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

  1. #151
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    Chapter Twenty-Six: From Nimbasa With Love

    Niamh opened her eyes.

    Then, because they were about a mile above the open ocean, she closed them again.

    The wind swelled in her ears, a harsh, keening roar like lions in pain; the air stung her face, cold and wet and moving at such unbelievable speed that she thought it must be going straight through her, that it had torn thousands of tiny holes through her body and passed through to the other side—

    And then everything stopped.

    Fleisweg,” said Ezra tiredly. “All right, Niamh. We made it.”

    She opened her eyes. They were back on the dark path again; Ezra was human-shaped once more, and the sleeve of his coat was bloody.

    “Are you—?”

    “I'm fine,” he interrupted. “He bit me. No more.” He closed his eyes; they seemed to have sunk half an inch into their sockets, and dark shadows rimed them like frost. “We were lucky,” he said at length. “It seems we floated into an exit.”

    “An exit in the sky?” asked Niamh.

    “Yes,” he replied. “Somewhere north of Cuba, I think. I suppose no one's found it yet.”

    “Where – was that the space between the paths?”

    “Yes. Total nothingness. If we had spent much longer there, we would have been... altered. Perhaps we already have been,” he posited. “Though I confess we look the same at least.”

    He opened his eyes with a sigh.

    “Right,” said Ezra. “Come on; we'd better get moving. I don't know exactly where we are, but the ghuls will find us soon.”

    “Yeah,” she said, getting to her feet. “About them. What are they, exactly?”

    Ezra looked back over his shoulder, but did not slow his pace.

    “The curses,” he said. “You know we can manipulate flesh – guide it into new shapes?”

    “Yes...?”

    “If you are strong enough, you can manipulate the essence of demons, too; transform yourself or others literally. And if you are very, very strong, you could do it on several levels, and craft three interwoven forms for each creature.” Ezra paused. “Weland,” he said at length, “is that strong.”

    “Jesus.” Niamh shook her head. “Is that where the bulk of his powers are? Changing, er, life forms? Because, well, the fetches, the ghuls – he's always sent twisted things after us.”

    “Very perceptive of you.” Ezra nodded. “Though it's less a matter of Weland being skilled at corruption than of him being corruption. He is the wellspring of all Unovan demons; a fount of taint, of malice, of change, that takes in matter and spits it out in a different shape.”

    “We're not fighting a person here, are we?” asked Niamh, feeling a little uneasy. (It says much about her that this was the first time she had felt uneasy about killing Weland.) “It's more like... a force of nature.”

    “That is exactly what he is,” agreed Ezra. “He existed long before he was Weland, as a sort of shadowy primordial ooze; he has birthed countless monsters. Some of the things you have killed in the past are probably his older children, things that he spawned in the distant past before he attained sentience and which have bred and evolved on in the darker corners of the world. Then, somewhere along the line, he became a person, created the first demons and built himself a city of tombs.”

    “Well, how the hell do we kill him, then?” asked Niamh, not unreasonably.

    “Let me worry about that,” said Ezra. “You just have to get me into his throne room.” He stopped walking. “For now, though, don't even worry about that. It's time to find a way into that warehouse.”

    And Driftveil popped into existence all around them, like an especially impressive conjurer's trick; and an ice-cream truck came around the corner and crashed straight into Ezra.

    ---

    “Lauren,” whispered Halley. “What exactly did you do to the poor bastard?”

    “I showed him who I am,” I replied quietly. “Both of me.”

    We were sitting in a small café that Cheren had spent some time in the day before, sheltering from the rain while waiting for Bianca and me; the table was liberally covered in half-drunk cups of tea and untouched cinnamon biscuits, and Bianca's dad was slowly dropping sugar cube after sugar cube into his coffee, stirring them in without actually noticing what he was doing.

    “I really – I just don't know what to say,” he said.

    “Take your time, Dad,” Bianca told him, touching his arm. “It's... weird.”

    “But I,” he began, then stopped and shook his head. “Already. You've done so much already. Demons. Guns. Mutant cats.”

    Cats, I thought. They're everywhere: Sytec, Halley, Teiresias...

    “How can I— no, that isn't it.” He frowned.

    “Take your time,” repeated Bianca.

    “It's just...” He sighed. “All right. Lauren, I'd like to ask you a question.”

    “Yes?”

    “Is it more safe for my daughter to be with you or to be at home?”

    I thought of Cheren, and Jared; of Munny, Justine and Lelouch; of Harmonia, N and Teiresias. I thought of Weland.

    “I think,” I said slowly, “that she'll almost definitely be safer here with us. Alone, she's too exposed, and there's no guarantee that someone won't come after her.” I hesitated. “I'm sorry for dragging her into all this,” I told him. “For dragging everyone into this. I shouldn't have.”

    “Don't be stupid,” replied Cheren. “You couldn't avoid it. We ran into each other; it was like fate.”

    I wouldn't have been surprised if it had been. Random chance seemed to be disappearing rapidly from my world; all events appeared to have a purpose, and no meetings were coincidences. It felt a bit like being a pinball bounced around a cosmic table.

    “It does seem that way,” said Bianca's father. “I – all right.” He straightened up and took a deep breath, smoothing his hair back into place. “Right. I have no idea what I'll say to your mother, Bianca, but I'm – I believe what you say, Lauren.”

    “Thank you,” I said, looking him in the eye; he flinched away from my gaze. That hurt, but I hid it and went on: “I promise we'll all do whatever we can to keep Bianca safe.”

    “Yes,” agreed Cheren. “We will.”

    Bianca's dad nodded.

    “All right,” he said. “I know you will.”

    Bianca hugged him tightly, and he walked us back to the Pokémon Centre, where he kissed Bianca goodbye and made her promise him not to take unnecessary risks. Then he walked away into the drizzle, and was gone.

    “Thank you,” said Bianca, hugging me as well. “I knew you could do it.”

    “Oh,” I said, blushing, “I think it was Halley, when she said—”

    “Nope,” she interrupted. “We all saw it, Lauren. You were sort of – you looked...” She trailed off. “Cheren, you're good at describing things. What did she look like?”

    Cheren considered for a moment.

    “Legendary,” he concluded. “You looked like a figure out of the mythic past. In that moment,” he said, “anyone who looked at you knew that there really was an Aspertia Dragon, and that it was slain by Eodred Blodtoeth, or that there was a Medusa to be killed by Perseus. They saw how it is that humans can kill unconquerable monsters, or build a city from nothing and rise to be crowned kings.”

    There was a short silence.

    “Yeah, that'll do,” said Bianca, slightly awed. “That was good, Cheren.”

    “Yeah,” I agreed. “And, well, it probably wasn't quite like that—”

    “No,” said Bianca. “It definitely was.”

    I wasn't sure what to say to that, so settled for, “Um,” and went inside. It was still raining, after all.

    “Oh,” I said, on our way back up to Cheren's room (since the living-room was too risky, it was our main meeting place now), “I looked up all the stuff that N told me about, by the way.”

    “And?” asked Cheren.

    I told them the story of the cat and the spider, and of how the Archdevil came to be; while they agreed that these were interesting, nothing, they said, actually told us what to do next.

    “I mean, where do we go from here?” asked Cheren. “Are you sure he didn't drop any other hints?”

    “Yes,” I replied. “No, I mean – well, but—”

    “Spit it out,” said Halley, exasperated. “And will someone please open this door?”

    I pushed open the door and we filed through into Cheren's room.

    “Reading the stories reminded me,” I said, “Weland's tomb-city is always described as filled with mountains of gold and jewels, right? In fact, that's why there are so many stories about thieves trying to get in to steal them. And there's something in 'The Robber Prince' about the wealth of the underworld being his.”

    “'He dwelleth under the earth, and the riches of the world beneath are rendered unto him as the tithes of subjects to their lord',” quoted Bianca.

    I stared at her.

    “Um... yes, that's it,” I said, surprised.

    “I had to declaim that one for Unovan Studies last year,” she said sheepishly.

    “I remember that,” said Cheren. “You forgot the part where Ulnere gets the key to the tomb-city gates, and so no one could figure out what you meant when you got to the bit where he breaks in.”

    She winced.

    “Did you have to remind me?”

    “Oh. Um, but you were very good, though,” added Cheren belatedly.

    I hid a smile and said:

    “OK. Well, if gold keeps mysteriously appearing in Harmonia's warehouse, where do you think it comes from and who puts it there?”

    There was silence.

    “Whoa,” said Halley, at length. “A salient observation from Lauren. Hold onto your f*cking hats, kids, because the rules just went out the window.”

    “You're right,” said Cheren, ignoring her. “Of course... It has to be the demons. They're financing him.” He frowned. “Do you think that's it? That that's all they're doing – just giving him money and protection?”

    I shook my head.

    “No. Weland has a plan – N said he'd betray Harmonia once they were done.”

    “Ah!” cried Halley suddenly. “I know!”

    We stared at her.

    “What?”

    “Why hasn't Weland killed you all already?” she asked. “Why has he been stuck underground all this time, if he enjoys killing people so much?”

    “Well,” I said. “The ése—”

    “Let's assume for a moment that the ése aren't real,” she said scathingly. “What else?”

    I thought.

    “Um... the druids?”

    Exactly.” Halley jumped onto the bed. “I know they're weak now, but back in the days when all these other legends were happening, I bet they were stronger – they'd have to be. So Weland has stayed down there because he doesn't want to get all his minions killed – and who can blame him? But it gives Harmonia something to promise him, doesn't it?”

    “I get it!” cried Bianca. “Harmonia achieves power and dissolves the Gorsedd, then Weland can come back to the surface!”

    “Ah! And maybe the Pokémon Liberation policy is the same sort of thing,” suggested Cheren. “If there was no League and no Gorsedd, the only thing in Weland's way would be the army, and there's not a lot they can do to demons. So with one or both of them gone, Weland's path is almost entirely clear.”

    “But it won't be, will it?” I asked, seeing it clearly now. “Harmonia's going to dissolve the League and tell Weland he can come up to the surface, but then have the High Gorsedd ready with some kind of banishing spell.”

    “And he'll come up to the surface—”

    “To get a fistful of mistletoe to the face, and sink back down to hell,” said Halley grimly. “That's what Harmonia wants, obviously. But you said N told you that Weland was going to betray Harmonia too – and come on, we should have seen that coming. The guy predates the f*cking wheel; he's seen more tricks than you've taken breaths.”

    “What would he be planning to do, then?” wondered Bianca. “I mean, what would he do to Harmonia?”

    “Kill him, probably,” theorised Cheren. “And I expect Harmonia suspects it; he's no slouch himself, and he must know it's risky to make deals with the King of the demons.”

    “How would killing him help?”

    “I believe dead bodies don't necessarily have to stop moving, where demons are involved,” said Cheren. “A puppet Prime Minister could weaken the Gorsedd and pave the way for a full-scale demon rising.”

    There was a silence.

    “I really don't know which one of them I'd prefer to win,” said Bianca.

    “Hopefully, neither,” I replied.

    “Emphasis on hopefully,” sighed Halley. “Anyway. Cheren's idea is only a theory. All of this is only theory, come to that. The question remains: what are we doing next?”

    “Driftveil,” I said without hesitation.

    Everyone stared at me.

    “Why?” asked Cheren.

    “Oh,” I said. “Well, we don't have any leads, do we? The only thing we can do is try and investigate the warehouse.”

    “But where will that get us?” asked Cheren. “Is there anything there?”

    “We won't know if we don't try,” I replied. “And there really doesn't seem to me to be anything else we can do, anyway.”

    Bianca looked at him.

    “She has a point,” she said. “What else can we do?”

    “I suppose there isn't anything,” sighed Cheren. “Hm. It just feels... off, somehow.” He shrugged. “Never mind. You're the one with the mysterious sense for fate, Lauren. I'll trust your instincts.”

    I took a step back.

    “Ah!” I cried. “Wait – I mean, I'm not exactly – I might not be—”

    “Shut the f*ck up,” said Halley tiredly. “Believe in yourself. For God's sake, you made a complete stranger believe in you just forty minutes ago. So much so, in fact, that he laid aside all his fear for his own daughter's safety for you. If he can trust you that much, you should bloody well be able to trust yourself that much too.”

    “Sorry,” I said inadequately.

    Halley rolled her eyes.

    “And she apologises again. Jesus Christ.”

    “Enough,” snapped Cheren. “Please. Enough of that.”

    “Right,” said Bianca. “I'd, um, better start putting my stuff away.”

    “OK,” said Cheren. “Me too.”

    I looked around. His room looked as if not only did it not currently have an occupant, but it hadn't had one for the past seventeen years. It was more than spotless; it had the appearance of something that has just come off a factory line, and is currently being shrink-wrapped for freshness during the journey to the supermarket.

    “OK,” I said. “Well, shall we meet up in the lobby in half an hour?”

    Cheren glanced at Bianca.

    “Better make it forty minutes,” he said.

    “I'll be done in half an hour!” she protested.

    He raised his eyebrows.

    “Really, I will.”

    “All right,” he said. “Half an hour it is.”

    Forty minutes later, we were about ready to brave the rain once again; it had died down to a soft drizzle now, but it was so cold it seemed it must have a grudge against us, and we were all very glad when our bus arrived. I kept Bianca's hat on, hid my face beneath N's umbrella, and forced Candy to hide inside my jacket; it seemed to do the trick, because no one challenged me, and we made it onto the one seventeen to Driftveil without further incident.

    Half an hour into the journey, Cheren, who was doing something on his phone, grunted in surprise.

    “Look at this,” he said, handing the phone over. It was turned to the New Unovan website, Cheren's preferred news medium, and the article onscreen began with the words 'Riots broke out earlier today in Driftveil' and didn't get much better.

    “Oh no,” I said softly, reading on. “'Plasma'? Again? It's the same people...”

    “Those Seven Sages people,” said Cheren. “Yes. I suspected it before, but now it seems certain that they're connected to the Green Party – they've got the whole warehouse blocked off. It looks like they're attacking it, but they're not doing anything; it seems to me they're just there as an excuse to stop people getting in. Which is oddly convenient for the Party, considering we were just on our way there. Perhaps they know that we don't have enough information to go anywhere else.”

    “What? Let me see,” said Bianca, and I handed her the phone. “That's not good,” she said unnecessarily, reading it.

    “I know,” replied Cheren. “This might prove tricky.” He took the phone back. “I don't know how we—“

    The train stopped.

    A murmur of confusion ran through the carriage. I looked out of the window, and saw the Route 5 motorway to the left; through the other window, there was nothing but the dense forest of the Unovan countryside.

    “Why have we stopped?” I wondered aloud. “What's happened?”

    “Excuse me,” said the guard over the PA system. “Excuse me. The Driftveil Drawbridge has been, er, unexpectedly raised. Please bear with us while we try and find out what's going on.”
    There was another murmur – the drawbridge raised, now? Trains using the bridge and ships needing to pass up the Valroy Channel to Driftveil were timed so that they didn't clash – even I knew that, and I knew almost nothing about anything that wasn't in White Forest.

    Candy popped her head out of my jacket at the sound, but I pushed her back in.

    “Candy! Stay!”

    “This is odd.” Cheren frowned. “Do you think it's related to the riots?”

    “Maybe.”

    Halley looked like she wanted to say something, but the carriage was quite full, and so she had to keep pretending she was a normal cat.

    “I don't know,” I said. “Look, I'm sure—”

    “It seems all entrances to Driftveil have been closed,” said the guard. “In light of ongoing riots in the Colster district, the Mayor has ordered that the city be isolated to prevent a repeat of the escapes in Nacrene while police and security forces try and disperse them. Um. Uh, please hang on a bit.”

    Poor guard, I thought. He sounded flustered; doubtless this wasn't what he'd been expecting when he got up this morning. The poor man probably wanted nothing more than for this problem to go away, just like everyone else, and I expected the passengers were going to blame him for it – in cases like this, I thought sadly, the messenger gets shot for the news. Yes, there it was now: I could hear raised voices in the carriage ahead of ours, where the guard was. I longed to go and tell whoever was bothering him that it wasn't his fault, that we were all stuck here because of the Plasma rioters, not the guard, but I couldn't seem to find the courage.

    “Do you think they're emptying the warehouse while these people stop people getting to it?” asked Bianca. “I mean, the fact that it seems like they're deliberately stopping us getting in kind of implies that there's something to find in there...”

    Cheren paused.

    “You're right,” he said, surprised. “If I were them, that's exactly what I would be doing... If we were there right now, I expect we'd find another of those damn Sages in there, overseeing some kind of evacuation.” He bit his lip. “We need a way in there.”

    “Right.” It was the guard again. “We'll be returning to Gear Station as soon as the trains behind us move. Thank you for your patience.”

    “Returning to Gear Station?” cried Bianca. “We can't do that!”

    Most of the passengers in the carriage agreed with her about that, judging by the noise they made.

    “No, we can't,” agreed Cheren. “We have to get over the Channel somehow.”

    “Excuse me,” said the man sitting across the aisle from us. “I couldn't help overhearing that. You're Trainers, yes?”

    “Yes,” replied Cheren, guardedly.

    “Then you should know that there's another way across the Channel to Driftveil,” he told us. “It's an old Trainer Trail that – well, it's not used much any more, because the new one comes out at the bridge and that's more convenient – but it's not too overgrown.”

    Cheren snapped his fingers, and recognition flickered in his eyes.

    “Trail 0057?”

    “That's the one,” said the man. “I was thinking of getting off here and taking it myself, but I don't have Pokémon myself—”

    “Say no more,” cut in Bianca. “We'll take you. Won't we, guys?”

    I looked at her. I could see why her father had been concerned; we had no idea who this man was. He could have been a murderer, a rapist, a lunatic intent on guiding us to our doom in the middle of the woods – and yet, on the basis that he'd reminded Cheren of another way to Driftveil, she was willing to trust him completely.

    Shifting my gaze to the man, I studied him. Nothing about him told me that anything was amiss, but then again, I knew I was woefully inexperienced in the ways of the world. He was tall and broad, and moderately young – I would have placed him as in his late twenties, which was old enough for his face and young enough to justify his flamboyant shock of two-tone dyed-red hair. He was dressed soberly in a white T-shirt and loose-fitting, pale trousers; there was a kind of weathered look about him that made me think of rocks half-sunk in sand in lonely deserts, and I thought that he'd either suffered from bad acne as a teenager or spent a lot of time outdoors in bad weather. There might have been some kind of mark or scar on his lower cheek, too, but I couldn't be sure; it was hidden beneath his stubble – a commodity he had in abundance.

    I glanced at Cheren.

    “What do you think?” I asked.

    “I think we'll be OK,” he replied, fixing those piercing eyes of his on the stranger. He would be looking right through him, I thought; if anyone could find anything suspicious about him, it would be Cheren. He could see right into your soul, I thought with a shiver.

    “Look, if there's a problem, then that's fine,” said the man. “But I'm just trying to get to Driftveil, all right? Got to get to my niece's birthday party.” He indicated the solid-looking, badly-wrapped parcel on his lap. “I know it must seem weird and probably suspicious, but that's all there is to it.”

