Cutlerine

Gone. May or may not return.

Age 25
The Misspelled Cyrpt
Seen March 15th, 2014
Posted November 15th, 2013
1,030 posts
9.7 Years
Chapter Thirty-One: In Which Ashley Loses It

'Patient name: Walker, M—. Symptoms: Mild and recurrent anhedonia. Doctor: Markus Bjornson. Treatment: Shelbufon, 200 milligrams; therapy sessions.'
—From the files of the Eterna General Psychiatric Hospital


Click.

“I assume that if you're hearing this, you've failed miserably.”

I opened my eyes a crack, and was moderately surprised to find myself alive.

“Though it may also be possible that you realised I would never do anything as stupid as blow up Pastoria, since that would most definitely bring my operations to the attention of the government. Even as it is, this message will self-destruct after playing, so that no evidence of my involvement remains.”

I blinked hard and looked around. No, I wasn't dreaming; we were both still alive, the bomb hadn't gone off, and a recording of Cyrus' voice was playing from concealed speakers.

“Now,” it continued. “By this point, you are probably all ready to come after me in Veilstone and stop me from whatever it is you think I am up to. However, I have to tell you that this is not how you will be spending the next day or so.”

I looked over at Ashley, who didn't seem to be fully conscious; his eyes were shut and he was slumped against the wall in a way that didn't look natural.

“You see, my sources reliably inform me that there are two people in the world you actually care about, Mister Lacrimére,” said Cyrus. “One of those is our beloved Champion, Miss Buckley, and the other...”

Was it me, or had Ashley suddenly tensed?

“...well, we both know that her identity is a secret,” concluded the recording. “But we are currently holding her captive in the mines at Iron Island. I suppose you are free to disbelieve me if you want, but I wouldn't want to risk it, if I were you. If you came after us, you might find she died in a terrible accident while your back was turned.” He chuckled. “I'm sure you know what I mean. Goodbye, Mister Lacrimére... and good luck.”

There was a pop and a puff of smoke rose out of the top of the machine; evidently, the message had destroyed itself as advertised.

“Ashley?” I asked. “What... what just happened?”

He did not reply.

“Ashley?”

There was still no answer.

“Ashley, what was that about?”

“Someone,” he said abruptly, and I noticed with a chill that those awful changes had overcome his voice again: it was deep, harsh and discordant, a horrible clamour of misaligned syllables that issued not from his mouth but from the air all around me. “Someone is going to die tonight.”

“Ashley?” I asked, not quite able to keep the tremble from my voice. “Ashley, what—?”

His eyes whipped up to lock onto mine, and they were so bright I had to look away; something told me to get out of there, and I took a few steps towards the door—

—only to be knocked to the floor by the force of the explosion behind me. The air flashed and something boomed like a thunderclap, and the next thing I knew I was curled in a ball by the door, masonry raining down behind me in a great rumbling cacophony.

The door opened, and there was silence for a while as someone stared.

“I thought,” said Rennet faintly, “that you'd disarmed the bomb?”

---

“So there was never any threat at all?” asked Crasher.

“No, none,” I replied. “It was all a trick.”

“Damn,” said Iago, taking a long drag on his cigarette. “That's kind of annoying.”

After half an hour of explanations and five minutes of one of Iago's joints, I was pretty much back to normal – although I wasn't sure how normal it was possible to be when you were standing in a blown-apart concrete room in the back of a hotel, talking to a Gym Leader, officer and a Kadabra over the wreckage of an extraordinarily elaborate fake bomb.

Ashley had vanished in the blast, leaving a hole roughly the size and shape of a hippopotamus in the ceiling; whatever he'd transformed into, it was probably better that it wasn't still in the room with me. The others had arrived shortly afterwards, and it had been quite a struggle to explain to them what had happened – I still wasn't really certain about it myself.

“And I told Cynthia to come here, too,” Iago carried on. “She's going to be so pissed.” He didn't seem too concerned, though that was probably more due to the odd than anything else.

“Oh, Christ,” said Crasher, squeezing his eyes shut. “She already hates me.”

“Don't worry,” Iago told him, reaching up and patting him on the shoulder. “Everyone hates you.”

For a moment, Crasher's face brightened – and then it fell abruptly.

“What the hell do we do now?” asked Rennet, running a hand through her hair. “What did Ashley do?”

