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Thread: Crack'd, or How the Love of Seafood Saved Unova

  1. #76
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    Now you wouldn't be using Dungeons and Dragons for names, source material, and terms would you? I read mind-flayer at the end there and immediately thought of that.

    Anyway, a pretty neat chapter, and an interesting take on the dreamyard. I look forward to another chapter.


    Credit to Brutaka for the amazing banner and user bar. Yeah, having 2 is redundant, but it shows you guys my favorite pokemon, what story I had planned and my position in the WoJ.

    Time, there's never enough of it but it's always there to waste.
    -Azurus

  2. #77
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    Quote Originally Posted by Azurus View Post
    Now you wouldn't be using Dungeons and Dragons for names, source material, and terms would you? I read mind-flayer at the end there and immediately thought of that.

    Anyway, a pretty neat chapter, and an interesting take on the dreamyard. I look forward to another chapter.
    Ilithid, ilithid, oh illy illy illy ilithid. The only people in the world to make killer golems out of the only substance on earth they're capable of eating. You crazy tentacular Squidward-alikes.

    Thanks for your feedback! Hopefully there won't be too long a wait for the next chapter... I have a pretty light week in terms of work now, with only one soft toy commission and virtually no university stuff to do, so to the keyboard, my fingers!

    F.A.B.

  3. #78
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    I like how you got the feel of Black City. It really comes alive in your story.

    I liked your comment on no Cordelias being "normal". It makes me laugh because it reminds me of my toy dinosaur Cordelia, who is supposed to have a few screws loose.

  4. #79
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    Quote Originally Posted by lollygag View Post
    I like how you got the feel of Black City. It really comes alive in your story.

    I liked your comment on no Cordelias being "normal". It makes me laugh because it reminds me of my toy dinosaur Cordelia, who is supposed to have a few screws loose.
    Glad you liked it. To be honest, half the reason for the story's existence is to give me the chance to rebuild Unova into something both more and less similar to reality than the original, so I'm glad someone's enjoying it.

    As for Cordelia... well, no one normal is ever called Cordelia. From Shakespeare's tragic heroine to Whedon's Buffy character, I find that normal human beings simply do not bear that name. I'm just revealing some hidden laws of the universe. Or inventing them. Depends whether you think I'm penetrating the secrets of reality or spouting nonsense.

    F.A.B.

  5. #80
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    Chapter Ten: Felidae

    1983. The year Sytec went bankrupt.

    The year the nightmares came.

    Speculative weapons research was big business in the years of the Cold War, and Unovan labour at the time came cheap; glutinous chemical artillery, egg-bullets that hatched into flesh-eating larvae, arachnid mind control – the aims of the companies that opened factories in the country were as varied and bizarre as the abstruse machinery they imported.

    Sytec was in the psychic missile business.

    The idea was simple enough. Plenty of technology was available to track and destroy a conventional missile before it hit its target – but the only way to detect a psychic blast at long range was to ask a Kadabra if there was a disturbance in the hive mind, and the chances of the Kadabra choosing to cooperate were so slim as to be virtually nonexistent. The technology to guard against such a blast simply didn't yet exist.

    It seemed a prime research opportunity, and Sytec was not willing to let the competition get there ahead of it. The company rushed an experiment into new and devastating forms of psychic 'mind-flaying' into production, eager to secure lucrative US contracts.

    Unfortunately, 'devastating', 'experiment' and 'rush' are three words that should never be found in the same sentence.

    No one could reasonably claim that they hadn't seen the disaster coming, but they did so anyway; the government didn't buy it, and Sytec was forced to dissolve and sell its assets to repay Unova for the horrors it had unleashed.

    Now, thirty years later, the wounds had faded but the scar was still there, a ragged concrete nightmare embedded in Unova's verdant flank. The Dreamyard.

    The home of the Musharna, and the monsters.

    ---

    “I think it's time to put the gimp masks on.”

    “They're not gimp masks, Halley, they're psy radiation helmets.”

    “Jared, you can argue with me or you can put your gimp mask on. It's your choice.”

    I glowered and got them out of the bag. I hated to admit it, but Halley had a point. They did look unnervingly like—

    Stop thinking about it, Jared.

    Formed of soft black neoprene with dark-tinted bands of reinforced glass across the eyes and at apparently random points on the cranium, they were capable of soaking up 98% of any psychic fields we might encounter, Fennel had assured us. I'd asked about the remaining 2%, and she told me that if we came across any of that we'd be dead anyway, so it wouldn't matter.

    This, and the matter of the mutant cats, was weighing fairly heavily on my mind as I fastened the helmet with the zip at the back.

    Definitely a gi—”

    “Shut the f*ck up, Halley,” I snapped, voice faintly muffled. The world was slightly grey through the glass, but I could see surprisingly well.

    “I'm just saying,” she said. “They're tight, black, cover the whole head...” She shrugged – a manoeuvre that looked very peculiar indeed when executed by a cat. “What is it that Zed says in Pulp Fiction? 'Bring out the—'”

    “Halley, you do know that you've got to wear one too, right?” asked Bianca.

    “Yeah, but mocking myself is no fun,” sighed Halley. “Self-deprecation is so not my style.”

    “If you don't shut up,” I told her, “I won't put your mask on you and you'll turn into a mutant monster like the other wildcats that come here.”

    Halley clamped her jaws shut, and I smiled a secret victorious smile.

    Her mask had caused Fennel some difficulty. She'd suggested we leave her outside, and we'd had to explain that due to very important but unmentionable reasons she had to come with us. Apparently that sort of cloak-and-dagger business wasn't that uncommon in the scientific world, and with the aid of a pair of scissors she'd sliced up one of her other helmets to create a makeshift one for Halley.

    “Doesn't matter,” she said when I asked if that was all right. “I just got Ł750,000. I could cut up hundreds of these and still be in the black.”

    At the thought of her new funding, her hands started shaking and she almost chopped her thumb off, and Amanita took over so she could breathe into the paper bag again. Twelve badly-punched holes and one makeshift lace later, she'd made a makeshift cat-sized helmet. Evidently she was as practically gifted as she was smart.

    Now, I knelt down and laced the helmet onto Halley's head. It fitted as well as could be expected of something made in fifteen minutes, and by that I mean it didn't, but it would have to do; I didn't know if the tightness was important for keeping out the psychic radiation, but I guessed we'd find out once we got into the factory: if Halley keeled over or mutated, the helmet was obviously too loose.

    Candy's head, of course, was nowhere near round enough to accommodate the curved glass panels of even a modified helmet, and she'd have quickly chewed her way out of it anyway – so Bianca had given me a Poké Ball, and reluctantly I'd enclosed her in it, where no radiation could get to her.

    I was surprised at how strongly I was opposed to the idea of 'capturing' Candy; she was my pet, not my slave, and she belonged on my shoulder, not in stasis in some fist-sized metal prison. I could see the advantages of the Poké Ball – she'd be much easier to hide when I needed to hide her, for instance – but still, I promised myself I wouldn't leave her in there any more than I had to.

    Munny, naturally, had no such problems: in fact, when Bianca had released it, it started bouncing with excitement when it saw the wreck of the Sytec plant. While the rest of us shivered at the sight of it, the Munna displayed every sign of actually wanting to live there.

    “Ick,” said Halley with distaste once I'd finished with her helmet. “This thing is horrible. I didn't realise how much I valued the sensory input from my whiskers til you squished them like this. And my ears are all squashed,” she added petulantly.

    “Tough,” I replied, straightening up. “You can't get it off without me, anyway.”

    “Bastard opposable thumbs—!”

    “Come on, guys, stop arguing,” pleaded Bianca. “Can we go now?”

    As one, Halley and I looked through the fence at the Sytec plant – at the crumbling concrete, the twisted vegetation, and the awful shadow of the mind-flayer hanging over everything – and blanched.

    “OK,” I said hesitantly. “Let's – let's go.”

    None of us moved.

    “You first,” said Bianca. “You're the fighter.”

    You're the Trainer.”

    We paused.

    “Go together?” she suggested tentatively.

    “All right,” I agreed, and simultaneously we stepped over a section of collapsed fence, and into the heart of the Unovan Chernobyl.

    ---

    Beyond the fence were the remnants of the car park, its surface rucked and twisted by invading roots; the asphalt had held back all but the strongest of the plants, and it was much less dense than in the surrounding forest. It might even have made a pleasant walk, if not for the vague sense of mental discomfort that I felt, even through the helmet. The roving psychic fields were evidently out in force.

    “Munny,” said Bianca, “can you sense any other Munna or Musharna around?”

    It seemed to have some difficulty with this question, which surprised me; from everything Fennel had said, I'd almost assumed Munna were as intelligent as I was. In actual fact, as I later found out, they were closer to monkeys in terms of intellect, and had difficulty with spoken language owing to their poor hearing (a result of over-reliance on their psychic senses). Wikipedia is a fantastic thing.

    “Anything else like you?” she asked, rephrasing it to see if it made any more sense. Munny seemed to get the idea now, and drifted off towards the large square building ahead of us.

    “We're going to the Musharna to find where the dust is, right?” I asked.

    “Yeah,” replied Bianca. “I don't know... Do you have any other ideas?”

    I shook my head.

    “No, sounds good.”

    “How utterly banal,” said Halley acidly, but no one acknowledged her.

    We followed Munny through the sparse woods and through a doorway that lacked a door; beyond was a vast, shadowy space that bore signs of the walls that had once divided into rooms and corridors in the lines of crumbling rubble on the floor. Shafts of light streamed from holes in the walls and roof, but made no real impact on the gloom and were swiftly swallowed up amid the tangles of brambles and creepers that grew towards them hungrily.

    All in all, it was pretty damn ominous, and that was before the monsters lunged out of the shadows.

    They came at us in a pair: twisted things that could have started life as either Purrloin or wildcats but which were now unrecognisable, eyes shrivelled, legs stretched, backs distorted with soft fleshy jags of meat—

    I kicked one in the face reflexively, and it backed away, letting loose an baleful shriek; Munny dived towards the other, blue waves streaming from its forehead, but the cat-thing was unaffected, rearing up and swatting the Munna out of the air with one distended paw. Munny hit the ground, bounced and swung away dizzily, whirling on its axis like a top.

    The first monster rejoined the second and both jumped at me at once; the world tipped crazily around me and my head hit the concrete floor with a sharp crack of pain. Almost automatically, I rolled onto my side, trying to dislodge them, but their claws were long and sinuous, and wound through my shirt like corkscrews as they fought to get their jaws to my throat—

    A gout of fire shot past my ear and set one cat-thing's fur ablaze; it let go of me with a shriek, slashing the other's leg in its haste to escape, and shot off towards the shadows in a trail of sparks. I seized the opportunity and grabbed two of the beast's three ears, pulling its head back and slamming it into the floor.

    It let go of me then, and I scrambled to my feet, looking around frantically for something to hit it with; by the time I'd found a rock, it was up too, and had shot between my legs in search of some other target. I turned, saw Smoky spouting cinders from his nostrils, and almost relaxed; he was about to nail the monster with another blast of fire, I could see.

    His nose flexed and flames spewed forth – but suddenly the beast's grotesque outlines blurred, and somehow it swept around and behind him in a dark flicker of light before sinking its claws deep into his back.

    Smoky squealed in agony and bucked hard; Bianca cried out; Munny heard her distress and started emitting bluish waves that distorted the air like heat haze; I hurled my rock and missed, narrowly missing Bianca—

    —and something knocked the monster off its feet with a bang.

    It flew off Smoky's back, rolled over on the ground and tried to crawl away, one of its legs apparently no longer working; there was another report, and it lay still with a despairing gurgle.

    A sudden calm seemed to fall over the old building then. Smoky's screams died down to a whimper, and then ceased as Bianca recalled him with trembling fingers; the only sound that was left was that of footsteps – two pairs – coming towards us from across the room.

    “Are you two OK?” I heard someone shouting. “Hey, you! You OK?”

    I looked up from where Smoky had been to Bianca. I couldn't see her face, but she was gripping Smoky's ball so hard her knuckles almost glowed white in the dark. Uncertain of what to do, I patted her arm tentatively, and was surprised (and slightly alarmed) when she pressed her head against my shoulder.

    “I changed my mind,” she said, voice shaking. “Let's go. I don't like it here—”

    “I said, are you two OK?”

    I looked up, saw the two people approaching us and nodded.

    “Yeah, I think so.”

    They both wore dark clothes – I thought maybe they were suits, but I couldn't be sure in the gloom, and suits would be ridiculously inappropriate for this place anyway – and had psy rad helmets of their own on; they also carried what looked alarmingly like handguns – alarming since possession of a gun was entirely illegal in Unova with the exception of police officers, soldiers and druids. I couldn't exactly say I wasn't grateful for them right now, though, given that they’d just saved us.

    “Good,” said the one on the left – a man by his voice. “Those things are lethal... we ran into five on the way here. Every one different but just as f*cked-up.”

    “What are you doing here, anyway?” asked the other, a woman. “'Sraven, are you Training? This place is too dangerous for that, you know—”

    “We were looking for Musharna dust,” I told them. “But I think...” I looked at Bianca. “I think we might leave now,” I said quietly.

    “Good idea,” said the woman. They were now close enough for me to see that yes, they were wearing suits – which had clearly suffered during their trip through the Sytec plant. “You were following Fennel's advert?”

    “Yeah.”

    “So're we,” the man said. “F*ck me if we can find a single Musharna nest, though.”

    “I see,” I said slowly. These two seemed infinitely better-qualified to search this place than we did – for a start, they had guns, and I wasn't sure how much use Bianca would be now either, after the shock she'd had. “I guess we'll leave you two to it, then.”

    Abruptly, Bianca peeled herself away from me.

    “No, we'll come too,” she said, voice surprisingly strong. “I said I'd do this and I will.”

    I looked at her in astonishment.

    Guess she was just startled, then, I thought. Well, she is a Trainer, after all... I suppose I shouldn't be that surprised.

    “Hey, look,” said the man, “this is serious business, and we don't have the time or ammunition to worry about looking after two kids—”

    “We've got Pokémon,” Bianca said. “One of which is a Munna.” She indicated Munny, now recovered and in a more or less stable hover. “Munny can sense the Musharna and other Munna. It'll lead us right to them.”

    The woman glanced at the man.

    “What do you say, Steve?” she asked. “I mean, we've been poking around this dump for two hours now – and I really don't want to be here when night falls and the rest of the monsters come out.”

    Steve stroked his neoprene-coated chin.

    “All right, fine,” he said reluctantly. “You can come with us. Just don't get in our way, all right?”

    “Fair enough,” I replied. “Deal.”

    “Enough talking,” said the woman. “Get that Munna moving. We don't have all day.”

    “Actually, Donna, that's all we do have,” pointed out Steve. Perhaps he thought he was being witty, but no one laughed.

    We followed Munny through the eternal twilight of the ruin, keeping silent and watching out for any sign of attacking Purrloin or wildcats. Perhaps the fire and gunshots had driven them away for now, but I didn't expect it would last long; if Donna and Steve had been attacked multiple times already, I guessed the monsters didn't learn from the fate of their fellows.

    Halley followed at a short distance, slinking along behind us and keeping to the shadows; I couldn't ask her why, but I supposed she thought Donna or Steve might shoot her if they saw her.

    Munny wound its way slowly across the room, occasionally pausing to check whatever internal force was guiding it, and headed hesitantly for a small aperture in one wall that led into what looked like an unending void of darkness.

    “Through here?” asked Bianca, pointing.

    Munny bobbed as though nodding.

    “We can't fit through that,” she told it. “Is there another way?”

    “Don't need it,” said Steve. “Stand aside.”

    She did, with some trepidation, and Steve tossed a Poké Ball through the gap. A flash of light illuminated part of a corridor beyond for a brief second, and then the darkness descended once more, leaving a bright after-image dancing on my eyes.

    “Take down the wall,” he instructed, and took a few hurried steps back. Bianca and I copied him, and a moment later the little gap expanded into a very large gap by the simple means of exploding.

    In the distance, something roared in response.

    We froze for a moment – that something had sounded big – but nothing happened; Steve recalled his Pokémon, whatever it had been, and we hurried through the gap, eager to get away from whatever had heard the blast.

    “Where the f*ck is this?” wondered Steve, as we made our way down a pitch-black corridor.

    “If that last building was the main office, this is probably an access passage to the assembly line,” replied Donna. Evidently they'd bothered to check a map or two before coming – further evidence of how abominably badly-prepared we'd been. “Where they put together the components for the mind-flayer. The psychic fields will be strongest there; it figures that that's where the Musharna will be.” She paused. “We can't stay there long, though. The radiation will eat through the helmets in about thirty minutes.”

    “I don't plan on being there any longer than it takes to fill those damn vials with dust,” replied Steve. (I found myself wondering what we'd been planning to put the dust in. Damn. We really hadn't thought this through, had we?) “We'll get in there, get the dust, and get out.”

    “All right, all right,” said Donna. “I'm just saying.”

    We continued onwards through the dark – no longer as total as it had first seemed; there was just enough sunlight filtering down the passage that we could see our way – and, a few minutes later, came to a doorway leading into a small room full of shrivelled, dry things that crunched unpleasantly underfoot and which I really didn't want to think about.

    “The cats have been trying hard to get in here, haven't they?” observed Steve mildly. “Something's stopped 'em pretty f*cking conclusively, though.”

    I swallowed, and Bianca's fingers suddenly dug into my arm like the teeth of a man-trap.

    “It's the Musharna,” replied Donna, poking a mummified monstrosity with her gun. “This close to the source, they're a bit tougher than usual. Doesn't matter if you're Dark-type or not, they'll tear your mind out and leave you for the psy fields to desiccate.”

    Bianca's grip tightened – something that I thought would have pushed her finger bones beyond the limits of their tensile strength. I winced and patted her hand.

    “Bianca? That... really hurts.”

    “Sorry,” she whispered, but didn't let go. I sighed, and tried to ignore the pain.

    Donna and Steve straightened up and looked towards the door.

    “I guess that's it, then,” said Steve unenthusiastically. “The factory floor.”

    “Yes.” Donna turned to Bianca. “You've got the Munna, you go through first. They won't attack you, and hopefully not us either.”

    Bianca was silent for a moment, then half a minute, and I could tell she was wavering, about to say she couldn't do it—

    “OK,” she said eventually, voice surprisingly steely. “Let's go.”

