Part 28: Chapter 23
I've lost track of the days, is this the first time you've gotten off schedule, or do you still have time?
For anyone keeping score, yes, this is the first time I've overshot my schedule, by one day. I was going to have it done and posted half a day ago, on the justification that the next day didn't start for me until I went to bed, but it still wasn't ready by the time everyone in my timezone was beginning start their own day, so I conceded defeat. Not helping matters was that I had to redo the screenshot placements on the whole damn thing three times, and having to re-record the Barrier Trio fight once.
It's just my opinion, but I think you should split the next needle into two parts.
Considering that the next update is three posts long, I probably should have, yeah.
The walk out of the volcano was thankfully uneventful. They steered clear of all the local wildlife, careful not to get too close to anything and get into another brawl over territories. Unlike last time, Lucas was fairly pleased with how pulling this Needle went, although having to watch a Magypsy disappear every time was always a mood-killer, and they knew Fassad was still alive.
Just as they promised, they stopped by the mole cricket's little shop just outside of Phrygia's home, looking over its wares.
It didn't sell anything particularly noteworthy, but they still shelled out the DP to buy a couple of its dumplings, apparently made from a traditional recipe and a staple of the mole crickets and their culture. They were a little unfulfilling, but they knew how to cook a good dumpling, he'll give them that.
As they returned to Saturn Valley, to their surprise, there was a Mister Saturn lying in the middle of the path, just gazing up at the clouds.
"How did you get up here?" Lucas asked. A game of Ladder should have been impossible, if they lost their balance at six.
it said, watching the clouds pass by.
True to its word, right where they had climbed over the wall in the first place, a new ladder had been erected immediately next to it. Another Mister Saturn was wobbling delightedly at the top of the new one, apparently excited that the ladder was complete.
Just to the west of it, though, was another ladder, going much higher...and leading to nothing.
"What's the story with that one?" asked Kumatora.
It seemed a little embarrassed that they managed to build a ladder going higher than the cliff, and not realizing that it went up the wrong cliff until it was too late.
The Mister Saturns were all excited to be freed from the Pigmasks once again; from the hill overlooking their little village, Lucas could see that their activity and liveliness had really begun to pick up. Maybe their experiences against the Frightbots weren't as sudden as flipping a switch as he had realized.
They chose not to wash off in the hot spring; they had just left a volcano, after all, and they had enough to do with being surrounded by heat for a bit. The tunnels weren't as energetic as the village, though some of the Mister Saturns had gone right back to playing Ladder again, and they were still laughing up a storm over it.
He turned them down as politely as he could, and they just went right back to their fun, already forgetting that he was invited at all.
As they walked themselves out of the cave, Lucas began to thinking about which Needle they should go after next. He had no idea where Tanetane island was - he had never even heard of it until then - but he wasn't looking forward to having to pull Ionia's Needle at all, and the Oriander mountains were just a walk away from Tazmily. They left the mouth of the cave, and sitting on the dirt path just above the village, going to the tunnel leading to the highway, was one of the Pigmask's flying machines.
A green Pigmask emerged from it, looking around for a moment, to make sure that it was alone. Its eyes landed on Lucas just coming out from the tunnel, and suddenly, it began to panic, hurryingly digging into one of its pouches and withdrawing a small pink orb. It tossed it to the tunnel...
...then dashed back into the flying machine, which took back off in a hurry...
...and before Lucas could yell for it to stop, the pink orb exploded violently.
All the Mister Saturns leapt into the air in fright, crying out all at once at the enormous boom the bomb made. They scattered about, trying to find shelter from some kind of invisible invader as they ran, and all the while the cliff began to slide and cave in around the only way in or out of Saturn Valley.
Once the last pebble finally slid into its place among all the carnage and the sound of the rocks all falling apart had stopped, the Mister Saturns all stopped as well - the threat had passed, and it was back to what they were doing. Trying to figure out their mannerisms was giving Lucas a headache.
But their responsiveness to danger was beside the point: the tunnel had collapsed. It was their only way back to the entire rest of the island!
They ran back to the tunnel to check out the damage. If it was really beyond repair, they would be stuck in Saturn Valley; the village was surrounded on all sides by insurmountable mountains, and one of them was a volcano. It would be suicide to try and climb over.
It looked pretty desperate from a distance, and once they were right next to it, they could see just how bad the damage really was. The tunnel had been completely collapsed, and numerous boulders of all shapes and sizes were blocking whatever possibly remained. If there was any chance to move the boulders and dig their way back to the tunnel, it would have taken days, and at the rate they were pulling Needles, the world would be doomed by the evening.
"It's lookin' pretty messed up, I gotta say," Kumatora hummed, bending over and picking up a rock the size of her fist. She looked it over before carelessly tossing it away. "We should get diggin' if we don't have any other plans."
"No way, that can't be right," insisted Duster. "The Mister Saturns wouldn't only have one way in and out of their village. They must have another way out somewhere. We should go ask."
Lucas thought about it, looking over the tunnel. None of their PSI would probably work on it. "I think Duster's right," he said eventually. "It might be worth it to at least ask."
"Cool with me," she shrugged in response, and they went back into the village, asking around if there were any other exits to the valley.
Their topics were as mysterious as just about everything else about them. Some were talking about the 'mantis' (apparently, their name for the green Pigmask. It suited them, Lucas decided) that had just appeared, and other was talking about some kind of grounded food, and some more were talking about how much the Mister Saturns enjoyed their company.
Their questions led them into the same house Duster was in. None of the Mister Saturns were very helpful, but one of them was at least halfway eager to talk about it. it said once the humans entered.
Duster was quick to jump in that Mister Saturn's line of thought, hoping to keep its attention long enough to get some information. "We really need to get back to Tazmily," he explained.
it asked, and for the first time, Lucas could actually tell that it sounded a little sad about it.
"We promise to visit," Lucas reassured. "You guys are our friends. We just...really need to get home, quick."
The Mister Saturn's nose gave a little bob, almost like a nod, as it understood.
Suddenly asking for a lot of birds wasn't what Lucas had expected at all.
Duster was just as surprised by the demand. "We're going to fly using birds?" he clarified.
was the Mister Saturn's reasoning. Kumatora was reluctant to go with the plan - it was understandably...dubious - but what other choice did they have?
Mister Saturns littered the valley now, lying on their backs with bright red balloons on strings metres long tied to their noses hovering high above them.
But...they were inside! And the only talked about it for a minute! How did the other Mister Saturns know? How were they all so quick to start collectively 'fishing' for birds? They rattled his mind, and he didn't know if he should find them confusing or endearing for it.
Luckily, birds seemed to enjoy flocking to Saturn Valley, though they didn't seem to be taking the bait. Right next to the destroyed tunnel, though, a small flock of them had taken rest. Lucas didn't know what types they were, but they were much larger than the common Tazmily sparrow, so hopefully one of them would suffice.
He only now realized that there was a bit of a flaw with the 'catch the bird' part of the plan. Whenever he got just a little too close to one, it'd fly away before he could snatch it.
"Leave it to me," Duster said assuredly, stepping forward. "I'm really good at sudden movements. Comes with my trade."
They worked out a quick plan to catch one of the birds. The birds really seemed to like to cliff for whatever reason, so Duster would stay as still as a statue on it while the birds carelessly fluttered around him. Then he would simply reach out and grab it.
A simple plan, but fortunately for them...
...they were simple creatures, and Duster was very good at what he did.
They quickly brought it back to the Mister Saturn they were talking to - the bird was fighting and squeaking the whole way. It was heartrending to watch it struggle the way it did, but at least they didn't have anything terribly cruel in mind for it (he hoped).
the Mister Saturn asked, as though the wriggling ball of feathers trapped securely in Duster's hands wasn't clear enough.
"Where do you want it?" Duster asked, his wrists thrusting with each movement the little bird made.
He didn't know how they planned on catching it again later, but he supposed it would be easier in their house, regardless of the fact that they had no arms either way. Carefully, he let the bird go, and immediately it took flight, circling the ceiling again and again, trying to find a way back out.
"Why there?" Duster asked, watching the bird.
"Well, no, it's just...a sudden place to tell us to wait. But I guess any place is as good as any other." The Mister Saturns apparently had things under control, so with that, they backtracked through the back tunnel towards the hot spring once again.
Their earlier heat exhaustion from the volcano had cooled off over time, though the water of the spring was still an uncomfortable reminder. Still, while they weren't terribly dirty, a good soak was what Lucas really wanted: they had been moving almost nonstop since Aeolia's Needle, and besides the occasional bath break, they really hadn't had an opportunity to relax.
"This is kinda nice," Kumatora sighed once they got into the water, knowing that it wasn't just a momentary soak. "Can't really say I'm excited for that Saturn's loopy plan, but just gettin' a chance to finally sit down and relax." Lucas agreed, although he would have appreciated a more personal bathing space - or at least gender-dividers for the spring - so he didn't have to feel the weight and the drag of his clothes in the water.