“He released,” I said without thinking. “Er – I mean, that's classified information.”

“That's true,” agreed Iago. “Can't say anything more about that. I suggest you start putting together a plausible cover story to tell the public so that no one finds out about Ashley, Cyrus or the bomb.”

Rennet stared.

“I'm not going to take my orders from a stoned Kadabra.”

“Is that racism I detect?”

“No, just knowledge of the illegality of Oddish leaf.”

“Whatever,” said Iago, blowing a cloud of perfumed smoke in her face. “When Cynthia gets here, she'll tell you the same. So will your superiors.”

“He's right,” said Crasher. “State secrets and all.”

Rennet sighed.

“Fine,” she said. “I'll start clearing this up.”

“I think I might help, too,” Crasher remarked. “I've got to avoid Cynthia.”

“Good luck,” snorted Iago. “She'll be coming on Salazar.”

“Salazar?” I asked.

“She's a Harry Potter fan,” giggled Iago. “Isn't that hilarious?”

“You're really stoned,” observed Crasher. “I really need to go now.”

“Me too,” said Rennet. She looked at us. “What'll you do? Go after him?”

“I guess so,” I replied.

Rennet nodded and held out a hand for me to shake.

“Right. It's been... weird working with you,” she told me. “When you see Ashley, can you tell him it was an honour?”

“Uh... sure,” I replied. “It was nice to meet you.”

She and Crasher left, and I was just about to ask Iago what we did now when he said abruptly:

“Well, I guess we'd better meet Cynthia.”

“Iago, what's going on?” I asked. “Sorry. I'm kind of... I don't know. I think I'm still in shock a bit. And then you lent me your joint. Which is... I don't think I'm quite getting what's happening.”

“Well,” said Iago thoughtfully, “the last clear and coherent thought I had was that if I was going to die, I was at least going to die stoned out of my head. Since then, I've had some difficulty telling whether or not you're a barracuda.”

I sighed and rubbed my temples, trying to clear my head.

“OK,” I said. “Cynthia's coming. You said she'd be at the hotel, the Gym or the station, right?”

“That's where she'll look for us,” Iago answered dreamily. “I guess we'd better go back to the hotel, then. After all,” he added, momentarily serious, “the most dangerous monster in Sinnoh just ran out of here promising to kill someone.”

“Ah,” I said. “I'd kind of forgotten about the death bit.”

“Yeah.” Iago nodded sleepily. “That tends to happen after the fiftieth murder or so.”

And with that, he sank gracefully down onto the floor into unconsciousness.

---

Cynthia was waiting for us in the lobby of the hotel; she was leaning against the wall, looking like an impatient blonde vampire in her black clothes, and studiously ignoring Wednesday, who was halfway through one of his stories.

“...and so I told him not to be such a damn fool and give him the ring, so he took it off and covered the last hair on the skin,” he was saying, “and so we got out of it in the end.” He sighed and shook his head. “I don't think it turned out well for them in the end. One of them became a dragon.”

“There you are!” cried Cynthia, catching sight of us as we came through the doors – or rather, as I dragged Iago through; he was only semi-conscious and kept trying to swim through the air. “What took you so long? Where's Ashley?”

“About halfway to Iron Island by now, I should think,” muttered Iago.

Cynthia stopped dead in her tracks and gave him a look that seemed to snap him right back to reality.

“He released and went off to kill someone,” he gabbled rapidly.

What?”

Iago tried to explain, got lost in the vast wastes of his own tongue, and looked helplessly at me; I had a go at it, and bit by bit we got the story out to Cynthia.

“Cal,” she said, once she'd heard. “God damn it!” She paced a step or two away, then turned around sharply. “Iago! Use your League card and requisition a plane to Canalave, then get Byron, tell him what's happening and come to Iron Island immediately.”

“Yes ma'am,” said Iago, unusually subdued, and wandered vaguely out of the door.

“Oh, and Iago?”

He turned around.

“Make sure you're sober again by the time you get there.”

“All right, all right,” he muttered, and left.

“You,” continued Cynthia, jabbing a threatening sort of finger in my direction, “are coming with me. Pay for your rooms. Now.”

“What?” I asked.

“Iago's going by plane because he's out of his mind and won't be able to hold on,” Cynthia said. “You, however, are all right.” She looked me up and down. “Mostly. So you can come to Canalave the fast way, with me.”

