Part 26: Chapter 21"Any ideas for what next?" Kumatora asked as they left Doria's, now Salsa's, place. "Where we can find Duster, or the next Needle, or whatever?"
They went around the large pond between the Titiboo ropeway and the Chimera Lab, heading east.
"Not really," he responded. "I sorta just wound up here on a fluke, so I don't really have anything to go on." He slowed his pace as he thought about their next move. "We could go back to Tazmily and see if anything-"
He wasn't paying attention to where he was going, and suddenly, he felt a dull pain throb in his ankle, like something had just bitten him. He yelped in pain, bringing his foot up and jumping back, looking down at whatever had just hit him. Standing there, no larger than his entire foot, was a large mouse with a reddish-purplish colouring and a particular fur pattern around its eyes, making it look like it was wearing an awesome pair of sunglasses.
It began to squeak and yelp on the spot, directly at Lucas, rather than run away like he knew most field mice would. It paced back and forth and jumped up and down, all the while going on some kind of fantastic squeaky tirade about how Lucas had wronged it somehow.
"Look at that," laughed Kumatora, stepping forward to watch the little thing get so riled up over a simple bump. "Looks like you made a friend."
It didn't feel the same way; once it was done its long rant about how Lucas should watch where he's walking, it leapt up at him and made another bite at his ankles.
Lucas managed to stop it by kicking its entire body with the flat of his shoe.
Slowly, it managed to pull itself back to its feet, dizzy and broken from such a monumental kick to its entire being. With the way it struggled so hardly to simply stand back up, Lucas couldn't help but feel a little bad for it, even though it struck first.
Steadily back on its own four feet, it looked up to Lucas, and began chattering away once more. It didn't pace, and it sounded looked quite a bit tamer than before.
He didn't understand a word it was saying, but it was practically the mouse's whole life's story from how it just kept going. Once it was done, it simply turned around, and went back where it came from. "Cute mouse," she said, watching it run. "So, anyway, what's this about Tazmily?"
Lucas snapped his attention back when she mentioned his hometown. "Oh, right," he muttered, recalling where they had left off and resuming his pace. "We should head back to Tazmily. Maybe someone's heard of Duster, and I have to make sure my sheep are-"
He couldn't make it halfway to the ropeway station before he felt another dull pain in his other ankle. He went through the same motions, really back in surprised pain, when he looked down, expecting to find the same mouse back for revenge. Instead, he found something...different.
Unlike the mouse, Lucas could understand everything the little cricket was saying, somehow, although it was a little high-pitched. It stood on its rear legs, preparing to get into an offensive position, when it suddenly backed off. "Say hey! We meet again, after three long years!" it said jovially, reaching forward with its antennae and feeling along Lucas's shoe. "So you've kept true to your promise and finally came to Mole Cricket Hole, huh?"
Kumatora looked over Lucas's shoulder, trying to find where the voice was coming from, and saw the tiny little cricket standing in the grass as his feet. "Friend of yours?" she asked. "You keep weird company, Lucas. A dog; a balding man in his twenties; a beautiful and courageous young redhead; a mole cricket; some monkeys..."
"Who's the dame?" the mole cricket asked, looking up across Lucas's comparatively colossal body.
"Uh," he stuttered, caught between conversations. "She's a friend. Do I know you?"
The mole cricket immediately began to run in circles furiously. "You've forgotten me?! Me! The most awesomest mole cricket to ever make your acquaintance!
when you were play-fighting with the Dragos when you were just a little kid!"
Lucas thought back, trying to remember his trips to grandpa Alec's cabin on mount Oriander. He had visited his grandfather a lot of times, but only got to play-fight with the Dragos two or three times. He happened to recall a bit of an episode with a mole cricket with one of them, but it was such a brief moment, he only remembered little bits of it. "I...guess I kind of remember-"
"What's this 'kind of' business?!" the mole cricket yelled as loud as its tiny body could. "You should have been counting the days until we met again! I remember, clear as day, that I promised to train you personally, and that the next time we met, it'd be at the Mole Cricket Hole Stadium. And you're here!"
The time to battle has come!" it heralded epically, trying to carry its voice as best it could. "Follow me to the stadium!"
It quickly scurried off, towards the ropeway. Lucas looked to Kumatora, lost for words and direction. "Frankly, I was lost when it started to talk," she admitted, shrugging her shoulders. "But it might be worth the look - an entire colony of mole crickets must know something about Duster or the Needles, right?"
He was apprehensive, because he still wanted to go back and check to make sure his and his father's sheep were still okay - but she was right. They quickly caught up to the tiny mole cricket and followed it around the ropeway, towards the far river.
This is where you and me are gonna fight it out like gentlemen. This is where my right hand will be raised into the air when I'm declared the winner. And," it announced, standing back up onto its back legs, "this is where you're gonna hit the ground with a hard thud, kid."
Kumatora laughed, clapping Lucas on the shoulder. "I like this thing! It talks more trash than I do!"
Lucas couldn't help but be amused by its bravado just as much. Still, he looked around the area confusedly. "Here? Just...next to the river?"
The mole cricket fell back onto its legs. "Yes, here!...Well, not 'here', but in the Mole Cricket Hole. It's here. I'll just widen the way for you." It stepped forward and disappeared into the ground through an opening hidden beneath the grass. There was nothing for a moment, but suddenly, the ground all around where the mole cricket had disappeared simply fell away, revealing a large dirt tunnel going straight down.
It sloped diagonally just a few feet from the hole's rim, leading deeper underground and banking underneath the nearby river. With careful steps, he slowly walked down the path, going into the mole cricket's nest, his friends following close behind.
He didn't know what the mole crickets did to make the dirt such a bright purple, but it really stood out to him. The pathways were very cramped and narrow, making it difficult to hardly take a step without scraping against the walls. It was surprisingly illuminated for creatures with no eyes, as well.