    “He's telling the truth,” Cheren told us quietly, taking his eyes off him. I glanced at the stranger and fancied I could see scorch marks where Cheren's stare had touched him. “Definitely the truth.”

    The man looked interested.

    “That's quite a pair of eyes you've got on you,” he said. “Anyway. What do you say?”

    “We'll do it,” Cheren told him. “Come on, then. We'll have to convince the guard to open the doors for us.”

    “Cheers,” replied the man, as we all got to our feet. I could feel the eyes of the whole carriage on us; it made me a little uncomfortable (actually, a lot uncomfortable), but I resolved to put up with it. I was a hero, I told myself, but the words rang hollow; I didn't believe myself at all.

    It took less than a minute to find the guard and considerably longer to persuade him that it would be all right to open the doors, but at length it was done, and we stood on the scrubby land by the tracks. Just ahead of us, the forest rose up in a dark, dense wall; behind us, the train formed an impassable barrier between us and the motorway. The rain had more or less gone, or perhaps it was confined to Nimbasa, and the sun was even making a weak effort to shine.

    “That's better,” said the stranger, hefting his parcel. “Bit of fresh air's always preferable to the train. I wouldn't have taken it if I didn't have to get there by five...” He checked his watch. “Should make it,” he said. “Just about.”

    “Excuse me,” said Cheren. “You never actually said – what's your name?”

    The man looked surprised.

    “Oh, didn't I say? 'Scuse me.” He held out a large, calloused hand to be shaken. “Pleased to meetcher,” he said. “Name's Alder.”
    Last edited by Cutlerine; 24th June 2013 at 1:04 PM.

  2. #152
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    Judging by the cliffhanger, this isn't a case of someone we know with the same name like Caitlin.

    Strangely convenient but fate demands that events happen, blockades or no.

    You have an instance where "Past" is spelled as "pat" I think you wrote, "distant pat"

    Looking forward to a new chapter.

    Oh, I've decided that guul will be pronounced like Ghoul.


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

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

  3. #153
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    Quote Originally Posted by Azurus View Post
    Judging by the cliffhanger, this isn't a case of someone we know with the same name like Caitlin.

    Strangely convenient but fate demands that events happen, blockades or no.

    You have an instance where "Past" is spelled as "pat" I think you wrote, "distant pat"
    So I did. Thanks for pointing that out, and thank you for your continued interest.

    F.A.B.

  4. #154
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    Chapter Twenty-Seven: Into the Dark

    “Alder,” repeated Cheren. “Pleased to meet you. I'm Cheren.”

    “Bianca.”

    “Lauren,” I said, timidly; Alder was an overwhelming kind of man, and without my distrust of him my shyness had free reign over me.

    “And who's this?” he asked, bending down and stroking Halley, who hissed and retreated hurriedly.

    “That's – um – my cat,” I said awkwardly. “Halley.”

    Alder gave me an ingenuous grin.

    “A Trainer who takes her cat around with her? I like that idea,” he said. “There's a movie in that, I think.” He laughed quietly to himself. “Anyway, how old are you all?”

    “Sixteen,” Bianca told him.

    “Same age as my niece,” he observed. “More or less, anyway. She'll be seventeen today. He looked off into the woods. “Well, then. Shall we?”

    “Yes,” replied Cheren. “By all means, let's get going. We'd like to get to Driftveil as soon as we can.”

    Alder set off between the trees at a brisk pace, swinging his arms with the vigorous pleasure of one who enjoys a good long walk in the woods, and we hurried to catch up.

    “If we keep going north,” he said cheerily, “we should run into the path. It runs parallel to the tracks and the motorway, for the most part. Until it gets closer to the coast, anyway.”

    “If you say so,” said Cheren. “It connects to that park just off Route 5, right?”

    “Bombast Acre, yeah,” he confirmed. “That's it.” He paused, casting about for a new topic. “Have you been Training long? I'm a bit out of touch – what age do you kids start these days?”

    “A little later than they used to,” answered Cheren. “We've been at it for three weeks – we're part of Professor Juniper's early test for the summer scheme.”

    “I see,” he said. “You're on your way to challenge Clay, then?”

    “Yes,” lied Cheren. “That's exactly what we're going to do.”

    “He's a good tactician,” mused Alder. “Business strategy and battle strategy – it's all the same to him. He has a sense for what his opponents will do next. You'll keep glancing ten steps ahead when you fight him, if you're sensible.”

    “I thought you weren't a Trainer?”

    “Not now I'm not,” he replied genially. “But I was once, and I knew Clay then. In fact,” he went on, “I knew them all – everyone who's a League member now, and half the major Trainers of Unova too.” He smiled meditatively.

    “You know Chili and his brothers are quitting now?” said Bianca.

    “I know, I heard.” Alder shook his heavy head. “Terrible, that. I feel so bad for them – such nice kids!” He sighed. “I heard Hugo Vance wants the slot, and he wants to have the new Gym in Virbank – but so does Roxie, and God knows where she'll want to put it.”

    “Roxie?” I asked, curiosity overcoming shyness. “Poison Jam Roxie?”

    Alder nodded.

    “That's her. Didn't you know? She's not just a musician, she's an excellent Trainer.”

    “She was on the Unovan Olympic team last year, wasn't she?” asked Cheren.

    “I think she was,” agreed Alder. “Yes, actually! She got to the quarter-final before she had to retire after that mess with that Valbiluze.”

    Even I remembered that, albeit vaguely; some American Pokémon had suffered an allergic reaction to something and burst its lightning sac. The resultant electrical storm had almost brought a halt to the Olympics and had badly burned a number of competing athletes; it had made news worldwide. I hadn't realised that our Roxie was there though – Roxie, of all people! Annie liked her music, I thought, and wished I hadn't remembered that.

    “Anyway,” Alder continued, “there isn't a single League outpost in the whole southwest, but I don't know where it's going to go. They'll be fighting over it tooth and claw. I don't know that Lenora will be staying on much longer either; she's been on leave since her husband got shot, and the rumour is that she might not be coming back.”

    “You're pretty well informed for someone who isn't a Trainer,” noted Cheren.

    Alder shrugged.

    “I keep abreast of the news. I could just as easily tell you about the train crash outside Anville last week, or the new nuclear reactor they're opening near Striaton. But Hugo Vance!” he cried, returning to the Gym Leadership question. “I hope he doesn't get it.”

    “Why not?” asked Bianca.

    “He's not a particularly nice man,” Cheren informed her. “He's been arrested three times on suspicion of rape but it's never come to anything.”

    “Despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary,” growled Alder. “Honestly! The state of Unova today... I like my country as much as the next man, but really, there are a hell of a lot of people who need to see the gallows. I'd say they should be cut open on the menhirs but they're too profane for the sun... Sorry,” he said, almost immediately. “I feel pretty strongly about all that... Anyway. You certainly seem to know your stuff, Cheren.”

    “It's only natural,” Cheren replied. “I'm aiming to be Champion, after all.”

    So there it was: his ambition, unveiled with such perfect casualness that it just had to be counterfeit. As I heard it, I knew at once that I should have known, of course; what else could drive Cheren on like that? There was no other ambition for such a talented Trainer; he would strive to become the strongest there was, and wouldn't rest until he'd achieved it all.

    “You are, are you? Well, you've got stiff competition there.”

    “I'll beat them,” said Cheren coolly. “I'm confident I'll get there.”

    Alder appraised him for a moment, then nodded slowly.

    “You're not lying,” he said. “So you're either monumentally arrogant or the real deal.” He laughed. “Here's hoping it's the latter. The League is about due for a change of leadership!”

    “Yes,” agreed Cheren. “You don't seem to be doing a good job as Champion.”

    Silence fell over us. As one, we stopped walking; Cheren's words fell into the space between us like stones into the dark.

    Alder, I thought. Alder, Alder... of course! I had never seen a picture of reigning Champion Alder Fenn, but this man shared his name, and knew everything about the League; he was obviously a wanderer, and Alder had been gone from his office for some time, apparently choosing to walk Unova rather than perform his duties.

    “Well now,” said Alder at last. “I can see where you're coming from there.”

    Cheren said nothing.

    “It's a hard path to walk, the Championship,” he went on. “You want to be the Champion, don't you? Well, so did I. And then I became Champion, and I had to wonder what happened next. I was the toughest: so what? What did it get me?

    “The Championship is an old role,” he said. “Traditionally, the most powerful warrior of the tribe became the leader of its forces. That's the origin of the thing. But now, it's changed. Being Champion is an administrative role that requires foresight, strategy, technical acumen – and yet the way to apply is still to beat the old Champion in single combat. To prove yourself the strongest warrior in the tribe.” He shook his head. “But the strongest warrior doesn't make the best Champion. And I was a good Trainer, but a bad Champion. I made mistakes, very fast – mistakes that cost lives, because when you're Champion mistakes are often counted in terms of lives. And I... I knew it couldn't go on. So I left.” Alder seemed old, all of a sudden; he sagged before us as if the weight of his years and his mistakes had come up on him all at once. My heart went out to him; no one, I thought, should have to bear as heavy a load as that alone. Was there no way I could shoulder a little of it for him? “The Elite Four do a better job without me than they did with me,” he admitted. “And until someone defeats them all – until someone appears who will be able to defeat me – I won't return. I just won't.”

    Cheren looked at him inscrutably.

    “Alder,” he said quietly. “Do you have any idea what's going on in Unova at the moment?”

    He looked puzzled.

    “What do you mean?”

    I took off Bianca's hat and let Candy out of my jacket; she'd gone to sleep in there, which spoiled the effect a little, but after a moment or two she woke up and climbed happily back onto my shoulder.

    “Me,” I said. “Do you recognise me?”

    He stared.

    “Lauren White,” he breathed. “From the news...”

    “Ghetsis Harmonia,” Cheren persisted. “The League. Weland, King of the demons. N, whoever in Córmi's hall he might be. Does any of that mean anything to you?”

    Alder looked from me to him in confusion and back again.

    “No,” he said. “Why? What do you mean?”

    “Shauntal and the others have been trying to contact you, you know,” replied Cheren. “They need your help. The League is in a bad way, and with the war it's fighting it needs every man it can get.”

    “War? What war—?”

    “I think we need to have a talk,” said Cheren. “But there's no time to stand still – we'll talk while moving.”

    Once again, I had to admire how he'd assumed control of the situation; it was all him, I thought, every time. Even when Rood had a gun to Bianca's head, or when Teiresias held the entire room in its iron grip, Cheren was still in control; I didn't think anything would ever take a situation out of his command. Not Alder, not Harmonia, not even really N – at the end of the day, when things started to get out of hand, I could always count on seeing Cheren there, calmly reducing the impossibilities into plausible theories, and arranging them into a pattern of his own design.

    We began to walk, and Cheren nodded encouragingly.

    “That's it,” he said. “Now. We may as well get the biggest shock over with, so Halley, if you'd like to demonstrate your sparkling wit for Alder...”

    ---

    “Are you sure you're all right?” Niamh asked again.

    She did not have much experience of being hit by speeding ice-cream van going at eighty miles per hour, but assumed that people did not generally survive such incidents, let alone get up moments later and announce that it was good to be back in the real world.

    “Yes, I'm certain,” replied Ezra wearily. “The van came off far worse, I assure you.”

    It had; it now resembled a cross between a badly-made accordion and a ball of crumpled wastepaper. Ezra was, it seemed, rather more solid than he appeared; the impact had knocked him over, yes, but it had also caused the truck to bounce off him like a pinball off a bumper, colliding heavily with a nearby building. Mercifully – not to mention miraculously – the driver had survived, and Niamh had dragged him from the cab and laid him out on the street before calling an ambulance. For nearly killing him, she reasoned, they owed him that much.

    They could stay no longer, however, on account of it being somewhat suspicious that they had been seen to appear from nowhere in the middle of the street and then hit without apparent ill effect by a speeding van, and had consequently had to make themselves scarce, leaving behind forever the mystery of why (and indeed how) an ice-cream man was driving so fast in a built-up area.

    Now they were heading steadily southwards through the knotty streets of the Wharf District; here, despite centuries of effort to minimise traffic congestion, the roads were so packed with trucks and pedestrians that it required extreme effort to get anywhere at all, let alone where you wanted to go. The industrial docks to the south occupied the entire southern half of the Driftveil coastline, and a substantial chunk of the coast of Welkan Island, too; the vast quantities of traffic they generated simply could not be contained by the ancient city, but the buildings were of such historic value that they could not all be bought up and flattened to make way for bigger roads.

    “If you're sure, then,” said Niamh, unable to shake the conviction that Ezra should have been more badly hurt; he looked like a man, after all, and she knew from experience just how easy to break most men were.

    “Don't let my appearance deceive you,” he replied, catching his wounded arm on a lamppost and rubbing it. “This is an illusion, remember? I can fool your sight and touch into believing I am human, or indeed anything else, but – well, you saw something close to my true self a little earlier. Not quite like it – the dark paths distort all vision, to an extent – but close.”

    “Right,” said Niamh, casually grinding an elbow into the throat of someone who had thought he could push past her. “Christ! These streets are awful.”

    “I know,” replied Ezra. “It's only two streets to the bridge at South Point, though; we're through the worst of it.”

    And indeed they were; pedestrian traffic dwindled as they approached South Point, the point where the mainland was closest to the shores of Welkan Island (or, as it was informally known, the Cold Storage, owing to the all-pervasive and wholly inexplicable chill that had lain over the island since time immemorial). There was simply little reason to be walking here; the bridge was, though it had pavements, mostly the preserve of the transport lorries that rumbled back and forth from the warehouses to the city and back again, carting loads of ore and lumber to the waiting ships and bringing consumer electronics back with them.

    “At last,” sighed Niamh, looking out over the channel to Welkan. “That was worse than the ghuls.”

    Ezra looked at her askance.

    “For you, perhaps,” he said. “I suppose it's all a matter of perspective.” He sighed. “That particular situation looked worse the more you knew about ghuls and the dark paths, I expect. I don't think I've told you about the Sleer, have I?”

    “The what?”

    “Conjoined twins,” he went on, as they walked out over the bridge. “Born in, oh, it must have been the first century. Celts, they were. They ended up falling from the dark paths, and didn't resurface for another three hundred years. When they did, it was in Rome; you might remember that as the Sack of Rome.”

    “I thought that was the Visigoths,” said Niamh, puzzled.

    “Well, old Alaric was keen to take the credit, of course,” replied Ezra. “And no one's really ever questioned it, because to most historians, the idea of a cosmic morass of evil destroying Rome seems a lot less plausible than the Visigoths.”

    “I see.”

    They walked on. The clouds were clearing, and the journey was almost pleasant; if it hadn't been for the stink and roar of the ever-present lorries, it might have been quite an enjoyable walk.

    At the other end of the bridge, they were stopped by a man who wore, of all things, a top hat and a cloak. Both Ezra and Niamh paused at this startling apparition; he looked so out of place before the backdrop of warehouses and labourers that they couldn't be entirely sure that he was really there at all.

    “Excuse me,” he said. “I have a message for you.”

    “Your disguise is out of date,” replied Ezra. “When was the last time you came topside?”

    The man harrumphed, and Niamh suddenly realised that he must be a demon. Her hand went for a weapon, but Ezra touched her arm; wait, he seemed to be saying, this creature poses no threat.

    “We confess that we might have made a strategic error in sending the ghuls to capture you,” the man went on. “The Guard have – er – underestimated your capacities.”

    Ezra inclined his head solemnly.

    “Most gracious of you to say so. Would you kindly get to the point?”

    “The message was to have been delivered from a position of overwhelming advantage,” the man said. “From which you would have had no alternative but to accept our proposal. However, it has since been decided that it would be more acceptable all round to send an emissary to meet you and pass on the message on equal terms.”

    “Yeah,” said Niamh. “Fine. Now do as Ezra asked, and get to the point.”

    Anger burnt across his face for a moment – evidently, he had never dreamed a mere human would talk to him like that – but soon enough the messenger had composed himself again.

    “Ahem. The message is as follows: we know who you are, Niamh Harper.”

    Niamh felt her pulse begin to quicken; if they knew who she was, they knew who was important to her, and if they knew who was important to her—

    “And we have, as a result of that, become aware that we have a strong position to bargain from.” The man looked at her frankly. “From the recent success of Ezra's efforts to retard Harmonia's activities, it has become clear that you are in some way important to his plans. Therefore, we offer you Portland Smythe in exchange for you ceasing your interference in the politics of the Shrouded Court. If you accept this offer, I am authorised to take you at once to Court, where you may pick up your Smythe and leave. Should you not accept the offer, we will take it as admission that you would not mind very much if we were to have him killed. ”

    For a long moment, there was no sound but the rumble of lorries and the swish of waves.

    Niamh looked at Ezra.

    “We made a deal,” she said, but her voice was thick and had none of her usual confidence.

    Ezra looked back at her. His eyes glowed faintly red.

    “The terms have changed,” he replied. “You must do what you think best.”

    “I believe in your cause, though...” Niamh looked away; she couldn't hold his gaze any longer. “Weland needs to die. Just like you said.”

    The messenger raised his eyebrows, but said nothing.

    “Don't worry,” said Ezra. “We demons are tricky creatures. I shall work this out somehow.”

    Niamh did not say anything. She wasn't sure what she could say.

    “Take your chances while you can,” said Ezra. “Even if we can no longer work together, I'm certain we will meet again – perhaps in the moth-eaten chantry of an ancient temple, or in the bowels of a skyscraper beset by monsters. Or give me a call sometime; we could always just drink coffee and talk.” He smiled, just a little. “Go on, Niamh. You have done enough to help me. The seeds of a marvellous victory have been sewn, and I will labour to make them full of growing.”

    Niamh closed her eyes. She had never felt this sort of conflict before, and hoped to Woden she never would again. It wrenched at her heart as if trying to tug it clean out of her breast, she felt sick too, violently sick; her whole body seemed to be rebelling against the decision she had to make.

    “Are you sure?” she whispered.

    “Absolutely,” replied Ezra. “Weland's fall is closer than you think. You have acquitted yourself nobly and I wish you all the best for the future.”

    Niamh opened her eyes again, and held Ezra's hand.

    “I owe you... a lot,” she said seriously. “Everything. For this. If you ever need anything – anything – you know where to find me.”

    Ezra nodded.

    “Thank you. But now, Niamh – go and get Portland Smythe back. And this time,” he added, with mock severity, “marry him while you have the chance.”

    And all at once Niamh Harper realised that that was what it had been, all this time; there was a reason the word 'friends' hadn't seemed quite enough to describe them and that was what it was. They were in love, she told herself in wonderment, and neither of them, terminally dysfunctional as they were, had ever noticed.

    “'Sraven,” she breathed. And then, more loudly: “Yeah. Thank you. And... Goodbye.”

    “Goodbye,” agreed Ezra. “For now.”

    Niamh Harper turned to the messenger, and looked him dead in his awful eyes.

