Part 29: Chapter 24Stretchin' the hell outta this page.
The walk back to the beach was thankfully uneventful. They were broken and battered from the fight against the Barrier Trio, and they were still stinging from the bolt of lightning the masked man had hit them with, but they were still going. After the embarrassment the Pigmasks had managed to get over them that time, they needed to get to the next Needle as quickly as they could.
Just as Mixolydia had promised, Ocho the Octopus was waiting at the beach for them, to ferry them all the way from Tanetane Island to Tazmily.
"I know I'm an octopus, but please just get on." It got as close to the beach as it could, and turned around, allowing the others to simply hop onto its large head. It was a little cramped (and Boney didn't have much grip), but they managed.
"There's nothing to hold on to, but please hold on tight," Ocho said redundantly, and with a sturdy thrust from its eight tentacles, they were launched away from the beach, and away from Tanetane Island. Lucas had expected Ocho to remain over the surface, so that they could keep breathing, but once the water was deep enough, they quickly submerged, taking the exact same route back as they had taken there.
At least it was going by much quicker this time. Keeping steady on Ocho's head was a little challenging, but they were absolutely flying down the ocean floor this time. They probably wouldn't even need to breach for air at their speed.
They swam right by a small group of the men-fish machines that gave them oxygen on the first go-around . Lucas hardly even managed to notice them with how quickly the octopus was going.
And before he began to feel the slight burning in his chest for more air, they were beached once again, on the other side of the ocean, as far as Lucas knew. Once he wiped the salt water from his eyes, he found that they were once again in Tazmily, at its western beach.
"Here we are," Ocho said, turning back around and backing up the beach as close as he could get. "Is everybody alright?"
They were a little dizzy and shaky from the intense speed of the swimming. Lucas could still feel the water rushing past his body, and when he stepped onto the sand of the beach, he fell backwards, his sense of balance totally shot. "I think we're fine," said Duster, warily taking a few steps and nearly losing his own balance. Nobody had fallen off of Ocho, and they were all there, at least.
"Very good," the octopus said curtly, brushing away from the beach, back into the water.
And with that, Ocho disappeared under the waves once again, off towards wherever it felt like going. Slowly and steadily, Lucas picked himself back up, brushing the sand off his clothes. "So, where to next?" asked Kumatora once she was able to stand back up herself.
Lucas's eyes kept spinning in his head, but answered once he was able to focus again. "Mixolydia said to," he said, re-balancing himself before he tumbled over once more. "Missy said to find Mapson. He's really good at maps, so he might know where Ionia lives."
"Do you know where he is right now?"
"No...he moves around a lot. He's probably at least near the village's square, though."
"I hope so," Duster replied, looking around the beach and the surrounding areas. He wasn't just getting his bearings; he was looking for something, the way he shifted back and forth.
"What's got you so riled up?" asked Kumatora, glancing around as well to find what Duster was looking for. "Hopin' your rope snake is nearby?"
"No," he said quickly, then recanted. "Well, yes, but..." He stood on his toes, looking over the railing to the street just beside the beach. "Haven't you noticed anything weird?"
Lucas looked around the beach as well. Nothing particularly seemed out of the ordinary. "No...should I?"
"There's nobody here. There isn't a soul around the beach anywhere."
Incensed and intrigued, they looked around the area once again, looking for any signs of life.
And just as he said...
...there wasn't anybody nearby...
The normally-busy beach was completely desolate. No signs of anybody tanning on the beach chairs. No couples making eyes at each other. No kids building sandcastles. Nobody.
He was having difficulty believing what he was seeing, but then again, he and Kumatora had seen Tazmily in the middle of its exodus before they left for Tanetane. Still, he didn't want to believe it. He had so many fond memories on this beach, spending time with friends and family - building forts with Fuel; having splash fights with his father and his brother; holding quite a few birthday parties - and now there was nobody left to enjoy it.
"Hello?!" Lucas yelled, cupping his hands around his mouth, and his echo was his only response. A seagull hadn't taken flight, and the breeze did not pick up. There was no response at all. "Hello?!" he called again, hoping that the second time would somehow change it, but, heartbreakingly, there was no answer.
He dropped his hands to his sides, giving up the calls. He looked up and down the beach once more. No footprints; no forgotten shoes or sandals; no posters for an upcoming event. As far as they could see, there was nobody left in Tazmily.
Lucas was still as a statue as the finality of it sunk in. He had known Tazmily as his only home for so long. He knew where to go if he was hungry, and where to go if he was hurt, and where to go if he wanted some company. And now nobody was there to greet him anywhere.
Kumatora felt herself get put on the same spot she had been when they first realized Tazmily was dying. She watched Lucas as he didn't make a noise and didn't move a muscle, and while she couldn't imagine the feelings he was going through, she could imagine that they weren't pleasant. "Lucas?" she said quietly. "Are you gonna be okay? I know how this bothers you..."
Lucas brought both his hands to his face, slowly rubbing his fingers across his eyes. He took his time getting up a response, and occasionally, between his hands, he let out a remorseful sigh, trying his best to not break out into tears. "I will be," he said after a painful moment. "I..." He didn't know who he was trying to convince more, but it wasn't working on any of them. "We have to...get to Ionia. We can't stay here. We have to find Mapson." He dropped his hands back down, and with a faux determination, began walking, then jogging, then sprinting back up the beach and down the street, heading as quickly as his legs could take him. Boney was happy to keep up, but Duster and Kumatora knew better than to let Lucas out of their sight, just in case he wound up doing something stupid.
Lucas's eyes were too muddled and his running was too erratic to keep a close eye on where he was running. As he rounded the corner, he knew there should have only been more beach, along with Tazmily's probably-totally-vacant jail and Reggie's destroyed hut. He ran into something soft while he ran full-tilt, knocking him onto his back from the collision. "Yeouch!" he heard a familiar old man say, and when he opened his eyes to see what he had run into, there was his grandfather, looking down at him.
Watch where you're going, would you? My brittle old bones can't take much more of this."
It took a moment for Lucas to recognize Alec, but once he did, he quickly jumped back onto his feet and gave his grandfather a tight hug, burying his face in Alec's vest. He allowed himself a few sobs, now that he was there. "Grandpa," Lucas whimpered, his voice muffled. "Where is everyone? What's happened to Tazmily?"
Alec knelt down and reassuringly returned the hug. "I know, Lucas, it bothers me too," he sighed, giving the boy a few comforting pats on the back. "It's been a few weeks coming, now, but everyone's been leaving Tazmily for the big city. Tazmily is a ghost town now."
"But why?" sobbed Lucas. "Why did they leave Tazmily? Why did they leave us all alone?"
"I don't know, Lucas. I'd bet my hat it has something to do with those Happy Boxes, though." Alec broke away from the hug, letting go of sniffling Lucas. "I thought you had already left for it too, to be honest. And...I'm going to have to leave soon, myself." Lucas looked as though he had been shot when his grandfather said that. "I could count how many people are left here with my fingers. If I were your father's age, I would stay behind and never leave, but...I'm too old now. I can't support myself anymore."
Lucas did his best to dry his eyes. He felt embarrassed: he, Kumatora, and Duster had all gone through so much, and they had grown so strong. He was a big boy. He shouldn't cry in front of his friends. He was stronger than that. "What...where is dad?"
"I haven't talked to him in a while, myself. I'm kind of hoping that...he's gone on ahead to the city. I couldn't imagine how he'd feel if he spent a day in the mountains, just to find that his home is missing."
Lucas did his best to choke back his tears and his hiccups. Duster took advantage of the short break to ask old man Alec something. "Sir," he said, getting the man's attention, "we're looking for a person named Ionia. We heard that a person named 'Mapson' knows where, uh, she lives?"
It's certainly not nearby, I can tell you that." He looked back down to his grandson. "Lucas, how do you know Ionia? Have you met before?"
He quickly brushed away the run from his nose before answering. "It's, um, a long story. We met only two days ago, but we kind of need to speak with her again, right away."
Alec didn't mind Lucas being acquainted with the Magypsies; they were good people, and he trusted them. "Alright, if you say so. Do you remember where my log cabin used to be, way out in Mount Oriander?"
Lucas remembered the place, but he had a little difficulty remembering the exact path there. "Y-yeah. Isn't it gone now?"
"Don't remind me," he sighed with a soft laugh, although it was hardly humorous. "Anyway,
Whatever your reasons, though, I wouldn't go to Argilla without a map. So, that's probably why you're asking for Mapson, right?"
"It would be nice if we had one, yes."
"Well, you're in luck.
Just ask him for a map and he'd be more than happy to give you one." Alec stood back up, dusting off his knees. "If you really need to speak to Ionia so badly that you'd go all the way out to Argilla Pass, then doubtless it's important. Don't let an old codger like myself slow you down."
Lucas was about to dash off, to find Mapson before he got too far away, but he had one last thing to ask his grandfather. "What are you going to do? When are you leaving?"
