Chapter Fourteen: Natural
“Hello, Jared,” said N tightly, avoiding my eye.
We stared at each other for a moment.
“What are you doing here?” I asked at length.
“I went to do some research,” he replied stiffly. “What about you?”
The air tasted electric; something was wrong between us, as if the universe itself were shivering at our contact. I suddenly felt uncertain about who I was; for one long moment, I could have sworn I was a girl – and then I was back in my own body again, facing N and sweating with unease.
“You were in Accumula, weren't you?” asked Cheren, presumably to break the ensuing silence rather than out of any desire to confirm this.
“Yes,” replied N. “We spoke at f— Harmonia's speech.” He scratched his chin uncomfortably. “I came here straight afterwards. I've been spending a few days researching the First Kingdom.”
The First Kingdom was one of Unova's foremost mysteries. There existed in the Jannsermond Desert a set of ruins that dated back forty-five thousand years: older than any Homo sapiens remains in the country, and in fact more than thirty thousand years before the invention of agriculture. No one knew who or what had created them, but theories abounded and the more plausible ones were taught to all of us in school: that they had been the work of an earlier species of human that was later outcompeted by Cro-Magnons; that they had been the home of an extinct race of intelligent Psychic-type Pokémon; that they were the last physical trace of the ése left on Middangeard.
For years, archaeologists had swarmed over the ruins, but to no avail: there was simply nothing at all left inside them that gave any clue as to their origins. Whatever the First Kingdom had been, it had vanished without trace long before the dawn of recorded history.
“I see,” said Cheren, evidently uncertain about why exactly N had decided to mention this. “Uh... why?”
“It's connected to Harmonia's work,” N said distantly, looking over my shoulder. “I think it is, anyway... The Twin Heroes, Reshiram, Zekrom – I think it all comes from the time of the Kingdom. And if I'm right, the Kingdom could happen again – harmony, unity, separation—”
He had grown quite animated during the course of this strange speech, but now cut himself off abruptly.
“Well, anyway,” he said, looking embarrassed. “Never mind all that. I tend to get quite carried away with my research.”
“O-K,” said Bianca. “Um—”
I didn't hear what she said: at that moment, an image flared up in my mind and blazed with such intensity I could hardly believe it wasn't one of my own memories. I saw a vast, saurian monster, halfway between a pterodactyl and a sun, burning through the world around me; its jaws dripped with flames and its flanks were wet with golden blood, and as it saw me it screamed three unintelligible words that snapped the sky asunder—
“The White Dragon!” I cried. “It – she—”
“It's you!” cut in N, his icy eyes glowing with unnatural fervour. “You! I – 'sraven!”
“What?” asked Bianca helplessly. “What?”
“I have no idea,” replied Cheren, looking from N to me with bewildered curiosity. “Perhaps they're having some kind of fit?”
“She chose you,” N said wildly. “No, she didn't... she had no choice – you were born to it...” He shook his head. “I should have guessed! The signs were all there...”
“You have his mark,” I told him without knowing what I was saying. “He's waiting—”
“Do you think I don't know that?” he interrupted. “I'm searching! Gods know I'm searching...”
“Where are they?” I asked. “Who are they?”
N shook his head.
“I don't know yet. Give me your phone number. I'll tell you more as I find it out.”
“Aren't we enemies, though?”
“I don't know,” he repeated. “Not yet, anyway.” He gave me a crooked smile. “We'll find out.”
We exchanged numbers and he left without another word, melting into the crowd and disappearing as if he'd never been.
I stood there for a long moment, staring at the place where he'd been, and then Candy's screech from my shoulder snapped me back to reality.
“What?” I said, patting her. “What? Where – what?”
“That's pretty much what we're all thinking, I think,” replied Halley. “Care to explain?”
“I – uh – don't know,” I admitted. “I – we saw a dragon – two dragons – or dinosaurs – and there was fire, or lightning, and—” A wave of dizziness broke over me, and I put out my hand to steady myself against a column. “Uh... Um... Guys, I don't think – I – I'm not sure I can explain that right now,” I said eventually. “Give me a moment.”
“All right,” said Cheren. “Er... do you want to sit down? You look like you need to.”
“Yes,” I said fervently. “Yes, I would bloody love to sit down.”
I half-sat, half-fell onto the stone steps, and put my head in my hands for a minute, trying to contain and slow the whirlwind in my skull. What the hell had happened just then? I had remembered something, I thought – something from before I was born, from the last time N and I had met...
“F*ck!” I yelled, far too loudly, and bit my lip. “This is so f*cking annoying!”
“Jared, are you OK?” asked Bianca, sitting down next to me. “You're... kinda...”
“Crazy?” supplied Halley. “Mental? Take your pick, there're plenty of synonyms.”
“I'm about three f*cking nanoseconds from kicking you across the street,” I spat at her. “Either you shut up or we find out how many of your nine lives you have left.”
“Awesome,” she said happily, scampering out of kicking range. “You've got the badass banter down to a fine art.”
“Halley!” cried Bianca. “Shut up!”
“Collar,” said Cheren firmly, and Halley immediately fell silent.
“Thanks,” I said quietly, closing my eyes. The sunlight felt too bright; it swelled and stung my retinas. “Ah... OK. OK. I think – I got it.” I sat up and took a deep breath. “There's... some kind of a connection between me and N. We're opposites, somehow. There are two dragons, opposites who love and loathe each other more than you can understand, and they – we – I'm not sure of the difference between them and us,” I confessed. “But they're dreaming, and restless, and their youth is coming around again...” I shook my head. “Does that make any sense? Because that's all I know.”
“It makes no sense whatsoever,” replied Cheren. “But it does remind me of something.”
“The Twin Heroes,” he replied. “They loved each other as brothers and loathed each other as men. One had a white dragon banner and the other a black one, remember?”
“No... I didn't remember that part,” I said distantly. “Just the twin part...”
There was silence for a while.
“I guess,” said Bianca at last, “we have another mystery to solve.”
“So it would seem,” replied Cheren. “I wish we hadn't let that N guy get away... I'd have liked to question him further.” He ground his teeth. “Well, no matter. We're at the biggest library in Europe. There's no better place to begin our investigations.”
“Yeah,” I agreed. “I... yes.” I shook my head. “Ah. Sorry. I feel... dizzy. Still.”
“Take your time,” said Bianca, patting my arm. “You looked like you were having a heart attack.”
“More like I'd seen a ghost, I think,” I muttered. “A ghost from Sandjr.”
“What?” Bianca looked confused. “Sondyeer?”
“Sandjr,” I said. “Wait. What? What's Sandjr?”
“I have no idea,” replied Cheren. “Let's add it to the pile of mysteries, shall we?”
“Permission to speak?” asked Halley.
“If it's relevant.”
“It's about Sandjr.”
I looked at her sharply.
“What about it?”
“Well, uh... Look up,” she said, pointing with one paw.
As one, our heads turned skywards.
Inscribed across the front of the Library's great portico was a single line of old Unovan runes – a dedication, I thought, or a memorial to the building's completion – and with a sense of increasing disbelief, I read the five words they spelled out:
DU BEORWÁN YLDFYRD SANDJR WÖEN
“No way,” breathed Bianca. “No way...”
“Yes way,” replied Halley. “Sandjr.”
Niamh Harper had a meeting to attend.
From what she'd learned at the Gym, the only place to find information on destroying Teiresias was Nacrene, and so she had headed there immediately after recovering her senses; however, owing to a previous incident involving a clerk, a dinosaur and her longsword, she was persona non grata in the Travison Memorial Library, and was summarily shown the exit as soon as she entered.
This had not deterred her; after all, she was used to gaining entry through alternative means. Monsters often didn't bother with the law, or even with doors, and the same went for those who hunted them. Consequently, Niamh had waited until nightfall, then slipped in through an unguarded skylight in the west wing, and made her way through darkened corridors to the restricted section where the Treatises were kept.
Here, unfortunately, she could get no further. The one entrance was sealed and guards posted; Niamh could have killed them both, had she so desired, but she really didn't think murder would be a good idea, and besides, she knew that neither of the guards would have the key. That would be kept with the druidic librarian, and getting it from him would be out of the question.
Disconsolate and angry at her failure, Niamh had returned to the rooftops – where one of the gargoyles on the roof had turned to her with a tremendous grinding of stone on stone, and said:
“So, you're a monster-slayer, then?”
Niamh did not start; too many monsters had stalked her for that. Instead, she levelled a pistol at the gargoyle's face.
“What the f*ck are you?”
The gargoyle looked at itself.
“A gargoyle, by the look of it,” it said – or rather he, for its voice was almost certainly masculine. “You find yourself in unusual places at night, it seems.” He cocked his head at her, apparently unworried by the gun. “Anyway. I'm looking for someone with your particular set of skills, and was wondering if perhaps you'd consider entering into a partnership with me?”
Niamh didn't quite know how to reply. She'd seen a great many impossible things, but a creature made of living stone was entirely beyond her experience; doubly so when you considered the offer it was making.
The gargoyle sighed.
“Look, this isn't as complicated as you're making it out to be,” he said. “Each night, I've been dream-searching for people who might make good allies, and I came across a man who had one of your business cards earlier tonight. It took me a little time to find you, but now I have, and I'm making a proposition..”
“Who are you?” asked Niamh cautiously. Her pistol did not waver.
“I'm...” The gargoyle sighed. “Look, never mind that – I'm not a good dream-searcher and I don't want to damage your subconscious. If you're interested, come to Dunsanay Square at noon tomorrow and meet me there. I'll tell you much more then.”
“How do I know this isn't a trap?”
“There's no reason for it to be,” pointed out the gargoyle. “Look, if you don't want to come, don't come. I'm not you.” He shook his head and settled back into his normal position with a sigh. “Bloody humans,” he muttered. “Anything supernatural and their common sense flies out the window...”
Niamh opened her eyes and sat up abruptly. She was lying on the roof of the Travison Memorial Library, a pistol in her hand, and the first faint light of dawn was shining in the east.
She looked around for gargoyles, and found three of them, all frozen in place by the guttering – exactly as one would expect.
She blinked, and put the gun away in a daze.
“What the hell was that?”
There was no reply. Whatever force had animated the gargoyle, it was gone, and as Niamh climbed back down to the ground, she wondered whether or not the whole thing had been a dream. By the time she reached the pavement, she was certain it was – but why had it struck so suddenly? She couldn't have just fallen asleep on the rooftop; that was just not possible. Besides, she had no recollection of doing so.
The issue of the gargoyle had burned in her mind throughout her morning ramblings through the city – ramblings that, she was disconcerted to find, had led her straight to Dunsanay Square, despite the fact that she had no idea where it was.
“Well, f*ck it,” she said, checking her watch and finding herself unsurprised by the fact that it read five to twelve. “Let's see if it was a dream or not, then.”
She wandered out to the statue in the centre – a four-metre-tall depiction of a bearded god wrestling with an ettin – and sat down on a bench by its plinth.
“So you decided to come,” said the man who had definitely not been sitting next to her a moment ago. “Thanks. I appreciate it.”
“F*ck!” she cried. “What – where did you come from?”
“I was here all along. You just didn't notice me.” The man cleared his throat and offered her hand. “My name is Ezra Schwarz,” he said. “I'm planning on assassinating the king of the demons. Are you interested in helping?”
“Do either of you remember any old Unovan?” I asked.
“Nope,” said Bianca.
“No,” said Cheren. “I didn't think it would be useful.”
“Figures. No one does.”
I was pretty sure old Unovan was the least popular component of the compulsory 'Unovan history and culture' subjects; no one I'd ever spoken to ever remembered anything about it – not even the people who taught it.
“We can ask when we meet the librarian,” decided Cheren. “Right now, I think we should go in. Any potential leads are definitely in there.”
“Yeah,” I agreed. “OK. In we go.”
I got to my feet, found I was steady again and followed him through the vast doors into the belly of the Library.
The entrance hall was every bit as grand as could be expected from the façade: so huge was it that it housed half a museum's worth of historical ephemera, from ancient stone tablets and orbs at the back to the titanic skeleton of some ancient Dragon at the front. I might not like the architecture, but I could definitely appreciate the remnants of a colossal monster, and stared awestruck for a short while.
“Whoa,” breathed Bianca. “It's amazing... Have you ever been here before?”
I shook my head mutely.
“Impressive indeed,” agreed Cheren. “That's a Dragonite skeleton, I believe. Not the modern species, though – it's far too big. It must be the extinct subspecies...” He launched into a short explanation, but I wasn't listening. There was too much to take in for me to bother with one of his lectures right now.
“Hello!” said an unexpected voice from the right. “Welcome to the Travison Memorial Library!”
I looked, and saw a short, balding man with Coke-bottle glasses beaming at us.
“I see you're admiring our exhibition,” he said jovially. “It's on loan from the Nacrene Musuem – all except the skeleton, that is. That's ours.”
“Isn't the Museum part of the library?” asked Cheren. “I thought it was.”
“Well, sort of,” replied the man. “It's on the south side of the building. The two places are connected, you know. The library has the more impressive entrance hall, so we tend to borrow exhibits every now and then to showcase them here. Makes an impact, if you know what I mean.” He clapped a hand to his forehead. “Oh, but I'm running away with myself! My name is Hawes. I'm the director of the museum.”
“Shouldn't you be working, then?” I asked. “I mean, isn't that a fairly major job?”
“It is and it isn't. Today is one of the days when it isn't – and besides, I'm here in my directorial capacity, to meet some esteemed guests who are supposed to be arriving today. My wife is the head librarian – and the Gym Leader – and she asked me if I would guide them through to the restricted section to meet her and Charlie. That's the Gorsedd representative here,” he added. “Lovely chap. Very knowledgeable about cheese, but then I'm told druids go in for that sort of thing.”