    She took a deep breath, and pushed open the door to the factory floor.

    “Woden hang 'em,” I breathed, staring up and out at the vast space beyond. “It's huge.”

    The factory level stretched away for the length of a football pitch, the other end shrouded in darkness; the concrete walls soared upwards to an invisible ceiling, apparently interminable pipes running up their colossal flanks. Giant girders crisscrossed the shadowy heights, disappearing and reappearing in the gloom as if playing with each other.

    Half-constructed pylons lay toppled amid pyramids of barrels; tools lay abandoned on benches and huge wheels reclined on beds of cracked stone where they had fallen from the conveyor belts that hung in tatters everywhere you looked, like grimy industrial tinsel. Once, catwalks had serviced the uppermost belts; now only a few remained, the rest hanging at drunken angles from snapped moorings or lying like fallen trees on the floor.

    Then there were the Musharna.

    They hung in the air like pink clouds, drifting slowly from pylon to barrel to catwalk in an aimless sort of way; rolls of fat drooped from their bellies, and I realised that most of them were hugely overweight – the psychic-radiation-rich atmosphere there must have been a continual feast for them. One suckled three tiny Munna, pouring bluish waves from its flank into their staring eyes; other Munna darted around in the air, livelier than their bloated elders, chasing each other and playing amid the wreckage.

    I stared, spellbound, until I heard crackling and realised with horror that the helmet was beginning to dissolve, the surface coming apart like smouldering paper.

    “Let me revise my estimate,” said Donna quietly. “We've got ten minutes in here before the helmets burn out – five if we want to have enough protection left to make it back to the fence.”

    “Let's move,” said Steve decisively, pulling the vials from his pockets and handing them out. “Start scooping, kids.”

    I looked down, and realised for the first time that part of the darkness in the room was due to the thick layer of dark purple dust that lay over everything; experimentally, I scooped a handful into the vial and watched as gravity effortlessly erased the gap I'd made. The stuff was deep; it would have taken years to harvest it all, even if the Musharna had stopped making more.

    At the thought of the Musharna, I looked up at them, just to make sure they weren't looking aggressive; they seemed almost oblivious to our presence, carrying on with their sluggish, incurious lives. The only clue they were alive at all was the spicy flavour of the air, testament to their chemical language. I wondered if they would have been so placid without Munny here. Given the carpet of corpses next door, I thought probably not.

    Munny itself had drifted a little way from us, twirling with two of its wild brethren in what looked like a game of tag; I hoped it wasn't having too much fun – we didn't want it staying here.

    “Forty-five seconds,” said Donna urgently. “Time to go. Now.”

    Bianca and I handed our vials to Steve, and that should have been the end of it. The danger was over; we should have walked out and gone back to Fennel's lab.

    Unfortunately, things didn't quite work out like that.

    You see, in the dark, Steve trod on Halley's tail, and Halley swore at the top of her lungs – and Donna noticed, and uttered four very ominous words:

    “It's her! It's Halley!”

    “Oh, sh*t,” I breathed. “You're Green Party.”

    ---

    My first instinct was to whack one of them over the head, but they had guns, and that changed things; uttering a brief prayer to Córmi for our continued existence, I snatched up Halley with one hand and Bianca's wrist with the other and ran for it.

    “Sh*t, that must be Black!” I heard Steve cry out, slow on the uptake, and then a moment later, as we burst into the corridor, I heard their footsteps crunching on the dead things behind us.

    “What the hell?” yelled Bianca helplessly. “Why would they— the funding!”

    I saw it now as well: the suits, the guns, the fact that they just happened to be here the same day that Harmonia sent the grant to Fennel's lab... The clues had all been there, if only I'd been smart enough to spot them—

    F*ck,” I growled to myself. “I'm such an idiot!”

    “You can say that again,” said Halley. “Also: wheeeeee! Despite the goons with guns, being carried along this fast is actually pretty fun.”

    “Shut up,” I snapped, and for once she actually did.

    I could see the main building ahead of us now, the aperture in the ruined wall looming grey against the black – but there were footsteps close behind us, and Steve was shouting:

    “Stop running! You'll make it worse for yourself – if you stop, we won't have to shoot!”

    “Frige save us,” cried Bianca. “Munny! Do something!”

    All at once I became aware of the pink ball zooming along beside us; it wheeled around abruptly and blasted a rippling circle of blue light in the direction of our pursuers. The lack of screams seemed a decent indicator of its ineffectiveness, and I remembered too late the damn helmets—

    “The helmets would have to be more badly damaged than this for that to get through them,” Donna called disdainfully. “Give up. There's nothing you can— 'sraven!”

    I heard a blood-chilling yowl from behind us and a flurry of gunshots, deafening in the narrow space; it seemed one of the cats had inadvertently bought us some time, and a moment later we were bursting out into the shell of the first building and sprinting across to the exit—

    Suddenly, there was a huge flash of light, and a terrible hulking something materialised in the doorway.

    It looked like it had been hewn from stone by the most ham-fisted sculptor imaginable; its body bulged out in crazed lumps between deep cracks and rifts in its skin, and its lopsided eyes squinted balefully out from under a brow broad enough to be used as an anvil. Squat and solid, it might have been a malformed, hairless chimpanzee – but I knew better. I'd seen one before, on TV; there, it had been tamer, dressed in a martial artist's outfit, but it had the same indolent savagery in its eyes, the same knuckle-dragging gait.

    It was a Throh, and as we stopped dead in our tracks I suddenly realised exactly how it was that Steve had broken the wall down so easily.

    “Nice to see you have some sense,” said Steve from behind us, drawing closer. I didn't turn around and look; I didn't dare to take my eyes off the Throh. “Rush at him and you'd all be dead right now.”

    “You can't keep him out long,” Bianca said. “The psychic fields...”

    “He'll be fine for long enough to bring you two under control,” Donna replied. “Now, you two – or three, I guess – come over here. We'll take you back to Castelia, Harmonia will do whatever it is he needs you for, your memories will be wiped, and all this will be over. Nice and easy.”

    So it did go all the way up to Harmonia, then, I thought. But why? What was he after? I pushed the thought away and tried to concentrate on finding a way out of the situation, which seemed to be getting worse by the second.

    “I don't think so,” I said, working up the courage to look away from the Throh and face the two Party members. “We're not going anywhere.”

    “You have two guns and a Throh pointed at you,” observed Donna. “What more persuasion do you actually need? 'Sraven, are you really that stupid?”

    “You won't shoot us if you need us—”

    “Technically, we only want you and Halley,” she said. “We could shoot her” – she indicated Bianca – “and leave her to be eaten by the cats. No one would question it.”

    “Nice ploy,” said Steve admiringly.

    “Thank you. I thought of it while we were running.”

    I looked at Bianca.

    “Any ideas?”

    She shook her head silently.

    I looked back at Donna and Steve, who were still watching us expectantly. Behind me, I heard the Throth cough, an explosive rattle like a backfiring car, and punch the wall out of boredom. From the sound of it, that brought down rather more masonry than I was entirely comfortable with.

    “Halley?” I asked desperately. “Ideas?”

    “Please hurry up with this little charade,” called Steve. “My Throh is losing IQ points by the second, and he didn't have many to start with.”

    “Yeah, just the one,” said Halley. “Munny! Zap the Throh!”

    Everyone looked up abruptly: we'd completely forgotten the little Munna, still floating loyally above Bianca's head – and now, as the light began to bend and flex around it, I felt myself begin to smile. I wasn't a Trainer, but even I knew what happened when Psychic moves hit a Fighting-type.

    “No—!” cried Steve, but it was too late: the air rippled and distorted in a shimmering wave, the latent psychic radiation in the air feeding the Psywave and magnifying it once, twice, fifty times, a maelstrom of energy funnelling directly into the Throh—

    —which promptly lobbed a brick at Munny.

    If there's one thing a Throh can do, it's throw: the brick flew straight and true, and smashed Munny out of the air with the sound of cracking bone. It hit the ground, painted eyes closed, and did not move.

    At the same time, the Psywave reached the Throh, and twin fountains of grey fluid spouted from its ears as its tiny brain was shaken from its moorings; a moment later, it keeled over as if poleaxed.

    “Munny!” screamed Bianca, running to her Pokémon's side. “Munny, Munny—!”

    “Sh*t,” muttered Halley. “That definitely didn't go as planned.”

    “Any more bright ideas?” asked Donna, ignoring Bianca and walking over to Halley and me. “You want to get anyone else killed today?”

    I felt my nails digging into my palms, and realised my fists were clenched so tightly they were almost drawing blood. Those damn guns, I thought bitterly. Take them away and I could do this, I knew I could...

    “Come on, then,” said Steve, stepping forwards to join Donna. “It's over. You lost. Give me—”

    A long, bass note like the song of a church organ resounded through the room.

    We all froze.

    “What was that?” asked Donna cautiously.

    “I don't,” began Steve, but he never finished – for then he saw the things gathering in the corners of the room, and his voice died in his throat.

    I never saw them clearly, and it's probably a blessing that I did. But I could catch glimpses as they passed: of transparent limbs and bulging eyes, of jagged prongs and ragged fins, claws and twisted toes and the horrid wet slap of webbed feet on stone—

    —and the terrible, awful knowledge, creeping over me like cold water seeping through fabric, that all of these things, these eldritch abominations whose horrendous shapes I could only catch the merest glimpse of – that all these things had once been human...

    It didn't take long. The things swarmed in close, and Donna and Steve broke and fled, their eyes rolling with fright, and a horde of half-seen terrors close at their heels—

    Then the bass note rang out again, and all was calm.

    I blinked and looked around. No Donna. No Steve. No Throh. Just Bianca and Munny, Halley and myself, all alone here.

    No, wait. Not alone.

    From the corridor came the Musharna, one by one, filing out and into the huge space like some curious ceremonial guard. They swept forwards to Bianca, nudging her gently away from Munny and moving down towards the little Pokémon, uttering strange spiced sighs that were all I could perceive of their psychochemical language.

    All at once, I understood. They'd sensed Munny was in trouble – in their eyes, one of their own, a baby. And they had come to defend it.

    “They made dreams real,” I said softly. “They made their nightmares into reality.”

    “Childhood nightmares,” corrected Halley. “The fear of the monster under the bed and in the wardrobe. The fear of what the dark might conceal. The strongest fears we have.” She shifted and slithered out of my arms, still staring at the Musharna. “Munny screamed very loudly, and they heard.”

    “I didn't hear anything—”

    “Because of the psy rad helmet,” she said, stalking over to where the Musharna were gathered around Bianca and Munny. “But they heard, and they reacted as you would if you heard a toddler having his fingernails pulled out.”

    I winced.

    “Thanks for that image.”

    “My pleasure.”

    The air was so thick with chemicals now that I could almost see them, a kind of heat haze centred on Munny.

    “Painkillers,” Halley said to Bianca, sitting down by her side. “They think it'll die, so they're numbing the pain for it.”

    Bianca looked at her sharply.

    “Munny's alive?”

    “Of course,” said Halley, tasting the air with her tongue and grimacing. “It's pretty much one big skull. It'll take more than a brick to break through that. Bring it along to the Pokémon Centre and it'll be— what the f*ck are you doing?”

    Bianca had swept her up into a crushing hug, and I had to smile at Halley's wild and ineffectual attempts to get free; she'd gone, as only cats can, from elegant and collected to ridiculous and pathetic in less than a second.

    “Oh, thank you thank you—”

    “Thank the f*cking Musharna, not me!” yowled Halley. “And put me down while you're at it!”

    Bianca dropped her, and was on the verge of hugging the nearest Musharna when she realised that its fur was crawling with centimetre-long ticks; shuddering, she settled instead for thanking them as loudly as she could.

    “Thank you thank you thank you!” she cried. “Thank you so much!”

    One Musharna blew a large bubble of spit, which she seemed to interpret as understanding, and Bianca nodded happily.

    “I don't want to interrupt,” I called, “but we should really be getting the hell out of this place. Like, now.” I pointed to my helmet. “These things are falling apart,” I said. “I can see your hair through the back of yours.

    “Oh!” Bianca got to her feet hurriedly and fumbled for Munny's ball. “Yeah, of course.” She recalled Munny and the Musharna stared at the spot where it had been in stunned silence; then they turned to look at her, blew out a few clouds of scented gas, and began to make their slow way back to the factory floor. “Thanks again!” she called out after them, and was answered by a strong smell of cinnamon.

    She turned, and actually skipped over to join me in her joy.

    “Christ,” murmured Halley. “Skipping? The girl's mad.”

    “OK,” said Bianca. “Let's go.”

    “About bloody time,” I muttered under my breath. Then, aloud: “Come on, then. Time to move.”

    So saying, we took our leave of the Sytec plant, relieved, exhausted and not a little disturbed.

  6. #81
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    Love the whole mutated cats thing. ELLLRRRRIIIC!
    How are they transporting the mist back, they have nothing to put it in?
    They say if you press cntrl and W you get to see the programming of a website after making a signature with 3 ws and 8qs
    Fanfics I like that are still in production: Author's Run, Pokémon emerald the better version

    This the aquabats song awesome forces:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dx4sL0w3SHM
    and here is their song shark fighter: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L3wchrctxFo

    I NEED A BETA READER!
    Check out my fic.
    http://www.serebiiforums.com/showthr...2#post14945242

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    Hey, I'm back! If you're astute, you may have noticed I've got back into a semi-weekly update schedule - but I'm afraid there'll be no update this weekend, since I've been hit by an execrable cold that sapped my fighting writing spirit and left me asleep using the real-life Lauren White as a pillow. However, I should be back up and writing again soon.

    Quote Originally Posted by Rotomknight View Post
    Love the whole mutated cats thing. ELLLRRRRIIIC!
    How are they transporting the mist back, they have nothing to put it in?
    They aren't. Donna and Steve got vials of the dust; presumably they'll find their way back to Fennel eventually.

    As for cats... well, my signature does warn readers that Crack'd contains cats. You can expect to see more of them as the story goes on.

    F.A.B.

  8. #83
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    Awesome chapter, but 2 simple errors.
    "I never saw them clearly and it's probably a blessing that I did." Should be "didn't"

    Another one is where you use the word "an" before a word that starts with a consananent, I think the letter "B"
    I can't find it now that I'm looking for it, but I'll "ctrl f" it when I get home and edit my post.

    Anyway, nice, nice chapter. I enjoyed the details of the ruined structure and surrounding area.
    Also, I had a hard time imagining what those creatures could look like, any example I could use a reference? I just though of rotting Liepards to be honest.

    Anyway, looking forward to another chapter, keep it up.


    Credit to Brutaka for the amazing banner and user bar. Yeah, having 2 is redundant, but it shows you guys my favorite pokemon, what story I had planned and my position in the WoJ.

    Time, there's never enough of it but it's always there to waste.
    -Azurus

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    Quote Originally Posted by Azurus View Post
    Awesome chapter, but 2 simple errors.
    "I never saw them clearly and it's probably a blessing that I did." Should be "didn't"

    Another one is where you use the word "an" before a word that starts with a consananent, I think the letter "B"
    I can't find it now that I'm looking for it, but I'll "ctrl f" it when I get home and edit my post.
    Thanks for the heads up. I usually catch most of my typos, but it's helpful to have those I miss pointed out.

    Quote Originally Posted by Azurus View Post
    Anyway, nice, nice chapter. I enjoyed the details of the ruined structure and surrounding area.
    Also, I had a hard time imagining what those creatures could look like, any example I could use a reference? I just though of rotting Liepards to be honest.
    The description's deliberately vague, but I thought there were enough hints to get the point across; maybe there should've been a bit more. They're not so much rotten as twisted, in every sense of the word; the fact that Jared can't tell if they're Purrloin or wildcats ought to give you some idea of how mangled they are.

    Quote Originally Posted by Azurus View Post
    Anyway, looking forward to another chapter, keep it up.
    Thanks. I'm actually going a bit faster than I thought. It might be done soon. (Then again, it might not. Just to cover my bases.)

    F.A.B.

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    Chapter Eleven: Warp and Weft

    Tock.

    ---

    “Today.”

    Teiresias' voice broke the silence like sand pouring into forgotten tombs, and Smythe shivered. Did it really have to do that every single time it spoke?

    “What – they're going?”

    “Yes.”

    Teiresias flowed down from the table to the floor as if its essence wasn't entombed in flesh; since the damage its physical form had sustained in the forest, it moved less like a living Purrloin and more like the fluid spirit that composed its true shape. It was not a change Smythe welcomed. In fact, he hated it; it was creepy and wrong and altogether disturbing.

    Shortly after parting ways with Niamh in Accumula – a goodbye that neither had wanted to say, but which was unavoidable for as long as Teiresias lingered with him – Smythe had made his way north to Accumula by taxi, incurring considerable expense but ensuring he stood zero chance of meeting Niamh again on a train or in the vicinity of any train stations. He had set up camp in a hotel here, and had hardly dared leave for fear of running into Niamh and having to explain why he was here; for its part, Teiresias had only returned early this morning, when he'd awoken to the unsettling sight of it sitting on the table in a purple-black haze of smoke. He hadn't quite had the courage to ask what it was doing, and in fact it had said nothing at all until that moment.

    “Last night they divided,” Teiresias went on. “White and Halley went somewhere I could not see, but they have returned. Today, they will divide again.”

    Smythe didn't question how it knew this. He just nodded.

    “White and Halley will be alone,” it said. “However...” It bared its teeth, a curiously feline action, and Smythe wondered if perhaps its last few bodies had left more of an impression on it than he had thought. “They will be somewhere I cannot follow,” it said at last. “Somewhere I cannot even go near for fear of detection.”

    Fear?
    What the hell was this? Smythe stared. How could there be anything in the world that Teiresias feared? And, if there was such a thing, what manner of terrifying entity could it be?

    “You will have to catch them yourself,” Teiresias told him. “For my part, I shall snare one of the two Trainers. If White proves... recalcitrant, a hostage may persuade her to acquiesce.”

    Smythe swallowed. All right, so this mission hadn't really been that legal to start with, but now... Christ. This was getting messier and messier by the moment.

    “Right,” he said carefully. “Where do you want me to go?”