Lucas picked a spot in the spring next to the edge and sat, leaning back and relaxing his head against the grass. He let out a deep sigh and felt his feet unknot and his muscles melt into the soothing warmth of the water. He remembered, once upon a time, that every day was like this: just kicking back and letting the weight of it all ease off his shoulders. And now it seems like every minute of his life was straight out of some kind of action-superhero story. Learning magic; impersonating the enemy; blowing up towers; running from horrifying murder-beasts; saving the world...he couldn't help but smirk a little. It was exactly how he and Claus had imagined themselves just three years ago. But it was still different. Kumatora and Duster were terrific friends, and he wouldn't have any other dog in the world than Boney...but none of them were Claus.
"Something on your mind, kid?" Duster asked, noticing Lucas's faraway expression. Lucas didn't realize he was being spoken to until he felt Duster nudge his foot with his own. He brought his head back upright, grunting. "I said, something on your mind, kid?"
He hesitated a little, stuttering to find the correct words. "I was just...thinking about everything we've done so far," he answered truthfully. "Just a few days ago I was just another kid, you know?" Boney had taken a spot next to his master, and Lucas appreciatively gave him a few scratches on his furry head. "And now I'm in a hot spring, miles from home, in some village with walking heads, in the middle of saving the world."
Kumatora laughed out loud. "Well, when ya put it that way, it makes ya sound like some kinda superhero, doesn't it?"
"I was just thinking that myself," he laughed back. "What my brother wouldn't have given to be in my spot right now."
"You still think about him, do you?" Duster asked. Lucas's earlier smile waned almost immediately.
"Yeah, I...I still think about him and mom. A lot. I've been trying to not dwell on it, though. I don't want what's...happened to dad to happen to me."
Another awkward silence - Duster knew what Flint was going through, and Lucas didn't like thinking about it. It was broken when a Mister Saturn suddenly emerged from under the surface of the water, having been holding its breath the whole time. "Have you been under there the whole time?" asked Lucas.
It paddled itself to the edge of the spring, kicking itself over its edge with a hop.
It was an odd offer, and he was more of a 'tea' person, but it was a gracious offer all the same. "A good cup would just top the whole thing off," Duster said enthusiastically, looking forward to his own.
The coffee didn't take too long to prepare. They had even brewed them separately, figuring that each of them would appreciate a different mix for their own tastes: Lucas had his with milk and sugar; Kumatora's used beans that made a lighter coffee with less caffeine; and Duster's was all black.
They had some things to talk about over their treat.
Shortly when they were done with the coffee, a Mister Saturn came from the tunnel, approaching the hot spring carefully. On its bulbous nose, it balanced a small coin-like piece of metal, being careful not to tip it too far to either side. it said, placing the coin just at the water's edge.
Lucas waded up to it, looking over the small thing. He recognized the grime and the rust on it right away: it was the Courage badge Nippolyte had given him in place of his father. It was his dad's good-luck charm. He hadn't really given the badge a lot of thought since he got it, but looking at its wear-and-tear and knowing that it was his father's gift to him, he felt embarrassed that he had been so careless over something so priceless. "Thank you," he said, reaching for it, when the Mister Saturn stepped on top of it.
On the one hand, he wasn't too keen on giving the badge up. It was his father's proof that Flint still thought about him. But on the other, it was pretty beat up...and giving its shine back might just restore its good luck. "Okay," he finally said.
Just as it turned to leave, it turned once more, looking back.
"Oh, you hear that?" said Duster, standing back up and out of the hot spring. His fingers had gotten all wrinkly, and his clothes did little to dry the rest off. "It's time for us to get going."
Lucas had been enjoying their time in the hot spring - it was comfortable, for one, and they were really connecting as a group in there. But Duster was right. Feeling his clothes pull on him as he rose up and out of the water, he stepped back onto the grass, hearing the drips and drops of the runoff all over his body splash to the grass below. The others soon followed (Boney promptly shook-dried himself, soaking them all a second time) and, rejuvenated, they made the short walk back to the village's square.
Sitting on the ground right in front of them was a large birdcage, containing a number of red birds, all of the same species. He couldn't exactly tell if the one they had caught was in there at all, but there were certainly a few of them in there. "That's it?" Kumatora asked, looking it over carefully. It was literally just a birdcage, nothing more.
"Easy for you to say!" she quickly answered. "There's no way this thing is going to get off the ground! It doesn't make any sense!"
"Kumatora," Lucas interrupted, getting her attention before she started getting mad at the little Mister Saturns. "We got here by riding a coffee table like a horse. Did that make any sense?"
She was suddenly at a loss for words, looking at Lucas, then back to the birdcage, then back to Lucas. "That was...well, at least that thing had legs."
There was a quick rustle through the grass just behind them, making a lot of noise, causing them to turn. A bright red snake had slithered from the nearby house and, having heard the magic word, quickly came up to its owner. Lucas wanted to leap away in fright, but the snake had no interest in him; it went up to Duster's feet, seamlessly climbed up the inside of the left leg of his pants, up his torso, and deftly down his left sleeve, wrapping itself securely around his wrist, locking its body in a way so that Duster could grasp onto its tail while its mouth was still free to grip onto anything.
Lucas and Kumatora were pretty surprised by the suddenness of the rope snake, but Duster in particular felt moved by the snake's devotion to him and to its duty as a rope. "Looks like someone wants to tag along," he said, stroking the head of the snake lightly with his free hand.
Kumatora immediately had her doubts, though. "I dunno, Duster. We trusted that thing to work last time, and we wound up nearly falling to our early ends."
"Yeah, I know that, but..." He looked back at the snake, squeezing reassuringly on his arm. "I've had this snake for a while. It was there when I lost my memory, and it saw me through every concert with the DCMC. It's been a good friend to me, you know, like Boney and Lucas." Though the snake hadn't really put in the same effort Boney had, he still felt confident in making that comparison. "If it wants to try again, I can't just say no. It's my friend."
She sighed. "Fine. I doubt this thing will be able to lift us high enough to scratch us if we fall anyway."
the Mister Saturn asked, and Duster, happy that he had everyone's okay with the rope snake seeing them through another flight, nodded.
With a quick ram with its entire body, it shook up the cage, and right away the birds inside began to squawk and squeak, all taking flight at once.
To Kumatora's surprise, the cage actually began to lift up with the amount of force their collective wings were pushing down on the cage's frame. It should have been a complete physical impossibility...but there it was. "Quick, latch on!" she yelled over the rustling of their feathers, and just before the cage could get away from them, Duster flung his arm forward, and the rope snake reached out and caught on , just like before.
Kumatora and Lucas quickly grabbed onto Duster's legs as he was lifted into the air with the snake and the cage, and Boney quickly and gently bit onto Lucas's foot. With a surprising whoosh, they were practically catapulted into the air, soaring high over the mountains surrounding Saturn Valley and then some.
They were lifted high over the clouds, watching the Nowhere Islands disappear underneath their cover far below them. Snowcap mountain's peak was visible off in the distance; they had nearly gone past the highest point on the highest mountain already. And their flight was completely powered on nothing but birds!
The cage's flight took them over the highway below, and over Thunder Tower's creaking and groaning wreckage. The yellow sphere that made the generator and its insides were nothing but charred black husks after their destruction. Club Titiboo wasn't too far away, and around its mountain's base was the Chimera Lab just before the Sunshine Forest. Way off to one side of the island was a desert Lucas had never seen before, but had heard a few rumours about. He could see where his grandfather's cabin used to be, and from there he trailed his eyes down the path he and his family always took to get back to Tazmily.
From there, he looked straight south, seeing his house and noting the little dots still grazing his front lawn. And then to the ocean, that went out and out forever in every direction - and farther south still, the tiniest hint of another island peeking over the horizon...
Before he could get a better look at it, though, the cage began to wobble under its own weight. There was no headwind to knock them around, surprisingly enough; the birds were seemingly just beginning to run out of steam on their own.
"What's happening?" Kumatora yelled over the winds from their flight. "Stop rocking the cage, Duster!"
"It's not me!" he yelled back, his grip as tight on the rope snake as its grip was on him. "It's the birds! Or something! I don't know!"
"You don't know?!" Lucas asked, horrified, and, against his better judgment, looked down. The fall would do quite a bit more than just give them a scratch, and he didn't know if he could count on his mother rescuing them a second time.
The cage dipped just below the clouds, breaking through their cover and leaving them an unobstructed view of the entire island below. They were just beginning to pass over the western shore of the island, just over the ocean. That was better, he knew: if they absolutely had to drop down, they could just land in the water. It'd break their fall.
Suddenly, their velocity picked up, going fast, far too fast towards the ground all at once. Lucas continued to desperately hold onto Duster, but out from the corner of his eyes, he saw Kumatora had let go out of fright, and above them, the birdcage was rising back up over the clouds...
They had just barely missed solid land on all sides. The beach to Tazmily's west started as an enclosed cove for a few metres just before it widened out into the actual ocean, and they managed to all land in the little pool of water. They weren't going fast enough to really hurt themselves, and the water was deep enough to sustain their momentum before they evened out and began to rise back up. Still, the impact hurt; they did what they could to swim themselves to safety, but the waves of the ocean did most of the work.
They were all fine, though: no broken bones or anything. The rope snake was the last to drag itself out of the water, slowly slithering its way onto the shore after them.
