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PROTAGONISTS: Series of the Convergence World

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“The Convergence World is a strange place.  This reality is one that takes from others and molds them into its own.  Planets, galaxies, universes, timelines. It makes no exceptions. However, I’m led to believe that this world i͠s ̡f̨ar ̵m͏or̢e ͝c͠om͏p͜licated͘ than t̶ha͝t.”

“He’s coming!”  The Koopatrol Officer had spotted the man in red, from the battlements in the dark of night, brightened by a moat of lava that surrounded his king’s castle.  In a panic, he grabbed hold of a lower-ranked soldier by the collar of their armor. “Sound the alarm, you maggot! Go!”  

He released his grip, and his underling headed towards the horn to his right, mounted in-between a gap of the parapet, shouting something.  “Don’t call me a maggot!” He blew into the mouthpiece, and the horn let out a loud guttural sound that alerted the troops in the castle to prepare for battle, as well as the ones outside.

On the ground, the man in red spotted a Koopa Troopa charging at him, and he jumped on his head, forcing him back into his shell.  Then he kicked that shell directly at a Goomba trying to flank his left while a Magikoopa flying overhead fired a magic beam at him.  The man in red spotted them in time, and quickly dove forward to evade it. He jumped into the air, and kicked the Magikoopa off their broom.  They fell to the ground unconscious.  

And as Mario landed, he heard a snapping sound from underneath his foot.  He looked down, only to see that he had accidentally broken the Magikoopa’s broom in half.  “Uh, my bad,” Mario said, awkwardly, before pressing on.

The closer he got to Bowser’s Castle, the better view of it he was able to get.  He spotted a cannon being mounted on top of the parapet by Koopatrols, firing a Bullet Bill in his direction.  It closed in as quickly as he expected. Mario rolled out of the way, moving left, as it redirected its course a second after, circling around midair.  It was something Mario counted on, and he sprinted towards the castle faster than he had been.  

He jumped once, raising his fist to the sky, and the moment he landed, he jumped again higher than before.  And then he jumped a third and final time. The Bill wasn’t fast enough to properly home-in on him, so it passed under Mario instead.  It tried to circle back, but it was too late. It collided with the castle battlements, and there was an explosion, followed by the screams of several Koopatrol Officers.

Mario landed on his feet and his right hand, the other holding onto the tip of his hat.  He stood, before being confronted by three different Koopatrols guarding the bridge, leading to a large red door covered in yellow spikes, wielding spears.  “Hey guys,” Mario casually said to them.

The Officer in the center spoke.  “You know there’s no way we’re gonna let you in the castle.”

All three Koopatrols pointed their spears at him.  Mario opened the palm of his hand, channeling into Starlow’s Pocket Dimension, and closed it around the wooden handle of a large mallet, with a sheen similar to gold.

The Koopatrol left of his commander looked on in surprise.  “How did he do that?”  

Everyone chose to ignore him.  

And with their spears still facing Mario, the three of them huddled together and charged.  He jumped over them with relative ease, landing behind them. He swung his hammer at the Koopatrol in the center of the formation, knocking him forward.  His other troops scattered and dropped their spears, and their commander fell to the ground unconscious.  

Then the one to his left frantically got a hold of their spear and chucked it at Mario.  He dodged it without much effort, before spotting another one being abruptly swung at his face.  Then he swung his hammer, downwardly and at an awkward angle, knocking that spear to the floor. Mario quickly spun around to build momentum on his swing.  He bashed the Koopatrol on the side of his head, knocking them out too. Mario brought his attention back to the other Koopatrol, and charged after him.

“Wait!”  He raised his arms in surrender, a terrified look on his face.  “I know how this plays out! Just go!”

It put a light smile on Mario’s face.  “Thank you.” Then he brought his attention to the castle doors, and ran straight for them, prepping to barge them open with the swing of his hammer.

Bowser had spent the past few hours in throne room, eagerly awaiting the arrival of his nemesis.  As he sat in his royal seat, he looked over at his captive, Princess Peach, who was locked inside a rounded cage, sitting up against the backmost bars.  “Tonight’s gonna be the night, princess.” A confident grin came across his face. “I’m gonna squash your little plumber like a bug. What do you think about that?”

There was no response from her.  All she did was turn her head the other way and ignore him.  “I can feel it in my bones. This is the night Mario’s going down...Wait, I have a better idea.  Why crush Mario when I can just roast him like a juicy porkchop instead?” Then Peach looked back at him, and gave him a weird stare after he said that.  “What?” Bowser looked ahead at the large doors at the far end of the room, and groaned.  

And then a Boo suddenly phased through it and startled him.  “King Bowser!”

“WHAT?!”  

Even from a distance, Bowser could tell he was anxious, well aware of what he was about to say.

“Mario’s broken into the castle, sir!  He could-”

And the doors were flung open.  The side the Boo hovered in front of was now heading towards him.  He covered his face with stubby hands and screamed, but he wound up phasing through it instead.  The Boo had kind of forgotten that he was a ghost in that moment. Now he felt embarrassed. He uncovered his face, only to see the man in red taking his first steps into the throne room.  He covered his face again and looked away, pointing at him in a flustered state. “He’s right there.”

And when Bowser saw him, it put a mix of a grin and a scowl on his face.  “Mario.” He stood from his seat, cracking his knuckles, and then leapt down the steps.  “Finally decided to show up. Took you long enough. To be honest, I was starting to get a little worried that you wouldn’t.”  Bowser said that with a sneer.

“Really?  You were worried about me?”  Mario said that, just as sarcastically.

“Of course.  The thing is, I was in the middle of a debate when you barged into my throne room.  I asked her if I should squash you like a bug, or roast you like a juicy pork chop. Now that you’re here, maybe you could be the tiebreaker.  What do you think?”

“I mean, you could always take the third option, and not kidnap Princess Peach.”

Now the situation had gotten more tense and awkward, more than the Boo could handle.  “I’m just gonna go.” Then he phased through the wall and disappeared from the scene.

Mario could tell he had gotten under Bowser’s skin by the look on his face twisting into a definitive scowl, before letting out a furious roar.  

“Like that’s ever gonna happen,” he shouted.  “Listen here, pal. Capturing Princess Peach is my thing.  And you’re always getting in my way, so why don’t you just scram!”  Bowser’s furious demeanor then dropped into a much colder and calmer one.  Oh, that’s right. As if you would ever do that. It looks like I’ll have to go for the next best thing.  Thanks for helping me make my decision. I’m not gonna squish you like a bug. That’s for amateurs. I’m gonna roast you like a juicy, delicious porkchop.”

Bowser took a heavy step forward.  Flames began to form in his mouth, seeping out from the gaps between his clenched teeth.

Mario just stood there in confusion.  “Did you just say you were gonna eat me-”

“GRILLED PLUMBER TONIGHT!!!”

And those flames exploded out of his mouth, into a flurry that headed straight towards Mario.  He broke into a sprint and headed right to evade it. As he continued breathing fire, Bowser jerked his body in Mario’s direction, making the inferno turn.  Mario bent his knees slightly and backflipped over the passing blaze, landing without even a single burn mark. The flames dissipated immediately afterwards.

Bowser lunged forward and curled into a spiked ball that rolled straight after Mario at an aggressive speed.  He leapt over him as he drew near, and briefly summoned his hammer. The moment Mario’s feet touched the ground, he swung that hammer, and drove Bowser right at the wall behind him.  Mario was expecting him to crash into it, but Bowser climbed up it instead, using the spikes enveloping his shell to do so.

And after that brief climb, Bowser uncurled himself and dove straight down, raising his right arm, and bringing down a clenched fist.  Mario hopped back, and his arm broke through the stone brick floor where he stood. Now Bowser had gotten frustrated, and he growled. He ripped his arm out from the cracked pavement, leaving a gaping hole.  Then Bowser threw that same fist at Mario, which he dodged. Then Bowser swung at him again with his other arm, and he dodged that too.  

Bowser spat out a fireball that Mario jumped over, before he gave him a hard kick to the left side of his face.  Bowser staggered back, and put his hand on the side of his aching jaw. He felt something warm and moist inside his mouth, and he spat it out.  He saw a splatter of blood on the floor that only made the rest of it boil. He snarled at Mario with so much anger and contempt that it seemed to startle him.  Bowser saw an opportunity, and he spitefully bashed his chest into his chest.

The impact of that was so hard that Mario was thrown across the room.  His back collided with the wall on the far-right side of the room. He went limp, and he fell to his stomach.  His hat fell off his head. Princess Peach watched it happen from inside her cage. The only thing she could do was watch.  She got to her feet, and clasped her hands around the warm metal bars, nervous. “Mario!”

The princess was terrified that Bowser might have been right, until she saw Mario slowly getting back to his feet.  She was relieved, until she heard the sound of a pained groan come from her rescuer. Mario held himself up by the small of his back, and she realized he was hurt.  And any sense relief she felt became a dreadful uncertainty.

Mario kept a sharp eye on Bowser as he bent down to retrieve his hat, struggling to.  Bowser stretched his left arm back, clenching his fist tighter than the last times. Mario put his hat back on, and immediately recognized the technique he was about to use.

“Remember this,” Bowser asked in a mocking tone.

He threw his arm forward, and the rest of his body propelled soon after, straight after Mario.  He went so fast, it made him shout. He ducked as far right as he possibly could, and barely avoided the Koopa King’s devastating strike.  He landed on his stomach, and it took a further toll on his already wounded back. But he would rather writhe in pain than have Bowser succeed in his takeover of the Mushroom Kingdom.  He heard Bowser’s irritated groan again.

“Great, now two holes have to be paved.”  Bowser ripped his arms out of the new one, as Mario struggled to get to his feet.  “Third one’s going in YOUR HEAD-”

And Bowser abruptly swung his fist at him.  Mario couldn’t evade his backhanded blow in time.  All he could do was put his arms up to his protect his face, as he hit.  Mario skidded across the room, and stopped when he reached the center of it, feeling the same pain in his back now coursing through his arms.  Bowser rushed after him again, and spat another fireball. Mario jumped over it, before another one came hurtling after him. He leapt over that one too.  

And then Bowser was suddenly in front of him, sporting claws that he slashed into Mario’s chest mid-landing, forcing him to the ground.  Mario looked up, and saw Bowser standing over him, with a sinister grin. And his grin seemed to widen when he raised his foot up to stomp on him.  Frantically, Mario pushed himself with his arms as hard as he could, rolling out of the way just as he brought his foot down. Bowser’s grin went away, and became a scowl.