    “Well then,” she said. “What the f*ck are you waiting for?”

    ---

    Alder received our story in stoic silence.

    “...to investigate the warehouse,” Cheren concluded.

    “I'm sure I did more for you all than that,” said Halley huffily, brooding over the small role she had been relegated to in Cheren's version of events. “But well, that's just Cheren, I guess. Little sh*t.”

    “Ark,” added Candy, who seemed to realise she had been excluded from everything for half a day now, and was determined to have her say in whatever matter came under discussion.

    “Anyway,” said Cheren. “The main importance of it all for you, Alder, is that without you to authorise things, the Elite Four have their hands tied. They can only do so much without you, and if they overstep their boundaries questions start getting asked.”

    Probing questions,” put in Bianca, with a significant look.

    “Er... yes,” agreed Cheren. “Probably. And in addition to that, Alder, there aren't many of them. A fifth pair of hands would be tremendously helpful. Not to mention the fact that the list of qualities you made a minute ago – foresight, strategy, acumen – are qualities that the best Trainers, and by extension you, have, and they're what the League needs now. Why do you think the old way of choosing a Champion is still abided by? To steer the League, you have to be a Trainer, and a brilliant Trainer at that. Natasha Brent in America, Steven Stone in Hoenn, Lars Öberg in Sweden – all Trainers first, not bureaucrats. And they've done better than any regular official.”

    “You made a mistake,” I said softly. “And people died. But that doesn't mean you're not good at what you do.”

    Alder looked at me. I'm not sure what he saw in my eyes, but he seemed to lose all his resolve when he saw it.

    “I think it means exactly that,” he replied. It was the first thing he had said since we began to tell the story. “I'm not good at it. My skills never translated across properly – I'm no Stone, no Buckley. I'm just a Trainer. But,” he went on, before we could protest, “I do see your point. And I believe your story. It's crazy as f*ck, but I believe it. And so when I get to my sister's house and give my niece her present, I'll call the League and ask them what they want me to do.”

    “Spoken like a man,” said Halley. “Or, well, like a... a manly person.” She frowned. “F*cking patriarchy. I can't find a decent expression. Anyway, the point is that I approve of people who say things like 'crazy as f*ck'. And your decision is a worthy one, too,” she added as an afterthought.

    Alder said nothing. I guess that was kind of hard to respond to.

    “Ark,” said Candy, seeing an opportunity to have her say.

    “It's the right thing to do,” Bianca told Alder.

    “Yeah, I know,” he sighed. “I know. I just don't feel it should be me to do it.”

    “No one else is going to do it,” said Cheren. “If you didn't want to be Champion, why didn't you abdicate?”

    Alder shrugged.

    “I guess I thought I might be good enough one day to come back again,” he said.

    “Maybe you are now,” I suggested.

    “Maybe,” he said. Then, a little more confidently: “Maybe.”

    Just then, I spotted a bundle of fallen palings in the grass.

    “Look,” I said. “We must be at the path.”

    “What are we looking at?” asked Bianca.

    “That,” I said, pointing. “Look. Part of a fence.”

    In the end, I had to go over and poke it before anyone else noticed it; there followed a flurry of activity during which we all tried to work out where the path had been before the undergrowth had reclaimed it, and eventually we set off in a (more or less) westerly direction, which would hopefully take us to the old route across the channel.

    The whole business of trying to remember how the old path seemed to have made Alder feel a little better, and he even whistled a little as he walked.

    “So,” said Bianca, to make conversation, “what have you got your niece?”

    “The complete works of H. P. Lovecraft,” he replied. “With illustrations by Jan Guntridge.”

    “I don't know who either of those people are,” I apologised.

    “Neither do I,” admitted Bianca, and we both looked inquiringly at Cheren.

    “Lovecraft was one of the greatest horror writers of the twentieth century,” he said. “Guntridge is a famous Nacrene horror painter. He did that installation at the Nova last month.”

    I had seen a photograph of that installation. It had given me nightmares.

    Bianca and I looked at Alder.

    “I have an odd niece,” he confided. “Last year it was Poe; I got her a tame raven.”

    “Oh,” said Bianca, “Hilbert has one of those, doesn't he, Cheren?”

    “Yes,” he agreed. “He does. It's the greediest bird I've ever met.”

    “She called him Edgar,” Alder went on, “and taught him to say 'Nevermore', but he isn't as Gothic as she would have liked; he watches too much TV and keeps repeating bits of news from months ago.”

    Ravens were not uncommon pets in Unova; the same went for pygmy hogs and Allfather's hounds, the big Unovan dogs that weren't really much more than (mostly) tame wolves. Ravens and wolves were Woden's beasts, after all, and keeping them was an act of devotion. As for hogs, boars had been a battle symbol in ancient Unova just as they had been across much of Northern Europe, and so pigs were an important part of our heritage. The army still maintained a cadre of Emboar, in the fortress at Lacunosa.

    “Your niece sounds... interesting,” I said.

    “She sounds like great company,” said Halley. “I don't remember the last time I had a long discussion with someone about the Ars Goetia.” She frowned. “Actually, on account of the amnesia, I'm having trouble remembering what the Ars Goetia even is.”

    “Ark,” said Candy, not to be left out.

    We walked on, talking first about that, and then about this; occasionally the conversation wandered back to the topic of the Harmonia affair and Alder's return to the League, and then it became more solemn – but it always veered away again, and brightened up.

    At about half past three, the distant pounding of the surf grew stronger and the forest abruptly gave way to a tortured-looking strip of stony beach. To our left, the drawbridge rose up like the horns of a gigantic goat, sticking straight up into the sky on either side of the channel, and an oily black tugboat was puttering contentedly along up the channel towards the northern Driftveil docks.

    “Ah,” said Alder. “Well. Here we are, then.”

    “How do we get across?” I asked.

    “We look for the tunnel mouth,” he said, glancing around the beach. “It should be around here somewhere... There's a cave network that goes beneath the channel, though it's flooded during the mornings, at high tide, and the people who made the Trail cut stairs to lead down into it.”

    We searched, and after a little while found them – a set of slimy, weed-strewn steps hewn from the living rock, descending into the dark beneath a barren crag projecting from the surf.

    “Hey, that looks inviting,” said Bianca.

    “Yep,” agreed Halley. “Just as inviting as a wet bed on a November evening.”

    “It's the only way across right now,” said Alder, glancing up at the raised bridge. “And it seems like you don't have much time, either.”

    “He's right,” said Cheren. “We have to get to the warehouse as soon as possible. And,” he added, “that means that we need to start thinking about how we're going to get in.”

    He started on his way down the steps.

    “Bianca, do you have the torch?” he asked, after he had gone halfway down the stairs and had completely vanished into the dark.

    Bianca shuffled her feet.

    “Um... I may have left it in the Striaton Centre,” she said. “I was really hoping I could get another one before you noticed, but, um, I haven't had a chance.”

    Cheren sighed.

    “I knew we should have brought a spare,” he said gloomily. “Lauren? Alder? I don't suppose either of you have a torch.”

    We shook our heads.

    “Right.” He thought for a moment. “Halley,” he said. “You're a cat.”

    “Why, yes I am, Cheren.” She grinned wickedly.

    “You have excellent low-level vision.”

    “That I do. I can also navigate using shifts in air currents that I detect with my whiskers, which is a damn sight more than any human can do, even with the biggest moustache in the world.”

    “You'll lead us through the tunnel, right?”

    Halley yawned.

    “Why,” she said. “I don't know, Cheren. That sounds like a lot of work to me. Don't you have a Purrloin? She can see in the dark.”

    “She's unreliable at the moment,” he replied. “She's close to evolution – look, Halley, don't argue. You have to get across the channel too.”

    “Ark,” agreed Candy, who wasn't certain what was being discussed but didn't trust Halley at all.

    “Come on,” I said, crouching before her. “Please, Halley.”

    She gave me a long look.

    “Since you ask so nicely,” she answered, turning away and stalking down the steps. “All right, Alder, what am I looking for?”

    “There are – er – arrows carved into the walls,” he said. “They used to glow in the dark, but after the Trail was disused they stopped repainting them.”

    “OK,” replied Halley, looking over her shoulder so that we could see the shiny green circles of her eyes in the dark. “Come on then, boys and girls. The tour bus is ready to depart.”

    Cheren glanced at me as I passed him.

    “Why does she do it when you ask?” he said quietly.

    I thought of that time in the forest, when Halley had told me I was doing great, and of earlier that day in the computer room, when she had rubbed her head against me.

    “I don't know,” I answered honestly, and we filed after her, down the slimy steps and into the dark.

    ---

    The prisoner heard something scraping on stone.

    He smelled something like old, old ink.

    He saw two great white eyes open in the dark.

    “Smythe,” said a voice like the slow crackle of skin on a desiccating corpse. “We need to talk.”

  5. #155
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    Well Alder certainly the ball dropped on him, I hope he prove to be useful.

    Ezra and Niamhe, at least they parted ways on good terms, the betrayal has yet to happen, which makes me wonder what this dessicated voice is going to make Smythe do.

    I wonder why noone post until I do. Anyway, another fantastic chapter, as always, and I look forward to the next instalment.


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

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

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    Quote Originally Posted by Azurus View Post
    Well Alder certainly the ball dropped on him, I hope he prove to be useful.
    I'm sure he'll have his uses.

    Quote Originally Posted by Azurus View Post
    Ezra and Niamhe, at least they parted ways on good terms, the betrayal has yet to happen, which makes me wonder what this dessicated voice is going to make Smythe do.
    That voice? Well. There's only one character in this story with a voice like that.

    Quote Originally Posted by Azurus View Post
    I wonder why noone post until I do. Anyway, another fantastic chapter, as always, and I look forward to the next instalment.
    I suppose not everyone feels the need to reply. I certainly don't expect them to if they don't feel like it; readers owe me nothing, after all, while I owe them a decent story at least. Anyway, thank you for reading and replying! I hope the story continues to amuse and entertain.

    F.A.B.

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    Wow, until you quoted me, I had no idea I mispelled everything that badly.

    Anyway, I know who's voice it is, but since you didn't address who it was, I wasn't going to spoil it for those who forgot.

    As someone who makes content for the internet as well, I feel a little depressed if noone comments on my stuff or acknowledges it's existence. But I can respect that people just may not want to comment but can still enjoy something. At least I can take solace in the fact my videos don't get dislikes, so that's something.

    Heh, the only way it'll stop to amuse and entertain is when it's over, but then it can just be read again.


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

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

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    Chapter Twenty-Eight: Twilight Zones and Catacombs

    In the middle of the afternoon, when the skies were clearing a little, a certain unnameable something crept out of the forest, its nose pressed close to the ground. The trail, it noted, was strong here.

    It meandered across the beach, the stones shifting under its claws as if trying to crawl away from it; it snuffled, and it hissed, and soon enough it found its way to an old set of weed-strewn stairs.

    The retriever growled a little, and stalked on into the bowels of the earth.

    ---

    “Oh, f*ck,” said Smythe. “It's you.”

    “It is me,” agreed Teiresias. “I have a proposition for you.”

    Smythe hesitated. He did not, he thought, have a whole lot to lose by hearing the demon out.

    “Go on,” he said. “What is it?”

    “Do you want to escape?” asked Teiresias.

    “Yes. Obviously.”

    “Good. I need a body to conceal myself in.”

    “Hey.” Smythe raised a hand. “Look, you didn't say anything about—”

    “I am saying it now.” Teiresias billowed slightly; Smythe could make out glints of light on the fringes of its cloudy body. “Thanks, ironically, to Weland, I will soon have returned to my former strength,” it went on. “At that point, I will not have to be concerned with the Shrouded Court unless the King himself comes to attack me. For now, however, I have to tread carefully. It was not easy for me to break in here, and now that I have I find I cannot leave the cells without being detected. I require a body to conceal my presence in.”

    “Then why the hell did you break in here in the first place?” asked Smythe, not unreasonably. He was beginning to realise that his fear of Teiresias had decreased in proportion to the length of time he spent in the tomb-city. Or, more accurately, he thought, he was still afraid of it, but he had spent so long in a palace of horrors that he was actually beginning to get bored of being scared.

    “It's the only way into the last bastion of the old world,” replied Teiresias enigmatically. “There is a buried passage from the Western Transept here that leads there. I have heard it said that it was to be the last defence of the throne; if the city fell, the survivors would have somewhere to flee.”

    “I have literally no idea what you're talking about,” said Smythe. “Do you want to clarify yourself?”

    Teiresias rumbled in displeasure, but Smythe held his ground; if it needed him, he reasoned, it wouldn't kill him – not yet, anyway. Thus, he could afford all the pugnacity he desired.

    “There is a fortress I need to enter,” Teiresias told him. “Most of which has long since collapsed. It is not accessible by the dark paths, and there are certain precautions in place against air approach. There is, however, a tunnel leading there from here. And to navigate it unnoticed, I need a living shell to shield my presence.” The blind eyes smouldered. “Possession is in my nature. When I dive deep, not even my brothers can find me.”

    “You have brothers?”

    “That is irrelevant.” There was a warning note in Teiresias' voice, and Smythe realised that while the demon needed him alive, it did not necessarily need him sane, or indeed in possession of a mind; this offer of a collaboration was, all things considered, rather generous.

    “Right. Of course.” Smythe swallowed. “Well, then. It looks like our interests, er, coincide. So I'd be willing to, you know, accept your offer.”

    “I thought you might say that.” The eyes seemed to expand, swelling like a corpse with the gases of decay, and Smythe realised that Teiresias was approaching. “It is time to sleep now,” it said, in that awful voice. “When you wake, things will be... different...”

    Smythe had thought that the darkness he had been imprisoned in was absolute. He was wrong: as Teiresias sank through his face, everything went even darker.

    ---

    “You know, this reminds me of something,” said Halley, “but for the life of me, I can't remember what.”

    “Amnesia does have that effect on people,” observed Cheren archly.

    I had no idea how long we had been walking through the gently dripping darkness, but it felt like forever and then a couple more centuries on top of that; here, with the stones themselves creaking under the weight of the channel and the weed clutching at my ankles, I felt like time had stolen away under cover of darkness and left us marching onwards through a blank, faceless eternity.

    At least, I felt that way when Halley stopped talking. And thankfully, she didn't often do that.

    “It does,” she said. “It really does. And, you know, there's this whole crazy—”

    Halley stopped. Not just talking, but walking; I know, because I almost tripped over her. Cheren bumped into me and Alder stumbled over a rock; Bianca almost fell over. The only one unaffected was Candy, who had long ago decided that night must have come very early today and had gone back to sleep inside my jacket.

    “Woden hang 'em,” cursed Alder, amid the general hubbub of oaths. “What's going on?”

    “I smell something,” said Halley, a hint of a growl in her voice. “I smell something strange... not the sea. Something alive.”

    There was a pause.

    “Er... Alder, what kind of animals live in this cave?” asked Bianca.

    “Nothing much,” he replied. “A few fish and crabs in the tidal pools... some birds come down here to forage in the silt when the tide is out.”

    “Any Pokémon?”

    “Not that I know of.”

    “It's not that,” said Halley. “It smells like... a bird? A crocodile? F*ck me sideways if I know. But it smells dangerous.” I felt her tail rise and bristle by my leg. “It's close,” she said. “Too close for my liking. I feel like it's a hunter.”

    “Which presumably makes us its quarry,” said Cheren. “How close are we to the exit?”

    “We've been walking... twenty minutes or so,” replied Alder, looking at the luminous digits of his watch. “Which means we must be about halfway there.”

    “We are in darkness stepped in so far,” muttered Halley, “that, should we wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o'er.” She let out a shaky sort of breath. “Whatever this thing is,” she said, “we don't want to encounter it in the dark. We need to get the f*ck out of here.”

    No one disagreed, and we kept moving. The darkness seemed to deepen, and every scrape against the wall felt like the touch of a predator's hide; each tiny sound gained significance beyond its size, and if I concentrated I was certain I could hear a fifth set of footsteps, keeping pace with us in the blackness.

    It's Córmi, I thought, knots tightening in my stomach. He's waiting by the pier...

    Images from old books came to my mind unbidden – Córmi standing impassive on a wharf, Córmi with his hands nailed to the oars of his boat – and pictures from other books, too, images of ettins that wandered with outstretched hands through the forest, seeking out whatever would fit in their mouths; images of the Lacunosa Worm, the cosmic dragon that had slithered through the earth like water, emerging only at night, to snag a hapless passerby in its teeth before vanishing beneath the streets...

    Stop, I told myself. You did this before, and you just made yourself panic.

    Cheren cried out.

    I whirled around, but of course I saw nothing; Halley, with her night vision, yowled, incredibly loud in the small space, and I felt her scurrying, spitting and hissing, around my feet. Something thumped onto the floor, and Alder was yelling—

    I felt something cold and sharp touch my breast, piercing clean through my jacket and shirt without effort, and I jerked away instinctively, lashing out—

    —fingers brushing something hard and rough as sandpaper—

    —Bianca screaming—

    —Cheren shouting a command in a flash of light—

    —whip-crack and a choked, hissing roar—

    —something like bone hit my head so hard that stars burst against the black, and my face was half-buried in the silt.

    I reached out blindly, trying to get back to my feet, but my knuckles hit something like a leathery pillar instead; I grabbed it reflexively, and yanked on it as hard as I could—

    Something big fell over nearby with a yelp of surprise, tail slapping against the rocks as it struggled upright again – and then I heard another impact, and another yelp, as Alder leaped on top of it.

    “Thunor, Frige and Eostre!” he yelled. “The hell is this thing?”

    “While it's down, Lelouch!” Cheren snapped, ignoring him. “Again!”

    I had just got back to my feet when something big flew past, clipping my arm and knocking me down again – the beast had thrown off Alder. I fell backwards this time and my head hit the sediment hard; this time, the stars lingered and I felt a wetness on the back of my head, and observed with a kind of detached neutrality that my hands would not obey me, and that I didn't seem to be able to get up.

    I felt Candy scuttling over me, cheeping in anxiety; the sound seemed to drive whatever monster we faced into a rage, and it roared so loudly that dirt pattered down from the ceiling onto my face; there was a sharp snapping noise and then a ghastly, pained exhalation – the voice of a tree being cut down, if trees had voices.

    And then the world lit up: fire was bursting out from somewhere, Frige knew where, and I could see in the flickering light the massive, bulky head of no creature living, all angles and prongs and jagged tearing nubs of ossified leather—

    The fire was too bright. I had to close my eyes, and listen to the pounding rhythm of unfamiliar footsteps beneath the red darkness of my eyelids.

    “Are we all OK?” asked Cheren, at length.

    “I'm fine,” said Bianca. “It didn't touch me. Smokey's OK... How about Lelouch?”

    “His tail is broken,” replied Cheren grimly. “But since he's a Servine, it should be all right... Alder? Lauren?”

    “Conveniently forgetting me,” said Halley. “I'm alive. Not that you care.”

    “Alder?”

