Part 14: Chapter 12
Three years have passed since then...
It was the start of a new day.
Flint wasn't anywhere to be found. That wasn't surprising. Every day for the past three years, he went out to Hinawa's grave first thing in the morning, and from there straight out to the Drago Plateau to resume his search for Claus. It was hard on Flint, having to go out there every day to avoid having to face the truth, but it was harder on poor Lucas - it was tough seeing his dad destroy himself like this. Flint and Alec were the only family he had left.
Every morning Flint wasn't there to greet him as he woke up only reminded him of everything that had happened over the last three years. He didn't want to seem like a bad brother by trying to move on, but it was...hard to think about. There was no place Lucas could offer his respects, assuming his brother really had passed away - Flint would aggressively refuse to have a grave built for him, since there was no body, and therefore no proof of his death.
Every morning, when he looked himself in the mirror, finding all the loose hairs and frazzled locks from his bed-head, he thought about his mom.
That was always the hardest part of the day. He could never brush his own hair or get the stains out of his own clothes like she could. But he did his best, for himself, and for his father.
He didn't have a whole lot planned for today. Head out to his mom's grave and pay his respects, like he did every morning, and then into the town. Maybe look for a job or something. His father left him a daily allowance of a handful of dragon points, and he wasn't usually wanting for a whole lot himself, but...
...repairs were pretty costly. His dad could only make so much money doing so many things. He had to pitch in himself somehow.
Boney was with the sheep, playing and rousing about with them, but also making sure that they never went too far from the house. Lucas couldn't remember when exactly the two black sheep weren't actually black: their wool had been charred that way from soot, from constant showers of entirely coincidental lightning bolts striking his property over and over again, usually around three or four times a week, regardless of the weather.
"Hey, boy," Lucas said in his quiet, shy way, to Boney. There weren't a lot of people Lucas could find himself opening up to, but Boney was an excellent listener whenever he did have something to say. Boney barked in reply and immediately began tugging at the hem of his shirt; he always had exactly one thing in mind.
They sheep just milled about, keeping to themselves whenever Boney wasn't with them. They never tried to leave the property, so Lucas had no problems leaving them to themselves while he went into the town for a bit.
There was the odd tourist lingering around his backyard , trying to get a good view of his house. Ever since the lightning kept striking his house from absolutely natural means, his place had garnered something of a reputation throughout the Nowhere Islands. People would come from miles around to see Tazmily's famous 'Lightning House'.
They had been offered a few times to make their house a tourist attraction, but that would mean allowing people on their property nearly all hours of the day. Their privacy and values were worth more than some coin someone said was worth something.
One day, a few years ago, pretty much everybody's house in Tazmily was struck by lightning, one right after the other. Nobody was hurt, thankfully, but there were exactly three exceptions: Abbey and Abbot's house; Biff's place out on the farm-turned-military-training-camp; and Isaac's house in the forest. Fassad was there the whole time, insisting that these people had been 'blessed with happiness' because they were willing to try its Happy Box gimmick. Under that kind of pressure, Tazmily caught on to the Happy Box fad fast.
The only people to always refuse getting a Happy Box were himself; his father; Fuel and Lighter; old man Nippolyte, caretaker of the graveyard; and Reggie, the spiritualist to the west of the town. Nippolyte's shack had been struck with lightning fourteen times over three years, and as a testament to its structural stability, it only collapsed recently. Lighter's house, which he and Flint had built from scratch a month after the fire, was struck recently, but only lost its top floor. Thunderbolts had also rained down on Reggie's place since that day, but because it was so small, they always managed to miss. Lucas could only hope Reggie's luck had held out another week.
In only three short years, Tazmily had transformed completely from a small village with a handful of cheery people - where everybody knew everybody; there was no crime; and there was little desire for material things beyond food, shelter and clothing - to a commercial centrepiece of the Nowhere Islands, thriving on cash flow and business for everybody. Prosperity was higher than it ever was in the history of the islands...
...but it still felt as though something was missing. Aside from the well, of course.
In the centre of town, where the well once stood, Fassad was standing and peddling its constant nonsense to anybody that offered to give it the time of day. Neither it nor Lucas had forgotten that one event in the Sunshine Forest three years ago, and because of that, they actively went out of their way to ignore each other out of disgust. Fassad relied on word-of-mouth from the others citizens to try and get Lucas or Flint to purchase one of its Happy Boxes.
Aside from the principle of not buying into whatever Fassad was selling, he and his father just didn't see the appeal of the Happy Boxes. They were large, ugly, cumbersome, and they just flashed colours and noises all hours of the day. Everybody else found them almost hypnotic, but to them, they were just...weird.