"Hey, guess what?" Kumatora asked, highly annoyed. "The snake couldn't hold our weight at Thunder Tower. And guess what? It didn't hold our weight this time. Whoda'thunk that history would repeat itself?"
Duster managed to pull himself to his feet, feeling his bones creak and pop into place after that tough landing in the water. "Yeah, yeah," he dismissed. "He held on as long as he could, though, and it got us to Tazmily, didn't it?"
"We coulda broken our necks! A few feet in any direction and we woulda been as flat as an omelette!"
Kumatora was pretty peeved about the rope snake's inability, but Duster was very lenient with it and reached out to it, offering it to slither back up his sleeve and around him again as it did for the last three years. The snake, though, wasn't feeling as great with itself after its second failure: it was supposed to be better than just any other rope, and a rope wasn't supposed to break with a little weight. Rather than accept Duster's invitation, it quickly slithered away in embarrassment.
Duster wanted to chase after it. He was very attached to his pet snake, and already he felt as though he was missing something, like he had forgotten to put on his shoes before leaving his house. But if the snake was feeling anything like how he felt when his father Wess scolded him after a botched heist, the best thing to do would be to just leave it alone for now. He just hoped it didn't leave Tazmily, and he could find it when it was ready to be found.
"Um," Lucas said, getting their attentions again. "According to Phrygia's book..." He reached into his pocket and took out the little notebook the Magypsy had given him earlier. It had been completely soaked from the earlier hot spring and the dip into the ocean, but, like magic, the book did not warp in shape and the ink did not run. "The next Needle is...on Tanetane island, directly south of Tazmily."
They looked directly south. There was only ocean as far as their eyes could see. Not the faintest hint of land before the horizon. "Is that right?" huffed Kumatora, still irate over the rope snake.
"That's..." Lucas flipped through the book a bit, quickly scanning each of the pages that had any words on them. Only the one on the front had anything of value; the rest of the book was just an incredibly long list of things to get for the other Magypsy's birthdays. "That's what Phrygia wrote. And I, I'm pretty sure I saw an island that way, when we were up in the sky."
Duster leaned forward, holding his open hand over his eyes to shade them from the sun. Even his highly trained thief-eyes couldn't spot any land. "How do we even get there? If it's there at all. Can we take a boat out there or something?"
"I don't think so," Lucas answered. "There aren't any ships at all in Tazmily. Just a single canoe rowed by two guys up and downstream."
"Perfect place to start," offered Kumatora, when Duster cut her off.
"Hold on! I see something in the water!"
"An island? 'Cause that would be nice."
"No! It's...it's a Pigmask! In the water!"
Lucas and Kumatora quickly stepped forward, mimicking Duster's stance, trying to see where he had spotted it. "Where is it? I don't see it."
"It went under the water! I think...I think they're swimming to Tanetane!"
In no time at all, Kumatora stepped forward, wading knee-deep into the ocean. "That's a good idea, too!" she said over her shoulder, waving for the others to follow behind her. "Come on! Anything those Pigmasks can do, we can do better!"
Apparently flying through the sky was difficult to believe, but swimming across an ocean was entirely plausible. Boney jumped into the water, just behind Kumatora, although whether he understood that she wanted them to swim to an island they couldn't see or just because he thought it was time to swim was beyond Lucas.
Still...he couldn't doubt that she had a point. Since there was only one boat in Tazmily and it was locked to the rivers anyway, swimming there was probably going to be their fastest route. He and Duster soon followed, if a little nervously as they approached the waves, and they each took a deep breath as they dove under the surface.
A pair of Pigmasks were underneath the surface of the water, closer to Tazmily than they had thought. With them was some kind of creature Lucas had never seen before: with an upper-half that looked like a middle-aged man with long, wavy-black hair, and a lower-half that was all fish, complete with colourful scales and a long, thin tail. Was it some kind of new person he had never seen before, like the Magypsies? Or was it another chimera?
While he was busy trying to figure out what it was, to his, and Duster's and Kumatora's, surprise and disgust, the man-fish thing's lips extended towards the nearby Pigmask and wrapped around the snout on its helmet. It looked as though they were making out, and from the way the man-fish was going at it, it was pretty...vigorous.
"Okay!" one of the two Pigmasks yelled somehow, looking off to the side, perhaps to a third Pigmask they couldn't see past the reefs. "Oxygen supply is complete! Let's make our way to Tanetane island, before those brats beat us to another one."
The closer one looked at the man-fish, subconsciously using a hand to clean off the end of its snout after that doozy of a...resupply.
They're really demoralizing. That's the kind of thing you're supposed to do in private."
"Really?" The other turned back to the first, shrugging its shoulders. "I really like it. I think it's a unique and original way to refill on air." Its partner Pigmask turned to it, disbelieving what it just heard. "It helps that they taste pretty good, too."
Its partner offered no response.
Communication was difficult between them underneath the waves, but once Lucas began 'walking' forward, his feet skimming along the sandy ocean floor as they went, they all promptly followed behind. The Pigmasks were equipped with oxygen tanks and didn't need to worry about air very badly, but Lucas and his friends were totally unprepared for their journey, and oxygen tanks weren't exactly something he could just get at Thomas's bazaar. They had to wing it.
One of the Pigmasks had mentioned that the man-fish things were machines rather than chimeras, and they could supply oxygen by locking their lips together and it breathed right down their mouths...or something. It was creepy from a distance, and the way the man-fish looked at them as they approached - he could swear it began to smile, knowing that they were going to need some air - it was more-and-more off-putting the closer they got.
But, already, he was feeling his chest burn with the need for some air, so...
...he took one for the team.
It was a weird sensation and it was equally as refreshing to get some air into his lungs again as it was gross to...get it the way they needed to. But already the shores of Tazmily's beach began to dwindle into the background the farther they went, so there was no turning back; and they needed to get to Tanetane island, no matter what.
Once everybody had their turn, each as reluctant to go as the last, they carried on, swimming through the ocean.
Lucas put aside the discomfort of having to put up with the oxygen 'machines' for the moment, and instead took in the scenery while he had the chance. He was literally walking across the ocean floor. Tazmily has its share of fishermen, but nobody really had the desire to go beyond a certain distance from the Nowhere Islands; they had no drive for adventure, content with their home enough to not search for a new one. As such, nobody had even heard of Tanetane island, much less see it. He and his friends were making history as they went.
Or, they would, if the Pigmasks hadn't beaten them there. It was difficult to fight physically under the water, but Lucas's and Kumatora's PSI were as powerful as ever. The Pigmask's weapons had been modified to work under the water as well, but they weren't any trouble to handle.
He didn't really know what he should have expected to find when he dove into the ocean. He had swam in salty water lots of times before, but never so deep that he could reach out and touch the corals and the plants growing up from the bottom. Schools of fish of all different colours and sizes and shapes were abound as they light from the sun bled and melded under the tides, making everything look like it was straight out of a painting. He couldn't deny that it was a little scary, being in a place that was so alien to him (and on a time limit), but the unexpected greens and oranges and purples of the ocean floor were too beautiful to not gawk at.
The floor of the ocean got darker as they progressed, going deeper and deeper. The light from the sun was getting thinner, having difficulty piercing the thick water down to its depths, but it was still light enough for them to at least see where they were going. Naturally, the burning in their chests began to pick up again, but to their relief, at least another man-fish machine was floating about nearby, planted between two rocky cliffs.
That would take some getting used to.
Lucas found it interesting: if there were no water in the ocean, than the cliffs and valleys of the seafloor would be totally indistinguishable from the cliffs and valleys on the Nowhere Islands. It looked absolutely identical: replace some of the algae-overgrown rocks with shrubs and some of the stalagmites with trees, and they would have the Oriander mountains.
His vision was a little muddled from all the water in his eyes, but even after a while swimming in a totally new world, there was still no sign of Tanetane island in the distance. It looked as though the floor kept dipping downward, and although the water temperature wasn't the problem, and neither was the oxygen as long as the man-fish machines were nearby, he kept feeling like he was being squeezed in all directions, as though the water itself was applying pressure on every part of his body.
Another man-fish was a little out of the way from the main path, but it was still clearly visible. Good thing it was there, too: the pain hadn't come back just yet, but it would have been better to top off and stay that way than risk going without air.
...oh. They picked up the pace, walking as quickly as they could through the heavy water, eager to find the next man-fish and get some much-welcomed air into their lungs.
All the while, the Pigmasks kept dotting the ocean floor. They were easy to brush away, at least, but with oxygen in high demand, it was a distraction they really could have done without.
But on the other hand, if there was a Pigmask under the water, there was a decent chance that there was another man-fish nearby to give them some oxygen. And sure enough, just as the familiar pain in their chests began to rise once more, there was another one tucked away in a corner, behind a non-conspicuous ridge of rock.
From there, it was just a matter of pressing forward. The areas got darker and darker the farther down they went, and the local wildlife, while normally very docile and patient with the humans in their territory, was beginning to become more aggressive and physically freakish.
The earlier charms of the bright and distinguished coloured reefs dwindled and disappeared the farther down they went, until it was just them and the dark underwater canyons. As difficult as it was getting to see, they knew they were going the right way because the Pigmasks had left a trail for them in the form of the man-fishes.