Bowser tried to stomp on him again, only for Mario to roll away from that too.  Bowser tried a third time, with the same result. Mario knew with every miss, it would only make him angrier.  Then after the fourth and fifth time, he screamed, and raised his arms over his head. It gave Mario enough time to roll back, Bowser smashing into the floor.  Fragments of stone bursted outward.  

Mario was on his back, but he forced himself to his knees.  Blood seeped out from the three slashes in his chest, as the throbbing in his back worsened even more.  Bowser rushed him again to slash at him once more. Mario took out his hammer, and swung to block. Sparks flew as the golden mallet and bone-white claws collided.  Mario countered with a bash to Bowser’s stomach. That made both of them scream in pain, but it was Bowser who was thrown onto his back this time.

Mario grabbed him by the tail, and lifted, and spun Bowser around with the remaining strength he had, picking up speed with every rotation.  The faster he spun, the more agonizing the pain became. The more Mario forced himself to endure, for Peach’s sake. Then he found where he wanted to throw him.

“So long!”  And after one final spin, Mario let go, and Bowser was thrown across the room.  He saw what he was heading towards. His own royal throne. He screamed, before crashing into it.  His heavy body destroyed it on impact, and he toppled over the rubble. Bowser was unconscious, his body leaning on the debris.

Mario looked over at Princess Peach.  She was still inside of the cage with a worried look, but overall she was unharmed.  It put a warm smile on his face, until Mario realized he was completely out of breath.  His entire body started to feel heavy. He put pressure on his chest, where the slashes were, as his legs gave out from under him.  He dropped to his knees.

“Mario,” the princess shouted in worry.

“Nothing to worry about.  I’m okay.” Mario felt something warm and wet.  He took his hands off his chest, only to see red splotches covering the palm of his white gloves.  Mario found it strange. He never remembered his fights with Bowser being so violent. “Maybe not that okay.”

He held out his left hand, and placed his right one back on his injured chest.  He searched through Starlow’s Pocket Dimension, and a 1-Up Mushroom appeared in-between his thumb, index, and middle fingers.

And Bowser’s eyes opened.

Mario brought the green mushroom up to his mouth, looking forward to the instant recovery it can give.  And then Bowser came after him like a rabid animal, covered in dust and chips of broken brick. Fire came out from in-between his teeth, just as he curled into a spiked ball again.  Mario rightwardly jumped out of the way. Bowser uncurled himself, and spat another fireball at him, too close for him to even dodge. Mario threw himself on his back, screaming as it passed overhead.

Princess Peach realized the fireball was heading towards her.  All she could do was let out a scream and cover her eyes. She heard it crash into the wall next to her.  She looked to her left, and saw that the gray brick wall next to her was covered in a black soot. She rested her head on the bars, lucky to be alive.

Mario looked over at the princess and the blackened wall beside her, before spotting Bowser standing over him once again, with that same sinister grin.  Mario knew he was going to stomp on him again, but he was too weak to do anything about it. Mario realized that Bowser could have killed Peach, and realized that he had to do something.  The Koopa King looked over at the princess with a cocky smile that only struck a nerve.

“Guess who just wo-”  Then Bowser saw the burnt wall next to her, and realized that he almost killed her.  He blamed Mario for it. If he hadn’t come to raid his castle to rescue his princess, than Bowser wouldn’t have made that mistake.  

His eyes went back down at Mario and he couldn’t stand the sight of him.  He was so angry that he hadn’t noticed a blue flower suddenly appearing in his right hand.  He knew what Mario was going to use it for. Bowser needed to finish him off. He raised his foot and readied to stomp on him again.

Then the flower disappeared, and the color of Mario’s clothes changed into a light blue shirt and cap, and red overalls.  Where the Ice Flower used to be, there was now a ball of ice hovering slightly above the palm of his hand. He threw his arm forward, and the iceball was thrown directly into Bowser’s face, shattering into a brief mist on impact.  He groaned and stumbled backwards, his face covered in a thick layer of frost so cold it was agonizing. He covered his eyes, and howled in pain.

Mario rolled onto his stomach, and reached out for the 1-Up Mushroom, and got a hold of it just out of arm’s reach.  He dragged it across the floor, barely able to lift it off the ground. The strain in his arm was unbearable, but he pulled the mushroom up to his mouth and swallowed it whole.  

And then the strain in his arm was gone.  He lifted himself to his feet, and saw that gashes in his chest were gone, leaving behind three tears in his shirt.  And when Mario realized that all the pain was gone, his eyes turned to face Bowser, and it put a confident smirk on his face.  “Doesn’t seem like you’re winning.”

Bowser clawed at the layer of frost, before blasting more fire out of his mouth, into the sky.  The heat was enough to make most of it thaw. Then Bowser gave Mario a contemptful scowl, and launched another round of flames at him.  Mario quickly stepped out of the way, and charged straight after him, running alongside the fiery current. He threw another iceball at Bowser.  It hit, and the fires abruptly faded. A new layer of frost covered Bowser’s left arm.

Mario threw three more iceballs in direction, all of them hitting his chest.  He drew closer. Mario clenched his fist, and a hardened layer of ice enveloped his left hand.  He took a jab at Bowser’s encrusted torso with it, causing all that frost to break off. Mario raised his right leg back, another layer of ice forming around it.  He kicked Bowser in his lower jaw, hard enough that he was thrown. His body spun in the air, and he landed on his stomach.

Bowser spat out a bloodied tooth, and realized that Mario was starting to win.  In a panic, he pushed himself up with both his arms, and leapt away from him, to gain some distance.  His first instinct was to blast more fire at him. Mario clapped his wrists together as they drew close to him.  A freezing mist emerged from his open hands, that extinguished them. Bowser threw his unfrozen fist forward without thinking, and launched himself at Mario again.

He stepped out of the way without much effort, and quickly took out his hammer, swinging it at Bowser as he drew near.  A hardened layer of ice overtook the mallet, and it collided into his stomach. Bowser was forcibly thrown over him. The instant Bowser hit the ground, he curled into a spiked ball once more and circled away from him, uncurling when he reached the center of the room.

Bowser was out of breath, but that didn’t stop him from blasting another fireball at him, which drove Mario to throw another iceball at it.  As it was put out, more flames emerged from Bowser’s mouth, and he launched them straight up. They condensed into a red and orange mass, before immediately exploding.  The room was engulfed in a blinding light.

It faded soon after, and then Mario saw a rain of fire coming down the ceiling  Then he spotted more of them coming down on him. He quickly dove forward and rolled out of the way.  Mario was on one knee when another one appeared inches above his head. He jerked his hand up, swatting it away with an iceball.  He hastily got to his feet, spotting more of them flanking his left. There were three blue flames homing in on him, that he blasted away with another freezing mist.

Then Bowser appeared, propelling himself with his arm once more, and like last time, all Mario could do was cross his arms to block.  A protective layer of ice formed around them just as Bowser hit. They skidded across the room, as scattering flames chaotically fell around them.   Mario pressed his feet forward and pushed against Bowser, hard enough to slow their momentum. After a brief struggle, he jerked his arms up as hard as he could, throwing Bowser’s fist into the air.

For the last moments in which he slid, Mario launched an iceball at his chest, as the Koopa King fell forward.  Bowser went limp when he hit the floor. He was seemingly knocked out, until his head abruptly jerked up, blasting heavy flames at him.  Mario reactively clapped his wrists, and unleashed a freezing blast that clashed with the scorching fire.

As they continued their battle near the steps, Princess Peach looked out at the falling flames that continued to scatter the halls.  And then she spotted a blue one near the cage, and her heart stopped. It was flying towards her, alarmingly fast. She stepped back, and bumped into the back of her cage.  “Mario!”

Mario heard her shout, and looked back only to see a blue flame closing in on her.  He panicked, and broke away from the struggle. He jumped out of the way of Bowser’s fires, before launching an iceball at one targeting Peach, and it hit only inches away from her cage.  Mario’s let out a grunt of relief, happy that he was able to save the princess’s life in time.

And then Bowser grabbed Mario by the back of his shirt while he was distracted, and threw him away from the steps.  He landed on his stomach, then looked back at him. Bowser’s left arm was still engulfed in a thick frost, and a new one had taken over his chest.  He took another heavy breath, struggling to, almost drifting out of consciousness. He eyed Mario down and snarled at him. He was so enraged that it seemed like the world around him had gone blank.  

And he let out a roar of defiance, and recklessly charged after him.  Mario got to his back, and quickly threw his arm forward, and Bowser was overtaken by an extreme cold.  The freezing mist Mario threw at him and the frost overtaking his body were too much for him to handle. The cold had officially taken its toll on the Koopa King, and the world went black.

Mario rolled out of the way, to the right whilst Bowser’s unconscious body fell to the floor.  He stood, before climbing the steps to Peach’s cage. He brought out his hammer and swung it down at the lock, snapping it off its hinges, then opened the door to let her out.  Princess Peach stepped out of her cage, quivering, with a blank stare that only made him worry. “Sorry about all that. Wasn’t expecting you to get caught in the crossfire. Are you alright?”

The princess’s eyes were on Bowser.  He was covered in a thick frost that seemed so cold, it made his skin pale.  “Yes.”

“We may want to get out of here.  Reinforcements may or may not show up at some point...what’s left of them anyway-”  Then Mario heard the sound of collective footsteps in the distance behind him. He turned around and saw a dozen of Bowser’s minions entering the room, heading in their direction.  Mario’s first reaction was to immediately stand in the way, between them and Princess Peach. “Speaking of.” He got into a protective stance, summoning a pair of iceballs. “Anyone want a go?!”

Out of the three Koopa Troopas in the group, one of them spoke up.  “No.” Then the twelve of them circled around their king, and saw the state he was in.

“Oh my god,” another Koopa said.  “Bowser, are you alright?” He didn’t respond.

“I think he’s dead,” a Goomba told him.

“Nah, he’s gonna be fine.  He’s survived worse.”

“But look at all that frost,” the second Goomba mentioned.

“Nothing to worry about,” the third Koopa said.  “Anybody got a chisel?”

“I think we’re gonna need a pickaxe,” the first Goomba suggested.

“I don’t even have arms,” a Bob-Omb admitted.