It was clear that if one of us didn't interrupt him Hawes would continue to jabber on for the foreseeable future, so I said:
“Um... these guests. They wouldn't be enquiring about reading the Glasya-Labolas, would they?”
“Good grief,” he said. “Now, how the devil would you know that?”
“I think we might be them,” I told him. “I'm Jared Black, and—”
“Ah!” cried Hawes exuberantly. “Wonderful, wonderful!” He shook my hand so vigorously I feared for the integrity of my elbow. “So you must be Cheren Perng, then, and Bianca Aaronson?”
“Other way round,” said Bianca carefully. “I'm Bianca, he's Cheren.”
“Of course, of course,” replied Hawes. “Silly of me.” He bent down. “And you... you must be Halley.”
“The one and only,” she replied.
“Marvellous,” he breathed, quietly for once. “You really can talk... Quite extraordinary.” He stared at her, rapt, for so long that Halley became visibly uneasy; Bianca took pity on her, and drew Hawes' attention by saying:
“Um... so... you were going to show us to the Treatises?”
“Ah! Of course, of course,” replied Hawes, straightening up. “I do apologise – I tend to get rather carried away, you know. Right this way, please!”
He spun on his heel – something I'd never seen done before in real life – and headed off down the hall at such speed that it was an effort to keep up.
“Perng?” I asked Cheren quizzically as we hurried after him. “Really?”
He gave me a strange look.
“My dad is Taiwanese,” he said. “Can't you see it?”
It was true. I hadn't noticed it before, but there was something vaguely exotic about his features; I couldn't have placed it, though. I supposed he must have taken after his mother.
“By the way,” asked Bianca, “we were wondering what the inscription on the front of the library meant. Do you know?”
Hawes stopped abruptly.
“Do I know?” he asked. “Do I know? I'm the director of the museum! Of course I know. Du beorwán ydlfyrd Sandjr wöen: for the minds of the Unovan people. It's a quote from a philosophical tract by the scholar Volun in the twelfth century—”
“I see, but what does the word Sandjr mean, exactly?” I asked. “It, uh, seems familiar.”
“It's an archaic term for Unova,” replied Hawes. “You may have come across it in school – the great poets of the nineteenth century were fond of using it to give an ancient ring to their work. Originally, it comes from the old legend of the Twin Heroes. In the earliest transcriptions of the story, Unova is referred to as Sandjr before the Heroes conquer and unite its peoples. It's given a new name as a mark of a new beginning. Why do you ask?”
“Just... uh, curious,” I said. “Anyway... carry on. We were going to see the Treatises?”
“Ah, of course,” replied Hawes. “Come on, come on!”
He hurried through a little door marked 'Staff Only' to one side of the hall, and beckoned us through after him; beyond was a nondescript little corridor that, it soon transpired, was the entrance to a vast network of identical nondescript little corridors. Had we not had Hawes to help us, I'm sure we would have become lost forever in there, and eventually starved to death; however, with his help, we negotiated a dizzying array of twists and turns in record time, and eventually ended up outside a reinforced steel door marked 'RESTRICTED'.
“Here we are!” he announced happily. “It's just through here.”
He pushed open the door, and ushered us through into a small circular room that was practically wallpapered with bookshelves, each bursting with fat, ancient books under sheets of toughened glass. In the centre of the room was a little round table with a green-shaded reading lamp, and sitting at this table was a plump man in white robes with half a salad on his head. This, I presumed, was the druidic librarian, and he got to his feet as we entered.
“Jared Black, I presume,” he said. “Charles Lewis. I look after the library here.” He looked at the others. “And you must be Cheren Perng and Bianca Aaronson.”
“Don't forget me,” said Halley, jumping onto the table. “Halley, um... just Halley.”
“And Halley, of course.” He stared in fascination for a moment. “'Sraven. A talking cat.”
“I know. Ninth wonder of the world, that's me.”
“Eighth is Kong. Obviously.” Halley yawned. “Anyway. Show us your books.”
“Er, no, it's not quite as simple as that,” said Charles, slightly frantically; it seemed to me that Halley often had that effect on people. “First, I need to make sure that everything is as it's been claimed—”
“A mind-reading, yeah?” I said.
“Yes,” he replied. “That is, if that's acceptable.”
I considered. Given all that was riding on this, it seemed ridiculous to refuse, even if the thought was discomfiting.
“All right,” I said cautiously. “I suppose that's OK.”
Charles nodded, and motioned towards a door on the opposite side of the room; a moment later, it opened to admit a short and curiously ugly woman in a long black dress who moved as if on oiled castors.
Wait, no. Not a woman, a Pokémon – this must be a Gothitelle, then; I'd never seen one in real life before, but I had a vague idea of what they looked like. Her face was incredible; it was at once human and bizarrely alien, as if it were the product of a sculptor who'd had a reasonably accurate description of a human given to him but no picture to work from. She looked at me from under heavily-lidded eyes with an utterly inscrutable expression, then made a series of swift signs with her shapeless hands.
“What?” Charles frowned at her. “There's—”
The bookcases rattled, and a low wind sprung up; a spot of darkness began to coalesce in the middle of the room – and all at once, I remembered the Ghost Shauntal had left to watch us.
“Uh, I guess that's Shauntal's,” I said. “I don't think the Gothitelle likes her.”
The half-formed blob growled, and the Gothitelle hissed in return, making a series of gestures that I surmised must mean something incredibly rude in whatever sign language she used.
“Calm down, please,” cried Charles. “Anita! This belongs to Shauntal. It's on our side—”
The Gothitelle flung her hands up in the air in inexpressible rage and stormed out.
Shauntal's Ghost, for her part, gave a satisfied humph and faded away again.
We looked at each other.
“Well, that didn't quite go as planned,” said Bianca brightly. “Shall we try again?”
“So let me get this straight,” said Niamh, frowning. “You're a demon?”
“Yes, I suppose that's what you'd call me,” replied Ezra. “Not like Teiresias or that bastard Weland, though. I'm much less keen for humanity to be subjugated by the Shrouded Court.”
“Sorry. It's been a long time since I last tried to explain this to anyone. I'm getting everything all mixed up.” He leaned back in his seat. “Do you smoke?”
“Do you mind if I do?”
Thin plumes of tobacco smoke began to trail from Ezra's mouth, though there was no evidence of a cigarette to produce them.
“All right,” he said. “First of all, you have to understand that I can't tell you everything. The king I want to kill has certain abnormal powers, as you might expect of a demon, and he'll know if I mention certain things. But I'll tell you everything I can.” He paused and exhaled a large smoke-ring. “Demons are real. You've worked that much out already. What you don't know, however, is that we have a society of sorts. There's a king – Weland the Undying – and his court. They've been underneath Unova for thousands of years, watching humans developing above them, and they don't much like it.”
“Why not?” asked Niamh.
“You know how some people believe radio is better than TV, and books are better than radio, and so on?”
“Weland's that sort of person. He comes from a time before people, and he firmly believes that no people is better than people. And since Weland thinks like that, all of our kind in Unova have to think that too or face execution.”
“You don't,” observed Niamh. “Unless this is a trap, and you're working with Teiresias.”
“You've seen what we can do,” replied Ezra levelly. “You saw Teiresias, and you must have realised by now that I put the location of this place into your head. If I wanted to kill you, you would have had an unfortunate heart attack in the small hours of the morning and never woken again.”
Niamh looked at him. If demons were anything like humans – and so far, Ezra at least seemed to be somewhat similar – then her senses told her he wasn't lying. For whatever reason, he had chosen not to harm her.
“All right,” she said. “But you don't side with this King Weland.”
“No,” replied Ezra. “I don't. I think Weland is insane and vengeful, and his regime is hideously oppressive. We have the right to think what we want, don't you agree? He's a cancer in the heart of Unova, and his continued rule is bad for demons and humans alike.”
So far, thought Niamh, he was being reasonable enough. She couldn't fault his argument.
“OK,” she said guardedly. “Go on.”
“Thanks. Anyway, between the Gorsedd and the Pokémon League, Unova has always been too well-defended for Weland to do much about the so-called human scum crawling about on the roof of his kingdom. But somehow this man Harmonia found out how to contact him, and between them they've come to a little agreement. Weland is lending his power and knowledge to Harmonia's campaign, and in return, Harmonia's Liberation policy will force the dissolution of the League, clearing the way for Weland's forces to attack.”
“What does Harmonia stand to gain from that? He'd be Prime Minister of a dead country.”
“Actually, he wouldn't,” replied Ezra. “He would gain absolute power over what remains of the Unovan people, more or less. I'm afraid I can't go into the details of that, or Weland will overhear, but I promise you that it's true.”
“Right.” Niamh wasn't sure whether she totally believed him or not, but there were more pressing issues at hand. “What does any of this have to do with my friend Portland?”
“Smythe, right? The Party man.” Ezra sighed and blew another smoke-ring. “It's my guess that at the moment he's a prisoner of either Weland or Harmonia. You won't get him back without my help – but equally, I can't even enter either of their lairs without your assistance; alone, all I've been able to do is harass Harmonia – rather ineffectively, I have to say. So I'd like to make a deal.”
“I get Smythe and you get close to Weland, is that it?”
“In a nutshell. Although I was going to add that I'll pay you one tonne of gold as well. No hidden catches.”
“A tonne of gold?”
“That is, if I manage to kill Weland. If I don't, I won't be able to get the gold out of his treasury and you'll have to settle for just having your friend back.”
“That's enough for me,” said Niamh immediately. “I—”
“Before you answer,” interrupted Ezra, “I need to give you a little more information. This is an extremely hazardous enterprise. You'll be risking, life, limb, soul and sanity – not to mention your ability to dream and to see the colour red. I will have to possess you at least once, as well, although I'll try not to do so unless there's no other option.”
Niamh wasn't stupid; she didn't rush into things, even when Smythe's safety was concerned. Ezra seemed truthful, but she knew better than to take it for granted; he was a demon, after all.
And yet he was peculiarly human, too – far more so than the ancient, cosmic thing that called itself Teiresias. It might be an act, but if it was, it was the best Niamh had ever seen; the alien and the human were balanced with incredible expertise in Ezra, and she was certain that fine edge could not be falsified. Whatever he was, she was surprised to find, she trusted him.
“Did you make me trust you?” she asked suspiciously.
“You're learning,” he said. “Rule Number One: question everything where demons are concerned. And no, I didn't. I don't have that much power over human minds. I was always bottom of the class when it came to mental command.”
“Demons have schools?”
“Not as you understand them,” replied Ezra. “But yes, we do.” He paused. “Well, then. It's been a pleasure talking to you, Ms. Harper.”
He stood up and shook her hand.
“What? But you haven't heard my answer yet,” she said, puzzled.
“You need to think about this carefully,” Ezra replied. “You don't want to make a mistake. I'll find you at dawn tomorrow and you can give me your final answer then.”
“But—” Niamh blinked. Somewhere between him finishing and her starting to speak, he had disappeared, though she had no recollection of him vanishing; he was just, inexplicably, gone, and Niamh was left staring out at the bustle of pedestrians, not quite certain of anything except a sense of thorough confusion.
Oooh, stuffs happening and I like it.... But gosh dangit, I want something to actually happen! Now I have to wait again
Credit to Brutaka for the Amazing Banner
"If only I was stronger, I could break free of this nightmare"
-Lunus, during sleep.
_________________________Below This Line Is Pure Randomness____________________________
Why do I keep looking for updates when I know there's nothing there?
Time, there's never enough of it but it's always there to waste.Originally Posted by Brutaka
Hmm... Very mysterious. Though I do admit, radios are better than TV. Because radios actually has music, while TV has Mtv which doesn't even have music! Any more. But then again, Radio doesn't have Barney from How I met your Mother. But the internet has that so....
Smoking without a cigarette, that would look more ridiculous than weird. But hey! Demons are weird in this fic. Is the demons in this fic is as weird as the Great Old Ones from thee Cthulhu Mythos? I think Teiresias is.
I think Hawes and Charles have drank too much coffee.
How do you pronounce Niamh. I thought that its pronounce 'Nia-meheh" sounds like a person trying to say 'Nyan lover' with his or her mouth covered with duck tape. Anyways, when I read this fic on February, my English class is teaching us about a play called Oedipus the King. And one of the characters is in fact Teiresias. I always thought Teiresias is pronounce 'Teh-ray-shus' but other people (AKA My teacher) say it pronounced 'Tee- ree- see-us'. It kind of feels weird to call a scary demonic creature after an old cranky oracle that is very arrogant. But oh well. I shan't judge a genius.
I've also heard on the TTMGDW that you're planing to make Puck a main character in the Unova fic. Where is he? WHERE ARE THE PROMISES?! I when I typed 'the' I meant 'THE' as in the 'the' that is so the that the 'the' is more the than any the. The.
This fic as awesome as a monkey in a spacesuit, eating a live piranha while riding a Harvey Davidson Motorcycle with it's tail through Space and shooting lasers through his butt at Palkia and Deoxys, both at the same time.
In other words. This fic Rocks. And this review is as random as a turkey riding a giraffe on Uranus, shooting flying Ice cream cones in space with unguided miscreants from its beak.
Sorry if I broke your brain.
And I hope you don't find this review(?) offensive. I'm saying this because I'm paranoid.
So Dormant signing off..
Last edited by Dormant; 18th March 2013 at 2:35 PM.
One Author, One Creator and Two boys. Set in Johto. Where everything is not what it seems. For they must flee from the group called the Grammar Police. And saved the World from an unknown threat.
Credits to ~BrightStarVictory~ of Subspace Generate Graphics!
And, So Bad It's Good
Oneshot! It's-IT'S. It's.....Something. Caution: May shatter your sanity. Read, if you dare.....