Just a short walk from the entrance, it was like an entire city resting just underneath the river going through the Unknown Valley. It was amazing, for lack of a better term: there were streets and squares; properties and territories; there was even a shopping district just a stone's throw from the hole at the surface. There were crowds of mole crickets gathering around as other mole crickets played whole songs using their individual chirps, and other mole crickets dancing along to the tunes. There was even a hot spring nearby, although most of the mole crickets stayed clear from the water itself and preferred to just soak in the steam it gave off.
Lucas felt dizzy from everything he was watching in the veritable underground city - and a little claustrophobic from the narrow walls. Of all the things he expected to find, he did not expect to find civilization, with systems and economies among the mole crickets. He and his friends stood out like trees in a grassy field among them all, and they always had to be careful of their footsteps.
There were a lot of large, obstructive lotus roots all over the 'city', but he didn't complain - the mole crickets walked around and all over the roots, as if they didn't even exist, so he couldn't blame them for their lack of housekeeping. They probably expected a human to visit as much as he expected to visit their home.
Right away, though, they lost themselves in the tunnel's bends and twists. Each path looked exactly the same as the other, and the thousands of mole crickets everywhere made everything blend in all the more. Since he arrived, none of the crickets made any attempts to climb onto their gigantic visitors, which he was thankful for, but when one of them quickly made its way up his leg and under his shirt, he had to strongly resist the urge to swat at it.
"Hey, I said!" he heard in his ear. It was the same mole cricket from aboveground. "Jeez! I've been trying to get your attention since you came in, and you just ignore me! Some guest you are!"
"I'm sorry," was all he could say. With all the chatter from the civilians and the musical bands and all the ambience in general, he could hardly make out one little squeaky voice from all the rest.
The mole cricket hopped onto his shoulder. "Feh," it grunted. "I can make my way from this hole in the ground to your grandpa's house, and you get confused with a few left turns." Lucas blushed insecurely, feeling the condescending sting from its words. "But I suppose you're out of your element, and the light's probably not what you're used to, so I'll give you the pity handicap. Turn around and take your first right," it instructed.
Lucas followed the mole cricket's instructions to the letter, eventually winding their way through the immense tunnels and coming up to a sheltered location away from the bustle of the community. There were few mole crickets still lingering, and when they finally got to the end of the partition, there was a single mole cricket lying on a small patch of dead grass, facing them. "This is our elder, so be a pal and show some respect," the one on his shoulder said before quickly crawling its way back down his body, taking its place next to the other. They looked absolutely indistinguishable from each other.
If you try to run away or do something fluky, neither of us will sit calmly by," it warned, speaking for its elder. "But anyway, I got us some special rules before our epic, legendary battle.
we'll go to overtime, which will last another five minutes. And if that doesn't finish, the elder will judge who's the victor between us." It rotated its entire body, facing the other mole cricket. "Elder, would you like to add?"
There was a moment of silence as the elder cricket sized up the competition. "You folks are truly, seriously going to fight him?" it asked bewilderingly. It sounded absolutely shocked. "Listen. I don't doubt that you're the strongest and bravest the overworld has to offer. I don't know what kind of training you've gone through or what accomplishments you've made, but
Lucas didn't move or say anything, afraid he might be disrespectful to the elder mole cricket. "You're about to fight Mole Cricket Hole's most prized champion fighter. He can lift over one-hundred times his own body weight. He's managed to endure the steam of the hot-room downstairs longer than anyone else. But if absolutely insist, I will not stop you."
Kumatora stifled a laugh behind him. "Are you ready to do this thing?" the champion mole cricket asked.
"You bet I am!" Lucas suddenly replied, getting himself fired up. "I've journeyed many mountains and crossed many seas for a worthy opponent! Maybe I might break a sweat!" He knew Kumatora would get a big kick out of that, and she tried even harder to silence her guffaws behind his back. Personally, he would have preferred to avoid conflict altogether, but the tiny thing clearly wanted a battle, and he wasn't one to turn down a polite request.
"That's more like it!" the mole cricket chirped, getting back into its taller offensive stance. "Bring it on!"
It leapt directly for them, and Lucas reared back, balling his hand into a fist. Their mighty battle was far-and-away the most grisly, imposing, destructive confrontation Lucas ever had the glory of participating in.
The elder looked to its dazed and defeated champion, still trying to pick itself up after the ruthless thrashing the outsiders gave it. "To think that such a mighty mole cricket warrior could have been defeated so easily...perhaps we're not as mighty as we think we are."
If the way the mole cricket carried itself aboveground was not just a particular character trait, then defeating their best in such a quick and simple way was probably a big blow to their self-image. "I'll meditate on what this might mean for us another time, though," the elder conceded.
And the friendly thing to do would be to ask if you need anything from us. Surely, traveling so far, you must have another reason other than to beat us so soundly?"
Kumatora stepped forward, speaking for Lucas. "Actually, yeah," she said. "Do you know where the Needles sealing away the Dark Dragon are? It's kind of important."
The elder mole cricket lowered its antennae, combing them while it thought over its response. The champion managed to pull itself back together, looking to its confused elder. "We mole crickets are not particularly knowledgeable creatures," it conceded for its senior.
on a mountain at the far end of the Mole Cricket Hole."
"Yes, I agree," the elder piqued, raising its antennae. "The mountain! Go through the hole and up the mountain on the far side! I'm certain that is what you must do!"
Kumatora looked towards Lucas. "Well, we have no other leads, so I guess we'll check it out," she decided. He agreed, and she turned back to the mole crickets. "You guys don't have any information on the Dark Dragon itself, do you?"