Then the second Koopa Troopa realized something.  “I thought this castle was surrounded by a moat of lava.”

As Bowser’s minions debated on how to break him out of the ice, the princess stood there and watched them.  She was fatigued, struggling to process that she had almost died that night, not once, but twice. All she wanted to do was rest, and forget about her near-death experiences she endured.  “Mario, I’d like to return home now.”

“Yep.”  Mario took the first step down, and then another.  He looked back at Peach, and saw her standing in the same spot, staring ahead with the same empty look.  After what had happened during his fight with Bowser, it made him feel awful. "Princess?"

Peach snapped out of her daze.  "Oh, my apologies. I'm coming."

With a sad smile, Mario nodded.  The princess followed him down the steps, and the two of them walked down the hallway, past Bowser and his loyal minions trying to break the ice off his body.  One of the Koopas even rushed out of the room, presumably to find something to help with that, or someone. As he ran past her and Mario, she noticed that most of the flames that had once scattered around the room had since abated, except for a few on the ground, that remained a safe distance away.

As her and Mario got closer to the door, she overheard a Shy Guy inspecting Bowser’s body.  "Guys, I think he lost a tooth." Then he heard him grumble.

After the princess and Mario were a few steps away from the door, she spotted something from the corner of her right eye.  She jerked her head in a panic, assuming there was another blue fireball coming her way. However, nothing was there, but there was still something lurking in her peripheral vision.

Mario looked on in concern and confusion, as Peach turned all the way around to face Bowser and his minions.  She looked up at the destroyed throne, and VG͠hlIE͏N̡vbn͢Zl̢c͝m͏dlb͟mN͞l͞I͘F͢d͏v͜cm͘x͝kIG͘lz̷IG̛Eg͡c3͡ŖyY̨W5nZSBwbG͡F̛j̴ZQ==̢

“Is something wrong,” Mario asked.

Princess Peach started trembling, overtaken by an indescribable fear.  She wanted to tear her eyes from &͝z͜{͢"̴nW͟+͟\̛, but she was unable to look away from &͝z͜{͢"̴nW͟+͟\̛.

“Princess?”

Chapter Text

“HELP!”  A young Mudkip frantically screamed that, dragging an unconscious Bulbasaur up the hill by his front legs.  There was a gash that went across the right side of his forehead, with a dark-green blood pouring out from the slit.  His body was covered in it, and some of it had gotten on Mudkip. It didn’t matter to him though, as long was the Bulbasaur was safe.  “D-don’t worry. I’m taking you to my home. My mom is a doctor. She can help you.”

Mudkip headed towards his home, which was nearby.  It was a sandstone hut that was higher up on the hill, two stories tall, and it stood in front of a decently sized pond.  From inside, there was a Marshtomp watching him from the left window of the first floor.

“Mudkip?”  She saw what was happening, and ran outside without a second thought, leaving the door open.  The Marshtomp ran to her son as fast as she could, reaching him.

Mudkip had never been so relieved to see her, but he was unsure of how he would explain the situation to his mother, or if he even could.  It felt as if so many things were happening at once, that he was on the verge of panicking. “I-I found him like this. He just showed up out of nowhere, and...I had to do something.”

“And you did the right thing.  I need you to get into the house and get your father.  Tell him to get the medical pouch, but you need to hurry, okay?”  Mudkip nodded, and let go of the Bulbasaur. He ran back to his home while M. Marshtomp went over to the unconscious Bulbasaur, and checked his head wound.  He was bleeding fast. She lifted the Bulbasaur onto her shoulders, and carried him back to the house.

Mudkip spotted another Marshtomp when he was inside, halfway down the stairs.  His father saw the blood he was covered in, and he rushed down the rest of the steps.  He could see the shock and worry on his face. “D-dad?”

“Mudkip, what happened?”  The Marshtomp looked outside, and saw his wife carrying an unconscious Bulbasaur to their home.

“Someone got hurt, b-bad,” Mudkip tried to explain.  “Mom needs you to get-”

“The medical pouch.  You got it. Don’t worry about your friend.  Your mom and I are gonna take care of him. Get upstairs, clean yourself up.  You did good out there.”

Mudkip shakingly nodded.  “Okay.”

Him and his father hurried up to the second floor.  As his father went into his and his mother’s bedroom on the right, Mudkip went into the washroom, on the far left end of the narrow hallway.  He was so overwhelmed and fatigued that his head started to spin. He limped over to an in-ground tub, located in the corner of the room. He looked into the water’s reflection, at all of the blood he was covered in.  Mudkip slowly stepped into it, the clear water being clouded by a dark-green, and he broke into tears. He kept crying, until he became despondent. He had no idea how long he had been in that tub for, but eventually, he came to his senses, and cleaned himself up.  

After he was done, he left the washroom, only to see his parents carrying the unconscious Bulbasaur up the stairs, led by his mother, and his father in the back.  Layers of cloth made of silk had been wrapped around the Bulbasaur’s head. His mother was covered in splotches of his blood, from when she stitched up his head wound.  “Where are you taking him,” Mudkip asked.

“To our room,” his mother answered. “So he can rest.”

“I think you should let him rest in my room.”  It was something Mudkip said in the spur of the moment, but it seemed like the right thing to do.

“You sure, little buddy,” his father asked.  Mudkip nodded. The Marshtomp looked over at his wife.  She looked back and him, and nodded too. “Alright then.” 

The two Marshtomp carried the Bulbasaur into Mudkip’s room, while Mudkip himself followed behind.  His parents gently laid him down on a bed of hay in front of a window, on the other end of the room.  “I can keep a watch on him, if you want me to.” He wanted to be absolutely sure that the Bulbasaur would be okay.

“Uh, yeah.  I guess you can,” his father decided.  “What do you think, honey?” 

“Seems like a better alternative than cleaning the blood off the floor,” the other Marshtomp alluded.

“Ur, that’s a thing we have to do.”  He grimaced at the thought.

Marshtomp brought her attention back to her son.  “Just let us know when he wakes up, okay?”

Mudkip nodded, and his mother nodded back.  She looked over at the other Marshtomp, and gestured to the door.  The two of them left the room, walking past their son. He took a few steps towards the unconscious Bulbasaur, unsure of how we would react if he woke up and saw him.  Mudkip took a seat, and kept watch. And after a few minutes, the Bulbasaur’s eyes started to open. Mudkip bolted to the door. “Mom, dad!”

The Bulbasaur heard a voice.  Everything around him was a blur, as his ears were ringing and the side of his head was throbbing.  And he was lightheaded too, making it impossible to tell whether he really was conscious. He looked to his left, where he heard that voice, and saw an obscured blue figure closeby, followed by two larger ones coming into the room.  One of them appeared to be covered by something distinctly green, and it was coming towards him, seemingly carrying something.

“Here, drink this.”  The Marshtomp brought a wooden bowl filled with water up to the Bulbasur’s mouth.  He took his first sip, before abruptly snatching it out of her elongated hands, and chugging it down.  The Bulbasaur dropped the bowl and started gagging, the water spilling onto the floor. He retched out whatever he tried to swallow.  Some of it had spilled onto her. “Ah, come on!” She groaned in frustration, as the Bulbasaur coughed and wheezed. The Marshtomp turned back to her son and husband.  “I gotta get a new bowl. Keep an eye on him.” She stormed out of the room and hurried downstairs.

Bulbasaur’s vision was starting to clear, but he still heard the sound of ringing.  He saw a nervous Mudkip, along with a Marshtomp who seemed far calmer by comparison.  “Where am I?” His voice was grovely, and he struggled to speak.

“Uh, this is my home,” the Mudkip said, nervously.  “You’re, uh...well, you’re safe here.”

“Safe?”  Bulbasaur was confused.

Mudkip blanked out the moment he had asked that.  He had no idea on how he was supposed to explain himself to him.  Then suddenly, his mother returned, with a new bowl of water, that she brought over to the Bulbasaur.

“Try not to chug it down this time, alright,” she told him.  “Give your body some time.”

“I can try,” the Bulbasaur jokingly said, with a weak smile.  The Marshtomp then brought the bowl up to his mouth, and he took a light sip, realizing just how dry his throat was.  

Just as he finished, the other Marshtomp spoke up.  “I gotta say, you really gave us a heck of a scare back there.”

Now the Bulbasaur was concerned.  “What does that mean?”

“Well…”  Marshtomp then looked over at his son, who was standing next to him.  His eyes were affixed to the left corner of the room, and he was visibly flustered.  Then Mudkip looked over to his father, and nodded. “Okay. So, our son found you outside this morning, and, uh, you weren’t exactly doing too well, so...we took you in, and patched you up.  You were bleeding out, pretty badly. I’m just glad you’re okay. If Mudkip here never found you in time, you...You know what, maybe it’s a little too soon to say-”

“I could have died.”  The Bulbasaur was horrified that he put that Mudkip and his family through something like that.

“I could have found a better way to phrase that,” the father admitted.

“Um…”  Then the next thing Mudkip knew, everyone’s eyes were on him.  It made him uncomfortable whenever he was brought to the center of attention, but he needed to bring something up.  “I was wondering if I could say something?”

“Uh, sure,” his mother said.

“Uh...The Bulbasaur, he...he came up to me.”

Bulbasaur shook his head.  “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Wait, you don’t remember?”

The ringing in his eyes had suddenly become louder.  The pounding and the throbbing in his head had only gotten worse.  He felt as if his throat had gotten dryer, and that it was tightening.  Bulbasaur shook his head, as his anxiety made the rest of his body quiver.  “Remember what? What am I supposed to remember?” And when he realized that he had no memory of who he was, the ringing had become so loud, it was all he could hear.  The last thing Bulbasaur remembered seeing the worried look on Mudkip’s face before he blacked out.


 

At the bottom of a hill in the Air Continent stood a giant and hollowed tree, where Ivysaur’s Guild was run.  A large entry hole had been carved into its base, and inside was a spiraling staircase that went up three floors, ending at the fourth.  Starting from the second, there were three open balconies facing the direction of the hill. And on all the floors were the two dozen guild members beginning their daily duties.

Outside the guild’s entrance, a Chikorita and a young Bulbasaur named Junior were in the middle of playing catch, using a smooth wooden ball.  It was the Chikorita’s turn to throw. She balanced the ball on top of the large leaf connected to her head. “Let’s see if you can catch this one,” she shouted at him.