All the same, though, he had had enough of the ocean for one day - without anything endearing remaining about it on the bottom, it was actually a rather frightening place.
Unfortunately for them, the path just ahead forked into several different holes, and the path up ahead stopped entirely from a large mountain of sediment. Lucas panicked at first, wondering which hole was the correct path to take - when he remembered that they could just swim right over it. He was relieved the others probably couldn't understand him right then.
To make matters worse (although Lucas could hardly tell), Kumatora suddenly didn't feel so well. Walking across the ocean floor while it kept getting darker and colder, and locking lips with some kind of weird machine to stay alive, would have done that, she reasoned...
...but she knew better. While she was looking forward to it, the timing couldn't have been worse.
It was only a bit farther that the light from above began to pick back up, and the ocean's floor evened out and began curving upwards once again. Sure signs of land were still out of their sight, but it was definitely a good sign: it was only a matter of time.
The Pigmasks continued to crop up at inconvenient spaces, however.
From there, though, there was nothing of particular interest the farther they went. A barren middle-ground that had neither plant nor animal in it as they swam closer and closer to Tanetane island. The only thing that broke the silence and made sure they were still heading in the right direction was another man-fish, placed at a marker of sorts where the sand of the ocean picked up in hue once again - and the friendly, colourful corals of the ocean returned in full stride, growing out of every stone and crevice, leading them onward. The light was picking up, and so was his spirits.
And, for the first time since they left Tazmily, at least one frog. He didn't know frogs could survive in the ocean.
"Who dares enter my realm?!" a crystal-clear, booming voice sounded, shaking the water around them and pushing them all back. Lucas opened his mouth to gasp in surprise, but all he got was a bad taste in his mouth instead, thankfully catching himself before he could inhale any of the water. "Who walks along the floors of Master Eddy's domain?!"
It was hard to see through the thick waters of the ocean, but the light had picked up very generously, so he could see far enough ahead to make out a shape of a creature just a few breast-strokes away. It was no Pigmask, but it was no creature he had seen before: a blue eel-like thing, blending into its surroundings well, with a flighty plume on its head and a pair of arms and hands on its sides. "You there!" it said again, and Lucas couldn't help but be startled at how well he could hear it through the water. "The young child with the protégés! What business have you in Master Eddy's domain?!"
Lucas naturally couldn't respond. He simply raised his hands up, showing the eel-creature his open hands, trying to message that he meant no harm. "Answer me, interloper, or you will be struck down!" Lucas didn't like the sound of that, but all he could do was continue waving his arms, hoping that Master Eddy would understand his meaning.
"Come now!" it boomed, pushing the water around them again in its fury. "Have humans developed so little over the millennia I, Master Eddy, have lived and ruled in his domain, that they are incapable of speech? Or do you dare mock the great Master Eddy and defy his demands for a reply?!" Desperately, Lucas put his whole body into it, just trying to say 'no' through movements alone, but apparently Master Eddy would have none of it. "Your dance insults the great Master Eddy! His dominion over this realm cannot be challenged! You will be defeated at the hands of I, the great Master Eddy!"
Kumatora was listening, of course, and had just about enough of its boasts and demands. She floated forward, quickly readying another PK Freeze right for the eel-creature mouth, hoping to freeze it shut, when she found herself casting something entirely different. At least her fever had left.
Before she could collect herself and try again, there was a sudden change in the currents, creating a powerful whirlpool right on top of Master Eddy, pulling them in...
...and forcing them to confront the great Master Eddy.
Lucas's eyes blinked open wearily. The soothing sound of some waves gently roiling onto a beach met his ears, and the salty sea air met his nose as he finally came to. The last thing he remembered was swimming across the bottom of the ocean - or, that might have been a dream. That sounded too remarkable, even considering everything else. They fought some kind of egotistical eel, and when it was forced to recognize defeat, it somehow managed to control the very water around it to hit them with some last-ditch attack that...
His memory ended there. Blinking the fog from his eyes, he slowly, painfully lifted his head, feeling every uncomfortable kink in his joints and cramps in his muscles. The hot sun beat down on him from overhead, and with another gentle swoosh of the water splashing onto the beach, he first thought that he was at Tazmily's western beach.
Although Tazmily looked quite a bit more overgrown than he remembered. He was relieved to see that everybody else had pulled through just fine, as well.
"Where are we?" Kumatora groaned, looking over the expansive jungle sitting in front of them. She had one hand messaging her neck, and her head was hanging low; she must have felt the same pains he was. "Are we at least at Tanetane island?" Boney quickly shook-dried his fur again, and Duster's head was craned to one side while he beat on his raised ear, trying to shake the water out of his head.
Lucas looked around the area again. It was a fairly small beach, just wide enough for the four of them, really. It went into jungle immediately where the sand turned to grass, and the thicket was too strong to really see a few metres in. But there was definitely a beaten path there; if anybody lived there, they apparently visited the beach often.
He reached into his pocket, searching for the notebook Phrygia had left him - and he grasped at nothing. He searched his other, and immediately began to panic when he realized that his stuff was gone. "My things are missing," he said alarmingly. He didn't have a terrific amount on him: that notebook; the Pigmask device; a handful of Dragon Points; that ticket to the Titiboo ropeway he never actually discarded; the Magypsy mementos; and more maps than he knew what to do with. "Is anybody else's?"
Duster and Kumatora searched their pockets, checking for their own personal belongings - and startlingly came to the same conclusion. All of their effects were missing. "I had some food an' a bracelet or two," Kumatora said once she was done confirming that she had nothing left. "An' a single nut Salsa gave me before we left him at Doria's. But yeah, they're gone."
"I'm missing everything, too," added Duster. "I had some beef jerky and ground ham. And all of my Thief Tools, too: my wall staples, my scary mask, my siren beetle..."
Kumatora was quickest to realize Duster's implication. "And the Egg of Light?"
"Why were you carrying ground ham, of all things?" Lucas asked.
"Because it's filling and delicious."
Right then, Boney's stomach let out a loud growl, and he began to whine before sniffing along the ground, trying to find anything to eat. Lucas's stomach was next to talk to the group. "Speaking of," Kumatora quipped.
We can worry about our stuff once we're not starving to death."
There wasn't anything on the beach to salvage for food: not so much as a barnacle to suck the meat from. It was absolutely, particularly spotless. They ventured into the jungle to find anything, anything at all, to eat.
Right next to them was a large, coiled snake, sleeping happily as its middle bulged out from a decent meal. The snake itself would have fed them for the day, but even asleep, it was far too risky to approach without any kind of tool to slay it, and their hunger was sapping their will to use any PSI at all. Duster sighed; if he had his wall staples, it would have been easy to pin and they could have worked from there.
On the other side, just a few steps later, was a batch of mushrooms growing sturdily out of the ground in the shade of a tall, thick tree. Their large, moist caps were a healthy, if unusual, purple with white dots, and their stems were thick.
"How about these?" asked Kumatora.
Lucas took one look at them before raising an eyebrow at her. "Seriously?"
"Hey, are ya hungry, or aren't ya? They have a funky colour to them, an' we might get a little tummy ache, but it's either these or the mud we're standing in."
She had a point there, as much as he didn't want to admit. The mushrooms looked like something that would grow in Tazmily's graveyard. They looked like it would have been an absolutely awful idea to ingest; he could only begin to imagine the sicknesses and the effects they would have on him if he did.
...they were hungry...
They apparently didn't quite fit Boney's refined taste in acceptable foods, but the humans were each terribly hungry. Lucas hadn't had anything to eat since he rode on the green train from before the Chimera Lab.
He reached down and picked one up, ripping it from its roots easily. He looked it over and under, noting all the hairy fibres under its cap and the smooth texture of the stem. The others were each apprehensive to eating them, and for good reason. Lucas accepted his non-spoken dare, as nervous about it as he was, and he ate it in one gulp, worrying that if he took the time to chew, the taste would put him off.
They watched Lucas for a bit before taking their turns. His own heart was racing as he felt it travel all the way down and into his stomach. After a moment...he was fine.
When he didn't immediately fall over and start to writhe and foam at the mouth from the mushroom, the other two took their turns, each shoving one mushroom into their mouths and gulping it down as quickly as Lucas had.
His hunger was eased, but not entirely satiated. He reached down to pick up another one, when he suddenly fell forward, squashing the pile of them flat. He suddenly just lost all feeling in his body. His eyes were unfocused and his fingers began to twitch and scratch at nothing. Duster and Kumatora saw him fall, but they didn't try to help him back up: they were suddenly overcome by an indescribably odd sensation, freezing their cold, numb bodies in place.
Shortly after the sudden numbness and total loss of control over their own bodies, their senses were taken on an absolutely magical ride.
They didn't know how long they were out, or how much they had rolled around in their temporarily-amnesiac haze, but once their eyes and their ears and their hands stopped spinning on the spot from whatever they had just eaten, they found themselves lying flat on the ground, next to the batch of the mushrooms they had just eaten from.
They pulled themselves to their feet, slowly. Their bodies felt tingly all over, but at least they weren't totally numb this time around. Kumatora was first to stand, followed by Duster and Lucas, and when their dilated eyes finally focused enough to see straight ahead, the colours, Lucas decided, were fabulous.
