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October 8, 2012

I Hraet You (44)

Beat 44: Now, the Climax -- Oh Wait, Deductions First

“Lloyd, what the hell?!” Trixie yelled, teeth clenched and legs flailing as she tried to break out of Patton’s grip.  “Are ya outta yer mind?  What’s this all about?”

Lloyd stood his ground and pushed his glasses up his nose, and gave his father an approving nod.  “Be sure to hold her in place.  We can’t have her moving around too freely -- but be sure not to hurt her.  If there’s one person that I would have you be gentle with, it would be our house guest.”

“I’d have an easier time being gentle if she’d stop moving around,” Patton grumbled.  But nonetheless, he kept her steady, and his face remained unchanged in spite of Trixie’s struggling.

“It seems as if everything is going to plan -- as we discussed.”  Lloyd covered his mouth and glanced aside.  “Granted this is a countermeasure based on conjecture, but at this point, I’d rather not add any unnecessary risks.”

“Hey!  HEY!  Don’t leave me outta the conversation, pal!” Trixie yelled; if she had her feet on the ground, she would have stamped a foot against it.  “Just what is goin’ on?  And what’re ya goin’ on about?”

“Eh?  Why, building suspense, obviously.”

“I MEAN THE OTHER PART!  Why am I gettin’ manhandled here?”

“Oh, that.  You should have said so sooner, Miss Walters.”

If Trixie had control of her body, she would have banged her head against a wall.

Lloyd sighed.  “How should I put this…?” he asked, scratching his head.  “Well, the simplest way to put it is this: it’s incredibly likely that your actions are not necessarily your own right now, Miss Walters.”

“Beg yer pardon?”

“A bit far-fetched, I know, but I’m not without my reasoning.  You see, as the day has worn on I’ve noticed more than a few…shall we say, idiosyncrasies.  Put simply, Gaston’s machinations thus far have been too overstated, too obvious; he may have some semblance of a stranglehold on the town, but because of that he’s overplayed his part.”  He gave her a short nod.  “I know how Gaston’s powers work.”

At long last, Trixie stopped squirming. 

“Well, I SUSPECT I know how they work, but I’ve no reason to doubt myself now.”  He held a hand in front of his face, and then showed his palm to Trixie, as if to explain he had nothing up his sleeve.  “The trigger for my power is contact with a woman, albeit with a few qualifiers.  It needs to be someone who has some semblance of a positive opinion of me, and it has to be someone I haven’t elevated to the maximum number of stars -- which would explain why I have yet to return to your inner zone, Miss Walters.  But requirements aside, the end result is largely clear: I can interact with and pacify the heart, bringing with it a much higher mood and esteem for its owner.  At least, as far as I know.

“There are many things I’ve yet to learn about this golden touch of mine, but it’s possible -- perhaps even probable -- that Gaston’s powers are a dark reflection of my own.  Therefore, he must have some sort of clauses required for activation.  And as it stands, I’m inclined to believe that the key requirement is for us to be indoors, and within his range.”  He started counting off on his fingers.  “The first time you encountered him was in the Haldane Manor -- a perfect place for a hideaway, and even better for affecting your senses.  The second, my home -- a place he saw fit to venture to and profane with his presence, but affect little else.  And the third -- if my theory is correct -- is the school auditorium, where he waits to spring his trap.” 

“Makes sense, I guess,” said Trixie.  “But what’s his power, exactly?  He tried crushin’ me and yer folks when we were in that mansion, and --”

“And yet you’re still alive.  I fail to see how something so lethal could leave you unscathed.”

“Uhhhh…well, yeah, that’s true.”

“The reason why is simple: one of Gaston’s chief powers is that of illusion.  As long as we’re in the same enclosed space, he can have us see whatever he wants us to see.  It would explain the fantastic elements you and I have seen today, and doubtless he can use it in a number of harrowing ways.”

“But wait a minute.  If all he can do is make illusions, how can he --”

“Now, now, I haven’t forgotten.  I said ONE of Gaston’s chief powers is illusion.  The second is that of persuasion.  Simply put, mind control.  It’s the only way he could have affected all the components needed for his displays.”  He held out a hand.  “Earlier today, Gaston made me see an illusion of you, Miss Walters, multiplied nearly forty-fold.  The illusion felt so real, it may as well have been -- but, the fact that the room remained in disarray when all the clones had vanished means that on some level, something transpired in the background.  Someone helped Gaston with the deception.  Can you guess who?”

Trixie tried to answer, but she couldn’t do much besides silently move her mouth.

“You have no recollection of such a ruckus, yes?  Well, I’m not wholly convinced that you were out of commission the whole time.  In fact, my guess is that Gaston has had some degree of control over you for quite some time -- likely, from the moment his illusion at Haldane Manor vanished.”

“But…but if that’s the case, then…”

Lloyd nodded.  “Gaston can use his powers in conjunction with one another.  It wouldn’t be too difficult to assume that if he can create illusions, he can extort all the information he needs out of his targets.  And therefore, he could have convinced my father to tell him where we keep the spare house key, and have him forget revealing such information not long afterward.  From there, he could have you, Miss Walters, act alongside him -- waiting at home for me to reveal myself, and his latest trap to be sprung.