    “Here,” he said. “Just – oof – winded.”

    “Lauren?”

    “Here,” I said, or tried to say, but I didn't manage anything except a light breath through dry lips. I licked them and tried again. “Here.”

    “Lauren? Where are you?”

    “She's here,” said Halley. “Look – keep your hand on me – yeah, now you've got her.”

    “Lauren, are you all right?”

    “I feel weird,” I replied honestly. “I don't think I can get up right now.”

    “You haven't broken anything, have you?” asked Alder sharply.

    “No,” I said. “My head hurts, but not that much. I don't think anything is broken. I just...”

    “Hang on,” said Halley. “I can get you back on your feet.”

    Several sharp somethings dug into my side, and I sat up sharply.

    “Ow!”

    “That's the ticket,” said Halley kindly. “Up you get.”

    “Halley!”

    “Look, you needed a f*cking hand, I was here to give it—”

    “She might have a serious head injury,” snapped Cheren. “In which case, she shouldn't be moving.”

    “I don't, though,” I said, probing the back of my head with a cautious finger. “I think the skin just split a little... yeah. I mean, I've had worse before, when I was climbing a tree.” I got to my feet, leaning on the wall. “Yeah,” I repeated. “I'm OK.”

    Something tugged at the leg of my jeans, and I bent down to pick up Candy, biting my tongue against the ache in my head.

    “Forgive me if I don't take your word for it,” said Cheren. “We need to get that looked at as soon as we can. But first we need to get out of here.”

    “Before that thing comes back,” added Bianca.

    “Sh*t... yeah,” said Alder. “Did anyone see it? I only got a glimpse, when your Pignite started spitting fire at it.”

    “I saw it,” said Halley in a low voice. “Be thankful you didn't. That was not a Pokémon, nor was it any animal that has a right to exist on this f*cking planet. You didn't see how it fought, did you? It was f*cking learning – you choked it once with Lelouch, Cheren, but next time it happened it saw it coming and had a hand at its throat to pull it off. We're bloody lucky that it's never seen fire before, because it was f*cking fireproof – those flames barely scorched its scales. They did scare it, for now – but only for now, because it's going to realise soon that the fire didn't actually hurt too much, and then it's going to be right back over here to where the big meaty things are walking slowly through its territory.”

    That was a hard act to follow. No one said anything for quite some time.

    “Woden hang 'em,” muttered Alder. “Where did it come from? What is it? There never used to be anything like that living here before – or anywhere else, for that matter.”

    “Valid questions, but ones for another time,” said Cheren assertively. “Halley, get us out of here.”

    “Abso-f*cking-lutely,” she said fervently. “This way!”

    ---

    Ezra lingered on the bridge, leaning on the rail and staring out over the water.

    “Problems, problems,” he said, tobacco smoke trickling from between his lips. “It was risky, but there was no other option.”

    A skua landed on the rail a few feet away and stared at him with insolent eyes.

    “Don't look at me like that,” said Ezra. “If Niamh got the message, I get into the Shrouded Court. And even if she doesn't, she gets Smythe back. If anything, it was a rather self-sacrificial move on my part.”

    The skua shuffled closer. It did not seem to be afraid of him, but then again, gulls always were unimpressed by humans, or things that seemed human.

    “The main problem is what to do in the interim,” Ezra went on. “This has all been a rather sudden change of plan – and a risky one too, staking everything on one move like that. Though I suppose I don't lose anything if it doesn't pay off; I only stand to gain if it goes well.”

    The skua maintained its stare. Perhaps it wanted something to eat, thought Ezra. He dug about in his pockets, and came up with a dead mouse.

    “Do you want this?” he asked, waving it. The skua stared at it greedily. “Here,” he said. “Take it.”

    He wiggled it once more, and the temptation was too much; the skua snatched it from his hand and skimmed away low over the waves, heading for some unknown roost. Ezra watched it go, shaking his head.

    “Bread and circuses,” he said with a sigh. “I wonder how you mortals can have built all this when you have that hunger inside you all the time. It's a wonder it doesn't drive you mad.” He blew a smoke-ring and watched it decompose slowly in midair. “Bread and circuses,” he repeated. “I'll go north, I think. I have a feeling north is the way to go. And if it isn't, well, it's the work of a moment to come back south again.”

    He vaulted the bridge rail and vanished, and an excitable docker faced an evening of ridicule from his friends as in the pub he recounted the tale of how he had seen the ghost of a suicide.

    ---

    I had never been so glad to see daylight as when we emerged from the other end of the caves. It was still overcast, and dark seemed to be coming on early – but we were out, thank Frige, and climbing a trail of broken stones up the side of the island that bore the west end of the drawbridge. There was a bridge ahead, I knew, one that couldn't be raised, and if we could just get over there we'd be in Driftveil, where we could find a Pokémon Centre and I could at last rest. (It wasn't the walking – I was used to long walks – but the tension and the brief, chaotic fight had taken all the strength out of me.)

    Of course, Cheren had insisted on looking at the back of my head as soon as we were out in the light, even before the rest of us had really finished being relieved that we'd escaped without another encounter with the mystery beast. Maybe that was his way of dealing with it; he always seemed to channel his feelings into strategies or actions, I reasoned, and perhaps this was him expressing his relief.

    “Thunor,” he muttered. “You know, there's quite a lot of blood here... Bianca, your hat's going to need a serious wash.”

    “It's dry clean only,” she replied, looking at the bloodstained hat sadly. “I think it's ruined.”

    “I'm sorry,” I said. “Um – I'll get you a new one—”

    “It's all right,” she said. “I've been meaning to get a new one for a while, anyway... I don't know, I fancy one with a little bow on or something.”

    “Is Lauren irredeemably broken or not?” snapped Halley. “Because I don't want to hang around here where the f*cking murder monster lives.”

    “I can't tell for sure,” replied Cheren irritably. “We'll have to get it checked out.”

    “Then let's move. Like, now.”

    For once, no one argued with her; none of us wanted to be reminded of the 'murder monster', and none of us really wanted to see it in the light, either.

    The long walk over the bridge was not enjoyable. Driftveil was a city built around freight, not humans: the road was broad enough to allow six lanes of lorries (all jammed with the bridge raised) but the pavements were unspeakably narrow. I felt like I was being crowded right out of the city, as if the machines here had no time for people; the air was thick with petrol fumes and the smoke from the boats and docks, and I thought plaintively about White Forest. I didn't belong here, I knew; I belonged beneath the trees, surrounded by wood and birdsong, not choking in steel and smog.

    Thankfully, two streets from where the bridge met the mainland was a bus stop, from which, the Internet told us, a 54 or a 254 would take us to where we wanted to go in Halbarn. Alder, on the other hand, informed us he would be getting the 71, which would take him almost all the way to his odd niece's house.

    “I'm glad we met,” he said, as we waited for the bus. “I would have... well, I wouldn't have known any of this otherwise.” He sighed. “Of course, I'd be happier not knowing it, but I guess I can't really avoid this.”

    “I know the feeling,” I replied. “That's wyrd for you.”

    “Yeah.” He glanced down the street. “My bus.”

    As it pulled up, he hefted his (miraculously undamaged) book and looked around at us awkwardly.

    “Well,” he said. “Er, bye.”

    “Goodbye,” said Cheren. “Thanks for guiding us.”

    “And for helping us in the tunnels,” added Bianca.

    “Thank you for throwing yourself on the monster,” I said softly. “I think that might have saved our lives.”

    Alder looked faintly embarrassed.

    “Well – yeah – OK,” he said. “It's, um, nothing.”

    He stood there, looking awkward, for quite some time, until Cheren pointed out that he was in danger of missing his bus, at which point he turned around and made a desperate leap for the doors as they closed.

    “We're going to see him again, aren't we?” asked Bianca.

    “I think so,” I replied.

    “I'm sure we will,” said Cheren. “He's the Champion. He's going to have to intervene now we've told him about the situation.” He glanced at the electric sign on the bus shelter. “Three minutes until our bus.”

    In fact, it was closer to ten, and it took us much longer than we thought to get to the Centre; we didn't arrive until close to six, and if we had still had any idea that we might get to the warehouse that evening we were mistaken: Lelouch had to be taken for examination by the Centre vets (who pronounced him fine, but to be rested for several days while the wood of his bones rejoined), and I, still pretending to be Swedish, had to spend quite a long time in the infirmary while a doctor spoke very slowly and loudly to me to make sure I understood what he was saying.

    “Not too bad,” he said. “You should be OK. Got it? O. K.”

    “She's foreign, not deaf,” protested Bianca.

    “Can you or your friend tell her she needs to rest?” asked the doctor. “I can't seem to get through at all.”

    We couldn't rest, though: the doctor had been fooled for the moment, but as soon as he opened a newspaper or turned on the TV he would see my face looking back at him, and realise that his patient hadn't actually been Swedish but had been a runaway from White forest. So we moved on immediately, to a Centre a couple of districts to the southwest, where I pulled Bianca's ruined hat low over my eyes and slunk quietly upstairs to the room I'd been given. There, I fell asleep before I'd actually got to the bed—

    Tock.

    —and before I knew it, I was awake again, lying on the floor and wondering why I felt so crappy.

    I sat up. My head hurt, but I really wasn't sure why – I didn't recall any head injuries. I'd been knocked about a bit in the fight with the unseen monster, yes, and I had a few bruises around my ribs where it had whacked me, but nothing above the shoulders.

    “Huh,” I said. “The hell happened there?”

    As if in answer, my phone started to ring; I was still kind of confused, and stared at it stupidly for quite a long time before I realised what I was meant to do with it.

    “Hello?” I mumbled. “Whosis?”

    “Is that Jared? It's Iris.”

    “Oh,” I said. “OK. What?”

    “Are you even listening?”

    “Yes,” I lied. “Go on.”

    “I managed to get through to Drayden,” Iris told me. “He's putting the word out now through the police force, and Elesa's going over to your house to explain to your parents. Shauntal's going to call in some favours in the papers and have your story pulled – people should forget about it soon.”

    “I hope so.”

    “They should,” she repeated. “I mean... Well, people tend to forget stories that stop appearing in the news fairly quickly. We can't stop the bloggers, of course, but we can stop the main news sites and the papers.”

    “OK,” I replied. “Thanks. It'll be really helpful.”

    “Don't worry. We'd like to see Harmonia stopped as much as you would.”

    “Yeah. Oh,” I said. “We found the Champion. Alder.”

    What?

    I winced and held the phone a little further from my ear.

    “Where is he? We've been looking for him for ages! What's he been doing? Come on, we—”

    “He's probably already contacted the Elite Four now,” I said. “He said he'd do that when he got to his sister's house, and that was” – I glanced at the clock – “about eight hours ago.” I frowned. “Wait, it's one in the morning? Why are you even still awake?”

    “I'm busy. Why are you still awake?”

    “I have no idea,” I answered honestly. “I woke up about a minute before you called me.”

    “Right. Whatever. Anyway, that was, er, all I had to say, and I've got to get on with work—”

    “No, that's OK, it's cool. I'll let you get on.”

    “Bye.”

    “Bye.”

    I tossed my phone onto the bedside cabinet and crawled up onto my bed; I didn't quite have enough energy to get into it, however, and fell asleep on top of it instead, my head throbbing with each slow beat of my heart.

    ---

    Niamh did not know what she had been expecting of Weland's domain, but it did not disappoint her. In the unknown corridor they had materialised in, it was far colder than was possible this far underground, and dark as fear; the walls were carved with bands of runes that defied all identification, and the only light came from the glowing wand of oak her guide bore.

    He had cast aside his human guise as soon as they had entered the dark path, and now Niamh saw him as something huge and dark, thirteen or fourteen feet tall, and vaguely human-shaped. What his face was, she had no idea; perhaps in an effort to make her feel more at home, he had left his human face stuck to the front of his shadowy head. If calming her had been his intention, he failed miserably: it looked hideous, like a hellish mask of skin and muscle, and Niamh was not surprised when she noticed that the eyes behind the eyelids had been replaced with red lights, or that the lips no longer moved when the demon spoke.

    “This way,” he said, and led her down the corridor.

    They passed no others. Either the tomb-city was larger than she'd known, and this was just one small passage among many, or the other demons were keeping out of her way for some reason. Whatever the cause, Niamh saw no one else until they came to a large, square chamber, lit by four smoky green torches. Here, there were two creatures that resembled the human-shaped dimension of a ghul – a man and a woman in black armour, standing on either side of a pair of vast bronze doors, big enough to admit a pair of elephants.

    “Niamh Harper to see His Undying Majesty,” said her guide.

    The guards thumped their spear-butts on the stones with a sound like breaking bones.

    “To see His Undying Majesty,” repeated the man.

    “Niamh Harper,” said the woman. “Enter!”

    The doors swung open, oddly silently for such massive objects, and without quite knowing how Niamh suddenly found herself on the other side of them.

    She looked behind her. The doors were shut, and so covered in grime that it was clear they had not been opened for quite some time.

    She returned her attention to what lay before her – nothing, or at least nothing that she could see: the hall appeared to stretch away into unending darkness.
    Niamh almost called out, but something told her not to, and instead she started to walk.

    As she walked, shapes began to appear in the dark; not identifiable shapes, but odd, flickering things that wavered at the corner of her eye, breaking apart and recoalescing like drops of oil in water. They were not threatening on their own, but Niamh felt a certain something behind them – not something she could name, but something that looked with shrivelled eyes through the shapes, and saw her coming; something black and smoky and smothering that yearned to break free from wherever it was held and choke, and choke, and choke...

    Niamh could see something now.

    A throne, it might have been – far away in the dark, down the length of the interminable hall. Someone, or something, was sitting on it; she could not make out what it was, but it was perfectly still, and she knew with absolute conviction that it was dead.

    Niamh stopped walking.

    She heard a voice – a voice like the buzzing of a thousand flies, echoing and resounding over itself as if the swarm were trapped in the speaker's throat; a voice like space, boundless and alien, terrifying in its emptiness; a voice like death itself, devoid of all motion but the relentless chewing of maggots.

    “WE ARE WELAND, KING OF SANDJR,” said the voice. “WELCOME TO OUR COURT.”
    Last edited by Cutlerine; 10th July 2013 at 7:53 PM.

  9. #159
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    2 things right off the bat.

    1, I think a transition was missing between leaving the cave and Ezra jumping off a bridge.

    2. I know there was a spot you used italics and you had another word right after it not in italics and there was no space between them, the words in question ended in "w" and began with "w" but I can't find them again with my 3DS due to a lack of a search function.

    Onto the story.

    Well, well, well, it appears that Laurens group does not fare well at all in ambushes from the dark with these things, I can only imagine what will happen if there were more than one.

    I am curious as to what the hunger is that humans have that Ezra is referring to.

    I'm sure doctors still have to treat patients, regardless of what their status is, but who knows, I don't know what Unova's health care is like.

    And now we get to the part where Niamh will flip out thinking Weland is hiding Smythe from her and will turn the place upside down looking for him.

    Enjoying this greatly, I look forward to another chapter.


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

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

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    Quote Originally Posted by Azurus View Post
    2 things right off the bat.

    1, I think a transition was missing between leaving the cave and Ezra jumping off a bridge.

    2. I know there was a spot you used italics and you had another word right after it not in italics and there was no space between them, the words in question ended in "w" and began with "w" but I can't find them again with my 3DS due to a lack of a search function.
    Cheers. I was really quite tired when I posted this one; that's probably why.

    EDIT: My own search function cannot find this italic problem; all the italics that it returns seem fine. Can anyone else see it?

    Quote Originally Posted by Azurus View Post
    Onto the story.

    Well, well, well, it appears that Laurens group does not fare well at all in ambushes from the dark with these things, I can only imagine what will happen if there were more than one.

    I am curious as to what the hunger is that humans have that Ezra is referring to.

    I'm sure doctors still have to treat patients, regardless of what their status is, but who knows, I don't know what Unova's health care is like.

    And now we get to the part where Niamh will flip out thinking Weland is hiding Smythe from her and will turn the place upside down looking for him.

    Enjoying this greatly, I look forward to another chapter.
    Oh, the doctor does still have to treat her, but there's nothing obliging him to not go to the police and tell them he's seen that runaway child off the news.

    As for hunger... well. He means, er, just hunger.

    Thanks for reading and commenting!

    F.A.B.
    Last edited by Cutlerine; 10th July 2013 at 7:54 PM.

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    I can't seem to find the italic problem anymore, and I backtracked like 4 times.


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

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

  12. #162
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    I apologise if you've been reading this story and (for some reason) enjoying it, but I'm afraid I'm going to have to go on hiatus. For the first time in a long, long time, I'm writing an original novel again, and though so far I've managed to keep Crack'd going alongside it, I just can't manage it any more. I can write a lot very fast, but if I keep jumping tracks from story to story I'm afraid I'm going to end up writing one of them badly, and since I'm working so hard on the other one, it's going to end up being Crack'd that suffers. I don't want that to happen, so I'm going to have to stop, at least for now. I may come back to it some day. I would like to finish it. But by the time I finish my novel, I may not be able to come back to Crack'd that easily.

    I might have time for the odd one-shot or two, but the sustained effort of Crack'd is beyond me for the conceivable future. I don't walk away from stories lightly, especially not serialised ones that I know that people are reading and (possibly) enjoying, but one story or the other has to give, and the one that's most important to me is the one that is not, for better or worse, being serialised online.

    I suppose this is the shortest summary I can make: sorry to my readers, but Crack'd has to go on an indefinite hiatus now.

    Right. That's that, announcement over. I'll just go and throw the dust sheets over Unova and pack the characters into cold storage.

    F.A.B.

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    Previously, on Crack'd...

    Lauren/Jared and the gang unexpectedly run across Alder on a train stuck on the wrong side of the Driftveil drawbridge, and convinced him to retake his position at the head of the League. After a brief and terrible battle with something that can only be described as 'f*cking nasty' in the caves that run under the Valroy Channel, they had reached Driftveil, where they received word from Iris that the League was going to try and quash the search for Jared/Lauren.

    Meanwhile, the rebel demon Ezra and the monster-slayer Niamh had parted ways at the Cold Storage, as a messenger delivered an ultimatum: Niamh was to cease helping Ezra, and in return she would win Smythe's freedom. She had no choice but to accept, and was last seen entering the throne room of King Weland himself – not far from where Teiresias and Smythe were holding a mysterious discussion in the tomb-city's prison about matters unknown.

    Ingen's retriever is closing in. Harmonia's strange press-ganged riot still closes off the Cold Storage, and the mysterious Caitlin Molloy is doubtless behind it all. What will happen next? Only time will tell. And your ability to read.

    Look, just move your eyes slightly downwards. No, down, you dullard. OK, that's the ticket. Now, read on!



    Chapter Twenty-Nine: The Quick and the Dead

    “OK,” said Cheren. “The Cold Storage.”