Lucas and Boney continued north, to the railroad station that connected Tazmily to the industrials parks a train-ride away. Gone was the village bell, and gone was tall Leder, the quiet man whose sole job was to ring it.
Lucas had never been on a train, and often wished he could ride one, but tickets cost almost as much as repairing their house from the lightning. And he could never simply walk to the industrial parks because...
...somebody was always there to stop him for one reason or another.
As a small detour, he stepped onto the station's platform. The only two machines solely meant for transport were the mayor's vehicle (which couldn't even be used outside of the town) and this train. Sometimes he liked to 'window shop' by marvelling at the machine up-close, and daydream about the day he might finally get to ride of the thing for once.
Just as he stepped onto the platform, two familiar faces wearing orange factory clothes emerged from one of the train's cars.
"But just think about it," Jackie replied, spinning around. "No one's seen hide nor hair of Duster since he disappeared three years ago. It's gotta be him." Just then, the door to the train's car slid shut, and off it sped, back into the mountain and back towards the factory.
"C'mon now, that's nonsense!" Bronson chided, shaking his hand and his head dismissively. Just as he did, he realized Lucas standing there, watching them both talk about Duster. "Oh, hey there Lucas," he said. With how close Bronson was to Flint, he practically considered Lucas to be his own son.
"Hi, uncle Bronson," he replied, knowing full well that Bronson wasn't actually related to him. "What are you guys talking about?"
There's this concert hall called Club Titiboo past the factory, and the bass player there looks a bit like Duster." He turned to face Jackie, waving his hand dismissively again. "Jackie here is convinced he's Duster. I think the work's getting to him."
"But it looks just like him!" Jackie protested. "I really think we should tell old man Wess. He deserves to know that his kid might be alright after so long."
Bronson sighed, walking past them both. "Maybe if he knew for sure," he continued over his shoulder,
The guy we saw just happens to look a lot like Duster. That's all. We don't know any more than that. Period." It was clear Bronson wasn't taking 'maybe' as a good enough answer. He was clearly final on the matter. "But enough about that. I'm tired and sore and hungry. It's time to head home and have some chow while I watch the Happy Box."
Jackie was happy they could at least agree on that. "You took the words right out of my mouth! I'm starving, too!" Just before they left, Bronson turned to Lucas once more.
They both left the station after that, leaving Lucas to go back to his own schedule. Having enough of the detour with the train, he resumed on his way to his mother's grave.
The only real part of Tazmily that hadn't seen a lot of change was the cemetery. Where the old dirt paths were replaced with smooth asphalt almost everywhere else in the town, the simple grey, dreary dirt paths in and around the graveyard remained.
It had something of a vandalism problem, now, though, probably because of the lack of conformity. Old man Nippolyte was getting up there in the years, and he was having trouble trying to keep up with the vandals. Three years ago, everybody would have jumped in to offer their support - well, three years ago, there wouldn't have been any vandalism anyway - but nowadays, volunteers were a scarcity, and Nippolyte couldn't find the time to make the money to hire the help.
Or to help him rebuild his house. But thanks to the old folk's retirement home to the west of town, Nippolyte at least didn't have to worry about shelter. He only had to worry about his dignity.
"Oh, Lucas," Nippolyte huffed, busy digging away in front of what remained of his house. Lucas had no idea what for: either for a new grave or just for the sake of it, he couldn't tell.
"Hi, Nippolyte," was all he could confidently reply.
Is that what you're headed now?"
"Yeah." He could hardly get his voice up louder than a whimper. Thankfully Nippolyte's hearing was still as good as ever.
"Like clockwork," he laughed to himself, still chipping away at the ground. "You know where." Lucas only nodded in reply and walked off, Boney close behind.
The area surrounding Hinawa's grave, and the tombstone itself, weren't so much as threatened by the vandals the whole time. For everybody that remembered her, Hinawa was beloved by all and she was deeply missed even today. For everybody that didn't, they didn't want to get on Flint's bad side by disrespecting her grave.
Flint was there, kneeling at the tombstone with his head down. Once Lucas approached, he stood, looking as though he had just finished paying his respects, and turned around. "Oh, Lucas," he said, not hearing the footsteps from behind.
Lucas approached the tombstone and knelt the same way his father had. "Hi, mom," he whispered.
Flint had left while he was reminiscing. With that done, he stood and dusted the dirt off his knees. Ruffling the fur on Boney's head, they both turned and left the grave, back towards the town. He had no real objective in mind, other than to look for some work. Maybe he could get a job at Caroline's Bakery like Fuel had.