Alec laughed again, although this time, it sounded more like he was...defeated. "The last transit to the big city is in a couple hours, so...I'll have to catch that one. As for me," he sighed, looking out over the ocean one final time, "I just want to spend my last few hours with the life I'm about to leave behind." Alec said nothing further, just looking out to the sprawling sea in front of him. If he was feeling anything Lucas was feeling, then he knew the best thing to do would be to leave him alone.
Luckily enough, Mapson was on the very same street, heading back into Tazmily's square. His head was hung low; his hat was tipped forward; and his stride just seemed depressed in general. Tazmily's evacuation wasn't treating him very well, either. "Mapson!" Lucas called, quickly getting the man's attention, and he immediately straightened up, looking around for who had called his name. "Behind you!" He turned around just as they managed to catch up.
"Oh, if it isn't Flint's boy," Mapson recalled, ruffling Lucas's hair with one of his dirty-gloved hands. "How's it going?"
"It's going..." Lucas looked to the beach they had just come from, looking to see his grandfather as he took a seat on the beach to watch the waves roll in. He looked to the east, towards Tazmily - and he didn't see anyone at all. Just building after empty building. He couldn't lie; who would he be kidding? "Not very good."
"Tell me about it," Mapson sighed, placing his hands in his pockets, looking in to Tazmily with Lucas. "This is it, kid. Once that last ride gets here, Tazmily's done. And I can't bear to see the old girl go." He tipped his hat forward again, hiding his eyes behind it and his sunglasses. "And worst of all...nobody's going to want a map after this. I hear the city's got everything all mapped out already, so, I'm out of the job."
Kumatora smirked a bit, stepping forward. "Well, you're in luck, 'cause, see, turns out we need something, and we heard you're the guy to go to for it..."
Mapson immediately perked up, looking right at Kumatora, suddenly eager and excited. "Really?!
"Sure do," said Duster, chiming in to get the man's spirits back up. "We need to find a person named 'Ionia', and we hear, um, he lives on Argilla Pass. We need a map to get ourselves there, and we know you're the go-to guy for maps..."
Do you have a map of Tazmily?"
Looking for any one map in the practical atlas Lucas was carrying on him would have been nearly impossible. "No," he answered instead.
"Not to worry," Mapson said happily - his smile was beaming, now that somebody finally needed him for one of his maps again. He opened up his coat, revealing rows and rows of pockets, each containing several rolled-up charts, and almost automatically pulled a seemingly random one out of the bunch out. Mapson's collection absolutely dwarfed Lucas's own. "I got you covered," he said, pulling out a pen from one of his outside pockets, and quickly scribbling a circle on it before handing it to Lucas.
"That circle at the very top is Argilla Pass. You have Mapson's guarantee that this map is as accurate as they get, so just follow it there and you'll be gravy."
Lucas had never heard the word 'gravy' used that way before, but he assumed it was a good thing. The mapped looked awfully gray compared to how he thought it should look, but from his memory, it looked accurate enough. "Thanks, Mapson," he said as he rolled the chart up and put it with the others.
"No, Lucas, thank you," Mapson answered, and resumed his walk towards the town square, his stride perked up and confident. Asking for that one map really did a lot for his mood.
The followed him into Tazmily's square. True to Alec's word, there was next to nobody remaining the in village. Mayor Pusher was standing alone in the centre, where the well used to be, watching the dust blow off the buildings in the breeze.
A little girl walked down the sidewalk by herself, having no obvious destination in mind.
Caroline's Bakery had closed.
Some of the houses had been boarded up on their doors and windows.
The train station had been shut down, with only an indecisive Lighter and a charismatic Fuel left to attend it.
A single man watched over a forever-abandoned Yado Inn.
The boat-rowers had disappeared, along with their prized boat.
Scamp's old log cabin was nearly deserted; it housed just a single man still packing his own belongings, preparing the make the trip himself. Thankfully, Scamp's prized parrot was there, at least, somehow making its way home from the Chimera Lab in the confusion there.
Matt's farm-turned-Pigmask-training-camp had served its purpose, and had been shut down. Matt and his son Biff was nowhere to be seen.
The old folks' home at the top of the hill had been deserted, and not a moment too soon: the building was so dilapidated that it looked as though it was ready to fall over any moment. There was one sole resident remaining, looking forlornly at the building and what it had become.
"Hey, dad," Duster said, taking the lead. Wess was suddenly snapped out of his longing daze, and looked where the voice had come from. When Wess found Duster, his eyes grew wide, almost in disbelief.
"Duster?" he asked, stepping forward to get a better look at his son. "Duster? That moron of a son of mine?"
"Your only moron son, or so you've told me." Wess's throat had caught itself in a knot. After everything that had happened over the last three years, with no sign that his son was even still alive besides a note from a carrier pigeon he had received late last night. There he was, though, looking as though he hadn't aged a day.
Wess was a very stern and tough man with very high standards, but reuniting with his son after three years of wondering if he had been an alright father came crashing back as he gave his boy a hug. "I missed you too, dad," Duster said softly, patting his old man on the back.
Lucas immediately felt uncomfortable in the scenario, just because this was a personal moment between Duster and his father and he didn't want to intrude. He was just about to turn to Kumatora and suggest they give them a minute, when Wess broke the embrace. "You still calling yourself 'Lucky' and playing those instruments?" Wess's moment of weakness had passed in the blink of an eye, and he spoke to his boy as though it was just another meeting.
Duster anticipated the flip-flop in Wess's personality. He knew his father cared, but he also knew that that hug was the most he was going to get out of him. "I played the bass," he answered, "and no. 'Lucky' is my stage-name. I'm Duster, from now on."
"And do you still have the Hummingbird Egg after all this time?"
Duster reached underneath his shirt, digging into a hidden pocket close to his chest, and withdrew the egg. It shone as brightly as the day they pulled it from its pedestal, and Duster kept it in the safest place he knew. "I never let it go, just like I promised."
"Good man," Wess congratulated. He looked back to the old folks' home. "You're going to need to keep holding onto it," he said. "I don't know what it does or what secrets it contains, but if it was important back then, it's going to be important later."
"Then, you don't mind if I keep going with these two?"
"Well, there's hardly anything left for you here in Tazmily, is there?
I've got a bad feeling about it, and you'd have an easier time figuring it out with your friends and the Egg of Light than you would with me holding you back." Wess gave a long sigh as he looked at the building. "This used to be our house, eh? We've fallen quite a ways since three years ago...and now Tazmily is a thing of the past." Duster turned to look at their home. The walls were mouldy; the paint was chipping; the shudders on the windows were broken and falling off their hinges; at least one glass window was broken; the fence surrounding the building was sharp and rusted... "I've taught you everything I know, Duster, and now the only thing left for me to show you is the door. There's a Thunder Bomb out back, in the same spot as usual, if you want."
"Thanks, dad," Duster said as he walked past him, to get the bomb Wess had hidden.
"Duster," he said suddenly, getting his son to stop. "As your teacher, I'm disappointed that you would waste the time to visit me when you could have spent it saving the world." Wess reached out to Duster, offering his hand to shake. "As your father, though...I appreciate it. Even if you're a moron, you're a moron with values."
He laughed, and accepted his father's handshake, giving it a few hearty pumps. "It was good to see you too, dad," he said. Just as he let go of his father's hand, he remembered something. "Oh, and...my leg problem wasn't your fault. It was just an accident, and I was clumsy."
Wess looked completely confused by that sudden statement, but before he could ask why Wess had said something like that, they were off with the Thunder Bomb, towards the Sunshine Forest.
It was painful for Lucas to see Tazmily the way it was. He was a little ashamed to feel that when they finally left it behind for Argilla Pass...he was relieved that he didn't have to see it anymore.
As unnatural as they were, Lucas was somewhat relieved to see the Slitherhens still roaming about freely in the Sunshine Forest. If nothing else, at least they weren't going to leave any time soon.
And that the Yammonsters had fully matured after such a long time, into their adult shapes. Their adult forms were kind of creepy, but unlike the Slitherhens, the Yammonsters had always been a part of the Sunshine Forest. So they were okay in his books.
It was in this clearing...it was on this very spot, where a campfire had been lit and he and his brother were wrapped in blankets, huddling close to the blaze to keep warm, three years ago, that his life, and his home, had been changed forever. They had done so much, but...it seemed as though it was only yesterday. He still remembered the moment uncle Bronson had told his father the bad news, and he still remembered how his father reacted, and he still remembered how he felt, and how Claus felt...
The old wooden bridge had withstood the test of time, and showed next to no wear after so many years of neglect. Alec hadn't lived in his cabin since the Happy Boxes and their consequences for not buying one came about, so the bridge hadn't been crossed very much since then.
Lucas didn't need to look at the map to know which way to go next. His grandpa had told him to go west from his old cabin, and this was the only 'west' they could go. As he searched his mind, he realized that he had never actually visited Argilla Pass before. Every time they went out to visit his grandpa, they always went east.