Also, my brain is pretty sturdy. It'd take more than that to break it. Various stimuli have been trying for nearly twenty years now and none have succeeded.
Chapter Fifteen: Plasma
Imprisonment was nothing new to Portland Smythe.
Entombment, however, was.
He had awoken from uneasy dreams to find himself lying at length upon something hard and cold, and in an absolute darkness; there was no room to move his hands or indeed anything at all, and his attempt to sit up ended prematurely when his nose thumped fleshily into solid stone.
A lesser man would have panicked. Smythe, used to inconveniences of the most fearsome kind, did not – although he was far from calm. He had been possessed by Teiresias, he recalled, and returned to the care of Harmonia – or, potentially, to that of Weland; while doubtless despicable, Harmonia didn't strike him as the type to bury people alive.
No. Smythe had been down that road before, long ago. Panic was a one-way ticket from a Bad Situation to a Very Much Worse one. There was no sense in boarding that particular train.
“Deep breaths,” Smythe said aloud, trying to calm himself. His voice had a peculiar muffled echoing sound to his mind – or was that just his knowledge of the severity of his situation getting in the way of his senses? No, it was – it wasn't – it was— wait! “Not deep breaths!” Smythe cried. “Definitely not deep breaths. Conserve air. Shut up!”
He clamped his mouth tightly shut and took a series of tiny breaths through his nose; a minute later, dizzy with lack of oxygen, his will broke and he gasped convulsively.
Calm down, he told himself silently. Calm down, Portland, calm down... They don't want to kill you! They'll want information – they'll... oh, sh*t.
They'll want to know about Niamh.
Smythe bit his lip.
He had personally seen her escape the clutches of the Czech Pokémon Champion while decapitating a surgically-created minotaur sewn together from bits of bull and gorilla, and heard tales from her that required no embellishment to astound – but still... This time she was up against more than mere monsters. The creatures to whose attention she had come weren't really flesh and blood – weren't even really mortal, not in the conventional sense of the word.
Niamh had killed everything life threw at her before, but Smythe had a horrible feeling that she wasn't going to be able to kill this one. Not without help, anyway.
“Right, then,” he muttered, an icy determination suddenly coming over him. “That makes it simple, then.”
Niamh couldn't possibly kill a demon without help. Smythe was in the very heart of the demons' lair.
From here, quite conceivably, he could find a way to destroy a demon, and thus save Niamh.
All he had to do was escape.
It took a long time for Anita and Shauntal's Ghost to become reconciled to each other's presence; Charles spoke volubly to the former, and Cheren attempted to argue with the latter, although she didn't actually deign to become visible again. Threats, bribery, reason – every possible avenue of attack was tried; at length Anita agreed, in aggressively choppy sign language, to perform the mind reading – but only if the Ghost was banished from the room while she did it.
At that, the Ghost shrieked so loudly she set the bookcases rattling, which seemed to be indicative of disagreement, and it wasn't until much further argument had passed between her and Cheren that she consented to leave the room – but only for sixty seconds, she said, because she didn't trust 'that f*cking Goth b*tch' any further than she could spit her.
I hadn't realised before quite how much Psychic- and Ghost-types hated each other – something to do with a long-standing argument over which was the true master of the mental world, Cheren told me later – so I suppose you could say it was quite informative; mostly, though, it seemed the most pointless waste of time I'd ever encountered.
Finally, though, the Ghost was outside and Anita was (moderately) happy, and the Gothitelle pressed her hands to my temples.
“Now, if you could just relax,” said Charles, but his voice already seemed to come from immeasurably far away; I had lost sight of anything but Anita's eyes, which I was plunging towards like a stone into a tropical lagoon, and which now I crashed into with a mind-fracturing splash—
“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.
—I burst out of the other side and crashed back into my body with what felt like enough force to snap a rib; I stumbled back a few steps and would have fallen onto Hawes had Bianca and Cheren not grabbed my arms.
Anita turned to Charles and made a few sulky-looking signs, then swept out with an air of aggrieved majesty.
“All right,” he sighed, evidently much relieved to have the whole thing over with. “There's sufficient evidence there to suggest that yes, you are being stalked by a demon.”
The door rattled, and though the world was still somewhat hazy, I thought I detected a barely-perceptible blur cross the ceiling as Shauntal's Ghost slithered back in.
“Yeah, thanks,” I murmured sarcastically. “Glad we cleared that one up.”
I blinked and struggled back to my feet.
“So,” I went on, the room slowly ceasing to rock back and forth beneath me. “Can we have a look at the Glasya-Labolas now?”
Two hours later, we were sitting around the table, the Glasya-Labolas beneath the reading lamp, and an unpleasant chill creeping through our souls.
Teiresias had some considerable space devoted to it in the grimoire, much of which dealt with, in a tone that seemed almost gleeful, its long and atrocity-strewn past. From Jericho to Uruk, Athens to Rome, London to New York – it had slipped on shaded wings from one metropolis to another, staying always in the most advanced cities it could find, feasting on fear, hatred and the occasional entire soul. Its diet, however, wasn't really the main issue; we'd guessed that much already.
No, it was what it did in its free time that concerned us.
There were things described in the Glasya-Labolas that simply did not seem possible; things that the human mind could not withstand unless sustained by some supernatural force – and Teiresias, with spirited curiosity and careless spite, was perfectly capable of providing that force even as it peeled layer after layer from the psyche, examining each shred of consciousness minutely before ingesting and categorising it.
It had been a scientist, of sorts, the book said casually.
Not only that, but it was proleptic – could occasionally see the future. This wasn't that unusual – I knew a girl at school who had prolepsia – but it was unsettling news. Proleptics' visions were most usually concerned with avoiding danger; it was a kind of psychic self-defence mechanism, often preparing the seer for some calamity that would occur in the future – and so far, Teiresias' visions had kept it one step ahead of the countless people who had attempted to destroy it. In 1760, its last recorded appearance in Unova, it had driven an entire Council of the Gorsedd murderously insane a week before a concerted effort was to have been made to banish it; the eighty-one druids affected had gone on a killing spree that nearly wiped out an entire village, and was only stopped by the fact that they ended up killing each other.
That was where the trail ended. One year after that, there were hints that Teiresias had been badly injured in some titanic fight, and it had disappeared from the face of the earth. The author of its entry, writing sixty-five years later, even suggested hopefully that it had died from its wounds. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case, as we could attest.
The silence deepened. We could have used Hawes to break it, but he had left earlier to see to some directorial taks.
“Well, it does seem to have weakened a bit since then,” said Charles at length.
“It's killed over two hundred druids,” I replied hollowly. “It doesn't matter if it's weakened a bit, it's still lethal.”
“That's not to say it can't be beaten,” said Cheren. “And it doesn't want to kill you or Halley, anyway.”
“No, it wants us alive,” replied Halley. “Which is, if anything, an even more horrifying thought. Look.” She stalked across the tabletop and flipped to the relevant page in the Glasya-Labolas. “One year towards the end of the fifteenth century,” she read, “it is believed that the fiend held in a state of the most fearsome captivity a family of nine from Naples, the sole survivor of which, upon escaping by the most fortunate of circumstances, was imprisoned for life when it became apparent that, in the course of his prior experience, his state of mind had become singularly deranged, best characterised by a taste for cannibalism...” She looked up. “I could go on. There's plenty of similar stuff here.”
“Yeah, don't,” Bianca said hurriedly. “I think we've heard enough.”
“Yes,” I agreed. “We definitely have.”
“Teiresias doesn't want you two insane either,” pointed out Cheren. “Well, perhaps you, Jared, but definitely not Halley – since it's from her that Harmonia's going to get this information.”
“How monumentally f*cking reassuring,” I muttered under my breath.
“What was that?”
“Nothing,” I replied, and swiftly changed the subject. “Look, we can talk about Teiresias' atrocities til the cows come home, but what are we going to do now?”
“Well, it says here that Teiresias' weaknesses were never fully uncovered, so the only method that might have any effect on it would be a full-scale attack by a massed group of druids,” said Cheren thoughtfully. “So. I'm not really sure there's anything we can do.” He turned towards a corner of the room that was slightly darker than the rest – the one containing the Ghost. “You might wish to return to Shauntal,” he told her. “I think if it actually comes to a fight, you might well be destroyed by this thing.”
Evidently she then spoke in his head, because a moment later, Cheren said:
“Well, if that's what you want I can't really force you... No, I understand. Fine.” He turned back to us. “She says she'll check with Shauntal before she goes. She's uncomfortable about just leaving. It smacks of unprofessionalism.”
“How would she check with Shauntal without leaving?” I asked.
“I don't think you're meant to ask that sort of question,” he replied. “It's a Ghost thing.”
“Oh,” I said, mystified. “OK.”
“That's not the point,” snapped Halley. “Have you forgotten the whole lethal f*cking demon aspect? There's still that to deal with.”
“I don't see what we can do about it,” said Cheren. “Except what we've kept on doing this entire time. If we try and organise any kind of attack on Teiresias, it'll foresee it and avoid it or kill everyone beforehand. The only way it could conceivably be fought is completely randomly.”
“So we just carry on and ignore it?” asked Bianca incredulously. “Is that all we can do?”
“I don't like it any more than you do,” he replied. “But... Charles. You're a druid. Anything we can do?”
He shifted uncomfortably in his seat.
“Well, we haven't really done much in the way of laying demons to rest for quite some time now,” he said evasively. “Nothing as strong as Teiresias has come to Unova for... well, 1867, I think, when something called Ammit swept up out of Egypt and stole the hearts of everyone in Anville Town straight out of their chests. It left straight afterwards. No one noticed for about a month.”
“Don't change the subject,” said Halley forcefully. “What can we do?”
“Er, well, not a lot,” admitted Charles. “Not with something like this. We can offer charms of protection, but—”
“Hang on,” said Cheren suddenly. “Is the Gorsedd really that complacent? Didn't you ever think that perhaps demons might start popping up again?”
“It rather seemed to us that their time was past,” answered Charles unhappily.
“Well, f*ck,” snapped Halley. “What's the use of druids if they don't have any power?”
“We can cure athlete's foot,” offered Charles hopefully.
“So can my doctor,” she growled, and turned to face me. “This was a waste of time,” she said. “Let's leave. This guy, this book – less use than a chocolate f*cking teapot.”
“Hey!” cried Charles, something of his crushed dignity reasserting itself. “I won't be spoken to li—”
“And why not?” asked Halley crushingly. “Have you achieved anything at all of worth today – in your entire life? Oh, you recategorised an errant book! You stopped people reading a Treatise for no reason whatsoever! Whoop-de-f*cking-doo.”
She jumped off the table and stalked over to the door, where she paused.
“This would have been a lot more effective if I could open the door and stalk out,” she mused. “Jared...?”
“We're not leaving yet,” I said firmly. “We need to figure out what—”
Something that sounded like the storming of the Bastille came to our ears.
“What in Neorxnawang...?” cried Charles. “Did that come from the entrance hall...?”
“It sounded like it,” said Bianca, looking worried. “Was—”
A gunshot. Someone screamed.
It sounded like Hawes.
“That's it,” said Cheren, getting to his feet. “Bianca! Jared!”
“Coming,” I replied, following suit.
“Is this a good plan?” asked Bianca doubtfully.
More gunshots now, and a horrible wrenching sound, like tearing metal.
“No,” said Cheren, “but it's the right one.”
Damn, I thought. I wish I'd thought to say that.
It was of no importance now anyway; Cheren opened the door and Bianca and I followed. It sounded like the Library was being subjected to a full-scale invasion, and even this place didn't have the security to handle that: the guards would need all the help they could get.
“Wait!” cried Charles, but none of us listened; the commotion was even louder now, and I heard breaking glass and frenzied voices. It reminded me of Regenschein's, and instinctively I grabbed a fire extinguisher from a bracket on the wall; it wasn't the best weapon I could think of, but it was heavy enough to hit people with, though its potential for exploding if shot was slightly worrying.
Cheren picked his way through the corridors with unerring accuracy; I had no idea how he knew the way back to the hall, but we traversed it, if anything, even faster than we had on the previous journey. Despite this, however, the noise seemed to be fading as we approached – and by the time we burst out into the hall, Lelouch and Munny fanning out ahead of us, the place was empty and the great doors were slamming shut.
“Sh*t,” snapped Cheren, which startled me; I hadn't heard him swear before. “Look!”
The place was a wreck: the Dragonite skeleton had been torn from its metal moorings and scattered liberally around the room, and several display cases had been smashed; a couple of ancient stone tablets had been shattered and strewn across the tiles – and near the front desk, shirt red and slick with blood, was Hawes.
“F*ck,” breathed Bianca, wide-eyed. This, if anything, was even more startling than Cheren swearing, but the circumstances more than justified it. “Hawes!”
We ran across to him, Cheren calling for an ambulance as we went, and found him in a seriously bad way: his breath was ragged and there was so much blood matting his clothes it was hard to find the wound.
“Lelouch, tourniquet,” said Cheren curtly, and the Snivy coiled tightly around Hawes' thigh, just above the bullet hole. “Bianca—”
“Already doing it,” she said. “Munny, calm him.”
It drifted down to land on Hawes' head, and blue light began to pulse steadily from its flanks into his cranium.
“He's still losing too much blood,” muttered Cheren. “Tighter, Lelouch!”
He obediently tightened his grip, and the gush slowed to a trickle. Seeing that there was nothing I could do, I crossed to the doors and flung them open, hoping to catch a glimpse of the people who had been here—
“Woden hang 'em,” I gasped, staring. “What the hell is going on?”
The square outside was full of smoke and flames; two cars had been overturned and set ablaze, and I could hear the roar of a mob coming from somewhere down the street, out of sight. I listened, and thought I could distinguish something in the hubbub – a chant of some kind – but the words eluded me.