I may be a well-traveled champion of Mole Cricket Hole and he may be our community's elder, but the truth is, we are still simple mole crickets." It gave the heaviest sigh a little bug like it could. "After today, we have no strength at all. I'm kind of bummed out about that now. But the very least we could do for you
The elder walked in a small circle on its patch of dead grass. "A dragon, you said?" it asked as it paced. "My...I've lived far longer than most before me and I'm due any day now," it conceded.
"Elder!" the champion quickly hissed, "don't speak like that!"
Lucas's fever went away right at that moment, and he felt his PSI beginning to stir reflexively. He had an amount of difficulty trying to withhold his PSI through the conversation and did his best to hold back, but he couldn't help letting a little bit squeeze through; thankfully, it was nothing too noticeable, but he felt something envelope his body in a type of protective psychic shield. It was like a trick he had already learnt some time ago, but much more potent and expansive.
"Oh, hush," the elder chastised, not noticing Lucas suddenly and awkwardly trying to hold himself back from something. "It'll be as sure as the night follows day. But still...I only hope I get to live long enough to see this dragon of yours. Then, I'd be sure I've seen everything, and just after today, I've already learned so much!
Living a long life has been worth it." It stepped off its little mat, approaching Lucas quickly. "We may be but simple mole crickets, but do you think you could teach us more about the world? And raise us to be as knowledgeable as you?"
Lucas didn't know exactly how 'knowledgeable' he was about very much himself, but he wasn't about to turn down such an earnest request from the elder of an entire species of insect. "Of course!" he answered cheerily.
so please raise our future generations to be great." It returned to its little grass mat. "You humans aboveground seem to have a great system going for you, and I've been thinking of mimicking some of your examples. Like, to start with, I've been thinking of beginning a chain of businesses in our own, mole cricket-like unique way."
"Oh, really?" Lucas asked, interested. He had done business with stranger vendors, so a mole cricket business wasn't a totally alien concept. "That actually sounds really cool."
"Thanks a lot for the vote of confidence," the elder said sincerely. "Keep an eye out for us! Word travels fast in Mole Cricket Hole; I'll bet you some of us will have already set up something by the time you get out of here."
The champion quickly interrupted their conversation. "Speaking of leaving,
He's young, but he takes after yours truly like nothing else," it boasted. It made a series of leg movements to emphasise its meaning - possibly flexes, to show off its incredible muscles. The dance was lost on both Lucas and Kumatora, however. "Hey! Little bro!" it hollered. "Get over here!"
Quickly rushing down the tunnel they had come from, another mole cricket, looking precisely the same as all the other ones, came rushing down at the call. The younger cricket somehow heard the yell through all the intrusive background noise of the society in the tunnel and came rushing down as soon as it could. The mole crickets certainly had a remarkable thing going.
"Little bro," the champion called, to confirm that his brother was listening.
"I'm here, big bro," it replied, worming its way through Lucas's shirt and onto his shoulder.
"Right on. Do us a favour: if these humans ever ask you to take them back here, just do it, alright? They want to get to the mountain in the back of Mole Cricket Hole, and they don't know jack about this place. Shouldn't be too hard, alright?"
"Sure thing!" said the little brother. "Not a problem!"
"Alright, I think that about does it," the elder sighed. "Head back down this tunnel and take your first left. By now, I'm sure everybody knows to take away the lotus roots blocking your way around the Mole Cricket Hole, if you just ask."
Lucas's eyes widened in surprise. "Wow, really? Already? But..."
"Don't worry about it," laughed the elder. "There are so many mole crickets everywhere, all the time, that there's almost always somebody eavesdropping on some conversation somewhere. We're very honest about it, though, so you shouldn't have a problem."
Lucas looked to Kumatora, who was already turned around and ready to leave, and Boney, who simply just stood there the entire time, happily not paying attention to anything. "Okay, then," he said, turning to leave as well. "Thanks for everything!"
"Thank you!" the elder reciprocated, and they left the room, heading back to the metropolis of Mole Cricket Hole.
"That wasn't so bad," Kumatora said. "We learned where the next Needle is - maybe - and now we have our own guide through this hole. An' these guys are pretty polite, too. Always a good thing."
"Yeah," was all he could reply.
"So, what new PSI thing did you learn?" she asked coyly.
"Yeah, I knew. I knew it when you got hit by lightning in Thunder Tower, too. You mean you don't notice whenever I get something new?"
"Oh." She hummed. "I guess it's easier for me because I've practiced PSI for years, and you only got them a day or two ago."
"Well, just so you're up to speed," she said as they stepped into the main area of the bustling community, "I'm going to be getting something new myself, soon. Dunno what."
They took their first left, just as they were instructed, and they came to an enormous lotus root that blocked their way through the tunnels. The mole crickets just went over and around it like it was nothing, but, just as the elder had predicted, they were all up to speed on Lucas's need to get through the cave. Once he approached, all the mole crickets that were nearby quickly crawled onto the root and, almost gruesomely, began to devour it.
"We've been meaning to clear these things away for a while," one of the mole crickets admitted before dashing off. Well, no matter the method, it was convenient.
The lotus root was blocking only a very small offshoot from the main tunnel, containing no fewer mole crickets than anywhere else, but still, it was only two turns into dead-ends. The busy life of the mole cricket was still plainly visible: there was no place he could go without being assaulted by conversation all around him.
Lucas thought that one was cute.
"Of Mole Cricket Hole?" asked Lucas.
"Yep. It's got every twist and turn; every bank and corner; every nook and cranny in the entire tunnel, all listed in plain black and purple for you. And you'll throw it away the very moment you look at it."
Kumatora pushed forward. "I'll see," she judged when she heard the claim, squeezing past Lucas in the narrow tunnel. "Lemme see that map."
"It's all yours," the mole cricket complied, stepping out of the way for Kumatora's grubby hands. She took the small piece of parchment and quickly unfurled it, looking the map over.
