Part 27: Chapter 22
Post-update post will be later because this is really late in the morning, even by my standards. I hate going to bed right after updates because I'm always so worried about what the reader's reactions will be and it makes me toss and turn, especially after I take liberties with scenes and characterizations as big as this time
They moaned and groaned with the hard impact, their bones still rattling and their stomachs still churning from the flight. Lucas was a little sceptical when he first saw the refrigerator on the mountain peak, and for good reason, since it was all Lydia had to get him, Kumatora, and Boney off the mountain. Once they piled in, there was a sudden lurch, and he felt the 'white box' slide around and around the mountain, before being flung into the air, the three of them hollering all the while as the fridge twisted and somersaulted through the sky; and then a rough, sudden stop as they hit the ground and tumbled back into place.
"Everybody okay?" Kumatora asked. She was no better than Lucas, sounding absolutely rattled from the joyride, and her throat was undeniably sore from all the panicked shouting.
"I think so," Lucas replied, and Boney gave a short woof as his answer. "Where are we? Where's the door?" Through all the excitement in the pitch-black fridge, they had lost feeling of where up and down were.
"I dunno. Just push on anything." His body felt completely twisted and jumbled, but he did as he was suggested and just found a wall to push on. The first wall he put pressure on didn't yield at all, and he was too knotted up with Kumatora and Boney to really have the reach to try any of the others. Kumatora, luckily, managed to find the right one, and the all immediately tumbled onto the ground once the door was open.
The ground was a cold and lifeless gray; not a single blade of grass anywhere to be seen on it. Lucas had to squint his eyes once they all flopped out of the fridge - being in the dark for as long as he was, it hurt him to keep his eyes open in the light - and he barely had the coordination to keep his hands flat on the ground as they all tried to unwrap each other from themselves.
Eventually, they were all disentangled, and they regained enough balance to stand up on their legs to get their bearings. Tombstones everywhere; long-dead trees just waiting to rot enough to fall apart; the land was dry, caked and gloomy...
"We're in Tazmily," Lucas realized out loud. "The graveyard."
Off in the distance was the mayor Pusher's extravagant mansion, rising higher and higher into the sky. Behind him was even taller Osohe castle, the tip of its tallest taller cleaving the clouds in two. Nippolyte was nowhere to be found, at the moment, though the charred pile of lumber that made his shack hadn't budged an inch.
"That's pretty lucky," Kumatora winced behind him, stretching her back and cracking her joints back into place. "We can at least ask around for any sign of Duster before we start runnin' off again."
Boney quickly shook himself off once he got back up, wringing the kinks out of his muscles in his own dog way. Lucas gave him a pat on the head, and responded to her. "Yeah, but, can we run back to my house for a bit first?"
"Not a problem," she called over her shoulder, having walked a small distance from their landing site just behind the fridge. "Something about your sheep. I remember. I already got a lead on our next trip anyway."
Lucas caught up, looking over her shoulder at what she had found. A small glass jar under her armpit, with a simple piece of paper unfurled in her hands. It was a very small parchment, barely the size of his forearm, and written on it was a shamble of lines that barely looked like a drawing he could have done when he was three. "What is this?" he asked.
"It's a note. Can't you read it?" She tilted the paper towards him, offering him a better look.
"Not..." he stuttered, trying to make sense of the handwriting. "Not really. It's just...it looks like somebody tried to write this with their teeth."
"Maybe," she laughed, "but hold this, an' take a look." She handed him the piece of paper, and began tracing the lines with her finger. "See these two lines? They're a little messy, but cross them like this, an' you get the letter T. An' this squiggly line with the circle over it? That's a little I. Get it?"
Lucas tried harder to understand the paper and its writing. He understood the pattern Kumatora was mapping out for him, but it was harder for him to grasp so quickly. "It says...'this way'," he pronounced, sounding out each letter as he mapped them like she did.
Almost as if it was waiting for that specific password, one of the tombstones nearby overheard him say those very words, and it suddenly split apart, opening up and revealing a tunnel going underneath the graveyard. It whirred and slammed as its gears busily bustled themselves to life, opening the secret passageway for the three aboveground.
Kumatora peered down the hole newly opened to them with two little words. "Pretty exciting, huh?" she asked casually. "It's all lit up an' everything down there. Good place to start lookin', eh?"
Lucas shuffled on his feet, anxiously looking back to Tazmily. "But-"
"I promised ya we'd go feed your sheep, and I'm not gonna turn back on that. The tunnel, as awesome as it looks, can wait for a bit."
He smiled to her once she gave him her okay to go back home. "Thanks, Kumatora."
"Well, hey, you're the boss man of our little posse; I'm just sayin' that I'm cool with it, is all."
With her affirmation, they left the graveyard and made their way back to Lucas's house, cutting through Tazmily.
As soon as they entered the square, Lucas felt conflicting emotions about the village. On the one hand, it had felt like quite a while since he had a chance to visit; he was happy to finally be home after such a long time. Everything was where they were supposed to be, and all the buildings were doing well. It was nice to see everything doing fine.
And yet...Tazmily felt so...lonely. Tazmily was the centre of commerce just a few months ago, and it was thriving on a remarkable tourist industry and a strong local working class. But now it just seemed like...there was hardly anyone there to enjoy it anymore.
Some of the houses were completely deserted, which was remarkably unusual; there was almost always at least one person looking after a property, but some of them were just...empty.
A couple of people that did still remain in Tazmily frequently gossiped about some other 'big city' he had never heard of before, and frequently went on and on about how much they'd like to move out of Tazmily and to this new place.
What...had happened to Tazmily?
Lucas was happy, even excited, to head back to his home, if only for a quick little visit. But a quick run through Tazmily's central square and seeing its buildings healthy but totally empty put something of a sour note in his day, and while he was still looking forward to visiting his house, all of his pep and energy was totally drained with one simple walk down a street.
Some people still loitered around his house. After so long, he thought the wonder and amazement of Tazmily's famous Lightning House would have worn off. The Pigmask he could understand; he was ordered to simply stand put at the house and shoo away any solicitors. But others still lingered.
Some of the others that did were, frankly, rather rude to him, for no ready reason.
They walked their way up the little hill just before his house. The grass had been eaten away in bald spots all over his lawn from the grazing sheep, left to mill about on their own accord, but while they didn't really appear to be too wanting or hungry, they still immediately flocked around their shepherd once he returned home. Boney tromped ahead, returning to his doghouse and flumping down onto his favourite bed, happy to be home and relax a little.
"This is your place?" Kumatora asked, her hands on her hips as she assessed the building. "There's a little fire damage on the right side."
"That used to be an entire stable," Lucas said quietly as he walked behind the house, fetching a hidden bag of hay for the sheep. They were entirely content with just eating the grass, but the hay was healthier for their systems, and for his lawn. "Thunder Tower burnt it down a few months ago."
"Ah. Well...got your revenge, at least," she piqued, trying to get Lucas to smile, but he barely even acknowledged that she said anything at all as he went about feeding his sheep. "What's got ya down, Lucas?" she asked, stepping closer. "You were all up-an-at-'em to get here and see how your flock was doing, and now you can barely lift your head at all."
"Didn't you see Tazmily?" he choked, trying his best not to look up. The sheep most definitely appreciated his attention, though, greedily snatching up the hay as quickly as he could hand it out. "It's...there's nobody there. Nearly everybody's gone."
Kumatora didn't really understand what the problem was, but she was born in Osohe castle and usually never actually visited Tazmily, so she didn't know. "I thought that was normal," she said, insensitively.