    ---

    Cheren hadn't been happy about what we'd been up to last night, and since this was Cheren we were dealing with, he had had a nearly impregnable argument to back up his opinion. We'd gone out without contacting him, and had been unreachable by phone within the disruptive psychic fields of the Dreamyard; we'd alerted the Party to our whereabouts; we'd given them, if they took the effort to work it out, the address of the Pokémon Centre we'd first visited in the city; and we could no longer visit Fennel's lab and so he could not learn more about her fascinating psychochemical experiments first-hand.

    I think it was that more than anything else that annoyed him. Out of all of us, he would have understood and appreciated the knowledge Fennel had to impart the most, and I felt kind of bad for cutting him out of it. But I couldn't have done otherwise; Bianca had had to go to the Dreamyard alone. There was no alternative; if she'd gone with Cheren, it wouldn't have been the same. He would have taken over and she would have proved nothing. As it was, she'd managed to call down an entire herd of Musharna to her aid – which, while maybe not intentional, was definitely quite good going.

    You could tell it had made a difference, too: when she'd finally got up and joined Cheren and me in the Centre's lounge, she was visibly cheerier than she had been before the Dreamyard escapade. She bounced in, Munny following as if the brick had never hit it, and threw herself onto the sofa so hard she knocked Cheren half off it.

    “Uh,” he said, sounding faintly aggrieved. “Good morning to you too, Bianca.”

    “Morning!” she sang out. “Look! Munny's all better.”

    “Yes, so it would seem. I was just telling Lauren what I found out last night while you two were wasting time and bringing the wrath of the Party down on our heads.”

    Bianca's smile didn't waver.

    “Yeah?”

    Cheren sat back and pushed his glasses further up his nose.

    “I went to the Trainer's School, as you know, and fairly quickly realised it's not a particularly valuable institution; I think it's more aimed at preparing people who want to become Trainers rather than adding anything valuable to the store of knowledge of a more experienced person. So I went across to a library instead and did a little research on the Green Party online.”

    “Yeah?”

    “Yes. I found out that in the last six months they've ballooned massively in size, power and financial weight – despite not apparently being backed by any investors at all that I could figure out. They were always a middling sort of party, but now they're unquestionably a serious contender for the general election.”

    “How did they do that?” asked Bianca, frowning.

    “Gold,” replied Cheren simply. “I don't know how, but for the last few months they've been selling vast quantities of gold bullion. No mines, no suppliers. They own a warehouse in Driftveil and once a week they send out shipments of gold across the world. No one delivers it: it's just dispatched.”

    “But then where does it come from?”

    “No idea,” he said, shrugging. “It just comes out of the warehouse, as if by magic.”

    “How did you find all this out?” I asked. “Surely all this isn't just available on their website, right?”

    “No, it isn't,” answered Cheren. “But it's there, if you're dedicated enough. I'm not the first one to ask questions about it, which made finding the information easier. The Party hasn't issued anything in response to these questions; I don't think they've been picked up by the mainstream media yet. Or if they have,” he added disquietingly, “something has silenced them.”

    That silenced us for a while, mostly because I think we were all pretty sure it was true. If the Green Party's finances were that transparently suspicious, then someone in the press had to have figured it out already – and the lack of news coverage meant that the Party was significantly more powerful (and more sinister) than we'd thought.

    “So,” I said slowly, “what do we do about it? Go to Driftveil?”

    “Not directly,” Cheren replied. “I still want to challenge the Gym here before we leave, and we need to look up Teiresias as well, so we may have to go via Nacrene to visit the library. And if that is insufficient, we may have to visit the High Gorsedd in Castelia.”

    Reproduction of the Treatises beyond the copies held in the temples was strictly forbidden by decree of Orthalmo the Mad, High Druid in the time of King Ulfric. The legitimacy of the decree was disputed – Orthalmo had ordered, among other things, the eradication of all badgers within the country, the dissolution of the mercantile class and the construction of an four-hundred-foot marble phallus at the temple at Lacunosa – but it had stood until now, and the Treatises were not to be found online or in conventional libraries. If you wanted to read them, you either had to get a druid to lend you a copy or visit a temple – or go to the Travison Memorial Library in Nacrene, which was licensed specially by the High Druid to keep around half the Treatises in its collection.

    “Right,” I said. “So are you two off to the Gym today, then? I could visit the temple and research Teiresias when you do that.”

    “Just what I was about to suggest,” Cheren told me. “Now, Bianca—”

    “I'm hungry. What've I missed?”

    Halley leaped up between us from nowhere, somehow contriving to poke all three of us uncomfortably in the side at the same time, and kneaded a cushion into a nest to lie in.

    “Where have you been?” asked Cheren.

    “Been to London to— nah, I made that joke already and no one got it,” she sighed. “I've been sleeping, what do you think? I am a cat. We spend like half our lives asleep if you let us.”

    “We were just deciding what we're doing today,” Cheren said. “Do I have to repeat it for you?”

    “Can't be bothered to listen,” yawned Halley. “I'll just follow this little b*tch.” She jerked her head at me; I wondered if I was meant to be insulted, but decided it didn't matter.

    “Right. If you're quite done spewing random vitriol...?”

    Halley thought for a moment.

    “Yeah, I guess I'm done,” she said.

    “Then I suggest we get going,” said Cheren.

    “What about breakfast?” asked Bianca.

    “Yeah, what about it?” added Halley.

    “Lauren and I have already—”

    “What you and Lauren have done doesn't mean shi— shingle to me,” said Halley, casting a dirty look at me as she bit off the curse. “I'm hungry.”

    “It's not really fair if they don't have anything to eat,” I put in hesitantly.

    Cheren sighed.

    “Very well,” he said. “You two go and have breakfast, then, and I'll wait here – but please, be quick. It's already nearly half past nine.”

    “Oh, Christ!” cried Halley in horror. “Half past nine? Why didn't you say so before? What a criminal waste of daylight hours we're currently perpetrating!”

    “There's no need to be sarcastic.”

    “If there was no need, I wouldn't have done it. Lighten up, Che.”

    “What did you just call me?”

    He was trying very hard to sound like he didn't care, but I was almost certain that Cheren found that annoying. Extremely annoying.

    “Che. Like Guevara. Short for Cheren.” Halley paused. “What sort of name is Cheren, anyway?”

    “It's derived from Bulgarian,” he replied with such extreme dignity that he had to be seething inside. “It means 'black'.”

    Halley froze.

    “Seriously?” she said, staring at him. “Black?”

    “Yes, black,” he repeated. “What of it?”

    “Bianca's name means 'white',” she said, giving me a significant look. “Lauren...”

    “I know,” I replied softly, wondering what exactly this new piece of information meant. “I see it too...”

    Black and white, boy and girl, city and forest... The thread of opposites kept running through everything, kept turning up everywhere I went. Had Halley started something by revealing the existence of the two worlds to me? Or had it always been this way, this dualism, and it was only now that I knew that I could perceive it?

    Cheren frowned.

    “I don't get it,” he said. “What are you trying to say...?”

    “Yes, what?” asked Bianca.

    “Nothing,” I said hurriedly, wishing I was smart enough to know how to explain it to them. I wanted their help with it – whatever Jared Black might have done, I wasn't confident about tackling such a huge idea on my own – but I just didn't know how to say it yet. “Never mind.”

    I stood up.

    “Come on,” I said brightly. “Bianca, Halley, I bet you're hungry, and they're only serving breakfast for another half hour.”

    “Oh... yeah, OK,” said Bianca, looking faintly confused.

    “Huh,” muttered Cheren, but he said no more, and followed us out into the corridor and across to the canteen.

    ---

    Niamh Harper was a troubled soul.

    As the observant reader will have noticed, she had not, in fact, arrived in Striaton before Lauren et al and intercepted them; no, she had renounced the plan of tracking them down immediately in favour of another, more devious plan that lay closer to her heart.

    She had, of course, noticed Smythe's discomfort and perceived that there was more to his case than met the eye. One does not deal with mad scientists, plutocrats and criminals for nine and a half years without gaining some aptitude at reading a man – and Smythe didn't exactly make it hard. He wasn't a natural liar, and though life had taught him to lie, he was an exceptionally bad student; Niamh had seen that there was some dilemma wrenching him asunder as soon as the issue had crossed his mind, and now she was determined to find out what it was that oppressed her friend so, and made him terminate their meeting abruptly and with obvious unease.

    At least... 'friend' seemed the most apt word. She wasn't exactly sure what the right word for their relationship was, exactly; it hadn't exactly been anything she'd encountered, before or since, and it had surged back into life with a power that had physically stunned both of them when they'd first spotted each other in Accumula.

    Niamh had still felt strange, her heart pumping and hands tingling, as she shadowed Smythe after that meeting. He had hung around in the park for an hour or two, watching passersby sadly and occasionally whistling snatches of old songs; after that, he had hired a taxi and headed north – to Striaton, she heard him say to the driver.

    This had deepened her suspicions: if Smythe had to go to Striaton, he would have wanted to go with her, without a doubt; what was going on that meant he couldn't speak to her? Confused and wary, Niamh had taken a room in the same hotel as him and waited – and soon enough, she had her answer, in the form of the liquid dark abomination that twisted through the air like some foul fish from the frozen lakes of hellish Córmheim.

    She stared and stared through the keyhole, but no matter how long she watched the gentle smoking of the hell-beast's eye-pits did not cease, and despite her atheism Niamh could not but come to one conclusion.

    Portland Smythe was in grave danger – worse than during his trek through Patzkova, worse than during that long and terrible night in Prague, worse even than during that unnatural storm that had sunk the Borealis all those years ago.

    He was in the thrall of a demon from below the very roots of the Ash itself, and there was no one to save him but her.

    ---

    An hour and a half later, the sun had risen above the clouds and was doing its best to make a windy spring day warm; it wasn't much, but it made the walk to the temple a little less freezing.

    “Christ, it's cold,” moaned Halley, wriggling deeper into my coat. “Why don't you have a thicker jacket?”

    “I don't really think it's that cold,” I replied. “So I never bought a thicker one... sorry.”

    “There you go with the apologising again,” she sighed. “Stop apologising for things you never done, 'cause time is short and life is cruel.”

    “I've heard that before somewhere,” I said, frowning.

    “Give me strength,” muttered Halley, rolling her eyes. “Is it even possible to be a full human being without knowing the Jam?”

    On my shoulder, Candy chattered noisily. She enjoyed this kind of weather; with a decent wind behind her, she could glide for perhaps a hundred metres, and probably would have been trying to had I not made it obvious to her that we had a job to do today. I had released her and destroyed the Poké Ball immediately after the Dreamyard adventure; it didn't feel right to keep her locked up like that. Trainers said it wasn't inhumane, but I wasn't a Trainer, and having my pet being reduced to energy and locked in stasis sounded pretty inhumane to me.

    The streets of Striaton were quiet enough, but to me, used to the seclusion of White Forest, it felt like I was in the centre of a huge storm of activity; I kept to the edge of the pavement, trying to avoid being crushed by the relentless onslaught of pedestrians, and clutched Halley tightly to me within my coat for fear I would bump into something and squash her.

    “You know, I'm not actually made of glass,” she told me. “You could loosen your grip a little without me shattering.”

    “Oh.. sorry,” I said hurriedly, and let go, stuffing my hands back into my pockets to guard them from the cold.

    “Jesus, more apologising? Mister Weller would not approve.”

    “Who?”

    “Forget it. You didn't get it the first time; I have no idea why I thought you might the second time.”

    “Aaakk,” said Candy, pulling my hair out of pure joy and forestalling any response on my part.

    “Ouch! Stop that.”

    “Aakk,” she cawed unrepentantly, and let go.

    I sighed and hurried on through frigid streets towards the temple. According to the directions I'd got online at the Centre, I ought to be close now... there! It was unmistakeable: set back a good fifty feet from the street, the building lay behind a large menhir in the middle of a trampled lawn. It wasn't quite the match of my local in White Forest – we had a full henge there, and the temple itself was easily the biggest artificial structure in the forest – but it was a temple, and that meant it would have copies of the Treatises.

    “Is that... is that blood on that rock?” asked Halley hesitantly as we crossed the street towards it.

    “Yeah,” I replied. “Of course. The ése demand sacrifice.”

    She was silent for a long time, long enough for me to reach the gates in the wrought-iron fence. Here, the menhir towered over us, its presence at once menacing and comforting, reminding me, as it always did, of how insignificant we were before the ése's gaze.

    “And, ah... what kind of sacrifice is it that they demand?” she asked, sounding uncertain. It was the first time I had heard her express any real unease, and it didn't suit her.

    “Well... human, obviously,” I said gently. “We have to give of our most valuable, and there's nothing more valuable than people.”

    Halley said nothing, just stared up at the menhir. Presumably its bloody granite flanks were taking on some new significance in her mind; I knew that people from outside Unova often had problems with this part of our religion. I would be lying if I said it didn't trouble me too, sometimes, but there was no getting around it. From the earliest times, the ése had demanded sacrifice from their worshippers, and they accepted nothing less than human life. It was so ingrained into the Treatises that to excise it from the faith would have destroyed the whole thing entirely.

    “It's how we deal the death penalty,” I explained, as I walked around the menhir. “The druids are reasonable. They don't just take people. We're not savages any more.”

    “That,” said Halley quietly, “has the ring of something learned by rote.”

    That stung, but I wasn't sure why; it was true – it had been comprehensively drummed into my head at an early age – but that wasn't why it irritated me. Perhaps it was the fact that it seemed to so easily deflect my argument, or perhaps it was the fact that Halley of all people was condemning my views; I didn't know. I refused to show it, though; Halley was British, and she didn't understand how things worked here. I had to make allowances for that.

    “Well... I know it's hard to understand if you're not Unovan,” I replied.

    “Sometimes,” said Halley as if I hadn't said anything, “I can almost think this is just a slightly crazier version of England. And then sh*t like this happens.” She was still looking at the menhir. “Jesus...”

    I didn't reply. I wasn't sure anything I could say could salvage the situation.

    “Then again,” she said, sounding a little more normal, “at least you guys are honest about it. I mean, half the world's religions are derived from f*cking sun-worship, and there they are b*tching about original sin and sh*t. Besides, what do I care if you guys go around killing each other?”

    “What?”

    I hadn't been expecting that.

    “Nah, all I care about is getting inside and out of the cold,” continued Halley. “Take me in, Lauren.”

    “Uh... OK.”

    I was genuinely uncertain whether or not she was disturbed by our human sacrifices or not, and as I walked up the short flight of steps to the door, I wondered if she was lying to smooth over her awkwardness and maintain her jaded demeanour; in the end, I gave up thinking about it. I just couldn't tell with her.

    On the outside, the temple had been an unassuming stone box; on the inside, it wasn't much different. Broad, cool and dimly-lit, it had the feel of a natural cave about it; it was only slightly warmer in there than outside, and there was little furniture except for some plastic chairs stacked against one wall (used mostly when bad weather stopped services from taking place outside, I supposed) and a series of small idols arranged in shrines at far end of the room, dedicated to the four main ése and whichever of the minor ones was considered of importance in this area.

    “Is it colder in here than outside?” asked Halley. “Is that even possible?”

    “Ssh,” I said. “Please? You need to stay inconspicuous.”

    She sighed.

    Fine,” she hissed.

    I walked further into the temple, looking around for anyone who looked like they might work here, but could see no one – or even any doors other than the main one. Was no one in?

    “Hello?” I called uncertainly.

    “Hello!” replied a voice, and I turned to see a man in white robes gliding noiselessly over the stone floor towards me. Where he'd come from I wasn't exactly sure, but given that his feet were bare I doubt I would have heard him coming anyway. He had sprigs of nine different herbs woven into his hair and a gold-bladed sickle in his belt, along with a revolver and smartphone – all the accoutrements of the modern druid. “I'm Lorcan,” he said, smiling at me. “Did you need something?”

    “Yeah,” I replied. “I came to read the Treatises, if that's OK. I think...” I paused, hesitant, and a shadow crossed Lorcan's face. He had seen something in my eyes, I knew.

    “What is it?” he asked, suddenly concerned. “What's wrong?”

    “I think I'm being chased by a demon.”

    ---

    “...so you're not just here for lunch? Fantastic!” cried the waiter. “Oh, man, this is great. We haven't actually had a challenger for more than two weeks now.”

    Striaton's Gym, owing in part to lack of custom and in part to the peculiar predilection of its leaders, operated as a restaurant as well as a battling facility; there was but one diner at that moment, but at lunchtime and during the evening the place was, Cheren and Bianca were assured, extremely difficult to get a seat at.

    Cheren raised an eyebrow.

    “Two weeks? Is it that bad?”

    “Well, it's the off-season, sir,” the waiter said, shrugging. “And there aren't as many Trainers as there used to be. Gym staff get restless at this time of year. But... to business.” He composed himself hurriedly. “Right. The rules: challengers get a free lunch if they win; challengers can have up to three practice battles with other Gym Trainers before the challenge the Leader; these can be taken over a period of up to two days, special circumstances notwithstanding. The lunch offer is valid only for a week. No items may be used in the battle against the Leader, and no switches may take place until the current Pokémon in battle has been defeated. All challengers must choose one type as the primary focus for the team they use against the Leader. The Leader will then counter with a type advantage. The Leader will select their Pokémon so that they are always slightly stronger than the challenger's.” He paused. “Is that clear, sir?”

    “Perfectly,” replied Cheren. “I'd like to take the challenge right away.”

    “No practice battles?”

    “No, thank you.”

    “It's highly advised, sir, especially if this is your first Gym battle,” the waiter went on. “Most Trainers never manage to collect more than two or three Badges, if that. Gym Leaders are selected because they are the very best, and it's rare to win a Badge on the first try—”

    “I understand,” said Cheren calmly. “But I've done my research. I have confidence.”

    “Well... all right.” The waiter shook his head. “What about you, madam?”

    “Eh? Me?” Bianca seemed slightly surprised at being called 'madam'. “Uh... I'd like a few practice battles first,” she confided shyly.

    “How many?”

    “Um... three, please,” she said.

    “OK, that's fine.” The waiter stepped briskly over to the bar and consulted a little chart hung up among the bottles. “Let's see... yes, Tia, Sammy and I will be your opponents. We can start right away, or you can watch your friend against the Leader first.”

    “Oh! I want to see Cheren battle first,” cried Bianca. “That's going to be so cool.”

    The waiter smiled.

    “As you wish, madam,” he said. “Right. If you could both come this way...?”