She studied it for a moment, without making a movement or a sound. "Well?" Lucas asked.
Kumatora coiled the map back up and placed it back down, careful of the mole cricket below her. "Let's just go," she said sourly. "We may as well just close our eyes."
"Well, not quite, either," the mole cricket intervened. "There's a bit of a gimmick to the Mole Cricket Hole. When you get to the brunt of the cave, just take every single turn you see. Never, ever go straight. It'll take a while, for sure, but you will most definitely make it to the end if you always turn when you're given the chance."
Kumatora said nothing, a little perturbed that the map had defeated her so easily. "Thanks for the advice," Lucas said for her, and they left the little branch of the hole.
Just past another lotus root was another path going deeper into the ground, and from there, the meat of the Mole Cricket Hole. It expanded in all directions farther than Lucas could have imagined; he stood at the maze's mouth, gawking at the sheer number of tunnels and how each and every one of them were unique somehow: some were dug in an angle, going up towards the surface or further towards the depths; some were built directly into the floor and straight onto the ceiling; one tunnel branched into another tunnel that branched into yet another in just four paces. Kumatora hadn't given him a chance to look at the map for the place, and he could see exactly why: no map, no matter how detailed, would have helped them with this.
Some mole crickets that had overheard the humans' plight was there at the mouth of the dungeon, ready to cheer them on and repeating the advice the mapmaker gave them. They seemed absolutely positive about their advice, and though the cave looked daunting, they would know better than him, so he followed it.
It was smooth sailing so far. While there was a seemingly infinite amount of possible routes to take in the Mole Cricket Hole's interior, that was it: there wasn't anything that could really trip them up as they went. There were no aggressive locals or inhibiting vegetation that couldn't have been eaten away, and the only real defence the hole had to offer was the simple winding paths.
Lucas held to the mole cricket's advice a little too sternly, but they did say 'every' turn.
He had to admit, it was actually kind of fun. Exploring the maze was a new kind of adventuring for him, and since they hadn't run into any trouble, and since the champion's little brother could direct them back to the elder cricket at a moment's notice, there was no real danger of the maze. He couldn't help but break into a giddy grin at the exhilaration.
Although, he couldn't help but admit that the silence between him and Kumatora was a little...stagnating. Compared to the city earlier, there were very few mole crickets within the belly of the hole, so while it was much easier to watch their step, there wasn't much to talk about.
Only once had the tried-and-true advice fail to deliver, but he wasn't too concerned. Just a simple backtrack to the next wind in the path, and they'd be back on course. He probably just missed a tunnel somewhere.
"Oh, hold on," Kumatora suddenly blurted, getting Lucas to pause. She doubled over slightly, her hand soothingly rubbing her forehead, trying to calm herself. He recognized the movements, and tried to focus on his own PSI: he wanted to see if he could feel it like she could apparently feel his. After a still moment, Kumatora stood up straight, her hand leaving her forehead - and several large, powerful thunderbolts suddenly arced from her fingertips, ripping through the air and dissolving into the ceiling.
Lucas saw it, and he felt his hairs standing on end from the sudden static, but he didn't really feel much of anything resembling the PSI he knew. Maybe they were too different? Or, more likely, he simply wasn't accustomed to it enough. "Cool!" she laughed, flexing her fingers and watching the errant sparks dancing from her nails some more. "It's been a while since I got an electric-PSI-thingy!"
Satisfied, they resumed their walk down the Mole Cricket Hole's winding way. They had been walking for some time, but they hadn't nearly lost hope yet.
It wasn't much longer that the tunnels suddenly began to get considerably more linear. There were few branching paths and extra tunnels-inside-tunnels like at the very beginning; like a knotted string, the paths began to get less convoluted as they went, marching further into the hole as they neared the end. They just couldn't tell how much further it was.
All the remaining tunnels simply followed one direction; it widened up considerably, giving them a good amount of room to finally stretch out, before thinning again and practically going straight up. The air was getting thicker the closer to the surface they walked, and it wasn't long before the light suddenly picked up once again, showing them the way to the end of the tunnel.
"You don't need my help from here on," the mole cricket on Lucas's shoulder said. "You got this place down like the back of your hand. And hey, it'll be easy finding your way back, too."
The mole cricket left his shoulder, crawling down his collar and down his legs towards the ground. "Thanks for your help anyway," he said, resisting the urge again to slap at the bug crawling over his skin.
"It's all good." And it scurried away, leaving them to crawling out of the Mole Cricket Hole themselves.
As purported, they were on a large mountain peak, having breached the cloud cover below by a few dozen metres. The snowcap didn't expand horizontally very far, but it kept rising higher and higher into the blue sky, its snowy and rocky terrain making it hard to discern just how much farther the trail went.
The weather was crystal clear, thankfully, and the wind was still, but they helped the overall conditions of climbing the mountain very little. The temperature was well below the coldest winter Lucas had ever felt, and the air was already thinner than they were used to, forcing their breaths to become more paced. They were underdressed and underprepared. "K-Kumatora," he stuttered, his teeth already chattering, "should w-we turn back?"
"Why?" She sounded perfectly calm and collected, like she hardly noticed the changes in the climate. She wasn't wearing much more than he was, so it came as a surprise.
"Aren't y-you cold?"
"Not at all." She brought her hand forward, palm facing up, and showed off a tiny conjured flame from her PSI. "I have PK Fire to keep me warm. Just whip up a tiny little ember wherever I'm coldest, and bam! Instant body heat."
The one time he almost envied her more offensive selection of PSI skills compared to his defensive and supportive set. "L-Lucky," he chattered.
"Oh, don't be such a baby," she laughed. She narrowed her eyes and focused on him for a moment, and instantly, he felt the numbness already sipping into his skin leave him as he felt a warmth slowly revive him from the inside-out. "There. Feel better?"