"Oh!" Kumatora suddenly said once they made it over the bridge. "I thought I recognized the spot on the map!
"How do you know?" Lucas asked. His grandpa lived in such a remote area in the Oriander mountains that he assumed only he had his family knew the area at all.
"C'mon, haven't I told you? Me and the Magypsies are tight. Aeolia raised me pretty good when I was less than half your age." She looked over the bridge, to the rushing water below. "They'd let me swim in that river sometimes, and Ionia didn't live too far from Aeolia, so we visited her sometimes. I only remembered the way by that bridge, over that river."
To think, his grandpa lived so close to a Magypsy - but apparently he was good friends with them himself, so, now, it didn't seem so odd to Lucas.
As they passed through the gorge for the first time, Argilla Pass looked exactly like the rest of the mountain so far. Not that he expected anything different, at least so soon. He looked around and admired the scenery not for what it looked like, but for how it was new territory for him.
It was new territory for Boney as well: as soon as they were through the small gorge, the dog tripped over his own four legs, unused to the sudden new footing of the Pass, and he collided into Duster, who collided into Kumatora, who tackled Lucas to the ground. He was caught by surprise, and just before his face hit the dirt, he saw a small glass jar fling from his pocket and clink and roll over the dirt, out of sight.
After fighting things like the Barrier Trio, the Magypsy's strongest defence, a little fall wasn't anything at all. "Is everyone okay?" Duster asked while Kumatora helped Lucas up. "No broken bones? No bruises?"
"Jeez, calm down, dad," Kumatora chided lightly. "It was just a little trip, nothin' to lose your mind over." Lucas agreed, although he was hardly going to say what she said.
"Well, you never know," he admitted. "My dad once tripped over a rug in our house, and he wound up doing something to his hip. Had to stay off it for a few weeks. Better to be safe, and all that."
Lucas brushed the dirt from his shirt when he was pulled back onto his feet. "I'm fine," he said, noting a small scrape on his knee. Nothing a quick PK Lifeup wouldn't fix. But his mind was on the jar he saw roll across the ground. He checked his pockets quickly, and everything was still in its place, except for the jar of pickles Mixolydia wanted them to deliver to Ionia. "But I'm missing that jar of pickles we got on Tanetane island."
"Ya don't say?" asked Kumatora, looking over the small landscape. It was just an enclosed space between two cliffs, so that jar couldn't have gone far - but she wasn't seeing it. "Huh. That's kinda weird.
Though I guess that's what happens when something like that is easy to drop and roll around."
Duster laughed. "Yeah, small, round objects tend to do that." He glanced over the area as well, and sure enough, it wasn't anywhere he could see. "We should get that back. It was Mixolydia's last request that we get it to Ionia, after all.
He turned around to face Boney, who quickly shook his fur to get off all the dust and dirt he had gotten from the fall. "You help too, Boney."
Boney barked happily at the command, understanding exactly what it was they were doing.
It shouldn't be that hard, right? Just find a small jar that the others had dropped. With his superior nose, it should be a breeze, and although glass didn't usually smell like anything, it had Lucas's scent all over it, so it ought to be a breeze.
The humans set out right away to look for the jar, spreading out through the open area of the pass. Boney got to work right where he was standing, sniffing along the ground for any trace of something that might be what they were looking for. He picked up all sorts of different scents - Duster's was the most overpowering, as usual - but right away, he was quick to find something shallowly hidden in the dirt.
He didn't know what it was he had just found, but it was awfully hard, like the bones his masters would sometimes give him to gnaw on. But it wasn't quite like a bone, though. Rather than try to figure it out on his own, he went straight to Lucas, to see if he had any idea what it was.
"Whoa!" Lucas exclaimed when he removed the power bomb from Boney's mouth carefully. "Jeez, boy! That's one heck of a find you have here!" Boney crooked his head to the side, unsure of whether or not he had done something bad. "It's not quite what we're looking for," Lucas continued, patting his dog on the head affectionately, "but good work, Boney. Just, try to be more careful with what you find, alright?"
He barked once, happy that he had gotten his praise, even if it wasn't the thing they were looking for. He put his nose back to the ground and sniffed away, trying to find something else, and, very near Lucas, he picked up on something else.
It was wrapped in some kind of foil, with bits of some of the soft, brown things the humans liked to eat called 'bread'. Between two slices of it was a thick piece of darkened meat - something he wouldn't mind sinking his teeth into! But still, he was a better dog than that: he remembered that vanishing Magypsy, as they were apparently called, say that another of the Magypsies really liked to eat what they had lost, so, as delicious as the thing he dug up was, he resisted the powerful urge to eat it down in one or two bites.
Loyally, he brought it back to his friend Lucas.
He got some more praise for it, but apparently, it still wasn't what they were looking for. Lucas promised to share some of the delicious thing with him later, though, once they found the thing that they lost. That spurred him back into action, trying even harder to find that lost thing!
Back into the ground, his nose sniffing away a mile a minute, he found himself following at least five different trails of scent, trying to track them down to their final destinations. He knew one of them was Duster - three years, and he still couldn't get the stench of that old sock out of his nose - but he subconsciously found himself winding back to the man amidst all the other smells anyway.
Not that he needed the advice, but he enjoyed the attention anyway. Trying to distance himself from the smelly man, he went back to the ground, his tail wagging as he scavenged for the missing thing. It was a little difficult to find between all the other smells, but there was definitely something hiding under the dirt just a few paces from where Duster was pacing back and forth.
Whatever it was, it was very soft, totally unlike the first thing he found. So...since it was the opposite of hard, he was allowed to bite into it as hard as he wanted, right? At least, that's what he thought, but just to be safe he only gripped it in his teeth lightly as he brought it back to Lucas for inspection. He hoped it was the thing they were looking for, because he was really looking forward to sharing that meaty thing with him!
It wasn't what they were looking for at all, though. It was small, and it was made of a very shiny kind of metal, with a soft fabric threaded around its top. But what made it awesome was that, when the metal part of it shook, it made a noise! It was shiny, and it made noises! Boney loved both those things!
Lucas looped the small thing through his collar, as a decoration. Boney wasn't really one for accessories beyond his collar, but he felt he could make an exception with the noisy shiny thing. He went right back to work with renewed vigour, looking for that thing that they dropped.
His busy nose searched through the patches of grass and over the breezy dirt, looking for any scent trail he hadn't already followed. One of them belonged to another of the humans - the spunky girl with the dress. She was pretty fun to be with, although nobody could top Lucas for overall awesomeness when it came to humans, in his opinion.
She seemed kind of confused while she looked over the dirt all around. She was putting in just as much effort as the others, although just near her, he picked up the scent of something else hidden under the ground. So, she must not have been working too hard.
It was very small, fighting snugly into his maw, though it was unusually heavy for its size. If he wasn't too careful, he could swallow it whole at any moment, so he walked slowly, careful not to suddenly slip it down into his throat or anything. He slowly brought it to Lucas, dropping it at the human's feet, waiting for its inspection.
It was some kind of good luck charm, or something. People usually took those things and pinned them to their clothes, or so his master told him. It wasn't what they were looking for, but he still seemed pleased to have it, sticking it onto his shirt after wiping off the drool. Undaunted, Boney went right back to work to help them find this thing.
He was having some difficulty picking up any more unique scents, though. He found some trails occasionally and followed them to their ends, but they just led him to the same spots he wound up earlier. This was getting harder than he thought.
Midway through another lap around the area, his nose pressed to the ground to find anything that might lead him to their missing thing, he picked up on a very faint scent, almost literally crawling across the ground, and further north than he had investigated so far. It was difficult to keep a good lock on the smell as he went, but he was confident and determined. The trail bent around a large rock jutting out of the ground in the area's corner, hugging to it closely, before the trail suddenly stopped and the smell began to build on one spot. He had no idea what it was, but he hoped it was what they wanted.
It was small, like the charm he had just found, and it was hard. He couldn't really see very well what it was, but when he got it on his tongue, it tasted fairly sour, unlike anything he had tasted before. He doubted it was what they were looking for - who would want to regularly eat something so sour? - but, at his wits' end, he took it back to Lucas. Hopefully he could at least get some praise out of finding it.
"Guys!" Lucas yelled, getting Kumatora's and Duster's attention. "Boney found it! It was behind that big rock over there!" Boney was caught by surprise. That sour thing was really what humans liked to eat? They were weirder than he had given them credit for.
"Really?" she asked, stepping closer to get a better look at the jar. "You found it already?"
"See for yourself," said Lucas as he raised the jar up to his eye-level, showing it to her first, then to Duster. "It's really the jar of Yummy Pickles that Ionia wants."
Duster stepped closer, getting a better look at it for himself.
Good job, Boney!" he congratulated, petting the dog. The others chimed in their appreciation for him by ruffling his fur and giving him hugs, and telling him that he was a good dog. He didn't understand their tastes in food, but hey, if it got them that much attention and praise, he wasn't going to complain. And, just like Lucas had promised, they had split the meat between the two breads as his reward. That's why Lucas was the best human ever.