    He led them through the main dining-room, past the curious gaze of the lone diner, and stopped before a great pair of red curtains at the back of the restaurant; there, he coughed pointedly, and there was a sound of footsteps hurrying around on wooden boards beyond.

    “OK, everyone in place?” Cheren heard someone whisper. “All right. Ready!”

    The curtains parted with a dramatic fwoosh, and a multiplicity of dazzling lights lit up the stage beyond as if this were a Poison Jam concert; through the plumes of dry ice smoke and the glare of spotlights, Cheren could just about make out three tall, shadowy figures striking noble (and faintly ridiculous) poses onstage.

    “Welcome!” boomed a magnified voice.

    “To the Striaton City Gym!” finished another.

    “Challenger, what type underpins your team?” added a third.

    Cheren thought for a moment. Justine was by far the weaker of the pair, which meant most of his team's strength came from Lelouch.

    “Grass,” he replied.

    “In that case...”

    “I shall be your opponent!”

    The smoke cleared abruptly, sweeping two of the figures away with it and leaving a striking young man standing in the centre of the stage, arms akimbo and hair apparently aflame. He strode forwards, looked directly into Cheren's eyes and said:

    “My name is Chili—”

    That's implausible, thought Cheren, but said nothing.

    “—and I specialise in Fire-types,” he finished. “Step up here, then! I'm ready if you are.”

    Cheren smiled. This was it. He was actually walking up the steps into a Leader's arena, ready to fight for his first Badge. It was actually happening.

    Thunor's ire, it was actually happening.

    His smile broadened, and he crested the stairway, walking out onto the stage. Chili – whose dyed-red hair seemed to flicker as if it actually were on fire – shook his hand and grinned.

    “This your first time?” he asked.

    “Yes.”

    “Always one to remember.” He nodded. “OK, how many and how strong?”

    “Pokémon?”

    “Yes.

    “Two. On the General Scale... somewhere just above Grade One and just below it. 1.34 and 0.92 to be precise, if I remember correctly.”

    The General Scale was a ten-rank system designed to enable (more or less) precise cross-species rankings of power for just this kind of situation; Pokémon were marked as being at, above or below any one of ten levels of power for easy comparison. The calculations necessary to work out a General Scale ranking were a little tricky, but the Pokédex app came with a function that worked out the algorithms automatically, and Cheren had made sure to check it beforehand.

    “All right, then,” said Chili, reaching into his pockets. “1.5s it is. Max?”

    “Yeah?” replied the waiter, who was lingering with Bianca down on the main floor.

    “Do the honours.”

    “Take up your positions!”

    Cheren and Chili walked away from each other, almost to opposite ends of the stage, then turned to face one another.

    “Ready...!”

    Chili and his brothers were known to have a fondness for the elemental monkeys, Cheren knew; he could expect a Pansear. But would he send it out first or second?

    “Three...!”

    “Good luck!” cried Bianca, but Cheren barely heard her. His mind was racing, wheels turning and pistons moving smooth as ice on ice within his head. Lead with Justine? He hadn't tested her strength too extensively yet, but her speed, devotion and intellect were considerable. She might prove more adaptable than Lelouch, who, being a mixture of reptile and plant, was not exactly overendowed with brains.

    “Two...!”

    Chili's grin widened further still. What was he thinking, Cheren wondered, staring into his eyes. What was his battle plan...?

    “One...!”

    Definitely lead with Justine. From what he'd read, Chili was hot-tempered and unpredictable, just like the element he wielded, and might surprise him with an unconventional lead. Growl if a powerhouse, Scratch if a wall...

    “Go!”

    Cheren hadn't expected himself to move that fast. His arm was up and out almost before Max had finished speaking, and in a moment there were twin bursts of light in front of him—

    —and there she was, Justine, tail lashing and ears laid flat against her skull, hissing wildly at the unsettling creature before her. It rocked back and forth, apparently without limbs, face frozen as if carved in wood.

    Oh yes, Cheren thought. Definitely unconventional.

    Darumaka. Inactive right now, but give it a chance to stoke its internal flames and it would turn from placid wobbly toy to rabid monkey in less time than it took to blink.

    “Interesting,” he said aloud, and Chili grinned at him.

    “Only someone who really knows their stuff would say that faced with this little guy,” he replied. “Come on! Let's do this!”

    “Of course,” agreed Cheren, and raised a hand to bark out an order, wholly unaware of the dark, nebulous presence crouched in the rafters above, flexing its essence, waiting for its moment.

    Teiresias was ready.

    And this time it would not fail.

  11. #86
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    Smythe, you poor b*astard. By not saying anything, you doomed your "friend" to most likely share your fate, now she knows about The Demon, if she acts, she will probably be killed.

    Anyway, the gym battle should prove interesting if Teiresias doesn't interfere, which he most likely will.

    Anyway, nice touch to the gyms, adding power level analysis to gauge strength. It should always be in the gyms favor in this fashion.

    Looking forward to another chapter, I was disappointed with having to stop because I really want to know what happens next.


    Credit to Brutaka for the amazing banner and user bar. Yeah, having 2 is redundant, but it shows you guys my favorite pokemon, what story I had planned and my position in the WoJ.

    Time, there's never enough of it but it's always there to waste.
    -Azurus

  12. #87
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    Hi, had been reading your stories for some time, and only now got enough courage to say something. So here I am.

    First things first : Congratulations for all the fantastic plots. I just can't really find the right words .... so I'll just stay silent and try not to act like the idiot I am ...

    Alright, so focusing on the here and now :

    Look's like Halley finally realized things are serious in Unova (Since we're already here ... YEAH!! DRUIDS!!! NOW things will get fun ...)
    Poor Bianca, she just want a taste of how is it to be the hero ... well, sort of.
    But, once again, the secondary characters steal all my attention. Smythe and Niamh, there's something that ... man, things gonna just get more and more messy for them ...

    Also, been thinking about how (or if) you're going to get Puck and Bond into the story (Although, since you are ... you, I don't think it will be that hard ...)


    Maybe it's just a coincidence, but did you just make an reference to Skyrim ? Besides Ulfric, I'm pretty sure that there was some villain named Orthar the Mad.


    So, that's it, looking forward to whatever twisted chain of events you're thinking about.
    See ya later!
    There is no Order. Just predicable Chaos.
    There is no Truth. Just Lies accepted by all.
    There is no Good. Just lesser Evils.
    There is no Life. Just the beginning of Death

    The Beyond

    "Ignorance is a bless. Remember that.
    'Cause sometimes you're better not knowing anything"

    Coming soon...

    ... Probably...

    ... I hope so...

  13. #88
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    Quote Originally Posted by Azurus View Post
    Smythe, you poor b*astard. By not saying anything, you doomed your "friend" to most likely share your fate, now she knows about The Demon, if she acts, she will probably be killed.
    It takes a lot to kill a woman who hunts monsters for a living. She could probably take down a Barroth on her first try.

    However, Teiresias isn't a Barroth, so... we'll have to see what happens there.

    Quote Originally Posted by Azurus View Post
    Anyway, the gym battle should prove interesting if Teiresias doesn't interfere, which he most likely will.
    You never know. I might want to see Cheren battle it out with Chili too.

    Quote Originally Posted by Azurus View Post
    Anyway, nice touch to the gyms, adding power level analysis to gauge strength. It should always be in the gyms favor in this fashion.
    I've been trying to work out a system for doing that for ages; I was so happy I managed to come up with something in time for this story.

    Quote Originally Posted by Azurus View Post
    Looking forward to another chapter, I was disappointed with having to stop because I really want to know what happens next.
    Excellent. That means I'm doing my job right.

    Quote Originally Posted by Rebel.JPEG View Post
    Hi, had been reading your stories for some time, and only now got enough courage to say something. So here I am.

    First things first : Congratulations for all the fantastic plots. I just can't really find the right words .... so I'll just stay silent and try not to act like the idiot I am ...
    It's all right. I'm just happy you enjoy them. It's all I want, really: I think the entertainment of others is a pretty high calling.

    Quote Originally Posted by Rebel.JPEG View Post
    Alright, so focusing on the here and now :

    Look's like Halley finally realized things are serious in Unova (Since we're already here ... YEAH!! DRUIDS!!! NOW things will get fun ...)
    Poor Bianca, she just want a taste of how is it to be the hero ... well, sort of.
    But, once again, the secondary characters steal all my attention. Smythe and Niamh, there's something that ... man, things gonna just get more and more messy for them ...
    Of course. If the secondary characters weren't secretly building up to a show-stealing finale, it just wouldn't be right, would it?

    Quote Originally Posted by Rebel.JPEG View Post
    Also, been thinking about how (or if) you're going to get Puck and Bond into the story (Although, since you are ... you, I don't think it will be that hard ...)
    Puck will appear somewhere around the Icirrus City mark, if I remember rightly, and he'll whack the plot so hard it does a backflip and goes off in a completely different direction. As for Bond... I'm still debating whether or not I should have him appear or not. He was fun to use once, but I'm not sure I want to revisit him.

    Quote Originally Posted by Rebel.JPEG View Post
    Maybe it's just a coincidence, but did you just make an reference to Skyrim ? Besides Ulfric, I'm pretty sure that there was some villain named Orthar the Mad.
    Yes, it is a Skyrim reference. Oblique, since 'Ulfric' is a perfectly believable Norse name, and Unova (in my world at least) is somewhere near Iceland, so it kind of fits.


    Quote Originally Posted by Rebel.JPEG View Post
    So, that's it, looking forward to whatever twisted chain of events you're thinking about.
    See ya later!
    Thanks for taking the time to let me know your thoughts. I hope you continue to enjoy the story!

    F.A.B.

  14. #89
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    Chapter Eleven: Goodnight Demonslayer

    Most people would be somewhat discouraged by the revelation that their best friend was under the command of a powerful demon.

    Then again, most people don't kill monsters for a living.

    Niamh Harper immediately set upon a course of action. The fiend was probably impervious to bullets, her preferred method of removing monstrosities from the realm of the living, but she'd always been open to alternatives – like the time she had destroyed a sentient blob of alloyed titanium by kicking it into the furnace of a steelworks. (She hadn't questioned how the company had managed to bring the damn thing to life. Birthing monsters was more or less exactly the opposite of her job description.) In this case, the alternative was probably druidic magic. After all, if demons were apparently real and roaming the streets of Striaton, she was willing to believe that at least some of the forces the druids claimed existed were real.

    Niamh stroked her chin. She needed information, that was the most important thing. She had to be sure this thing was what it seemed to be, and if it was, she needed to know how to kill it. The problem was, she had no idea what its name was, or even if it had one. She also had certain reservations about spying on it too much; she had no doubt that it had ways of perceiving hidden watchers, and that if it detected her nearby more than once it would undoubtedly take action against her before she was ready for it.

    She'd had to retreat before she heard all the details of what was going on and where – the thing had come too close for comfort – but she still had two little bits of information to go on: a pair of names, and a place.

    White and Halley, and the Mandelmort Temple.

    All she had to do was connect the dots.

    --

    “Stay calm, Justine, and Stratch. Aim for the left flank.”

    The Purrloin darted forwards, far faster than the chunky Darumaka, and laid open its side with a deft swipe of her claws; as Cheren had expected, the force of the blow set the little Fire-type spinning on its axis, and it whirled helplessly for a good thirty seconds before it managed to free its stubby limbs from its trammelling fur and plant them on the floor. Even then, it seemed a bit the worse for wear, dropping to all fours and staggering dizzily off to one side.

    Justine looked, if such a word could be applied to a Purrloin, gleeful. Chili just looked disconcerted.

    “Well, now,” he began, but Cheren wasn't about to let him buy time for his Darumaka to recover. If it regained its senses, it would have its fires up in a minute or two – and at full strength, neither Lelouch nor Justine would stand a chance against it.

    “Keep it up,” he called. “Knock it down.”

    Justine needed no encouragement; to her mind, unaware of the little monkey's potential power, this bizarre creature was the best toy she'd encountered in ages. A key selling point, she felt, was the obvious discomfort it felt at being hit. Perhaps the Glasses Man would buy her one, she mused as she lashed out at the Darumaka with the viciously recurved hook on her tail, catching it under the chin and drawing blood; the force was too much for it to take, and it lost its balance. Fur hit floorboards and a little dribble of blood trickled across the stage.

    “Yeaaaahh!” shrieked Bianca happily. “Go Cheren!”

    “One!” Max began counting. “Two!”

    Justine, her foe floored, went into a kind of ecstatic frenzy; she loosed a volley of Scratches at the downed Darumaka so fast they might almost have been Fury Swipes.

    “Three! Four!”

    “You're gonna win!”

    It was nice of Bianca to say so, Cheren thought, but the Darumaka was a hardened fighter and Justine didn't know how to pace herself in pitched battle. While the former was a little groggy, he could sense that his advantage was close to slipping away—

    The Darumaka's eyes lit up, suddenly clear of all dizziness.

    “Justine, get—”

    Its broad skull smashed hard into Justine's jaw and knocked her a foot off the floor; as a cat, she twisted in midair and landed on her feet, but the blow had taken its toll. Her paws didn't seem to be able to get any purchase on the boards, and her ears were flat against her skull; she glanced back at Cheren desperately, and he winced as he saw the blood on her teeth, and the broken fang.

    “—back,” he finished, too late.

    Another crushing blow, and the Darumaka's jaws were aflame as it snapped them shut on her leg; Justine yowled wildly, tearing herself free and scrabbling backwards, covering her retreat with a lash of her tail-hook. The monkey gave no quarter: its internal fires blazing, it was incapable of reason, incapable of listening to Chili, incapable of doing anything but rampaging wildly until either it burned down or everything around it was a smoking ruin. The Gym Leader had brought out the Pokémon equivalent of a Viking berserker – and, Cheren realised, he had no way of countering it.

    “Get out of the way!” he cried, a note of desperation in his voice. “Just stay back!”

    Justine hissed crossly; was the Glasses Man blind? What exactly did he think she was doing, if not trying to avoid the insane beast currently trying to turn her face into pulpy mush? Holding one foreleg close to her chest, she limped as hard as she could back three steps as the Darumaka bodily flung itself onto the floor where she had been a moment ago. It would take a moment to get up, she thought, she could get away – but no, the damn thing kept coming, rolling at her over and over like a beast possessed. Every step she took wrenched at her wounds with iron tongues, and the Darumaka was getting closer—

    Cheren stared, thinking furiously. There had to be something he could do other than just try to weather the storm. There had to be. The Darumaka was using its moves blindly, without reason; surely he could outthink it?

    Chili was grinning broadly.

    “Harder than you thought, isn't it?” he called. “Come on! The way you set him spinning, you're a smart guy. Prove to me I'm right!”

    That was a clue, thought Cheren, watching Justine try and fail to dodge another Fire Fang and getting her tail burnt. There was a way...

    It clicked.

    “To the left,” he said. “Get over to the left!”

    Justine might not see where the Glasses Man was going with this, but his Staggering Presence of Mind had saved her from a Situation of Certain Death, and so she obeyed without hesitation, flinging herself to the left, hitting the ground and rolling back to her feet. The Darumaka flung itself after her, the fires streaming from its eyes and mouth leaving a bright after-image on her eyes.

    Chili blinked.

    “Hey, are you doing what I think you're doing?”

    “Yes,” replied Cheren. “Absolutely.”

    The Darumaka attempted another Headbutt and clipped Justine's wounded tail; she hissed and moved further to the left, closer to Bianca and Max – who were beginning to look a little concerned at the proximity of the flaming ape.

    “Hey,” said Chili. “Hey. No, don't— Weeble! Get back here!”

    It was too late: in the grip of its berserker fury, the Darumaka could neither hear nor think. Eyes locked on Justine, it leaped for her again in another crushing full-body Headbutt—

    —and she darted lithely aside as it flew clean off the edge of the stage, arcing gracefully down to impact face-first on the carpeted floor.

    There was silence for a moment.

    “One,” counted Max hesitantly. “Two—”

    “Forget it, Max,” sighed Chili. “He's not getting up from that one. Weeble, return!”

    The Darumaka's body vanished in a pulse of light, and Chili grinned.

    “You're good,” he told Cheren. “Best we've had in... well, in a long time. But don't get cocky. This one listens to my orders.”

    “Yeaaaahhh!” cried Bianca happily. “Chereeeen!”

    This would be the Pansear, Cheren thought, tuning her out for clarity of thought. Justine had done enough; she wouldn't last much longer, and she deserved a rest now. It would have to be down to Lelouch.

    “We'll see,” he said. “Can I concede my Purrloin? I want to switch.”

    “Sure,” replied Chili. “No sending her back out, though. If you recall her, she's counted as KO'ed. Official League battle rules.”

    “Fine by me.”

    Justine vanished and the Snivy took her place. Chili threw down his ball, there was a bright, bright light—

    —and the restaurant plunged into absolute, unbroken darkness.

    ---

    “I see.” Lorcan nodded slowly. “I see.” He sighed. “I'd love to help. I really would. But something like that sounds beyond my capabilities. You can try the archives here if you like, but I know them pretty well and I don't think that this... Teiresias is anywhere in there. From what you describe, that would be in the Glasya-Labolas.”

    I cocked my head on one side.

    “What's that?” I asked.

    “One of the classified Treatises,” he replied. “It's a comprehensive list of all known demons – and the methods for summoning them. Access is restricted, as you can imagine. Most of us aren't allowed to read it.”

    I shivered. Did that mean Harmonia had people inside the Gorsedd? High-ranking people, as well, to be able to deliver the means to summon Teiresias to him. How far did his operation extend?

    “I know,” said Lorcan sympathetically, seeing my discomfort and misinterpreting it. “It's a nasty piece of work. Real, you know. I've seen...” He paused. “They summon a weak one as part of our training,” he added confidingly. “I wouldn't say, ordinarily, but since you've seen... something worse... I don't think it'll do any harm. But they call up a thing named Ath, to teach us how to banish it.”

    “Could you banish Teiresias, then?” I asked eagerly. “If you know how—?”

    He held up a hand for silence.

    “Sorry, no,” he replied, shaking his head. “Yours is definitely one of the stronger ones, and those that are too strong for the basic banishing usually require specific methods – methods I'm far too low-ranking to know anything about.”

    “I see,” I said slowly. “Oh... OK, then.”

    I must have looked particularly sad just then, because a look of quite staggering guilt crossed his face.