“I wouldn’t exactly call it a stroke of fortune, but my expulsion forced Gaston to begin a slight change of plans.  He had you answer the phone in his stead, of course, hypnotizing you so subtly that you acted as naturally as possible.  But there was a minor consequence.  He hadn’t expected you to be so forceful when he relinquished control -- and to call upon a certain phrase.”

Trixie’s eyes widened.  “You mean when I said ‘Dammit, Lloyd!  Get serious, will ya’?”

“Precisely.  You miscounted your use of the phrase -- you used it three times instead of twice.  That’s strong evidence to suggest that at that moment, you were directly under Gaston’s control, and from then on you were indirectly under his control.  All it took was a thought to pull your strings; they’ve been attached, and you’ve been well-trained to act on inlaid suggestions, but should the need arise he can take command.  And of course, he can use his illusions at the same time.

“So if we put everything I’ve reasoned together, we can deduce his actions and potential.  Gaston followed you back to my home, and used his illusions to cloak himself AND keep you under his spell as needed.  He had you lure me back home, and created a hefty display, making sure to keep you bewildered and tucked away until needed.”  He shook his head.  “At least, that’s what he wanted us to think.  While he created the illusion that ensnared me, he had you work in secret to destroy the den.  That way, when the illusion ended, it looked as if dozens of your clones had done the damage…when in reality, it only took one.”

“And from there, maneuvering -- you, me, and Gaston himself -- was rather simple.  I was wrapped in his illusion, but of course his sole intent was to deliver his declaration of war.  As such, when he had no more need of you he sent you aside, creating the pretense of you being knocked out.  When his business was concluded, Gaston had you reveal yourself, keeping up his illusion all the while; he dulled our senses, and ensured that we remained unaware of his exit.”

“…Lloyd?”

“Yes?”

“When…uh, when did ya get so competent?”

“Eh?  This is what you call competent?  I just assumed this train of thought was common sense.”

“Oh, so NOW ya use common sense?”  But Trixie shook her head quickly.  “All right, then.  So just to make sure I’m followin’ this, why exactly am I gettin’ forced to sit out rammin’ my boot down Gaston’s throat?”

“We don’t know the effective range of Gaston’s power; I consider myself lucky that you haven’t stabbed me since we entered the building.  Nor do we know how to entirely remove his hypnosis from your mind…if it’s possible at all.  Until then, I’m afraid I can’t have you endanger yourself anytime soon.”  He pressed a hand against his right temple, and lowered his head.  “Or to be more precise -- shameful as it may be -- I can’t have the lynchpin to Gaston’s schemes come to any harm.”

“Lynchpin?  Ya mean --”

“I’ve made quite a bit of conjecture, but I suppose you’ll be wanting a bit of proof.”  Lloyd stepped toward Trixie, and pressed a hand against her hip.  But before he could get an objection -- or even a kick to the face -- he slipped a hand into her pocket.  “And here is just the proof I need.”

He pulled his hand back out -- and with it, a sharpened knife.

“That’s one of our knives,” said Patton, unfazed by its clanging as Lloyd let it fall to the ground.  “No doubt about that -- and I got a pretty good idea of what you were gonna use it on.”

But before Trixie could stammer out an excuse, Lloyd held up a hand.  “You don’t need to explain yourself, Miss Walters,” he said with a soothing smile.  “As I said, you’re likely not operating fully under your own power.  So if you don’t mind, I’d prefer for you to leave this struggle to me…if only for a moment.  Hopefully I can carve out a win, slapdash as I may be.  This is akin to a duel -- and if I’m to prove myself…if I’m to move as Gaston prescribes, lest he bestow his wrath upon Porbeagle, then I’d best do as he desires.”

“Lloyd --”

Lloyd shook his head, and turned his back to her.  “If you wouldn’t mind, Dad, I’d like you to keep her outside.  If that’s where Gaston’s powers are weakest, perhaps an extended outdoor stay can reverse his influence.”

“Yeah, got it.  Take care of yourself in there, son.”

But Trixie started struggling anew.  “H-hey!  Ya can’t just go in there alone, pal!  Ya think it’ll be that easy?  Ya really think Gaston’ll just let ya walk on in there and take JP without a fight?  His partner’s packin’ some serious heat!  What’re ya gonna do if he tells her to pull the trigger?”

Lloyd shrugged and laughed curtly.  “Will Gaston let me walk in there?  Perhaps so.  After all, that’s exactly what I’d do.”  He started to run, but before he could get too far he spun around and gave Patton and Trixie a spirited wave.  “I hope to see the two of you soon!  If all goes well, this will be over before you know it!”

“Give ‘em hell, son,” Patton said with a nod.  And with that, he started to cart Trixie back outside.

But before they could make it out the door, Trixie looked back at Lloyd.  “Better not lose, pal,” she said with a smirk.  “’Cause if ya do, I’ll be sure ta kick yer ass twice as hard as Gaston ever could.”

“Then I suppose I’d do well to lose, just to receive such a pleasurable experience.”  He turned away and headed down the hall, wearing a slight smile.  But the moment he heard the door shut and his partners vanish, the smile faded, and he lowered his head. 

Miss Walters…I wonder if the kind words you gave me were part of the illusion as well…  But he shook his head and stared down the hall.  Whether they were real or not, now is the pivotal moment.  I’ll earn your praise for real this time -- and no masked marauder will be able to best me.

Hold on, JP -- and brace yourself, Gaston.  The prince of love is on his way!

TO BE HEARTINUED…

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