Once they got the jar back, and keeping it much more secure to avoid another mishap, they continued through Argilla Pass. Just north from the little clearing was a sign offering a dip in Argylla's hot spring.
It was a bit of a detour, but they hadn't had a wash since before the Barrier Trio, and they had some knots they needed gone.
Resuming their normal path through the pass, it quickly became clear to them that this was no normal canyon. Whether it was because of its close proximity to a Magypsy, or some other reason entirely,
trees that got up and attacked were just not normal.
And normal trees didn't usually explode after a few hits to their barks.
A bird Lucas had seen several times in the mountains during his family's common excursion to Alec's also dotted Argilla Pass, although their feathers were of a different colour, and were quite a bit more ruffled than he remembered seeing them. They were always territorial, but these new ones were much more aggressive about it.
Lucas kept an eye out on the mountains as they walked. There wasn't much of a difference between Argilla Pass and the Oriander mountains...or the Drago Plateau. They were a little ways away from the Plateau, but still, he kept watch for his father...just in case.
The path through the Pass was very linear, which made things easy enough for them. It eventually ended with a cave leading deeper into one of the mountains - Lucas couldn't decide if he was glad or not that they hadn't run into Flint. Now that they were out of the open, though, he put it out of his mind. "Do you know how much farther it is to Ionia's place?" Lucas asked over his shoulder.
"I think," she answered, which didn't instil Lucas with a lot of confidence. "It should just be through this cave, but it's been so long that I don't remember how long the cave is."
"Do you remember your way through it, at least?" asked Duster.
"Not off the top of my head, but it should come to me. I remember a few things about it."
"That ladder is normal, for starters," she explained. "That's always been there."
"And what about these things?" Duster pried, readying his good foot to punt the tiny machine-mole into the wall.
"Nah, these ain't normal," she said as she froze another with her mind. "Just up ahead, there's gonna be a fork in the road. We're supposed'ta go right, 'cause I remember askin' why we never went left."
"An' then we..." she stopped, looking around the area. There was another fork in the path right away, heading north and south. "Gah, it's comin' up fuzzy," she admitted as she scratched her head, looking up and down the path, searching her memory as well as she could. "Okay, okay," she said to herself, looking down the southern trail.
"Okay, I remember there bein' water to my left as went through these caves. I remember asking if I could go swimmin' every time, but Aeolia never let me, sayin' that the caves weren't the safest places to play."
"There's water just over here," offered Duster, looking off a ledge they happened to be next to.
"But if we head this way, it'd be on our right."
"Yeah, so, I'm thinkin' that we're supposed to turn left here."
"Well, it's as good a direction as any," said Lucas, and they took the left path. Sure enough, just as they passed through into the next area, there was a pool of water to their left.
"Man," she laughed, rubbing her forehead soothingly.
"All this pressure on my rememberin' my directions is makin' me all flustered here. I don't wanna screw it up."
The cave was inhabited by some peculiar looking machines - or, they thought they were machines - comprised mostly of red spheres held together by bits of wire.
Just when they weren't looking, one of them leapt forward, clinging itself to Kumatora, wrapping itself around her tightly.
The weight forced her to the ground, knocking the wind out of her. Blindsided, she was too disoriented to quickly whip up any PSI to use on the creature, and her fever made it hard enough as it was. "Help!" she cried, though she hardly needed to make the effort; the others were already beating and kicking and biting at the thing, trying to pry it off her quickly.
Its grip held fast as they tried and tried. The centre sphere of its body had some kind of cartoonish, wide mouth, and when it opened up, it was apparently capable of speech.
"I don't like the sound of that!" Duster yelped, pulling at its limbs harder. "Boney! Lucas! Grab its arms and pull!" Not wasting a moment, they followed through with their instructions (Boney not being the least bit merciful with his own grip) and tugged it away from Kumatora, while Duster worked on its legs by himself.
Its grip was tight, breaking off the circulation to Kumatora's own limbs, but with enough perseverance, they managed to pry the machine off her just as it murmured the word 'one'. Duster kept holding onto the thing by its 'ankles' and, with as much might as he could muster, he spun counter-clockwise, towards the pool of water, just as the thing exploded.
It was a pretty devastating explosion that rocked the cave and shook some of the stalactites from the ceiling. Lucas was knocked off his feet, but because of their teamwork, nobody was seriously injured. "Whoa," Kumatora whispered once the echo of the boom left the cave. She had no idea what that thing was going to do once it hit 'zero', but she figured it would have been unpleasant. No amount of Lifeups could have fixed that. "Thanks, guys," she said nonchalantly as she picked herself back up, swatting the dust off her dress.
"You seem pretty calm for a girl that nearly exploded," remarked Duster, his own heart still thumping in his chest. They were all nearly goners that time.
"Yeah, but, I didn't, right?" she said simply, keeping forward down the path. "Crisis averted. But if it bothers you, I'll go catatonic the next time it happens, okay?"
Lucas didn't know if what Kumatora had was true bravery...or a kind of dismissive arrogance. It took him and Duster a bit longer to gather up their own nerves and press on.
All the other ones they found were dealt with swiftly.
The cave was also filled to the brim with some kind of sticky slug that crawled all over the walls, especially near the water. They were brightly coloured and hard to miss - there must not have been very many natural predators in the caves.
They were ignored at first, but when they started falling off the ceiling and threatening to practically suffocate them in their slime,
they became a problem. Nonetheless, a problem easily solved with a powerful PK Love, when Kumatora wasn't clear-minded enough for one of her own attacks.
The end of the path they had chosen didn't lead them to Ionia's, like they had hoped, but rather, a complete dead-end. A pair of boxes wrapped up like birthday presents were their only reward for taking the incorrect route; one containing a pre-packaged bowl of soup, and the other containing a dog's collar.
Lucas would have questioned the purposes of either, placed at the very back of a dead-end route in a cave out in nowhere...but after Saturn Valley, very little surprised him anymore. "Damn," Kumatora sighed, placing her hands on her hips, looking over the wall. "Guess I was wrong, huh?"
"No problem," said optimistic Lucas, taking their two prizes - they were both in perfect condition, so no point in leaving them there to spoil. "We'll just take the other path. It's not so far, at least."
"Yeah, but," she murmured, looking back out the way they came, "I'm sure the water was to my left when we came here when I was little."
"And it probably was," added Duster as they left, heading back to the last junction. "I'm no psychologist, but you were probably remembering it as you were coming back, not going to."
"Or maybe I'm just a dunce." She laughed at herself. "But thanks for tryin' to cheer me up anyhow."
They backtracked to the first junction, made easier by the lack of obstacles they had cleared out going in...
...and were introduced to whole new ones. Some kind of horribly misshapen man, with a normal enough body (though purple) but with a head rivalling the size of a small horse. Luckily, though, they seemed to enjoy their condition, if for whatever reason, and were happy enough on their own to not interfere with the travellers just passing through their turf.
It wasn't too much farther through the cave that they found an opening on the opposite end, leading back out into the world. They were treated to another valley between several mountains: the area was flat and it almost looked as though it was kept clean by someone or something. "Yeah, I'm remeberin' this," said Kumatora as she spun around, eyeing the valley's otherwise-mundane facets. "We keep goin' straight right here. To the left is Chupichupyoi Temple, an' just up ahead is Ionia's place."
Lucas and Duster both did a double-take. "The what temple?" asked Duster, incredulous at how she managed to just roll it off her tongue.
"Heh, yeah, that was my reaction, too," she answered. "I took my time learnin' how to get it right, but it's just four groups of three letters. Chu, Pic, Hup, Yoi. Easy."
The two boys looked at each other, then down the northern path. The mountains bent out of sight before they could see the temple they both tried to pronounce at once.
"Come on, you two," she scolded, walking on ahead. "We can ooh and aah at the place's name later. We got a world to save now."
They eventually gave it up and went with her. True to her word, Ionia's conch-shell home was just a short walk from the end of the Argilla Pass cave, on its own little patch of land separated by a wooden plank bridging over a moat. Her home was sitting in what looked like some kind of miniature volcano, filled with water in its pit with a ladder helping them scale the steep sides. It was aesthetically intriguing, but Lucas was more interested in talking to the Magypsy living in it.
The inside of it was as sparsely decorated as all the others. A green doormat welcome them to an off-green decor that had a very comfortable-looking and fashionable bed in the exact same spot as all the others, along with a coffee table sitting in the back overlooking a decent view of the remainder of the valley they were hidden it. The table only had one chair, but there was a loveseat in another corner - one of the unique things that separated Ionia's house from the others. But most importantly, there was Ionia itself, sitting in the chair and gazing out over the valley. When Lucas showed himself into its home uninvited, it quickly stood up, welcoming its guests warmly.
"Hey, Ionia," Lucas said, a little sombrely. At first he was so excited to see Ionia again; of all the Magypsies he knew, he was most acquainted with it. But once they reunited eye-to-eye, he was reminded of what Ionia's fate was, and how it was going to end whether or not he was the one to pull the Needle. He didn't want to see it leave the most.