    “Sorry to disappoint,” he said, brow creasing with concern. “Um... Look, I could send a message across to Nacrene to expect you. They have a copy of the Glasya-Labolas there.”

    “Oh, could you? Thank you!” I said fervently. “I'd really appreciate it.”

    He smiled.

    “It's OK, it's the least I can do. But...” His smile faded. “You know, there's still no guarantee they'll let you read it just because you claim to have been attacked by a demon. They'll probably ask you to supply proof.”

    “Oh.” Damn, I didn't have anything I could reasonably describe as proof. “What... what kind of proof could I give?”

    Lorcan considered this.

    “They'll accept a mind-reading,” he said. “That is, if you're OK with that.”

    I hesitated. I'd never had a mind-reading before, and I wasn't sure I wanted to start now. It was the most invasive procedure possible, but it did ascertain the truth – or what the subject believed to be the truth – with perfect accuracy, provided the Psychic-type involved was competent.

    “They have professional standards,” Lorcan said quickly. “I mean, they won't poke around where they don't have to. They'll just look for the demon there and leave.”

    “I guess I have no choice,” I replied slowly. “Hmm...”

    He bit his lip.

    “Look,” he said, “you don't have to decide anything right now. If you really think this thing is after you, go to Nacrene and prove it to them.” He shrugged. “Maybe they won't even ask for a mind-reading. You never know.”

    It wasn't true and we both knew it. He was lying to make me feel better, I could tell – though I wasn't sure why.

    “OK,” I said. “I think I'll be heading over there, then.” I smiled. “Thank you for your time,” I said. “You've been really helpful.”

    He smiled.

    “Not at all,” he said. “It's my job.”

    I said goodbye and left, thinking hard. It seemed like this wasn't going to be easy – but then, I hadn't thought it would be.

    “Well, Lauren,” cackled Halley quietly as I reached the door. “I didn't know you had it in you.”

    “What?”

    “That guy. Wasn't it obvious? He was drooling over you pretty much the whole time.”

    I paused, halfway through the doorway.

    What?”

    Halley snorted.

    “Oh, come on. You must have noticed. Holy man or not, he hungered for your tits—”

    “That's enough,” I said sharply, feeling my cheeks turn red. “Stop it. Now.”

    She giggled.

    “Christ, this is hilarious.”

    “Halley!”

    “White.”

    “Smythe?”

    I froze, halfway round the menhir, and looked up.

    And Portland Smythe looked back.

    ---

    “What the f*ck was that?”

    “Cheren!”

    “The hell?”

    “Teiresias,” breathed Cheren, whirling on the spot and staring hard into the surrounding blackness, trying hard to see anything. “It has to be...”

    It had been here a while, he could tell. All morning, it must have been waiting, charging its sinister power; it hadn't been able to do anything like this before. How had it known they were here? While it was obvious that Trainers would visit the Gym eventually, it could not have known what time... Had it been following them? Or had it just waited here since its arrival in Striaton?

    “Cease moving,” sighed an ancient voice, like wind issuing from an open crypt. “It tires me so.”

    There was a sound of splintering wood, and iron-hard hands gripped Cheren's ankles.

    He almost cried out, but he held it back. This was not a time to panic. Panic was exactly what Teiresias wanted; its dark powers seemed to wax with the fear in its prey's mind.

    Bianca screamed, and Cheren winced. That wasn't helping anything.

    “What is this? Who are you?” yelled Chili.

    “I have no interest in you,” said Teiresias. Its voice seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere; where was it, wondered Cheren. If he could see where it was, perhaps he could hit it – force it to move and break its concentration. “You may choose between silence and death.”

    Chili made no reply.

    “Wise man,” whispered Teiresias. It sounded bigger than before, thought Cheren uneasily; bigger and more ethereal. Had it taken a new form again? And if so, what form could produce a sound like that?

    “Chereeen! It's Teiresias!”

    “I know,” called Cheren. “It's kind of obvious.”

    “You two,” said Teiresias. “You are the ones who travel with White. You are my hostages.”

    It made sense. Smythe must have somehow located Lauren, Cheren thought; he would probably tell her to call them, and that would confirm that they were in trouble – and knowing Lauren, there was absolutely no way she would abandon them to save herself.

    Which meant that Harmonia got what he wanted.

    And Cheren had a feeling that that could only be a very, very bad thing indeed.

    “I see,” he said aloud, playing for time as he thought. “What do you want us to do?”

    “Wait,” replied Teiresias. “I want you to wait. Soon enough we will know whether you are to live, or to die. Until then, you wait.”

    Something growled near the back of the stage, and the darkness seemed to quiver before Cheren's eyes.

    “You two,” said Teiresias “The green- and blue-haired humans. Recall your apes, or I will unmake them.”

    That must be Cress and Cilan, thought Cheren.

    “What are you?” asked one – he didn't know which – in a low voice.

    “Recall your apes, or I will unmake them,” repeated Teiresias, and this time its voice contained a hint of eldritch realms beyond all mortal ken; of secrets unknown and unknowable; of whispers of strange beings that stalked the world just outside the sphere of possible imagination.

    “Get back,” the two men hissed, and with a soft thumping the unseen Pokémon retreated. There could have been no other outcome. Teiresias' voice reached into your chest and jarred your heart from its perch amidst your ribs.

    “Good. Now, wait.”

    And they stood in the dark, in the silence, and waited for ése-knew-what.

    ---

    “Your friends are being held captive by Teiresias,” Smythe told me without preamble. “Come with me, or it will...” He trailed off, evidently uncomfortable with what he was about to say. “Well,” he finished lamely. “You can guess.”

    I could. And the very thought sent a chill shivering through my body.

    “OK,” I said immediately, stepping forward, “I'll—”

    “Wait,” interrupted Halley perceptively. “You'll appreciate, Smythe, that I trust you about as far as I can f*cking throw you. So. Mind if you tell me why I should believe you instead of trying to bite your throat out?”

    I paused. I hadn't thought of that. Could Smythe be lying? I wasn't sure. I thought he was a good man, but he obviously had no choice in this matter. I didn't know what he was capable of under threat from his superiors.

    “Caaark,” cawed Candy, lowering her head and eyeing Smythe suspiciously. Could she sense he was lying? Or did she just not like him? I wouldn't be surprised if that were the case; her experience of him hadn't exactly been calculated to please.

    “Call them,” he replied. “Call them and find out for yourself.” He hesitated. “And control that bird, please.”

    That settled it, in my mind. If he was going to let me phone them, it must be true.

    “Go on, then,” said Halley. “Test his word.”

    I took my phone out and pressed the unlock button – but the screen stayed dark.

    With a sudden sinking feeling, I remembered Cordelia's warning that my parents were going to call soon. That had been several days ago, and with the fear of Teiresias on me I'd forgotten all about it; this was why they hadn't contacted me. My phone had been dead for some time.

    “Uh... no battery,” I said weakly. “Sorry.”

    Smythe stared, and a faint look of horror entered his eyes.

    What? You're kidding. You're f*cking kidding me—”

    “No, I'm not!” I protested, holding out my mobile. “Look! Blank screen.”

    Smythe bit his lip with such violence that a thin trickle of blood ran down his chin.

    Sh*t and hellfire,” he spat, staring at the ground. “Teiresias is going to kill them.”

    “What?”

    “The phone call!” he cried, looking up at me. “The f*cking phone call! That was the signal to Teiresias that you were giving in! If we can't contact them, it'll assume you're resisting and it'll kill them!”

    “What? No – no, it can't—”

    “Oh yes, it can,” replied Smythe grimly. “Where are your friends?”

    “At the Gym,” I answered frantically. “I'm not sure where that is—”

    “Forty-five minutes from here,” he said. “Christ. I don't know if we can make it in time—”

    “Portland!” called an unfamiliar voice. “We need to talk!”

    He turned and I glanced past him; a woman was crossing the road beyond, approaching us with a steely sort of determination in her eyes.

    Niamh?” asked Smythe in astonishment.

    “OK, this situation is rapidly getting way too complicated for me to follow properly,” said Halley. “Who's this b*tch?”

    “There's no time right now,” Smythe told the newcomer – Niamh – urgently. “There's terrible danger—”

    “I know, that's the point,” replied Niamh. “We have to talk about it.”

    She gave him a serious look with piercing green eyes.

    “We have to talk about the demon.”

    ---

    It had been easier than she thought.

    All Niamh had had to do was look up where the Temple was, go there and wait in the café across the street, watching the gates; soon enough, a short, slim girl with the white-blonde hair usually only found on very young children passed through them and entered the building beyond. Perhaps it was her hair, but Niamh had a feeling that this was the 'White' the demon had mentioned earlier in the hotel room – and shortly afterwards, her suspicions were confirmed when Portland Smythe turned up to confront her. She had rushed across the street, and there they were: Smythe and White, and – she now saw – a large brindled cat with curiously intelligent eyes.

    “How do you know?” asked Smythe, eyes wide. He had gone very pale, Niamh noted; he looked like he might faint at any moment. “How do you know?”

    “I followed you,” she answered. “I followed you, and—” She blinked. Was that the Archen on White's shoulder? Was all of this tangled up together? Forget it, she thought – there'll be time to deal with that later. Portland comes first.

    “Christ,” sighed Smythe. “I tried to ward you off, Niamh. I tried...” He shook his head violently. “They'll come after me now. You too. F*ck!” He kicked the fence angrily and looked like he regretted it.

    “What's this?” asked White, looking concerned.

    “Nothing,” growled Smythe without looking at her. “I – we – sh*t, I have no idea what to do.”

    All the fight went out of him in an instant; he sagged visibly, a puppet with slashed strings, and Niamh stepped forwards to grab him before he fell.

    “Whatever it is, I can help,” she said earnestly. “Demons. Politics. Whatever. We've dealt with worse before.”

    Smythe looked at her hopelessly.

    “No, we haven't,” he replied, and something in his voice told Niamh that he was right.

    “Well,” she said, faltering slightly, “there's a first time for everything, right?”

    He almost smiled.

    “I guess so,” he answered, straightening slowly. “I guess so... But right now, we have a more urgent problem. Teiresias – the demon – is going to kill at least two people and possibly more if we don't get a message to the Gym in the next few minutes.”

    “Can we call the Gym?” asked Niamh. She didn't need an explanation; Smythe had told her this needed to happen, and that was enough to convince her. “Would that work?”

    He shook his head.

    “No one will be able to answer the landline,” he said ominously. “And individual Gym Trainers are ex-directory.”

    “OK,” said Niamh slowly, thinking hard, “what next?”

    “We have to get there in person,” replied Smythe simply. “We have to get there and tell it that I've apprehended these two and there's no need for anyone to die.”

    “Hey, I haven't exactly agreed to be apprehended yet,” snapped the cat. “I—”

    “Halley!” cried White. “Now isn't the time!”

    Niamh stared.

    “Did that cat just—”

    The cat chuckled.

    “I love the look on people's faces when I do that.”

    “Yes, she did,” said Smythe. “Forget it for now. We have to get to the Gym!”

    Niamh nodded, and blanked out her confusion with practised ease; it was a little trick of mental self-control she'd picked up from a heretical monk in a cave in Brittany.

    “Right,” she said, turning on the spot. “Transport.”

    She scanned the street with expert eyes and determined which of the five parked cars was the fastest; this she then rejected, on the grounds that certain signs of damage around the left rear wheel probably indicated an internal issue that would slow them down after the first ten minutes, and chose the second car instead.

    “That one,” she said, pointing. “Follow me.”

    There were people watching, but Niamh couldn't very well afford to take her time right now; she extracted a pair of suspicious-looking tools from her pocket and in about thirty seconds had the car hotwired and ready to run.

    “This is illegal,” said White hesitantly, “and this car belongs to someone—”

    “Excuse her,” interrupted the cat. “What Lauren means is that that was really f*cking cool. Drive on, glorious criminal.”

    Everyone piled in, and Niamh did.

    At tremendous speed.

    ---

    “What are we waiting for?” asked Cheren of the darkness.

    “Deliverance,” it replied. Then, after some reflection: “Or treachery.”

    “Do you really have to be that ominous all the time?”

    Teiresias made no reply, and Cheren wondered if he'd actually managed to insult it. If so, that was quite an achievement; it displayed little sign of actually having feelings.

    “Cheren, are you sure you should be insulting Teiresias?” asked Bianca warily.

    “I have a plan,” he announced.

    “No, you don't,” Teiresias told him. “I can see it. You are lost, and confused, and afraid.”

    Half right, thought Cheren. He was all of those things, but he was still thinking. Something Teiresias had said had struck him oddly – something about recalling the monkeys – something about that was useful in some way—

    Aha!

    “Lelouch, return,” said Cheren, and there was a sudden bright flash of light as the Snivy was sucked back into his ball; for the briefest instant, Cheren saw a series of coiling forms silhouetted against the rafters, and then it was gone, nothing but an after-image burning on his retina.

    “What was that?” hissed Teiresias. “What did you do?”

    “I just recalled my Snivy,” Cheren replied. “Nothing wrong with that, is there?”

    “Put it back,” the fiend ordered. “You are a trickster, and I do not trust you.”

    Cheren smiled inwardly. He hadn't yet figured out a way to get Lelouch back out, but Teiresias had done the work for him.

    “All right,” he said. “Whatever you say.”

    Another flash of light, and Cheren briefly glimpsed the coiling shapes again, trailing from a dark blot on the ceiling; Teiresias hadn't moved, it seemed.

    Excellent, he thought. Now he knew where it was:

    Cheren reached into his pocket and pulled out the first thing he found – a Potion, from the feel of it.

    Let's see how good your aim is, he thought to himself, and raised his arm. He had been careful not to move his head since the dark closed in again, and the after-image that still lingered was, he was reasonably certain, close enough to reality for him to aim by.

    One... two... three... Throw.

    “What are you—?” began Teiresias, but it never finished. There was a sound of breaking glass and a curiously feline yowl; then several unseen things hit the floor in a quick succession of dry thumps, followed by the tinkle of falling glass.

    Silence.

    “What was that?” asked Bianca timidly.

    “A fool's attempt to dislodge me,” replied Teiresias, a note of dark exultation in its terrible voice. “You do yourself a disservice, boy. This body may be shredded, but you must have noticed that bodies are plentiful here.”

    A chill ran down Cheren's spine.

    The voice had not come from the rafters.

    It was different, too – more human than before, as if the monster had shed some of its more otherworldly qualities. Not just that, but it sounded familiar, like something he had heard before – something that belonged in the regular waking world, not whatever nightmare realm Teiresias had sprung from.

    Cheren froze.

    “You didn't...?”

    “A body does not necessarily have to be dead to be possessed,” Teiresias told him. “I trust there will be no killing this one.”

    As it spoke, the echo and hiss of its voice dwindled and grew faint, and it sounded more and more familiar, until by the time it concluded there could be no mistake.

    It was the voice of Gym Leader Chili.

  15. #90
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    White needs to charge her phone more often.

    Oh dang, Cheren, good play but terrible consequences, how do plan on dislodging the demon now?

    Also, Halley's lines never cease to be amazing, the car theft was gold.

    Looking forward to another chapter, as always.


    Credit to Brutaka for the amazing banner and user bar. Yeah, having 2 is redundant, but it shows you guys my favorite pokemon, what story I had planned and my position in the WoJ.

    Time, there's never enough of it but it's always there to waste.
    -Azurus

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    EPIC CHAPTER! The gym battle was awesome, but what Pokemon did Teiresias possess? And what does esé mean?
    Halley was awesome. Like Azurus said, the car theft was gold.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Azurus View Post
    White needs to charge her phone more often.
    Definitely. As failures go, this is a pretty critical one.

    Quote Originally Posted by Azurus View Post
    Oh dang, Cheren, good play but terrible consequences, how do plan on dislodging the demon now?
    You have to hand it to both boy and demon, that was some quick thinking. I'm willing to bet that the mental sparring isn't over yet, either.

    Quote Originally Posted by Azurus View Post
    Also, Halley's lines never cease to be amazing, the car theft was gold.

    Looking forward to another chapter, as always.
    Thanks for reading! I hope the next chapter lives up to your expectations.

    Quote Originally Posted by TheDarkKnightFalls View Post
    EPIC CHAPTER! The gym battle was awesome, but what Pokemon did Teiresias possess? And what does esé mean?
    Halley was awesome. Like Azurus said, the car theft was gold.
    I really do enjoy a good Pokémon battle, and haven't had the chance to write one for a while. I'm glad you had as much fun as I did. Teiresias, presumably, was still a Purrloin, as he was last chapter. And the ése are the gods of Unova. The word has been mentioned more or less once a chapter, I think.

    Thanks for reading!

    F.A.B.

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    Interlude: 15

    The old Unovan alphabet has 29 glyphs, runic devices borrowed half from the north and half from the south. Fourteen stand for the heroes of old (Hrafnín, Thuri, Sachen the Boar, the Twin Heroes, and so on) and fourteen for the villains (Garendel, Mowain, Apnudd). Household names in this nation, where everyone marches backwards into their future, always facing into the past, reciting the legends and paying the druids.

    There is one rune that stands alone. ᚾ. Naudri. It stands for nothing. It falls in the centre of the alphabet, to keep apart the forces of good and evil and prevent the letters from falling to war.

    In Roman script, it is written N.

    My name, and my destiny.



    Chapter Twelve: Of Monsters and Men

    Smythe's estimate that it took forty-five minutes to drive to the Gym from the Mandelmort Temple had been based on the assumption, I think, that the driver obeyed the usual rules of driving – stopping for red lights, staying reasonably near the speed limits, and not driving through buildings.

    Niamh, however, seemed to have no such scruples.

    Shiiiiiiiit!” shrieked Smythe, as the car shattered a set of glass doors and sped through the lobby of an office block. “You still drive like a f*cking lunatic!”

    “You drive like my grandmother,” she snorted, expertly weaving between two stunned cubicle workers and racing out of the other entrance. “It's all relative.”

    “Did I mention I love this woman?” asked Halley, bouncing all over my lap. “This is so much f— fire-eater's birthday fun!”

    I tried to mumble some kind of thanks for not swearing, but didn't manage to get more than a word or two out before I had to close my mouth against the rising vomit.

    “Blublergh,” I ended up saying.

    Halley gave me a look.

    “You don't do rollercoasters, do you?”