"Entire houses were just...deserted. There was hardly anyone in the streets." He got back up, tying the hay bag and hiding it behind the house once again, moving next to the pump well sticking out of the ground right next to his home. All the while he made a conscious effort to not let Kumatora see him as he was. "That wasn't the Tazmily I grew up in. I...moved past the Happy Boxes. I put up with Fassad and the Pigmasks. Because no matter what happened to Tazmily...it was still Tazmily. We were all a family and everybody was always there for each other." His grip was faltering as he pumped on the handle to the well as water flushed out of the ground and into the sheep's trough. With only ocean water all around to drink, the sheep were baaing in delight at the fresh treat. "Everybody was so nice to me when mom...passed away. And now, nearly everybody's gone. I haven't really talked to my dad in..." He paused, cutting off his own sentence with another. "And anybody who's still here - you heard what that guy said. I'm scary, now. I've only been gone for less than a day, and already, its felt more like a whole lifetime. It's all changed."
Kumatora wasn't the most educated when it came to etiquette, but she knew well enough to keep silent while Lucas said his piece. "I don't know what's happening to my home," he sniffled, finished with the pump and looking over the small cliff his house rested on, towards Tazmily's square. "I just know that...it's making me sick to my stomach."
Kumatora was dumbstruck on how to handle this situation. She wasn't very good at the mushy stuff, and Lucas was feeling pretty mushy right now. Should she say something? Should she give him a hug? She had no idea what kind of thoughts and feelings were going through Lucas's head right now, and it made her sigh in remorseful defeat when she drew a total blank.
Lucas brought his hands to his eyes, quickly drying the tears before they had a chance to stream down his cheek. "Thanks, Kumatora," he managed to say, albeit nearly at a whisper, through his shallow breaths.
"For...I don't know. For listening to me. For not changing. For not minding that I'm being a big baby about it."
"Hey," she suddenly said. She didn't really know where she was about to say could lead the conversation, but if he was being light-hearted about himself, however passively, she'd take that opening and run with it. "It's okay to be upset about things getting outta hand. I'm not judgin' you for nothing. You're actually much stronger than I am, 'cause if I were you, I'd be gettin' super mad about the whole thing. If that guy called me scary, I'd have shown him just how scary I could be." She joined him on the edge of the cliff, looking out over Tazmily. "I've never thought you were a baby about anything, Lucas. When I first met you, you marched an adult Drago into the forest to crush a Pigmask tank for us. That takes guts. It may hurt now, but I can tell ya, those guts'll take ya places. Like, say, the next Needle before the bad guys get to it."
She wasn't very good at the mushy stuff - but it wasn't too sentimental to at least give the kid a reassuring hand on his shoulder. "An' don't worry about me 'not changin''. I'm not goin' anywhere, Lucas."
He dried his tears a second time, thankful for Kumatora's encouragement. His home had been taken from him and his family had been ripped apart - but now, remembering that day three years ago and what he felt when he put a stop to the bad guys, he was reinvigorated into putting it all back together again. "Let's go find Duster."
Their walk back to the graveyard was silent, and Lucas kept his head low through Tazmily. They found the same tombstone from before, and the fridge hadn't budged an inch since they left it there.
The first thing Lucas did was say the password to get the new passageway to open up, and like before, the tombstone slid open seamlessly, revealing a ladder going into the underground.
Underneath the graveyard was as smelly and mouldy as he imagined it would be, but he didn't expect to find a whole new highway under the ground. At the foot of the ladder was a large stretch of concrete, extending further underneath the island and running straight ahead until it met its own horizon.
There was no other sign of life anywhere nearby, though. Whoever wrote that note in the bottle wasn't anywhere to be found. "Do you think it was fake? The letter?" asked Lucas.
"Kinda doubt it. I mean, without it, we wouldn't have found the tunnel." She couldn't deny that it still seemed suspicious, however. "I guess we just walk for a bit?"
Luckily it didn't take them too long at all; just past the first wall of the underground tunnel was a new partition, looking like some kind of parking area for cars like the cafe on the highway. Nonchalantly parked in one of the spaces wasn't any sort of vehicle Lucas had seen: he had seen tanks and trucks and luxury cars, but this...
...amounted to a really, really tall coffee table, with what looked like a needle-thin tail with a pink bow tied to it on one end. There was another bottle laying right next to it, with the same kind of paper as the first one, and when they checked it, the same kind of handwriting.
It followed with a polite message to go to the Thunder Tower. It made no mention of Duster or how whoever was writing these things were attacked, but, regardless of the handwriting and the nearly relaxed tone the message had, it was still worth checking out, if only because it was the right thing to do.
"Should we...just walk?" Lucas asked, looking down the tunnel and how it practically seemed to go into infinity. He had no idea where it led, but they were just under Tazmily, and the Thunder Tower was a train-ride and one long hike away...
At the question, the coffee table literally shook on its legs, 'ruffling' itself like a dog. Lucas and Kumatora jumped back in surprise; Boney stepped forward, sniffing curiously at the table's legs. "What was that?" she asked, prepping herself for a PK Fire in case they needed it.
The front 'nose' of the table bent down, turning towards Boney as the dog sniffed it over. It had no eyes, no mouth, and no ears, but it knew Boney where nearby, and probably the humans as well. The table returned the curious sniffs, and Boney, apparently feeling comfortable near the thing, gave it a few licks across the bridge of its face.
The table was docile, and bent down on its legs so it was low enough for the passengers could get on. It somehow made a noise, like a horse's neigh, yet with no obvious moving parts besides its legs. "I think it wants us to get on," noted Lucas, seeing how the table kept shuffling towards the trio.
Kumatora kept a stern eye on the table, calming her PSI down at how gentle the thing seemed to be, and glanced down the tunnel to gauge how far of a walk it could have been. She couldn't even see its end. "Well," she sighed, looking to Lucas, "it'd be faster than walkin'."
He agreed. Slowly and cautiously, he stepped towards the table, feeling along its hard, smooth surface. It leaned into his touch gently, expecting, practically inviting, him to hop on. He was apprehensive, but he eventually managed to climb onto its back, shuffling forward a bit so he was at its front for Kumatora and Boney.
Kumatora was a bit less gentle, seeing that Lucas had gotten on safely enough, and Boney just hopped on, all caution thrown to the wind. With all three passengers on board, the table stood back up,
turned around, and began galloping down the tunnel at a casual running pace.
There was nothing to hold on to as it ran down the road. Lucas had to grip it by its edges to keep from losing his balance, and he couldn't turn his head to see how Kumatora and Boney were faring. It was difficult to keep his eyes open as the wind rushed into his face, and all he could really tell was that they were definitely making some good time.
The bleak concrete tunnel turned to glass, offering a clear view of the outside as they sped along. As far as he could tell, they were in some uncharted part of the Sunshine Forest, running between two large mountains. He had no idea such a highway existed in his forest. Judging from the wear of the glass and the unkempt condition of the road, it had been there for a few years, too.
The glass tunnel gave way to another concrete one, which lead to another parking area of sorts, branching off into a smaller tunnel that the table couldn't fit in.
Although apparently that was not their destination, and the table kept right on galloping, going further into the tunnel. Its end had come into view shortly after they left the glass tube, but it made a hard bank to the north and kept going. "Lucas!" Kumatora yelled over the wind, "where are you taking us?"
"It's not me!" he yelled back. "This thing's got a mind of its own!"
It kept following the road, knowing exactly where it wanted to go and how to get there. The constructed tunnel opened up into a darker, uncut-stone tunnel and the road almost instantly became much healthier, showing no obvious signs of tear. More obviously, there were chimeras suddenly littering the way.