“Plasma,” said Halley, materialising by my side. “They're yelling 'Plasma'. What's with that?”
“I don't know,” I said, grabbing Candy from my shoulder and setting her down on the front desk. “But I'm going to find out.”
“Hey, I'd appreciate it if my bodyguard didn't go on suicide missions,” began Halley, but I wasn't listening; I was hurtling down the steps, taking them three at a time, heading down towards the street and the roaring crowd. I saw a cricket bat lying on the ground near the flaming cars and snatched it up as I passed in case of danger; it felt wet to the touch, and I realised with a jolt that there was blood running down it.
I reached the road and stopped dead; there was no traffic, but what I could see further down the street left me frozen.
There must have been two or three hundred people there, coursing down the road in a huge crushing wave of shouts and yells and gunshots, and they looked like they were in the process of doing as much damage to the city as was humanly possible. Shop windows were kicked in and cars torched; the sound of breaking glass mingled with screams and strange, savage war-cries – and over everything rose that endless, manic chant:
“Plas-ma! Plas-ma! Plas-ma!”
“Thunor,” I said shakily. “There's...”
“A riot, yeah.”
I started, and turned to see a tall man with wild brown hair and oddly protuberant eyes standing next to me. He scratched his head, staring at the chaos, and continued:
“Did you see an old man going past here? Robes, big white moustache, funny hat?”
“Uh... no,” I replied. I felt like reality was rapidly flying away from beneath my feet; a riot, unlikely as it was, I could handle – but random questions about old men in funny hats? Right now, it seemed so incongruous that it made me want to hit him.
“He's the ringleader,” explained the man. “I was just about to visit the Museum when I saw him lead a crowd into the Library. They smashed up the place pretty good, and then they scattered. Looks like the— duck!”
He pushed me aside, and a hubcap sailed through the air where we'd been standing a moment before.
“So yeah, looks like the riot's a cover for whatever the old dude's up to,” he continued, apparently unfazed – although his weird eyes made his expression hard to read.
“Did you see which way he went?” I asked. It couldn't be a coincidence – this unprecedented riot, culminating in an attack on the Library, on the very day we were visiting? This had to have some kind of link to the Green Party, I was sure of it – and that meant the old man might have answers. Answers that, hopefully, could be beaten out of him with a cricket bat – although my experiences at Regenschein's had always left me wary of the elderly. They were tougher than most people thought, and if this old man was leading an army through Nacrene, he'd definitely be one of the tough ones.
“I'm not sure,” said the man, “but I think he went—”
He was cut off by the sound of hooves; we both looked around at the same time, and simultaneously stepped back into the square fronting the Library to let a wave of mounted police pass. I had never seen them before – had never even seen a horse before – and stared open-mouthed as they surged forwards, truncheons and shields at the ready. They sounded like an army as they passed – and judging by their numbers, they were an army. Padding with a muted click of claws at the head of each column of officers was a gigantic hound; each had dark blue flanks and a great mass of beige fur on their backs and heads, with shaggy moustaches that trailed on the ground. I had never seen them before, either, but I knew what they were: Stoutland, the Pokémon you resorted to when attack dogs just didn't cut it.
“Right on time,” commented the man. “Come on. They'll deal with the riots soon enough – we'll go after the old man.”
“We?” I asked. I wasn't thinking properly; the riot, and the weird guy, and the mounted police with their burnished shields and Stoutland, had all combined to stupefy me and leave my brain feeling somewhat like jelly.
The man looked at me in the same way as a teacher when they know you haven't been listening.
“You're after him too, right?” he asked. “It seems obvious enough.”
“Oh. Uh, yeah. Yeah, I am.” I had let the bat drop to my side; I hefted it now and swung it back into a ready position. “Right. Where did you say he went?”
“I think he went this way,” said the man, crossing the road. I started to follow, then heard a ferocious cry go up from the right and stopped to stare down the street at the pitched battle that was now raging. I couldn't see much past the cavalry and the smoke, but I saw the white flowering of tear gas, and heard the thunderous baying of the Stoutland amid the shouts and screams—
“Hey!” cried the stranger. “Are you coming or not?”
“Yeah,” I said, voice trembling slightly. This was worse than Regenschein's – bigger, bloodier and so horribly, unexpectedly sudden – but I could handle it. As long as I didn't go into the heart of the mob itself, I could handle it. “Yeah, I'm... I'm coming.”
I turned and ran across the street after him. There was no time to waste standing around. I had an old man to catch.
“Hello. Ms. Harper?”
Niamh could never fathom why Mr. Boares – for such was the name of her employer at Ingen – seemed incapable of remembering her voice. He had heard it often enough, after all; she'd been taking their contracts for years. But for whatever reason, whenever he called her, he began the conversation with the same question. It had started to annoy her after a while, but, having decided that Mr. Boares was a moron of the first water, it had long since ceased to seem anything other than a symptom of his inescapable idiocy.
She sipped her coffee and waited for him to speak.
“We were wondering,” he said, “how your mission was going? That Archen is an obsolete version – and, more to the point, a wholly unlicensed genetic product, with our markers in its DNA. If it were to fall into the hands of the GLA...”
Doubtless Mr. Boares thought trailing off like that was ominous. In actual fact, it just made him sound like he'd forgotten what he was talking about.
“If it were to fall into the hands of the GLA what?” asked Niamh peevishly. Ingen and their petty demands irritated her at the best of times – and now, with Smythe in danger and a would-be regicidal demon courting her interest, they were more of an annoyance than ever.
“Oh.” Mr. Boares had not been expecting this, it seemed. “Um, well, you know. It would be traced back to us and we would face an inquiry into why we are producing unlicensed creatures, not to mention a fine – and the inquiry might uncover other, more – um – secret secrets.”
“More secret secrets?” Niamh tried very hard not to laugh at him, and just about succeeded.
“Yes. More, um, secret secrets than the Archen.” Mr. Boares paused. “Well. How is, ah, that matter of the Archen proceeding? You assured us it would be dealt with within a few days.”
“Ah,” said Niamh, thinking hard. “Um... do you remember that business at the Striaton Gym yesterday? It was in today's papers. One of the Leaders was hospitalised.”
“That was the Archen,” said Niamh, as seriously as she could. “It's, er, more dangerous than you told me it would be. Seems to have some fairly unearthly abilities.”
“Oh dear,” said Mr. Boares. “The Archen... did that?”
“Yep,” said Niamh. “Spat these weird lumps of darkness at him. I tried to hush it up – kept the details out of the papers.”
“Lumps of darkness...?” Mr. Boares sounded close to tears. Niamh imagined him, plump and distressed in his office, picturing a full-scale government inquiry into why International Genetics had released a Gym-Leader-eating monster bird into Unova, and suppressed another chuckle.
“Yeah. You sure it only had eagle and Archen DNA in it? I should think there was something else in there, you know.”
“Oh my,” said Mr. Boares faintly. “Oh my... Well, ah, please do your best, Ms. Harper... if you'll excuse me, I think I need to speak to my manager now.”
“Sure,” she said, with a wicked grin. “I'll get right on it.”
She hung up and leaned back in her chair, taking a victory draught of her coffee.
“Fan-tastic,” she said to herself. “That'll keep the bastards off my back for a while. In fact, let's celebrate it.” She glanced across the café at the waiter. “Hey, can I get a blueberry muffin?”
Whether or not she could proved something of a moot point, since at that moment the sound of chanting and and car alarms came to her ears, and a rubbish bin was hurled through the window.
Immediately, Niamh kicked over her table and ducked behind it, glass flying overhead; a moment later, she heard twin thumps by the window and slammed her shoulder into the underside of the table, sending it sliding towards the men who'd just entered and knocking their legs out from under them.
It wouldn't hold them for long, but Niamh was loath to end lives that didn't belong to abominations, and seized the moment to vault the counter and head back through the kitchen to the back door; a moment later, she burst out into a small courtyard between the backs of three shops, and slipped through an archway out onto Burgher Street.
Here, she saw for the first time the scale of the problem: there was, for whatever reason, a riot in progress, and the street was a seething mass of shouting men and women, brandishing guns and less sophisticated weapons, all yelling out at the top of their voices:
“Plas-ma! Plas-ma! Plas-ma!”
“Bloody anarchists,” muttered Niamh, whacking one who'd come a bit too close over the head with a brick. “I really wanted that muffin.”
A couple of other rioters had seen her flooring their companion, and rushed at her with a cricket bat and a broken bottle; Niamh lobbed the brick at the bottle-wielder and, ducking under the sweep of the bat, broke the nose of his companion with a well-placed punch. He recoiled, swearing and whining, and Niamh took the opportunity to slip back through the archway and take cover in the courtyard before any more of the rioters came after her. She had no doubt that in a one-to-one fight with any of them she could emerge the victor – but there were over two hundred of them and only one of her, which did not make for reassuring odds.
Unfortunately, it seemed that this was not going to be enough; the man with the broken nose staggered through the archway and pointed at her, yelling something inaudible over the roar of the mob. Niamh didn't wait for his companions to follow; she jumped up onto a bin, grabbed hold of a drainpipe and made for the roof. As she crested the gutter and hauled herself up onto the slates, a bullet zipped past overhead, and Niamh flung herself flat on her belly, worming her way behind a chimney-stack before getting to her feet and running.
“Sh*t!” she yelled, half in anger at the morons chasing her and half at herself for provoking them. “Not a good move!”
From here, she could see smoke rising from multiple points around the city, and hear shouts and screams spiralling out of the chaos that weltered in the street below. Car alarms – flames – breaking glass – cries of pain – deep, coughing barks and the swish-thump of truncheons...
“'Sraven,” she muttered, leaping carefully over a yawning alleyway and landing on the flat roof of a kebab shop. “What brought this on?”
No one seemed to have followed her up here, so Niamh took the opportunity to look around; she appeared to be above quieter streets now, and she dropped lightly onto a fire escape and hurried back to ground level.
A few streets away, she stopped to catch her breath in the shadow of a statue, and a fire engine tore past, siren screaming – followed, seconds later, by another. The whole city seemed to be collapsing around her, reflected Niamh, and hurried on; she did not want to be caught out by the oncoming mob.
The streets were eerily deserted, which she supposed made sense, given how dangerous it was to be out right now – but wasn't there anywhere safe in the city? The riots couldn't have spread right across Nacrene, could they? They must be confined to a few districts at least, even allowing for opportunistic looters to have taken advantage of the situation and started more of them.
Niamh kept going, heading in any direction where the smoke was thinnest and the hubbub quietest, but soon found that wherever she went, the roar of the crowd swelled again. It seemed, she thought, that she was surrounded – which meant she would have to make a break for it around one of the mobs. She saw no reason why it wouldn't work: she was fast and agile, and they weren't out to get her in particular. With the minimum of effort, she ought to be able to effect a quick getaway around one or other of the groups.
“All right,” she said, gritting her teeth and rounding a corner onto Memorial Street, “let's go.”
Immediately, she was struck by a wave of heat, pouring from a pair of wrecked cars; ducking around them, Niamh saw that she'd stumbled across a battle between the police and the rioters. As she watched, a constable was dragged from his horse and vanished amid a thrashing of limbs; another was shot in the arm and fell – only to be saved by a Stoutland, the great dog brutally headbutting the aggressor out of the way and catching the policeman gently in its jaws. A short distance away, white plumes of tear gas rose up amid the chaos, and a panicked rush began as the rioters pushed away from them.
Niamh shook her head.
“So f*cked up,” she said to herself, creeping along the street in the shadow of the buildings. “What the hell do they think they're achieving?”
No one answered, but she hadn't expected them to.
The tear gas had moved the battle closer to her, but had not ended it; some rioters, she now saw, had gas masks similar to those of the police. Not for the first time, Niamh wondered who these people were: several things about them, from their weaponry to their preparedness, struck her as more indicative of a pillaging army than a simple angry mob.
“Strange,” she murmured, though she could not hear her voice over the cacophony of the fight and the chant.
Now the battle was upon her, and Niamh wound her way around its side, thrusting one or two rioters – and an overzealous policeman – out of her way with a swift series of punches; for the most part, however, it was easy to overlook one thirty-something woman in the heat of battle, and Niamh emerged unscathed from the other side. She ducked into an alley and headed down it, not knowing where it led and not caring, either; she did not look back, and in a couple of minutes the hideous sounds of battle had faded in her ears. There were people in the streets here, and they were going about their lives as normal, as yet unaware of the chaos reigning in the northern district; with a sigh of relief, Niamh let herself fall into their midst, and vanished into the crowds.
Far away, on a train speeding through the forest, a boy with green hair and grey eyes was dreaming of dragons.
And twice as far away again, in a tower under the watchful eye of the one who stole it, a dragon was dreaming of him.
Shouldn't the til be until or till?we can talk about Teiresias's atrocities til the cows come home
I didn't understand this. Who stole what?in a tower under the watchful eye of the one who stole it,
Awesome chapter. You described the riot excellently. Halley's character was shown really well. Keep up the good work!
plot, bounty hunters, crazed tax collectors
a journeyfic by the most improved writer of 2012, second place
what more could you want?
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While we're on the subject, few native English speakers say anything properly. We run our words together like crazy - something like 'brembutter' for 'bread and butter', for instance. I'm going to stop now, because I could talk about phonics, pronunciation and linguistics for longer than anyone would actually want to listen.
Last edited by Cutlerine; 26th March 2013 at 1:23 PM.
A thousand apologies for the lateness of this chapter. It was finished on time, but I've been entertaining a guest for the past few days and didn't have a chance to post it.
Chapter Sixteen: Gormless
A boardroom – drawn blinds, sun in cracks across the table, polished mahogany and black velour.
Middle-aged white men. Worried.