    I shook my head mutely and hung on tight as the car careened around a corner and shot into a multi-storey car park. To a fanfare of horns, we zoomed up a ramp, round a bend and out the exit, splintering the wooden barrier arm and erupting into a busy street in a burst of panic and screeching brakes.

    Candy screeched into my ear so loudly it hurt, and I quickly wrapped her in my jacket. It had the desired effect, and within thirty seconds she was sound asleep. I only wished I could escape the nightmarish ride so easily.

    “I feel like Steve McQueen in Bullitt,” sang out Halley with glee. “Christ, Lauren, how're you not loving this?”

    “Yulp,” I said, trying not to bite my tongue.

    “Concise, but hardly erudite,” she mused. “Might want to work on your debating skills, I think.”

    She seemed to be in an unusually good mood; I put it down to either the high speed or my discomfort. At least she was happy, I thought.

    Niamh took us over the central island of a roundabout and between two lorries with less than an inch to spare on either side; one of them shifted slightly and we lost a wing mirror.

    “Well, we didn't need that anyway,” muttered Niamh in answer to Smythe's glare. “Look, Port, if you want to drive...”

    “No no,” he said, “you keep going. You're – um – the expert, after all.”

    Niamh grinned wolfishly, and I saw her teeth flash in the rear-view mirror.

    “That's right,” she said. “Leave the music to the musician and the driving to the driver.”

    A thin, wailing siren came to our ears, and Niamh sighed.

    “Really? They want to try this?”

    “Cops spoil everything,” sighed Halley.

    “Couldn't agree more,” she replied. “I mean, their hearts are in the right place but they just get in the way.”

    “Shouldn't we stop for them?” I suggested diffidently, as we mounted the pavement to avoid a red light. I received three incredulous stares in response.

    “If we stop, Teiresias kills your friends,” replied Smythe. “We don't stop for anything.”

    “But – but – OK,” I said, shutting up fast before I let any vomit out.

    “That's right,” replied Halley. “Out of interest, how do you learn to drive like this?”

    “There's a course,” replied Niamh thoughtfully. “'Stunt Driving for the Modern Mobile Criminal'.”

    “Where do they teach it?”

    “Munich.” She paused. “How can you even drive a car?”

    “Good question,” admitted Halley. “Let's just say I'm working on it.”

    Niamh dodged a pedestrian with preternatural ease and drove through a wooden fence between two houses; after a blurry ride through someone's garden, we re-emerged through a chain-link one in a car park, narrowly avoiding a Mini.

    The police sirens seemed very, very distant.

    “I think we've lost them,” said Niamh calmly. “Now hold on.”

    “What?” I asked, suddenly even more afraid. “Why—?”

    She slammed her foot down on the brakes, and the headrest in front of me rose up to meet my face with awful speed; dazed, I slumped back into my seat and saw that we had stopped exactly one inch short of a solid brick wall.

    “OK,” said Niamh, unfazed. “Here we are. The Gym.”

    I blinked and looked over her shoulder at the clock on the dashboard.

    We had made the journey in just seventeen minutes.

    ---

    There was a long and terrible silence.

    “Chili...?” said someone uncertainly – Cress or Cilan, Cheren thought. “Chili, is that...?”

    “He is not dead,” replied Teiresias in its stolen voice. “He merely sleeps.” It paused ominously. “For now.”

    Footsteps. The thing that had been Chili was coming closer, and then all at once ice-cold fingers were cupping Cheren's chin, forcing his head up so that unseen eyes could stare into his.

    “I can almost see with this one,” murmured Teiresias. “Ah... the living.” It sounded almost wistful. “There will come a time when all my hosts have a pulse.”

    “Did you come over here to talk to yourself or to me?” asked Cheren, as coolly as he could. As much to his surprise as that of anyone else, his voice came out hard and calm, without a trace of concern.

    “I will not be drawn into conversation,” replied Teiresias. “Let my reasons remain my own, if you wish this man to retain his soul when I leave his flesh.”

    “You should probably stop asking questions, Cheren,” called Bianca, voice trembling. “I think he's going to need his soul later.”

    “You're probably right,” agreed Cheren. “Only I doubt you will kill him, or damage him in any way. That would be too high-profile.”

    “I do not fear the scrutiny of men—”

    “No, but I expect the Party does.”

    Teiresias was silent, and Cheren was certain that he'd hit home with that one.

    “I am outside their command,” it replied eventually, voice like frostbite. “I do as I please. If it pleased me to kill this man, then I would.”

    “All right, then,” said Cheren, a sudden bold plan leaping into his head. “What if I kill him? What then?”

    Teiresias made a strange coughing noise, like the last breaths of a plague victim. It took Cheren a moment to realise that it was laughing.

    “You? Kill him? I sincerely doubt you could kill anyone.”

    “Lelouch,” said Cheren, heart pounding so hard it felt like it might burst. “To his throat.”

    Presumably Teiresias had only blotted out visible light, not infrared, and so the Snivy slithered briskly up to Chili's neck without giving any sign of getting lost on the way; he settled on his shoulders like a scarf, ready to contract his fibrous body as soon as the word was given.

    Teiresias paused.

    “You would not,” it repeated. “This is a bluff. You mean to make me waste time, so that you can figure out a means of escape before I kill you – as I will now,” it added hungrily, “given that the command to spare you has not been given.”

    “I'll take that body down with me,” replied Cheren coolly.

    Either Cress or Cilan made some move to protest, but their voices were cut off abruptly; Cheren imagined more of Teiresias' invisible hands clamping across their mouths, or choking their throats, and shivered inwardly.

    “I can see your mind, you know,” crooned the fiend. “I can see your thoughts, your dreams, your plans... You cannot kill him.”

    Is that so?

    Cheren filled his mind with thoughts of tightening coils, of Chili pulling at Lelouch and then going limp, gently falling to the floor; of Teiresias' ash-grey dust pouring from his body as the life ebbed from it.

    “You want to trick me,” said Teiresias insistently. “You will not kill this man.”

    “I will do anything to succeed,” Cheren told it, and a strange detached horror rose in him at the the conviction in his voice: it genuinely sounded like it stemmed from truth.

    “You will not...” Teiresias seemed less sure of itself now. “You would not!”

    “I would,” replied Cheren, and his words seemed to fall like lead in the thick air. There was a decisive weight to them; no one could as sensitive to emotion as the demon could doubt their veracity.

    To Cheren's surprise, it laughed again.

    “In my youth, I left men like you alive,” Teiresias said – and now there was a strangely dreamy note in its voice. “You grew to become the leaders and the generals, the scholars and the high priests... Where you went, you brought death and battle, or discovered secrets that should have remained hidden, or sought powers beyond your ability to command. You birthed many of my kind with your ways.” Its voice licked the air, tasting it, drifting lazily on a rich stream of reverie. Despite its sinister timbre, it was almost hypnotic; Cheren found himself hanging on the monster's every word. “But in this time... we are born no more, save by our own hands.” Teiresias sighed, and everyone present felt as if a door to some unknown paradise had abruptly slammed shut. “You have done well to distract me so long,” it admitted. “But I have a task to fulfil.”

    And all at once there was a great rushing of air, and something unseen began to howl beneath the floorboards, hammering on the wood with massive fists, and Teiresias' voice rose to a strange, high whistle that seemed only to enrage the unseen beast, and now the boards were breaking and Cheren knew that it had all been for nothing, that in a minute the thing Teiresias had called would be upon them and sweeping them into the darkest nights of Córmi's wings—

    —and the doors to the Gym burst open, admitting a radiant burst of light, and someone was shouting:

    “Stop! I got them, I got them! Stop!

    The howling ceased, and the hammering with it. The darkness shrank in on itself and collapsed into nothing, and all at once everything was as it had been before Teiresias had attacked – save for the clutching of those hideous hands, the thought of which made Cheren studiously avoid looking down.

    Chili was staring at the doors, and he looked far more normal than Cheren had expected; evidently demonic possession had fewer symptoms than he had thought. The only hint that Teiresias was still within him was the curious way that the colours of his eyes seemed to bleed out into the surrounding air.

    “Why did you not call?” it asked, in that dread voice, and Cheren shivered to see that though Chili's mouth opened to speak, it did not move until a full second after the words had left it.

    “White's phone ran out of battery,” replied Smythe, making his way further into the Gym. Now Cheren could see Lauren and Halley behind him, as well as a woman in her late thirties with the pale green hair of a true Unovan. “We came as quick as we could.”

    “Who is she?” asked Teiresias. A wave of force accompanied its pointing finger, and ruffled the hair of the group by the doors. It struck the strange woman hardest of all, and forced her back a step. “I noticed her at the hotel. She watches at keyholes and listens down chimneys,” it said threateningly. “Is she one of us?”

    Smythe stared idiotically, and made a few gulping motions like a fish out of water; evidently, he had absolutely no idea how to respond to that.

    “No,” replied the woman in his stead. “She isn't.” She stepped forwards and glared at the demon with a vitriol that Cheren wasn't sure he'd ever seen before – in anyone. “I'm here to kill you.” She paused. “Well, and that,” she said, pointing at Candy, “but mostly you.”

    “What?” asked Lauren, looking confused. “What was that?”

    Teiresias did not give the stranger a chance to reply.

    “Kill me?” it hissed, with another peal of that hideous laughter. “I think not.”

    “Would you like to put it to the test?” asked the woman, unimpressed. “Honestly, I've killed more monsters than you've ever dreamed existed.”

    “What I dream would shatter your skull,” replied Teiresias. “Smythe, why have you brought this creature here? Is this a declaration of war?”

    Smythe shook his head so vigorously it looked dangerously close to coming off.

    “No,” he said. “No no no no no no no—”

    “It would seem the circumstances have changed,” Teiresias interrupted, apparently talking to itself. “The Kings and the Regent must be informed at once. And as for you, treacherous Smythe...”

    With unnatural speed, Chili's body coiled like a cat and sprang across the Gym in a parabolic arc, dislodging Lelouch and landing next to Smythe; before anyone could react to that, his hand clamped across Smythe's face and black smoke oozed from the latter's eyes and mouth. A moment later, Chili slumped to the floor and Smythe, eyes aglow, was gone.

    There was silence.

    And then there was a lot of explaining to do.

    ---

    “So let me get this straight,” said Cilan, holding his head in his hands as if it were about to fall apart. “Harmonia's made some pact with a party of demons and is chasing you and your amnesiac talking cat with the aim of getting information about someone who stole something from his Party?”

    “That's pretty much it, yeah,” I said, smiling encouragingly. “I know it's really complicated, but—”

    “It's not that,” he replied, sitting up again and sighing, “it's just bloody insane.”

    “That too,” I agreed, nodding. “But still... you saw what happened.”

    The Gym had been closed and Chili taken to the hospital by Cress and Max; Cilan and Niamh had just had the salient points of all that had occurred to us so far explained to them, and were digesting them with differing degrees of success. Niamh appeared to be able to believe anything as long as she saw some proof, but Cilian was having more trouble getting his head around it all.

    “I did, yes, but... ah, OK,” he sighed. “OK. I need to get a message to the League, that much is clear. We haven't been particularly fond of the Green Party's campaign so far – as you've probably guessed – and this finally gives us a reason and a means to do something about it...”

    “But you can't really just go and accuse Harmonia of using black magic,” pointed out Bianca. “I don't think most people will believe that unless they see it.”

    “There are more ways than one to scupper a campaign,” Niamh said quietly. “I don't imagine the League will be taking the legal one.”

    “Exactly,” replied Cilan. “Wait. Who are you again?”

    “My name is Niamh Harper. I'm a professional monster-slayer.”

    Cilan stared at her for a moment, then uttered a low moan.

    Woden hang 'em,” he groaned. “You're serious, aren't you?”

    “Absolutely. Here's my card.”

    Cilan looked at the little rectangle in his hand, blinked, and moaned theatrically again.

    “This is too much,” he said forlornly. “Too much for one day...”

    Candy, noticing his distress, hopped off my wrist onto his shoulder and poked his ear in misplaced affection.

    “Ark,” she squawked, which might have been comforting to another Archen but which was nowhere near comforting to a human. Especially when screeched into their ear.

    “Sorry,” I said hurriedly, pulling her away from Cilan before he hit her. “Sorry, she's not used to strangers.”

    “'Sraven,” said Cilan, shaking his head. “I swear everything's just gone completely insane today.”

    “It actually seems fairly normal to me,” said Niamh mildly. “Except for the demon part, but that's a small enough stretch of the imagination.”

    Something in her voice didn't seem quite right; I studied her face for a few seconds, and saw it almost immediately: beneath the mask of professionalism, she was very, very worried – about Smythe, presumably. I couldn't imagine how she had managed to stop herself running after him the moment Teiresias had taken him from the building; I supposed she forced herself to stay to learn more about her enemy before pursuing it. She must have, I thought, incredible willpower – but then, by her own admission, she killed monsters for a living. She was the kind of heroine I'd never thought actually existed in reality.

    “It's not that far-fetched,” added Cheren. “Considering the Zero affair and whatever it was that happened in Sinnoh last year, this business actually seems fairly tame.”

    He was right. Last year, a criminal mastermind styling himself Zero had raised two titanic, hostile Pokémon from millennia of slumber in Hoenn and almost destroyed the world; shortly afterwards, a certain unknown something had occurred in Sinnoh that had made all the clocks in the world run backwards for two days. The Sinnish authorities were particularly close-lipped, even by League standards, and hadn't said much about it apart from mentioning that there had been 'some minor disturbances' atop Mount Coronet – but it was clear that something pretty major had occurred, if only because an ancient temple the size of a small airstrip had been entirely erased from existence.

    “Well, yes, but this is Unova, not one of those lunatic Pacific countries,” grumbled Cilan. “We don't have buried evils here, or secret monsters, or any of that—”

    “Actually, we do,” interrupted Niamh. “I've killed quite a few of them.”

    “And let me tell you, this country definitely qualifies as lunatic in my book,” added Halley.

    “All right!” cried Cilan desperately. “Enough already!” He slumped back in his seat, took a deep breath, and sat up again. “OK. OK. I'll... I'll send a message to the League, and organise a guard for you three at the Centre tonight in case that thing comes back.”

    “I'm really not sure that'll stop it,” pointed out Cheren.

    “It might at least discourage it,” Cilan replied, standing up. “And... I guess you've earned this, too.”

    He held out a little piece of enamel – a Gym Badge, I realised with some surprise.

    “You out-thought Chili and a f*cking demon,” he said frankly. “You drove it out of its body, convinced it you were about to commit murder and kept us all alive long enough for help to arrive. That's a hell of a lot more than any of our other challengers have ever done.”

    “Thank you,” said Cheren, “but I'll have to refuse that, I'm afraid.”

    “What?”

    We all stared. This was not what we'd been expecting.

    “I didn't beat Chili,” he said. “I'm not going to accept this as a reward for anything other than skill at Pokémon battling. That's not what it's for.”

    “You...” Cilan stared for a moment, then threw up his hands in anguish. “What is with all these people today? We've got demons, monster-slayers, kids with stricter codes of honour than a bloody samurai...”

    “Don't forget the talking cat,” added Halley slyly.

    “I'd rather do exactly the opposite,” he replied, evidently in some distress. “Thunor, Frige and Woden...” He shook his head again. “I'll just go call the League,” he said disconsolately, and trudged off to find his phone.

    “If that's all you have to tell, then I think I'll leave,” said Niamh, getting to her feet. “I only stayed for information.” She handed me one of her business cards. “It has my number. If you find out anything else, please let me know.”

    She hurried out without saying goodbye; I assumed she was eager to pick up Smythe's trail.

    In the ensuing silence, Bianca's eyes slid over to Cheren, and I sensed an unspoken question hanging in the air between them.

    “What is it?” he asked, evidently picking up on it too. He sounded a little irritated.

    “Well, it's just... um...”

    “Spit it out,” he said tiredly.

    “Er... you weren't really going to kill Chili, were you?” asked Bianca timidly.

    “Of course not,” he said, eyes widening. “Thunor, Bianca, did you even need to ask?”

    “You were – uh – really convincing,” she said. “I got worried...”

    The last dregs of hostility flowed away from him, and to my surprise he actually hugged her.

    “I'm an excellent liar,” he said softly. “You know that.”

    “I know,” she replied, pressing her face into his neck. “But still...”

    Looking at them, I felt a pang of loneliness; quiet days spent with Anastasia came to mind, sitting in the trees at the northern end of White Forest. I could feel the buttons of her jacket pressing against my head, and hear her heartbeat beneath my ear...

    I blinked back a tear and resolved to charge my phone as soon as we got back to the Centre. I had to call her soon, or I'd end up crying tonight, and I didn't think Halley would be particularly sympathetic company.

    “OK!” said Cilan, reappearing, and Bianca flinched out of Cheren's arms. “I've called the League, and I got through to Shauntal. Alder's out – as ever – and the rest are renewing the binding at—” He checked himself. “Actually, I probably shouldn't mention that. Anyway, Shauntal heads the PR department, so she should be good enough for now – although Grimsley's really the one we want, since he's in charge of intelligence and espionage.” He waved a hand. “Doesn't matter. The point is, she said she'll be here in a couple of hours. The others have taken the jet, but she'll take the helicopter. She wants to talk to you three personally before taking any action.”

    We exchanged looks. Shauntal, of the Unovan Elite Four? Celebrity author, major politician, and one of the most skilled Pokémon Trainers in the country? That was unexpected – and definitely the kind of help we could use.

    “We'll wait here, then,” said Cheren on our behalf. “If that's OK with you three...?”

    “Yeah.” I nodded. “I wasn't planning on going anywhere.”

    “Guess I wasn't, either,” said Bianca.

    “OK.” Cilan thought for a moment. “I have to make sure Chili's OK,” he said at length. “I'll call Tia and Sammy and have them come in first. They can stand guard for now, although it didn't seem like that thing was coming back any time soon. Tia's also an excellent chef,” he added. “If you won't accept the Badge, Cheren, you can at least accept a free lunch.”

    Cheren nodded graciously.

    “All right.” He looked at Bianca and me. “I think we'd like that.”

    “Are you kidding?” Halley leaped up onto a table. “We'd love that. Didn't you see the sign outside?” she asked him. “This place has two Michelin stars. It's going to be awesome!”

    Cilan smiled for the first time since I'd met him.

    “Yes, it should be,” he replied. “We pride ourselves on our service. Now,” he said, extracting his phone from his pocket, “if you'll just give me a moment to call them, we'll have your meal shortly...”