"Hey there, Ionia!" Kumatora said cheerily, stepping forward to give the Magypsy a hug. "Man, it's been years! How ya holdin' up, girl?"
Ionia smiled and returned the hug warmly. "Just peaches, darling, just peaches," it said. "And yes, it has been a long time! I haven't seen you since you were just up to my knees, and now look at you! All grown up and saving the world!
Kumatora pulled away from Ionia quickly. Aeolia and Ionia were the only two people she felt comfortable enough to be mushy with, but not in front of others, especially when she had an image to keep up. "Cut that crap out," she hummed. "I always said that I was gonna do somethin' big with my life, didn't I?"
"Because you're the princess of Osohe, and you're not going to need saving, if I remember correctly." She nodded once, remembering how she hated all those stories about 'damsels in distress' and always dreamt of reversing the roles. She wasn't pulling her betrothed from the jaws of an angry fire-breathing dragon, but saving the world would have to do.
"And I see you've been making friends!" it continued. "I didn't think you'd met up with Lucas, although I guess great minds think alike. I'm sure you two have been making one powerhouse of a team." Lucas blushed and looked away. He enjoyed the praise...although he mostly let the other three do the fighting, since all he really knew were support PSIs. "And..." Ionia paused, looking right at Duster. "I don't believe we've met."
"Duster," he answered, extending his hand for a friendly shake.
"Oh no, handsome," Ionia said mischievously, grabbing Duster's hand and pulling him closer. "This is a 'hugs-only' house." Duster was taken aback a little and flinched - he still wasn't totally used to the Magypsies and their appearances - but eventually he returned the hug, if only so it'd satisfy Ionia.
"You need to not get so tense when a beautiful, dainty girl like myself shows you some love," Ionia said, releasing Duster and giving him a wink, probably knowing his apprehension. It didn't tease him any farther, though, and quickly showed itself to Boney.
Shake," Ionia commanded, sticking a hand out for Boney to shake. Boney didn't have the same problems with Magypsies as Duster had - but he learned his lesson about shaking with strangers at Club Titiboo, and refused. "Shake!" Ionia asked again, and still, uncharacteristically for him, he did not. "Don't know any tricks? Well, I guess following your friends to the ends of the earth and back is a pretty good one."
"And, finally, Lucas," Ionia went, standing squarely in front of the boy and sizing him up.
I could feel when you were in the cave!" it said, wide-eyed at him. "When we met, I only just taught you PK Love, one of the Magypsy's most powerful PSI commands, and you were just a budding little magician. And now your power is so strong! There isn't an enemy around that could stand up to you now!"
"Yeah, there is," Lucas said lowly, looking away from Ionia.
"Come again?" it asked, lowering itself closer.
Rather than repeat himself, Lucas remembered that Mixolydia had trusted them with a gift for Ionia, and dug into his pocket for it. "I have something for you," he said, digging past his things in his pocket for it. "Mixolydia said you really liked these, and she wanted you to have it..."
Intrigued, Ionia waited patiently for Lucas to finish rummaging through his shorts for the jar, and was delighted when he showed it the jar filled with the pickles it loved.
Only the very best pickles come from Tanetane island. And you brought them all the way back here for me?" He nodded, and it squealed in delight. "Oh, that Missy! She knows me just too well!"
It took the jar from Lucas and, carefully - it looked fairly easy to drop and roll around on the floor - placed it standing up on the coffee table. "I'm sure going to enjoy eating these," it sighed, resting its head on its hand. "I couldn't have asked for a better final meal than a jar full of those rummy, delicious pickles."
Lucas whimpered, scratching the back of his head nervously. Kumatora knew what was going to happen next. "Hey, Ionia..." he asked quietly, almost at a whisper, but Ionia spun around to look at its little hero attentively. "I've asked all the other Magypsies up until now, but...are you really, really okay with me pulling your Needle?"
Ionia smiled warmly at Lucas, and, unlike all of the others, didn't answer with words, but instead, it pulled Lucas into another embrace. It wasn't like the warm greeting Kumatora had: it nearly felt...familial. "You're a little trooper, Lucas," Ionia finally answered after a moment. "Being scared and nervous about what you have to do, and visiting new and exotic lands, for the sake of a bunch of old cross-dressers. Anyone else would have laughed. And if any of the others said that they weren't okay with it, you'd put them before the rest of the world, right?"
Ionia backed up a little, to give Lucas space to answer. "Uh..." He wondered about his answer. Would he put the Magypsies before the entire world? "I guess I would...I mean, it's your lives, and you should choose whether or not you want to go, right?"
"That's a very honest answer, Lucas, and I'm proud of you for saying it." Ionia stood back up, looking at his companions. "What about you two? Which would you choose? One life - or seven, in this case - or the world?"
Duster was quick to answer. "I'd have to go for the world. I mean, no offense to you, Phrygia, or Mixolydia, but...the world is the bigger picture, to me."
"And what if it were your own father on the line?"
Again, Duster didn't hesitate. "I'd still choose the world. In our line of work, my father raised me to not feel guilty about tough decisions. If there had to be a sacrifice for the greater good, he would understand."
"I guess I would go for the world, too," said Kumatora, after a moment of deliberation with herself. "I love you, and Aeolia, and Doria and Lydia and all of you guys, but, Duster is right. There are other people in this world, and they all deserve to live, too...'the needs of the many' and all that. Not to mention, every Magypsy so far has said that they actually want to see their Needles gone, so."
Ionia smiled at them all. "Thank you all for being so truthful." It looked back to Lucas. "There is no 'correct' answer, but Lucas, you being the only one to hold the individual higher really tells me something. You know it'd be to save the world; you know it would be for the greater good of all mankind. The fact that you would find it most difficult to end the one person's life for everyone else's sakes tells me that even though it hurts, you would still do it, because it needed to be done. That is what makes you so strong, and that is why I wouldn't have anyone else pull my Needle but you." It looked to the other two, and grinned sheepishly. "No offense."
"Hey, none taken," Duster answered.
Ionia showed itself past Duster, heading towards a small nightstand sitting next to its bed. "Five of the seven Needles have been pulled now," it narrated as it reached into one of its drawers, and digging into a hidden compartment for a small item. "Aeolia, Doria, Lydia, Phrygia, and Mixy..." it counted, returning to its original spot. "I mean, Missy," it giggled.
It kept its warm smile up as it looked back to Lucas, its hand outstretched and clutched into a ball, holding whatever it had taken from the drawer tight. "I know I kind of answered your yes-or-no question with a question, and then I sort of danced around my actual answer, but Lucas, I'm totally fine with you pulling my Needle, and this will prove it." Lucas cupped both his hands underneath Ionia's fist, and carefully, Ionia dropped it into his hand. It was a small vial containing a very clear liquid, closed snugly behind a wooden spigot at the vial's mouth. It looked and moved around like normal water, but Lucas knew better than to think it was.
No matter how hard you strike them, or burn them, or cut them, or anything, they will not budge, since time itself has frozen around them. Just sprinkle some of that 'water of time' in that vial on them, and all that abuse will catch up to them quick. Then...just walk in and take it."
Lucas looked at the vial. There wasn't any more than a teaspoon of water in there, but, if Ionia said it would work, then he didn't doubt it. "Now, get going," it finished, turning back to its coffee table, its hands wrapped around the jar of pickles. "I'm going to stay here and enjoy my final meal. The only thing I want to see now is a beam of light cutting through Chupichupyoi Temple."
At its final instruction, they left the conch house for the temple.
They were intent on marching straight to the temple and pulling the Needle, just as quickly as they could and as fast as Ionia encouraged. But sitting on the small bridge between the main path and Ionia's little island was a tiny...thing, wearing an assuming red handkerchief over its head.
It turned around at the sound of footsteps behind it, revealing a great big nose and small, dotted eyes, and it was balancing a single golden coin on its bulbous nose. It was a Mister Saturn! Somehow, it went out of Saturn Valley, and then over the highway, through Sunshine Forest, and then through Argilla Pass, just to catch up to them. There wasn't even a clue that they'd be in Argilla Pass! Lucas didn't even know there was an Argilla Pass until an hour or two ago!
Frankly, Kumatora was more surprised that it managed to tie the little red handkerchief around its head so well, but she kept mum about that. it said happily,
Lucas was perplexed at first, when he remembered that one of the Mister Saturns promised to take his father's lucky badge and polish it back to its former luster. There was the same Mister Saturn, and there was the badge: true to its word, not a single trace of wear or rust was on it anywhere. It was as though it was fresh off the line: an hour old, at most. It wasn't a coin or an amulet, though; on its front was a very prominent emblem, consisting of a single, highly-detailed thunderbolt with the word 'Franklin' marked over it.
said the Mister Saturn.
Satisfied at both a job and a delivery well done, the Mister Saturn re-embarked on its long journey, all the way back to its own home in the Valley.