It was not every day that an emergency board meeting was called. The last time had been a response to the accidental escape of an ancient and terrifying evil cloned at Volundr's Anvil, and had ended when said evil crashed through the window, intent on eating their brains. They had every reason to be worried.
“Gentlemen,” said the chairman, rising to his feet at the head of the table. “We appear to have a problem.”
“Is it the raptors?” asked one. “It's the raptors, isn't it? I told you. They're too bloody dangerous. They should all be destroyed.”
“No, Robert,” sighed the chairman. “It's not the raptors. They've never caused one iota of trouble, as you well know.” He leaned on the table, shoulders stretching the cloth of his suit. “It's the Archen.”
“Yes, the Archen.” The chairman indicated the pile of documents in front of each board member. “SN407, I think the number is. It was an experimental model that was apparently destroyed two years ago. Except it wasn't, and it just hospitalised a Gym Leader in Striaton.”
Silence. No one was quite sure how to respond to that.
“Woden hang 'em,” said someone at last. “What's it made of?”
“Archen, mostly – as much as we could use, anyway,” replied the chairman. “Patched with golden eagle where the DNA was missing or unusable.”
No revived 'fossil' Pokémon were the real thing, of course. Aerodactyl, Cradily, Anorith, Kabuto – there existed no complete genome from which to clone them. They were patchwork facsimiles – very good facsimiles, and ones physically almost indistinguishable from the real thing, but facsimiles all the same. Subject SN407 was no different; Archen were a dead species, gone from the earth forever. Ingen had made something very similar to them, but it was patched with bits of other creatures' DNA, and modified for saleability: disease resistance was added, and accelerated growth, and specially-engineered white cells programmed to rove about the body and swallow up the tumours that were the inevitable result of Ingen's low-cost 'rough and ready' sequencing techniques.
“Anything else? Anything that might have given it... unusual abilities?”
The chairman shrugged.
“There's a touch of dodo in there, but that's all.” He sighed. “It seems that this ability to throw people into comas is an innate ability of Archen themselves. Which is no doubt fascinating news for palaeontologists, but rather bad for us.”
“Have we sanctioned a clean-up operation?”
“Of course. We did that even before the Striaton incident – as soon as we became aware that the Archen was still at large.” A look of irritation crossed the chairman's face. “Look, have any of you even looked at the papers in front of you? They're not decoration, you know – they do actually contain all this information.”
Everyone abruptly started busying themselves with their documents, a sudden wash of collective guilt suffusing the room. The chairman pinched the bridge of his nose and silently asked Thunir to give him mental fortitude, or, failing that, the upper-body strength necessary to pound these cretins into meatloaf. (The saying is an old Unovan one, and it's said it loses a lot in the translation.)
“Gentlemen!” he cried, trying to recapture their attention. “That's not the point. Read the documents at your leisure. The point is, we still have samples of the genome on record, and we're thinking of putting together a retriever.”
The rustle of paper ceased. Twelve pairs of anxious eyes turned to him.
“I realise this is an extreme step to take,” he said, “and that is why it requires a unanimous vote of approval from the board.”
“The last time we built a retriever Doctor Wu wired its brain wrong,” said Robert in a low voice. “It ate every lollipop man in Nacrene before our agent shut it down.”
“It also ate Doctor Wu,” pointed out the chairman. “So it seems unlikely he'll be making that mistake again.” He sighed. “Just agree on it, damn it. Our agent is on it, but given the magnitude of the problem, I think we should have the retriever ready, just in case. If she gets the Archen, it doesn't matter and the retriever can be deprogrammed and sold on to Mister Bones. If she doesn't, then we activate it and send it out there. Easy.”
“Yeah, you make it sound that way,” muttered Robert.
“All those in favour?” asked the chairman, pointedly ignoring him.
Eleven hands rose. Twenty-one eyes came to rest on Robert.
“Fine,” he grumbled. “But against my better judgement, OK?”
“Sure. Fine. Got it.” The chairman nodded. “Excellent, gentlemen. If you'll excuse me, this meeting is now over. We've work to do.”
The men rose from their seats and filed out without a word. Ingen lay under serious threat of the one thing that could possibly shut its operation down, a GLA investigation, and that weighed heavier in their minds than any of the monsters they had spawned.
Nacrene was ablaze.
Through burning streets we ran – past overturned cars, past shattered windows and broken lampposts. Around us rose blank-faced buildings, staring down at the carnage in the streets with eye-like windows; once, a group of rioters flitted past, shouting and swearing, and a moment later a Stoutland came bounding after them with a deep coughing bark.
All order seemed to have vanished. There was nothing left except hellish chaos.
We rounded a corner and came head to head with a gang of looters; they charged us, whooping and yelling like madmen, and I readied the bat – but before they'd even crossed the space between us, something green flashed across my vision and the men all hit the ground at once, as if their legs had been cut from under them. A second later a lithe green figure materialised at the stranger's side; I started and stared, and only realised a moment later that it was actually a bug-faced Pokémon rather than an abnormally short ninja.
“I should turn them in, but we don't have time,” said the stranger, scratching his head and looking at the struggling figures on the ground. “Come on! We have to find that old man.”
As we ran past, the strange insectoid Pokémon keeping pace with us, I saw the reason for their fall: the looters' legs had been enmeshed in a tangle of gluey-looking cords. I shot it a sidelong glance, and saw its arms tapered to fine blades at the tips; I suspected it could have done a whole lot more to them than immobilise them if it had wanted to.
“You're a Trainer?” I asked the stranger.
“Yeah,” he replied. “Name's Burgh. I lead Castelia Gym.”
“You're a Gym Leader?” I asked incredulously, so surprised that I almost forgot to keep running. “Why didn't you say anything?”
“Didn't think it was particularly relevant,” he said. “Why? Is it?”
I shook my head. He was clearly either an idiot or a lunatic, but I'd had extensive experience with both recently and so I knew better than to contest the point.
“Thunir,” I muttered. “You—”
“Look!” he interrupted, pointing eagerly. “There!”
I looked ahead, and saw an old man in a tall hat and bulky robes at the end of the street; he had a large bag on his back and an impressive beard on his face, and was currently engaged in hotwiring a motorbike.
“That's him?” I asked.
“That's him,” confirmed Burgh, speeding up. “Leif! Stop him!”
The old man looked up at the sound of Burgh's voice, swore violently and jumped on his bike; a moment later, the Pokémon caught up, but it barely brushed the rear wheel before its quarry zoomed off in a cloud of smoke, making it recoil in peculiarly refined horror.
But it wasn't beaten yet: leaping forwards, it got one claw in the old man's cloak and hauled itself up onto the back of the bike; before I could see any more, however, the motorbike rounded a corner and roared out of sight.
I looked at Burgh.
“Do we keep running?”
“Nah,” he said. “There isn't much either of them can do to get each other off the bike without killing themselves. We'll get ourselves a car and follow.”
“Get ourselves a car? How?”
“Well,” said Burgh thoughtfully, pushing a brick through a car window. “I say 'get'. I mean steal.”
“Twice in as many days,” I muttered. “Everyone's a bloody car thief...”
“It's this or lose him,” he pointed out. “I'm commandeering it in the name of the League. You coming?”
I sighed, and swung the bat up onto my shoulder.
“Fine,” I replied, walking around to the passenger door. “I'm coming...”
“At last! It took me forever to find you – it's so much harder when you're awake.”
Niamh turned around, and was unsurprised to find Ezra standing there, looking vaguely impatient.
“You again? I thought you weren't coming back until tomorrow morning?”
“The situation has changed,” he said tersely. “Look. You've thought about this and you want to work with me. Am I correct?”
“Yes, but you said—”
“Forget what I said,” he interrupted with a curt gesture. “There's very little time. Harmonia's making his move early – right now. This riot is a cover-up, initiated by him, in order to steal something he needs from the Nacrene Museum—”
“What? What the hell kind of cover-up is that?”
“I know. None of it makes any sense, but that's the only explanation I can put together right now,” he replied. “The fact that he's behind it, though, is certain: I passed Molloy earlier, though until the riots started I thought nothing of it...” He gave her a steady look. “You've heard of Caitlin Molloy?”
“Of course,” answered Niamh. “Everyone has. Is she – she's with the Party?”
“Undoubtedly,” said Ezra. “I've seen her going to and from their headquarters. Disguised, naturally, but nevertheless there. The point is, we need to stop the thief – who, by the way, is fleeing the city as we speak – and prevent this artefact from getting into Harmonia's hands. I could do it alone, but I thought that as you're here...”
“I get it,” said Niamh. “OK. Where are we going?”
Ezra smiled and extended a hand.
“Hold on tight,” he said. “We're going to take a very direct sort of route...”
Niamh would have asked what this meant, but she'd already taken his hand, and the sudden absence of air as the world vanished around them made it rather difficult to speak.
“Don't breathe,” said Ezra, voice somehow travelling through the vacuum to her ears. “Your body will panic if you breathe. Just hold your breath; you'll find you don't run out of air.”
After a moment of mind-numbing terror, Niamh had control of her lungs, and was able to look around – not that there was anything to see, given that they were currently in the middle of a featureless abyss, travelling along a path that only appeared to be visible for a few centimetres around the points where Ezra's feet touched it. What little she could see of it looked like flat bluish light, scarcely visible against the blackness; it was, all told, a distinctly unnerving roadway.
“Where are we?” mouthed Niamh silently, unable to make a sound.
“'All the world's a stage',” quoted Ezra. “We've gone behind the set. Humans can't come here normally, but a few creatures can: demons, obviously, and cats – it's why they say they have nine lives; they step out of reality before aggressors harm them, and step back again a little later. A few Pokémon come this way, too – Gothitelle, mostly, and Unown.”
“What? Behind the set...?”
In the distance, Niamh saw a few faint shapes making their blurry way through the void; she supposed they were traversing dark paths of their own.
“If the world is a play, this is backstage,” Ezra clarified. “Or, to put it another way, these are the rat-tunnels in the wainscot of reality.”
“I see,” said Niamh, which was mostly not a lie.
“We are outside space and time,” Ezra went on. “Or at least, almost all the way outside. You, a material being defined wholly in spacial and temporal terms, wouldn't survive if I took you all the way outside the universe – the prerequisites for your existence simply don't exist there. Perhaps the best way of putting it is that time and space are flexible here, rather than rigid as they are in what you so quaintly term reality.” He smiled to himself. “It really is quite cute how you guys keep calling it that,” he added. “As if anything you saw there equated to the deeper reality of things at all...” He shook his head. “Anyway, what was I saying? Oh yeah – space and time. Here,” he continued, “journeys can be compressed into shorter periods of time, and shorter distances too – with the result that in only a few minutes, we can—”
I've never left a city so quickly by car before.
The rioters had coordinated their movements so as to clear the streets for the old man without getting in his way, it seemed; there was nothing to slow the motorbike – and consequently, nothing to slow us. Burgh, while not quite as insane a driver as that Niamh woman, was fairly erratic (to say the least), and more than once came close to reducing the pair of us to red smears on the inside of the windscreen, despite the lack of obstacles.
“I didn't even see what it was that time!” I cried, after he almost crashed into something for the fourth time. “What is it that you keep nearly hitting?”
“Not sure,” he replied thoughtfully. “I do this a lot, I think. I'm not actually a qualified driver.”
“'Sraven,” I muttered. “Not even...”
“I don't suppose you can drive?” he asked diffidently. “I'm really not that confident behind the wheel of a car.”
“How can you be able to hotwire a car but not drive one?” I cried.
“Standard League training,” he replied. “We have to be able to deal with situations, and sometimes those situations involve commandeering other people's vehicles. Would you believe that I also know how to put a nuclear sub into meltdown?”
“Yes,” I said firmly, shuddering at the thought. “Yes, I would. Sh*t – left!”
Burgh turned right, almost hit a hospital, pulled of an incredibly tight U-turn and shot off down the road after the motorbike.
“What the hell was that?” I shouted. “I said left—”
“Well, do you want to drive?”
“Yes!” I cried. I didn't actually know how, but I was damned if I was any worse than Burgh. “But we don't have time to stop. Just keep going!”
“All right, all right,” he muttered moodily. “Some people...”
The buildings fell behind on either side of us, disappearing as we zoomed out on an overpass and swooped down towards the woods, bypassing the suburbs; here at last there were other cars, and the motorbike was forced to slow a little. Unfortunately, it forced us to slow quite a lot more – especially since Burgh seemed to be having a mild panic attack at the sight of so many over vehicles and the bike began to gain ground, inching ahead with the slow implacability of a Terminator.
“We're losing him,” I said. “Faster!”
“If I go faster, we end up smeared over the back of that Transit van,” he pointed out, irritation in his bulging eyes. “I don't know about you, but I'm pretty keen to stay in one piece.”
“Then we – wait, what's he doing?”
Maybe the old man had decided the motorway was slowing him down; maybe he was simply trying to shake us with something unexpected; maybe he was just crazy – whatever it was, he abruptly turned left, cut across a line of traffic to a fanfare of blaring horns, and drove down the embankment at the side of the road, where he jumped off his bike and took off into the woods.
“Did you see that?” I asked. “He's in the woods!”
“But how do I stop and go down after him—?”
“Turn left and pray!”
“Seriously? That's your best idea?”
“Do you have any others?” I asked, with considerably more confidence than I felt, and closing his eyes tightly, Burgh spun the wheel.
Something did hit us, that much I'm sure of – the back half of the car lurched violently halfway through the turn. But the traffic to our left had mostly come to a standstill when the motorbike cut through it, and we slid between a lorry and a Volvo to shoot over the lip of the embankment—
—and come crashing down onto the grassy sward two feet below. The force spiked straight through me and made me bite my tongue so hard it bled; Burgh's head smacked into the roof, but his ridiculous hair protected it from any serious harm.