His earlier hunger was entirely forgotten. Boney was there, wagging his tail delightedly at seeing his master and his friends finally awake after taking their sudden nap. Duster was busy marvelling at his hands and how his fingers managed to flex and bend the way they could all on their own, and Kumatora was extremely busy staring at absolutely nothing on some random spot in the clouds. And Lucas was feeling pretty chipper, himself.
"Guys," he said, reaching out with both hands to physically get Duster's attention. His reflexes seemed pretty shot, and took him a moment to realize he was being shaken. "Guys," Lucas said again, turning around and doing the same to Kumatora, who reacted before he even touched her; she was jumpy and nearly swatted Lucas in the face, but he didn't even flinch. "We should..." He lost himself, thinking about his answer. Were they doing something? Why were they there? "We should go and..."
Kumatora burst out laughing. "You said 'go'," she managed to breathe between shallow guffaws. Duster laughed a little too, but didn't find it to be quite as funny.
"We should go and, uh," he sputtered. It was difficult to remember what it was they should be doing. "Do something. We're here to...to, to, to, uh..." He snapped his fingers, trying to recall what it was.
"Something about needles," Duster offered, remembering some of it himself.
"Yeah, that, something about needles."
Kumatora laughed again, wrapping her arm around Lucas's neck and giving a firm squeeze. "Well, lead on, leader boy!" she hooted, and, almost violently, she shoved him forward, expecting him to direct them towards wherever it was they were going.
Just up ahead from the mushroom patch was Lucas's father, Flint. He was simply standing there, still as could be: he didn't breathe, he didn't blink, and the wind didn't even ruffle the clothes on his body. "Hey, dad," Lucas said when they got close, waving his hand to get his attention, seeing nothing out of the ordinary with Flint being...wherever they were. "What's up?"
Boney barked and growled at Flint, his hackles rising right up. He lunged and snapped, appearing as aggressive and threatening as he could be, but waited for Lucas's word to give the attack. "Are you lost, there, kiddo?"
Lucas didn't notice Boney's incessant barking, and replied casually. "Nope, we're not lost," he shrugged. "The mushrooms are right over there." Kumatora sputtered, bringing a hand up to her face to hold back her laughter.
"You sure seem lost to me!" Flint answered angrily, and suddenly, he punched Lucas in the face. Lucas didn't really feel the pain from the hit, at least not immediately, but when he looked back at his father,
he looked quite different.
"Okay, whoa," Duster said quickly once...whatever that was stopped fighting back. "Whoa~" he stretched, trying to remember what he was going to say. "Okay, like, I'm, uh, whoa...but I...I totally don't really kind of think this is normal."
Whatever effects the mushrooms had on them were still definitely there - the trees were still crimson and the grass was still magenta and Lucas was having unusual and sporadic thoughts he normally didn't have - but the fight with whatever he thought was his father sobered him up enough to see what Duster was saying. Nothing was quite 'normal' with what they were seeing.
"We should..." said Kumatora, wagging her fingers down the path, towards wherever was away from the mushrooms. "We should..." She began to laugh again, not quite able to grasp at her own sentences. "Find that person's Needle and give it a good ole' tug!" She burst out into laughter once more, doubling over, having trouble breathing from her sudden hysterical fit.
Although he was hardly of sound mind, Lucas could see well enough to know that they should at least press forward.
Just up ahead, old man Wess - or, what at least appeared to be Wess - was standing in the middle of the beaten path in the untamed jungle of wherever they were at the moment. Duster was suddenly ecstatic at seeing his own father for the first time in so long, and quickly ran ahead of the group. "Dad!" he called happily, but Wess looked so sad to see his own son.
"Duster," he whispered, tears already streaming down his cheeks,
I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. Please, Duster, just don't...don't leave me again."
Lucas looked hard at Wess, but his mind was fuzzy and his eyes were having trouble focusing. Wess looked and sounded exactly like the old coot Lucas remembered back home, but some nagging feeling in his head was trying to tell him that something about Wess shouldn't be. That Wess should not be standing in front of them right then and there.
Duster, though, did not see the same problem Lucas saw, and instead began to cry himself at his father's apology. "Oh, dad," he said, opening his arms and hugging his father close, "it was just an accident. I was clumsy. It wasn't-"
But then Wess was gone.
Just...gone. Duster embraced nothing, stumbling forward a bit, falling face-first into the grass.
"Nice feet, no feet," snidely remarked Kumatora, and she burst out laughing once more.
"It's not funny!" Duster cursed, his own tears unabated. "I...it wasn't his fault..."
Lucas didn't feel much of an emotional response from Duster's breaking down, and he didn't find that to be peculiar of him at the moment. With Wess out of the way, much to Duster's apparent displeasure, they had to continue into the jungle towards their mystery destination.
There was a trash can sitting in the middle of the path. It was so shiny and clean that Lucas could see himself perfectly in its reflective surface; it had no dings or divots anywhere among its sparkling chrome frame and its lid was secured fast to its top. It was by far the best trash can Lucas had ever seen.
Just because he could, he decided to look into the perfect trash can, and inside it was the most perfect cup of warm, salty noodles he had ever witnessed in his young years. There was no way he was going to turn down such a delicious, perfect gift given to him by the trash-can gods.
Further up ahead was a large red mailbox. He hadn't seen one of those since the Happy Box fad kicked in! Its lid was ajar, so, feeling naughty, he peeked inside, reading the letters everyone had deposited in it for his own entertainment.
Inside, however, was only a single post card. He withdrew it all the same and looked at the picture on the front. It was a picture of him: his clothes were torn and ragged, and the sky was dark and rainy, and the grass at his knees were all dead and decaying. He was crying at a single unmarked, half-destroyed grave on top of a cliff, and the pictures caption read 'the boy named Lucas crying at a grave."
He tossed it away, looking back inside, and, unexpectedly, found another one. It was a picture of him again: he was standing on some rocky terrain with a burning house in the background. He wore no shirt, and his shorts were all jagged at their legs; his hair was messy and shaped into a pair of devilish horns. His lower jaw had extended and protruded, bearing two large tusks on his lower set of teeth. Below his foot was a dead mouse and its seven babies, and in his left hand was a handful of mole crickets he had crushed to a pulp. The caption read 'the boy named Lucas is bullying animals."
The postcards all seemed to have a theme to them.
After a few of them, the mailbox let out an ear-piercing scream, echoing far off and into the jungle, spooking some kind of flying sheets to appear from the trees and soaring into the sky. Or maybe that was his imagination.
Up ahead was a person Lucas expected to see last, out of everybody he knew.
Boney began to bark and growl once more, lunging forward and bearing his fangs at Claus. Lucas was far too stunned to really answer. "Claus?" he asked slowly - and he quickly felt his sobriety come back to him in waves.
"Yep! I've been here this whole time! Small world, huh?" He even sounded how Lucas imagined Claus would sound like. They were virtually identical; they had the same body shape, the same hair style, the same coloured eyes...
Lucas, though, was having more and more difficulty swallowing the fact that his brother, gone for three years, was standing right there, in front of all of them. With his hands shaking in nervousness, afraid of the answer he might be given, he slowly reached out to touch his brother, to feel his skin and his clothes and his hair, to make sure that it was the real deal standing there.
When he reached for his face, he felt something there - something invisible that seemed to be coming out of his nose and reaching down to his chest. His fingers vanished right through Claus's shirt, touching some kind of fat, lightly-furred skin underneath.
Before Lucas could doubt Claus's existence any farther, Claus made some kind of animalistic, angry bellow, and he came through with a wide right hook, just barely managing to skim over Lucas's scalp with the swing.
When they fought back, Claus's disguise faded over time, revealing...some kind of walrus with an ape's body. Or maybe an ape with a walrus's head.
Lucas still had little control over his eyes and his ears, but by now, he knew enough to nut trust either.
Ahead was a small valley, containing four more red mailboxes, rife for Lucas to pick through. Guarding them was a woman, looking dazed and confused among the trees and the mailboxes, rushing up to them as quickly as she could.
You hid me, didn't you?!" she accused, and violently began to swing at them, trying to rip them apart with her well-manicured nails. "Where am I?! Where did you hide me?!" she demanded, and opened her mouth wide to promptly breath fire all over the four of them.
After a swift beating (Kumatora laughing and giggling the whole time), its disguise melded away fairly quickly as well.
With her gone, Lucas was free to look inside the mailboxes. While he knew better than to believe anything he perceived...he still couldn't help but look.
As soon as he closed the lid on one, he forgot about what he had just seen or heard, and went to the next to repeat the process. He would remember being frightened by whatever was in there, but he could never remember from what.
Just a little bit from the mailboxes was...Violet. Kumatora, dressed as her waitress alter-ego from Club Titiboo. She walked around the magenta forest, and when she spotted Lucas approaching, she walked up to them, her sultry hips swaying with exaggeration, just like how she walked back then.
"Hey, cool!" Kumatora laughed, walking forward to meet her doppelganger. "Hey there, me, how's it shakin'?"
Violet didn't answer; instead, smoothly, she brought her hands up and rested them on Kumatora's shoulders, looking at herself into her own eyes. Kumatora laughed and laughed, not realizing any danger, but Boney was still barking aggressively.