“I can try!”  The young Bulbasaur said that with a cheerful smile.  He kept his eyes on the ball Chikorita was preparing to throw, watching her toss it into the air two times, before throwing it in his direction.  Junior waited for the ball to come closer, and then he caught it with his vine, that was normally hidden underneath his bulb. “Yes, I got it! Did you see that?!”

“Yeah!  You did great!  Okay, now pass it to me!”

From their personal balcony on the fourth floor, Guildmaster Ivysaur and his wife were watching their son and Chikorita play.  “He looks like he’s having the time of his life down there,” his mother said.

“And I’m rather jealous,” the guild master admitted, playfully.  He looked to his left at the other Ivysaur next to him, who looked down the balcony at their son.  The warm smile she had was one out of the several reasons why he fell in love with her. “His liveliness must come from your side of the family.”

She looked back at him with a satisfied smirk.  “Somebody gets it. Still, I’m glad Chikorita’s taking some time to drop by.  She and Charmander have been pretty busy setting up their rescue team. What did they call it again?”

“Team Go-Getters, and what I’ve been told, they intend to search for a third member.”

“It better not be our son,” she teased.

“If only she had the audacity.  When Mudkip arrives for his consultation, I will advise that he speak with her and become Team Go-Getter’s third recruit.  And speaking of whom, the Pokemon in question has yet to arrive. It’s unlike him to be late.”

Her husband kept a stoic face, but she could tell he was starting to worry.  “Maybe something came up.”

“Perhaps you’re right, for he’s far more likely to arrive early,” the guild master admitted.

“I’ve been married to you for so many years, but I still can’t get used to the way you talk.”

Guildmaster Ivysaur chuckled.  “My apologies for that.”

The guild master’s wife spotted someone from the corner of her eye, coming up from the topmost steps of the spiraling staircase to her left.  She saw that it was one of her clients, a Nidoran♀ who looked more nervous than before their last session. “Well, it looks like someone else is ready for their consultation.”  She looked back at her husband. “I’ll see you tonight?”

The other Ivysaur nodded.  “Let the Nidoran know I wish her good fortune.”

“I’m gonna find a different way to phrase that.”  She started heading down the steps of her and husband’s balcony to meet with her.

“Perhaps you will,” the guild master said in a lighthearted manner.  His wife rolled his eyes with a half-smile, and he smiled back. “Farewell for now, my beloved.”

She turned back and smirked out of flattery, continuing down the three steps.  On her way to meet with the Nidoran, she wondered if anyone else from home had ever spoke like him, until she spotted a Weavile coming up the top steps.  It was the guild master’s assistant, and he seemed to be going to speak with him. “Oh, hey. Is something up?” He didn’t respond to her, and considering how anxious he seemed, she quickly realized that something had happened.  Something bad.

“Guild master!”  Weavile was near the bottom steps of the balcony when he shouted out to him.  “We have a problem!”

The Ivysaur’s gaze shifted to Weavile.  “And what appears to be the problem,” he asked, suspicious of what it could be.

The Weavile hesitated.  “We’ve got reports of a trail of blood...coming from Mudkip’s house.”  The guild master kept a stern look, not showing a hint of emotion, but Weavile was more than aware that the news shocked him.  “Hawlucha was on his way back from the Square when he saw it, but...he also reported that...the blood’s not exactly crimson.”

“Then we’ll have to assume its color is of a dark-green, the blood of a grass Pokemon.”  He had already made his decision. Calmly, the guild master walked down the balcony steps, and stood in front of his assistant, his eyes affixed to his.  “I’m unsure of when I’ll return, but I’m leaving my responsibilities to you in my stead.”

“I’m sure I can handle it,” the Weavile said, knowing how much he cared for the kid.

“And you will.”  Without another word, Guildmaster Ivysaur moved towards the stairs, and left to seek out the young Mudkip and his parents.

Chapter Text

Kushi had found Adrian sitting alone in Susano’s basement, where he had been allowed to stay.  He sat on the second bottomost step to the ground, facing the dirt wall. “Adrian,” she called out to him.  “Susano is ready to train.” There was no response from him. “Adrian, is there something troubling you?” He turned to look at her with dejected eyes, and put on a warm smile that seemed almost artificial.  

“Eh, I’m good,” is what he said, before giving her a thumbs-up, his hand shaking.  “Everything’s fine.” He could barely even mutter that. Adrian looked away from her, wanting to be left alone, then heard the sound of creaking wood.  He turned back to see Kushi walking down the steps, keeping a hold on her pregnant belly. Adrian sighed and scootched to the right, giving her enough space to sit down beside him.  

He stared down at the floor.  His face twisted, as if he was in pain and holding back tears.  “Please.” Kushi gently placed her hand on his knees. “If you have anything on your mind, I’d like you to say it.  Whatever it is, you can tell it to me.”

“Uh, you know, there might be something troubling me,” he said, trying to poke fun at himself.  “I’ve been here for the past month, and I can’t stop thinking about everybody back home. It’s been gnashing at the back of my mind for so long.  ‘Hey, where did Adrian go?’” He scoffed at himself. “Somewhere that isn’t Brooklyn.” Adrian chuckled, nervously, clasping his hands together. “They probably think I’m dead.  That’s alotta existential dread, if you don’t want to add on the perpetual loneliness. Then it’s even worse.”  

Adrian thought back to all the moments in his childhood.  “There was this pizza place that my mom used to take me to-”  He shook his head, and laughed at himself. “I take it there aren’t any pizza joints around?”

“I’ve never heard of a pizza,” Kushi confessed.

Adrian pointed at her and winked.  “That’s the joke. So, my mom and I would always go there every Saturday.  It didn’t matter when. Sometimes, I brought my friends along. But, we always went, regardless.  Their pizza was alright. I’ve had better. It wasn’t groundbreaking, but it was always the place to ‘escape from the everyday monotony.’  That’s how my mom always put it...It closed two weeks later, before I disappeared, which adds insult to injury.” Adrian started thinking about his friends again, his family, his home.  “Do you think I’m ever gonna see them again?”

“Adrian, I know that it hasn’t been easy for you, but you mustn’t give up hope.”

“Seems like there’s a lot of incentive to give up hope,” Adrian admitted.  “It’s not like the U.S. is in swimming distance, anyway.”

“I’m sure you’ll find a way to return to them one day.  I’m not sure when, but I know it’ll happen. It might not be tomorrow.  It might not be in the following month. But, I’m sure that you’ll reunite with your friends and family.”

Even if Adrian had his doubts, Kushi's words were something he definitely needed to hear.  “Yeah, I’m secretly hoping that, too. Thanks for the pep talk. Tell Susano I’ll be up in a minute.  I’m gonna squeeze out as much time as I can to calm myself down.”


 

Adrian let out a furious scream, swinging at Susano with a wooden sparring sword.  He blocked it with his own without much effort, gripping onto the handle with only his right hand.  The blunted greatsword he wielded was a near identical replica of the one he used to slay the dreaded Orochi, to save the woman he loved, who watched him and the foreigner train at a safe distance.  Her and their unborn child sat on the steps that led up to the doorway of their home. “That all you got,” he boasted to Adrian. Using his free hand, he jabbed at the side of Adrian’s gut, and knocked him on his back.

Susano jumped at him, raising his sword overhead.  He swung down, and to his surprise, Adrian had managed to block.  Then he snickered, before kicking Susano’s shin. He staggered back, letting out a painful grunt.  Adrian rolled backward, and got to his knees with a satisfied smirk on his face. Then Susano smirked too, seeing how much he’s improved over the past month.  “Not bad,” he said.

Adrian got back to his feet, keeping a firm grip on the handle of his sword.  “Why thank you,” he said, grasping onto its lower half with his other hand. “How’d you like my tri-”  Then Susano abruptly stepped forward, and swung at Adrian’s right side, causing him to shout. He blocked his strike, albeit barely, before Susano quickly spun around and aggressively slashed at his left.  Adrian blocked that too, but the blow was so hard, it put large cracks in his sparring sword, and chips of wood to scatter.

Then Susano slashed at him once again, and Adrian was forced to step back.  As he did, the very tip of the large blade came into contact with his chest, and he was back on the ground.  Adrian groaned. “Can we count that as a dodge,” he teasingly asked.

“Hmm, nope.”  Adrian chuckled, before rolling to Susano’s left, who stood his ground, and placed one knee in front of the other, observing his every move.  Adrian stood back up, and threw his broken sword at him. Susano eyed it down, and swung at it, with enough force that it broken blade shattered in the air.  

And while he was distracted, Adrian took his chance to circle around him, flanking his right.  He curled his hand into a fist, and brought it up to the side of Susano’s bearded face. And then Adrian felt the hilt of his sword smashing into his ribs.  All the air escaped from his lungs, and he fell to his knees. His body dropped forward, and he started gasping for air, coughing and wheezing. “Yep, okay. That hurt,” he said, before coughing some more.

Susano kneeled beside him, and eyed him down, with a satisfied smirk of his own.  “Then don’t try to sneak up on me next time.”

It made Adrian chuckle.  “You know, the actual strange thing is that I thought it would work.”

Susano stood.  “You still have a long way to go.”  Then he looked over at Kushi, who seemed tense from watching them train.

“Is he alright,” she suddenly asked.

“I’d like to think so,” Adrian shouted, feeling a throbbing in his chest.  He clenched his fists, before trying to push himself up with his arms. It only made the pain worse, and his arms gave out.  The side of his face hit the ground. “Asides the fact that Susano might’ve broken a rib.”

“You’ll be fine,” Susano said, before lending out a hand.  Adrian grabbed on, and he pulled him back to his feet.

The pain in his chest briefly surged through the rest of his body, making him shut his right eye and clench his teeth.  “After my ribs heal, sure,” Adrian said, trying to shrug it off. “You got any more sparring swords hiding around? I want to keep going.”  The throbbing continued, and he pressed his hands against his chest.

Watching him grimace in pain had only made it seem like a bad idea.  Having the need to intervene, Kushi stepped in before Adrian or her husband could do something reckless.  “Perhaps it’s not a good idea to keep training for now.” She rested a hand on Adrian’s shoulder. “You’re hurt.  Give yourself some time to rest.” Adrian briefly glanced over at Susano, before looking back at her and nodding. She nodded back with a warm smile.