As he returned to the town's square, he could see Wess approach Fassad's speaking area from the west, from the old folk's home. Lucas couldn't tell from this distance, but from the way he walked, Wess had a few things to say, and none of them were pleasant.
"Fassad!" He yelled, getting Fassad's, and the group he was speaking to, attention. "Stop it!
Having managed to pull the attention from Fassad to himself, he spoke more openly to the crowd, trying to challenge Fassad at his 'game'. "There's something not right about all this lightning, especially not today's!" he insisted. "And I think you and the Pigmasks are behind it, somehow! Leave Tazmily this instant! Keep your hands out of this village's affairs!"
Fassad confidently strode up to Wess, speaking right into his face, accepting his apparent challenge. "Why, hello there, mister Wess," it replied calmly. The smarmy way Fassad replied to him was like a verbal slap in the face - it clearly didn't take Wess seriously.
happiness will only escape you." It smirked, looking the old man over. "By which I mean your hair, in this case."
A local Pig Mask that was on-duty patrolling the square overheard the commotion Wess was raising, and silently joined the circle, directly behind the old man. "In any case," Fassad continued, its grin unwavering, "I haven't the slightest idea what you're talking about." The Pig Mask approached, ready to grab Wess and drag him away. "It's been fun,
Before Wess could react, he was suddenly captured in what Lucas thought was probably the least dignifying way a person like him could be caught.
With that, he was slowly dragged away. Lucas approached the scene - he felt that he should help Wess somehow. He was there; he witnessed it all, and to be honest, he agreed with Wess completely. Fassad noticed him stand approach, and quickly walked up to the boy, intent on shooing him away quickly: for the sake of its public image, it couldn't have a child like Lucas pulled away the same way Wess was.
"Lucas!" it whispered venomously, leaning in close,
It straightened himself up, and spoke louder, letting the others listen in. "Lucas," it sighed regrettably, "I really wish you would put a Happy Box in your home already, so you can be happy just like everybody else here." Lucas frowned himself, staring into Fassad's eyes. His silence was his weapon in this confrontation.
Apparently unconcerned with whatever Lucas did or did not have to say, Fassad faced the crowd once more. "I'm always hoping for that day," it said over his shoulder, before resuming his peddling to the others. As much as Lucas hated it, he had to leave it be - he had no proof or reason (or backbone) to combat Fassad in public like this. With nothing he could do, he had to resume with his self-assigned chores for the day.
Ever since the introduction of dragon points as a source of economy, Lucas had taken to wandering the beaches on the west side of the town to collect anything that had washed up there to sell to Thomas at his general store. They never got very much, but it was just enough to purchase a loaf of bread, or a few cookies, from the bakery. That kept him and Boney fed until his father came home from the mountains.
A depressing sight was there to greet him when he entered the west side of the town. There was a small crowd gathered around a small cranny between two hills in the corner, where Reggie's hut was. Or, used to be. Reggie himself was pretty distraught over the sudden issue.
The prison nearby was still standing, and was recently remodelled slightly to reflect that it was a police station instead of a simple building with a concrete box in it. The prison itself wasn't used too often, but there was still the odd criminal here or there...
Whether their arrest was justified or not was entirely to the policemen's discretion, which put Lucas off from the whole profession. He tended to stay away from the building often.
Farthest west, towards the end of the world as he knew it, had turned into something of a tourist hotspot. A lot of people went to the beaches for either a decent tan, or to marvel at the idea that nothing besides more and more ocean existed beyond that point. The beach there got a decent amount of attention by itself.
As well as the occasional over-thinker.
And the...well, the lonely weirdos. He recognized a girl her age there, Nana: she stared out across the ocean all by herself, looking lonesome. The least he could do was stop and say hello.
Lucas went about his routine, looting the shore for all the shells it had to offer, then turning them in at Thomas's shop, then buying a loaf of bread at Caroline's to split with Boney. He had been too shy and quiet-voiced to ask for anything more than that, though, such as a job, and he'd feel too awkward to go back in and ask. He figured he could wait a little bit before trying again; he decided to head to the east side and see what was new there.
Lucas couldn't remember what colour that dog was supposed to be. The house it seemed to adopt as its home was untouched over the last three years, refusing the modernization that the rest of the town had accepted. It had no Happy Box, and yet it was never struck by lightning...
...because technically, nobody had owned it for the past six months.