"Much, thank you." In just a few seconds, the earlier chill had left him entirely, and he felt as though he had just gotten out from a hot spring. He took a look around the area, trying to decide where they could go next. There was a rocky path continuing up the mountain, but what specifically caught his eye was a snowman, of all things, resting just south of the hole they had crawled out of.
Unless the mole crickets had built it somehow, it was a pretty good sign that someone had been in the area sometime recently. Since Magypsies rarely went far from their Needles, then maybe one was nearby, too...
...or, it could have meant that the ape-like yetis sliding down the slopes of the mountain path on frozen slices of wood made them. But he liked to pretend that that wasn't the case.
Some kind of unfortunate aberration of a wolf roamed the mountaintop as well, but it had apparently spent so much time on the frozen cap that its fur had frozen solid on its skin, making it appear as though they were frozen in a solid block of ice. They moved as though it didn't inhibit them at all, though, so maybe they just enjoyed it.
They were awfully territorial, though.
The walk up the mountain wasn't particularly perilous, and in fact, with the weather so gorgeous and with Kumatora's frequent PK Fire, it was actually rather relaxing. Although it got its fair share of freezes and frosts, it rarely actually snowed in Tazmily, and if it were any other time, Lucas wouldn't have hesitated on challenging Kumatora to a snowball fight or flopping into the snow and making a few snow angels to give the frequent snowmen company.
There was nowhere to go but to keep going up the mountain. It seemed like a fairly sensible location to hide one of the Needles - Lucas doubted that even the Pigmask's flying machines could climb this high. It was probably a hassle for the Magypsy guarding it, though, and if it weren't for Kumatora, it would have been a challenge and a half to make it themselves.
The local wildlife didn't seem to mind the mountainous terrain at all, but the higher they climbed, the harder it was getting to breathe. They walked slowly, pacing themselves and letting their bodies adjust as they rose into the sky, but no matter how quickly or slowly they went, they still needed to get to the Needle quickly. Who knew where the enemy was?
The path slipped between a pair of rocky crags, forming a sort of stone tunnel with no roof further along the path. It bent and weaved with the mountain, skewering their idea of how much farther the end of the path was. The snowmen continued to pop up in various spots off to the sides of the large path-
-and just past one bend in the line was a hot spring, sitting in the front lawn of another large, pink conch shell, shaped just like the other two. Standing in front of it, surrounded by a trio of fluffy bunnies with fur as white as the snow they were standing in, was what appeared to be a bald man: it wore a very frilly and thick yellow coat with tight stockings on its legs with high-reaching leather boots - considerably more equipped for the terrain than either of them, while still looking quite fashionable and hip. Unlike the other Magypsies, there wasn't much to insinuate that this one was either gender: without a hair on its head and a rather plain-yet-masculine body build, it didn't put in a lot of effort to keep up the theme the others had going for them.
"Hello!" Lucas called, getting the Magypsy's attention as they approached. The bunnies heard his yell as well, and when they saw Lucas and his friends approach, they quickly bolted, running in all directions away from the oncoming strangers.
"I'm sorry about that," he apologized.
"Oh, don't be. I'm quite surprised myself. It's been ages since we've had visitors." It winked at him, extending a hand to shake. "My name is Lydia, and I'm the Magypsy of Snowcap Mountain. What's your name, darling?"
While, physically, it looked quite manly, it spoke with a sort of lisp and carried itself in such a way as to cast doubt on the image nonetheless. Lucas didn't let it phase him, though; Lydia was the fourth he'd met, after all, and he'd come to expect their behaviour. "Lucas," he replied, shaking the Magypsy's hand. "And...my friend is Kumatora, and my dog is Boney."
"Oh, my!" it cheered, looking past Lucas and to his entourage. "Boney, aren't you just the darlingest thing ever!" it cooed, bending down and gingerly patting the dog on the head. Boney waged his tail, appreciating the attention. "And Kumatora!" it said, standing up and gently clasping her by the shoulders. "My, it's been so long! You've grown into a fine young woman, and ooh, you look so feisty, to boot! I'm sure you're a real handful for your boyfriend here!"
"Funny," was all she said, biting her tongue.
They followed it into its house. Just like both the other shells, it was rather under-furnished: a simple, though clearly favoured yellow bed to the side; a doormat; and a dresser off in the corner, decorated with all sorts of makeup items and accessories. The overall colour of the room accentuated Lydia's fondness for yellow with a soft orange, but by far the most alarming thing of the room was what slept on the bed.
The Pigmask appeared to be sound asleep and made no movement once the quartet entered the room. "Uh," Lucas muttered, looking at the Pigmask, then to Kumatora, who clearly understood the implication just as well. "Lydia?"
"Yes, cutie?" it asked over its shoulder, tending to itself in the mirror of its dresser as soon as it could.
"There's a...there's a Pigmask guy here."
"Oh!" it chirped, whirling around quickly. "Do you know him? Are you friends?"
Lucas stuttered again - if there was a Pigmask here, then whoever was able to pull the Needles in the Pigmask army was undoubtedly close by. "No, he's, I mean, they, the Pigmasks, they're bad guys."
"Oh?" It crooked its head to the side, not understanding the predicament.
Kumatora continued for Lucas. "Lydia, we need to pull your Needle. It-"
"Oh, dirty girl!" Lydia giggled lightly, blushing and fanning itself with its hand.
"Damn it, Lydia!" she spouted, already getting annoyed with Lydia's tendency to jump to conclusions. "Get your mind out of the gutter!"
"I'm just joking, darling," it laughed, turning back to its mirror to continue with its eye-shadow. "You're as cute as a button when you're flustered, and that hasn't changed since you were just a little girl. But yes, this is serious, so, I apologize.