The Franklin Badge looked so...good. Just looking at it and holding it was enough to instil him with pride and courage, and he didn't hesitate to pin the glorious button onto his shirt. Was this what it felt like when his father wore it? "We got our own job to do," said Kumatora, ushering Lucas forward. "Come on. If that Saturn could make it, there's no tellin' how far behind the Pigmasks are."
He had to agree, and they dashed off, hooking north at the junction and towards Chupichupyoi Temple.
"It's just down this grassy path!" yelled Kumatora over their own footsteps. "The temple's just up ahead, and we can-"
Just like she said, the Chupichupyoi temple was just past another small bend in the mountains, when the dirt path quickly became grass. It was a large stone building, absolutely overgrown in healthy, vibrant-green vines growing out of every opening the building had.
Just like she had feared, though, the Pigmasks were already there, working hard at tearing the vines away to get at the Needle. They stopped dead in their tracks, not wanting to attract the entire platoon's attention all at once.
The Pigmasks didn't hear Kumatora's shouting over the sounds of the Clayman busily slamming away at the vines again and again. No matter how much force the Clayman used, the vines remained still, as though they weren't struck at all. They didn't budge with the breeze, and they didn't even flutter when the artificial beast barrelled into it twice more.
The Pigmask in white shouted some orders and obscenities at the Clayman and its failure, bewildered that no matter their efforts, a simple plant refused to bend to their might. More alarmingly, though, was that the masked man they had encountered twice before was with them, ready at a moment's notice to infiltrate the temple and claim the Needle himself.
After a moment longer of continued failures, the masked man stepped forward and began to address the Pigmask in white. The white one stood in front of all the others, and wore a fashionable cape - it must have been very highly ranked among the others. They couldn't make out what the masked man was saying over the distance, however.
At the masked man's apparent command, the white Pigmask stepped aside. The Clayman struck at the vines twice more, before the man withdrew a small bomb, exactly like the one used at Saturn Valley...
...and threw it into the Clayman, just as it struck the vines once more.
The explosion rocked the temple and resounded through the air. The Clayman was instantly blown to bits, as pieces of clay began to shower the area. But the vines did not bend, or sway, or even singe from the blast.
The masked man approached the vines. He wasn't nearly as worked up as the white Pigmask: he was intrigued and surprised, if anything, at the vine's sheer tenacity to withstand everything they threw at them. He looked the vines over, carefully considering how they would overcome this obstacle.
Lucas decided that, with the masked man distracted, now would be the best time to strike. Without any tactical precision, they simple approached the Pigmasks head on, and quickly got their attention.
"It's you," the white Pigmask said, looking over its subordinates to get a better look at Lucas. "You're the one that's constantly foiling our plans and making the Needles difficult." Lucas didn't answer; he prepped himself, readying any sort of PSI, and he wasn't afraid to use PK Love, which he had felt grow and practically multiply with the Needles he had pulled.
"I'm glad you could make it," said the white Pigmask, showing itself between the groups of three and approaching him slowly, trying to come off as imposing as it could. "We gave you your warning at Tanetane island. Now, we can solve both our biggest problems at once. You two, help me out."
Though they were just Pigmasks of a different colour...they were the fiercest Pigmasks they had ever fought.
Kumatora staggered on her feet. She had gotten careless, and was too focused on her left flank to notice that the Pigmask colonel had drawn one of their handheld beam guns and took a shot at her ribs. She eventually fell to the ground in pain, writhing as she struggled to pick herself back up from the hit, but all she felt in her chest was searing hot pain.
"Kumatora!" Duster yelped once they had the victory. He ran to her side, carefully cradling her in his hands, looking over her wounds. There was no blood coming through her dress, thankfully enough, but she winced and yelped with every movement she made. "Hang on, Kumatora," Duster said soothingly, digging into his pockets for something. He was sure that he had some quick-acting herb or medicine or something that could help her back onto her feet. Aside from them all being friends and looking out for one another, Kumatora was one of the better fighters among them, and they needed her back up since the battle clearly wasn't over.
The Pigmasks, all fearful of Lucas and his remarkable powers, hurriedly stepped aside, knowing to pick their battles. The masked man behind the Pigmasks had been watching the entire scuffle, but he was confident that their troupe of highly-trained military professionals could easily beat two kids, a man with a funny walk, and their dog. Clearly, he had overestimated his accomplices' skills, and now, he was facing down his enemy once more.
They stared at each other once again. Lucas felt the same emotions welling up in him once more as he watched the masked man: a strange, calming sense as he looked down his polar opposite for the third time. In the back of his mind, he knew that it would probably end just like the other two times: either the masked man would retreat, or he would pull out some kind of manoeuvre again and blindside them. At the forefront of his mind, though, he simply didn't care: the one thing that mattered most was seeing who was behind the mask.
"Lu-Lucas," Kumatora whimpered, watching the boy approach the masked man for the third time, and still not doing anything about it. She had planned the moment that they began to fight the Pigmasks to make damn sure that Lucas wouldn't space out and leave them all open to attack once again, and that they would finally put the masked man in his place. Using all the energy she could muster, she gritted her teeth and got back up, taking her place by his side. Whatever the pain, she would slap him silly if he even thought about letting the masked man go this time.
Duster was very cautious of Kumatora; Kumatora could hardly stand, much less run; and Lucas was too enraptured to do much anything.
The masked man, however, felt no such connection, and swiftly, withdrew the sword from the sheath on his right hip, waving it about a moment before pointing it straight at Lucas. Once again, a massive bolt of lightning cut through the air, striking him full-on.
Duster and Kumatora recoiled in surprise, and Lucas finally came to once he realized he was in trouble...but, even though his body was bathed in the electricity, he felt no pain. He briefly wondered what was happening, when he felt a slight tingle coming from the badge he had pinned to his chest, as the lightning seemed drawn to it specifically.
In an instant, the lightning arced back out, leaping straight at the masked man again, covering his whole form in the dancing electricity. He was totally unprepared for the strike, and did nothing to defend against it. He felt the strike, and he bounced back from it, but, amazingly, he didn't even grunt - as if he couldn't feel it.
The Pigmasks all squealed, suddenly very panicked - their commander was the very best the Pigmasks had to offer, and now not even he could stand up to the child's power?!
Undaunted, however, the masked man pulled himself back to his feet, quickly dusting the dirt from his shoulder. He stared at Lucas again, still showing no signs of emotion, while Lucas, suddenly brought back to his senses, was ready for their confrontation. Withdrawing the same sword, the masked man leapt towards the tired group...
...and they battled.
It was a long and difficult battle for both sides. Though they had a four-on-one advantage, the masked man put up such an incredible offense, it was, frankly, remarkable. His skills with the sword were unlike anything Lucas had ever seen, and with the large cannon that had been fastened to his right arm, he could fire wide and powerful beams of energy right at them. He moved so quickly it was difficult to keep up, but most intriguing, and frightening, of all, was that the masked man also knew PK Love. It was the exact same attack, down to its appearance.
Battered and exhausted, Lucas, Kumatora, Duster, and Boney still managed to come out on top, and the masked man was unquestionably, irrevocably, defeated. The Pigmasks all squealed and oinked in alarm that their best-of-the-best had been soundly overcome. The masked man himself could hardly believe it: he staggered backward, his pace broken and jagged. Throughout the entire battle, he made no emotion and he never once yelped in pain, but even he had to acknowledge his limits.
His helmet began to malfunction, and sparks began to fly from its facets. His visor had been scratched and dinged, but not shattered, and the whole of the helmet had marks and dents all over its circumference. He was knocked to his knees, much to the horror of the other Pigmasks, as his body began to sizzle and crackle with the sparks.
Afraid for their own safety, the Pigmasks all retreated from the site, conceding defeat to the four. The Pigmask colonel was the last to leave: he knew he wasn't safe with the four and without his platoon, but, could he really show his face to King P and tell him that they had lost the sixth Needle?
Eventually, though, it caved as well, and ran to join the others, leaving the fate of their commander to the four. However, even if they wanted to finish him off - in his weak and vulnerable state - they barely had the strength to lift their arms, much less continue fighting. With his body still malfunctioning, the masked man sprouted his wings, and flew over Chupichupyoi temple as quickly as he could, getting as much distance away from the four as possible.
Their breathing was rough and staggered, and their knees creaked and the shoulders cracked as they tried to stand themselves back up straight after that vicious battle. But, first, Kumatora laughed, and then Duster, and then Lucas, and then Boney began to howl. They had travelled through Argilla Pass and were surrounded two-to-one, with the very strongest the Pigmask Army had to offer them. And they proved themselves better. They were the strongest team on the face of the Nowhere Islands. Their bruises were slow to heal and their kinks took their time easing off their muscles, but they felt fantastic.
"That was awesome!" Kumatora cheered, her earlier pain from the shot to the ribs completely forgotten about. "We beat them! We beat them!" Compulsively, the each joined hands in a small triangle, and began to dance around on the spot, singing and chanting that they had won, while Boney danced around behind them; they had, essentially, beaten the Pigmasks. No matter where the last Needle was, they had nothing to defend it with.