He glanced to his sides as they passed the robots and the chimeras, checking them out as they dashed past, but he couldn't get very good glimpses of them, unsafe on the coffee table as he was. "Did you see those?"
"Yeah! I think we're near that Clayman place!" Sure enough, the new tunnel finally opened up to some fresh air, going into a junction in the road between a group of cliffs and outside for the first time since they departed.
The table made another hard left, going north once again. It ran over every robot and roadblock it came across, letting nothing get between it and its destination. If it was sent by whoever wrote the letters, then its urgency was well understood. It made no attempt to stop anywhere along the highway, and it was running too fast to risk jumping off for whatever reason, so they just clung on, running down the same highway the second time in two days.
Once they arrived at Thunder Tower's destination, the coffee table did not stop, and made another hard left, heaving them all east. They galloped down unfamiliar territory, towards wherever it was taking them.
For a while, there were no defining features to the tunnels. It was just the same dimly-lit walls with the same asphalt highway; there were no chimeras or robots or roadblocks anywhere as they went. The sound of the coffee table's legs hitting the ground echoed off the lonely walls as they went along. The place looked clean and up-to-date, but it looked as though nobody had visited its roads in years all the same.
It was just more and more highway with nothing on it the longer they kept going. Lucas began to wonder who lived so far out of the way, and why they were being attacked.
Finally, the coffee table slowed itself down, easing to a gentle stop in front of the forklifts and derricks loitering the road. It couldn't go any further; the machines were tightly packed in the road, blocking off the table's large frame from proceeding, but still spaced just enough for its passengers to squeeze through. It bent at the knees, lowering itself so they could jump off safely.
"Where is this?" Kumatora asked, not particularly to Lucas, walking in between the machines. The asphalt abruptly stopped and melded into a dirt road; the walls did the same, going from prim and smooth concrete to unorganized clumps of dirt. The machines had a decent amount of dust and grime building up on them; it looked as though whoever was paving the road simply forgot about it one day.
The lack of human activity made way for lots of mushrooms to grow and cockroaches to infest. Wherever the coffee table had led them, there wasn't a sign of anybody or anything around to save from attack. Maybe the message was old, and whatever calamity that occurred had long past? It'd explain the highway, at least.
They said nothing as they went down the trail, looking for any sign of life but keeping on their guard in case the attackers were still nearby. The dirt tunnel hooked into an easy left, and lying on the ground, right in their way, was...a thing. Lying on its back, facing the ceiling.
It had the same fleshy colour as the coffee table, and right away, Lucas noticed a single strand of hair on top of its head, decorated with a tight red bow. It had a large nose and four whiskers, two on each side of its face. It...appeared to be just a head with two tiny little stubs for legs and no arms. It had beady black eyes, but no ears or mouth, as far as he could see.
Lucas didn't ask what it was, knowing Kumatora wouldn't have known either. He approached it quietly, cautious about the creature and its capabilities. Was it one of the attackers from the message in the bottle? It hardly looked like it could harm a fly, much less a person.
it said suddenly. It had no mouth to speak, so it startled him a bit when it suddenly spoke. It sounded fairly juvenile and androgynous.
Its cheeks were moist and Lucas could clearly make out pools of more tears welling up in its black, beady eyes. It was naturally soft-spoken, so he knelt down to speak to it better. "Are you...the one who wrote the message in Tazmily?"
The small creature paused before answering.
"Saturn? You're called Saturn?"
He took 'boing' as a 'yes'. "Of course, Mister Saturn. We'll, ah, do what we can." It was an irresponsible promise; he had no idea what they were up against, but it made the effort to get the message out, so the least he could do was make the effort to do his best.
Aside from the obvious distress in its weeping eyes, its emotions were difficult to tell with the way it spoke.
"Do you need help standing up?"
was all it answered. It sounded like it was watching the ceiling because it could, rather than because it couldn't stand up. Still, he took that as a 'no' and, with Kumatora and Boney close behind, they continued down the tunnel towards Mister Saturn's home.
"What was the deal with that thing?" she asked, looking over her shoulder at the tiny creature, still lying there motionlessly. "It speaks like how it writes."
The tunnel didn't continue for much longer. Just one more bend in its path, and it opened up, revealing Saturn Valley.
It was a small, enclosed valley, wrapped around by a series of mountains on all sides. It was a charming little village (it was difficult to even call it that, housing only three buildings) with some of the oddest architecture he had seen. The grass was well-kept with a single, tiny little pond in the centre of the bunch.
Wandering around the village, just at the bottom of the dirt trail, was a single blue Pigmask. He never bothered to learn the significance of the colours, but all he knew was anywhere that three-holed helmet went, there was usually trouble nearby. It carried no weapon, however, and when it saw Lucas and his friends approach, it wasn't aggressive at all.
We're just here for the Mister Saturns," it explained, oblivious that Lucas had been asked to stop them, "so just don't get in our way we're cool."
He said nothing, and simply walked past the Pigmask. Their truce wasn't going to last long. For a place named after the creatures that lived there, there weren't too many of them to find; he entered the first house without knocking, creaking the door open to see who was home.
"You weakling, stinkling Saturns!" one of the Pigmasks cursed the moment he stepped inside. "Don't force us to use this Frightbot to make you cry!" At the back of the room was a group of Mister Saturns, their backs to the wall, tearfully facing their antagonists. Some of them cried nonstop; some of them shook uncontrollably in fright; but most did both. They looked absolutely terrified of the Pigmasks.
"Enough of your gibberish nonsense!" the second Pigmask demanded.
There was a small piece of plastic standing on its own between the two Pigmasks, and once it was given its okay, it took a step forward and began to speak to the Mister Saturns. "OKAY, LET'S GET STARTED!" it screeched. Every word it said must have been like nails into their noses, the way the Mister Saturns kept flinching. "THIS IS GOING TO BE SCARY, SO LISTEN GOOD!"
"Really?" Kumatora scoffed, intentionally getting their attention. "Scary stories? That's kind of weak for torture, don't you think?"
The Pigmasks turned and withdrew their weapons seamlessly, while the Frightbot sort of hobbled in its place, slowly pivoting to face the intruders. "AH, NON-MISTER SATURNS!" it cried.
The Pigmasks fired beams from their handheld weapons, arcing powerful electricity through the air and onto their skin. Their aim and their reflexes were very well toned; the Frightbot, however, had a uniquely different idea of combat.
In the heat of the battle, Lucas didn't pay the Frightbot and its stories too much attention. It was only a small piece of plastic. But for every sentence it made, the Mister Saturns in the building all cried out in terror, seriously shaken by the tales it told. The Pigmasks put up a decent fight, using all their tools and resources in ways he hadn't expected, but they weren't a match for their PSI.
The Frightbot was not a match for his foot, either. With them defeated and the Frightbot a mangled piece of garbage, the Mister Saturns' immediately perked up, delighted and relieved that they had been saved from the menaces that had invaded their home.
...or so Lucas thought. Their expressions and their language were so difficult to really decipher that he had to be directly told what it was they were feeling.
one of them asked,
"You're the first," Kumatora answered. "We're workin' on it." They had risen quite a bit of commotion during their fight. They left the building quickly, before the remaining Pigmasks could take the fight to them, and they dashed into the next house, ready to liberate it as well.
The second one, just east of the first, contained no Pigmasks, thankfully enough. Just a single Frightbot in the centre of the room, cornering four more poor Mister Saturns. "BUT WHEN SHE OPENED THE BOX, THERE WAS NOTHING IN IT AT ALL!" the Frightbot finished eagerly, apparently enjoying its job.
one of the Saturns cried, tearfully turning away from the Frightbot, unable to bear any more.