    ---

    Niamh was angry and terrified and sad, and she was beating the sh*t out of an unfortunate dustbin which had happened to be in her way.

    “F*cking – demon – possessing – Port – f*cking – f*cking – f*ck!” she howled, heedless of the attention she was attracting. “Gallows and hammer! 'Sraven, how can – f*cking – agh!”

    She kicked the bin aside, leaving the knives jammed into its side, and turned into an alley, fleeing into the bowels of the city; she didn't want to be in the open, not now, not when everyone was around and OK and Portland wasn't and – and—

    In the middle of nowhere, she stopped and set her back to a wall, curling up and clutching her head so hard she felt her nails break skin and blood run in her hair. She wanted to scream, but something choked her voice. She wanted to beat herself up, but she couldn't uncurl her hands from her skull. She wanted Portland right now, unharmed and free of demons, and she wanted to hold him tight and know that everything was going to be OK—

    Teiresias.

    The name rose unbidden in her mind like a spot of spreading blood, and with it came terror, blotting out rage and sorrow in an instant with its great tidal flow. Teiresias. How could she kill something like that? How? She had bullets and knives and that longsword she kept in reserve for those certain beasts who would not die unless killed with silver-lined blades, but all of them seemed so useless against a foe like that – an enemy that hopped between bodies as if the ether between them was nothing, whose real form was likely some gnawing, chaotic abyss that to merely see would be a one-way ticket to madness? Niamh had killed many strange creatures before, things that, in all likelihood, had their origins in worlds not our own, but this... Despite her words in the Gym, she knew that she was at the limit of her ability here.

    For the first time in many years, Niamh Harper needed help.

    She wrenched her hands free, wiped her eyes and got to her feet. So. There it was. It was simple, really, when you laid it out like that. Portland needed her. She needed help to save him. The logical next step? Find the druids. They knew more about demons than anyone else she knew.

    And there was another step she could take, one that lingered in the back of her mind and left her still more uneasy – but she wouldn't think of that. Not yet. Not unless there was no other option left to her.

    Niamh stood there for a moment, unsteady on her feet, then collected herself. She pressed her emotions firmly back down with the heretical mind-control trick, until they were at a level she could use to fuel her determination without destroying her peace of mind, and took a deep, shaky breath.

    She was OK, she thought. She was OK, and now she had to help Portland Smythe get his body back.

    She had to kill a demon.

    ---

    Far away, in the back room of the Mandelmort Temple, Lorcan Peabody flicked from Facebook to Outlook and choked on his coffee.

    He had, a few hours ago, sent an email to the presiding druidic librarian at Nacrene's Travison Memorial Library – a little thing about that cute girl who had been in earlier, searching for methods of ridding herself of a demon – and he would have been lying if he'd claimed he was expecting any sort of immediate response.

    He had one, however, and it was not the noncommittal reply he thought it would be.

    From: c.lewis@gordseddunova.org.unv
    To: l.peabody@gorseddunova.org.unv
    Subject: Re: Possible case of demonic activity

    Lorcan,

    Don't let that girl out of your sight. Keep her within the boundaries of the temple and perform the Nine Herbs on her in case any taint has begun. I'm sending a demonologist over to you right away to escort her here to Nacrene, where we can assess the problem and send her along to Castelia. The abomination she mentions has an entire chapter to itself in the Glasya-Labolas, and if it is has returned to Unova now, at the apex of Jormal's Cycle, then the High Druid must be informed at once.

    These creatures may grow weaker or stronger with age – it is variable – and whichever way age has affected Teiresias, it is undoubtedly the most potent threat that has stalked Unova for over two hundred years. Do not take any chances. If it approaches, invoke every circle you can and do not look into its eyes.

    Charles

    Lorcan stared at the screen for a moment, then scratched his head.

    “Well, sh*t,” he muttered. “I have totally f*cked this one up.”

  19. #94
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    That was unexpected, I thought for a second the possessed chili was going to snap Smythes neck, but I guess not.

    Also, I bet if they hadn't shown up in time, Cheren actually would have done what he was saying just by his unnatural conviction. Though I guess we will never know for sure.

    I wonder why the druid thought he f*cked up? Is it because he didn't actually believe Lauren and thinks it's not real and just got everyone into action for nothing? Silly Druid, it's the main character talking to you, of course their problems are real no matter how outlandish their claims.


    Credit to Brutaka for the amazing banner and user bar. Yeah, having 2 is redundant, but it shows you guys my favorite pokemon, what story I had planned and my position in the WoJ.

    Time, there's never enough of it but it's always there to waste.
    -Azurus

  20. #95
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    Quote Originally Posted by Azurus View Post
    That was unexpected, I thought for a second the possessed chili was going to snap Smythes neck, but I guess not.

    Also, I bet if they hadn't shown up in time, Cheren actually would have done what he was saying just by his unnatural conviction. Though I guess we will never know for sure.
    No, but you can be sure it won't go unremarked upon.

    Quote Originally Posted by Azurus View Post
    I wonder why the druid thought he f*cked up? Is it because he didn't actually believe Lauren and thinks it's not real and just got everyone into action for nothing? Silly Druid, it's the main character talking to you, of course their problems are real no matter how outlandish their claims.
    Actually, I think it's because the email tells him expressly not to let Lauren out of his sight, to keep her under guard and to wait for backup. Whereas he just sent her on her way and, for all he knows, to her doom.

    Thanks for reading and commenting!

    F.A.B.

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    Chapter Thirteen: God Rest Ye

    Shauntal Wentworth was everything I'd thought she would be except tall.

    She was a lot shorter than TV had led me to expect – only a little taller than me, and I'm not tall by any stretch of the imagination. She did, however, have a kind of cool energy about her that lent her an impression of grandeur, so that you almost found yourself looking up at her despite the fact that she wasn't tall enough to warrant it.

    She also seemed to have a weakness for theatrics, because she chose to materialise in a puff of smoke in the exact centre of the room, something that impressed me immensely but which Cheren informed me was nothing but a cheap trick easily perpetrated with the aid of a Ghost-type Pokémon.

    “Good afternoon,” she said to me, while we were all still in a state of mild shock. “Shauntal Wentworth, Elite Four. You must be Lauren.”

    “Um – ah – yes,” I replied lamely, staring. “That's me...”

    “More to the point, I'm Halley,” said Halley, unimpressed. “I'm the focal point of this chaos – which is either testament to my popularity or to my infamy.”

    Shauntal smiled, apparently wholly unfazed by a talking cat.

    “A pleasure to meet you,” she said. “Aren't you fascinating?”

    “Yes,” agreed Halley dryly. “Inordinately so.”

    Shauntal laughed, and turned away.

    “And you two are Cheren and Bianca, correct?”

    Cheren nodded.

    “That's right.”

    He must have been practically bursting with excitement at meeting one of the Elite Four – to someone with his ambition, they must have seemed like heroes – but his face betrayed no trace of emotion. Bianca, for her part, just stared, eyes wide as saucers.

    “All right,” said Shauntal, pulling up a chair and joining us at the table. “We've got the introductions out of the way. Now, tell me everything.”

    There was a silence, during which Cheren, Bianca and I exchanged uneasy look. The abruptness of the request seemed a little odd.

    “Well?” asked Halley, staring around at us. “Are you going to talk, or am I going to tell the story?”

    Shauntal smiled and shook her head.

    “I know, this must seem a little daunting,” she said. “But I – oh, hello, Tia. How's the baby? Could I get a black coffee, please? Thanks. Where was I? Oh yes. I know it's daunting, but I really do need to know quickly. There's a saying in Gaunton – the only thing that moves faster than light is Unovan politics. Harmonia will probably know about this by now, and will be taking counter-measures against us; if the League is to capitalise on this knowledge, I have to put the PR department on the offensive within half an hour.” She leaned forwards. “So. You understand the rush.”

    Cheren cleared his throat.

    “All right,” he said. “Lauren, you'd best begin. We weren't there for the start, after all.”

    I started.

    Right, I thought. OK. Just leave out the part about the world switching around, and you'll be fine.

    “Um... OK,” I replied. “It was the day before Eostre, and I went to buy some flowers...”

    ---

    Living flesh was even less welcome in the dark paths than dead, and especially so when it was bound to one's essence. Teiresias almost choked upon entering, and came close to falling clean out of Smythe's skull: it had been a long time since it had taken a body that still breathed, and even longer since it had dragged that body onto the dark paths. One might have thought that Teiresias would find its waning ability vexing, given its reputation and species, but Teiresias' alien psychology could not comprehend the idea of being dissatisfied with its own senescence. Time was unstoppable and ageing inevitable. There was no point in railing against it.

    Teiresias could, however, feel a little irritated at having to haul this cumbersome burden through such a long and troubling path; however, Smythe had proved himself a traitor to both King and Regent, and while Teiresias cared not for the Regent, King Weland commanded its utmost respect and loyalty. He might have long since been confined to the history books in the eyes of Unova's people, but that was only because he preferred to remain unseen. The Regent's son was the first mortal in fifteen hundred years to set eyes upon him, and only then because of the exceptional blood in his veins.

    Teiresias bared Smythe's teeth unconsciously. The Regent's son! There was another King to whom it owed its fealty. He was a higher creature, one of those who in days ancient beyond imagination had been eradicated by the bastard half-breeds. That was before even Teiresias' time, but it had heard the stories, still whispered around the soul-wells to this day; it was a golden age, where his people and those of earth lived in harmony, in Unova at least, and neither ever had to die.

    It blinked. There was something about the dark paths that led one's mind to wander, and Teiresias knew that if one's mind wandered here it tended to pull the thinker away with it, dragging them into the endless limbo on either side of the narrow road. It must concentrate, keep its mind on the task at hand. There was important news to deliver, treachery to be uncovered, the League's intervention to be reported.

    Teiresias swelled within Smythe's brain like a tumour, and flew onwards into the abyss.

    ---

    “...ran away,” Cheren finished. “To inform its masters, I presume.”

    Throughout the story, Shauntal had sat there silently, listening intently and making copious notes in a black-bound notebook; now, she nodded, drained her cup at a gulp and stood up.

    “I see,” she said. “I need to start things going at once... You keep going, you three. Talk to the druids at Nacrene tomorrow, and see if you can find out more about this Teiresias creature. It may give us a way into whatever strange pact Harmonia's made. In the meantime, I'll begin an assault on the Green Party and send word to Lenora to expect you and clear the way with the druids.”

    “I thought the druids didn't like the League?” asked Cheren.

    “They don't,” replied Shauntal. “I'm hoping they dislike demons even more, though, or we won't get anywhere at all. The Gorsedd is perfectly capable of tying our investigations up in knots if it wants to, especially if there's anything supernatural involved.” She frowned. “I'm not certain about it, though... I don't know what Teiresias is, but I think I may have encountered something similar before.”

    “Really? Do you remember anything about it?”

    “No, I'm afraid not. I think I fended it off before it did too much damage, but it did eat part of my memory before it left,” she said thoughtfully. “The whole episode is a little hazy.” She clapped her hands together decisively. “Anyway! I really can't afford to stay any longer. I'll leave one of my Pokémon to watch over you in case Teiresias returns – she'll be more of a match for it, I think – but that's as much in the way of concrete help as I can offer right now. Hopefully, the political attack will be more effective. Harmonia is large in the public eye at the moment; a bit of leaked information here and there should cause a media storm that will keep him distracted while I get Grimsley to find out more.”

    “Grimsley himself?” queried Cheren. “Doesn't he have people to find things out for him—?”

    “Oh, no, quite the reverse,” Shauntal answered. “The League is... um... not really as large as it seems.” She grinned uncomfortably. “It's just the five of us – well, four, since Alder hasn't shown up for a while... and the Leaders aren't really much help, either,” she added confidingly. “This isn't widely-known, but...” She sighed. “You deserve to know what kind of support you're getting.”

    “Hold on,” said Halley, narrowing her eyes. “I don't like the sound of this.”

    “Well, I'm afraid it's true,” Shauntal told her apologetically. “The Unovan League, to be honest, isn't really as substantial as we like to make out. We don't have the manpower or funding that we used to, and the Gym Leaders are increasingly turning away from our central authority. Clay, Elesa, Drayden, Burgh, Skyla, even Lenora – they don't, um, listen to us so much any more. What used to be hobbies for them have become main careers, and the League has suffered as a result. Even here, Chili, Cress and Cilan get more business from the restaurant than the Gym, and they're the most devoted of the Leaders.”

    She sighed again; the buzzing energy seemed to have faded from her, and for the first time I detected the dark circles around her eyes. How much had the decline of Training affected the League, I wondered. It was common knowledge that virtually all Gym Leaders had secondary jobs these days, but I hadn't thought that this would be so much to the detriment of their main business. It seemed like perhaps we might expect less assistance from the League than I had thought.

    “So there it is,” Shauntal said, after a pause. “That's it. That's also kind of why we haven't done anything about Harmonia before; we simply haven't had the strength to muster any resistance. To be honest, I don't know how we're going to do it now. We'll do our best – but I'm afraid you're mostly going to be on your own.”

    “I see,” I said quietly. “Thank you anyway. Very much.”

    I was disappointed, but I understood. The League was doing what it could; I could ask no more.

    “Is there anyone else we can go to?” asked Bianca. “For assistance, I mean... the police, maybe?”

    Shauntal shrugged.

    “I doubt it,” she replied baldly. “Harmonia isn't going to be halted legally. He's too well-prepared, and too smart. That weird gold-selling of his is proof of that – it's been investigated, but no one can prove anything. Other than the police, the only other option is the druids, but if he's summoning things like Teiresias, he must have contacts high up in the Gorsedd – meaning it could be dangerous to tell them too much about what's happening.”

    “Is it me, or is literally everything against us here?” asked Halley peevishly. “Honestly. Talk about a f*cking downer.”

    “I know, I know,” said Shauntal, shaking her head. “It feels that way. But really,” she went on, checking her watch, “I do have to go. I have to set some journalists on Harmonia and then get over to— well. That much is confidential, I'm afraid.”

    “Of course.” Cheren nodded. “We understand.”

    “Thank you for everything,” said Bianca. “You've been very helpful.”

    “Yeah,” I agreed. “Thank you.”

    “Where's this guardian Pokémon you mentioned?” asked Halley.

    “She's here,” Shauntal replied evasively. “She prefers not to be seen during daylight hours, I'm afraid. She'll probably introduce herself after night falls.”

    “Right,” said Halley. “I'm totally f*cking filled with confidence.”

    “What Halley means,” I said hurriedly, “is thank you very much, to you and your Pokémon.” I looked at Halley. “Right?”

    She muttered something inaudible.

    “It's fine,” said Shauntal. “Really. She's not on my main battling team anyway; I can spare her.” She gave a wan grin. “Now, I really must go this time.”

    We said our goodbyes and she stole out swiftly, her footsteps as silent as the Ghosts she trained. A few minutes later, I heard a helicopter passing distantly overhead – and then that was it. Shauntal was gone.

    I suddenly felt very alone.

    ---

    “Mr. Harmonia, is it true your Party has links with undesirables formerly part of the Gorsedd—”

    “—onia, how do you respond to the allegations laid against you by the an—”

    “—what exactly is it that you expect us to gain by your Liberation policy—“

    “Mr. Harmonia, what about the—”

    “—relationship to Caitlin Molloy, the notorious—”

    “—Harmonia, how—”

    “Mr. Harmonia—”

    “Mr. Harmonia—”

    “Mr. Harmonia—”

    “Now, if you could please just calm down!” bellowed Harmonia, his artificial eye flitting anxiously back and forth across the seething sea of reporters. “I can't very well answer more than one question at a—”

    “Mr. Harmonia!” shouted a reporter, jumping up and down to reach over his compatriots' heads. “What do you have to say about the rumours that your Party is funded by stolen gold?”

    “Preposterous!” he replied. “Our bookkeeping is transparent, and we've already passed one audit and investigation by—”

    What about the demons?” howled a new voice, louder by far than any other, and the crowd fell silent for a moment, heads turning to look at the man with the haunted eyes near the back. “Ezra Weiss, investigative journalist,” he said, patting himself on the chest. “And Mr. Harmonia, how do you explain the rumours that your Party has had dealings with creatures that do not belong on this earth?”

    This is the sort of accusation I have to defend myself against?” Harmonia uttered a short, barking laugh. “Be serious, man!”

    For once, the crowd sided with him, and the hubbub resumed.

    “Mr. Harmonia, what about Molloy? And Goodfellow, and Thraice?”

    “Mr. Harmonia—”

    “I will release a statement in one hour!” thundered Harmonia, eye spinning in its socket. “All will be explained, that much I promise you!”

    With that, he vanished into the Party headquarters, and the great black door slammed shut behind him. For a moment, the crowd of journalists seethed at the gates; then, seeing that there was nothing to be gained, it began to disperse. Some of its members left; some lingered a short distance away, waiting for the action to resume. More than a few went in search of coffee and bagels.

    Ezra Weiss watched the façade for a while through narrowed eyes, and then turned away abruptly, shivering; he had seen them again – the white eyes at the darkened third-floor windows. The eyes that he knew no one else could see.

    “I'm going to find them, Harmonia,” he muttered to himself. “I'll prove they're there, all right.”

    He stalked off past the television crew, and spared a glance for the TV reporter as he passed.

    “...stated that a press release would be given later today,” she was telling the camera in a serious voice. “It's not yet clear who leaked the information, but it comes at a crucial point in Harmonia's campaign. With the countdown to the general election now measured in days rather than weeks, and his controversial new Liberation policy already unsettling many voters, Harmonia's election chances are shrinking by the minute. What seemed like an unstoppable force has now come almost to a standstill...”

    Ezra shook his head, and walked on. Harmonia would win all right – he would win anything he wanted, with those fiends at his back. He should know.

    After all, he was one.

    ---

    “...come almost to a standstill. Back to you in the studio.”

    Cheren clicked off the TV and turned to us.

    “Well,” he said, “it looks like Shauntal was as good as her word.”

    “Yeah,” agreed Bianca. “I thought she wasn't going to mention the demons, though?”

    “It looks like she spread the information quite widely,” Cheren replied. “Everyone had a different thing to question him about, didn't they?”

    “So she must have found one person who would actually believe he had demons backing his Party,” concluded Bianca. “Namely, that Weiss guy. OK, I get it.”