They say you're the one who can pull the Needles," it cooed to itself, looking at the boy from the mirror's reflection.
Since Kumatora first mentioned it, his demeanour quickly went into a slump. "Yeah," he sighed.
"Oh, hey, what's with that look?" it asked, turning around. "With a sweet, strong face like yours, you should always look pepper, no matter what!"
Lucas lifted his gaze back up to Lydia's. "You're going to..." he stumbled, and Lydia cut him off before he could continue.
"Disappear, right?" it asked, and Lucas nodded. "I'm sure at least Aeolia's filled you in, but honestly, we really have no problems with seeing our Needles gone. Really! We've lived for so many years, just watching those eyesores, that it'd be a relief to see them gone!"
"No, I know," he admitted. "Doria said the same thing-"
"You've pulled Doria's Needle already?"
"Yeah, just a little while ago."
"My, you work fast!"
"But...it just...it really feels weird, you know? It's like I'm going out of my way to...to kill you guys, and I don't like that feeling."
Lydia made some of those disappointed 'tsk tsk' sounds his mother used to do whenever he and Claus did something wrong. "You've already pulled Doria's Needle, and you're still having doubts. I can't force you to pull the Needles, darling, but the least I can tell you is that we really, really have no regrets, and that you shouldn't be having those bad feelings of yours. When you live as long as we do...you just don't." Lydia turned towards the back door of the conch shell - the first conch shell, Lucas realized, that was equipped with such a thing. "Speaking of Needles and all that malarkey, what you want is just through that door.
I've never imagined that this day would even come, to be honest."
"Doria said the same thing," added Kumatora.
"And when you fulfill your fate and mine, I will vanish. That's what we Magypsies do.
Lydia stopped for a moment, and suddenly, its happy expression melted away. "Actually," it sighed, looking to Lucas, "I'm afraid I told a little fib. I do have one regret - no, not a regret, a concern, for leaving."
That just made Lucas's job all the harder for him. "What's that?"
"I've lived here on Snowcap Mountain for many, many years, and the only company I've had are the little bunnies you scared away. They'll be back...but I won't be here. I'm just worried about who will take care of them."
Then it turned to the lying Pigmask, still sleeping soundly on its cushiony bed.
What's this about 'bad guys' you were going on about earlier?"
"There's, ah, someone else, out there, that can pull the Needles," answered Lucas. Lydia's eyes widened in near shock.
"Really?!" it asked loudly. "That's...wow, seriously? We never even imagined a single 'chosen one' would come for the Needles, let alone two at a time! Do we know anything about our mystery man?"
"Nothing," Kumatora admitted. "Not what he looks like or why he's doing it."
"I, um, found some...thing," Lucas said, digging into his shorts pocket to get the small device he had found at Osohe castle. "It was near Aeolia's Needle after it was pulled. I can...somehow talk to people through it, but only to Pigmasks, so I'm pretty sure that whoever's pulling the Needles is on their side."
Lydia clapped its hands together at the news. "Well...I'm not going to treat my guest poorly just because he happens to work for 'the bad guys', but if he's here, then clearly, time is of the essence!
Lydia stepped forward, towards the back door, and withdrew a small, slender pick from its pocket, placing it in a specially-made lock, and unlocked the door with a loud click. "Now then, just have some faith that 'the time' has come, and pull the Needle. I've unlocked the door, so now, the rest is up to you," it winked.
Lucas looked back to the Pigmask, just to make sure that it hadn't moved during their conversation. It hadn't, so, hastily, he went to the back door with Kumatora close behind-
-and stopped. Just as he went for the knob, a loud tune played through the air, cutting into the conch shell. It was muffled a little bit by the rough sound of a pair of propellers running dutifully against the wind. "What's that?" Lydia asked, looking around the room for the source of the music. "I've never heard that before.
The music was cut by the sound of something loud falling through the sky, roaring through the air as it approached the mountaintop - and a pair of massive thuds sent shockwaves through the floor of the shell, tripping them all up a little.
Immediately, as soon as the second thing hit the ground with a thump, the Pigmask bolted upright on the bed, and squealed the same Pigmask salute Lucas had familiarized with the past three years.
"I don't think I like that!" Kumatora snapped, turning away from the Pigmask. "Lucas! The Needle, quick!"
"Right!" Lucas practically leapt at the doorknob, twisting it and flinging the door open, only to see a large pillar of light rise into the sky off in the distance. A 'schwing' sound rang in the air, and the light of the area was swathed in browns and purples and teals while the ground rumbled violently with a powerful set of heartbeats.
A pair of large, metal devices stood side-by-side near the light, making a single lane going straight from Lydia's house to the Needle's resting place at the far end of the backyard. Standing at the base of the pillar of light was a small figure, no taller or wider than Lucas, wearing a most peculiar helmet, unlike any of the other Pigmasks. It faced away from the trio, watching stilly as the process of pulling the Needle went about its course. In one final, spectacular explosion of light, the entire scenario was completed - Lucas was beaten to Lydia's Needle by only a few dozen yards.
Lucas, Kumatora and Boney dashed up to the figure. The Needle had been pulled, and now, only the purple gas clouds puffing from where the Needle once rested was all that remained. The figure standing at the hole still did not make a move, standing totally still as a statue, watching, confirming that its work had been completed successfully.
"Hey!" Lucas yelled, running up to the figure. The two metal machines standing side-by-side quirkily lifted up into the air, suspended by nothing at all, and withdrew their four legs into their bodies. How such large, heavy, wingless machines could pick themselves up as they had so effortlessly was totally ignored; there was a much more pressing matter at hand. "Hey, you!" Lucas yelled again as the two machines took off.