"HERE COMES ANOTHER!" it yelled, taking a deep 'breath'.
It was dealt with much the same way; before it could get to the bloodcurdling climax of its next horror story, it ended on a rather abrupt cliffhanger after Lucas stomped down on it as hard as he could. Just like flicking a switch, the Mister Saturns returned to their happy, carefree selves once the Frightbot was out of their sight.
one of them said remorsefully, and the others agreed. Still, their work wasn't done yet; they still had two more houses to free in the teeny village.
The third house was the northwest-most, virtually indistinguishable from the others. Inside it were still four more Mister Saturns; three were taking cover, hiding in the corner of the room in terror, while a fourth got itself stuck in a trash can and was forced to remain in the front row as a pair of Frightbots continued to terrorize them.
"AND THEN THE RADIO SAID, 'NO, JOHN, YOU ARE THE DEMONS!'" said the Frightbot on the left.
"AND THEN JOHN WAS A ZOMBIE!" finished the other. The Mister Saturns began to howl and sob at the sheer, unimaginable horror of the tale, each of them breaking out into a cold sweat and their eyes spastically watching the two Frightbots, trying to ready themselves for whatever else the heartless machines could spew at them.
Once they were taken care of, the Saturns in the room relaxed, shyly stepping away from the wall to thank their rescuers.
"Uh, sure," Lucas said, "but not yet. Still have one house left to help."
it said, and they left, quickly making their way to the last house.
It was the same as the three others, though on the inside, it appeared to be just a little larger somehow. It had the same story: a Frightbot was cornering a handful of hapless Mister Saturns tied cruelly to a laundry line by their pink ties, guarded by a pair of Pigmasks. They barged into the house, expecting it to go the same way, but among the victims was who they didn't expect to find in Saturn Valley.
The Frightbot was making a horrible scratching noise, trying to scare the Mister Saturns into obedience by breaking their ears instead of their wills, unlike all the others. "Where is the Needle?!" one of the Pigmasks demanded. "Where in Saturn Valley is the Needle?"
said the only Mister Saturn not crying streams of tears from the Frightbot. One of the Mister Saturns in particular was hanging right next to Duster's outstretched rope snake, which was coiling and hissing aggressively at the treatment, trying its hardest to break free from the line and spooking the Mister Saturn out of its wits.
The answer spurred the Pigmask into action, getting louder and more active. "Don't lie!" it yelled. "You lied yesterday, and now you're lying today! You'd better tell us, or we'll start tickling your underarms again!"
The second Pigmask through its arms up in frustration, turning to face its partner to say something, but stopping, catching sight of Lucas standing in the doorway to the home. "Hey!" it yelped, immediately pulling a weapon from the holster on its waist, pointing it at them; its partner did the same, reacting immediately. "Who are you?! What do you want?!"
Lucas wasn't too terribly intimidated; their weapons stung, but it wasn't anything his PSI wasn't stronger than. "We want you to stop tormenting the Mister Saturns. The Needle's not here!"
The first kept its aim trained right on Lucas, leaning in closer to its partner to whisper. "Are those...the guys? The ones the higher-ups want?"
The second didn't care for the secrecy and spoke normally. "Who cares? Just get 'em!"
One of them got the idea to try and attack Boney, figuring the dog would be the easiest target out of the three of them. Boney was fast, and his jaws bit harder than anything the Pigmask had felt before, though the Pigmask managed to get in a lucky shot with its pistol in his chest. He yelped and reared back, widening the distance between them to recuperate from the blow. Lucas heard his dog's cry and saw him limping back from the shot, and immediately let go of a PK Love, putting an end to the fight as quickly as he could.
The beams from their pistols really left a mark, and their melee kicks were well practiced and powerful, but ultimately...
...they were just Pigmasks of a different colour. They didn't waste any time brushing away the opposition, eager to get to heal the wound on Boney and to get to Duster and help him out of his binds around the pillar. Their uniforms singed and smoked from the vicious attack, but they continued to stand. "What was that?" one of them asked to its equally bewildered partner.
"No clue," it answered through breathy huffs, the wind knocked clean out of it from the strike. "We...we gotta tell Mister Fassad right away. These are definitely the guys he talked about."
"Wait!" Kumatora demanded, stepping forward. The fingers on her right hand clawed menacingly, and a sudden flame erupted from her open palm. "That name! Fassad! He's here? He's alive?!"
They didn't answer; one of them reached into another pouch on its belt, taking out a small capsule and tossing it to the ground as hard as it could. The room was quickly enveloped in a wall of thick smoke, and Lucas was roughly shoved aside as the two Pigmasks made their escape behind the smoky veil. When it cleared, they had disappeared from sight.
Lucas looked out the door, trying to find the two Pigmasks, but they were long gone by the time he had regained his balance. He looked to Kumatora as she calmed her PSI from her hand, giving her a panicked, distraught look: Fassad was still alive, and still commanding the Pigmask army. But they had seen it fall from the top of Thunder Tower! "No use worryin' about it right now," she said irritably; she knew the implications and the impossibilities. "We got a Duster to save."
Duster's head was low, and his breathing was a little laboured from how tightly knotted the ropes were. He didn't notice Lucas or Kumatora the entire time they were there, appearing as though he was knocked totally unconscious. The ropes were tight, but with a quick and easy PK Fire, they weren't a hassle at all.
Duster fell to his knees; it took him a moment to totally regain his sense. "Are you okay, Duster?" Lucas asked when he didn't move right away. Duster replied with a low, slow groan, bringing his hand up to his face to rub the weariness from it. It took him a moment, but when he managed to get back onto his feet and his eyes open, he was just as excited to see his friends alive and well as they were for him.
Boney! Thank goodness you're all right!" he laughed, stepping forward and wrapping an arm around Lucas and Kumatora. Lucas returned the hug, but she just gave him an awkward pat on the back instead. "What happened to you two? Where did you land? What have you been doing?"
He let go of his embrace to give them a chance to speak. Kumatora went ahead and spoke first. "I was rescued by a Magypsy named Doria, near Club Titiboo. Apparently Lucas's mom told him where to be to catch me."
Duster's happy face quickly turned inquisitive. "Lucas's...?" He looked to Lucas. "Hinawa?"
"Yeah," he answered, looking away. "Mom...saved me and Boney, too, by telling my grandpa the same thing. And then...well, a whole lot has happened since then. How about you? How did you wind up here?"
But don't worry about the Egg of Light. It's safe and sound with me."
Kumatora tapped her foot on the floor impatiently, trying to determine something in her head. "Jeez," she sighed, "is this lucky or unlucky? I really can't tell."
"We're all lucky," Duster answered happily. "We destroyed Thunder Tower; the Egg of Light is safe as could be; and nobody's hurt. What more could we ask for?"
"I dunno about you," she answered, "but I was kinda hopin' that Fassad would learn to stay dead after Thunder Tower."
"How do you mean?"
"You didn't hear those Pigmasks just now? Fassad is still alive and kickin', still bossin' them around. Or so they say. We haven't run into him yet."
Duster's happiness quickly drained at the unfortunate news. An alive Fassad was a problematic Fassad. "That's-"
"Oh yeah," Duster hummed, looking at the three Mister Saturns still dangling by the single hairs on their heads. "We should let these guys down, first."
"Hmm. I think I understand.
Sounds like I'm sticking with you guys. I'm coming too, of course." The Mister Saturns all milled about the room, walking off the stress from the single hair on their heads, but they were totally fine from the scares earlier. Like it never even happened. The rope snake, however, apparently wasn't feeling as jolly as its neighbours, and while it reacted kindly to Duster, it did not want to coil around him as its rope again. Lucas felt sort of bad for it.