Susano looked away from Adrian and Kushi as he crossed his arms.  “Erm, sorry.” And to his surprise, he spotted something underneath the stairs that made his eyes glimmer.  “Ah, ha ha ha. So that’s where you were!”  

“Uh, another sparring sword,” Adrian asked, before Susano suddenly rushed up to the steps and popped half his body underneath the open space.  He reached his arm out and grabbed hold onto whatever he had found. He crawled out from the space, and raised a jug of sake into the air, laughing triumphantly.  Adrian pointed at it. “Or that.”

Susano held it to his chest and embraced it.  “So that’s where you were hiding.” He reached for the cork that sealed the mouth of the jug, twisting it and pulling it out of the hole.  It fell to the ground, before Susano began chugging down all that sake. He abruptly stopped, and looked over at Adrian. “You want some,” he asked.  Adrian shook his head, staring at him awkwardly. “More for me.” Then Susano chugged the rest of it down. His head began to spin and he dropped the jug, then sat down.  “I’m gonna take a nap, Adrian. We’ll finish our training later.” Susano closed his eyes, leaning against the side of the stairway, and he passed out. A bubble of snot emerged from his nose and he began to snore loudly.

“Well I guess we’re done for the day,” Adrian said to Kushi.  “Just half a jug of sake and he’s already passed out. How much alcohol did you put in it?”

“The usual,” Kushi said.  “To be fair, he’s already drank quite a bit today.”

“And this early?”  Even after living in Kamiki Village for a month, it still shocked him.  “He’s really gotta work on his drinking problem.”

“He really does.”  Kushi noticed the discomforted look on his face, and then she looked down at his chest.  Underneath the jerkin he wore and the white undershirt Susano had first found him in, there was a wound left untreated.  “As much as it worries me, I think I should check on your wound. If you could come with me.”

Adrian nodded.  “Sure.” Kushi smiled and nodded back at him, before following her.  Near the home of Susano was a bridge that the two walked across. Underneath it was a stream that led out to a large body of water that surrounded the village.  And on their left was a mill, connected to a hut where Kushi had brewed her sake.  

After they reached the other side of the bridge, Adrian felt a cold stare come from one of the villagers.  A large woman wearing a filled bucket on her head was eyeing him down, standing in the center of a small radish farm nearby.  Uncomfortably, he waved her. She went back to picking more turnips after that, refusing to even acknowledge him. Adrian turned his head away from the rest of Kamiki Village, hoping that the locals hadn’t been giving him the exact same stares.

Although Adrian was good at hiding the way he felt, Kushi could tell that it really bothered him.  It upset her to see how some of the villagers had treated him, for being a foreigner not native to Nippon.  As the air became unsettling, she couldn’t help thinking about her stepson whose circumstances weren’t too unsimilar to Adrian’s.  After a long minute, Adrian and Kushi had finally arrived at her hut, and the two went inside.

Kushi moved over to a shelf opposite of the inactive millstone, and started searching through its compartments.  “Okay, it should be somewhere around here.” Quickly, she glanced back over at Adrian. “Uh, take off your shirt.”

Adrian chuckled.  “That’s an interesting thing to say to a fifteen year old.”

Kushi was insulted by that.  “Adrian,” she said with a scowl on her face.  “I can only pray that the baby didn’t hear that.”

“I mean, he’s not exactly old enough to pick up on the subtext.”  Kushi’s face twisted into a sneer. “Erm, sorry. I won’t do that again.”  

Then Kushi looked at him with a satisfied smirk.  “Good.” She searched through the cupboard some more, and eventually discovered a long strip of cloth wrapped with string.  

Deciding to get it over with, Adrian took off his jerkin, and clasped his hands onto the bottom of his shirt.  “Alright, let’s see how ugly this looks.” Then he raised it, to see a dark purple bruise on the left side of his body that was starting to swell.  “Oh, look at that. Susano might have actually broken a rib.”  

He noticed Kushi walking up to him, unwrapping the string around the cloth.  She got closer than he was comfortable with. A bead of sweat dropped down from the side of his brow, while she wrapped the cloth around his torso, tightly enough that it stopped the swelling.  When she was finished, she stepped back, and sighed in relief.

“Good as new,” Kushi said.  “How are you feeling?” Adrian seemed like he was distracted by something.  “Um.”

“Uh, good as new,” Adrian suddenly shouted.  “Everything is fine!” He quickly shook his head and took a quick breath.  He gave her a thumbs-up and an awkward smile, followed by a second of awkward silence.  “So, uh...what’s up?”

“I’m...well,” she responded, followed by another second of awkward silence.  Kushi looked over at the balcony beside the water mill. “Perhaps some fresh air could do you some good.”

“Fresh air would be nice,” Adrian admitted.

“And for the baby too.”  Adrian nodded in agreement, and the two moved over to the balcony.  In front of it was the same stream from before. Kushi looked into the water, at her own reflection, and then up at the hills.  “It certainly is beautiful out.” Adrian nodded again. “I can’t wait to show all this to Kuni someday.”

“Wait, which one,” Adrian asked.  Kushi rested a hand on her stomach.  “That one. So, when are you expecting?”

“Oh, anytime now.  He could come into this world as early as today, or even in a few days.  I’m really excited, and rather nervous.”

“Eh, I’m sure you’ll put the pieces together as you go along.”

“Thank you.”

Adrian nodded.  “Still kind of a weird choice to name both your kids Kuni.”

“We wanted to name him after our first boy,” Kushi admitted, before her mind began to linger on him.  “Have I ever told you about him?”

“Susano mentioned him in a one-off conversation.  Didn’t seem really happy about it. But, from I could piece together, it seems like he’s going through something similar to me.”  Adrian recalled that Kuni had left some time before he had arrived, to go on a journey of self-discovery. “You ever keep in touch with him?  Like, do you have a correspondence?” 

“Sadly, no, but I pray that he’ll return to us safely someday.”

“Hopefully he does.  I wouldn’t mind meeting him.”

Kushi’s eyes returned to the hill, before she looked directly up at the sky.  “It’s been said that Amaterasu paints a sun in the sky every morning, like a canvas.  It’s why we have days.”

“Does she also draw a moon every night,” Adrian asked, as playfully as he was curious.

“Yumigami is the one responsible for nightfall.”

“Are you sure,” he said to tease her.  “You guys have so many gods and goddesses, it’s impossible to ke͠e͢p ͟tŗa͡ck on ̨t̛h͞e͜m a͝l͟l.͠"̶  A͏̶d͡͠r̸̕ia͏n ͠f͘͠el̡̕t̢͝ ҉a͟͡n̸̶͡ơ͜t̶̢ḩe̶̴̛r̶͞ p͢re͘͠s̢e̶̕͜n̢c҉̢ę͟ ̨̕w͏a̕t͏̨ch͟įņ͜g̛҉ ͟͠t͞he̛m on̨͘ ̶҉t͘͘͢he̸͠ ̶̡̕ǫ҉t̷͜h̶̡e̡͢r͟͞ ̛͜s̢i̕͞d̨e o̧̕f̵͘ ̷t̶̷̨h͢ȩ̶͡ ̧r̵͡i̡̕v̕͡e̛͜ŗ͟.̶҉̵ H͟͝͞e̸ ̨ş̛a͘͜w ̶YŞ͜͟B̡̨n͠a̷X̧͡J̧s̸͘ ̕th͡a͜t̶҉͟b̷2͘͡5͢s̢ee͘͞m̸e̶d҉͜͠C͢B̧Ņ̡oųt͜z̸d͏͠o̷̶f̛͏2̸͢E̴=͟p̧͘͢l͠҉ą͟͡c̕͠e͘p̧̨ai҉n̸S͜nV̷̨N̢̛i̧p̸p͏͞o͢͞n̛͝.̡ ҉͡ ̶͞"͘W̧ḩa̴t̸ ͏th̶e҉̸͘ f̷u̧c̡k̸͠,҉͜͠" A͞dr̸įan̸͜ ̴w҉̕hi̕͏s̸p̵̛e͘͟͡r̴͘ed ͜u̢n̴̛de̡̨r h̷i̵͝s̴̨ ̡͠͏br͘e͏a͘͠t͞h̛̛͢.͜

His demeanor had changed so suddenly that it almost frightened her.  "Adrian," she called out, to no response. "Adrian." Then Adrian quickly jerked his head in Kushi's direction, appearing to be traumatized by something.  "Are you alright?"

Adrian looked back at what was on the other side of the river, to see that it was gone.  What made him feel worse was that he actually recognized its presence. He had a hunch as to where it came from, and the implications alone terrified him and made him say, "I don't know."

Chapter Text

In a room somewhere, there was an odd creature in a deep sleep.  After some time, its eyes began to open. It stared directly up at the ceiling, and noticed that it was made with branches and leaves.  Then the creature jumped out of bed, noticing that the frame that surrounded the mattress was made from bamboo. Then, it looked down and got a look at its body.  It noticed that they were a small and round creature with blue skin. It gazed at its small stubby arms and its darker blue feet. And after a second of processing its appearance, it replied with a neutral “Okay.” 

The creature spotted a door on the other side of the room.  It shrugged and walked over to it. Gradually, they realized that the walls had also been constructed with bamboo, stacked on top of one another and held up with hempen rope, and so was the door.  Slowly, they opened that door, and it made a loud creaking sound. It left the room, only to see that they were in another room with bamboo walls.  

They saw an elder Cappy watering a small bamboo plant that was inside a bamboo pot with a bamboo pitcher.  And they were also wearing a robe made from bamboo sticks. It filled the creature with discomfort. “Oh god,” it muttered under its breath.

And then the old Cappy heard him, despite not hearing the door creak.  “Oh?” The old man turned to look at the creature in great surprise. “Ah, you’re awake.”  He excitedly ran over to the creature, leaving the pitcher on the very edge of the small bamboo table that the plant resided on.  “I can’t believe it! You’ve been asleep for such a long time! I thought you would never wake up! How are you feeling?”

The creature looked at him dead in the eyes and said, "Hell."

“Well, hello to you too.”  The old man winked at them, with a smile under his beard.  The creature could tell that something was off about him, and they squinted at the elder.  “So, I take it you’re hungry.” The Cappy clapped his hands twice. “I was just getting breakfast started.  You must be starving.”

The creature just stood there, confused.  “Uh-huh,” was all they could really say.