Biff's and Matt's farm had been bought out by the Pigmasks a few months after the incident in the Sunshine Forest three years ago. They were still allowed to live in their house, but the land had been turned into a training facility for newcomer Pigmasks that had enlisted. Their large tanks were parked in the corner, and the trainees were currently doing shallow laps to their military theme playing from a nearby cassette player.
He hadn't seen Matt in days, but he could probably guess why.
Matt had a bit of an addictive personality, so it wasn't surprising to see him glued to that thing as he was. It was a bit more surprising to see the Happy Box captivate most people the same way, though. He had found Abbot watching his own Happy Box the same way Matt was now once.
The old folk's home was in the area - maybe he could try getting some work there, and if not, at least he could visit his grandfather Alec. It used to be Wess's house, but a little while after the Pigmasks invaded Tazmily, there was some kind of legal fight or something regarding the property - which was resolved when lightning coincidentally struck the building a few times. It was rebuilt into the home for old people it was now.
Wess still lived in it, and, it turned out...
...old habits die hard. Lucas had learned of that hiding place a year or so ago, when he was asked to do some volunteer work around the lawn. He knew they were dangerous, but that didn't mean they didn't get a decent amount of dragon points each. Of course, Wess always knew Lucas was taking them; he didn't seem to mind too much.
The inside of the building left a little something to be desired.
On paper, old folks were considered to be valuable members of today's productive society. But nowadays nobody really cared for them. They cut a lot of corners when the home was built, and it showed. It was held together with little more than hope and prayer. It was disheartening to know his grandfather was relegated to living in this dump.
The first room at the top of the stairs belonged to Mike. He wasn't old enough to be called 'old man Mike', and he was only barely old enough to be pushed into the place. Nonetheless, he seemed to take the whole transition in stride.
"This place isn't so bad," he told Lucas, after he decided to stop by and at least keep the guy company for a bit. "I can't be a burden on Lisa forever,
So I'm pretty happy in my own way." He smiled a little wider than Lucas was comfortable with. Just as he said the way he said it, somebody else came into the room, apparently overhearing the conversation between them.
All the glee and joy in Mike's expression vanished the moment Linda stepped back out. Sadly, he turned back to the Happy Box, losing himself to its glowing and flashing. "This is a hard world we live in now. How disappointing," he sighed. Lucas knew that that was his time to leave.
The room farthest in had Alec staying there. Each of the rooms came with a complimentary Happy Box, regardless of whether or not the patron asked for one. Alec was doing nothing in particular; he was facing the rear wall, hand stroking his chin, as he looked it over. He was probably thinking of doing some do-it-yourself handiwork to fix the sad shape the leaking and peeling wall was in.
"Oh, Lucas. And Boney, too," he said happily once the boy entered his room. Ever since he was put into the home, he hadn't gotten a lot of visits from his family. Flint used to visit his log cabin every day since it was on the way to the mountains, until it was destroyed.
I know it's hard to imagine lightning hitting my house specifically," he muttered, a little sour over the fact, "but come on! One million times?!" He was probably exaggerating for effect, but either way, Alec didn't buy into the Happy Box craze, and he paid the penalty for it.
"You could rebuild," Lucas offered. "I'm sure dad would be happy to help."
Alec frowned sadly, thinking about Flint. "The man has a lot on his plate," he replied. He remembered joining Flint for the first two months of his search, but after they had roamed the entire plateau for the third time, he had to concede defeat. Flint was too broken to do the same; all Alec could do was leave him and entertain his hope that Claus was still out there. "I'm sure he'd love to, too, but I couldn't impose like that."
He could see Lucas knew exactly what he meant, and that it was not lighting up the boy's mood. "I'm glad you came to visit me, Lucas. It means a lot to this old man. But you could probably do better around here by helping with Wess the next room over. Ever since the codger's been evicted of his home, he's been sour grapes about everything all the time. You could probably do him some good by dropping by."
Lucas knew Alec wasn't actively trying to get him to leave, but even he had to admit that he wasn't the best conversationalist. He nodded and said "okay", then turned around and left the room with Boney, walking into the next one over.
In the centre of the room was Wess, standing there, stiff as a brick, his mouth always grumbling words and thoughts only he could understand. His only company was a carrier pigeon that roamed freely around the room: in a time when a postal service was devised for handling letters and messages, few people like Wess stuck with carrier pigeons, but there it was.
Lucas and Wess had something of a bond between each other - it wasn't much, but ever since that day in the Sunshine Forest, Wess was one of the few people Lucas could confide in, if however slightly, and only when Wess was in a good mood.