"Yeah, we woulda dragged you along with us either way," Kumatora ribbed, nudging Duster with her elbow. "You're in too deep to get away from us now, buddy."
"And I know just the place to start." Duster got down on his knees, leaning in to the closest Mister Saturn. "Excuse me," he introduced.
Do you really not know where it is?"
The Mister Saturn thought about it quietly. It hardly moved and it didn't blink as it deliberated its answer. it finally said.
It answered Duster's question very definitively, and it turned to walk away, its business with Duster done. "Wait!" he called, getting it to return. "You say you know?"
"That means there's a Magypsy nearby, right?" Kumatora interjected.
It spun about on the spot, eventually stopping, facing away from the door to the building.
"North, then," Duster realized. "I've learned to talk to these guys during my short stay, and this guy is saying we go north.
"Well, let's get goin'! The Pigmasks are here; they could be anywhere near the Needle by now. We gotta move!" Kumatora was insistent on getting themselves out of the door and to the next Needle, and Lucas completely agreed with her urgency. With the Mister Saturns' thanks, they left the building, making their way north to the next Needle.
The tunnels behind the village were barren, but otherwise very clean; the Mister Saturns clearly took good care of it, being their only way to the volcano. The village had become lively once the Pigmask occupation left, though the caverns were still fairly desolate.
Except for a troupe of six Mister Saturns near the back, playing a game that was clearly very entertaining. Five of them were simply stacked one on top of the other, and each of them were laughing and giggling the whole time as they tried to keep their balance.
Another of them gave them an unsolicited lesson on the dimorphism between the Mister Saturns, just as they were nearing the backside of the cave. Aside from just announcing that it was a girl, though, there was no real physical difference that Lucas could see.
Just outside the cave, there was a welcoming sight in a hot-spring waiting just there for them. The puffs of steam enticingly rising from its surface was practically seducing them into taking a dip; he and Boney hadn't had a decent wash since the Chimera Lab, and a lot of things had happened since then.
"Well, thank you," said Lucas gratefully, already ankle-deep in the rejuvenating water. "I apprec-"
Lucas looked at the Mister Saturn questioningly as he submerged himself in the drink. "There's that word again," he thought aloud. "What's a Dakota?" His friends shrugged their shoulders, just as lost as he was on the word.
A refreshing dip in the spring later, and they were as good as new.
Just around the bend was a large vertical, featureless wall, stopping them from continuing onto the volcano rising just over its edge. It wasn't very tall, but it was flat, making it impossible to scale up.
the Mister Saturn insisted, looking back to the wall. Duster knew this was his area of expertise, and stepped forward, judging the wall's scalability for himself. He hummed and stroked his chin with his hand in thought.
"No good," he admitted, shrugging his shoulders. "The wall here is too solid for Wall Staples. I'd just wind up busting my tools."
said the Mister Saturn, and it hurriedly dashed off towards the village. True to its word, it wasn't very long before it came back with five friends following closely behind.
Just like they had seen earlier, with in the tunnel between the village and the volcano, the five Mister Saturns all began to play a game of Ladder, climbing onto each other one by one until they were all standing on top of each other. The ladder swayed slightly under their own balance, causing them to giggle; it was a really fun game for them.
Duster looked up the tower of Mister Saturns, noticing that they were just a few shy from the very edge of the wall. "We just need a few more," he winced. "Can you get two or so more up there?"
the bottommost Mister Saturn answered. He hummed once more, trying to appraise the situation - when he suddenly got an idea, and began to climb the Mister Saturns himself, slowly making his way to the top. The Mister Saturns all groaned and complained as he went.
From the top of the ladder, Duster took a deep breath - it had felt like such a long time since he had last used his Wall Staple Technique, but at the same time, it was so familiar.
And with just a few staples, he had made up the rest of the way to the top of the wall just before the volcano.
Lucas, Kumatora and Boney, after seeing Duster pulling himself over the edge, made their way up the wall as well. The ladder of Mister Saturns swayed and wobbled with each of their weights, threatening to topple over as the ladder was threatened with a sixth participant. They held fast, however, and the group made it over the wall safely.
one of the Mister Saturns cheered once Boney had finally climbed over the side. Just as it said, the tower of Mister Saturns toppled over itself, all of them laughing delightedly over how fun it was.
As they all straightened themselves out, they looked up the wall and to Lucas, seeing them off to pull the Needle in the volcano. With their leave, he did as he was expected and turned, his friends close behind, as they tackled the next Needle. Their way back was gone, but they'd worry about that later.
Just a short walk from the tall wall was a small clearing. It had two pathways leading away from it: one was a passageway going into the volcano, while another lead directly to a large pink conch shell, spiralling up and directly out of a pool of molten lava, with a set of stepping-stones leading from the shore to its front door. More surprisingly, there was a mole cricket sitting on a patch of dead grass just in front of the Magypsy house.
"Hey there!" it welcomed, doing a little dance to get their attention. "How's it going, you guys! How long has it been?"
Lucas looked to Kumatora. "Um...about three hours or so?"
"Man, it's felt like four days to me, at least!" the mole cricket laughed, sitting back down on the patch. "And four days in our time is practically a lifetime! Our elder must have told you about us making a chain of shops all around the world, right?"
His eyes widened as he bent down to speak to it. "Is that why you're here? Wow, you guys are fast!"
"That's us! Our social network is second to none; news today is old news three hours later.
And, well, I can't really speak for myself - location is a bit of a bother for my store here, you know, right next to a volcano and all - but I hear business everywhere else is looking sharp!" It settled down, sitting still on its patch of grass. "So, can I get you to buy something?"
Lucas didn't really know how to phrase it as sensitively as possible, but he gave it his best. "We're actually in a bit of a hurry, here," it said, downtrodden, "but I promise, we'll be back! And we'll buy something!"
The mole cricket's indomitable spirit didn't falter at the news at all. "I'll hold you to it!"
They all made their way over the stepping stones, very careful of the steaming lava on all sides. Strangely, the convection of being so close to the lava wasn't nearly as bad as he thought it was.
The inside of the conch shell was like the others: dully furnished, containing only an elegant bed and a dresser in the far corner, adorned very generously with makeup accessories and a large mirror on its back. The general colour scheme was lots of soft oranges, to go with the volcano motif all around the outside of the shell.
Unlike what Lucas had expected, the Magypsy of Saturn Valley wasn't awake to greet him, but rather, it was sound asleep on the bed, tossing and turning in its dreams as they entered.
Helpfully, the Magypsy had set up a sign right next to the bed, just in case Lucas had managed to arrive while it was sound asleep. It wouldn't have been any good if the one chosen to rescue the islands was left unattended just because one of the Needle's guardians fell asleep on the job.
I assume I'll be fast asleep by the time you arrive, so I'm leaving this letter here for you, it read, in very elegant and clean font. "What does it say, Lucas?" Duster asked, trying to look over the boy's shoulder.
"Um," he stuttered, picking up where he had left off. "It says, 'I'm a little more serious and detail-oriented than the other Magypsies. Hello again, Luc'-" he awkwardly stuttered, figuring how to continue reading it like Phrygia was speaking instead of him, "'Lucas, heart. Ion - Ionia told me you would be coming here. The Dark Dragon Needle you're to pull is in a lake of lava up ahead. I don't mind if'..."
Lucas paused once again, feeling uncomfortable with continuing. "Is something the matter?" Duster asked again.
"Lucas isn't fond of pullin' the Needles 'cause it means makin' the Magypsy guardin' it disappear," Kumatora answered in one breath.