“The fast way?”

“Just pay and we can leave.” Cynthia removed the threatening finger from my direction and pointed it at Wednesday. “Right there.”

“OK, OK!” I went over to the desk and handed Wednesday my card. “I think we're checking out,” I said sheepishly. “Sorry about that.”

“Don't worry,” he replied. “There's a nice young Goth couple who've been calling up every day and asking for rooms here. If you leave, there's space.”

“Oh yeah. This place is popular, isn't it?” I looked up at the bloody battleaxe on the wall. “I keep forgetting about the whole Gothic thing.”

Wednesday shrugged.

“Easily done,” he said, returning my card. “May your journey terminate in glorious warfare.”

“Er... goodbye,” I replied, and went back to Cynthia, who immediately grabbed my wrist and began dragging me over to the door. “Hey!”

“There's no time to waste,” she told me. “If he wants to get to Iron Island, it will only take him an hour and a half.”

“What? How is that possible?”

Cynthia raised an eyebrow.

“He's Ashley sodding Lacrimére,” she said sourly. “It doesn't need to be possible.”

“But he was exhausted—”

“Weren't you listening to your own story? Team Galactic captured her. The only person in the world he actually likes. It doesn't matter how tired he is, he'd fight Arceus for her.”

“I thought you—”

Cynthia sighed and gritted her teeth.

“He likes her more than me,” she said, pushing open the door and reaching into her pocket. “Hasn't he told you?”

“No...” My curiosity was piqued, though. Who was this mystery person? Another immortal? A former lover? An old friend?

Cynthia pulled a Poké Ball out of her pocket and tossed it down onto the pavement; a moment later, I found myself face to face with the most famous Pokémon in the country. He was blue; he was scaled; he was twenty-five feet long and weighed one and a half tons: he was Cynthia's signature Pokémon and widely reckoned to be one of the strongest creatures in captivity, her Garchomp.

“Whoa,” I breathed, staring up at the jagged face and uncomfortably aware that its hard, sharp eyes were staring back. “Is that...?”

“Yeah,” Cynthia told me, and there was a hint of pride in her voice. “This is Cyrano.”

“He's... whoa.”

There wasn't much else I could say about him – or that I really need to. I mean, you'll have seen him on TV, whether you live in Sinnoh or not, and all I can really add to it is that Garchomp look a hell of a lot bigger and scarier in real life. That, and that they smell of cordite.

“OK,” said Cynthia. “Here's how it works. I rode him down here from Hearthome, so the saddle's still on. I'll get on first, and then you hold on to me. Tightly, or you'll end up smeared over half of Sinnoh—”

“What? We're riding him?”

Cynthia gave me a look that suggested she, like everyone else, had come to the conclusion that I was more stupid than I looked.

“How do you think I get around? Without me on his back, he can fly at Mach 1.5. With me and the bike, he goes at just under Mach 1. There's no faster way around Sinnoh.”

I stared at her.

“Isn't that incredibly dangerous?”

She shrugged.

“Not really. Garchomp aren't smart, but they're some of the most skilled fliers in the animal kingdom. What is dangerous is standing here talking while my boyfriend goes on a murderous rampage in Iron Island.”

“Point taken.” I looked up at Cyrano nervously. “All right. Let's do it.”

I'm glad no one was around to see me trying to get onto his back; when he knelt down, setting his massive foreclaws on the ground, Cynthia vaulted nimbly up to lie between his shoulder blades, while I spent about fifteen minutes sliding off his slick scales before managing to get up behind her.

“Lie as flat as possible,” she instructed, as I tried to tighten what felt like a very token safety strap around my waist, “or the air pressure will rip your head off.”

“Thanks,” I said dryly; the glow of the odd had worn off now, replaced by the fearful throb of adrenaline you get when the rollercoaster is just about to reach the top of the climb. “Oh, God!” I cried, as Cyrano pushed himself back up on his hind legs and sank down onto his haunches, ready to jump.

“Don't worry,” Cynthia called back to me. “You'll be fine. Only one person has ever got hurt flying with me.”

“How many people have flown with you?”

“Two,” she replied carelessly, “and one was Ashley.”

And Cyrano's legs extended and his wings came up in one fluid motion, and suddenly there was no longer anything beneath us and an unbelievable wind was howling around us—

Caaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaal!”

