment that Cynthia had said had been dug up at Sendoff Spring, and my heart sank. Cal. We'd given Iago everything he needed to know to upgrade from criminal genius to supervillain.

“You see,” he went on, “knowing what I did about Cyrus' plan, I knew as soon as she said there was a bit of red stone chain found there that he'd fail. I also thought it might have a little bit of divine energy left in it. And guess what?” he asked. “It did.”

“What do you want?” I asked, trying to sound calm while my mind spread out like Lucian had taught me, pouring fear into Iago's skull—

“You trying to push a thought on me?” he inquired. “Sorry. I may not have any active psychic powers, but I am a Kadabra. I know when someone's screwing with my head, and I'm not falling for that. Your mind's like a pea-shooter compared to a Kadabra's.”

“I could punch—”

“Do you really think you're still stronger than me?” asked Iago contemptuously. “I've got a little bit of Dialga and Palkia's power on my wrist. Make a move and I teleport you straight out into space, or into a buried coffin. So, you know, you might want to stay very still and try not to annoy me.”

Cal. This was bad. Not only did this completely ruin the happy ending I'd written, but I seemed to be pretty close to being killed by a sociopathic and highly inventive Kadabra. It looked like I was about as safe as the proverbial snowflake in hell.

“What do you want?” I asked, blanking out my powers.

“Better,” he said. “Quite simple: I'm holding you to ransom.”

“What?”

He pulled a mobile phone from his tail and stood next to me.

“Say 'cheese',” he said, and took a picture of both of us; he pressed a few more buttons, presumably sending the photo to someone, and put his phone away.

“What do you mean, you're holding me to ransom?” I asked urgently.

Iago grinned.

“I've been picturing this moment for weeks,” he said. “I wanted to get it all just right – hence me waiting for you to finish the book and everything.”

“Just tell me.”

“Hey! Don't get snippy with me. I've sent the picture, so as far as everyone knows you're fine. I could kill you now and no one would even know.”

“OK, OK.” I raised my hands. “Sorry.”

“That's better,” said Iago. “Now, do you remember how I lost my fortune?”

“You were double-crossed by your partner in your last con, and he ran off with all the money while telling the police it was all you.”

“That's right. Cyrus bought my loyalty, see, by telling me where that thieving bratchny had got to – and let me tell you, that kind of information is worth a lot to me.”

“So what's all this got to do with kidnapping me?” I asked.

Iago's grin broadened.

“Where does your daddy's money come from, Pearl?”

I froze. No. No, that just wasn't possible.

“His – some rich relatives died—”

“An excuse. He's a grifter, a swindler just like me, but with the advantage of a human face. And he came into a very nice little windfall when he betrayed me, the grazhny backstabber.”

“No – no, he—”

“De-nial!” sang out Iago. “Sorry baby, but Daddy was a conman. And I just sent him a little reminder of that fact, along with a picture of you.” His phone began to ring. “Ah, that'll be him now.” He put the phone to his ear and started talking, all the while keeping those cold triangular eyes on me. “Well, hey Cecil, you old son of a *****, how're you doing? No, really? Yeah, just kidnapped your only daughter. How about that? I'm going to start sending bits of her home unless you repay every last dollar you took from me – with interest. I think I'll start with the eyes, actually – no sense beating around the bush with the fingers and whatnot.”

I stared at him, not listening. It couldn't be true – but I would know if he was lying, and Iago was not lying. My dad must have done just what he said he did. I knew his business wasn't entirely legal, but I'd never even dreamed that the capital to start it might have such sordid origins.

“Yes, just empty all the bank accounts you're authorised to empty,” said Iago merrily. “Put all the money in that nice car I saw on your drive – what, that's your cousin's? So you value your cousin's car more than your daughter's eyesight and potentially life? Well, you're the boss.”

He held the phone in my direction, then brandished the Chain fragment at me; the space around me started to flex and compress, pressing down on me like the coils of a python, and I couldn't help but scream.

“There we go,” said Iago into the phone, releasing me from the invisible vice. “Did you get all that? Yeah, yeah, I've heard it all before. So, where were we? Put all the money in the car – unmarked bills, please – just on the seats and in the boot.”

“You bratchny,” I gasped, recovering my breath only to choke on my gathering tears. “You—”

“Thanks, Pearl. I do my best. So, Cecil,” he continued. “Just pop it all in the car and give me a ring when you do. I'll put your daughter right back in her room, then I'll jump in the car and be off. And before you think about double-crossing me again, you might want to think about how I managed to steal your daughter out of her bedroom in your castle only five minutes ago without you noticing. Speaking of which – nice style, man. Rest assured I'm going to be building a castle with the money I get from you. OK. Have fun!”

Iago put away the phone and turned back to me.

“Right,” he said brightly, clapping his hands. “The police will have traced that call already, so it's time to jump again.”

A second later, we were in the middle of some random field; I turned and was about to run, but Iago moved me a couple of feet down through space and embedded my legs up to the knee in the earth.

“Cal!”