"Disappear?" he echoed. "Like how?"
"Like...disappear, you know. Just up an' vanish. Right in front of us, too."
Duster nodded in understanding, trying to put himself in Lucas's position. "I guess I wouldn't be too cool with pulling them either," he conceded. "Do the Magypsies mind?"
"No," said Lucas, rereading the last sentence a few times before continuing. "They don't mind. Because they lived protecting the Needles, and...when the Needle is pulled, they don't need to live anymore. At least, they say they don't mind."
Duster didn't press the issue. Lucas being the only one able to pull the Needles effectively meant that only he was able to really 'kill' a Magypsy. Well, him, and whoever was pulling them for the Pigmasks. Lucas continued reading when he was ready. "'I don't mind if you pull it when I'm asleep.
There is a boulder blocking the path to the volcano. Just give it some encouraging words, like 'you can do it' and 'don't give up', and it will move out of the way for you. Good luck, heart. Smoochie smoochie, heart.'"
Phrygia lightly turned in its sleep, rolling over to its other side as it continued to mumble incoherently. "I guess...we just go?" Lucas asked, looking to his friends. There wasn't much else to do in the conch shell, so they turned, leaving Phrygia to greet its fate harmlessly in its sleep.
Just like Phrygia had written, there was a big boulder lying in their path, keeping them from going forward. As far as Lucas could really tell, it was nothing more than a rock; but he figured the local Magypsy would know more about the area than him.
"Hey," he said to the rock softly, stepping forward and resting a hand on its surface. "I know this is a little bothersome, but I know you can do it, if you just...tried hard enough. Could you please step out of our way?" He felt ridiculous, talking to the boulder like he was. However, just as he was told, the boulder began to shuffle and shift under its own power once Lucas gave it some encouragement. "It'll be easy for a rock like you! Getting up and rolling out of the way ought to be really easy, because you're just the rock for the job!"
It took a bit more encouraging words, but eventually, the boulder did actually get up and roll to the side, much to each of their astonishments.
Just past that were three more, smaller boulders, arranged in a triangle.
Lucas immediately tried the one that had nothing behind it - if he could make it go back a little bit, they'd have enough room to squeeze by and continue on to the volcano. But whenever he tried to encourage it to move, it would just slam into either the wall next to it, or the other boulder beside it.
It took a little problem solving...
...but they eventually cooperated.
The opening to the volcano at its base was just within their reach, and hopefully, the Needle was just a short walk from there. Roaming the area just before the volcano were a number of strangely-shaped creatures, with bodies like insects, beaks like birds, necks like snakes, and tails like scorpions, happily roaming about and minding their own business.
They weren't particularly aggressive, but they still valued their personal space, so they kept their distance from the creatures.
Among them, though, were the peculiarly more...humanistic sentient blobs of lava, also occupying the areas right next to the volcano.
Lucas admired the materials used to make the glasses the blobs frequently sported, managing to comfortably withstand the sheer heat of the lava.
They pressed on quickly towards the volcano. Just a few hours ago, Lucas, Kumatora, and Boney had climbed to the top of a frigid mountain covered with snow - now they were about to head into a belly of a volcano. Already Kumatora had taken to using the same trick to keeping their body-temperature okay, using her PK Freeze, but against the incredible heat of the lava, it was considerably more taxing.
As they rounded the next corner, however, they came across an unexpected sight: a pair of blue Pigmasks were loitering in a small alley just before the volcano itself. One was speaking into a device just like the one Lucas was carrying, and the other was looking to the first expectantly. The Pigmasks didn't hear the group approach, but they did not duck back around the corner to hide; they were in their way, and one way or the other, the Pigmasks would have to move.
Apparently, he's undergone a huge makeover to change his image."
"Yeah, as a matter of fact, I did! I heard he had had such a huge change to himself that he even sounds different now. We should probably find that Needle quick,
I hear he's even got horns to go with his new look."
"Horns?" it asked, cocking its head. "You mean, like..." It brought its hands up to its head, crooking its index fingers next to its forehead, "demon-like horns, or something?"
Its partner noticed Lucas and his group standing right in front of them, though, and when it didn't immediately answer, the other looked down the path to see what had its partner's attention.
Boney fought conservatively, preferring to hang back and letting the humans fight against the Pigmasks this time. They were dealt with rather swiftly.
There wasn't much of a pathway between the Pigmasks and the very base of the volcano. There was an opening going into the volcano right in front of them, sending them deep into its pits to retrieve their Needle. He appreciated that, of the last three, Doria's was such a cakewalk.
An odd, small insect made its colony within the walls of the volcano, and it had the annoying habit of spreading embers whenever it flapped its wings.
From where they stood, though, there was a great beacon of light resting just a stone's throw away. The Needle was difficult to make out through the wall of light and its small size, planted deep in the soil, but it was clearly there. "There it is!" Kumatora pointed, directing their gazes across the pools of lava and the simple rock paths leading straight to it. "And the Pigmasks aren't here! We can make this one!"
They started jogging down the path, doing their best to avoid the various goops of living magma and the buzzing fireflies that obstructed the way to the Needle. "What do you mean, 'this one'?" Duster asked while they jogged, his breath unwavering with his lopsided dash.
"It was...we didn't get the Needle on Snowpoint Mountain," Kumatora answered loudly, carrying over the wind. "We were that close, but they got to it first."
The Needle was right in front of them now, just a few quick wide steps away. "Lucas!" she yelled, "don't think! Don't stop! Just pull it as quick as you can!" He had the same idea, once Snowpoint was robbed right from under their noses. He wasn't going to hesitate once they got up to the Needle; he was just going to reach around its tip, and pull it out of the ground as quick as he could.
Things didn't go as smoothly as they had planned, though. Once they were close enough to the Needle that Lucas could practically hear the light emanate from it, an awful, screechy, cackling noise rang out.
Despite the heat of the volcano, Lucas could feel himself go cold at those near-signature laughs. It was here. It had made it into the volcano, and it had caught up with them. "Is what Fassad says," the same voice added after the laughs.
They looked up, towards the voice speaking down to them, and, horrifically, there was Fassad, in all its alive glory. The earlier Pigmasks weren't exaggerating when they mentioned Fassad had a makeover; it sported a jetpack, awesomely, but it didn't look like an accessory as much as it looked like a piece of it. Its nose had been torn off crudely from its face, and was replaced by a metal, aesthetic one instead. Most jarringly, Fassad was adorned with a pair of horns - brass saxophones, both hooking out of its mouth and curving up.
It eased off its jetpack, floating down to the ground, and placing itself directly between Lucas and the Needle. His goal was hidden behind Fassad's wide, menacing figure, looking down on him condescendingly.
Fassad was soon joined by another robot. About half its size, propelled by a single engine on its bottom, with the metal head of a feminine figure wearing lipstick and curly, black, fake hair. It faced towards the four as well, though it didn't look particularly menacing at all.
If that was all it was, Lucas didn't have a problem with it so much as who it was interpreting for. With Fassad's introduction done, it began to play the two saxophones jutting out of its maw - and the sound it made was actually fairly beautiful. Lucas hated a lot of things about Fassad (and 'hate' was a powerful word), and he couldn't help but feel almost...dirty, knowing that he actually found something Fassad did pleasing. "'Because of you,'" the interpreter narrated, apparently understanding every note Fassad made as a different word, " 'I feel beautiful, newer, and more wonderful than ever before, but I will not thank you.' That is what Fassad was saying."