The person heard him the second time, and obliged to Lucas's calls, turning around to face him. Lucas's face was scrunched into an aggravated mess - he was a pacifist by nature, but whoever this person was, he was threatening the world he lived on - but once the figure turned around and they looked to each other eye-to-eye (as such as they could behind the figure's visor on his helmet), he was quickly...calmed.
They watched each other for a moment. Lucas was ready to fight mere seconds ago, and now he made no movement to attack. It was like looking into some weird mirror-image of himself: they shared practically the exact same body, and their complexions, as far as Lucas could tell, was precisely the same. The person didn't look like he was a fully-grown adult; rather, he was only as old as Lucas was. The person wore the same coloured shorts and the same brown leather jacket as he wore when the Pigmasks confused him for their commander. He could understand the mistake; without the helmet, Lucas would probably mistake himself for the guy as well.
Lucas said nothing more as he gazed at the figure, and the figure made no movement to attack either, though with its expression as cold as it was, he couldn't tell if it was with the same awe he felt. Boney wasn't nearly as quiet; as soon as he saw the figure in the distance, he began to yap and howl incessantly, although he wasn't aggressive about it. Kumatora simply didn't know what to think; Lucas was about to go in and slap the guy silly, and now they were in some kind of intense staring contest.
The sound of a large animal thumping its way across the ground belted through the air, and from around the corner behind the mountain was a large, mechanical gorilla with massive steel balls for hands. Obediently, it took a spot next to the masked man, and the masked man himself, content with a mission accomplished and not feeling the same sense of wonderment as Lucas, sprouted a pair of mechanical wings and zoomed off into the sky.
"Wait!" Lucas yelled, but it sounded more like a plea than a demand. He took a few steps forward, reaching out with his hand as if to somehow grab onto the masked man as he flew away.
"Watch out!" Kumatora yelled, grabbing a hold of Lucas by the shoulder and pulling him back, just as the massive gorilla made a wide hook to Lucas, narrowly whiffing the swing.
Lucas shuffled back, only now realizing that he was in any imminent danger. "Fantasize about your new boyfriend some other time!" Kumatora chastised, letting him go and prepping some her fingers to fire bolts of lightning at a moment's notice.
"We have bigger problems!"
The steel gorilla collapsed into a pile of static junk, its metal shell burnt from all the thunderbolts to its frame. He, Kumatora, and Boney were all panting and hurting, exhausted from the fight against the metal behemoth; it put up one heck of a fight. "What was the deal with you and that guy, Lucas?" Kumatora asked between heavy breaths, and with the air as thin as it was up in the mountain, catching their second wind was being a chore.
Lucas thought back, to the masked man, and he knew what she was talking about. "I," he began, before fumbling with his words a bit, "don't know. It just...I'm not sure. Maybe because we can both pull the Needles?"
Kumatora had her doubts, but didn't push Lucas on the matter. "How is Lydia doing?" she asked instead. Lucas had nearly forgotten all about it during the battle, and turned towards the conch shell, ready to dash back in and check on the Magypsy, but Lydia was already outside, and its body, just like the two before it, was beginning to fade from existence.
It said nothing, reading their downtrodden expressions easily, and walked past them to where the Needle rested. It looked down, into the gaseous purple pit, and around the area, noting all the upturned snow and the general messiness. One of its prized snowmen had been destroyed in the excitement.
Whatever is inside that person's heart has been passed on to the Dark Dragon," it lamented.
Lucas felt awkward about it, but he felt he needed to ask. "Can you...sense anything, about the heart that...pulled the Needle? Ionia said she couldn't when Aeolia's was gone..."
Lydia looked around the scene once more, focusing on Lucas's question and trying to get any idea about the heart that pulled its Needle without its permission. "That's weird," it finally said. "I don't. A heart of neither good or evil. I can barely tell anybody's been here at all. And that could potentially be worse than a man with an evil heart.
It turned around as Lucas approached it from behind. "I'm not going to stick around much longer," it sighed, reaching into one of its jacket pockets and withdrawing a pair of items: an electric razor and a simple tube of lipstick. Both shared the same brands as Doria and Aeolia, though the razor was a different colour and the lipstick was a much lighter shade of red. "It may not seem like much, I know, but take this memento of me. I'd feel better knowing if a darling like you was holding my most prized possessions."
"This is it. 'The time' has finally come." It spun around towards the back wall of the mountain, eyeing a small passageway just a few paces away. "I've seen everything there is to see in this world, with all my years, so...I guess I'm a little excited, even, to see what's beyond the veil, so to speak, so you don't need to worry about me. There's a shortcut off this mountain just over there, past my backyard.
And," it finished, kneeling down to face Lucas eye-to-eye. "I know he's a 'bad guy', but he's still my houseguest. Could you please talk to my Pigmask friend about what he'd like to do now? Tell him that if he wants to stay and keep my house that I'm not going to use it anymore, so he's more than welcome to."
Lucas wasn't too fond of the Pigmasks at all, but it was Lydia's final request, and he couldn't deny her it in good conscience. "Sure."
"Thank you, darling," it finished, standing back up and spreading its arms. "Give hugs and kisses to the next Magypsy for me!" And in an instant...
And that was that. The Needle of Snowcap Mountain was a failure.
He looked at the small hole in the ground, still constantly puffing those purple clouds, and gave a heavy sigh. If they hadn't spent so much time chatting with Lydia, this could have been prevented, and now, the Pigmasks were in the lead once again. "Let's go check on the guy," he said irritably, walking past Kumatora and Boney. More than that, though, he was having a lot of trouble trying to get the Masked Man's appearance out of his head.
They did as they were asked and returned to the conch shell to check on the lone Pigmask. Inside, a number of bunnies were hopping and frolicking and generally just being adorable, and among them was the Pigmask, still in his suit but not in his helmet, on his knees and hand-feeding one of them some kind of pellet from his belt. The bunnies seemed totally at ease with the Pigmask, but they still steered clear of Lucas and his friends whenever they approached.