Suddenly, Violet reared her head all the way back, turning towards the sky, and opened her mouth as wide as it could go. Far beyond the limits of any human jaw, her lower half seemed to distend and her face stretched to accommodate it, and quickly, Violet brought her head back down, trying to bite off Kumatora's head in one swing.
"Watch out!" Duster called, stepping forward and throwing a sloppy fist at Violet. He was aiming for her eye, but he managed to get her in the neck instead. Still, Violet immediately dropped Kumatora and changed targets, lunging at Duster. It didn't matter who it ate, just as long as it ate.
Kumatora collected herself after the quick battle with herself. Suddenly, everything about the jungle they were in wasn't that funny anymore.
Claus was standing in a small clearing on the path again, but Lucas, still high on the mushrooms, managed to see the phony for what it was right away. The jungle itself seemed to realize that its 'control' was weakening over the group; their heads were still throbbing and they still couldn't see very well and their senses were all still lying to them, but now it seemed like the jungle was just throwing images of loved ones saying hurtful things to spite them.
Although he was confident that these people were not the people he was seeing them to be...that one was just a little too scary and serious for him. Whatever it was, it looked and it sounded exactly like his father.
The path in the jungle forked to the east and the west. Marking the way was a handy sign, pointing to the west, marked 'gorgeous hot spring'. Lucas couldn't trust the people...but he felt he could trust this sign. His literacy hadn't changed since he ate the mushrooms, he hoped.
Thankfully, the sign was telling the truth, and then some: every other hot spring that wasn't a bath was just a pond of hot water. This hot spring put them all to shame: it was surrounded by a fine marble lining, framing the pool and welcoming whoever used it. Fine spring flowers dotted the waters for atmosphere, and the back of the hot spring was even adorned with a number of fine drinks and accommodations for anyone to feel free to use. It even came with a full-body mirror, for anyone wanting to indulge the narcissistic in them.
It could do without the mailbox and its offering, though.
Some of the fuzz from the mushrooms had weaned from his system, and with every step he could feel himself regain himself, bit by bit. He hoped that a quick dip into the hot spring would quicken the sobering, and the others agreed - but Boney stoutly refused to come into the water, no matter how much the others tried to prove that it was fine.
"Aw, come on in, Boney!" Duster called. "Look, see? The water's great!" To emphasise his point, he cupped his hands underneath the glimmering, crystal-clear water, and quickly splashed it onto his face. It was very rejuvenating water: Lucas actually considered staying in it for a while longer, and simply not move from the gorgeous, warm water until whatever was in their systems was out of them. But Boney constantly paced and whined a good distance away from the water, looking sadly at the humans, begging to them to get out of it, even though it was one of the best hot springs Lucas had ever been in.
Boney eventually won out: they got out of the warm water and, almost regrettably, left the hot spring behind them, back into the thick of the jungle.
As much as Lucas didn't want to.
There was a ladder going straight up the mountain sitting at the end of the jungle's trail. It was held by ropes and wasn't very steady, and their bodies were nearly running by themselves as they were, but since they had no better judgement to fall back on at the moment, they had no problems with climbing it.
At the top of the mountain, there was a single butterfly, shaped like a frog, happily flitting about the grass on the mountain's mediocre peak. There was also an enormous lotus root jutting straight out of the ground and reaching nowhere in particular, and finally, a large conch shell, resting in a small pond made entirely of some kind of chocolaty, milky substance, fashioned into some kind of house. It had windows chiselled out of its sides and a door put roughly where does on houses normally go.
They had explored everything the jungle island had to offer, as far as they were concerned, except for the weird, enormous conch shell just sitting there. Just looking at it, for some reason, made Lucas feel feverish; although he had vague memories of feeling the same kind of illness before, he was too out of it to really care about it at all.
They had a little difficulty keeping their balance from falling into the drink, but they managed. Inside was a lovely pink decor, looking quite a bit larger on the inside than the outside, and it was extensively furnished with the best wondrous bed with the most comfortable-looking frills and sequins imaginable. And at the back of the room was a large furniture set, composed of a very extravagant coffee table with the finest pink draperies, and a pair of large chairs on either end, facing inward.
Sitting on the floor, ready to greet them, was a cute sailor boy, leaning on his side, watching the visitors enter the shell. He moved and creaked unnaturally, as though he was held together by strings and cogs, like some kind of life-sized doll, but it still spoke just as well as any other human.
Lucas wasn't certain if he could trust what the sailor was saying, just like everybody else outside, though. "Well, hello, sailor," slurred Kumatora, and began to laugh once more. In front of the large dresser at the back of the room was a stunning young woman, carefully combing her lavishing blonde hair. She heard them enter, and heard them stumble their way across her floor, speaking to her living doll on the way.
She took a deep breath through her nose, and began to rub it with her free hand, trying to cool the irritating smell she had just smelt. "Phew, you people stink. Ever heard of a bath?"
"Have you ever heard of..." Kumatora paused, trying to think of something witty to say in response. "Just...just a sec," she said, thinking hard about it, but it was a little difficult to concentrate between hearty laughs.
The woman turned around, and all Lucas could see was the most perfect female face he could ever imagine. With a flawless complexion; deep brown eyes; cheek bones that weren't too high and weren't too low; and a pair of petite ruby red lips he wouldn't mind getting acquainted with, he was immediately stricken with the woman. She only looked a few years older than him, too. His doubts and inhibitions with what he had been seeing lately were totally gone: if seeing things differently gave him his goddess as she was now, he didn't want to see clearly again.
"I'm whoever you want me to be," answered Lucas quickly, his heart thumping madly in his chest. He found he just couldn't look away from the beauty in front of him. He was totally enraptured.
"Uh, okay," she said, leaning away from Lucas and his puppy-eyed stare. "You guys really reek. Did you guys fall face-first into some Monkalrus dung or something?"
"Now, now, now," Duster stuttered, wagging his finger at the young woman, "I'm...I'm pretty...I'm definitely sure you just made that up." The woman ignored Duster's comment, knowing that, as high as he was, he wasn't thinking clearly at all.
And if that's too hard to remember, you can just call me 'Mixo'...or 'Missy', if you'd rather. 'Missy' sounds just fine," she said, ending with a wink. Lucas practically swooned on the spot; just knowing his angel's name was enough to set his heart alight.
"Hey, Lucas, keep it in your pants, eh?" chided Kumatora, who promptly laughed at her own joke, though Lucas was too love-struck to hear anything anybody other than Mixolydia had to say.
"Indeed," she agreed. "Everyone make a line here and face away from me."
Lucas complied eagerly, taking a spot next to his beloved Missy, and faced away. Duster was slow; Kumatora giggled the whole time; and Boney, loyal and as clear-minded as ever, simply did what everyone else was doing.
Just a tiny bite of those mushrooms will cause terrible hallucinations. Powerful hallucinations that will tear at your weaknesses and the scars in your heart. I can't imagine the ordeal you four have had to go through on your way here." As enthralled as Lucas was by Mixolydia, her mentioning what they went through made him remember his brother, greeting them in the jungle, and his father, threatening to beat him for no reason. "But I'll bring you all back to your senses now."
He quickly cheered up when Mixolydia promised to do them a favour, just because it was his Missy. "No peeking, now," she said as she walked behind Boney first, and then he heard the sound of a paper fan splitting the air and whopping against his dog's head. Boney wasn't under any influence, but when Mixolydia moved up to Lucas -
-the colours suddenly stopped melting into each other. Just like that, his eyes were focused, his ears were fine, and his head wasn't all fuzzy and throbbing. He still felt his fever from climbing the mountain, but it was as though they had never eaten the mushrooms at all.
Right away, however, Lucas smelled something absolutely putrid, and quickly brought his hand up to plug his nose. Whatever it was, it was disgusting - and he saw, all over his hand, some kind of brownish, yellowish goop that covered it completely. It was all over his hand, and when he looked down, it was all over his clothes, as well.
"There," Mixolydia said, placing the paper fan back on the table, "you should be all set."
"What are we covered in?" asked Lucas right away, not mincing any words. Kumatora and Duster came back to their senses slowly, and when they noticed what Lucas noticed, recoiled right away as well. Had they fallen in some manure?
"I'm not sure. What did you guys do on your way here? Do you remember?"
Lucas turned around, to get a look at his angel, to see if she looked the same as she did when he was hallucinating. Mixolydia was about as tall as Duster, with long, unruly red hair reaching down to its back. It dressed in a fairly complex light-blue gown with boots reaching up to its shins. Most distressingly of all, though, just like all the other Magypsies, Mixolydia had a noticeable five-o'clock shadow covering half its face.
"Well..." Duster replied, humming as he thought about it. He minded the smell, but apparently not nearly as badly as everyone else. "He washed up here; we ate those mushrooms; we fought Lucas's dad and Kumatora as 'Violet'...we stopped at a hot spring; we came across old man Alec once or twice; we climbed a mountain..."
"Stop," Mixolydia demanded. "You stopped at a hot spring?"