There was an awkward pause as Fassad continued playing, and the interpreter was having some difficulty telling exactly what it was saying. "'Blunder'?" it questioned. " 'Threw me off Blunder Tower?' I'm sorry, Mister Fassad, but I don't-" Fassad continued playing, the music it made sounding so...fluid. "Oh, my mistake. 'Off Thunder Tower. You threw me off Thunder Tower.
"Yeah, that must have sucked, huh?" Kumatora chided, prepping her PSI. "Your entire army was duped by two kids, and bald guy, and a dog. I wouldn't wanna show my face again neither." Fassad's expression changed, looking angrily down on them all, but the tone of its saxophones did not change.
The interpreter continued for it. "'I do not believe I will ever lose to the likes of you ever again...Nwehehehehehe!' Is what Fassad says. That's one 'nwe' and five 'he's."
Fassad rose back up - giving Lucas a clear shot to the Needle directly underneath it. "Lucas," Duster said normally, stepping closer to the boy. He kept his hands on his Thief Tools, ready to whip any of them out at a moment's notice. "It's one against four. He can't keep his eye on all of us. Kumatora, Boney and I will distract him, and you pull the Needle."
Lucas agreed; it was a good plan. Fassad's trumpeting, however, picked up again, bursting into more fluid notes and tunes. "'I would not be so quick,'" the interpreter said. "'Lucas. You would be immobilized when the Needle is pulled, yes? Would you risk your friends to fight without you? Would you risk yourself?' That is roughly what Fassad is saying."
Lucas couldn't get a good read on Fassad with the fake nose and the two horns in the way. Why was it giving him that hint? A three-on-one would have made things a lot easier on it, but, perhaps, the Pigmasks just really needed all the remaining Needles. "He's just talking smack, Lucas. We can take him, you just pull that Needle!" Kumatora insisted, but, as much as he hated to admit it...Fassad had a point. He couldn't leave his friends to fight it without him.
'And that terribleness is a very mature and grownup terribleness,' Fassad says. He then also adds, 'Nwehehehehehe!'."
With that, Fassad swooped down...
...and they fought the new and improved Fassad.
Fassad's horns dangled off its face, and its left engine on its jetpack was stuttering and beginning to falter. Fassad had been beaten rather soundly by the quartet; all it could do was pull away, continuing to play its music as it floated out of their reach. "'I will humbly make you pay for this,' Fassad says. And I should note, he says it with a very intense emotion. Anger, I believe." Lopsidedly, Fassad flew up and out of the volcano as quickly as it could.
And with that, Fassad's interpreter followed, leaving the four of them to the Needle.
Lucas stood, his head craned up high as he watched Fassad run away. He watched as it tried to steady its flight, colliding harshly with the hot stone walls of the volcano as it tried to fly its way out of the top. Kumatora, though, immediately laughed and whooped, clapping Lucas on the shoulder after the victory. "Yeah, look at 'im run! Look at 'im run!" she cheered, shaking Lucas in a congratulatory way. "Man, Lucas, does it feel good to finally put that screwed-up bastard in his place, or what?"
Lucas looked away, smiling shyly to himself. He hadn't thought about it, but now that she mentioned it...it did feel pretty good. Fassad had been oppressing him and his dad personally for the past three years. It felt terrific to finally get back at him, even if it conflicted with his normally pacifistic rules.
"But let's not wait any longer," interrupted Duster, although he couldn't keep the contagious smile off his own face. "We should pull the Needle before he has a chance to come back with others."
Lucas shook the giddy smile from his face at Duster's words; he was right. The sooner they pulled it, the better.
Without wasting another moment, he did the deed.
Almost right away, after the whole thing played itself out, Lucas felt the pressure on his back forcing him down once again. It wasn't a painful sensation, exactly, but regardless, there was an invisible force insistently forcing him down by his shoulders, trying to push him into the hole he had just created. "What's happening?" Duster asked, watching the boy suddenly strain and work against something he couldn't see. "Is this normal? Should we help?"
Duster had reached forward, intent on answering his own question, but Kumatora stopped him right away. "This is normal," she said flatly, "and I don't get it either. It happened at Doria's, but he comes out fine at the end." Lucas grunted, getting onto his hands and knees, his body struggling and straining to keep itself up. "Just give him a second."
His knuckles began to turn white as he kept trying to push himself up from the ground. He blinked hard, forcing the sweat from his eyes, and he pointed his elbows out. His face kept inching closer and closer to the hole; just before his chin hit the dirt, the weight was gone, and once again, he experienced a sudden practical-weightlessness, accompanied by the wonderful feeling of being wrapped in something magical as his heart had realized some more potential he had locked away.
Lucas took a few deep breaths, trying to regain his wind as he brought himself back to his feet. "Are you okay?" Duster couldn't help but ask. Lucas was a little wobbly, but with the power he felt himself grow with, he happily gave Duster a thumbs-up, too momentarily strained to answer verbally.
Kumatora was about to suggest they run back to Phrygia's as quickly as they could, but the rough sound of some high-heeled shoes clapping against the stone beat her to it.
Phrygia ran up as quickly as it could, its body already beginning to vanish. "I saw it!" it said happily as it ran, dashing up to the four between gasps and pants. "I thought it would get pulled while I was asleep, but I saw it! I saw the Needle get pulled!" Duster nearly flinched at seeing the man-woman-thing for the first time skip towards them, but held his tongue, not wanting to offend.
It practically pranced around in delight at having seen its own Needle getting pulled. It didn't even notice that it was disappearing. "That leaves only three left, and
I'm not much longer, but I can at least tell you where the others are."
Lucas finally snapped out of it - as much as he would have liked to bask in the feeling, there were priorities happening in front of him, and when he saw Phrygia's disappearing body, he was suddenly reminded of what he had just done. "One is located on gorgeous Tanetane Island, south of Tazmily. A beautiful place, covered mostly in jungle. I love it! It's a great place to work on a tan! I'm pretty sure Mixolydia is looking after that one."
"Tanetane?" Kumatora repeated. Phrygia nodded, humming positively. "I know that name from somewhere." She rested her head on her hand, thinking about it for a moment. Phrygia continued while she thought about it.
I believe Ionia is protecting it." Lucas sighed; he wasn't looking forward to having to pull Ionia's Needle. "I think you already know this, of course," Phrygia began, digging into one of the pockets in its elegant dress, "but it's said that the heart of whoever pulls the Needles is passed on to the Dark Dragon. Instil the power of power; the darkness of darkness; and the light of light into your spirit as you pull them."
"Um," Lucas said quickly, stepping forward. "The bad guys have pulled...a few of them already."
"Just...two, we're pretty sure, so we're tied."
Phrygia thought about that for a bit. "Dear me...if you can get the next two, then your heart will overcome theirs, and the Dark Dragon will assume your heart. Probably!" It winked and giggled, but Lucas didn't find that to be quite as funny.
"The Magypsies for their Needles said that whoever pulled them had no heart. So...what happens if they win?"
Phrygia reared back in surprise at that. "Really? That's what they said?" Lucas nodded. "Hmm...well...the legends say, that when the Needles are pulled, the Dark Dragon will remake the world in the image of the heart of whoever awakens it. If you wake it up, Lucas, with a heart as darling as yours, I'm sure the world would be a great and wonderful place." Lucas smiled at the compliment, even though he had to watch Phrygia disappear right in front of him, just like the others. "But if someone with no heart at all pulls them...then, I would think that the Dark Dragon would do exactly that. The world would be nothing. No sky, no land, no sea. It would just...be nothing."
"That's a pretty good reason to hurry it up," Duster added, without a shred of humour.