“Excellent.”  The elder suddenly grabbed them by their stubby arm, and started dragging them into a different room, as the pitcher fell over and water spilled onto the floor.  “Come, come. I can’t wait for you to try this.” They were brought into another room that looked exactly the same as the other two rooms, except there was a table in the center of it.  And unsurprisingly, it was made with bamboo. The elder lifted the creature up and placed them on a chair built with what the entire house was built with. “I promise, it’s gonna be the best meal you’ve ever eaten in your life.”

“Okay.”  And only after a short time, the creature wanted to get out of there.  They watched the elder rush into another room to their right, with a gleeful smile on his face.

The elder suddenly stopped and turned back to them.  “Ah, ah, ah. No peeking. I want this to be a surprise.”

The creature rolled their eyes and stared at the wall ahead of them.  There were no windows to look out of and nothing to see. There was only bamboo, and their first minutes were nothing but sorrow and agony and mild annoyances.  The creature wondered if the elder was going to feed them bamboo. And then a plate was abruptly placed right in front of them, made with what was obvious at that point.  And they saw what was on that plate. It was an indescribable light-green mesh with steam emerging from it. It put a hollow smile on their face.

“This one’s my favorite,” the elder said.  

The creature slowly twisted their entire body to face him.  “YEAH?!”

“Of course.  It’s a delicacy.”  The elder looked at them expectantly, and with anticipation.  “Go on, have a bite.” They slowly turned back to whatever that steaming abomination was, with the same hollow smile.  Slowly and reluctantly, they reached out and grabbed a chunk of it, only for it to fall apart and drop to the ground. “Oh, don’t worry about that.  I’ll clean it later. Come on.”

Wanting to just leave, the creature pushed the plate a little forward, and hopped on top of the table in front of it.  Slowly, they looked down at the abomination, the steam getting into their eyes. If the creature had a nose and smelt it, they would probably begin to experience something far worse than death.  They slowly opened their mouth, attempting to hold back tears, and placed the very tip of their tongue on the mesh. It tasted very bland and soggy, and anticlimactic, but it was more than clear to them of what it once was.  Bamboo.

“Uh.”  The elder looked on in confusion.  “I don’t think you’re supposed to be eating it like that.”  The blue ball just looked at the old man, utterly frustrated at that point.  “Oh.” The elder Cappy looked at him in pity. “I see...You don’t know how to eat, do you?  Poor thing.”

Even more frustrated, the creature popped their tongue back into its mouth.  “Bruh.”

“Bruh?”  The elder’s look of pity had become one of wonder.  “As in brother? Do you think I’m your brother?” The creature growled at him, feeling a seething rage for the first time.  “I thought you already had a brother.”

They immediately stopped.  “What?”

“You have to be Kirby’s brother, right?  Kirby’s?”

Now they were confused.  “What?”

“Oh, my apologies.  I thought you were related to him.  You look just like him, from what I’ve seen, except he’s pink with red feet.”  The creature had gone from frustrated and confused to having his full attention.  Now it was curious. “He’s usually around these two other kids at this town very far away.  Um, two weeks, on foot, as a matter of fact.”  

The apparent lookalike stopped paying attention to the elder after that, as they went on a rant involving bamboo.  A smirk washed over their face, realizing that a mutual benefit was involved. They wanted to know where that town was.  “Where,” it asked.

“Turned out the sale on bamboo stock ended a week before I go-”

“Where?!” 

“Oh, the town?”  The elder pointed his own stubby hand forward.  “I think if you keep going that way-”

“Bye!”  The creature had already opened the door as he was talking.  They went outside and slammed it shut, and like that, they were outside.  It was truly the first time in their entire life he had felt such a relief, until he realized where they were.  Any semblance of relief they once had, had been utterly crushed. They were in a bamboo forest, one that went as far as the eye could see.  The creature was on the verge of a complete meltdown. They wanted to scream in rage, yet they were only able to express themselves calmly, and with a single word.  “Fuck.”

Chapter Text

The guild master had spent some time travelling up the hill.  It was oddly silent, with only a gentle breeze passing by. The Ivysaur’s eyes slowly leered down at the bristles of grass, flowing in the wind.  He noticed several feet away from him that the grass had been darkened by a thick green puddle of blood, and he slowly approached it, only to see it trailing up the hill.  In shock, the guild master shook his head, wondering what the young Mudkip had gotten himself into.


 

The two Marshtomp had recently finished cleaning the blood off the sandstone floor, while their son had remained upstairs to keep an eye on the Bulbasaur.  The Mudkip’s father sat down on the bottom most step of the stairs, holding onto a cloth stained with a dark green. He looked at it, and sighed. “Gotta say,” he said to his wife.  “Today really has been interesting. The poor kid lost his memory.”

“Yeah,” she said sadly, placing her cloth in a wooden bucket filled with muddled water.  “If I woke up one day with no memories, away from my home, I don’t think I’d be able to handle it.  I can’t imagine what’s going through that Bulbasaur’s head right now.” Her husband stood and moved over to her, and nodded with a sullen face.  Then they heard a knock at the door. Having a hunch as to who it could be, Marshtomp went to open it, only to have her hunch confirmed. “Oh, guild master, hey.  It’s good to see you.”

“It’s good to see you as well.”  The Ivysaur was strangely anxious, yet he kept a stern face.  “Your son and I were supposed to have a meet this morning, yet…”  He couldn’t help staring at the blood under his feet, and the longer he stared, the more anxious it made him.  “I see you’re in a rather bleak predicament.”  

“It’s pretty bleak,” Marshtomp admitted.  “Luckily, Mudkip isn’t hurt, but…” She looked back at her husband, and he nodded.  “I think this is something you need to see for yourself. Can you come in?” The guild master nodded.  

Marshtomp stepped aside and held the door open to let him in.  Along with her husband, they escorted him up to the second level and into their son’s room.  And when the guild master first saw the unconscious Bulbasaur resting in his bed, his usual stern face and calm demeanor had completely shattered.  For what seemed like the first time, he had visibly lost his composure and he was utterly horrified.

“Yeah.  He was bleeding out pretty badly when Mudkip found him,” Marshtomp said, as her son slowly turned around to face them, noticeably shy.  “It’s a miracle that he even survived. It was a miracle to even stop the bleeding.” The Ivysaur hadn’t seemed to notice that she was speaking.  “Guild master?”

And he immediately snapped out of his daze.  “Yes, of course. He’s more than lucky to be alive-”

“He doesn’t remember who he is,” Mudkip had suddenly said, after he built up his confidence.  The guild master had been surprised by what he had told him. Then he looked down at the floor, and felt embarrassed for speaking out of term.  

The Ivysaur nodded, and shut his eyes.  “Very well.” Then he opened them, and a decision was made.  “We should allow the Bulbasaur to rest for as long as he needs, and in the meantime, I intend to return to my guild and acquire medicine and fresh berries for him.”  And then he brought his head down and bowed. “If you’ll have me.”

The guild master had seemed to bow in the direction of her son, who appeared too nervous to speak up.  “Uh, I think that would be a great idea,” his mother said. “Thank you.” Ivysaur stood and gave her a nod as well.  

Then her husband stepped forward.  “And if you want, I can come along, in case you need an extra pair of hands.  Or, fins, but either way, I’m your guy.”

“The extra help would certainly be appreciated,” the guild master admitted.  “But I advise that we set for the guild immediately-”

“Sir?”  Then the guild master’s eyes were locked on Mudkip’s.  “Um, if I could say something?”  

“Of course.”

Mudkip’s lips began to quiver.  “I just wanted to say that I’m sorry for missing today’s meeting.  I know it was an important one, b-but…” Mudkip needed to stand by his decision, but he felt like he was going to crack.  “I needed to do-”

“What was right, and you have,” the guild master assured him.

“Is there any way you can forgive me?”  Mudkip realized how selfish he sounded, and wished that he never asked that.  

The Ivysaur gave him a patient smile.  “As if there was anything to forgive. Mudkip, when you first stumbled upon this Bulbasaur, what was the first thing that came to your mind?”

“That I needed to help him.”

“And I seem to recall that being the reason why you joined my guild in the first place.  Despite your affliction, you could no longer stand idly by while the innocent suffered.” His gaze went over to the resting Bulbasaur.  “And your actions saved this boy’s life. It appears to be so. And once again, I ask, what was the first thing that came to mind when you stumbled upon this boy?"

And his anxiety, his nervousness, and doubt all seemed to have faded away in that moment, and Mudkip knew the answer.   “That I needed to save this Bulbasaur’s life,” he reaffirmed to his superior and teacher, boasting a rediscovered confidence.  However, there was something lingering in his mind.

Pride in his student had made the guild master’s smile widen.  He saw a determination in him, normally kept hidden. “And you’ll be saving many more, that I’m certain of.”  Then the Ivysaur turned back to his father with his own. “We must away, Marshtomp. The sooner we leave, the sooner-”

“There’s something else I have to say, too.”  Mudkip had spent some time figuring out a way to explain it and he figured out how.  As uncomfortable as it was being back in the center of attention, he was ready to speak up.  “The Bulbasaur, h-he was the one who came up to me. I was on my way to the guild when he...when he showed up out of nowhere, I guess.  That’s really the best way I can phrase it.”  

Mudkip turned around, and watched the Bulbasaur calmly resting.  “He was just there, and he came up to me, and he was shaking and crying, and begging for my help.  There was blood pouring out from the gash on his head, and he just passed out.” And then he brought his attention back to the Ivysaur.  “Guild master, do have any ideas on what could have happened?”

And for the first time in ages, the guild master was unsure if it was a question he could answer.


 

The Bulbasaur had woken up, and his body felt extremely heavy.  He tried to lift his head off the soft hay resting underneath it, yet it was impossible.  He even struggled to keep his eyes open, before spotting someone else in the room by the doorway.  At first, he suspected the Mudkip, but it was one of his parents. He tried calling out to them, but all he could let out was a weakened grunt.

Marshtomp turned around, to see that the Bulbasaur was conscious and he was staring at her.  She ran up to him, and knelt beside him. “You’re awake. How are you feeling?”

Bulbasaur had lost his memory, and his head was throbbing.  “Like that’s a great thing to ask,” he said bitterly, his throat scratchy and dry.

Marshtomp rolled her eyes with a smirk on her face.  “Well, to be fair, I am a doctor checking up on her patient.  Makes a little sense as to why I’d be asking that.”

“I guess I’m feeling a little better,” the Bulbasaur admitted, despite feeling worse.