"Yeah," piqued Lucas, still holding his nose. "It was pretty awesome, too. It had all these flowers in it, and it had all these drinks, and it was-"
"You got it from there," it said, answering Lucas's question. "You got it from that hot spring. You can go check it out later, if you want, but...I wouldn't." Mixolydia stepped back, getting a better look at its messy, smelly visitors. "Moving on, though,
Mixolydia smiled down at Lucas. "Am I not such a heartthrob anymore, Lucas?" it asked, winking. Lucas stuttered, unable to come up with a response that saved him while not being rude at the same time, but it just laughed. "Don't worry, cutie, I'm just teasing. You're too young for me anyway." He blushed; he didn't know what he was thinking earlier. He must have known that Mixolydia was a Magypsy and that they all looked nearly the same - but he wilfully ignored it. The Mixolydia he saw was absolutely stunning.
If I trust Ionia, and I trust Ionia, then 'the time' has come. The time for someone to pull the Needles of the world and awaken the Dark Dragon. How many have you pulled so far?"
Lucas counted with his fingers, but Kumatora beat him to the punch. "Four," she answered. "Two for us, and two for them."
"'Them'?" it asked, cocking an eyebrow.
"There's someone else who can pull the Needles, an' they've gotten two of 'em before we could."
Mixolydia suddenly looked a bit more fearful, scanning over the other two, for any sign that that might be a lie. "Really?" They all nodded. "And since you're not working together...they must be of an impure heart, am I right?"
It quickly began to pace back and forth, resting its chin on its hand, tapping its fingers against its lips. "Oh, dear," it said. "That's not very good at all." It stood in front of Lucas, carefully placing its hands on his shoulders, trying to avoid all the gunk all over his body. "You must hurry, Lucas. Make sure you pull this Needle, before they can show you up. There's not a lot of room for error, now.
"Before I forget..." Mixolydia gestured towards the back of the room, to where the living doll was sitting.
He was in the ocean at the time when he heard Master Eddy got all riled up, but when he got there, the only things left were your belongings floating in the tides. If you stayed at the beach a while longer, he would have been happy to take you to me, but, alas..."
They had pulled two of the Needles themselves, and the Pigmasks had pulled two more, but no matter how many times he did it, Lucas felt awful just thinking about having to go through with it again. "What's the matter, darling?" Mixolydia asked, noting Lucas's apprehension.
He was shy and had a little difficulty starting up, but he had to ask anyway. "Just to be sure...but, you're...okay with me pulling the Needle, right?"
It was legitimately surprised to hear Lucas ask that. "Of course. Why do you ask?"
"Because it means...making you disappear. You'll be gone."
Kumatora sighed; she didn't want to seem irritated, but still, Lucas was taking it a little personally. "Come on, Lucas," she said, "we've gone over this three times, and you're still having a problem with it?"
"Easy for you to say," he responded defensively. "You're not the one making them disappear."
"Hey, Lucas," it interrupted, quickly getting his attention again. "I would normally say that I really, truly do not have a problem with you pulling the Needle. I would probably say that we Magypsies have waited for thousands of years, specifically for this day: to see someone come and finally pull the Needles they're each guarding. But instead, I'll ask if you've heard the other Magypsies give you the same story before. Am I right?"
He blushed again, uneasy with being so easily read like that. "Well, yeah, but-"
"No 'buts'," it hushed. "We really, truly do not have a problem with fulfilling our single purpose in life and watching our Needles pulled. Really." It ruffled his hair lovingly, turning him by the shoulder and pointing him towards the door. "Now you turn that frown upside-down and go pull that thing like you were built for it."
He knew that would be Mixolydia's answer, but he had to ask anyway, and, reassured, they stopped to speak with Ocho before leaving for the Needle. He hadn't noticed since he was sobered of the mushrooms, but the living doll wasn't a living doll anymore. It was certainly a thing, though, but he had expected an actual man or woman, or maybe something smaller like a dog.
Hidden between its eight tentacles were their belongings, hidden snugly. They were a little wet from the water (and octopus ink), but they were otherwise fine: Phrygia's notebook, Duster's Thief Tools, and Kumatora's bracelets and the nut Salsa gave her, among all the other knick-knacks they had built up over time, including Lucas's Dragon Points and the Egg of Light, thankfully enough.
They left the conch shell, happy to be reloaded with all their belongings, and they were on their way up the hill and towards the next Needle, but Kumatora stopped. "I want to check out that hot spring," she said.
"Are you sure?" asked Duster. "Mixolydia said that we probably shouldn't..."
"An' doesn't that make you wanna check it out even more?" she smiled, already walking towards the ladder going down the mountain. "Come on, it'll only take a minute. We can find out what we're covered in, and maybe get an actual wash, too."
She eventually won out; they made the slight detour to the gorgeous hot spring, to see what the horrid stuff they were covered in was.
Lucas was getting an awfully dreadful feeling already. He was completely unprepared for what they had found in place of the hot spring.
The smell wafting up from the unholy gunk of sludge was nearly enough to make him lose the mushrooms he had eaten for lunch. The area all around the pool was brown and dead, with trees all around the place decaying and rotting away. They had all spent some time in there, thinking it a normal hot spring, but Duster had the most difficult time looking at it: he remembered specifically splashing some of that on his face. It was no wonder Boney didn't want to get it.
It was so disgusting to look at, that it actually somehow managed to chase away Lucas's earlier fever.
To add insult to injury, what they thought was a full-body mirror was actually a door leading to Tanetane's real hot spring.
They were very careful to make sure it was actually water they were bathing in that time.
Nobody said a word as they made their way back to the mountaintop. They were all thinking the exact same thing, after all. It was as shamefully silent as could be as they made their way all the way back, but at the very least, they were clean and didn't smell nearly as bad anymore.
At the top of the mountain, right next to Mixolydia's conch shell, was a tunnel boring into the mountain before travelling farther uphill. It was a short tunnel...
...but it was a little cramped with the exact same mushrooms. They were dealt with swiftly.
It was occupied by some more creatures as well, looking vaguely like the flying things they had seen at the volcano, and just as hardy.
But they were also just as docile, so they were mostly ignored, thankfully enough. Lucas just wanted to be done with this island, and the less time they spent fighting things, the quicker they could get to that Needle.
The cave opened out to a peak considerably higher than the one Mixolydia was housed on, but the island below was still considerably visible all around and they could still make out the trail through the jungle they had walked to get up there.
It was awfully windy, but they didn't let that stop them. The familiar light of the Needle was softly emanating from the very tallest part of the mountain, just a little bit away. Across a few man-made bridges, and they were finally at the peak, facing down the fifth of seven Needles.
"Holy crap," Kumatora said, breaking their long silence. She ran up ahead, getting a better look at the Needle. It was surrounded by a trio of large, purple statues of well-built manly bodies with no faces, each holding a very picturesque pose, standing in a triangle around the Needle and facing away.
"You know what these are?" asked Duster.
"I've heard of 'em, yeah. Aeolia used to tell me about 'em all the time. I've never actually seen 'em until now, though." She stepped forward, reading each of their names chiselled into their ankles, going in a quick circle around them. "Barrier Man, Barrier Gal, and Barrier Dude," she read, coming back to Lucas. "Aeolia told me all the time that they were the strongest defence the Magypsies got, but..." She reached forward, tapping Barrier Dude on the chest lightly, "are they really so strong? They're just plain ole' statues, to me."
As if to answer her question...
...they awakened to prove themselves.
With a moan, the Barrier Trio collapsed onto the ground after their defeat, falling into several different pieces as their bodies didn't have the strength to support themselves any longer.
They were each huffing and puffing from the battle; they were by far as strong as Kumatora had expected them to be. Not once did they launch any sort of physical attack, but they knew PSI attacks for more potent than any of them had seen so far. One of their attacks was practically as though they were plucking stars straight from the sky just to hit them with.
"That last pose they made was pretty good," Duster commented as he rubbed his sore wounds. The others laughed; they were fairly euphoric after such an intense fight, and a light-hearted joke was just what the doctor ordered. Nothing stood between Lucas and the fifth Needle.
Since there wasn't a Pigmask in sight, he was willing to take his time pulling this one. The last fight was pretty taxing, especially on his and Kumatora's own PSI, so they didn't have the energy to cast any Lifeups and help their healings along.
They were half-standing in the glow of the Needle, ready at any moment to pull it and get the lead they've been needing on the Pigmasks for a while, when,
who else but the devils themselves show up. Several of the smaller silver flying machines circled the mountain's peak, looking for a safe place to land on the small area, while one of their motherships hovered idly high above.
one of the smaller ones finally made a berth just at the foot of the tiny hill going to the Needle,
and from it,
Six green Pigmasks hurriedly emerged, running right up to the four and stopping, three to each side. They each got back into their fighting positions, but they were in no condition to fight, after that incredible battle. Still, the Pigmasks showed no obvious sign that they wanted to battle: they were each unarmed, and the last one on the left side was carrying nothing but a single, elegant red carpet under its armpit, which it quickly unrolled right in front of them.
Their behaviour was highly suspicious - were they rolling the carpet out for them, for whatever reason? His question was answered immediately when, from the mothership up high, a smaller figure wearing a helmet and visor with a jetpack leapt from an open door, and quickly and safely planted himself right on the other end of the carpet.