---

By the time the thing that was sometimes Ashley Lacrimére reached Iron Island, it had been seen all over West Sinnoh. It took the direct routes, through Oreburgh, the northern suburbs of Jubilife and the docklands of Canalave; it swatted cars aside, knocked pedestrians to the ground and tore chunks out of any buildings that happened to be in its path. People had taken photographs, and tried to video it; the resultant blurry images would be picked over and analysed endlessly on the Internet for the next few weeks. Was it an alien? A monster? A secret government super-soldier? Or was it something darker, a demon from the Endless Night of Sinnish mythology?

There was some truth in all four ideas, of course, but that need not concern us. The only important thing was the creature itself, the twisted beast that, as the moonlight glittered on the waves, leaped from the boat and landed gracefully on the jetty. A moment later, it was past the night labourers and at the entrance to the caves, following some unknown trail; a lone worker, looking up from his work, thought he saw a figure in the dark – but then it was gone, and he knew with the certainty of those who cannot face their demons that it was nothing but his imagination playing tricks on him.

The thing made its way through the darkness, past the lit areas where the miners worked and into the ancient tunnels beyond; here, there were no lanterns, just stone and darkness. Here was where the wild things were – and here, the creature sensed, was where she was.

It rounded a corner and entered a cavern, larger than the rest, and stopped abruptly: there was someone else in this room, it felt; they were not alone...

Then, without warning, the ceiling gave way and the beast vanished under several tons of rubble.

The strange being that had for a few short years been Liza Radley stepped out of the shadows and tilted her head on one side, regarding the mound of stone with brilliant emerald eyes.

“Well, then,” she said. “Wasn't as hard as all that.”

---

“I didn't have enough breath to say any of this earlier,” I said, “but: Oh. My. God.”

“Yeah, it's pretty great, isn't it?” replied Cynthia, sliding off Cyrano and patting the huge Dragon on his side.

“Uh – I guess you could say that,” I said cautiously, trying to get off and falling over. “I suppose if you're more used to it, it isn't quite so... terrifying.”

“Yeah, that too.” Cynthia pulled me up sharply and recalled Cyrano; it was kind of amazing, I thought, that such a huge animal could be contained in such a small space. “Come on. We have to find Ashley.”

After a short hour and three quarters of barely subsonic flight, we had landed atop a barren crag on a slightly larger barren crag in the middle of the sea; this was Iron Island, the most lucrative mine in Sinnoh. Unsurprisingly, it was owned by a branch of the Stone family – they seemed to control half the mines in the world – and a lot of the money went outside the country, therefore; the government had been trying to nationalise it for years, but there were Stones in Kanto, Johto, Hoenn, Unova and Canada, and together they had enough influence to seriously injure Sinnish interests abroad, especially the Unovans.

Other than the mines, there were a set of mostly unexplored caves that Trainers often trained in; they didn't usually go far from the entrance, but if they did, they were likely to make it onto the six o'clock news as the latest missing person. Occasionally, bits of chewed body would be found washed up on the beach, which indicated there was some sea access deep within the caves that housed some horrific aquatic monster, but, since most people like to remain alive and in one piece, no one had ever gone in to investigate further.

In consequence of the caves, there was a little rest stop as well as the Stone loading docks, for Trainers to stay at while adventuring in the tunnels; it was there that we'd landed, though there didn't seem to be anyone around to notice – we were deep in autumn now, and I didn't think any Trainers wanted to come to this freezing rock at this time of year.

Cynthia led me down a short path cut into the edge of another crag (the island had them in abundance) and past the fenced-off warehouses of the mines; this rough track led us down to the entrance to the mines, an area so heavily fortified it looked like they were expecting a full-scale military assault. I didn't note much more than that at the time – I was trying to sort out my hair, which had kind of exploded in all directions during the flight, while simultaneously trying to work out how Cynthia's had remained dead straight despite being three feet longer.

“This way,” said Cynthia, pointing to a shadowy cleft between two rocks, off to the right. “The path to the caves is through there.”

“I'm sure this place looks a lot nicer in daylight,” I said, looking nervously at the aforementioned shadowy cleft, “but right now, it's very creepy.”

“No, it's still creepy in the day,” she told me. “The animals are awake then, and they make a variety of scary noises.” She hesitated. “I don't really like coming here,” she admitted. “I wouldn't now if Ashley hadn't come here.”