The engine suddenly dead, the car rolled forwards silently for a metre and a half, and stopped gently against a log.
“Thit,” I moaned, trying to pat my tongue and failing. “Michael Thumacher you definitely are not.”
“Urrgh...” groaned Burgh, rubbing blood off his head. “What was that?”
I felt like in the last few minutes I'd become a human version of Halley; did it happen to everyone who got dragged along with someone else as a sidekick, perhaps? Maybe I should be a little more understanding towards her, I mused – then shook my head clear of thoughts. Now was not the time.
“The old man!” I cried. “We have to follow him and get back what he thtole!”
“What's with the lisp?”
“I bit my tongue,” I said frostily. “Look, jutht get out and let'th find him already!”
We staggered free of the battered car and towards the abandoned motorbike, from underneath which Leif was struggling to get out; I pulled it away from the ground enough for the Pokémon to slide free, and it straightened up, brushing down its flanks fastidiously as it did so. It didn't seem any the worse for wear for its experience, although it had a few small insects splattered across its face, and immediately set off into the forest, following some trail that neither Burgh nor I could detect.
“Who flees into the forest like this?” murmured Burgh. “I mean, it's easy to lose pursuers in here, but really... You could do that in a city, too, if you got to the populated part. And it's not exactly safe here. There are Sawk and Throh here, and you know what they're like.”
I shivered. Yes, I knew exactly what they were like, I thought, recalling Steve's Throh back at the old Sytec plant.
“Yeah,” I said. “Nathty.”
Leif forged on ahead, slicing branches from our path in almost total silence; Burgh and I, in contrast, blundered on like concussed elephants. In Burgh's case, I guess he might actually have been able to plead concussion, but I was genuinely clumsy. I thought I'd got free of the forest when we arrived in Striaton; I should have known it wouldn't be so easy. Unova was mostly woodland outside the major settlements, after all.
“How much further?” asked Burgh; Leif clicked its mandibles and waved one gauzy wing. I wasn't entirely sure what that meant, but presumably it had some significance, because it seemed to satisfy Burgh.
“What did it thay?” I asked.
“I have no idea,” he replied. “Probably nothing. He is an insect, after all.”
Just then, Leif stopped abruptly, and held its scything claws wide apart, ready to snap together; its legs bent and its wings hummed, and it vanished upwards.
Burgh and I exchanged looks.
“There,” I said, and we ran, blundering through the undergrowth, pushing past branches, heedless of the thorns and burrs, to see—
—Leif crouched over an old man in the leaf litter, one blade at his throat. A tall and stupendously ugly hat lay on the ground nearby.
“Got you!” I cried, keeping the bat ready to swing. “Who are you?”
“Get your f*cken bug out my face and I might just tell you,” he spat. His voice was accented – Irish, I thought.
“I don't really think you're in any position to make demands,” Burgh pointed out.
“You're not going to kill me,” he said. “You're not murderers.”
“No, but I might whack you over the head with a cricket bat,” I replied. “You can call Leif off. I've got him covered.”
The Leavanny's head rotated on its shoulders to face Burgh; below the neck, it remained motionless.
“Yeah, OK,” he said. “Back off. I'll trust, uh, this guy's word.”
“Jared,” I said. “My name'th Jared.”
Leif took a step back, but kept its multifaceted eyes firmly on the old man as he struggled to his feet.
“Better,” he said. “Always easier to talk without a f*cken knife at your throat.”
“Less of that, now. Who are you?”
“Gorm,” replied the old man. “Gorm, of the Seven Sages of Plasma.” He chuckled drily, a smoker's rasping laugh. “There's a riddle for you.”
“Didn'tcha hear them in the street?” he asked. “Plas-ma! Plas-ma!” He shook his head. “Crazy, but they serve their purpose.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Let me,” I said, stepping forwards. “Thtop talking in f*cken riddleth, or I'll start breaking boneth.”
“Threats aren't so effective when you lisp 'em,” Gorm said. “But whatever. I can see this particular jig is up.” He reached into his bag and pulled out, of all things, the skull from the Dragonite skeleton in the Library hall. “Guess I'll have to give this back,” he said.
“What did you want with that?” I asked, puzzled.
“D'ya want it or not?”
“Yes,” said Burgh. “Hand it over!”
Gorm grinned evilly.
“Here,” he said, tossing it into the air. “Take it.”
Burgh and I, conscious of its value and fragility, leaped to catch it at the same time, crashed together in midair and went down in a tangle of limbs; Gorm laughed, spun on one heel and vanished into the undergrowth, throwing his cloak over Leif and immobilising it in its folds.
“Thit!” I cried, struggling free of Burgh only to have a gigantic, panicking bug collapse on top of me. “Where ith he?”
“I think he got away,” muttered Burgh, clutching the skull tightly. “But at least we got back what he stole.”
“Yeah,” I agreed, pushing Leif off and staggering to my feet. “But thtill... Why would he go to all the bother of organising those riotth jutht for thith thkull?”
“I have no idea,” replied Burgh, untangling Leif. “Leif, keep up the search, and String Shot him if you see him; I'll be back later.” It nodded and flitted off into the forest. Burgh turned to me. “As for us, I think we'd better get this to Lenora, and see if we can find out why someone would want to steal it.”
“Cool,” I said. “Jutht one quethtion.”
“How are we getting back to the thity?”
His face fell.
Niamh fell over and landed face-first in a heap of mulchy leaves.
“—cross entire cities,” finished Ezra, helping her to her feet. “Sorry about that. I'm not used to taking passengers with me.”
“Where – where are we?” she asked, looking around. They were obviously in a forest, but that didn't really help much. Most of Unova was covered in the stuff.
“Pinwheel Forest,” replied the demon. “This is where I sensed the thief... quick! There!”
Niamh turned to see an elderly man moving through the woods with surprising agility given his advanced years and heavy robe, and with commendable presence of mind she tackled him to the ground and put a pistol to his skull.
“What the f*ck?” he yelped. His voice, she noticed, sounded oddly strained – not quite natural.
“Give back what you took,” she said.
The old man grinned. His teeth were awful, she noted.
“Too late,” he said. “Already did that.”
“He's lying,” said Ezra. “I know what you have in your bag.”
The grin slipped a notch.
Ezra crouched by his head.
“It's perfectly simple,” he said. “You picked a bad time to steal her, my friend. She's more conscious than she has been for years; I can feel the glow of her dreams, like the warmth of a radiator.”
The old man's face fell.
“Sh*t,” he said. “You're not human, are you?”
Ezra shook his head sadly.
“No,” he replied. “I'm afraid I'm not. There's no lying to me.” He turned to Niamh. “Would you pull him forwards, please? I'd like to get at his bag.”
She did, and Ezra withdrew from the old man's rucksack a perfect white sphere, the size of a basketball.
“Ah,” he sighed, staring at it. “I feel her...” He looked at the old man sharply. “What does Harmonia want with this?” he asked.
“I don't know, do I? I'm just the f*cken thief.”
“Why go to the trouble of causing a riot?” asked Niamh. “What was the point of all that?”
“To draw attention.” The old man grimaced. “We wanted to be followed – there're people who we wanted to delay while we worked on stuff.”
“Could you be more specific?” asked Ezra. “Please remember that my associate here has a gun pressed against your head, and would have zero qualms about ending your miserable little life.”
This was not the case, and Niamh was pretty sure Ezra knew it, but she didn't let her face give anything away. She wanted this information as badly as he did; anything they could glean about Harmonia's plans would be useful, given how little they knew.
The old man looked into Niamh's eyes, judged that there really was a killer behind them, and swallowed nervously.
“Uh, OK,” he said. “Uh... Look, I don't know much. All I know is that the boss got a message from someone he has in the field. Told him something that made him decide he'd better secure that orb there. And he also wanted to distract some people who'd buggered up an operation we'd run in Striaton – some woman – while he worked on her identity—”
Niamh's eyes widened imperceptibly; that was her, she realised. In part, she had been the cause of the riots.
“—and there were some other people as well that we wanted to lead off the scent. So we set up some riots to make it look like we were trying to cover our tracks, but I actually made it easy to follow me – you know, make them think they're winning when they're just doing what we want.”
“Huh. Looks like you succeeded there,” muttered Niamh under her breath. “Fine. Anything else?”
“That's it,” he said. “That's it, I swear.” He looked very old, suddenly; old and frail. “Please don't kill me.”
“I'm not going to.” Niamh looked at Ezra. “Do we turn him over to the police?”
He shook his head.
“He'll never make it to court. Harmonia has hands everywhere. Just let him go.”
“Shouldn't we do something?” she asked.
“What do you suggest?” replied Ezra. “Send him to the police, he'll walk free in a few hours. Short of killing him, there's no way to stop him getting back to Harmonia – and I will not kill humans. You may, if you wish. But I won't.”
“No, I don't want to either,” she said, wondering what reason a demon could have for not wanting to kill humans when he was perfectly willing to kill his own kind. “Fine.” She got up, but kept the gun trained on the old man's face. “I guess you're free to go.”
He got to his feet quickly, shakily, as if unable to believe his luck; Niamh had seen that look before. He took a few steps away, looked at her and Ezra – and then, realising that he really wasn't about to get shot in the back, he fled into the forest.
“OK,” said Niamh, turning to Ezra. “I have quite a lot of questions, and you're going to answer them.”
“Of course. But first, this.” He held out the sphere. “This must be returned. And then I will buy you dinner, and I will answer any questions you have left.”
Niamh looked at her watch.
“It's nowhere near time for dinner,” she said, puzzled.
“It will be by the time we get back to Nacrene,” he replied cheerfully. “I can't take this artefact through the dark paths.”
Niamh's heart sank.
“Yes,” confirmed Ezra. “We're walking.”
A few miles away, Gorm shrugged off his robes and packed them away into his bag. Beneath them, he wore blue jeans and a green shirt, and the body that filled them was not that of an old man.
“It's me,” he said into a mobile phone – and his voice was no longer accented, or indeed deep. “Good news and bad, I'm afraid. I lost the Orb to the woman, but both groups bought the story completely, and I have some information to pass on when I get back. And as for our little army... Well.” He grinned, the make-up on his face cracking. “That was absolutely spectacular. I think we can safely say that that experiment was an unqualified success...”
Chapter Seventeen: Here Be Dragons
“Woden hang 'em,” I sighed, leaning back and closing my eyes. “This whole thing is getting more and more confusing.”
We had gone back to the Library to find Hawes gone and a stern woman with an attendant Herdier hanging around in the hall with Cheren, Bianca and Halley. This, it transpired, was librarian, archaeologist and Gym Leader Lenora Hawes, wife of the talkative director with the bullet problem; she'd taken the skull almost without noticing and proceeded to tell us that her husband was in the hospital. After she'd said this eight or nine times without variation, Burgh decided he'd better take her home, and told us that he was sorry but there was no way any of this was going to get sorted out until tomorrow at the very earliest, and asked us if we wouldn't mind going home and coming back another time.
Halley hadn't liked that, but Cheren had cut in with his impeccable ice-cold politeness, and now we were at the Pokémon Centre, where we had taken over one corner of the lounge. Behind us, two girls with brightly-dyed hair were watching Skómst on TV and arguing over whether Max Vackers or Sebastian Bounding was more attractive. Despite their viciously penetrating voices, I was doing a fairly good job of tuning them out; I had to, really, or they'd have long since driven me insane.
“Hey,” said Halley, with a sidelong glance at the two girls to make sure they didn't hear. “By the way. What's with this 'hang 'em' thing? As far as I can work out so far, you stab people on a big rock here, not hang them.”
“Hanging is special,” Bianca replied. “That's for Woden.”
“God of the gallows,” said Cheren. “Hang a man and stab him with a spear. When the ravens come, you know Woden's accepted it.”
“So what's with the rocks?”
“The sun,” explained Cheren. “Our religion is somewhere between Celtic Druidism and Old English paganism. Sacrifices on the menhirs are mostly for the sun, and none of the other gods require blood. Córmi takes his tithes at death. Frige is happy to see our lives settled and ordered. Eostre draws her strength from feasting and new life. Thunor takes power from the storm-festivals. But Woden is the Allfather. He needs lives, twitched out on the gallows.”
Halley tipped her head on one side, a curiously avian gesture for a cat.
“Huh,” she said, and curled up on Bianca's lap. From my head, Candy eyed her soft flanks and scratched her neck thoughtfully.
“If that's all, then I suggest it's time to review the day,” said Cheren.
“Review the day?” I asked. “We've never done that before—”
“We haven't had a day like this one before,” he pointed out.
With her stubby claws, Candy marked out an estimate the distance between herself and Halley, and cawed pensively.
“He's right,” agreed Bianca. “Uh... today we met N again, you had a weird vision thing, found out Teiresias is basically unkillable, saved Hawes' life, ran through riots in the streets, caught an old man who stole a skull apparently for no reason and met two Gym Leaders. That seems to be a day worth reviewing.”
“Point taken,” I said. “OK. Let's summarise.”
Candy leaped from my head, stretched out her wings and glided inelegantly down onto Halley with the grace and speed of a falling stepladder. She crowed exultantly, Halley yowled angrily, and the resulting explosion of feline fury flung Candy to the floor. Before she could get up again, Halley leaped down from Bianca's lap, landing paws-first on the Archen's chest.
“Don't shout,” Cheren said quietly, as she opened her mouth to deliver what would doubtless have been an tongue-lashing of rare vitriol indeed. “There are two people behind me.”
Halley glared at him, then turned her burning gaze on me, claws still on Candy's neck.
“Later, I am going to wring her neck and eat her like a sparrow,” she mouthed at me.
“That's enough,” I said, pushing her away with one foot and picking up Candy protectively. “Leave her alone.”
“Ark,” squawked Candy smugly.