After a moment of celebration, Duster broke their happy dance. He had a dopey grin on his face that he couldn't wane off, even if he wanted to. Their collective happiness over their victory was consuming, but they hadn't pulled the Needle yet. "Lucas," he managed to say through giddy laughs, "we need to pull that Needle. Use the water on the vines."
Lucas had forgotten all about the vines himself. "Oh yeah," he said, heading towards the vines covering the temple. His walk was lopsided with his injuries, but that wasn't going to stop him now. Thankfully, the vial of water hadn't been damaged in the fight, and with a quick (if painful) twist, the cork on its mouth came off. There was hardly enough in there to moisten his hands, but he trusted Ionia, and arced his arm wide, splashing the water over as wide an area as he could.
A year passed in a moment for the vines. Their flowers budded, and then bloomed, and then shrivelled and fell away in a blink, and most of the vines fell and rotted away with them. Before, the vines were a very healthy and energetic green, livening the area with their floral presence, and then, they had browned and died, just like that, revealing the unobstructed way into the temple.
Inside the temple was a giant alter, spanning two tall stories and surrounded by platforms and columns for aesthetics. A pair of lit fires were burning at the top of the giant alter, and between them was a simple fuzz of light, gently pulsating to nothing.
A few stairs were all they had left to conquer before they were brought to the sixth of the seven Needles. Lucas approached it directly, while Kumatora and Duster took their places on either side of it, giving Lucas lots of space to do the deed. They stood in the light of the Needle for a moment, basking in it, refreshing themselves and their spirits. They had earned this Needle.
"It was our Magypsy ancestors who sealed away the Dark Dragon," they heard a voice say behind them. Quickly, they spun around at the first word, cautious that one of the Pigmasks had remained behind. Fortunately, that wasn't the case: Ionia stood in the mouth of the temple, slowly ascending the stairs itself. "Magypsies have guarded the Needles for many generations since."
And that time is now. The heart of the person who pulls the Needles will be passed on to the Dark Dragon. And then..." it trailed off, unsure of its wording. "...something big will happen."
"Something?" Lucas asked.
"Something big enough to recreate the entire world." It got down on one knee, looking at Lucas directly. "Lucas.
To accomplish this, you can't lose or give in, no matter what."
"Hah, I wouldn't worry too much about that, Ionia," laughed Kumatora - promptly rubbing the sore spot on her ribs as she did. "We just proved that we're the best around. Nothin's ever gonna to keep us down now. Just as long as we find that last Needle first, we're golden."
"Don't get too confident," Ionia chastised, giving her an unfriendly look. "The Pigmasks are resourceful, too. You may have beaten them now, but it's best to assume that they'll think of something." It gave a light sigh, looking to the others of the group. "Regardless, I'm sure that, with your heartfelt help giving Lucas his strength, things will be alright." It turned back to Kumatora and crooked a finger, in a 'come here' way. "To that end, Princess Kumatora, I have a gift for you.
but, I trust you and your friends and your capabilities, so now, I believe, would be the best time to teach it to you. Its power rivals that of PK Love; you must master it so that it does not master you, and use its strength to help Lucas!"
"Sweet!" Kumatora said, grinning, and taking her spot just next to Ionia with her back facing the Magypsy. "Lay it on me, Ionia!"
Ushering Lucas out of the way so that Ionia had room to back up, it put some distance between it and Kumatora, and calmly closed its eyes. Lucas was confused; this wasn't how he learned PK Love. Did it differ from skill to skill? "This may sting a bit," Ionia warned, and suddenly, a bolt of lightning cut through the temple, striking her right on her head.
Her clothes were smoking and every red hair on her head immediately stood on end from the static. She was knocked to the ground and down the flight of stairs from the hit, and blacked out from the quick and overwhelming stinging sensation that covered her entire form.
"What the-?!" Duster exclaimed, about to run back down the stairs to assist her. He wasn't very well-versed when it came to PSI, and although he knew he saw something similar in Thunder Tower, getting hit by a bolt of lightning just wasn't that normal. Ionia reached out with its hand, blocking Duster off before he could, watching Kumatora intently for her to get back up.
She did, after a few heart-stopping moments. Her clothes, and her hair, continued to fizzle for a moment as she brought herself back up, but any pain she had felt left her right away, including the shot in her ribs. She was feeling fine. She was feeling great.
She hadn't felt this way since she first learned PSI from the Magypsies back when she was little. She turned around, looking back up the stairs towards the others, a great smile on her face. "Whoo!" she shouted, bringing her hands over her head.
"Knowing you, Kumatora," Ionia said quickly, before she got a little too carried away, "you're going to want to give it a try right away, right?"
"Hell yeah!" she said, halfway down the stairs to find something to use her new skill on. "I feel incredible! If I knew gettin' hit by lightnin' was this awesome I woulda done it years ago!"
"Don't," commanded Ionia before she could leave the temple. "This isn't like what we taught you when you were a child. This isn't just lighting a candle, or chilling a drink. This is serious, devastating magic, Kumatora." The way Ionia spoke, and how it looked so serious, took the wind right out of her sails. "You're mature enough now to know that this isn't a toy. Give it the respect it deserves."
Kumatora looked at Ionia, and the face Ionia had ever made at her once before, when she was first given PSI to use, and then back to the temple's door. She gave a heavy sigh; she was practically jumping at the opportunity to give it a shot, but, she knew it was right. PSI wasn't something to take lightly.
"And now," Ionia said, turning back to Lucas and smiling at him. "There's just one last thing to do." It nodded towards the Needle as it spoke. "Now that I've passed on PK Starstorm to Kumatora, I have no more errands or regrets. And with my last meal, my life was finally become complete. There's just one thing left for me to see."
Lucas eyed her, then to Duster and Boney and Kumatora, as all of their eyes were on him once again to see the final step of their long journey through Argilla Pass. They had gone far and fought hard so that Lucas could pull that one Needle.
He did not disappoint them.
It might have been his imagination, but with the sixth Needle gone, everything sounded so much louder, and the vibrations so much more intense. The powerful shaking of the ground, as though they were caught in the middle of a powerful earthquake; the purple-red gas cloud that came booming out of the ground lasted longer and had more pressure behind it; and the heartbeat they heard was so much louder. It beat in his ears, as though it were his own.
And, as he had expected, he felt some invisible force push down on him on his back. His knees went rigid as he tried to keep himself up, rather than allowing himself to flatten into the ground like an omelette. The force felt stronger than ever, drawing him into the hole of purple gas in front of him. "Ionia," he managed to groan while his muscles all shook with the effort of keeping him up. "Why...why does this happen...every time?"
Ionia's body had already begun to vanish, but, like all the others, it had been given a bit of time left for whatever reason. "Do you remember when you first learned PK Love? On the train tracks, in that hot spring?" Lucas didn't answer; he was too busy trying to keep himself from being crushed. "Remember how I had to push you down to teach it to you?"
"So, what, just the force is enough to make him learn it?" Duster asked for Lucas.
"No. Of course there's a bit more to it than that, but the purpose is because PK Love is learnt - well, not 'learnt', exactly, but rather, 'unlocked' - from the planet itself rather than the Magypsies. The closer the bearer is, physically, to the world, than the easier it is for him to learn it." Lucas continued to struggle, knocked onto his hands and knees, keeping himself as far away from the hole as he could. "Don't tell me you've been struggling with every Needle you've pulled like this?"
"Yeah, all of them," confirmed Kumatora. "Doria never told us anythin' about that, though, and Phrygia wasn't with us at the moment."
Lucas's face was just inches away from the rim of the hole when Ionia told him to stop. "Just let it happen," it said smoothly. "The easier you make it on yourself, the sooner it'll stop happening."
Lucas did as he was told - not that it would have made much of a difference, as close to the ground as he was - and let himself go, done with the struggling against the invisible force. He was pressed flat against the ground for a moment, but, just as Ionia had promised, the weight disappeared in an instant, lifting itself off of Lucas and allowing him to stand once more.
Like all the others, he had felt the same familiar power and confidence surge through his body. It started deep inside him, in his heart, and slowly branched out to all his limbs and up to his hair; his new strength coursed through his body and beat in time with his heart, fuelling him with the same euphoria he had experienced three times already.
It was a sensation he could really get used to.
We Magypsies have a sort of bond, you might say, especially when they're near their respective Needles, and I can definitely tell you that Locria is rapidly nearing her own Needle."
"Can you tell us where?" Duster pried. They knew nothing about the seventh Needle: only that Locria had gone missing for quite some time.
It's over...there, somewhere, over there," Ionia tried to say, pointing its fingers in several directions. It groaned in frustration. "If only I had more time...! Now, when my Needle is gone, of all times...!"