That brought me abruptly back to our mission: Ashley was here, transformed into God-knew-what, seeking a mysterious loved one who had been captured by the Galactics – and whom Cynthia still hadn't revealed the identity of.

“Who is it that they've captured?” I asked her, as we entered the cleft and began walking down an alarmingly narrow path squeezed between two walls of rock. “You know, right?”

Cynthia paused.

“I don't – it's not something he likes to talk about,” she said at last. “Look, we'll go on, and he can tell you, OK? I'm not going to make that decision for him.”

I was faintly surprised; Cynthia seemed to be being quite reasonable. Then again, Ashley had said that she was more or less a nice person when she wasn't angry, and so far I had only met her when she was angry.

“All right,” I sighed. “I'll wait.”

“Good. I actually have a question of my own – something you might know the answer to, since you've been investigating with Ashley.” Ahead of me, Cynthia stopped suddenly, and looking over her shoulder, I saw that the light from the sky above gave out just in front of her: we had reached the cave mouth. She fumbled for a moment, and then bright light flared in front of her at the click of a torch, illuminating a few measly feet of what I had a horrible feeling was an immeasurable darkness beyond.

“Er... What is it?” I asked.

“Why do they want Ashley here?” asked Cynthia. “What is there in Iron Island?”

Surprisingly, I could actually answer that one.

“It's the furthest possible place away from their base, I think,” I told her. “This is a distraction, like the whole bomb thing.”

Cynthia sighed.

“And like that, it might not even be real, I suppose...” She sighed and stared into the cave mouth. “Cal. I guess we have to go in now.”

“Yeah,” I said. “I guess we do.”

She looked back at me, and it suddenly struck me that she couldn't be more than a couple of years older than me; if she hadn't become Champion, I thought, she might well have turned out just like I had. It was a strange thought: this woman, head of one of the most powerful systems in the Sinnish government, was no more or less than a kid like me.

I gave my best reassuring smile, which, considering the circumstances, wasn't particularly good, and she gave me a wry one back.

“Come on, then,” sighed Cynthia, and we walked into the darkness together.

---

When Ashley regained consciousness, it was to find himself entombed.

This did not have quite the same effect on him as it might on another; he had, for a variety of reasons, been buried alive several times over the course of his long life, and he had always managed to get out in the end. Things were a little different in this case – he was a century into a sharp decline in his powers, and he was so utterly exhausted that blinking was currently a distinct chore – but given time, he would no doubt manage to work his way free. After all, he was still in one piece – no broken bones, no haemorrhages, no obvious wounds – and that could only mean he was mostly fine.

What did alarm him, however, was the fact that he was not quite sure where he was.

This could mean only one thing. He had gone berserk and fully released. And that was a very alarming prospect indeed. Usually, when that happened, there was large-scale slaughter. There was destruction and biblical rains of cleansing fire. In short, when such a thing happened, large human settlements tended to cease to exist, and the League, in turn, chopped him into pieces and stored him in the vaults.

Ashley did not wish to kill people he did not have to, and he definitely did not wish to spend another ninety years in paralytic agony.

Vos khouran miht,” he said to himself, which was Old Sinnish and therefore unintelligible to almost everyone in the world except himself. However, given his current predicament, it seems reasonable to assume that these words might translate as something very, very crude and indicative of extreme displeasure.

A rumble of stone interrupted his thoughts, and all at once the dim light of the cave flooded his eyes as someone dragged a boulder off his face.

“Ah,” said Ashley. “Thank—”

He broke off and frowned. His saviour did not appear as he had imagined – in fact, she did not appear human. Her skin was the colour of violets at midnight, and her eyes shone like polished emeralds; her hair floated around her head like an indigo corona, and she was dressed in something resembling a spacesuit. Still, Ashley had met a great many non-human sentient beings in his time, and this one seemed vaguely familiar.

“Excuse me,” he said. “Have we met?”

The apparition grinned at him, displaying thirty-two very white, very sharp teeth.

“Yeah,” she said, voice grinding flatly on the air. “You could say that.”

“Er, very well. Would you be so good as to free me – or, if that is beyond your strength, find someone who can? Ordinarily I could break loose, but I find my strength somewhat depleted at present.”

The strange woman leaned back and sat down on one of the slabs of rock on his chest.