Typical of Wess, he skipped the introductions completely. "What is he trying to do to this village?" Lucas didn't respond; less because he was shy, and more because he knew he didn't need to. Wess took a deep breath to calm himself, and the tension visibly drained from his shoulders. "Sorry, Lucas," he apologized. "I really embarrassed myself earlier.
The guy really riles me up! Worse than my bumbling moron of a son did when-" He stopped his hollering. As much as he considered Duster to be a screw-up, he was still that screw-up's father. It hurt himself to talk about his son like that.
"About Duster," Lucas said once Wess gave him the opening. "I, um...heard uncle Bronson and Jackie talking about it. Him. At the train station. Jackie thinks he...saw Duster somewhere."
Wide-eyed, Wess immediately lowered himself to Lucas's level. "What?!" he alarmingly asked, placing both his old hands on Lucas's shoulders. Ever since Duster disappeared three years ago, Wess hadn't had a chance to do any thieving now that the Pigmasks ruled Tazmily - so this was the first time in years he felt his old heart begin to race.
"Jackie said that...there was a guy at some, uh, music club by the factory that looked a lot like Duster. Uncle Bronson doesn't believe it, err, him, though."
Wess straightened himself out, and reached for the drawer in his desk sitting in the corner. From it, he took out a small scrap of paper with some writing on it, but Wess folded it into eighths before Lucas could read it. "Lucas!" Wess yelled suddenly, getting a spook out of the boy.
"Um," Lucas stuttered, "okay?"
"I hate to ask, but could you go and see if this look-alike is really my moron or not? I'd go myself in a jiffy, but Fassad's cronies are on the lookout for me, so I'm locked in this wretched old hive." He knelt down once more, and for the first time Lucas could remember, Wess almost looked vulnerable. "Please. Go find that moron for me."
Lucas was uncertain, but a bit excited. "Does that mean I get to ride on the train?"
"If you can afford it." Suddenly he wasn't as excited. "I've never accepted those 'dragon score' things ever since they were introduced. You know that. Whoever decided to cut a circle out of some copper and call it valuable is a moron."
Wess stood up and walked to the carrier pigeon still freely roaming the room. Gently, he lifted the bird and tied the piece of paper to its leg. "But that's a rant for another time," he digressed.
"You'd really be doing me a tremendous favour if you did, Lucas." Lucas was still unsure; Wess was asking him to simply walk all the way from Tazmily to the factory in the middle of nowhere to find a person that might not be who they thought it was. Who knows how far away it was? Who knows when he'd be back?
On the other hand, his mother and father had raised him to always be courteous to the elderly, and he was personally good friends with Wess. And while he's there at the factory, they might hire him - the factory tended to hire just about anyone for whatever it is they do, so the trip may be worth it. And...since that day, he never got up the courage to go on an adventure without his brother's support. It would be exciting to finally have one, after a three-year break.
"Okay," he uttered.
"Good boy," Wess said thankfully, ruffling Lucas's hair with his hand. "Help yourself to a Thunder Bomb behind the building when you leave. You might need it."
Lucas was way ahead of him. Looks like he wouldn't be needing those dragon points today.
Without the money to get onto the train, and seeing as the train wasn't even at the station right then, the only other option was to sneak past the security and try to beeline down the tracks on foot. It would take a while, but he and Boney would get there eventually.
Looking around to make sure nobody was watching, they ducked into the tunnel the first chance they had-
But those 'safety first' guys had eyes everywhere. Not that Lucas could really blame them.
I know you won't listen to me even if I tried to stop you," he hummed, shrugging his shoulders in defeat, "so here, I'll give you this instead." From his back pocket, he pulled out a long, rolled up piece of paper, and handed it to Lucas. It was a map of the railroad - not that there was a whole lot to it, being a straight line, but it did offer landmarks and distances.
"Do you know what the most frightening things inside the tunnel are?" he asked suddenly.
"S-slitherhens?" Lucas asked.
"Not even. It's not a monster or anything like that. The answer is trains. Trains are the most dangerous thing in there. So be very," he emphasised, "careful to not be hit by any." And with that, the man simply walked away.
Lucas would have to keep that advice in mind.
Finally, some post-update content! Have some more tracks that didn't quite make it in.
Reminded is weird. I...don't seem to recall it being anywhere in the game. Maybe I'm just not looking hard enough?
Now that we're finally with Lucas and three years' time has passed during our story, there's a whole bunch of stuff to see and do and kill, in relatively that order. Gonna save it for a bonus update, though, so keep your eyes peeled for that!