“That’s good to hear.  So, we had a visitor come over today, while you were asleep.  Guildmaster Ivysaur. Have you heard of him?” Bulbasaur’s eyes sank to the floor, and he weakly shook his head.  “Oh, that’s a first. You see, the guild master is...Well, I guess you could say that he’s a pretty popular figurehead in the Air Continent.  He’s done a lot of good-”

“The Air Continent?”

“That’s where we are.”  Marshtomp recalled that the Bulbasaur had forgotten everything about himself.  She took pity on him, and wanted to help in any way she could. She remembered the story Mudkip had told her, and wondered if he was even from the Air Continent.  “If it’s alright, could I ask you another question?”

Bulbasaur had a feeling as to what she was going to ask him, and it made him uncomfortable.  Regardless of how he felt, he answered with, “I guess you could.”

“Do you have any ideas on where you could have come from?  Anywhere at all?”

“I wish I had an answer for that.”  And Bulbasaur hated it.

It seemed that her question was bothering him.  “Sorry for asking.” Marshtomp decided to change the topic and sat down.  “Anyhow, my husband and the guild master are on their way to his guild. If you went downstairs and looked out the window, you could actually see it at the bottom of the hill.  And it’s a pretty long walk, but I’m sure they’ll be back soon-”

“Why would he want to help me,” the Bulbasaur asked.

“Well, to be fair, again, you two just so happen to be on the same evolutionary line, but I know it’s not that simple with the guild master.  He would have helped you, no matter what breed of Pokemon you were. That sounds a lot simpler, actually. He even helped my son, who’s been a member there for the past year.”  Marshtomp’s mind began to wander towards the line of work he had decided to go into, and it made her anxious. She sighed. “It really helped him out of his shell. He’s made some pretty good friends there too.”  The Marshtomp couldn’t help staring at the wall.

Bulbasaur noticed her sudden change in demeanor.  “Is something wrong?”

Marshtomp suddenly looked back at him.  “Oh, it’s nothing.” She didn’t want the Bulbasaur to worry.  “I’m sure there’s a lot going through your head right now. If there’s anything I can do to help, anything at all-”

“You can start by telling me what’s going through yours.”

Marshtomp wasn’t sure if she should tell him anything, after all the things he had been through that day, yet the young Bulbasaur stared at her with demanding eyes.  A picture came into her head, the same one she had always seen. “My son has a hard time controlling his emotions. He has a lot of problems with his anxiety. It used to be so much worse, but he decided to join the guild anyway, because he wanted to save others.  Because it was right. When you join the guild, you have to stay there for a year, to train and to learn the ways of a rescue team. Do you know what those are?”

It was more than obvious to Bulbasaur what they were.  “I can take a guess.”

The Marshtomp nodded.  “And that year has passed, and now he’s gonna form one and go into those places.”

“What places,” Bulbasaur asked.

“Sorry.  I’m used to it being common knowledge.  He’s going into mystery dungeons. Do you want to know what those are?”  The Bulbasaur stared on, intently. “They’re places in the Continents that are exceptionally dangerous.  My patients have told me some pretty gruesome stories about them, and they had the wounds to show for it.  

Imagine being in a maze that constantly changes every time you go into it, with all the wildlife inside becoming so deranged, they aren’t even Pokemon anymore.  Just mindless killers. Innocent Pokemon can find themselves trapped in one, and they may never come out again. That’s why rescue teams were formed, Bulbasaur, so that they can go into one and save them, or go insane trying to find their dead bodies...I shouldn’t be so cynical about it, but what if...I’m sorry, I shouldn’t be putting you through all this right now.”  Marshtomp desperately tried to hold back tears, yet one seeped down her face, one that Bulbasaur saw.

“Do they usually have partners,” Bulbasaur asked.

“Usually, but sometimes, others go independent.”

And Bulbasaur realized something.  “Your son doesn’t have a partner, does he?”

The Marshtomp looked back at the Bulbasaur, and realized what he was asking.


 

Guildmaster Ivysaur and Mudkip’s father had arrived at the guild, after a long journey.  They spotted his assistant near the entryway. The Weavile the middle of a conversation with Ludicolo, the guild’s head chef, before he spotted them.  “Guild master’s back,” Weavile told him. “We’ll catch up later.”

“I’ll see you, man.”  Ludicolo said that, before walking deeper into the guild.

Weavile went over to the two.  “Well, you came back sooner than I expected,” he told the Ivysaur, before bringing his attention to the Marshtomp.  “Is Mudkip okay?”

“Yeah, he’s fine,” Marshtomp said.  “It’s our unexpected houseguest that isn’t.  We came for medicine and stuff.”

“And fresh berries to go along with it,” the guild master interjected.  “Accompany us Weavile, and I will explain everything.”

Then the three of them journeyed across the first floor.  Guildmaster Ivysaur had explained to Weavile of the wounded Bulbasaur Mudkip had found, while his father followed behind them.  The story was rather disturbing, but all of it added up with Hawlucha’s report. “I know I’m not a ghost Pokemon, but how the hell could anyone survive that?”  He almost shouted that, as they passed the Hawlucha himself playing a board game with a Staryu.

“Language,” he shouted at him, in a teasing manner.

“Shut your mouth,” Weavile shouted back, half-joking.  

“To be fair, you are kind of a dark-type,” the Marshtomp pointed out.

“Half ice too, but that’s besides the point.  That Bulbasaur bled out enough to make a visible trail to your house.  With all that blood-loss, he should be dead.”

“He should be,” the guild master confessed, “yet in spite of that, he survived anyway.  It’s quite miraculous. Imagine the other miracles that could happen, once he takes the medicine.”

“It’ll make him good as new,” Marshtomp said.

“That’s usually the point of taking medicine,” was Weavile’s response.

“As is its purpose,” the guild master added on.

After the three of them walked past an artificial pond built into the center of the room they stopped in front of a closed cabinet, standing underneath the spiraling staircase.  “And speaking of medicine,” Weavile said, before moving over to it and opening its doors by their hinges. “Pick your poison.” He snickered at the irony.  

Inside were dozens of small wooden vials, all labelled with the names of corresponding berries used in their mixtures, and were neatly organized on five separate shelves.  Guildmaster Ivysaur approached it and browsed the cabinet’s contents, looking for the right vial, and spotted it on the second bottomost shelf. He reached out to it using the vine underneath the large tulip on his back.  He brought it close to his eye to inspect the label, which said “OrPer.” Seeing it was the right one, he nodded.

“Very good,” the Ivysaur said, before turning to his assistant.  “Very well organized.”

“Well, in the event of something crazy happening, I checked to make sure all these vials were neatly organized,” Weavile jokingly said, sounding almost patronizing.  “And then something crazy happ-” Then the ground lightly shook.

The guild became silent after that.  Everyone stood in place, out of an intense fear of what could come next.  And then the earth began to shake violently. The fearful silence had been replaced with the screams of several guild members.  The guild master’s first response was to immediately slam the cabinet doors shut, to minimize any damage to the medicine.  

Water flooded out from the artificial pond, as cracks began to form around the guild’s walls, even reopening older ones.  A Wooper had suddenly jumped out from the pond and took cover. The youngest recruit then broke into tears.  

Parts of the guardrails connected to the spiraling stairs had snapped off and hit the ground.  One of them even landed in front of Marshtomp, and it caused him to jump back and yelp. The ground shook too hard for him to even keep his balance, and he fell over.  He spotted another broken piece of the guardrail falling towards him, as the screams and sobs overwhelmed his senses. And then he spotted the vine of Guildmaster Ivysaur slashing through it, splitting it in two.  The two segments landed behind him and to his right.  

The Ivysaur ran up to him and helped him back on his feet.  “Are you alright?” Marshtomp’s entire body shook along with the earthquake, and he weakly nodded.  Several of his newer recruits were running rampant while his more experienced ones tried to calm them down.  “Guild members, collect yourselves! Take cover, NOW!”


 

Mudkip had looked out the window when the earthquake started.  His heart was racing, as chips of the ceiling scattered across the room and cracks formed along the wall.  He even felt his mind cracking. The Mudkip’s head started to spin. “No, no, no!” He rushed to the center of the room and hit the floor.  His chest was so tight, he thought he couldn’t breathe. He thought he was dying, as the world around him became grainy and muddled.  

On the upper level, after a moment of silence between her and the Bulbasaur, Marshtomp let out an infuriated scream.  “Why does it have to be now?!”

“What’s happening,” Bulbasaur tried to shout, but the Marshtomp wasn’t able to hear him.  It took him a moment to process that the room was shaking, and another to realize it was an earthquake.  His heart started to race, and his senses seemed to sharpen drastically. He could hear the sound of a light cracking come from directly above him.  And the moment he heard the ceiling collapse, he instinctively leapt off the bed. It was crushed under the rubble, as Bulbasaur somehow landed near the doorway, perfectly on all four feet.

Marshtomp saw what the Bulbasaur had done, and struggled to process what just happened.  He leapt so fast, that she would have missed it if she blinked. “Bulbasaur?” He turned around, before his legs gave out from under him.  His eyes closed, as she ran over to him. “Bulbasaur!”


 

The Bulbasaur opened his eyes again, to see that he had been moved to the lower floor of the sandstone hut.  His eyes turned left to the window, to see that it was the middle of the night. And then saw the young Mudkip standing in front of him.

He stepped back, visibly blushing from embarrassment.  “Oh, I’m sorry. I thought you were sleeping.” Now he felt even more embarrassed.  “I, uh, I just wanted to see if you were okay.” Then Mudkip remembered something. “Oh, right.”  He rushed over to the stairway, where he had left a wooden vial on the bottom most step. He attempted to grab it with a non-opposable paw, and barely managed to do so.  “I wish I was a Marshtomp,” he muttered under his breath, before awkwardly running back to the Bulbasaur, afraid he would drop it. “H-here drink this. Dad said to give it you when you woke up.”

“I don’t even know what that is,” Bulbasaur said, bluntly.

“M-medicine.  It’ll help you heal faster.”

“Isn’t that the point of taking medicine?”

“Uh, yeah, oh…”  Mudkip chuckled, nervously, before cautiously popping the small cork out from the top.  As paranoid as he was about dropping it, he somehow managed to open the vial without much of a problem.  “Could you open your mouth? That sounded wrong.”  