“Nah,” she said. “See, I had a sudden flash of memory recently, and I need to talk to you about it. So I thought I'd pin you down and have a chat.”

“What – who are you?” asked Ashley, puzzled. “I'm sure I've seen you before—”

“You have. In multiple guises.” The woman ran a thin, pointed tongue over her teeth. “Recently, you've seen me as Liza Radley, the psychologically damaged terrorist-for-hire with the missing past. And – oh, about... four hundred and thirty years ago... you saw me as part of the Geist.”

Ashley's eyes widened and his pupils contracted to pinpricks.

“You? Which – how did you escape?”

“I ran away,” replied the thing that had been Liza. “Simple idea, isn't it? Don't know why no one else tried it; it was obvious you were going to beat us.” She stuck her tongue out at him. “But now the tables are turned, aren't they? You're the one buried in stone and I'm the one gloating.”

“I did not gloat—”

“You did. You were a bad winner. Like a spoilt kid.”

Ashley grimaced.

“I suppose it's too much to ask for you to release my arms so I can hit you?”

“Yeah. Not that I'd feel it, of course.” The Liza-thing tapped him playfully on the nose. “You're not much more than human right now. All the weaknesses and none of the strengths.”

Khouran,” Ashley said, and she raised her eyebrows.

“Ouch,” she said. “I most certainly am not. You know, I'd start being nicer if I were you. Don't you remember why you came here?”

“No, I...” Ashley broke off and drew in a swift breath as memories slotted back into place. The Galactics had captured... “Vỏtt,” he said, closing his eyes. “I... I suppose I have no choice. What do you want?”

“I have a couple of things I need to ask you,” said the Liza-thing, folding her arms and settling into a more comfortable position. “Liza volunteered to come here because she thought she might remember some of her past if she saw Newmoon Island, and when she went to have a look at it from the northern crag – well, she did. Hence my abandoning the disguise. With me so far?”

“Yes,” replied Ashley without emotion.

“Now, I remember most of what happened to me between escaping you at the tower and me losing my memory a few years ago, but bits before that are kind of hazy,” she went on. “I think some of the others might have been borrowing my memories – or maybe we were sharing them, I don't remember. The point is, I want to know what was happening before then.”

“To you?”

“Yes, to me. Who do you think?”

“It would be rather a waste of time to tell you,” said Ashley.

The Liza-thing raised her eyebrows in astonishment.

“Do I need to remind you who I have captive here?” she asked him. “I could twist her pretty little head off any time I choose – or strangle her with her own shadow – or make her eat herself. Is that what you want?”

“If you were at Darkling Town, you will know that not only did I release physically, but mentally as well,” Ashley told her. “Those who survived the assault found themselves afflicted with amnesia afterwards, in the wake of my... psychic explosion, shall we say. As I understand it, the League investigators found that memories had been knocked wholly from people's heads and tied to the land itself. You may have remembered your past when you saw Newmoon Island – but once you move a certain distance from it, all those memories will melt away to nothing.” He tried to shrug, found his shoulders were immovable and settled for blinking instead. “My apologies.”

“No!” growled the Liza-thing, leaping to her feet. “No, that can't be right! I won't forget, not now, of all times... f*ck!”

“English,” noted Ashley with interest. “How quaint. I thought the fashion nowadays was to curse in Nadsat.”

“F*ck you!” she spat, punching him in the eye. “You're lying!”

“No, I'm not,” he replied. “It is not in my interest to lie.”

“Damn right, it's not!” snarled the Liza-thing. “So you'd better start telling the truth, or I f*cking kill her right this second!”

“I am not lying!” cried Ashley, genuinely nervous. “Why would I lie? I don't want her hurt!”

The Liza-thing's face twisted into a rictus of rage, and she turned abruptly to leave his field of vision; a moment later, she was back, her fingers wrapped around the neck of a teenage girl.

Ashley's heart sank. She really did have her, he thought.

“I see you believe me now,” said the Liza-thing. “Now you're going to answer my questions, Izhlei, or we're going to conduct a serious f*cking experiment to find out whether immortality runs in the family.”

Ashley swallowed. It did not look like there was any way out of this now; for once, he was going to have to tell the truth.

“Hello, Marley,” he said softly.

She stared back at him, quiet fear glinting at the back of her eyes.

“Hello, Dad,” she replied.