"I listened in on your conversation," the Pigmask said suddenly, knowing Lucas was behind him. "Before the Porkship arrived, about Needles and Lydia disappearing and all that." Lucas didn't know how to reply. "And that bit about how you and me are enemies. I work for 'the bad guys' and you're 'the good guys' that we can't seem to stop, even with our millions of dragon points' of resources and our technology."
Kumatora chuckled at that. It made them sound absolutely epic, and she liked that.
The Pigmask refused to look at anyone in Lucas's party. "I owe you guys nothing," he stated flatly. "But that Magypsy guy helped me out, though. We had an emergency drill after we hit some turbulence over the mountain, and we had to bail. I dunno about my friends, but I wound up here, and Lydia looked after me, even though I was a total stranger. So I'm going to repay the debt by staying here and looking after his rabbits."
The Pigmask was done speaking to him with that, and resumed its attention with the bunnies hopping around the place.
The Pigmask was doing exactly what Lydia said he could do if he wanted, so, without another word, they turned and left the conch shell, heading for the shortcut down the mountain that it had mentioned.
It was on top of another peak just a short walk from the one they were on; the 'white box' blended in pretty well with the snow, but it stood upright amongst the fluff, so it was easier to make out. With a brisk walk down the lonely mountain trail and up the second peak, they climbed into Lydia's rather crude transport and took the express path off Snowcap Mountain.
Lots of fun stuff to talk about this update. With Chapter 7 partitioned the way it is, I'm actually a little concerned that there won't be any bonus updates anymore, but at least these post-update posts pick up the slack well enough.
No extra music to post, but lots of fun music already in the update to talk about. Snowman and A Flying Watchamacallit are both from Earthbound, as itself and Skyrunner, I believe. Also, this update marks the first time that His Highness' Theme is finally posted in this LP. Everybody keeps talking about how awesome the theme is and how some people use it for their ringtones, but now that it's been finally used in the game, there it is for your own listening pleasure. It really is a great theme, give it a listen.
Anyway, for post-update shenanigans, we first head back into the Chimera Lab, long before our run-in with Mr. Squeekz. There's exactly one thing left to do.
Kill this guy. He's a respawning enemy that apparently got the memo that you're not supposed to be there anymore, and tries to get you to leave via force. That's it. The whole reason we came back into this lab is to fight this guy.
In the Mole Cricket Hole, there are three lotus roots you can devour to access new parts of the dungeon once you get the okay from the elder. This first one was a little out-of-the-way for narrative purposes, but here's what's behind it.
This guy actually served me better by letting me sell some old weapons and equipment. Still, 100 HP items for 100 bucks. Not a bad trade but you're probably still loaded with Hot Spring Eggs, so whatever.
Looking at this map of the hole...
I couldn't help but wonder what is in those dead ends to see on the west and east ends. They look really far out of the way, so, this being an RPG, that must mean that there are goodies hiding there, right? But I don't know! The Mole Cricket Hole is just an amalgamation of ups and downs, lefts and rights, and I wound up doing more laps than actually finding my way to these ends! Does anybody know if they even hold anything of interest?
There are some mole crickets that are happy to make your acquaintance if you go out of your way to look, though.
Moving on to Snowcap Mountain, those yetis have an attack that can inflict a status ailment that I haven't had the displeasure of encountering yet in this LP (if they even show up beforehand. I know the items to cure it do, but not the ailment itself.)
Fleas are, well, you know how in Pokemon, paralysis halves your speed and will occasionally make you miss a turn? It's that without the speed deficit. Healing them is a cinch, though, and Healing Alpha takes care of them just as well, so there's really no issue here.
What is an issue here is this jerk:
Is it strong? Not really. It knows PK Freeze Beta, But then again so do the Chilly Dogs. Is it tough? Not especially. A PK Fire Beta or two is enough to put it down. Is it hard to find? Absolutely. With a considerably low encounter rate, less than the Black Beanling and the Top Dogfish, this thing will be an ass and a half to encounter, and if you want 100%, good luck getting its back-sprite. I must have spent a half-hour just trying to find this thing. I don't care about back-sprites, so that's a bit of a reprieve.
The reward is pretty decent, at least. If you're lucky, it has a 10% chance of dropping a Magic Tart for your consumption as well.
Three more things. First, everyone's favourite item dude, Item Guy.
Sans cart. It was probably too much of a hassle to lug up the mountain, but his function is the same regardless.
Second, just before you talk to Lydia, there's a small cutscene about a mole cricket that followed you all the way up the mountain and offers to sell you junk it just happened to amass. You can see it in one of the screenshots of Lydia's hot spring, but I didn't add it to the story because it broke the flow too much. "Lydia's house is right there, and the Needle must be nearby!" "Let's go shopping!"
Finally, a naked old man in a mountain's hot spring.
As he is naked and there are no spare clothes anywhere to be found, it can only be assumed that this man made the hike up Snowcap Mountain without a shred of clothing, just to enjoy a nice dip in its hot spring. Dude must be zen as hell.
Oh yeah, forgot to mention: do NOT fight the Mechorilla the way I fought it. It's weak against electricity, but using PK Thunder will cause it to short-circuit, and from then on the only attack it will use is that "goes berserk" attack that hits everybody in your crew for a hell of a lot of damage. I fought it the way I did because I'm like that and I needed an excuse to use some of my items. I also didn't make it cry because I forgot I could But it worked out in the end! If you don't want to make things inexplicably difficult for yourself, just don't spam PK Thunder and you should have a fun ole' time.
No way for Lucas perhaps, but isn't there an NPC that pulls it off?
Oh hey, look what I finally got around to checking out.
And just for giggles, this is what the Thunder Tower looks like now, after its destruction.