“That goes for you too,” I told her quellingly. “You jump on sociopathic wildcats, you get what's coming to you.”
“Damn f*cking straight,” murmured Halley ferociously, stalking back to her seat on Bianca's lap. “If she...!”
“Sh,” said Cheren. “Now. Review time...”
“So,” said Ezra, which made Niamh jump. Despite her attempts to inveigle him into conversation, he had remained resolutely silent throughout their journey. “You said you had questions.”
“Yeah,” she replied, and was about to ask them when she was forestalled by the arrival of the waiter.
“Are you ready to order?” he asked brightly.
“Yes,” answered Ezra. “Two of the stuffed crab platters, please.”
“OK,” he said, noting it down. “I'll be back in a mom—”
“Ah, you misunderstand,” Ezra cut in. “Those two dishes are both for me; I have a singularly voracious appetite. I have no idea what my companion wants.”
“Oh. Er, OK.” The waiter turned to Niamh. “Madam?”
“Uh... the wild boar terrine, please.”
“OK. Shouldn't take too long. I'll be back soon.”
He disappeared, and Niamh returned her gaze to Ezra.
“All right,” she said. “What's so special about the ball that the old man took?”
“It's more than a ball,” he replied. “Do you know the legend of the Twin Heroes?”
“Yes, of course. The warlords who united Unova.”
“Very good.” Ezra leaned forwards slightly. “The end of Sandjr, they say – although Sandjr, of course, ended a long time ago, when the First Kingdom fell. But I digress. Do you know the next part of the story?”
“Yeah. The brothers fall out, fight each other. Unova's almost destroyed again, and it isn't until the sky falls and kills them both on the battlefield that the country picks itself up and gets on with it.”
“That's right. Legends that were once histories – except that as the actors were forgotten, the truth began to seem too fanciful, and the stories were toned down to stay believable.”
“You're saying those legends represent something even weirder? Most historians believe they represent something less obviously fictional.”
“The Twin Heroes,” he said. “When they fought as one, they flew the banner of black and white dragons entwined. When they separated, their armies marched beneath the mark of each individual dragon. That's what the legend says – but the truth is that the armies moved in the shadow not of banners, but of an actual dragon.”
“What? Like... a Dragon-type?”
Most Pokémon were an unusual species of a family of more conventional animals – Raichu were exceptionally large and voltaic rodents for instance. Dragon-types were the exception. No one was entirely certain what they'd evolved from; most people inclined to the belief that it was probably dinosaurs, but there was still a lot of mystery surrounding them, and Niamh could well imagine that there were strange and exotic Dragon-types roaming the skies in ancient times.
“It's entirely possible,” Ezra said. “I usually tried to stay out of its way, so I never got a good look. But based on what people were saying at the time, I would say it was actual dragon. Unova's last real dragon, and possibly the world's.
“Anyway, when the Heroes fought, the great dragon split in half, each one of the resultant pair of dragons following one of them. They fought, which must have been a bit odd. Some First Kingdom thing, I expect. The legends mention something about sons at that point, but the sons are irrelevant. The sons never had the dragons; they fought, it's true, but with conventional armies. The Heroes fought, the dragons clashed – and they tore the land apart, until the sky fell and killed the Heroes.
“At least, that's what the legend says. In actuality, it was something else, some monster that crawled out of the earth near the Patzkovan border. It flung the clouds themselves down on the Heroes, tonnes and tonnes of ice and water, and killed them both. The dragons, their powers spent, went into stasis, waiting for... Well.” He shrugged. “I'm not sure what. The point is, this is what the ball, as you so eloquently put it, is. It's the white dragon of fire.”
“That thing was a dragon?”
“Yes. Still is, albeit in diminished form. And one day it will be a proper dragon again. Perhaps sooner than anticipated, if Harmonia is after them.” He sipped his wine thoughtfully. “Presumably he's after the black dragon too, although I'm not sure where that one is. It's something to think about; I have no idea how they might be awakened, but the dragons aren't something to take lightly. They seem to be inimical to, well, everything; they may not have come from this world.” He shook his head. “Anyway. I've answered your question about the stone. What next?”
Niamh tried to remember. Ezra had said a lot of very strange things just then, and her brain was still trying to sort them all out; thankfully, the waiter returned with their food at that moment and she got a reprieve.
“Mm,” said Ezra, delicately crunching through a crab leg without bothering to remove the shell. “Lovely.”
“I got it,” said Niamh suddenly, ignoring her terrine. “The next question. Teiresias was intangible – it possessed things to get around. Does that mean that you...?”
She let it hang in the air. It seemed almost rude to ask whether Ezra was the name of the demon, or of the body it was currently in possession of.
“Niamh, Teiresias is not one of my kind – it hails from Greece, from the nightmares of the Mycenaean priests. It isn't an Unovan demon. With his sort, their power waxes with age, but as it does the universe starts to reject them – they become detached from the physical world. More and more, they find themselves having to possess bodies in order to stay on Earth and out of the dark paths.
“I, on the other hand, am an Unovan – mostly. Like all Unovan demons, I have a real and substantial body, although I'm hiding it at present due to the fact that it really is rather terrifying. The man you see before me is the shape I prefer to adopt when I go out among humans, because otherwise I attract a lot of very unwelcome attention, and cause an alarming number of heart attacks.”
“How can you be mostly Unovan?” asked Niamh, feeling much more at ease; if Ezra wasn't stealing bodies, she was fine with whatever face he wanted to present to the world. “Surely you're either Unovan or you're not.”
Ezra swallowed a chunk of carapace and scratched his head.
“How do I explain it...? I'm really not sure how it all fits together. I suppose you could say I'm an immigrant, of sorts. I was born in Germany – or what would later be called Germany. At the time, it was more a seething mass of angry people with pointy sticks. Though that would describe most of the populated world at that point fairly well, as it happens,” he added. “I came to Unova aboard a slave-ship, as part of an army meant to invade. Once we'd been fairly comprehensively defeated, I made the point to my captors that I hadn't wanted to invade Unova, and had, in fact, been very much against the idea of invading Unova, and would gladly serve the Unovans if they would kindly not execute me. Thus, I was reborn as an Unovan demon.”
Niamh swallowed a mouthful of meat, tried to digest what Ezra had just said, and failed.
“What?” she asked. “I don't follow you. You were... reborn?”
“It's tricky to explain,” he said. “I don't remember it very well – the rebirth has that effect on you. Think of the Unovan demons as a bit like very, very evangelical missionaries. They convert you – totally. Scarcely a shred of the original Germanic me remains in here.” He indicated himself.
“Right,” said Niamh, wondering if she could afford to discard this information and decided that she could, if only to spare herself a headache. “Uh... OK. Next question.” She thought for a moment. “Damn it! You keep making me lose my train of thought.”
“Sorry.” Ezra finished his first crab and began on the second. “I realise that a lot of this demon stuff is hard to get your mortal head around. It's very alien. We operate on levels of reality that most of you don't even suspect exist.”
“Mm. So I see.” Niamh took a deep breath and a gulp of wine. “OK. Next question. Are the gods real?”
Ezra raised his eyebrows.
“I wasn't expecting that one.”
“Well, the demons are, so... how about the gods?”
“It depends what you mean by 'real'.” Ezra laid down his knife and fork carefully. “Have you ever been to Australia?”
“Does it exist?”
“Well, yeah, but—”
“How do you know, if you've never been there?”
“Well... I know it exists,” said Niamh, suddenly feeling very young and frustrated next to him. How old was he, anyway? He'd spoken as if he'd been around when the Twin Heroes were fighting.
“A great many people 'know' that the ése exist,” replied Ezra. “In that sense, they're as real as Australia.”
“Bullsh*t. I don't buy that,” retorted Niamh. “I could go to Australia and prove it exists, if I wanted. Can't do that with the gods.”
Ezra raised an eyebrow.
“No. There's nowhere I can go and prove to myself that they're real.” She looked at him, suddenly uncertain. “Is there?”
“I don't know,” he replied. “But if you went to Australia, what would you expect to find there?”
“Uh... sun. Kangaroos. The seasons are backwards, and there are crocodiles and wombats and the people talk lahk this—”
“That's an idea of Australia, not the actual place,” he observed. “You could no more prove that that exists than you could the gods.”
“Could you just tell me straight, please? I'm not really into philosophy.”
Ezra shook his head.
“But asking whether or not the gods are real is a matter of philosophy,” he pointed out. “And we're only scratching the surface here. There's a great deal more under that.”
“Whether demons are real or not doesn't seem to be a matter of philosophy.”
“We're not a sophisticated theological concept,” he replied. “We're just a primitive superstition: easy to prove or disprove. Simple. Ése, on the other hand... They're a bit more complicated than that.”
“So I see,” said Niamh dryly. “I think I'll stick to monsters, thanks. At least those bleed.”
“And if they bleed, you can kill them,” agreed Ezra with a smile. “I'll drink to that.”
So he did, and Niamh drank with him, and ate her cooling terrine without asking any more questions. She didn't feel up to handling his answers.
“... cause is as yet unknown, but arrests continued to be made throughout the night and are still being made as I speak,” the newscaster said. “The Nacrene Police Commissioner released a statement earlier this...”
I stopped paying attention as soon as it became clear that nothing meaningful had happened since the last news broadcast an hour ago; I'd woken early today, and come down to the lounge a little before six to wait for the others. I wanted to see if anything had been discovered about the riots, but so far it seemed like nothing had. They were as much a mystery as ever – in fact, I think Burgh and I knew more about them than anyone else. The police had made no mention of Gorm, for example, and had even gone so far as to say that they had had no success in identifying potential ringleaders.
“Nothing, right?” asked Cheren, joining me. There were grass stains on his hands; I guessed he'd been up early, training Lelouch and Justine.
“Nope,” I replied. “Nothing at all.”
I was about to click the TV off when Cheren's hand held me back.
“Wait,” he said. “Look.”
“...Harmonia is growing in some cities,” the newscaster said. “A concerted effort was launched yesterday by several organisations against the Pokémon League, pointing to figures concerning Pokémon and human welfare and calling for its immediate disbanding.”
“Harmonia's counter-attacking,” remarked Cheren, raising his eyebrows as the newscaster reeled off a list of supporting organisations. “Look at this! There must be fifty-odd groups there – some of them big ones. That's quite an attack force.”
I recognised some of the names myself, which was, if anything, a testament to how influential they were. Not much news penetrated the leafy walls of White Forest.
“Do you think the League will fall?” I asked tentatively.
“Not unless Harmonia comes into power,” he replied. “They're too old – too much a part of the country. But based on what Shauntal said, they've got less than twenty employees, not counting Gym Trainers – an attack this size is going to keep them occupied for a while.”
“Lenora's probably out of action, too,” I said, thinking of Hawes and feeling sad. “Poor woman... I hope Burgh managed to calm her down a bit.”
“Yes.” He sighed. “This just keeps getting better. We know nothing, Harmonia knows everything, and the world is getting steadily crazier. I—”
The window shattered and ragged skeins of black and blue flew past us, keening miserably. They hit the far wall, coalesced into a sorry-looking puddle and dripped onto the floor.
I was still staring, but Cheren was already on his feet, Lelouch and Justine before him; something looked a bit odd about Lelouch, but I was far from ready to waste time staring at him. I panicked for a moment, looked around wildly, and fell off the sofa.
“Pax,” said a horrible, familiar voice, and a silhouette appeared at the window: two triangles atop a series of circles, the unmistakeable outline of a cat. “I am not here to fight, but your watchdog is a little overzealous.”
I scrambled to my feet and looked at the puddle of shadow on the floor; I saw now that it was struggling weakly to rise into the air, and pockmarked with shreds of blue fire. Not an attack, then – it must have been Shauntal's Ghost.
A noise from the window drew my attention back over there again, and I turned to see a large, very obviously dead wildcat slinking through the gap, apparently unconcerned by the fact that it was missing its jaw. I saw little white things writhing in its fur, dripping from the hole in its face like odious, wriggling saliva, and tried very hard not to be sick.
Don't be scared, Lauren, I told myself, clamouring to be heard over the pounding of my heart. It's not here to hurt you. It said so just now. Just stay calm and listen for a moment.
I transferred my gaze to Cheren's Pokémon instead, focusing hard on them to avoid looking at the necrotic thing by the window. Lelouch was staring at it with the glassy-eyed implacability of a snake, and – was he longer than before? Actually, he seemed to be physically growing as I watched, getting longer by the moment. There seemed to be buds on his back, too – buds that I hadn't previously noticed.
Justine looked more lively; she shifted from foot to foot constantly, eyes flicking from Teiresias to Cheren and back again. Come on, she seemed to be saying. Come on, let me at him. I remembered that Purrloin didn't really like wildcats at the best of times; I imagined she must have felt even more animosity towards undead ones.
“What do you want?” asked Cheren. His voice was expressionless. If he was scared, he didn't show it; instinctively, I stepped behind him.
Teiresias tipped its sickening head on one side with an audible crack. As if from a great distance, I noticed that the TV was still on, the newscaster twittering about the recession.
“I am here to deliver a message,” it said. “From the King of all humans.”
“There's no such person.”
“There is,” replied Teiresias without emotion. “He is merely waiting for his birthright to be recognised.”
“Fine. Get on with your message and leave.”
“It is not for your ears,” said Teiresias, and I knew with a sudden horrible jolt what it was about to say, and I willed and willed it not to be so but still it said: “It is for White alone.”
Cheren looked at me.
“I'm not leaving her alone in here with you,” he said. “I'm not stupid.”
“I know,” replied Teiresias. “Your little stratagem in Striaton proved that much.” It twitched its tail, and the tip of it fell off. “But nevertheless, I must ask you to leave. The King's word is law.”