Duster made no movement, but Lucas and Kumatora quickly recognized him. Once again, at the mere sight of the masked man standing in front of him, he was lost in a sea of conflicting emotions. He was ready to fight the Pigmasks again, despite the beating they had just taken, and he was ready to defend the Needle to the very end, but looking at the figure standing before him, he suddenly calmed. He had no desire to fight it out once he saw that man. Again, Boney began to howl and yap at the guy, wanting to jump forward at him, but restrained himself for Lucas's command.
"Lucas!" Kumatora whispered, shaking the boy by his shoulder. It was all exactly like how it happened last time they saw the masked man, but this time, they still had a chance. "You need to pull that Needle! Quick!" But Lucas didn't answer. He knew she was shaking him and talking to him - but he wasn't interested. To him, the masked man was more important at the moment.
"What's with this guy?" Duster asked, not taking his eyes off any of them. "Why does this guy get the red carpet?"
"He's the guy!" Kumatora answered angrily, trying to get Lucas to cooperate. "The one that's pulling the Needles for the Pigmasks! The guy that beat us to it at Snowcap Mountain!"
Lucas and the masked man were off in their own world, however. It was just them two.
Lucas wanted to step forward as well. He wanted to get closer to the man, to look him in the eye and find out once and for all why he was finding himself so enthralled by him every time they met. There was just something about the masked man, and he knew that if he could get a better look at the masked man's face, he'd know what it was.
Before he could follow through on his near-instinctual desires, though, the masked man suddenly drew a sword from his right hip. Duster and Kumatora flinched, but Lucas barely noticed it.
He noticed it when the masked man used it to strike them with lightning, however.
Battered as they were, they couldn't pull themselves together after that incredible hit, and they were each forced onto the ground from the strike, too shocked and physically defeated to get back up and fight. When Lucas's line of sight was broken with the man, he immediately regretted not pulling the Needle,
he had to watch,
as their enemies beat them to it once again.
They had passed out during the ensuing ritual, as it were, when a Needle was pulled. The heartbeats, the changing colours, and the final white flash all went unnoticed when they succumbed to the pain of the strike, and were finally roused awake by the sound of a familiar voice.
With a series of collective groans, they all pulled themselves together, getting back on their feet. Lucas looked around the site; the Pigmasks, their flying machines, the red carpet, the masked man, and most importantly, the Needle, were all gone. Except for the smouldering hole of purplish gas where the Needle used to be, there was no sign that any of them had even been there in the first place.
"So, from the poor condition of your clothes and the way how some of your are bleeding, am I safe to assume that the Needle pulling was a failure?" Mixolydia asked, not the least bit peeved about it. Lucas felt the most responsible: he was right there, and they had defeated the Barrier Trio themselves! If he just hadn't gotten so wrapped up in himself, then...
He approached the Magypsy, his head hung low, too ashamed to look up at it.
Your heart was not passed on to the Dark Dragon here; that masked man's was." With a gentle hand, Mixolydia reached down and lifted Lucas's teary-eyed face by the chin, and it smiled down at him. "But there's nothing we can do about that. Fate is fate."
Lucas continued to look away. "But...but I was there. I could have pulled it, and I didn't..."
"Yeah, what was up with that?" Kumatora asked loudly. "It was like you were practically expecting him to just walk over us and take it. You just stood there and-"
"Enough," said Mixolydia sternly. It was the first time Lucas heard a Magypsy sound anything less than mildly cheery. "He knows what he did. Don't rub it in like some kind of bully." Kumatora sighed impatiently, tapping her foot against the grass. "But she does have a point, darling. I'm not going to stick around much longer, but if you care at all about making the world into what you want it to be, you really, really need to get those last two Needles. There is no leeway. You need to pull them yourself." He nodded, understanding the gravity of the situation. His world was on its very last legs.
"But it's odd," said Mixolydia, looking around the place.
but I'm not feeling anything at all. Is this normal? Does this happen whenever the masked man gets to the Needle first?"
"Yes," Lucas said sheepishly, still too unnerved to look up at the Magypsy.
"Oh, well then. No news for you there, I guess." It began digging into both pockets on its complicated dress, digging for some items. Lucas could probably guess what they were.
I told him to wait for you at the beach. He will take you to Tazmily from there." From its pockets were three items, catching Lucas a little off-guard: in its right was the familiar razor and lipstick, sharing the same brands as all the other Magypsies, but of slightly different colours. In its left was a small jar with no label and a silver lid, fastened tightly shut. "The razor and the lipstick are mementos of me. Treat them as if I was that razor and that lipstick myself," it winked. "The jar, though, if a gift for Ionia. Please make sure she gets it safe and sound."
"Ionia should be the last Magypsy you need to find," Mixolydia explained, "barring Locria, of course, but I assume the other Magypsies have told you the issue with her. In Tazmily, I believe there is a fellow with a particular penchant for maps, yes?"
"Yeah," he nodded, finally looking up at it, "I know exactly who you're talking about."
"Good. I believe he knows where Ionia lives; just give him a shout, and you'll be right on your way." With everything it wanted to say done, Mixolydia raised up its arms, awaiting its end happily. "And be quick about it!"
And then, just like the others before it...
Right away, I just want to say that Strong One, the song playing for the Barrier Trio, is the best battle BGM in the game. I kept saying earlier that something beat out all the other good ones, and they're all really good, but Strong One beats them all.
Also, damn! Forty pages, two hundred images (including .gifs and these post-update pictures). This is a hell of a tl;dr LP if there ever was one.
Moving right along, here, we got ourselves some post-update content, starting with the Saturn Valley just before we leave it. The rope snake runs right up to you when it overhears that you're going to fly away from the valley, and insists that you use it instead of some run-of-the-mill piece of rope.
You can refuse and refuse, and it'll keep giving you sob excuses as to why you should take it along with you. It'll admit that it feels really bad about letting you down at Thunder Tower, and says that it doesn't want to just become some garter snake with no purpose in life and nothing to live for. You can refuse, but eventually,
you must. And we know how that treats us in the end.
There's nothing new in Tazmily just yet, so our next bit of content will come from the next dungeon, being the ocean. I've covered quite a bit of it in the actual update, but I neglected a sidequest or two and a few details. For starters, there aren't a lot of fish in the ocean, surprisingly, but all the fish you find are very friendly and talkative.
In the general area of these fishes, on the left path going south, you ought to run into a distraught hermit crab fretting over the loss of his home.
Up ahead, you'll come across a series of holes in the ground as you walk under the ocean. You don't need to take any of them if you don't want, but they all hold some kind of goodie as incentive. The leftmost hole there contains a man-fish oxygen machine.
Two of them are interconnected and I think contain a Navy SQUEAL and a Trivia Card.
I, uh, apparently missed one somewhere. I think it was on Snowcap?
The last one, if I'm not mistaken, holds a single Rock Lobster guarding a shell.
Take it back to the sad hermit crab (you probably won't have the oxygen to make it to the closest oxygen machine. If you let yourself drown, you'll just wash back up on Tazmily, with no deficit, much like getting hit by the train on the tracks), and he won't be sad anymore.
You'll find a map of the dungeon shortly after disembarking, and if you look at it, you'll find a large shoot off the main path going west. It's a pretty massive detour, so the rewards must also be just as neat, right?
When you get to the end, there's a single small cave, containing a single enemy and some flavour text.
Whatever you say, Geno. It'll ask if you believe it; if you say no, it'll say 'yeah, well, I don't need your approval. I know what I am'. If you say yes it'll ask if you're serious.
The enemy here is a thing called a Fish Roe Man. He may not look very menacing, but he's got the attack power to put you in a world of hurt if you're not careful.
Just when you think you've won the fight, the Fish Roe Man will pull off a sneak attack!
Since this will end the battle, just make sure that everybody has at least 40 HP, and you'll be laughing. The Fish Roe Man was guarding a single present, and inside it is one awesome item.
That's enough with the ocean. On to Tanetane island! When we get there, and just after the cutscene where everybody wakes up and wonders where they are, you'll get this fairly cryptic message:
You have just lost all your items, your HP is at 1 across the board, and you have no PP to speak of. You are literally at the very bottom, here. A stiff breeze will render you unconscious.
So you probably shouldn't try to fight this guy until you eat those mushrooms. Fun fact, though: if you want to fill your Battle Memory to 100%, you absolutely, positively need to fight this thing before you eat the mushrooms. You'll lose, of course, but you'll have logged the Zombieshroom in your BM, and it doesn't have a back sprite. If you fight it after, then it'll be logged as an Eerie Smile, even after the disguise fades.
Once you're done being high as a kite, head back to where Mayor Pusher and his RV was for everyone's favourite item dude, Item Guy.
When I went back to the gorgeous hot spring and first visited the actual hot spring, I ran into the old naked guy again.
The lotus root outside of Mixolydia's house was actually a mole cricket setting up shop just outside its front door. This one offers some weapons and armour for your consumption, and there's a frog right nearby to give you some DP if you need it.
As we can see, this item is a type of yo-yo, so it's available for everybody. It surpasses the Mystical Shoes for Duster in terms of sheer attack power, but I still wouldn't get one for him. And Lucas is about to find an even better item out in the wild anyway, so just get one for Kumatora.
And finally…more music-in-a-box.