    It was, amazingly, a pleasantly warm spring morning, and we were crossing the bridge that led south to Welkan Island, more popularly known as the Cold Storage. The little island was almost entirely covered in a thick outgrowth of warehouses, clustered like enormous square barnacles across its breadth; lorries rumbled back and forth from them to the docks and back again, none of which looked small enough to be able to negotiate the narrow byways of southern Driftveil. I supposed that was probably what all the backed-up traffic we'd passed earlier was about.

    “What about it?” I asked.

    “There's a list of holdings online,” said Cheren, “which includes all the warehouses that don't belong to secret government departments, cults or other organisations that don't want their property made public. Surprisingly enough, the Green Party's warehouse is listed, which means I was able to print this map off from the website and make some annotations based on the photographs of the riots on the New Unovan website.”

    He unfolded a piece of paper from his pocket as he spoke, and Halley shook her head in wonderment.

    “Bloody hell,” she said. “Do you even sleep?”

    “A little. You'll see here,” Cheren went on, “that the Party own this set of buildings here – an office, attached to this large warehouse in the southwest corner.”

    “OK,” I said. “Halley, can you see from down there?”

    “Oh, someone notices. No, I can't see the map that you're holding at chest height, you selfish bastards.”

    I resisted the urge to kick her between the railings and into the sea and picked her up. Candy hurriedly climbed around the back of my neck to my other shoulder.

    “How does this help?” asked Bianca, blinking at the map. “I mean, isn't the building surrounded?”

    “It is,” agreed Cheren. “All around this fence – sorry, it's not completely accurate, but it wasn't on the original map and I had to draw it on myself based on Google Street View – there are hordes of apparent Liberation Policy protesters. Only, of course, these protesters haven't spoken to anyone, and they keep mentioning 'plasma' over and over.”

    “So they're definitely Harmonia's doing somehow,” I said.

    “Almost certainly. Now, the fence itself is chain-link with razor wire at the top, and I think there's a few Watchog as well.”

    Watchdogs had never caught on in Unova; Watchog were alert to the point of clinical paranoia, and virtually never missed an intruder.

    “I expect they've been removed, though,” he said. “They're very highly-strung; the protesters would probably give them heart attacks.”

    “OK.” I looked along the bridge; I couldn't see any sign of discontent at the other end, but then, the Green Party's warehouse was on the other side of the island. “So how do we get in, short of beating our way through the protesters?”

    “Here.” Cheren tapped a point on the map where the warehouse met the coastline. “There are no protesters standing here, so this is where we'll get in.”

    We stared at the map.

    “Er... Cheren,” said Bianca, “correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't the reason no people are standing there because it's the sea?”

    “Yes, actually. But I noticed on an aerial photo that there's a path that winds around the edge of the island – part of which passes between the cliff edge and the warehouse fence. It's not broad enough for any protesters to stand on, so there aren't any there.”

    “I don't get it,” said Halley. “If this weak spot exists, why hasn't Harmonia guarded it somehow?”

    Cheren shrugged.

    “I expect he has,” he said frankly. “We'll find out when we get there.”

    “Christ. What a f*cking plan.”

    “Do you have a better one?”

    “That's really not the point.”

    Cheren sighed.

    “Anyway.” He folded up his map and pointed south down the bridge with it. “Shall we?”

    We did, and soon enough came to the unrelentingly grey and miserable expanse of cold concrete that was Welkan Island; it was drearier and more fume-stained up close, and the people here looked at us as if they would probably batter us over the head with metal pipes and throw us into the sea if we couldn't give them a very good reason why we were here.

    I guess we did seem a little out of place.

    We crossed the road, which, given that congestion meant that ninety per cent of the lorries were stationary, was pretty easy; on the other side, next to an enormous grey dinosaur of a building, we found a narrow asphalted pathway, bordered on one side by a fence of steel palings and on the other by a sandy slope that rolled down to the sea at a deceptively steep inclination.

    It was also sealed off behind a padlocked gate.

    “Well done, O master planner,” said Halley. “Behold our path to glory!”

    “We're not done yet,” said Cheren irritably. “Bianca. Smoky?”

    She let out the Tepig, and he immediately lay down to sleep.

    Oh,” she said, puffing out her cheeks. “Smoky! Up!”

    She nudged him with her toe, but to no avail; he twitched an ear, and farted loudly, but showed no desire to move.

    “Classy,” said Halley. “Shouldn't we have checked that no one was looking before we started melting through locks?”

    “We haven't started yet,” pointed out Cheren. “In fact, we've barely even got the tools ready.”

    “Smoky!” Bianca picked him up and tugged experimentally on his tail; he opened his eyes then and grunted the grunt of a pig who does not wish to receive visitors today.

    I looked around.

    “Doesn't look like anyone's watching,” I said. “Mostly because the traffic's blocking us and hasn't moved for five minutes. So, uh, now would be a good time.

    “I'm trying!” said Bianca, brandishing Smoky like a shotgun. “Ember, Smoky. Ember!”

    He yawned, deliberated, and eventually burped a jet of flame at the lock – to absolutely no effect.

    “Hm,” said Cheren. “Bianca – er – when exactly did you last have any kind of training session with Smoky?”

    She looked guilty.

    “If I said... yesterday, would you believe me?”

    “No.” He sighed. “All right, recall him, then. Let's have a go with—”

    There was a click, and the padlock opened.

    We stared.

    “What the—?”

    “Boop,” said Munny, floating above Bianca's head. The last traces of blue light were fading from its sides.

    “Oh yeah,” I said. “Telekinetic, right?”

    “Yeah,” said Bianca. “I forgot about that.” She recalled Smoky and patted Munny on its side. “Good Munna! Well done.”

    “Boop.”

    “No time for that,” said Cheren, unhooking the padlock from the bolt. “Come on – we need to get through before someone sees us. Or had you forgotten that we're technically trespassing?”

    We didn't need any more encouragement. He pushed open the gate, and we went.

    ---

    Niamh stared into the abyss, and the abyss stared back.

    “What do you want, then?” she asked.

    “A CESSATION OF HOSTILITIES,” replied Weland. It hurt to hear him; his voice shook Niamh's consciousness in her body, like the seeds in a metaphysical maraca. “WE ARE NOT FOOLISH. THIS WAR WILL GO WELL IF OUR ENEMIES ARE FEWER, AND THIS IS AN EXPEDIENT WAY OF THINNING THEIR RANKS.”

    Niamh closed her eyes, took a deep breath, tried to quell the soulsickness rising within her.

    “Why aren't I dead?” she asked.

    “THIS IS DIPLOMACY,” Weland said. “DIPLOMACY ONLY ENDS IN AN AMBASSADOR'S DEATH WHEN IT FAILS.”

    The hint was quite clear, thought Niamh; she'd do what he wanted, take Smythe, and go, or she'd be killed. And it was obvious that there was no way around it. No one had even bothered to relieve her of her weapons on the way in, and the only reason they would have done that was if they weren't threatened by them at all. Niamh wasn't used to negotiating from a position of weakness.

    She wasn't taking to it.

    “Let Portland go, then,” she said. “Just let him go, and I'll leave and you'll never see me again.”

    “THAT WAS THE AGREEMENT, YES.” Weland paused. It could only have been a second or so, but it felt like an infinity. Niamh looked steadfastly at the dim and distant throne, and knew with terrible certainty that something had gone horribly, unimaginably wrong. “BUT YOU ARE SUCH AN EXCELLENT SPECIMEN OF YOUR SPECIES.”

    “What?”

    Niamh hadn't been expecting that, certainly. Death threats, yes, but not compliments.

    “YOU HAVE SOME OF THE BLOOD, FOR A START. THAT PLACES YOU AMONG THE GREATS. YOU ARE INTELLIGENT AND RESOURCEFUL, FOR SOMEONE WHO CONTAINS THEIR THOUGHTS WITHIN A BRAIN. AND YOU ARE ONE OF THE FINEST HUMAN COMBATANTS WE HAVE SEEN IN A LONG TIME.”

    Was it her, or was it getting darker? The gloom was thickening, filling up with those strange half-glimpsed shapes; they came like the ghosts of rooks, settling on invisible perches, windows for some malign eye.

    “Look, I just came here to get Portland,” she said. “Nothing more, nothing less.”

    “AND SMYTHE WILL WALK FREE,” said Weland. “THIS WILL BE DONE. BUT YOU, NIAMH HARPER, ARE A SPECIMEN WE CANNOT LOSE.”

    Sh*t. She had no idea what that meant, but it almost certainly wasn't good.

    “I never—”

    “IT DOES NOT MATTER, NIAMH HARPER. YOU ARE, AFTER ALL, ONLY HUMAN.”

    And before Niamh could so much as blink, the dark came screaming down—

    And then there was nothing.

    ---

    We threaded our way down the back of a long row of warehouses, the roar of an unseen crowd growing slowly louder and drowning out the rumble of lorries; in fact, down at this end of the island, it seemed like all traffic had been suspended, because all I could hear was people chanting and shouting, and occasionally stamping.

    However, with the sea on one side and blank concrete walls on the other, I couldn't actually see them, and it made me a little nervous. I liked to have any potential threats in view; if you knew where the enemy was, you could punch him.

    “Ah,” said Cheren, stopping suddenly. “Er... That's the Party building.”

    He pointed at a medium-sized warehouse just ahead of us – and just ahead of where the path turned sharply to the left and terminated in a locked shed.

    There was about fifteen centimetres of dirt between the rear fence and the cliff edge.

    “Cheren,” said Bianca. “I am not going down that way.”

    “We can hold onto the fence,” he suggested. “And climb along the side—”

    “Cheren,” repeated Bianca, “I am not going down that way.”

    “Once we get a few metres along, we can get Justine to cut through the fence—”

    “Cheren. Are you listening to me at all? I am not going down that way.”

    “Hey Cheren, I don't think Bianca wants to go that way,” said Halley dryly. “Got another plan?”

    “How else do you suppose we get in?” asked Cheren. “Look. Concrete wall – concrete wall – barrier fence. We can't break through a wall, but we can probably cut through enough links of the fence to get through that way.”

    Bianca made a face.

    “Yeah, but Cheren... there's like six inches of space between the fence and, uh, death.”

    “OK,” said Cheren, trying and failing to sound calming and understanding, “why don't... um... I'll climb out there with Justine, and get her to cut the fence, and then open the door there that the path ends at.”

    “That's not connected to the same building,” I pointed out.

    “Ah. Right.” Cheren twisted his lip. “Bianca, it, uh, doesn't look like there's any alternative.” He glanced at the fence. “It's not so bad. One foot in front of the other and hold onto the fence with your hands. Unless you make some kind of enormous mistake, it's statistically very unlikely that you'll fall to your death.”

    “Cheren, it's me,” Bianca said earnestly. “'Enormous mistake' is my middle name.”

    “Don't put yourself down—”

    “She isn't,” said Halley. “You know it's true, Cheren. She's like the proverbial f*cking bull in a china shop. Give her a goldfish to look after and she'll manage to drown it.”

    Cheren sighed.

    “You won't fall,” he said. “Not even you are that unlucky.”

    “How about you go between me and Cheren?” I suggested. “We'll keep hold of you. Or I will, anyway,” I added, remembering how much bigger than Cheren I was. (Not that he was particularly weedy, but he looked like he had all the upper-body strength of a paralytic sloth.)

    Bianca hesitated.

    “OK,” she said eventually. “I'll do it. But you go first, Cheren, and cut the fence – I don't want to hang there and wait for you.”

    “All right,” said Cheren. “I can do that.”

    He sent out Justine and nudged her out along the gap with a foot.

    “Go on,” he said. “Out there. I'm following.”

    Justine did not seem to need the encouragement: she had, apparently, a cast-iron belief in her own balance, and cheerfully trotted out along the gap as if it were nothing. Cheren edged out after her, clinging to the fence and moving sideways.

    “See?” he said. “Simple.”

    A particularly loud burst of chanting from the other side of the warehouse startled him then, and he reflexively jerked a little closer to the fence.

    I smiled.

    “Simple?”

    “Yes,” he maintained. “Simple.” He turned to Justine. “On a bit more.”

    They moved further out, to where the concrete bottom of the fence gave way to dirt; here, he had Justine first sharpen her claws on the fence post, and then Fury Swipe her way through the links. A little more slashing and tugging, and a reasonably large chunk of fence had been unravelled.

    Cheren looked back at us.

    “You see?” he said. “Not so hard.”

    He lowered himself carefully through the gap – leaning perilously far out over the sea in doing so, I noticed, which made Bianca grab my arm way too hard to be comfortable – and Justine bounced through after him.

    “All right!” he called. “Your turn.”

    I looked at Bianca.

    “You go on first,” I said. “Then I can help you through the hole.”

    She bit her lip.

    “OK,” she said, and edged out over the void.

    I followed, and was immediately struck by how high it seemed we were now; how the wind seemed much stronger when there was less ground beneath our feet. I glanced to my right, at Bianca, and saw she had her eyes shut.

    She wasn't moving.

    “Go on,” I said, taking one hand off the fence and gripping her wrist firmly. “I've got you.”

    She took a deep breath, opened her eyes and went on again.

    The fence seemed to vibrate beneath our hands with every shout and stomp of the invisible crowd; it felt like it wanted to fling us off. I pushed the thought away and concentrated on moving along one-handed, walking my hand along the fence like a crab. (I didn't quite dare to let go completely; I wasn't sure I would be able to grab hold of the fence again quick enough to stop me falling and dragging Bianca to our deaths.)

    On, and on. I'm sure it wouldn't have been so bad on my own – and probably, I thought, almost nothing for Lauren. But with Bianca in tow, it seemed to take forever; it was as if time was stretching out, like a cat taking its ease – until at last, aeons later, we were at the gap Justine had cut, and I was lowering Bianca through it. Moments later, I was through myself, and about three seconds after that, Halley had jumped through with the same ease as Justine.

    “Man, you guys are slow,” she complained. “And Bianca, you stink of fear.”

    “You did very well,” said Cheren, ignoring her. “Sorry. I didn't think it would be this... this hard.”

    Bianca nodded. Her face was pale and slick with sweat; it reminded me of what Halley had said of her – that she had no talent, that she wasn't a hero. And yet, I thought, she was still here. She hadn't gone back home – she had fought her dad to make him let her stay. I was still unclear about how exactly that had happened; I vaguely remembered Lauren coming to help me convince him, or something.

    She had stayed, despite everything, and that was probably more heroic than anything I'd done so far.

    “Yeah,” I said. “Well done.”

    Bianca smiled, though it was slightly strained.

    “Thanks,” she said. “I – I'm OK now. Really.”

    I nodded and looked around. We were in a small enclosed space at the back of the warehouse; the warehouse formed the front wall, and the two sides were concrete. There were a couple of industrial bins at one end, but other than that, and the occasional crisp packet on the floor, there wasn't much around. Behind us, the sea and the ships swashed and splashed; before us, still hidden from sight, the protesters chanted. I could make out their words from here: Plas-ma, plas-ma, plas-ma...

    “Right,” I said. “How are we getting in? I'm betting that door's locked.”

    There was a single unmarked door in the warehouse wall; it didn't look like it had been opened for a while.

    “Why don't we knock?” asked Cheren. “And when they answer, you hit them over the head and we go in.”

    “Won't they see us?” I asked. “On CCTV or something?”

    “If they had CCTV, they'd have seen us break in already,” pointed out Halley.

    “I have seen you break in already,” said the security guard.

    We looked at the door. It was now open, and contained a man with a gun.

    Naturally, this put us all slightly on edge.

    “You went to quite a lot of trouble to get in,” he said mildly. “I take it you're those kids that've been interfering with everything?”

    “That sounds like us,” Halley said.

    “And the cat, too,” noted the guard, looking down at her – quite some way, as it happened; he was the approximate height and weight of a walk-in freezer. “Definitely you people.” He sighed. “Now, if I had my way, you'd be shot on sight. Burn up the bodies in hellfire, job done, no more interference. But orders from above are that we can't just kill you – not without provocation, anyway. That would, apparently, have bad consequences. Can't take you captive without cause, either.” The guard rolled his eyes. “I don't know anything about it, but you know, not paid to do anything but follow orders, and all bosses have their foibles. I worked for a guy once insisted all of us wore red feathers in our hats. Anyway,” he said, flexing the fingers of his free hand, “the point is, as long as you stand there, you're safe. You could back away now and all I'd be able to do is tell my superiors that you were here.”

    He sighed.

    “But if you came inside, I'd be completely justified in whacking you over the head, taking you prisoner and giving you over to the tender mercies of our resident demon. That,” he added, “is if you weren't too pugnacious. If you resisted, I might have no option but to use deadly force.”

    He looked at his gun as if he'd just remembered he was holding it.

    “So,” he said, with the sort of smile that you never, ever want to see. “I cordially f*cking await your response.”

    ---

    “I'm not sure about this,” said Smythe.

    “Do you want to stay here?” asked Teiresias.

    Smythe looked around at the dark. He could not see the walls, but he knew they were approximately two feet away in each direction.

    “Well, no,” he said. “But I'm not sure I like your way of getting me out.”

    “I can find other places.”

    Smythe hesitated.

    “Ah, f*ck it,” he said. “Fine. But only until you're back up to strength, and you don't kill or harm me. Do we have a deal?”

    “By blood,” replied Teiresias, its smoke coalescing and dripping darkly onto Smythe's palm. It stung, and he realised that there was a cut beneath it – that the foulness that constituted Teiresias' blood was mingling with his own. “And so even I cannot break it.”

    “OK.” Smythe had seen a lot of things that he'd previously thought impossible over the last few days. This last did not bother him at all. “Whatever.”

    He stood up, stooping so as not to hit his head on the ceiling.

    “Are we ready, then?”

    Teiresias' smouldering eyes stared blindly at him for a moment, and Smythe realised for the first time that Teiresias was standing much further away from him than the closeness of the walls ought to have allowed; then they lurched forwards, like the headlights of a truck, and Smythe staggered back as something smashed intangibly into his face. There was no impact, but his body couldn't help reacting as if there was; he stumbled backwards and fell heavily against the rear wall.

    Then he rose back to his feet, the purple of his eyes staining the air around them.

    “Now then,” he said, and whose voice it was that came from his mouth was difficult to tell. “For freedom.”

    ---

    There was a pause, during which we considered our options.

    “Well,” said Cheren, “you certainly make a persuasive case.”

    “He does,” I agreed. “Bianca. How's Munny's telekinesis?”

    The guard shook his head.

    “You must be joking,” he said. “A Munna stop bullets? It doesn't have the strength. And it can't tug the gun out of my hand, either.” He held up his free hand; the fingers were each the size and approximate colour of a raw Lacunosa sausage. “I've got quite the grip, if I do say so myself.”

    I sighed.

    “Woden hang 'em,” I said. “This isn't going to be easy, is it?”

    “No,” agreed the guard. “It isn't.”

    “We aren't giving up, are we?” asked Bianca anxiously. “I did not climb along that horrible ledge for nothing.”

    “Don't worry, we aren't giving up,” said Cheren. “We'll get in. Somehow.”

    The guard raised his eyebrows.