Blank out the pain and fear, I thought, suppressing the panic rising in me. Stay calm – stay cool – be cool...

“You can't run from me,” said Iago pityingly, walking around to face me. “I'm a sodding demigod. It's awesome, let me tell you.”

“You're a monster.”

“Demigod, monster – much of a muchness, really. Just depends whose point of view you're looking from; it's the whole terrorist/freedom fighter thing all over again.”

“You have to be lying,” I said desperately. “None of this – this can't even be happening—”

“You faced the end of the world with equanimity and yet you're knocked for a loop by the revelation that your father used to be a crook,” said Iago. “Remarkable. I mean, he doesn't even do that anymore – he just invests wisely and occasionally buys art that isn't technically for sale.”

Yeah, I could see that – my dad taking the money in order to take down a Kadabra that he knew deserved everything coming to him, repenting of crime and deciding henceforth to increase his wealth by honest means... Yeah, that had to be what had happened. No matter what he did, it wasn't motivated by pure greed. Daddy was a changed man, a good man at heart...

I clung onto that thought for five long hours, as Iago jumped us from place to place, calling Daddy from each one to taunt him a little more and hurry him along; this was worse than the mental attack in Sheol, worse by far than the moment I thought the world would end – it was tortuously drawn-out, like that torture where the bamboo grows through your abdomen, slowly pushing through skin and piercing flesh.

Then Iago received the final call, when we were standing on a Johtonian beach, and smiled.

“Fantastic,” he said. “OK, Pearl, time to go home. Thanks for all your cooperation.”

“Sod off,” I muttered.

“Lay off the rich ***** attitude,” he advised. “Your family no longer has the money to justify it.”

With that, the world dissolved around me, and I reappeared back in my room; from outside, I heard the sound of an engine starting and voices shouting, and a moment later my mum burst in, calling my name, and swept me up in a whirl of chaos.

---

So yeah. There wasn't such a happy ending after all. Don't get me wrong, it was great that Liza became Amelia and Ashley and Marley became properly human and everything, but... Corvada had to go, and pretty much all of what we owned. I'd stopped going to university to work for the League, and it was a good thing I had, because there was no longer any money to fund it. I moved out to Gibbous Isle, both to save my parents money and because the League agreed to provide housing, but we were still pretty badly burned. My dad's company collapsed, and he had a – mercifully non-lethal – heart attack not that long after. I sent him and mum what money I could, and they had some savings left in an account in her name, but not even a fraction of what they'd had at the start. We didn't exactly thrive, but we at least survived.

I don't know what happened to Iago, but I don't hold out any hope that something happened to screw him over. He was too smart and, now that he had the piece of the Chain, too strong. No one knows where he went, but I've heard that a soap opera set in a desolate village in the middle of a forest-covered island infested by amphibious barracuda is due to start next year, and I'm willing to bet that there's an island out there somewhere with a Gothic, fish-filled castle being built on it as I write.

I do hate him, yeah – a lot; I mean, he killed Ashley once, financially ruined my family and gave my dad a heart attack – but I'm determined not to get bitter. I'm afraid that if I do, I might end up just as bad as him, and that's a scary thought. Maybe one day he'll make a mistake, and then I'll feel I've had some vengeance – but for now, I'm just content to go along with the flow.
After all, I'm the best psychic in Sinnoh, and I've got a pretty damn fine job. In the last month alone, I've seen more weird cal than I saw in all my time on the Galactic investigation – the Sleepers of Newmoon Island, the Lunar Envoy, the Anti-Mammoth – and I'm loving it. I just wish Iago hadn't taken everything my family had, that's all.

I also wish he hadn't poisoned my happy ending. Everything else ended perfectly, but Iago couldn't let it happen – couldn't let one huge, chaotic story, the first Sinnish epic for hundreds of years, come to a suitably happy close.

Bratchny.

But we'll survive, and maybe in time we'll thrive again. I mean, once I actually start getting paid, I'm going to be earning huge amounts of money – seriously huge. The kind of huge that means I might even be able to buy back Corvada in ten years' time, assuming I keep funding my parents in Veilstone. And I'm sure the government will stop prevaricating at some point and start giving me my salary, if only because Cynthia's backing my cause, and no one likes to go up against an angry Cynthia.

So.

Maybe there's a happy ending after all. I just need to wait a little while.

Anyway, I have to go now. I just got a text from Palmer at the Battle Tower, and it looks like there's trouble at Stark Mountain. Something about an ancient monster being awoken to wreak terrible destruction. You know – business as usual. I'd like to write a proper conclusion, but the more I write, the more I feel that there never is one. I mean, the story just goes on and on – I'm going on and doing even more crazy stuff now that I helped save the world from Cyrus and Spiritomb. We're all still here, and I think the best way to end is simply to say that we don't stop just because there are no more pages. We'll be here for years to come, saving the world, one Armageddon at a time.


Pearl Gideon, 5th April 2012




Well, that's it. That's all she wrote, quite literally. Check back this weekend for the beginning of a tale of two worlds, of split personas, of madness, parallel dimensions and, of course, of cats.

F.A.B.