"Indeed!" Phrygia laughed, finally pulling its hand out from its pocket. It carried a small notebook with it, pulling on the fabric from the inside pocket. "This is for you, Lucas. It just has everything I've told you know written in it, in case you ever need a quick reminder." Lucas accepted the book, looking through the first page quickly - just as it said, the names of the Magypsies guarding the remaining Needles and their locations were written in very fine, elegant handwriting.
"But," Lucas said, looking up at Phrygia, "there's one Needle missing."
"The Needle said to be sticking out of the Dark Dragon's head," Phrygia sighed, looking around the volcano. "I have no idea where it is, and I can't seem to contact Locria, the Magypsy guarding it. For a person as detail-oriented as myself, this is kind of perturbing, and my only regret to disappearing with the Needle." From Phrygia's other pocket, it withdrew two, smaller items: a tube of lipstick, and an electric razor. Both were the same brands as the other Magypsies, but both were of different colours. "It's about time I left, but before I go, take these. So you don't forget me."
And with that, just like the others, Phrygia vanished into thin air.
Nothing remained of Phrygia at all, and the four of them were left alone in the volcano, to trudge their own way back out. "Damn it, I can't remember," Kumatora sighed, having thought about where she heard the name 'Tanetane' before. "It'll come to me later. But hey, Duster," she called, nudging him with her elbow, "you saw your first Needle get pulled. How was it? Pretty thrilling, huh?"
Duster kept his eyes on where Phrygia once stood, still a little shocked at how it simply vanished, clothes and all, into nothing. The gravity of knowing exactly what might happen if the Pigmasks got to the Needles before they did was still fresh on his mind. "Pretty intense," he answered.
Sorry the wait on this post-update post, but let's get right to it.
To start with, let's head on down to the beach, right next to Tazmily when we first arrive. It's just as empty as the rest of the village is, but there are some changes. For one, the pig that was sunbathing at the beach is still there, but with a very suave new tan.
One thing that I noticed while I was visiting, though, was that I could visit lovely Tanetane island right then and there if I wanted to. Once you get Kumatora back on your team, the order for collecting the Needles is totally open-ended, with the possible exception of the one in the Oriander mountains, which the game suggests you to do last.
Now that we're getting the Needles, my intention is to do one per update - although this means massive-friggen updates, but I haven't had any complaints so far, so I'm guessing nobody minds (hint: if you mind, tell me). We'll be heading to Tanetane island with the next update, and that promises to be a fun little thing, so, looking forward to that.
While we're here, let's check up on our favourite love story-in-motion.
Oh, those two silly-billies.
Just before you leave on the Mr. Saturn coffee table, you can check just south from where it's parked, where there chain-link fence is separating the train tracks from the underground highway. Turns out, the fence has been removed, and the presents there have been restocked with some neat stuff.
I tried my hardest to work this into the story, because the super bomb is just such a devastating weapon, but I couldn't think of anything. Oh well; I know exactly which non-plot-related boss I want to use it on next. The other present contains a Luxury Banana.
The Mr. Saturn coffee table (which, by the way, is what Lucas rides when he enters a stage in Super Smash Brothers Brawl; the sound of the hoofs clamping against the ground is even the same) controls exactly the same as a Pigmask Pork Bean. Press A to get on, B to stop and B again to get off, and otherwise just move around in all eight directions. You even slip on the banana peels and make the exact same whirring noise as the Pork Bean with the table. The entire highway is your oyster to plunder once again if you feel like, but aside from some genre-savvy flavour text about why some sprites and NPCs are in the very same exact position since you left, there's nothing new to do here.
(I ran over that goddamn Bright Smile three times )
I lied, actually. There is one thing you can still do in the highway. You can visit the warehouse, where we tracked down that haywire Clayman with the Egg of Light buried inside it.
And inside...there is nothing.
No working Claymen.
All that remains are a few security drones, idly watching over an abandoned warehouse holding several shutdown machines and lumps of lifeless, forever-idle clay, simply waiting for whenever their batteries die out, or when the building rots and collapses around them, whichever happens first.
Several husks of old Claymen that had been formed, but never granted sentiency, simply stand watch over the nothing of the warehouse, awaiting their own abysmal fate.
The abandoned warehouse actually comes with its own music: an extremely slow, very somber remix of Sad Reconstruction, which was the boss theme for the Reconstructed Caribou way, way back in chapter 1. It's very atmospheric and really sets the tone that there is nothing remaining here, and the fact that it exists at all kind of threw me for a loop because it's not in the sound test.
Just outside of the front door to the warehouse are...
...a pair of level 1 Pigmasks. These are the guys you fought with Duster when he and Wess entered Osohe castle way back when. All enemies will actively retreat from you once you're a high-enough level (just like in Earthbound), and these Pigmasks are no different. By now, you should be strong enough that once you show your face to them, they will immediately run in the opposite direction.
You cannot progress to the Unknown Valley from here, and I haven't checked if you could get to the warehouse from the other side (just to be stopped by the tanks). I'll give it a look after Tanetane island.
Moving on, just before Saturn Valley, you cannot enter Thunder Tower. And for good reason: as we saw earlier, half of it is gone.
In Saturn Valley itself, you get farted on a lot.
In the third house, when you rescue the Mr. Saturns, one of them wants to thank you right away. Answer yes, and it'll give you a bow tie.
Say no, and it'll give you something else (I forget what, and even then it's just a plain dragonfly, not a silver one). There was a bit of a myth revolving around the silver dragonfly that I'll bring up later, but I personally disproved it during an earlier run through the game. I don't think they do anything at all besides get you some money.
Once you rescue the whole village, the Mr. Saturn shop where you can buy and sell opens up for your business pleasure.
He, Mister Saturn, can do all, for you.
The one on the left offers you weapons and armour. The stick is a pretty decent choice for Lucas; the Sevolg will actually be trumped by the Friend's Yoyo if you still have that, so give it to her instead of buying them; and, as we can see, the Mystic Shoes for Duster are still the greatest. The pendants you see here all have the same stats, but offer boosts against their respective elements. Flame is good for now and Ice will be good if you didn't go to Snowcap yet.
The second shop, which is the Mr. Saturn on the right in the same house, offers a variety of foods and delicacies for your consumption.
I ate the Lotto Meal once. Its effects are determined by your luck, which, if it's a stat at all, cannot be consciously upgraded. It debuffed my attack strength by 34. A few fights later I got three SMAAAAAAASHs in a row. I do not know what my luck stat is.
Further up the way, we run into everyone's favourite item dude, Item Guy.
We also get farted on again.
The volcano is rather straightforward, really. There are a couple branching paths all throughout its insides, but it still has a bit of side-paths for you to take if you still have a hankerin' for explorin'. Personally, I really love these kinds of dungeons, because A) they're really easy to write, and B) if you don't want to mess with the goodies at all, you can just jump straight to the end. There is no problem with this setup!
Going south and hacking your way through some enemies, your reward is a bit of a spoiler for the upcoming boss.
With Fassad being mostly metal, this will wreck his shit. Though the salt will work on slugs, the water will not work on the flame-based enemies of the volcano.
Going northwest, we run into one enemy only located in two areas in the entire game, and they're right next to each other.
The Magman is a mook-maker: leave him be, and it'll keep spewing out those Pyreflies forever. It'll prefer to use support magics like Offense Up Omega, and the Pyreflies can hit hard enough as it is, so you'll want to take it out quickly.
Going west from there, we get farted on for the last time.
Just south from this one, though, is a magic butterfly.
Take this thing to restore 30 MP to Lucas and Kumatora. You can leave the room and come back, and it'll be right there again to repeat the process. They might as well have put a hot spring here.
And that's that!