    “Oh. I anticipate your next plan with pleasure.”

    “So do we,” I said. “Cheren? What's the plan?”

    “Bianca,” he said. “How hard could Munny move a large object? Weighing – oh, let's say... forty kilos?”

    “I don't know,” replied Bianca. “Probably not that hard.”

    Cheren sighed.

    “Ah, well. There goes that plan.”

    “What plan was that?” asked the guard. “I'm interested.”

    “We were going to get the Munna to slam the door on your head,” said Cheren. “But that doesn't seem to be a viable possibility any more.”

    The man shook his head ruefully.

    “No, it doesn't.”

    “Jared.”

    “Yeah?”

    “Why don't you go over there and punch him in the face?”

    I did a double take.

    “What?”

    “Why don't you go over there,” he said patiently, “and punch him in the face?”

    There were about fifty-eight reasons I could think of why I didn't, actually, but I settled for the most obvious.

    “Because he's about six foot six with the pecs of a grizzly bear,” I replied. “Sure, I'm bigger than you, but there's no way I'm going up against a guy his size – especially since he has a gun.”

    “Six ten, actually,” said the guard cheerfully. “And I will beat you into little balls of sh*t if you so much as breathe on me aggressively.”

    “Whatever. You get the point.”

    Cheren gave me a look, and suddenly I realised that he had a plan.

    “Jared...”

    “Oh, fine,” I said, feigning reluctance. “But look, when I get my head kicked in, you'll be the one explaining my sudden death to my family and girlfriend.”

    Bianca looked worried.

    “Er – Cheren, maybe Jared shouldn't—”

    “Let him go,” said Halley. “I'd like to see this.”

    As I walked up to the door, I passed Cheren, and he muttered, “Slam it.”

    And then I saw it, and I felt like an idiot.

    I stopped about a foot ahead of the guard, who gave me a pleasant smile.

    “Go on, then,” he said, leaning forwards like a tiger over its kill. “I dare you.”

    “OK,” I said, and slammed the door on his face.

    To his credit, it wasn't enough to knock him out, but it did knock him over – and make him drop his gun, which I hurriedly kicked away over the asphalt.

    “Ettinf*cker,” he gasped, clutching his face and struggling to get back onto his feet. “You little—!”

    “Candy,” I said, “you remember how to Rock Throw, right?”

    “Ark,” she replied, and threw a small boulder at his face.

    It wasn't the hardest blow ever, but on top of everything else it did the job; the guard groaned and slumped back onto the floor.

    I looked back at Cheren.

    “Nice plan,” I said.

    “Nice slamming,” he replied. “I didn't think you'd hit him that hard.”

    “I did,” said Halley.

    “Roy? Roy, everything all right back there?”

    We froze. The voice had come from down the passage beyond the door.

    “Er... yeah,” I called back, trying to deepen my voice a bit. “Yeah, it's nothing.”

    “I heard the door slam,” said the voice.

    “Thought I saw someone,” I replied. “Just the seagulls fighting over a plastic bag.”

    “F*cking vermin,” said the voice, and fell silent.

    I let out a long breath.

    “I think they bought it,” I said.

    “If they did, they're a moron,” said Halley. “You sound nothing like him.”

    “Thanks. Look, shall we move him out the way?”

    “OK, OK.”

    Between the three of us, Cheren, Bianca and I managed to drag Roy across the way and dump him in one of the bins, from which we hoped he would take at least a little while to escape. Cheren picked up his gun, and gave it to Bianca.

    “Here,” he said. “If we meet someone, threaten them with it.”

    Bianca stared at it.

    “But what if it goes off?”

    “Then someone will die,” answered Halley. “Or at least get seriously injured. Don't you watch movies? Those things are basically magic murder sticks.”

    “That's the point,” Bianca cried. “I want to avoid that!”

    “Then just follow this one handy tip: don't pull the f*cking trigger.”

    “Isn't there a safety catch?” she asked. “That stops it firing?”

    “Look, I don't know anything about guns,” said Cheren. “Just, er, be careful with it.”

    She handed it back to him.

    “You take it,” she said. “You're good at being careful.”

    Cheren eyed it with distrust.

    “Fine,” he sighed. “I'll take it.”

    “Can we go inside now?” I asked. “Someone's going to come looking for Roy if we leave it too long.”

    Cheren nodded.

    “OK.” He motioned to the door. “You're intimidating. You first.”

    I thought about pointing out that he had a gun, but decided against it; I knew he wouldn't actually use it.

    “OK.”

    The corridor was short and turned at a sharp right angle; beyond it was a small office, where a woman was typing at a computer.

    “Roy,” she said, without looking around. “What was all that about? You were gone ages.”

    I looked at Cheren.

    “Threaten her,” I mouthed.

    “Roy?”

    The woman turned in her chair and froze.

    “Ah,” she said. “Is Roy in one of the bins out at the back?”

    “Yeah,” I said, almost apologetic. “Sorry about this.”

    She licked her lips nervously, smudged her lipstick.

    “OK,” she said. “There's no one else in the building. The workers who shift the gold aren't here because of the protests, and then apart from then there's usually only Roy and Geoff guarding the place, but Geoff's been at home with the flu for the last week and today is an inspection day, so I'm here.”

    “Inspection?” asked Cheren. His hands did not shake – not even a little. He looked like he was used to the weight of the machine in his hand.

    “Yeah.” The woman blinked in surprise. “What, you don't – oh, you've broken in to find out what's in here, haven't you?”

    “Yeah.” Halley jumped up onto the desk. “So start talking.”

    The woman stared.

    “You're Halley,” she said.

    Halley started.

    “That isn't the response I usually get,” she said. “It's more usually something like 'Aah! A talking cat!'”

    “Harmonia was after you,” the woman continued. “You're connected to the theft...”

    “OK,” said Cheren, taking a step closer. “You seem to know an awful lot about all this.”

    “Things we've been trying to find out for ages,” added Bianca, which slightly ruined the sense of menace.

    “Look, I'll tell you, OK?” The woman scooted backwards on her chair, wheels squeaking on the carpet. “Just – you don't have to point a gun at me. God. You three are Trainers, I'm a scientist whose only exercise is walking to the vending machine for more coffee. It doesn't take a genius to work out that I'm going to have to talk to you if I want to come out of this all right.”

    I looked at Cheren.

    “I don't think we need the gun,” I said. “Keep it for now, in case Roy comes back and we need to threaten him, but I don't think we need it for – what's your name?”

    “Lisbeth,” she answered. “Dr. Lisbeth Patel.”

    “Yeah, for Dr. Patel,” I said.

    “I agree,” said Bianca.

    “All right,” said Cheren. “I don't like it either. It's got oil on my hands.”

    He lowered it and took his finger off the trigger, holding it outside the trigger guard.

    “Can we get on with the questioning?” asked Halley. “I don't know about you, but I'm pretty keen to hear about my past. You know, since I don't f*cking remember any of it.”

    “Yeah, yeah.” Cheren looked at Bianca. “Bianca, you're a people person. Do you want to question Dr. Patel?”

    “Just Lisbeth is fine,” said Dr. Patel helpfully. “I'm not a medical doctor or anything. I'm a genetic engineer.”

    “Hi, Lisbeth,” said Bianca. “I'm Bianca, and this is Cheren and Jared. And Halley. And that's Candy, Justine, Munny—”

    “Oh, get on with it,” snapped Halley. “What do you know about me?”

    “Not much,” said Lisbeth. “I mean – only what I've overheard. No one's actually told me, as such. But people seemed to think you might know the person who stole the Dark Stone. Whatever that might mean.”

    Cheren looked at me.

    “Has N ever mentioned anything about that?”

    I shook my head.

    “No, but it sounds... I don't know. No, I don't think I know it.”

    “What else do you know?” asked Halley. “About me, that is.”

    Lisbeth shrugged.

    “Nothing. Really, I'm sorry.” She glanced at me. “What, did you have a question?”

    “Er – no. Nothing.”

    I'd been staring, I realised. It was difficult not to; Unova's population was more than ninety-five per cent white. It was not a popular destination for immigrants. I supposed it explained her name, too – decidedly Unovan forename, obviously foreign surname.

    “OK,” said Bianca. “If there's nothing more you know about Halley, then what is it that you're doing here, with all your genetic engineering?”

    “Harmonia approached us – that's Ingen – a long time ago with—”

    “Ingen?” I asked, surprised. “Do you know Gregory Black?”

    Lisbeth looked startled.

    “Er – yeah, you could say I know him. Why?”

    “He's my uncle,” I said. “How is he? I mean, with the Archen thing...”

    “He's facing an inquiry,” she said. “It's not looking great...” She trailed off. “Oh, God. You're Jared Black, aren't you? And that's...”

    “Yeah,” I said, scratching Candy's neck. “Yeah, this is the Archen.”

    Lisbeth closed her eyes and sighed.

    “This is such a clusterf*ck,” she said. “I'm going to pretend I didn't notice that that was anything but a parrot.”

    “I think we're losing control of the situation here,” said Cheren authoritatively. “You were talking about your work here?”

    “Oh. Yeah. Well, it was an ambitious project, but Ingen like ambitious projects, so they sent a team out to see how it would go, and—” She paused. “Can I get up and show you?” she asked. “I thought I'd better ask, in case you shot me or something for making sudden movements.”

    “I'm not shooting anybody,” said Cheren tiredly. “This conversation stopped being a hostage situation at about the time when we all inexplicably started making friends with each other.”

    “But isn't it nice that it's worked out like this?” asked Bianca.

    “I don't know. I've never seen anyone get shot before,” said Halley. “Might've been an interesting experience.”

    “You are a vile creature,” said Cheren. “Lisbeth. Please, lead on.”

    “Wait,” she said. “If you're not going to shoot me, I don't really need to do anything you ask. Do I?”

    “No,” said Cheren, “you don't. Although if you choose not to help us Jared could always beat you up a little.”

    Lisbeth looked at me, and I did my best to look threatening. Perhaps it worked; perhaps she was just humouring us. Either way, she gave in.

    “All right,” she sighed. “This way.”

    She took us to a door beyond her desk and through into what must have been the main body of the warehouse – a huge, echoing space, filled with gigantic crates stacked up to the ceiling.

    “This is the gold,” she said. “But if we go this way, through here is the cryonics suite.”

    “Cryonics?” asked Bianca.

    “Low-temperature preservation,” said Cheren. “Frozen, essentially.”

    “Oh, like Fry in Futurama. I get it.”

    Both Cheren and Lisbeth winced.

    “Yes. To put it simply.”

    “Anyway,” said Lisbeth. “Here.”

    She led us between two last columns of crates, and the space opened up; instead of boxes, here were long lines of freezers, upright like soldiers standing to attention. I looked at them for a minute, puzzled—

    And then I saw them.

    I saw the faces staring blankly through every single frosted window.

    The ice-coloured eyes.

    The green hair.

    The unmistakeable face of N.



    Note: Hey, everybody! The book's done bar the editing, and I'm back to working on Crack'd. Also, could those of you on the PM list who have changed their usernames please let me know what your new names are, otherwise I can't PM you about new chapters.
    Last edited by Cutlerine; 5th September 2013 at 5:40 PM.

  14. #164
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    Huh, that's quite the twist at the end there.

    Anyway, glad to see this back again, also pretty amusing to have the guard explain things like that and the whole scientist exchange.

    Not too much to say, though I'm looking forward to more.


    P.S.
    The previously on "insert last chapters here" are pretty handy, you should consider doing them on more plot heavy chapters.


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

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    Congratulations on finishing your novel. Whats it about? Also can i be put on the pm list? This is definitely one of the better fanfictions here

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    Welcome, friends.

    Quote Originally Posted by Azurus View Post
    Huh, that's quite the twist at the end there.

    Anyway, glad to see this back again, also pretty amusing to have the guard explain things like that and the whole scientist exchange.

    Not too much to say, though I'm looking forward to more.
    Well, I'm a little rusty on the particular brand of cosmic horror that the demons in Crack'd have, and on the kind of fast-paced action that comes with the real fights, so I decided to ease myself into things a bit by starting with some dialogue. And with me, of course, dialogue always ends up humorous in the end.

    Quote Originally Posted by Azurus View Post
    P.S.
    The previously on "insert last chapters here" are pretty handy, you should consider doing them on more plot heavy chapters.
    Suggestion noted; I might do that.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ej190 View Post
    Congratulations on finishing your novel. Whats it about? Also can i be put on the pm list? This is definitely one of the better fanfictions here
    You've been added!

    My novel is about Edwardian London, Outer Gods and mechanically-augmented humans, and about people who stand uncomfortably on the border of the minority and the majority. It's not quite finished - when I say I'm done, I don't include the editing, which is, to be honest, the real work, and will ultimately shape the clarity of theme and narrative.

    Thank you both for responding! Your comments are much appreciated.

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    Wow, very glad to see this back. First started following about a week into the hiatus, and I really enjoyed the additional story lines that are completely missing from the game, gives the story another dimension. Could I be added to the PM list please? Also, let me take this selfish opportunity and beg you to finish Rocket Revival. I NEED MY PSYCHOTIC GOLD!!

  18. #168
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    Quote Originally Posted by repoman View Post
    Wow, very glad to see this back. First started following about a week into the hiatus, and I really enjoyed the additional story lines that are completely missing from the game, gives the story another dimension. Could I be added to the PM list please? Also, let me take this selfish opportunity and beg you to finish Rocket Revival. I NEED MY PSYCHOTIC GOLD!!
    Added!

    I won't be finishing The Rocket Revival, I'm afraid. I like psychotic Gold as much as anyone else, but there are some serious flaws with the story that mean it would take a total rewrite to bring it up to my standards.

    Anyway, I'm glad you're enjoying this story. Anything that isn't in the game here is at least inspired by it. Somehow. All the plotlines arose spontaneously from my expansion of the B/W universe, so they're all kind of part of the game. Sort of.

    Maybe.

    Also. To the people on the PM list who changed their username: please let me know what you're called now, because as it stands I can't send you updates. If you no longer want to receive them, that's fine, but I feel vaguely guilty about not being able to provide you with this service.
    Last edited by Cutlerine; 8th September 2013 at 12:25 PM.

  19. #169
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    To Cutlerine, I'm TheDarkKnightFalls, had a name change. I'd like to be added to the PM list, please. ^^

    As for the fic, I confess I stopped reading it to due r less time. I've caught up now, and I must say, this is shaping up to be one of the best fics I've ever read. The action is extremely well-done, and the writing is absolutely immersive. Fabulous work, as ways.

    Niamh seems to be the met interesting character by far, her courage is amazing! Couldn't find any mistakes.You've fleshed out all the characters, and given the world of Unova a very realistic feel. I look forward to the next chaprters. I'd review better if I wasn't on an iPad.

    Kudos for writing such a good fic! Glad to see you've finished up your novel as well.

    Also, one question. If Alder is in his late twenties, and assuming this happens in the BW storyline, how come just two years later he's a grandpa? XD


    Wild Future ~ Tyrone Walpole
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  20. #170
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    Quote Originally Posted by Valaraúkar View Post
    To Cutlerine, I'm TheDarkKnightFalls, had a name change. I'd like to be added to the PM list, please. ^^
    Ah, so that's your new name. I'll amend the PM list at once.

    Quote Originally Posted by Valaraúkar View Post
    As for the fic, I confess I stopped reading it to due r less time. I've caught up now, and I must say, this is shaping up to be one of the best fics I've ever read. The action is extremely well-done, and the writing is absolutely immersive. Fabulous work, as ways.
    Thank you. I do like putting together fictional modern countries, and Unova has so far been the one I've got on best with. I think making a conscious decision to consider religion and politics, and to deliberately make them uniquely Unovan, really helped - as did giving the region such a rich history. I've flirted with the idea of real-world empires (usually the British; they had a tendency to get everywhere a couple of hundred years ago) taking over and ultimately giving up Pokémon-world nations in the past, but embracing it fully helped to mould the story quite nicely. It gave me a parliamentary system of government to work with, and something for Unova as a nation to rebel against - something that they of course would want to differentiate themselves from.

    Quote Originally Posted by Valaraúkar View Post
    Niamh seems to be the met interesting character by far, her courage is amazing! Couldn't find any mistakes.You've fleshed out all the characters, and given the world of Unova a very realistic feel. I look forward to the next chaprters. I'd review better if I wasn't on an iPad.
    My side characters have a weird little habit of stealing the show, I've noticed - Bond did the same sort of thing in Trip. As for Niamh, well, her story coincides with quite a large number of rather terrifying creatures and situations, so making her a monster-slayer and general badass rescuer of her man in distress helped me get her through her story with the minimum of digressionary shock and trauma.

    Quote Originally Posted by Valaraúkar View Post
    Kudos for writing such a good fic! Glad to see you've finished up your novel as well.
    Thanks!

    Quote Originally Posted by Valaraúkar View Post
    Also, one question. If Alder is in his late twenties, and assuming this happens in the BW storyline, how come just two years later he's a grandpa? XD
    Er... Because Alder has a secret wife and child Alder is much older than he looks Alder is an immortal semi-human infected with space microbes The honest truth is that I didn't know until you mentioned it just now. I had to go and look it up. I've never met Benga before - how, I don't know, but I just kind of missed him, I guess.

    So we shall put it down to, er, narrative magic. Or something like that.

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    Chapter Thirty: Spare Parts

    “What the actual f*ck.”

    Halley, of course, prowling inquisitively between the lines of standing pods; I couldn't even muster that much. There was N, and there were... well, what were these? Clones? Spare copies?

    “Thunor strike us,” breathed Cheren. “It's—”

    Explain,” I snapped, turning to Lisbeth. “Now. What are these, and why are they N?”

    “Jared,” began Bianca, but I held up a hand to interrupt her.

    “No. Lisbeth. What is going on here?”

    She looked afraid, as if she thought I might attack her – and for all I knew, I might have done; there was a horrible wrongness about all these Ns, these rows and rows of deathless clones, and it swelled inside me like ice in pipes, threatening to burst me at the seams. I wanted— I don't know what I wanted. But I wanted to do it fiercely.

    “He had a mummified body,” said Lisbeth, speaking far too fast. “A – a king, he said, an old king, and he wanted us to extract the DNA and grow a clone – several, he said, in case of trouble—”

    F*ck,” said Halley. “Do you remember? The first of the royal blood for thousands of years, N said. Didn't make sense at the time, did it? How could the monarchy be passed down? But if you found the body of the King...”

    “That's why he's named N,” I said, an icy cold stealing through my skin. “It's the name he had before, just modernised a little.” I took a deep breath. “He isn't descended from Naudri at all. He is Naudri.”

    “That's not quite how cloning works,” Cheren pointed out. “N is technically Naudri's son, but they're genetically identical.”

    “Why?” I asked abruptly, not listening to him. “Why did he want this – why did he want the body cloned? And where did he get it?”

    Lisbeth backed away slightly, raising her hands in a pacifying gesture.

    “Look, I only know so much—”

    “Then tell me whatever you do know,” I snapped. “Sun's sake, just talk already!”