Lucas stepped forward, away from the Needle's hole, towards Ionia, as it grunted once more. "Forget it. I don't want to leave angry." It quickly placed its hands into both the pockets it had on its dress, quickly withdrawing two items. He could guess what they were.
They were the same brands as the other five Magypsies, yet the razor was a different colour from all the rest, and the lipstick was a very bright shade of red. "Remember sometimes with them, okay?"
Lucas couldn't turn them down, of course, and accepted the mementos. He didn't know what to do with them all, though. Should he stop by his house and drop them all off there? Should he keep holding them?
"It's too bad that I didn't get to see things through until the end," Ionia sighed, "but, Lucas, honey; little Boney; adorable Duster; and Princess Kumatora,
It's time for me to go."
Ionia happily looked up, towards the ceiling of Chupichupyoi temple, and struck one final pose, before...
Lucas was best acquainted with Ionia. It had taught him to use PSI, and it was there when the first Needle was pulled, and it had gone out of the way to tell the other Magypsies to expect him coming. Of the six Magypsies he had met, Ionia was the one he was closest with.
But Kumatora was hit the absolute hardest. She had never really known Locria, but the other six Magypsies were like her parents. They had raised her; they had taught her everything she knew now. They were there when she needed company and they looked after her when she was vulnerable. Now that they were all gone, the finality of the fact caught up to her.
She had no family left. She had watched them all go, right before her eyes - except for the one she was the closest to, and that was the hardest fact to accept. She couldn't say goodbye to the one she was going to miss the most.
There was nothing left for them in Chupichupyoi temple, or even in all of the Oriander mountains. They turned to leave the place, and set out to find the final Needle before the Pigmasks could, with only the cryptic riddle that it was hidden someplace 'lively' and 'filthy'.
...they heard lively, jazzy tune come from the temple's front lawn...
I'm going to open this post-update post with a montage of awesomeness, if you don't mind. All of these are without Hypnosis or the Hypno-Pendulum.
That last one is my favourite because Kumatora's timing is stricter than any of the others, and her electric guitar riffs, while badass, don't contribute a thing to keeping the rhythm.
I promised an update or two ago that I'd try to see what was on the other side of the Unknown Valley. We knew that you couldn't get to it via the highway because a pair of tanks cut you off; I assumed that you could just loop all the way back around and get to the other side of those tanks. I don't know why I expected that, really.
In Tazmily, there's pretty much absolutely nothing to cover. I talked to just about everybody left in the village in the main update, but one 'person' in particular had a fairly uplifting story about itself that I wanted to share.
Also, those two images of the beach to the west of Tazmily were intentionally pixellated. I thought it was a good way to visually interpret Lucas's feeling of isolation and how well he was handling it, now that nobody remained for them in Tazmily. If, however, you want the entire picture and without the pixel-y grittiness for your desktop or something, you can have your cake and eat it too here. Linked for bigness.
Also, for anybody curious, I went all the way back to the Drago Plateau. You pass through the area anyhow, and I wanted to see if you could possibly run into Flint in his never-ending excursion to find Claus up there.
The answer is no. If Flint is up there, he's not anywhere you can find him.
Some of the presents in the Sunshine Forest have been helpfully restocked with items. Some of them aren't very useful at your current level, but hey, better than nothing, right? And at least one of them is at least worth the look.
In Argilla Pass itself, the first thing that happens is Boney's Happytime Adventures and you have to locate the Jar of Yummy Pickles among a bunch of other items that had somehow wound up there.
(I just want to say that I love the music for that part. It's just so damn cute )
Anyway, I was doing what I normally did for that section, when I realized I missed a screenshot and reloaded a state to go back a bit. When I did it all again, I realized that the items are actually randomized! You can get different items every time you reload the screen. You may ask, "but Maple Leaf, I saved at the frog just inside the Pass, and I can't actually leave the area! How can I reload the screen and get different items if I cannot leave?!" You actually answered your own question: talking to the frog and asking to save, bringing up the save screen, will reload the adventure screen for you to try and pilfer different items.
After many, many save/load states, I managed to compile a quick list of every item in every location (to my knowledge. The RNG might have screwed me over and I might have missed something somewhere):
- Super Bomb
- Enemy Bufferizer
- King Burger
- Rotten Éclair
- Nut Bread
- Peculiar Cheese
- Recollection Bell
- Fresh Mint
- Secret Herb
- Heavy Charm
- Pumice Charm
- Thud Charm
The first in the lists were the first things I happened to find, and therefore write in. I shit you not that I managed to get both a Super Bomb and a King Burger at once on the first try. Peculiarly, the Pumice Charm had a much less chance of showing up instead of the Heavy Charm, but its stats are actually worse. Dunno what the deal was with that. And obviously, try to not get the Rotten Éclair...
If you take your first left in Argilla Pass, towards the hot spring, you encounter WHOA NELLY IS THAT A METAL MONKEY???
Whoa, it really is! Which means...according to JRPG rules, any mundane enemy that's made of metal must be incredibly rare to find, remarkably difficult to defeat, and awesomely gives you more experience than you know what to do with, right? Right?! And Mother 3 is a JRPG, right?!
DIE MONKEY DIE GIVE ME YOUR MOUNTAINOUS PILES OF EXPERIENCE I WANT IT
YES YES IT WAS SUCH A GOOD EXPERIENCE I'M GOING TO LOVE HUNTING THESE THINGS
This is Itoi's way of saying "haha, TVTropes." The Metal Monkey is remarkably fast and has the second highest defence in the game. It only has 12 HP, so if you can string together a quick combo - that's only three hits per character - you can rack up absolutely zero experience points. It puts 120 DP into your bank and has a 20% chance of dropping a Made-You-Look. There's really no reason at all to fight these things.
Moving on, Tender Loving Trees have a 20% chance of giving you a fresh egg. If you'll notice, it has a nest of chicks sitting in one of its branches.
So hey, last update, we were talking about random drops and how some people were lucky enough to somehow farm Mystical Gloves from the Monkalrus of Tanetane island without meaning to. They only have a 3% chance of dropping, and Kumatora is a terrible physical fighter, but most Mystical-anythings buff more than just attack strength, so maybe I should have tried harder when I had the chance.
I did not squander my opportunity this time with the Mystical Stick.
So, true story here, when I first entered the cave of Argilla Pass, I was dead-set determined to get the Mystical Stick from this happy sunnovabitch. Like the Monkalrus, they only have a 3% chance of dropping, so, cue me spending the next seventy minutes holding turbo, holding the L button (which rapid-fires the A button by default. I learned something during those seventy minutes), and occasionally hitting load-state. After that much time with nothing to show for it, I gave up in frustration and just continued with the story.
The very next one,
I nearly turbo'd right past that message that said "way to go wasting your time pressing Load State over and over".
Speaking of 3% drops, you have a 3% chance of getting the Pigmask Colonel's cloak, the Awesome Cloak. You only have one chance at getting it, and he's incredibly tough for a Pigmask, so I didn't even try to farm him for it.
Two more things to wrap this update up. In Argilla Pass's cave, you might have noticed that I skipped going west in the story. Because that's the wrong way, as we now know, but here's what's over there.
I learned that you can actually avoid fighting these things by walking slowly. And I don't mean 'don't dash', but rather, just tap on the directional pad and inch your way past. They'll look at you all creepy-like, but they won't chase you.
More Metal Monkeys for more good times.
This will likely be defensively worse than Kumatora's current-best armour, but it offers a boost against fire and ice, so I went ahead and took it.
Just north of here is the one enemy I'm sure everybody's been just dying to see.
The gooniest enemy this side of Mother 3, has been a typical emotional response to something you read on SA that just makes you want to give up hoping on whatever. Politics; sports; humanity; if it goes bad, then is the perfect response to it.
He throws most turns by spouting negative-Nancy things like this. Here's a list of the things he might say:
- ...sobbed, moaned, and started wailing.
- ...mumbled, "I'm nothing but a worthless protoplasm..."
- ...muttered, "it's always the same..."
- ...muttered, "there's just no way I can win..."
- ...moaned, "just get rid of me now..."
- ...murmured, "life is but a moment, a meaningless grain of sand..."
Nice shoutout to an otherwise un-noteworthy enemy in Earthbound.
There was a rumour on the internet a little bit ago that something happened if you used the Silver Dragonfly on . I didn't have the Silvery Dragonfly on me this time, but I tried doing exactly that the last time I played through this game, and I can personally say that it does nothing. Fighting it isn't really worth it, either.
Weirdly, whenever you leave the room and come back, there's a good chance that will be facing a different direction. What's up with that?
The last thing to talk about before wrapping this up is the Mister Saturn that followed you all the way to Ionia's. He doesn't actually leave when you talk to him: he just stands there, slightly offscreen, and offers you encouraging words if you talk to him.
And finally, Chapter 7 of Mother 3 has been wrapped up! Next update, we'll be delving into the belly of the beast: we'll be taking the fight to them, on their home turf, for the final stretch of the game. We're very nearly finished here! Hopefully now there won't be any more marathon-updates.