    “Yes.” Cheren grinned. “Spectacular, wasn't it? She must have been wrong about him having heard about events in the Gym just yet; he wasn't prepared at all!”

    “I know. He wasn't nearly as smooth when he wasn't in control, was he?”

    “Bloopgork,” chimed in Munny, whatever that meant, and went back to making slow circuits of the Centre's lounge.

    I was silent; I didn't much feel like talking. Once we'd got back from the Gym, I'd charged my phone and had a long, heartfelt conversation with Anastasia that left me feeling hollow inside with homesickness; I'd also found 136 missed calls from my parents, but I hadn't dared to answer them yet. Hopefully Cordelia would have explained to them by now; I wasn't looking forward to telling them what had happened, and any preparation on her part would be welcome.

    But it was the call to Annie that really got me. I had forgotten that your heart really does hurt when you're sad enough, and I didn't like being reminded of it. She had been well – fully recovered from the fear Teiresias had projected into her brain – but she'd been worried about me; I hadn't called for days. I'd told her about everything that had happened, and she'd compared the Dreamyard to some game she'd played a year ago; everything had, for one short moment, felt exactly as it had before I'd left – and then I had had to go, and as the line went dead I suddenly realised that I missed her more than I knew how to deal with.

    I hadn't felt like eating dinner after all that.

    “You know,” I said slowly, speaking for the first time since I'd said goodbye to Annie, “I'm feeling kind of tired. I think I might go to bed now.”

    Both Cheren and Bianca looked at me sharply; even Halley glanced up drowsily from where she was curled next to Candy on the floor.

    “I see,” said Cheren, and I was unsure exactly how much he saw, as he put it.

    “Are you OK?” asked Bianca, more concerned.

    “Yeah,” I replied. “Yeah. I'll... be fine.” I attempted a smile, and almost managed. “Night!”

    “Goodnight,” said Cheren.

    “Night night,” said Bianca, brow furrowing.

    “Candy. Bedtime,” I said, and she climbed lazily onto my shoulder. We left, and an hour and a half later I'd finally cried myself to sleep, Candy's little heart beating fast against my cheek.

    ---

    Tock.

    ---

    Past midnight, and still working. It wasn't unusual for Harmonia nowadays, but tonight it carried with it a special horror; this wasn't just the usual Party business, but a desperate attempt to repair the damage done by whoever it was that had leaked those rumours to the press. Someone had gone to a lot of trouble and considerable expense to put a hole in his campaign, and he simply couldn't think of who might have the resources to do so; luckily for him, he was about to find out – and unluckily, it was not to be good news.

    A sheet of dark fire flared on the other side of his desk, and a pale man appeared in the chair laid out there. He was plump and smiling, and wore a neat suit with a bowler hat; he was, however, the colour of chalk, and his teeth distinctly grey.

    “A message from His Undying Majesty, Mr. Harmonia.”

    His voice was every bit as merry as his smile, but carried with it a sickly scent that did not smell like any living creature Harmonia knew of.

    Harmonia shut his eyes. Usually his fiendish ally sent one of his more intangible subjects as a messenger; a corporeal one was not only unsettling, but meant something serious had happened. Why the King felt this distinction was necessary was beyond him, but then again, the King had been living in a tomb for the last few millennia, and that sort of thing was bound to colour one's thinking after a while.

    “'Sraven,” he whispered, feeling sick at the thought of any more bad news. “What is it now?”

    “Teiresias has returned,” said the Merry Gentleman (for such, according to certain unpleasant parts of a particularly nasty Treatise, Harmonia had taken to calling him). “It brought with it your agent.”

    “Smythe?” Harmonia tensed. What had the dumb bastard done now? “What do you mean, it brought him with it?”

    “It appears Mr. Smythe was a traitor,” the Merry Gentleman informed him, his grin broadening. His tongue, Harmonia saw, was blue-black and swollen; he did not know how he spoke, but he was sure that organ wasn't up to the task. “He had informed a friend of his of Teiresias' existence, and very possibly part of His Majesty's plan.”

    Our plan,” corrected Harmonia. The King might be in the habit of sending rather grisly messengers, but that didn't mean he was going to let himself be pushed around, damn it. If you wanted to dine with the devil, you had to stand up for yourself. That, and purchase a very long fork.

    The Merry Gentleman inclined his head.

    “Of course. Our plan, therefore, may well be threatened with exposure – particularly as this friend seemed unaccountably unafraid of Teiresias, even when it possessed Smythe to flee and report back. She threatened to kill it, apparently. From what it saw, she appears to be a woman of singular determination.”

    “Do we know who she is?” asked Harmonia. Woden hang 'em! It was one thing after another today...

    “I regret to inform you that we do not,” replied the Merry Gentleman. “Teiresias considered it more important to deliver its report than to attempt to follow her, particularly as it had to take with it your man's living body.”

    Harmonia gritted his teeth. It sounded like the King was blaming this on him – and the really galling thing was that he was right to do so. He should have seen this coming; Smythe had lived the kind of life wherein one makes dangerous enemies, and spectacularly dangerous friends.

    “I see,” he said, trying to maintain his outward cool. “She'll likely be heading for Nacrene, then, where the nearest copy of the Glasya-Labolas is – she can't know what Teiresias is, surely. We have people there already; I should be able to prepare something to throw her off the trail while we work on her identity.”

    The Merry Gentleman's smile broadened a second time. It was now almost too wide for Harmonia to bear; it stretched so far across his cheeks that he almost felt the flesh of the Gentleman's face might give way and tear under the strain.

    “Very well, Mr. Harmonia,” he said. “Teiresias will return here as soon as it is rested, to await direction. It is so very eager to find this Halley,” he added, with a small and horrible chuckle.

    Harmonia clenched his pen with such force his knuckles looked like they would burst through the skin of his hand.

    “Is there anything else?” he asked.

    “Yes, just one more thing,” the Gentleman replied. “His Majesty suggests the League is behind the recent attack on your campaign.”

    Harmonia started. What in Middangeard...? The League? With so few people, and with all they had to do right now? How had they been able to afford it? And how had they found out?

    “You can't be serious!”

    “An understandable reaction,” said the Merry Gentleman, “but I must draw your attention to the fact that the altercation between Teiresias and this woman took place in a Gym, in full view of two Gym Leaders and within another's body. Halley and her group were also present – and we doubt that they did not seize this opportunity to seek aid.”

    Who was this 'we'? Better, Harmonia thought, not to ask – not where the King's Gentlemen were concerned.

    “I see,” he said faintly. “Is there... anything else?”

    “No,” replied the Gentleman. “Thank you for your time, Mr. Harmonia. His Undying Majesty sends his regards.”

    And then he was gone – just like that. None of the theatrics this time; no dark fire or flashing lights. Just gone.

    Harmonia waited for a full thirty seconds before he dared breathe again.

    “Thunir's hammer,” he sighed weakly, resting his head on his desk. “The f*ck is with those things?”

    He didn't comfort himself. He knew exactly what was with them, and that was what frightened him.

    ---

    Morning brought another depressingly dreary day – yesterday was apparently an aberration – and the end of our time in Striaton. The druid and Shauntal had both recommended we head to Nacrene, and the four of us agreed that we should be doing it as soon as possible; if we were lucky, we might get there and get a head start on how to defeat Teiresias before it returned from informing the mysterious 'Kings' it had mentioned, whoever they were. Consequently, we'd agreed the night before to be ready to catch the ten o'clock train to Nacrene Central – which of course meant that we didn't leave the Pokémon Centre until about eleven. This put Cheren in a bad mood (he'd been hoping we might be early and get the nine twenty-six, I think) but really, he should have expected it; he was dealing with two teenagers and a cat – neither of which are exactly renowned for their early waking hours.

    Eventually, we ended up on the eleven seventeen, and after an hour of boredom – punctuated only by Shauntal's Ghost (who still hadn't introduced herself yet) rattling the windows every so often – I found myself once more in a city centre. That, I thought, was how to travel: cut out all that tedious walking through the forest; just get on a train and go straight from urban heart to urban heart. No need for dirt or sleeping in tents: you stayed in the midst of the comforts of civilisation, every step of the way.

    Bliss.

    Nacrene itself was very different from Black City. It wasn't quite as new, for the most part, though I knew from visiting Uncle Gregory that parts of it were almost indistinguishable from my hometown, with the same looming skyscrapers and cloud-tickling towers. In the heart of it, though, around the station, I kept looking up and seeing windows that still had shutters, or little baroque swirls of decoration, that would have been thoroughly out of place back home.

    Our destination, the Travison Memorial Library, was even more old-fashioned. It was the kind of gigantic neoclassical monstrosity the British had thrown up everywhere when they first arrived, with columns and arches in abundance and a multiplicity of pedimented windows. I wouldn't say it was attractive, but it was definitely impressive. It put me in mind of a vast, many-legged beast forever wrapped up in a smug sense of its own stateliness.

    “That is an ugly building,” I said, staring up at it.

    Cheren looked at me sharply.

    “Um... no,” he said frankly. “It isn't. It's quite beautiful.”

    “Yeah,” agreed Bianca. “Look at it! It's like a castle.”

    “I'm on their side,” drawled Halley. “It's a damn fine piece of architecture. If it weren't the size of the British Museum I'd probably nick it.”

    “Ark,” put in Candy, uncertain what everyone was talking about but determined not to be left out.

    “Huh,” I said, feeling vaguely betrayed. “Er... huh.”

    Eloquent,” said Halley sarcastically.

    “You know, we should get you a collar,” I replied savagely. “You'd actually look like a tame cat that way.”

    She bristled, as I'd known she would.

    “No one's putting a f*cking collar on me—”

    “It's actually quite a good idea,” said Cheren. “I should have thought of that before. We'll see what we can do about it after we visit the library.”

    “Hey.” Halley sounded worried. “Hey, you are joking, right?”

    “Come on,” said Bianca. “We've done enough standing and staring. Let's go in already.”

    We began to move towards the entrance, Halley circling our heels.

    “No, seriously,” she said, “you're joking, right? Tell me you're joking.”

    “It's a shame about the weather today,” Cheren said to me.

    “I know,” I replied “At least it was sunny yesterday, even if it was cold as well.”

    “Are you listening? You hate me, don't you? I'm sorry for all the mean things I said. But you are joking, right?”

    “I don't know... I think it's a bit warmer today,” Bianca said. “It feels like it, anyway.”

    At that point, I noticed the person leaning against a column in the entrance portico and stopped dead. Halley's concern no longer seemed funny to me; I felt the blood roar inexplicably in my veins and my heart pound rhythmically like a cannibal drumbeat.

    It was him.

    It was the guy whose name I knew without knowing.

    It was N, and he was looking back at me with the same fear in his eyes as was crawling in my stomach.

  22. #97
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    A good day, a good piece of literature.

    Here we go again.
    Starting on three, two, one ...

    Who was this 'we'? Better, Harmonia thought, not to ask – not where the King's Gentlemen were concerned.
    Ah, talking about yourself on plural. Mankind's favorite way of showing someone is ... different.
    Also, I found the Merry Gentleman rather creepy. Maybe because the universe taught me that anyone who keeps a big, permanent smile on his face has some sinister plan going on. Or just believes on The Power of Positive Thinking. Either way, it's creepy.


    “Hey.” Halley sounded worried. “Hey, you are joking, right?”

    “Come on,” said Bianca. “We've done enough standing and staring. Let's go in already.”

    We began to move towards the entrance, Halley circling our heels.

    “No, seriously,” she said, “you're joking, right? Tell me you're joking.”

    “It's a shame about the weather today,” Cheren said to me.

    “I know,” I replied “At least it was sunny yesterday, even if it was cold as well.”

    “Are you listening? You hate me, don't you? I'm sorry for all the mean things I said. But you are joking, right?”
    I laughed at this for what, five or so minutes? Halley reminds me of some people ...

    Never mind, just talking to myself .... It's nothing, really. Don't bother. No, seriously, ITS NOTHING.


    After all, he was one.
    After all these weird characters you throw on your fics I thought they wouldn't surprise me that much anymore. I actually WAS expecting someone like him to appear.
    Still, had to stop reading for some seconds, just to make sure that ...

    Man, what an I talking about. The story already this crazy even without getting at the 'Sentient-Yin-Yang-Dragon-Business". A Half-Human brain cannot even measure the amount of gambits you're pilling up here.


    Also, liked to see Jared back. Want to see how he's solving things on his side.
    Makes me wonder if his and Lauren's histories are the same, with some minor differences based on their reactions, or if there's a big dimensional paradox and each 'reality' will have a different outcome.


    Fine chapter indeed. Gives you a lot of things to think about.


    Err ... Yeah, I think that's all.
    Keep on the good work. It's good for your neural system health. Or so I've been told.
    Last edited by Rebel.JPEG; 11th March 2013 at 5:02 AM.
    There is no Order. Just predicable Chaos.
    There is no Truth. Just Lies accepted by all.
    There is no Good. Just lesser Evils.
    There is no Life. Just the beginning of Death

    The Beyond

    "Ignorance is a bless. Remember that.
    'Cause sometimes you're better not knowing anything"

    Coming soon...

    ... Probably...

    ... I hope so...

  23. #98
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    I don't have much to add here, as the poster above said everything I was thinking.

    Though I am interested in Ezra's role in this whole thing and wonder if he is an entity from the Harmonious period millenia ago.


    Credit to Brutaka for the amazing banner and user bar. Yeah, having 2 is redundant, but it shows you guys my favorite pokemon, what story I had planned and my position in the WoJ.

    Time, there's never enough of it but it's always there to waste.
    -Azurus

  24. #99
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rebel.JPEG View Post
    A good day, a good piece of literature.
    Oh, you. If I had skin, I would be blushing.

    Not that I don't have a face. It's just that being a moth, it's made of chitin rather than meat.

    I need to stop playing Fallen London before coming online, I think. That is, if I want to stop making comments like that.

    Quote Originally Posted by Rebel.JPEG View Post
    Here we go again.
    Starting on three, two, one ...
    Quote Originally Posted by Dead or Alive voiceover
    Get Ready... FIGHT!

    Yah! Yah yah hi yah!

    Uoh! Uoh!

    K.O.!
    You know what? I miss Dead or Alive. Time to play, I think. Anyway, what were you saying before I got distracted by the way your countdown resembled that leading into a fight game battle?

    Quote Originally Posted by Rebel.JPEG View Post
    Ah, talking about yourself on plural. Mankind's favorite way of showing someone is ... different.
    That, or just a way of implying that there is more than one Merry Gentleman out there.

    Quote Originally Posted by Rebel.JPEG View Post
    Also, I found the Merry Gentleman rather creepy. Maybe because the universe taught me that anyone who keeps a big, permanent smile on his face has some sinister plan going on. Or just believes on The Power of Positive Thinking. Either way, it's creepy.
    Good. He's meant to be creepy. When we find out what he and all his kind are, I hope he will be even creepier.


    Quote Originally Posted by Rebel.JPEG View Post
    I laughed at this for what, five or so minutes? Halley reminds me of some people ...

    Never mind, just talking to myself .... It's nothing, really. Don't bother. No, seriously, ITS NOTHING.
    I was going to reply to that, but your bolded text convinced me otherwise.

    Quote Originally Posted by Rebel.JPEG View Post
    After all these weird characters you throw on your fics I thought they wouldn't surprise me that much anymore. I actually WAS expecting someone like him to appear.
    Still, had to stop reading for some seconds, just to make sure that ...
    You saw him coming? Impressive. I had literally no idea I was going to add Ezra in until I typed the phrase 'Ezra Weiss, investigative journalist' and realised I had created a name too good to be thrown away. Now I've got a storyline in mind for him. It's a vague one, to be sure, but then so are all my storylines.

    Quote Originally Posted by Rebel.JPEG View Post
    Man, what an I talking about. The story already this crazy even without getting at the 'Sentient-Yin-Yang-Dragon-Business". A Half-Human brain cannot even measure the amount of gambits you're pilling up here.
    Lucky I'm a slake-moth, then. I mean, lucky I'm a full human.

    Damn it, Miéville. Your moths flap hauntingly down the corridors of my mind.

    Quote Originally Posted by Rebel.JPEG View Post
    Also, liked to see Jared back. Want to see how he's solving things on his side.
    Makes me wonder if his and Lauren's histories are the same, with some minor differences based on their reactions, or if there's a big dimensional paradox and each 'reality' will have a different outcome.
    Well, mostly they're the same, but as Halley is about to point out, there are certain... inexplicable parts here and there. A little paradox is just as wounding as a big one, if you smoke it just right and don't forget the tarragon.

    Isn't there a children's nonsense poem about tarragon? Am I just in a really good mood or have I gone mental?


    Quote Originally Posted by Rebel.JPEG View Post
    Fine chapter indeed. Gives you a lot of things to think about.
    Err ... Yeah, I think that's all.
    Keep on the good work. It's good for your neural system health. Or so I've been told.
    If my neural structure retains any integrity, it's doubtless at the expense of that of my mind. I mean, I spent forty-five minutes on the train today writing a screenplay in my head about two art students pretending to be a witch and a demon respectively, who then accidentally discover that the one really is a demon and the other really is a witch and enter into an infernal pact. Time then stops for everyone except them, and the aggregation of built-up seconds threatens to burst a cosmic dam, unleashing centuries of unlived moments that never happened; epic adventures - involving the reason the demon was there in the first place, the manner of the witch's training, the Pressed-Tin Oracle and no small amount of travel through time, space and dimensions as yet undreamed of - ensue to save history from being subsumed by chaos.

    So yeah. To be honest, I'm surprised I haven't been locked up yet. I suppose it's because I don't actually pose a threat to myself or others, unless hurling plotlines at the general public starts to be categorised as assault.

    Quote Originally Posted by Azurus View Post
    I don't have much to add here, as the poster above said everything I was thinking.

    Though I am interested in Ezra's role in this whole thing and wonder if he is an entity from the Harmonious period millenia ago.
    Sort of, kind of, and perhaps. All will become clear in time.

    By the by, my misdirection is going swimmingly. Everyone is looking in completely the wrong place for clues.

    F.A.B.

  25. #100
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    Sep 2012
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    Hmm...I wonder who the king is. Knowing that there's someone stronger than Teiresias scares me.

    Glad to see Jared back after soooooo long.

    This chapter was a little uneventful compared to the previous one but entertaining nevertheless.

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