    “OK!” She swallowed. “I don't know where the body came from,” she said. “The desert, I think. It came in a sarcophagus like they've found over in the First Kingdom ruins, so I'm guessing it was there.”

    “And why?” I asked.

    “I don't know!” Lisbeth closed her eyes. “I don't know.” She opened them again. “Look,” she said, more calmly, “I'm just a scientist. I work for Ingen, not Harmonia. I just patched together the genetic information from the body and grew it. After that, Harmonia's men took the baby away – I just made forty more bodies as back-ups, like he'd asked. He took them too, for a few years, and then gave them back for me to put into slow growth stasis in here. I've come here once a week to check on them ever since.”

    Something in my throat seemed to close up.

    “How long?” I asked, dreading the answer. “How long have they been stuck in there?”

    Lisbeth counted on her fingers.

    “Er... five years?” she hazarded. “Since they were toddlers.”

    “Wait,” said Cheren. “Five years?” He glanced at the clones. “They're as old as N, though.”

    “Yeah,” she said. “Same age – about eight or nine.”

    “What do you mean, eight or nine? They're clearly at least sixteen.”

    “They look sixteen,” agreed Lisbeth. “But they matured much faster. So did N.” She paused. “Wait. You didn't know, did you?”

    “Know what?” asked Halley. “I'm getting tired of this bullsh*t, so if you'd like to get to the f*cking point some time soon...?”

    “They look human,” said Lisbeth, an earnest look on her face. “And they act human, too – or at least N does; these don't do anything at all. But if you look at their bones, and their brains, and their DNA... Well. They just aren't human.”

    ---

    Niamh opened her eyes.

    This did not change a thing.

    She blinked. No. Still as dark as ever – unnaturally dark; darker than she'd ever known it to be before.

    She took a deep breath, and felt a weight on her chest.

    “Try not to breathe,” said a soft voice in her ear. “Moving only makes this trickier, and we do want you to survive the process.”

    Niamh started and hit her head on stone.

    “We asked you not to move,” said the voice. It had something of the buzz of flies about it, and Niamh knew, all at once and without being told, that it was an aspect of Weland. Not all of him, but some at least.

    Niamh lay very still, and concentrated.

    Where was she? In some very small, narrow space – possibly entombed, she thought. That was alarming, but not insurmountable. The voice said they wanted her alive, after all, so she wouldn't die.

    OK, thought Niamh, I can deal with that.

    Unfortunately, that wasn't all there was to it.

    Her clothes were gone, and in their place it felt like some kind of shroud or bandage was being wrapped around her. They began at her feet, and wound up tightly about her body to the chest, where she could feel them winding further, somehow slipping between her back and the stone beneath her with each revolution.

    Niamh thought of sarcophagi and mummies.

    Niamh thought of Ezra's choking bands of grey light.

    Niamh thought of curses that were sculpted flesh.

    “What are you doing to me?” she whispered faintly, clinging resolutely to the remnants of her iron will.

    “We are making you anew,” the voice whispered back, like a lover in her ear. “Such a prize specimen is not to be passed up, Niamh Harper. You will be a choice gem in our diadem indeed.”

    I am not afraid, Niamh told herself. I am Niamh Harper and I am not afraid of anything, so I'm definitely not f*cking afraid now—

    But she was, and with the Hellerune in her ear there was no way she could deny it – no way anyone could; no Beowulf or Hercules, no Atalanta or Osiris or even Baldr, could have found a way to shut the fear out of their mind with the soul of decay itself upon their chest.

    Something snapped inside her, and Niamh began to cry.

    ---

    “Not human,” I repeated. “What do you mean, not human?”

    “I mean exactly that,” replied Lisbeth. “Not human. Not a member of the species Homo sapiens.”

    “Well, what are they then?” asked Bianca.

    Lisbeth shrugged.

    “Something different. I don't know enough to work out the specifics. I just grow clones.” Perhaps she noticed the look on my face, because she carried on hurriedly, “These grow fast – as in, they grow at a constant rate and get larger faster. Their muscles mature rapidly, too, and their brains – or at least, N's did. These clones don't have brains; if N were to suffer a fatal injury, Harmonia would have his transplanted into them.”

    “This is some seriously f*cked-up sh*t,” said Halley. “You grew forty-odd people without brains in case N died?”

    Lisbeth looked nervous.

    “We did need them,” she said defensively. “N's body isn't strong, and he's allergic to pretty much everything you find in a modern city, from plastics and asphalt to petrol fumes and virtually every artificial additive in any food, ever. He's gone into major anaphylactic shock hundreds of times and died eight times over the last nine years.”

    “I can't believe this,” I said, shaking my head and stepping back. “No, I can't – these are all—”

    “It's a little disturbing if you're not used to it, I agree,” said Lisbeth. “But N is a very fragile person, and these aren't humans. They aren't anything – just shells that look like people.”

    “Let's leave the ethics aside for one moment,” said Cheren, in a tone of voice that convinced me that he hadn't considered them even for a second, “and let Lisbeth finish telling us about N's... species.”

    “How can you leave the ethics aside?” I asked, gesturing wildly at the cryo-chambers. “She made forty zombies and keeps them in chest freezers!”

    “In the name of keeping a very ill boy alive,” protested Lisbeth. “It's not like these bodies have minds. They're literally just meat until they need them.”

    “I – I guess she does have a point,” said Bianca doubtfully. “It's not so bad, Jared...”

    I could see that, I really could. I knew there was no suffering involved, and that the bodies only looked human (or almost-human, or whatever N was). But that wasn't the problem; it was more that whatever N was, whatever Naudri was, it was something more than this – something that was profaned by this, something that shared its essence with the dragons and with the city of granite and porphyry. It was something that Lisbeth had no business cutting up and resurrecting – something that should have been handled only by a Sun-Priest, not by a scientist.

    (What was a Sun-Priest, I wondered distractedly. I had no idea.)

    “Fine,” I said, suddenly exhausted. “Fine, fine. Go on then, Lisbeth.”

    “About N's species?”

    “Yeah. About that.”

    “Well, like I said, they grow fast – but they don't reach sexual maturity when you'd expect,” she said. “None of the specimens has developed any recognisable secondary sexual characteristics as yet; they're all still prepubescent. Which is normal for a nine-year-old, but not normal for someone the size and shape of a sixteen-year-old.”

    “Man,” said Halley. “You would not know it from his voice. You'd think it'd be all high and squeaky, but nope. Bari sax all the way.”

    “The vocal range is deeper from birth,” said Lisbeth. “There was no breaking of the voice.”

    I eyed her with distaste. I didn't like the dispassionate approach she was taking.

    “All right,” said Cheren. “Do you know any more?” Lisbeth shook her head. “Then start taking photos,” he said to Bianca and me. “Harmonia must have suspected we, or perhaps that Ezra guy, were on our way here, and thought to use the protests as a way of stopping us. Why? Because this is all very, very illegal, and if information about this gets out, it's going to destroy his career.”

    “We could stop his whole campaign,” Bianca cried. “There'd be an inquiry—”

    “Send it all to the League,” I said. “If Shauntal had this information and photos to back it up, she could get it all over the country in half an hour.”

    Lisbeth looked alarmed.

    “Look,” she said, “I know the legality of this is kinda questionable, but so was resurrecting that Archen—”

    “Where's the body?” I asked suddenly.

    “What?”

    “Naudri's body,” I clarified, as Cheren started taking photos with his phone. “What did you do with it?”

    “Nothing. I mean, Harmonia took it away afterwards. I mean, hey, please don't take pictures—”

    “Don't worry, we won't implicate you,” said Bianca kindly. “You've been really helpful.”

    “I suppose so,” said Cheren, taking a close-up of one of the frozen clones. “Though I don't suppose Ingen looks after its own, does it?”

    “No,” said Lisbeth sourly. “It doesn't. Seriously, could we talk—?”

    Cheren twitched his fingers and Justine was on her shoulders in an instant, claws ready to curl into the flesh of her throat. Lisbeth looked surprised – hell, I probably looked surprised; what with everything else, I'd forgotten Justine entirely.

    “All right,” said Lisbeth, swallowing. “I'll take that as a 'no'.”

    “I'd rather be reasonable than violent,” said Cheren, without looking at her, “but to be honest, you rather threw reason out the window when you began human experimentation.”

    “They aren't human—”

    “But they are a species of human, aren't they?” asked Cheren. “They must be. They couldn't be so similar to us and not be at least in the hominin group, if not in the genus Homo.”

    Lisbeth was silent.

    “I thought so,” he said. “The men and women of the First Kingdom – they weren't our humans, were they? They must have been something else – a species of human that developed civilisation slightly earlier. That built the nameless city of granite and porphyry when we were still stabbing wild cattle with pointed sticks. They're not Homo sapiens. But they are human, and you brought them back to life in a world that they can no longer live in.”

    “N,” I said. “He said the same thing about Candy...”

    “Ark?” said Candy, hearing her name, but she didn't get a response.

    “Jesus Christ,” said Halley. “He wasn't being insightful. He was being empathetic. He's as dislocated in time as she is.”

    I stared at Lisbeth.

    “You started this,” I said, not quite able to believe what I said. “That's what it was then – two types of human, two dragons. Two heroes versus one King. It's the same now, and why now? Because you brought him back. That's why the war is starting all over again.” I shook my head slowly. “One thing. One resurrection, and all this...”

    “Damn,” said Cheren, breaking into my reverie. “No signal. Bianca?”

    “Nope.”

    “Oh, signal's terrible all over the Cold Storage,” said Lisbeth, eager to be helpful and get back into our good books. “Lots of the older warehouses date back to the British occupation. The roofs are thick and packed with lead – you won't get a signal until you get back over the bridge.”

    “Guess we'll have to wait til then to send the pictures.” Bianca slipped her phone back into her bag. “So, I guess we'd better get moving? I mean, we need to get those pictures out there as soon as possible.”

    “Yeah,” I said. “Let's get the f*ck out of here.”

    Justine mewed from Lisbeth's shoulder, as if to ask what we were going to do with her.

    “Ah,” said Cheren. “Yes. I have to say, I wouldn't really feel comfortable beating Lisbeth into unconsciousness.”

    “Neither would I,” said Lisbeth. “How about you just leave me here? I'll sit tight and – and pretend this never happened.”

    Cheren looked at me.

    “What do you think?”

    “Fine. Whatever. Can we just get out of here?”

    “OK, OK.” He gestured to Justine and she leaped back down to the floor. “Come on, then,” he said. “Let's go.”

    “Go? Oh, come on. You only just got here – won't you stay a while?”

    I froze.

    “You can turn around,” said the voice. “I'm not going to kill you.”

    We did.

    “Woden hang 'em,” I groaned, seeing who it was. “Another of you f*cking Sages.”

    ---

    The Sage shrugged, which made his ridiculous hat bob and nearly fall off his head.

    “What can I say,” he said. “We get around.”

    “What accent is that?” asked Bianca. “Are you all from different parts of the world?”

    “We are the wisest and the most powerful!” said the Sage theatrically, throwing his arms wide. “Gathered from all around the world by Ghetsis Harmonia, who serves as our head.” He withdrew his arms quickly. “Agh. It's cold in here, isn't it? I hate that. Don't move,” he added, as I began to run at him, and I saw something enormous rise silently up from behind him – a great face of jagged ice, trailing chains of snowy lights from its upper lip. It did not have eyes; in their place, it had two soft orbs of cold, cold blue light, and though they did not move I was certain they were fixed on me.

    “Drop the gun and kick it over here,” ordered the Sage. “You could shoot, and maybe you'd get me. But you wouldn't get both me and my Cryogonal before my Cryogonal got you, and once my Cryogonal got you, you wouldn't be getting anything. You'd be a bit too dead.”

    Cheren dropped the gun and kicked it over to him; the Sage scooped it up and tossed it across to Roy, who had just emerged from the gold storage area.

    “Hello,” he said, with a certain savage humour.

    “Hey, Roy,” I replied. “How's your head?”

    “F*cked.”

    “Good to know.”

    “Roy contacted me when he woke up in the bin,” said the Sage.

    “Speaking of which – who are you, exactly?” asked Cheren.

    “Ah! But of course. My name is Zinzolin—”

    “Zanzolah?” asked Bianca.

    “—and you are Cheren, Bianca and Jared.” Zinzolin frowned. “No, Zinzolin.”

    “He's French, Bianca,” said Cheren quietly. “It's his accent.”

    “F*ck you,” said Zinzolin. “I'm Belgian.”

    “So make a f*cking waffle,” retorted Halley. “Now there's a reference I never thought I'd get to make.”

    Zinzolin snapped something in French and the Cryogonal roared – at least, I think it roared; there was a sound like the wind howling in midwinter when it's heavy with snow, and I was reasonably sure that it came from between the Cryogonal's parted lips.

    There was silence.

    “Thank you,” said Zinzolin. “Now. Let us get to the point, shall we? You” – he jabbed his finger in our direction, and the Cryogonal bobbed fiercely – “have been taking photos. And this we cannot allow.”

    “Did you think me and the protest were the only things standing in your way?” asked Roy. “Sage Zinzolin's been waiting in the middle of the protesters.”

    “Like Gorm,” I said, narrowing my eyes. “You Sages seem to like going around with hypnotised crowds.”

    Zinzolin wagged a finger.

    “This isn't about me,” he said. “This is about you, and your snooping.” He made as if to pat his Cryogonal, then noticed the frosty mist rising from its skull and thought better of it. “We were told not to kill you,” said Zinzolin. “It is N's will. But there was nothing about freezing you in blocks of ice and gifting you to King Weland. He is very keen to meet you,” he added, looking directly at me. “He would love to add you to his collection.”

    “His collection?” asked Cheren.

    “It's probably best if you don't ask,” said Zinzolin. “After all, you'll find out first-hand soon enough.”

    “Cheren,” said Bianca, disbelievingly, “I think we might be about to die.”

    And then it hit me: there was a Cryogonal between me and Zinzolin, and it was ready to kill us all.

    And there was absolutely nothing I or anyone else could do about it.

    I felt sick – sick and angry; angry that we had lost, angry that there was nothing I could do, angry that we were going to Weland of all people. I wanted something solid between my hands with which to smash the Cryogonal into pieces – but what good would it do? It was almost certainly faster than me, and tougher than it looked, and there was Roy with the gun...

    Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Bianca's hand wind nervously into Cheren's, and I thought of Annie, alone and wondering why I wasn't returning calls; I wondered what would happen to Cordelia, to Harlow, to Mum and Dad – what would everyone say when I was dead or something even worse in the halls of the demon king.

    “How about you don't freeze us in blocks of ice?” asked Halley nervously. “Really. I mean, Han Solo is cool and all, but I don't want to emulate his untimely demise.”

    Zinzolin pretended to consider it.

    “No,” he said. “No, I think we'll go with the freezing.”

    Lisbeth put up her hand timidly.

    “What about me?” she asked.

    “You? Oh, the scientist. Don't worry, you're safe, despite your betrayal – you're the only one who can look after these.”

    He waved a hand at the clones.

    “Actually,” Lisbeth began, “anyone with the right— You know what? Yes, I am the only one in the whole world who can look after them.”

    “Return your Purrloin,” said Zinzolin. “One less thing to freeze.”

    Cheren did. He didn't say anything, but his lips were taut, and he kept the light glinting off his glasses so that his eyes could not be seen.

    Bianca didn't say anything either. She didn't need to; her face said it all.

    I took Candy from my shoulder and held her close, in front of me. Halley paced indecisively before us.

    “F*ckf*ckf*ckf*ck,” she said. “No, this isn't – we can't lose, not now, not when we've found this—”

    “You think so?” asked Zinzolin, regarding her disinterestedly. “Ah, well. Not so. Hexagel,” he said, suddenly switching to French. “Glaciation!

    The Cryogonal's mouth gaped, and I shut my eyes as the air around me burst into horrendous, blood-freezing cold—

    ---

    When the work was done, Weland lifted his Hand from the body of Niamh Harper, and left the sarcophagus to let the new flesh cool.

    The Hand crossed the Gaol hall, and climbed back up the stairs to the Great Western Transept, where the Gaoler had her office. It did not knock, nor did it open the door, but the Gaoler knew that the Hand was there, as everyone always knew when the Hand was there, and opened the door for it.

    “My lord,” she said, lowering herself. (It would be incorrect to say she bowed, or that she curtseyed. She lacked the proper limbs for such a manoeuvre.)

    “Thejne Yaghda,” replied the Hand. “Release Harmonia's man.”

    “The human?”

    The Hand made a gesture of affirmation. (It would be incorrect to say it nodded, for much the same reason that it would be incorrect to say that Yaghda bowed.)

    “Portland Smythe,” said the Hand of Weland.

    “Where shall we leave him, my lord?”

    “Anywhere,” replied the Hand. “We keep our word. We promised the warrior that he would be released, and so he shall.”

    Yaghda smiled.

    “Does that mean we might release him very far above the ground?”

    “Of course. You might watch him, too, to see how he bounces.”

    Yaghda's substance flexed with pleasure.

    “It shall be done, my lord.”

    The Hand left, and began to stalk back towards the throne room. Yaghda, for her part, made her way downstairs, back into the Tomb-Gaol. She crossed the hall, opened up the wall—

    “Ah,” said Yaghda, staring. A few of her eyes migrated to the front of her body, just to make sure she wasn't missing anything – but there could be no mistake.

    The little chamber was empty.

    Portland Smythe had escaped.

    ---

    —and then gradually warmed again.

    “Ouch,” said an unfamiliar voice. “That hurt.”

    I opened my eyes. There was a man standing in front of us – no, not a man; he had wings, or something dark and nebulous that looked a little like wings, arching out from his back, shielding us from the Cryogonal's breath. Frost hung heavily on his hair and the shadow-stuff of his wings, and it cracked and fell to the floor in showers as he moved.

    “But it all serves a purpose,” he went on, his wings folding away into nothingness. “It is only the attacked who can use the Riposte.”

    He stepped forwards and laid his hands on the Cryogonal, and an unearthly sheen flared across its surface; its mouth flopped open, and then its lower jaw detached completely and smashed on the floor. A moment later, the rest of its body followed – and there was nothing more than a heap of glassy shards to show that there had ever been anything there at all.

    Zinzolin stared.

    “Roy,” he said. “Shoot him.”

    Roy did, and the man's hand jumped forwards so fast it made my eyes water. He opened his fingers, and a little flattened disc of metal fell out.

    “Would you care to try again?” asked the man. “Only it seems rather a waste of ammunition.”

    Sh*t,” said Zinzolin, and I thought in that moment he sounded much more Unovan than French. (Or Belgian, or whatever.) “It's you, isn't it? The rebel.”

    The man bowed.

    “At your service. Or rather, at your service.”

    He turned and nodded to us, and I saw his face for the first time – soft-edged, long, with large, haunted eyes.

    “Now,” said the rebel. “Hero, accomplices – let's leave. We can safely leave these three here; should they somehow muster the courage to mount some form of assault, I have no doubts at all that we can repulse it.”