“I'll – I'll tell Cheren and Bianca what you say anyway,” I said, clutching desperately at straws. “There's no point in hiding it from them!”
“I know. But I have my instructions, and unless you wish to follow the example of that unfortunate creature, Cheren Perng” – here, Teiresias jerked its head in the direction of Shauntal's Ghost – “you will vacate this room. Now.”
There wasn't much you could say to that. Cheren squeezed my arm awkwardly and retreated to the door, which sprung open at his approach and slammed shut after he and his Pokémon had passed through. Before it closed, I caught a brief glimpse of worried faces on the other side; other people must have heard the crash of the window breaking, I realised. I hoped the audience would encourage Teiresias to keep its word and not attack – though even as I thought it I realised how futile a hope it was. It would do as it wanted; no human onlookers would ever make it change its mind.
“Now we can talk,” it said. “The King wants you to know that your challenge has been accepted. You will not be actively pursued by Harmonia's forces any longer – though if you interfere with the operations of those forces, the King cannot guarantee that they will not take steps to stop you.” It levelled blank white eyes at me. “Is that clear, White?”
I didn't know. Fear of Teiresias competed with a strange echo of the weird half-memories that had bubbled up within me yesterday, when I had spoken to N; part of me wanted to tell it that I had never made any challenge, and another part wanted to say that the challenge stood and I was glad the King had accepted it. In the end, I settled for a feeble sort of nod.
“Good.” Teiresias turned and stalked back towards the window. “Then we are done here. I'll see you again, I'm sure. But,” it added, pausing on the windowsill, “not as a messenger.”
With that, it was gone, and the door burst open and Cheren and some other people I didn't know rushed in, and I sat down on the sofa amid a buzzing storm of commotion and put my head in my hands, lost to the alien emotions swirling in my mind.
Neither Lenora nor Hawes met us at the Library – in fact, no one did: the place was closed. We knocked for a while, then waited, and then knocked some more – and finally, nearly twenty minutes later, one of the great doors inched open.
“What do you want?” asked the half-face visible through the gap. “Please, we're not open today—”
“Yeah, we kinda noticed that,” said Bianca. “Can you let us in, please? We really need to do some research.”
“Well, we need to clear up our ruined hall, restore a priceless fossilised skeleton and somehow sort out the mess that our director has left us in. Now, go away and leave us alone.”
“Really, we can't afford the delay,” Cheren said. “This is vitally important—”
“Yes, I'm sure it is,” replied the librarian. “And so is this. We're closed, kids.”
The door clunked shut, and we looked at each other. Candy huddled close to my neck, sensing the tension in the air; she seemed to be feeling timid today – probably as a result of Halley's attack on her the night before.
“Unbelievable,” muttered Cheren. “Didn't anyone leave any instructions behind about us?”
“Evidently not,” said Halley. “What, you thought you were someone special just because you saved the director's life? Nah. You're still an annoying customer.”
Cheren glared at her.
“Do you remember the walk I took yesterday evening? About seven o'clock?”
“I stopped at a pet shop,” he said vindictively, and took out a red leather collar from his pocket.
“You know, that statue over there looks fascinating,” said Halley, sauntering away with exaggerated nonchalance. “Think I might take a closer look.”
“Yeah, I thought so.”
I watched with a small smile. It was nice to see Halley deflated every once in a while; it was good for her ego, kept it from swelling too much. Better she had a more modest sense of self-worth than that she got herself into trouble over it one day.
Cheren put the collar away and returned his gaze to us.
“Well,” he said. “Shall we try again?”
“Sure,” replied Bianca. “We don't really have a choice, right?”
He knocked again; the door slid open a crack; the face reappeared.
“Look,” he said peevishly. “We really are very busy here. We don't have time for you lot – even if we were open, we can't spare any staff whatsoever.”
“We don't need your staff,” replied Cheren patiently. “We just need books.”
The man on the other side of the door sighed.
“No,” he said. “Not my decision, anyway. We're closed.”
“Will you open up for this?” asked a familiar voice behind us. I turned to see Niamh there, the green-haired monster-slayer from Striaton – and in her hands a basketball-sized sphere of pure black stone.
Someone said something. I saw Niamh's lips move, but no sound came out; the world had turned to treacle around me, trickling slowly away from my perception, thick and pale, centred on a dark circle right before my eyes: the black orb, gleaming like an eye staring back at me—
I was the lightning.
I flung myself across the sky, half gliding, half surfing the lightning bolts that converged on my tail, powering my endless onwards flight; the storm raged above and below, clouds of rain in the sky and of fire on the ground.
She was here, my sister, my brother, my twin, and she was waiting.
I hovered, claps of thunder buoying up my wings; in the hollow in my back, I felt myself shifting, tugging, and my head snapped from right to left, my gaze taking in a great swathe of the horizon. The ground boiled and burned with the touch of my sight; the I who was I now lacked the skill of my former selves, did not know how to contain my strength – and the fission had damaged the restraints, too.
Flying up out of the flames beneath me, wings back and tail blazing, she met me in a whirl of feathers and fangs; I bit deep into her neck, lightning cracking out across her body from mine, searing her feathers as her fires scorched my scales, and now we were both falling, flying, up and down at once, the storm howling around us like a living thing, like the body we both once were, and miles away cities fell and towns were pounded to dust...
“What is it?” I mumbled. “Where is she – he?”
“Her,” I replied. “Him.”
“Enough of that sh*t.” The voice seemed to be rapidly losing its sympathetic tones. “I know how to deal with this...”
I felt four small sharp somethings dig into my cheek, and started fully awake with a jolt.
Halley grinned at me from atop my chest.
“You can thank me later,” she said. “F*cking professional, that's me.”
“What – where are we?” I asked, trying to sit up and failing; Halley seemed like far too great a weight right now. I felt like I'd shrunk, like I was tiny; I could barely lift my own arms like this, let alone a large cat.
“Hospital,” she replied. “You've been unconscious for seven hours.”
With a huge effort born of shock and desperation, I sat upright, knocking her from her perch – to find myself lying on a sofa, surrounded by bookshelves.
“This... isn't the hospital,” I said, puzzled.
“I know. I lied.”
“You honestly don't know?”
I shook my head.
“In which case, never mind. The point is, Niamh brought back some stolen exhibit, and then you fainted, and as a combination of all that they said we could come in and do some research. That's the grossly simplified version, of course – but hey. History's complicated, and there ain't space in the books to write it all.”
“Is Niamh still here?”
“No, she left. She had something important to do.”
“Did she say what that... thing... was?”
“The big stone ball? Nope. The librarian seemed to know, though; he took it and scuttled off like a scarab beetle with a ball of sh*t.”
“Sorry,” she said, wholly unapologetically. “Anyway. I said I'd watch you; Cheren and Bianca are doing some research across the room.”
I looked up, and realised that we were in some kind of small reading room, detached from the main body of the building; it was strewn with desks, comfortable chairs and green-shaded reading lamps, and seemed in all a pretty nice place. I couldn't see the others, but I assumed they were on the other side of one of the bookcases.
“They weren't worried enough about me to watch themselves?”
“No sense wasting more than one set of eyes,” Halley pointed out. “Candy's watching you too. Uh... Somewhere.” She looked around. “OK, I guess she got bored and wandered off. Huh. There's glory for you.”
“It's a quote. Anyway, what was all that about him and her? You were muttering stuff when you woke up.”
I frowned again.
“I... don't remember,” I said, suddenly feeling very lost. Something had deserted me, I thought; something I needed to remember if I was going to get anywhere with this mystery...
I shook my head in frustration. This was getting silly. Yesterday, with N, and earlier today, after Teiresias left, and now, with this orb – these strange feelings were coming more and more frequently, and they were starting to scare me. In fact, they'd been scaring me since they started – but now, as they became more common, they were a source of increasing concern. Something was wrong – something only N and I could sense. Something was happening, something connected with me and my other self, the enigmatic Jared Black – and it seemed that, despite my centrality to the whole issue, no one would or could tell me what it was.
“Lauren! You're awake!”
I turned to see Bianca coming around a bookcase, Candy on her shoulder. At the sight of me, the Archen squawked loudly and leaped into my arms; I stroked her head and told her to be quiet.
“Yes, I am,” I replied.
“And before you ask, she doesn't know how or why or anything about her fainting fit,” added Halley, stalking away across the parquet flooring. “Useless.”
“Are you OK?” asked Bianca, ignoring her.
“Yeah. Yeah, I'm fine.”
I swivelled around so I was sitting upright, then stood and stretched, Candy hopping out of my hands onto the arm of the sofa.
“Ah... a bit stiff,” I admitted. “Mostly fine.”
“Good,” replied Bianca, smiling warmly. “Just at the right moment.”
“Why?” I asked, suddenly excited. “Have you found something?”
She grinned happily.
“We think so,” she said. “Look!”
And she led me around the case to Cheren, who looked up from the notes he was making and pointed to a huge leather-bound book, yellowed with centuries of storage – and on the open pages of that book I saw the illustration he was pointing to, hand-drawn in browning ink by some long-dead scribe. It was a picture of a young man's face, looking out of the book as if he could somehow see me through the long years that separated us.
It was the face of the boy with the icy grey eyes.
It was, impossibly, the face of N.
Last edited by Cutlerine; 7th April 2013 at 6:03 PM.
Another brilliantly bizarre story from the mind of my favorite fanfic author. Would you please add me to the PM list?
I should've started reading this sooner, but school got in the way of my fanfic-reading time. Looks like I have plenty to catch up on.
this is a sig
Ah, back to Lauren again. I'm gone for a week, and already two chapters are up?! What is this witchcraft? (Or wizardry?)
Weirdly, I was reminded of Asterix and Obelix at this.“Uh... the wild boar terrine, please.”
I laughed so hard at that.At the time, it was more a seething mass of angry people with pointy sticks. Though that would describe most of the populated world at that point fairly well, as it happens,” he added.
I don't get this Dream World Jared/Lauren thing. Explain , please?
About the Black 2 / White 2 sequels, what are you going to do? Are you going to merge the two like the anime or what?
Superb chapter, keep up the brilliant work.
Last edited by TheDarkKnightFalls; 8th April 2013 at 9:15 AM.
That's all that I've explained so far in-story. More will come... eventually.
So, to summarise, I'm not sure what's going to happen after I finish Crack'd.
Oh my lord, I think you just became my favorite person on this forum.
Ah, Jared's days just seem to go too quickly. Either that or Lauren has very slow/content-filled days.
Also, is there a dominant side of the Jared/Lauren coin? Can they be seen as the original person in the original world with an alternate personality? Or are they just equal and both are equally real.
I still find it odd how the only person that majorly shifts is Jared/Lauren, not even N (though he's a main character, he's the other side of the black/white duo).
As for the rest - like everything else in Unova that changes, Jared/Lauren are just as real as each other. You could view them as one person, if you like, but future information won't support that viewpoint.
Thank you for your continued support!
* This really shouldn't surprise you. I quote a hell of a lot of things on a daily basis; all I need is the right context. There was one time, for instance, when I was employed by a magician in the Hindu Kush to defend his person against nocturnal assault; the djinni Manaar, in the guise of a gigantic panther, came stealing towards his balcony, whereupon I muttered "He whose sable arms, black as the night, did his purpose resemble" before braining him with a handy brick. Thus did I fulfil my charge, as well as, incidentally, composing the line one and a half thousand years before Shakespeare even thought of it.
Last edited by Cutlerine; 9th April 2013 at 7:26 PM.
*waves hands in the air* I'm still reading, I'm still loving it!
I'd like to drop a proper review when I get the chance, but I wanted to say that I'm at Chapter Fifteen at the moment and I'm really loving this fic. The plot keeps getting thicker and thicker, and that alone is seriously pulling me in and keeping me hooked! I also love the characters - I really enjoy Lauren, Jared's always fun. Halley's got a smart mouth, I love your portrayals of Cheren and Bianca, Smythe is so utterly likeable and every glimpse into his past is entrancing, and Niamh is wonderfully badass. And I'm really loving all the demons and baddies and things.
I think one of my favourite things is just your writing style. It flows so well, and you weave in jokes and backstory and clever little things so effortlessly that it's a real pleasure to read. (I especially enjoy doing so on my iPod Touch while eating or sitting on a couch. Just a shame it's so hard to do any copy-pasting and reviewing quickly/efficiently this way, le sigh.)
Sooooo this is pretty much just a praise-post. And a long-due response to your last response that time I actually posted a review ages ago.
Spoiler:- SPACE SAVING POWERS, ACTIVATE:
Spoiler:- I have space-saving powers too!:
Anyway. I'll draw this to a close with one last haiku:
So, I had three hens
Then had five chicken dinners
Now: negative birds.
Thank you sincerely for reading and taking the time to review. I'm much obliged to you for your dedication.
Last edited by Cutlerine; 10th April 2013 at 11:23 PM.
Ooh, I know the answer. Jasper stole Team Galactic's velour for an armchair because he missed the ambassador's lunch which would have had a divine lobster terrine. [Yay for long sentence!]I have no idea if anyone's noticed, but there's at least one terrine in each of my three main stories. Usually a lobster one.
Am I right or am I right?
Don't know the answer to the other one
Is InGen the one fromJurassic Park? Because I think so. They both have cloned ancient reptilian thingies from ancient DNA and used other creatures' DNA to fill the gaps.
You know what should happen? Salazar / Cyrano should show up and show Teiresias who's boss. Also I named my shiny Garchomp after Cyrano.
If you read Trip carefully, you can work out that her Garchomp's name really is Salazar, though she calls him Cyrano in public, presumably because she'd be embarrassed to call him Salazar. Although if you have a Garchomp, I'd argue that no one's likely to laugh at you for naming it Salazar. No one who wants to remain outside their vital organs, anyway.