    I would have asked what he meant by 'Hero', but I wasn't up to it; I couldn't even think straight. N was the clone of Naudri, who wasn't human, and there was another Sage, and an impossible man had taken the frozen breath of a Cryogonal and caught bullets. If there's anyone on Earth who could still react to anything after experiencing all that in less than five minutes, I'd like to meet them.

    So we trailed out, following the rebel in his battered suit and dark coat; felt Zinzolin's eyes on us, smouldering with rage; felt Roy and Lisbeth watching in confusion and fear.

    We had escaped death and the King, I thought, but where were we going now?

    ---

    Niamh opened her eyes, and pushed the lid of the sarcophagus aside with one hand. She climbed up and out, rubbing her neck with greying fingers, and regarded the two smiling men standing before her with interest.

    “Good morning, boss,” said one. “We brought you your weeds.”

    Niamh took the suit from him and the bowler hat from his comrade, and stared at them for a moment.

    Then, all at once, and quite without reason, she began to grin, and she did not stop.
    Last edited by Cutlerine; 21st September 2013 at 5:59 PM.

  22. #172
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    Hmm..... Well the story is still amazing. Can't wait for the next chapter.

  23. #173
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    Gah, I can't remember his name, but the guy who rescued Jareds group was the one working with Niamh, right?

    And sh*t, Niamh seems to not be herself right now, and is likely to be some new opposition.

    Looking forward to another chapter, keep it up.


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

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

  24. #174
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ej190 View Post
    Hmm..... Well the story is still amazing. Can't wait for the next chapter.
    Thanks! Glad you like it.

    Quote Originally Posted by Azurus View Post
    Gah, I can't remember his name, but the guy who rescued Jareds group was the one working with Niamh, right?
    Ezra. Yes, I'd imagine it probably is Ezra.

    Quote Originally Posted by Azurus View Post
    And sh*t, Niamh seems to not be herself right now, and is likely to be some new opposition.

    Looking forward to another chapter, keep it up.
    I've pretty much outright stated what Niamh is now, but it'll become even more obvious soon enough.

    Thank you all for reading, and for leaving comments!

  25. #175
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    This is great, it adapts the main series games in a wonderful way; it's like the events of the game were only leftover clues pointing to a realer, much bigger story, and here we're seeing it. I love the parts of it that are familiar tokens from the game, and also how sparse those parts are. There are people whose names we recognize but the people are different, there are the names of all the Unova places but they're settings for something else, and your universe too matches a name with the pokemon one but it's made of a different stuff. Isn't that the best part about fanfics. Or adaptations of versions. Every writer's White is a different person. I always write my reviews by typing in what I think about scenes as I read them, so pardon if I make a remark that got obsoleted by an update, like, a year ago. This is starting from just before I read the first chapter:

    When I first got to this fic in August I cried forever, because it was on hiatus and I hadn't even seen it yet. Now I'm happy. Because you actually name old authors I'm gonna start with some nonsense talk about traditions. The vague idea I'd had of you was that you write in the British sf parody genre, Terry Pratchett and such, that Bartimaeus fellow, randomness probably inherited from the great Douglas Adams, which the first chapter seems to justify a little -- particularly the gentle satire on the ridiculousness of daily life -- Regenschein the war zone. Relatively this is smooth, sensible stuff though -- I know how wrong random parody can go -- the prose stays practical and unknotted, the situations all feel credible in that special, ridiculous way. The casualness of the first scene rankled at me, the shortness of the prargraphs or something, but that's because I'm a humorless *******.

    Oh, wait, but it only starts out random! Then it gets down to business. I am interested in your fitting the Unova versions into a framework for your fic; this is probably one of those things that can be done with Unova and I ought to look into it.

    Tiresias, blind old man with wrinkled dugs ... How did a prophet become a city-razing demon?

    An immediate reaction of mine reading Ch. 4 onwards: Teiresias' treatment seems a little heavy-handed, in that absolutely every mention of him involves, not just a reference to how infernal she is, but flowery descriptions, emphatically intense words, nineteenth-century syntax, etc. I think I recognize why you're doing it -- Teiresias is like a force so far outside nature, or even so deeply ingrained in nature, that his evil penetrates even to the narration; it's a part of the text itself. But one thing that isn't necessarily achieved by handling it this way is actually convincing the reader she's horrible. Sometimes the force of your allusions and metaphors is strong enough to make an impact. Sometimes, because your prose is usually is very taut and action-oriented, it feels hurried and compressed. When you use all that rhetoric for her being terrible to behold, it's fine that I don't personally experience terror, but I don't get to see the qualities and consequences of his being terrible either; they just feel like different variations on a perfunctory "she is one seriously bad mother".

    There are a few other immaturities in the narration, probably marks of the fic being a year younger than it is now; I bet they'll disappear as I get to newer updates.

    The free pokemon press release was awesome. That was the first thing I thought when I played White, someone is going to do a fanfic where these guys get to be taken seriously. Now I expect all sorts of elaborations and betrayals and bad propaganda on both sides of the matter. In general I had a nice shock of recognition as soon as I realized there was going to be a scene from game canon; isn't it cool that we are going to see the story we recognized in a much expanded/reverted/suverted way. (This is heartening to me personally because my fic will rely heavily on recognition, though it doesn't have hardly the same geopolitical epicness to fall back on.)

    “Control? No. Never.” He sounded hurt – physically, as if I'd punched him.
    He was high-pitched and wheezing? An image of how he must have sounded failed to form in my mind.

    One thing I felt might have been lost from N's conversation -- and, of course, it's your scenes you're writing, not the game's -- was how immediately arresting this guy is. Which partially has to do with his appearance which you can't write in a story: as soon as his sprite came out there was titter, fangirls, speculation etc. But his dialogue too sounded not... hm, impossible to interrupt? as in the games: it was just him, in a silence after the crowd'd left, saying something that was intimate to him. Like Steven at Sootopolis going "Listen, do you think POKeMON are to be feared?" There could be no impertinent children there asking who the hell are you.

    “It always pays to learn your subjects to a certain degree of depth,” he said with dignity, and fell silent.
    Heh, I like the encyclopedic character actually talking back to "I didn't ask for that much information".

    The Halley-Cheren conversation was highly appreciated, I liked it more than any other single scene with any dramatic tension. I see you're very good with characters. And will, like Psychic, sit back and feel catered for in terms of writing quality.

    And that was because he was woken from a peaceful dream about cucumbers by a voice that ground upon his consciousness like skeletal feet across the floor of a crypt.
    Thank god, other people have peaceful dreams about cucumbers too!

    All this talk about the differences between human and pokemon, I bet, will eventually lead somewhere. Especially the moral ambiguity of what animals (have to) do.

    “Because you three smell of fear,” Halley said. “You've been bathing in it all morning, thanks to Teiresias. Any animal with a decent sense of smell is going to be confused by you, since you look bold but smell terrified.”
    Is it artifical intelligence? Wouldn't it be able to handle smelling creatures that must have been scared a while ago (the pheromones smell old, possibly), but recovered themselves very recently?

    Ooh, rigorously naturalistic pokemon training. The natural behavior of the purrloin nicely fits together those 'personality types' that whole species are supposed to have, according to the pokedex, with like individual variation, also the influence of accidents and mistakes. As natural as it is, I seem to be rudely uneducated about the idea that newly caught pokemon would probably be feral in exactly that way, even according to the games.

    By the way I see that particular development about Halley not being a nice person has been put in cold storage, at least for these chapters. I suppose it was Cheren who really noticed it. Before, and afterwards, Halley kept going on with Jared as mean yet fundamentally protectable as always. Still, I had the impression, when you sprinkled the scenes shortly afterward with all those hints about her nature, that you were building up to something. I suppose it's a choice, continuous tremors leading up to a climactic eruption of the hidden, or only one click betraying the setting of a bomb that goes on ticking quietly until its time.

    I'm seriously digging the scene-building in chapter ten: the long, towering construction of your Dreamyard's mood and scenery, the reconnaissance, the sudden trigger of the Green Party chekhov's bomb. One of those Psychonaut-style fps games where everything develops all at once. I haven't had this much fun in ages. As soon as the chase started, I could see the Green Party soldiers were marked out for the Musharna's wrath.

    Incidentally:

    Behind me, I heard the Throth cough, an explosive rattle like a backfiring car, and punch the wall out of boredom. From the sound of it, that brought down rather more masonry than I was entirely comfortable with.
    Misspelled Throh. And

    She turned, and actually skipped over to join me in her joy.
    I think the source of this phrase is when somebody's skipping who would be a lot more ridiculous if found skipping, cf. "[Capt. Prentice] will then actually skip to and fro, with his knees high and twirling a walking stick with W. C. Fields' head, nose, top hat, and all, for its knob [...]"; the power is much reduced when a teenage girl is found doing it. That was an excuse to tell you I disapprove of what you're doing with Bianca so far [disclaimer: her writing in this early part]; her airheadedness I feel is such an obvious canon trait that a writer ought not to even focus on it, except to riff off in different variations. What you're doing is making it her dominant note, with every other character development in reference to it; and it also doesn't feel like a natural character trait that real people have, but simply a cliche: an artificial set of behaviours pasted over a probably human girl. The harshness of everything I just wrote, of course, should be mitigated by your obvious gift for making characters feel natural. But still, I do feel there's something lacking/hollow/mechanical there.

    “And if they bleed, you can kill them,” agreed Ezra with a smile. “I'll drink to that.”
    What about poured concrete, huh? Can you kill that? I wanna talk to the guy who made that popular.

    “Oh!,” cried Bianca. “And it explains that weird feeling you get sometimes, when you suddenly feel life is a lie and there's some huge secret being held just out of your reach.”

    “Nah, I'm pretty sure that's just teenage paranoia,” replied Halley.
    There! That's Douglas Adams. Now I just need to catch you quoting Terry Pratchett, and the paragraph at the beginning of this review won't be totally useless.

    “Then again, I don't know what anyone expected of a show whose premise is literally 'a Swedish child and a Mexican child explore a bleak grey afterlife together with an array of dogs named after philosophers'.”
    I wouldn't mind watching that. Even if it were a comic strip by Alejandro Jodorowsky. Looping out of a shaky grey ghost-dog's mouth: "IN A UNIVERSE REDUCIBLE TO LANGUAGE, IT MIGHT BE ENOUGH TO POSIT THAT THE SELF EXISTS. OR ANYONE ELSE EXPERIENCED BY THE SELF. BUT ARE YOU SURE THIS CAN AVAIL IN YOUR SITUATION?"

    He stretched out his arms, and the Pokémon landed on them, chittering and squawking; he made a soft cooing noise, and the birds flapped off in that clattering way that pigeons do. The Emolga lingered for a moment, and then he dismissed them with a twitch of his nose and a guttural chuck.
    I want this sentence smaller, it's an interlude detail between two beats of dialogue, and its effect is also stronger if it quickly establishes N as St. Francis of Assissi or whatever in one forceful impression, and then departs. Besides how many pokemon are you, um, positing landed on him at the same time?

    This story has found its proper beat by now; it's winding its ornate fore-steps, not rushing, not slow for us, confident of every new image it puts forward.

    “Ezra, I think we ought to leave,” said Niamh tightly. She felt like she was going to explode, and she knew it was probably because of Portland but Woden fIcking hang 'em this guy was annoying and she was going to beat him into nothingness if they stayed. “Or.”
    Missed the '8' key in 'fucking'.

    It is true that these days, it was almost a terminal affair with him, but today he felt it especially acutely.
    Terminal? I'm sure your sense was along 'perennial' or 'continuous'. Probably you were swayed by the idea of afflictions or conditions being terminal and momentarily didn't give it any thought.

    If you still write your prose quickly and don't look back, please do glance at your stuff one or twice more; there are details and especially reading effects that the writer can't see at the moment of writing. Even though at this point you're good enough that there's nothing discernible to my eyes, it's better to give it more time.

    Now my idea of Bianca is she's a very nice treatment of the ordinary person in hero plots, and I'd even be happy if (as inevitably happens) she doesn't in the end turn out to be The Most Special of All -- but my first indignation, when I wrote the earlier paragraph, still has its remnants. It is slightly related to Lauren intially having been the girl, and the timid/less combative character. It's because -- why should Bianca be thrown into a corner like this, in what decent situation would everybody so naturally file her away as a loser, because she doesn't have one of those specific talents that are needed to justify absolutely all characters in this kind of sf. For instance doesn't it hurt when everyone is surprised to see her display any semi-useful skills at all, and does it hurt even more when she turns out to be less adequate at it than one of the other characters. I know this is a save the world plot, not a decent situation, but still. That makes it all the more interesting to see what you intend to do with her. I will be watching quite carefully.

    My eyes were sealed beneath layers of mucous, protecting them from the dragon's vitriolic blood, but I saw through her eyes more clearly than I had ever seen through my own.
    Surprisingly 'mucus' is not a simplification or Americanism of 'mucous'; rather 'mucous' means 'relating to mucus'. Mucous membrane. Turns out the Latin root is 'mucosus'. Excise an '-us' and do the traditional English spelling shift, you get 'mucus'.

    “I have no idea why I think that,” she told me. “I just do, the same way I have a mental image of Steven Stone as being tall and handsome, even though I've never seen a picture of him.”
    She does? : D

    “Yes. Total nothingness. If we had spent much longer there, we would have been... altered. Perhaps we already have been,” he posited. “Though I confess we look the same at least.”
    There's some classic video game logic. You haven't changed if your sprite looks the same.

    “Excuse me,” said the guard over the PA system. “Excuse me. The Driftveil Drawbridge has been, er, unexpectedly raised. Please bear with us while we try and find out what's going on.”
    There was another murmur – the drawbridge raised, now? Trains using the bridge and ships needing to pass up the Valroy Channel to Driftveil were timed so that they didn't clash – even I knew that, and I knew almost nothing about anything that wasn't in White Forest.
    Line break I think.

    I remembered you identified yourself more with Lauren than with Jared or Halley. If Lauren gives a minute of pity for the Driftveil train guard, you must have been thinking hard about Bianca for a while now.

    They could stay no longer, however, on account of it being somewhat suspicious that they had been seen to appear from nowhere in the middle of the street and then hit without apparent ill effect by a speeding van, and had consequently had to make themselves scarce, leaving behind forever the mystery of why (and indeed how) an ice-cream man was driving so fast in a built-up area.
    This smacks of a crammed-in reference. Think, think. Ice cream vans. Where could I have...?

    And indeed they were; pedestrian traffic dwindled as they approached South Point, the point where the mainland was closest to the shores of Welkan Island (or, as it was informally known, the Cold Storage, owing to the all-pervasive and wholly inexplicable chill that had lain over the island since time immemorial).
    Oh, yes! Presumably the designers only thought, since it's a freezer level, let's put in some ice pokemon around the area for scenery. But in a game, those touches make it a force of nature. It has to have been an inexplicably cold island for all time.

    I suppose not everyone feels the need to reply. I certainly don't expect them to if they don't feel like it; readers owe me nothing, after all, while I owe them a decent story at least.
    On the contrary, I think a reader's work in some ways ought to be more massive than the writer's herself; the reader has to construct as much as the writer, from less workable material; and most of all it's the reader who can cut up and analyze a story in a million different ways that a writer can't. A reader who thinks a million things about the story but never gets them to the writer is leaving a silence, one that I can't imagine being good for either of them. I mean the writer is actually going out on a limb with everything she's been thinking about for so long. The reader never feels obliged to do the same. (I realize that in actual publishing, writers sell 20k books and 20 letters come back to them, but necessary as it is I'm still not comfortable with the idea.)

    Lovecraftian horror is just a treasure trove of mind-searing ideas; I let myself think for a while about the Sleer and the void's habit of changing people, then thought about the glutinous apathy described in the Void and how it would feel when it was done with your mind. Changed to a lifeless construction of only chaos. The sack of Rome as an accidental collateral phenomenon of same.

    “BUT YOU ARE SUCH AN EXCELLENT SPECIMEN OF YOUR SPECIES.”
    That's not a compliment I've ever heard of. Her alarm bells ought to be going off pronto.

    I liked to have any potential threats in view; if you knew where the enemy was, you could punch him.
    What if the enemy is poured con behind reinforced glass? Huh? What if the enemy is a 'her'?

    [quote]Burn up the bodies in hellfire, job done, no more interference.[/quote[

    He has access to hellfire?

    I don't know if the theme of "how are all these impossible things happening, my realistic life has been turned upside down", at least as often as you repeat it, might be a bit of a banal choice for your fic, which deals with magic pretty much exclusively and in a professional capacity; if, for instance, one of the explicit things about monsters, legends, the magic your characters have grown up dealing with, is that they defy reality, then just how surprised would a monster hunter be on seeing something else that also defies reality, in a different way. To what extent is the plot of this story an eruption of impossible things over and above what goes on in the magical world anyway; and how far is it completely unprecedented, considering your characters keep making references to other (sometimes greater) calamities throughout history that were just as, so to say, mirabilis. Hm? When I read the first chapter I was almost thinking, Jared lives in a pokemon world, he should be half jaded to these things already. Now I realize that was naive, but I still think the "magical things are happening" theme has been repeated a bit too much not to grate.

    Holy ****. Endless lines of cryogenically frozen N clones. Who saw that coming?

    Heh. Scene transitions that are followed by the exact same scene picking up where it left off. They're quite mandatory is some situations, aren't they? We've been raised on television and we borrow our dramatic rhythms from all sorts of different media.

    Thought the "I felt sick that our plan was totaled and we were helpless" paragraphs needed a bit more leading up to them, as in, they need a longer justification of why they are completely helpless, the steady wringing of each escape possibility contradicted, a checkmate properly and unassailably assembled. Not necessarily for the scene's logic, but simply to pull off the mood expressed by the paragraph. It wasn't exactly hard for me to consider that they were in a far worse situation than they had been when it was just Roy, but you know, Cheren's handled himself in the very presense of Tiresias before, I'm surprised he didn't even try to think of something in this emergency.

    That paragraph... needs to be produced by a mood of frustrated helplessness; it cannot itself produce such a mood. Or shouldn't, for elegance. See how I'm getting more minute and nitpicky up to the recent chapters? That's called foresight! *fails to notice a banana peel*

    Hah, Ezra's a fallen angel. A non.. anti-fallen... The exact opposite of that.

    You've outright stated who... Oh, goddammit, Niamh's an Unoriginal Name now, of course. I can't remember at all what happens to their free will after the procedure. At this juncture I wonder about the title of your fic, which you must have absolutely planned out in the beginning from something that's yet to happen in the story. The love of seafood? Or is it a reference to your wider fic multiverse? You put terrines somewhere in all your fics, apparently. Obviously the solution to this puzzle is very simple, Halley was always a cat-monster, and she stole something fishy due to her being a cat, and the loss of that fish is the only thing standing between Harmonia/King Weland and the sack of the modern world.

    Do add me to the PM list.

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