The Bulbasaur looked at him in utter confusion, before complying.  Mudkip gently put the open end of the vial up to his mouth, and a violet liquid poured down his throat.  There was no taste to it, yet he felt like his insides were burning.  

After he drank it, the Mudkip gently placed the vial on the floor, eyeing it carefully.  Then he realized something. “Oh, no. I’m sorry, I should have told you about the terrible aftertaste.”

Bulbasaur was starting to get annoyed by his constant apologizing.  And then the aftertaste came. “It’s not that terrible,” he admitted.  “If anything, it’s bittersweet.” And surprisingly, it delighted him.

And Mudkip was surprised that it had.  “You actually liked it?”

“I think I did.”  And it gave him a hunch.  “I must have been into bittersweet things back...then.”

“That’s, uh, that’s great.  I’m happy for you. You might be a step closer to finding out who you-”  Bulbasaur then looked away from him and stared out the window, sullenly. “Oh, oh no.  I’m, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to-”

“It’s fine,” Bulbasaur said, preferring not to think about it.

Mudkip continued talking.  “To, uh, offend you.”

Now the Bulbasaur was exasperated.  “I’m more offended by your constant apologizing, if anything.”

“Oh, sorry abou...Oh great, I just proved your argument.  I’m s-” Mudkip managed to stop himself, and took a calming breath.

Bulbasaur’s mind wandered back to his memory loss.  “It’s not like I could control it away.”

“So, you’re okay with my constant apologizing?”  Mudkip realized that he was alluding to something else.  “Oh, you’re referring to t-that, the-”

“The fact that I lost my memory?  The fact that I don’t have any leads on who I once was, except that I’m into bittersweet foods and drinks?  Yeah, I’d like to think so.” The longer he dwelled on his forgotten past, the more frustrated he felt, until he saw a look of shock upon the Mudkip’s face.  Then his frustration was overtaken by guilt. “Maybe it’s my turn to apologize.”

“I forgive you,” he quickly said.

“That fast, huh?”  In that moment, Bulbasaur wondered if he deserved his forgiveness.  His eyes turned to the Mudkip’s parents, who were asleep on the far-end of the room.  They were laying on the ground, huddled together, their backs leaning against the wall.  It was a reminder of the events that unfolded that day. “I need to ask you about something.”  Mudkip responded with a nod. “The earthquake that happened, I can’t help but feel that...When it was happening, your mom said ‘Why does it have to be now’ and looking back at it...that wasn’t the first earthquake, was it?”

Discussing the earthquakes had only made him nervous, but the Bulbasaur needed to know the truth.  “It’s not just earthquakes, Bulbasaur. It’s volcanoes erupting and rivers flooding. Tornadoes, tidal waves.  Even Baram Town was engulfed in one of them. So many Pokemon died.” The Mudkip shook his head, and his eyes became watery.  

And the news was nothing short of horrifying to Bulbasaur.  “Mudkip, when did all this start,” he needed to ask.

“Two months ago.”  Mudkip sniffled, trying his best to hold back tears.  “Too long. It just hurts to even admit that. If only I could have gotten my act together two months sooner, I could have joined the guild two months sooner.  There could have been a chance to actually help them-”

“It isn’t your fault,” Bulbasaur suddenly interjected.  “Just don’t blame yourself for it, okay? Don’t do it.”

“I know.  That’s something I have to keep reminding myself of,” he admitted.  “It’s never healthy to think about the events that could have been. What really matters is all the decisions you make in the present, in the here and now.”  Saying that aloud had only made the Mudkip feel more out of place than he already had. “Ivysaur told me that.”

“The guild master,” Bulbasaur asked, the Mudkip’s words echoing through his head.

“N-no, his wife.  She works at the guild, and she’s an Ivysaur too.”

“You did say she was an Ivysaur.”

“R-right, I did.”  Mudkip chuckled again, holding back the urge to apologize.  “She helps people. Erm, sometimes, the other guild members have their own personal issues, and she’s there for them to talk to.  She even helped me, on ways I could cope with my anxiety...which I have.” Mudkip wished that he hadn’t admitted that, until he found something out.  “I don’t think I ever told you about Guildmaster Ivysaur.”

And the Bulbasaur recalled all the things his mother had told him.  Of the dangers her son was about to put himself through. Bulbasaur laid there, his head throbbing and his body heavy, yet despite that, his conscience was more than clear.  “Your mother told me,” he said. And his decision was made.

“Oh, okay.”  Mudkip noted the sudden change in his demeanor, as Bulbasaur stared at him with focused eyes, filled with determination.  “W-what else did she-”

“Do you want me to join your team, or not?”

Mudkip had no idea how to respond to that.  All he could do was stand there in the middle of the dark room, with mixed emotions going through his head.  Unbeknownst to him, his mother had overheard their conversation, and her lips curved into a smile.

Chapter Text

It was the middle of the night in Kamiki Village.  Adrian was alone in Susano’s basement, laying on his back on a round wooden platform used as a makeshift bed.  He blankly stared at the ceiling, thinking about the anomaly he saw, and the fact that he recognized it. He thought about the implications of what it could mean, until he saw a pink light appear from the corner of his right eye.  Then Adrian sat up in a panic. He slowly turned to face its source, which was located at the highest point of the staircase, obscuring the ladder behind it.  

Tense, Adrian clenched his hands into fists, and nervously looked into the light.  And then he saw what appeared to be the figure of a woman hidden within it. He unclenched his fist when he realized it was another presence he recognized, and unlike the last one, hers was far more welcoming.  However, questions began to flood his mind and he became tense again. Then the presence floated upward and took the light with her.  

“Wait.”  Desperate for answers, yet unsure, Adrian immediately scootched off the wooden platform and rushed up the staircase.  He saw several pink petals from a cherry blossom where the presence stood, scattered around the topmost step in front of the ladder.  Adrian quickly grabbed onto one of the rungs and climbed up it.  

Slowly, he peeked his head out from the opening leading to the upper floor, and surveyed the room.  He saw Susano and Kushi to his left, sleeping together on their own wooden platform in the center of the room.  Slowly, as to not wake them up, Adrian slowly climbed out of the hole and cautiously snuck past the two. As he was halfway across, the pink light returned, waiting for him outside the doorway.  To his surprise, neither Kushi nor Susano had been awoken by it.  

Adrian slowly headed towards the light, and eventually found himself outside.  It began moving towards the bridge, and he realized where he was being taken. Adrian crossed that bridge, and went into Kamiki Village.  He was the only one walking its streets, yet he felt as if another presence had been watching him. He turned around, walking backwards, only to realize that it was his mind playing tricks on him.  The only other being there was the otherworldly spirit he followed.

And he followed it up a winding trail that eventually diverged into two seperate paths.  Adrian knew where to go at that point, and he headed for the left one, simultaneously to the light.  He continued to walk up another winding trail that went further up the hill, and eventually stopped in front of a gargantuan sakura tree.  

Adrian had no idea why he had been summoned to the Konohana, but he saw it as an opportunity to find a semblance of closure.  He stepped forward, passing underneath a wooden gate. And the light began to float above him for a short time, before bursting into an array of petals as pink and vibrant as the ones on the tree.  And the spirit revealed herself as a young woman dressed in a kimono the same color as the leaves on the Konohana. She hovered back down to meet him face to face. “Adrian Williams.”  

“That is my full name,” Adrian said.  “And you’re Sakuya, right? Might have heard stories.”

“Perhaps you have.”

“It’s still kinda strange you decided to show yourself to a foreigner.  I wonder how this is gonna pan out?”

“In an unexpected way, I imagine.  I have been waiting to have this meet with you for quite some time.”

Adrian was surprised by that.  “That is unexpected,” he admitted.  “But, you know…” He pointed back in the direction of the village with his thumb.  “I’ve been hanging around Kamiki Village for the past month, so.” Adrian shrugged.

“You needed the time to adjust.”  Sakuya began to slowly pace towards him, and he put his hands in his pockets.  “To grow accustomed to your situation.” Adrian’s eyes were drawn to an opening in her kimono, and noticed a pair of leaves a part of her outfit, ones that partially covered her breasts.

“Uh.”  Then he immediately looked away, flustered.  “Y-yeah. Makes alotta sense.” He chuckled nervously, hoping that Sakuya hadn’t noticed his reddened cheeks.  Then he looked back at her, vowing to himself that he would never stare at her cleavage. “Still having a hard time doing that, though.  Getting accustomed.” His mind wandered back to the streets of New York, to the place he would never see again. “Coming to terms. You’d be surprised by the huge mental toll disappearing can take on a person.”

Sakuya now stood in front of Adrian, with a solemn look on her face.  “I’m sure I can.” She gently placed a hand on his cheek, and his eyes were drawn right back to the center of her teats.  “I’m sure that after all this time, the toll you’ve been given has affected you in ways I could never imagine. I truly pity you, Adrian.”

“Yeah,” he squeaked, before snapping out of his trance and stepping two paces back.  “Uh, yeah, definitely has, yeah. Thanks. I’d rather not angst about it, though.” He stopped to think about his mother and his friends.  “But, you’d be surprised by the amount of questions running rampant in my head that I’ve ironically been angsting about. First question is, why am I here?”  

Sakuya slowly turned to face the Konohana, observing the base of the tree.  There was a large hollow space inside it, where a statue of Nagi was built, holding up a broken sword and covered in moss, bearing an uncanny resemblance to his descendant, Susano.  And it was suddenly replaced by a light that emerged from the hole. Sakuya then looked back at Adrian. “Walk with me.”

Adrian looked deeply into that light, and then back to her.  He nodded, before Sakuya turned fully around and started walking.  Adrian’s eyes went to another opening in the back of her kimono, that showed off her ass.  “Oh my god,” he muttered, unable to look away.

Sakuya stopped, and looked back at him with a smug face.  “If you’d be so kind to stop gawking at my peach.”

“You knew?!”  Nervously, Adrian walked up alongside her and raised his hands in surrender.  “I’m not a pervert by the way, just a teenager. Sorry for staring.”  

“I’ve faced far worse, believe me,” Sakuya admitted.  Adrian lowered his arms, and there was another moment of silence between the two.  “Although…” Sakuya brought her attention back to the light. “It pales in comparison to what the world will soon face, and you Adrian, are one of the centerpieces in stopping it.”

It was shocking news to Adrian, yet he couldn’t help feeling that his arrival in Nippon had served a greater purpose, and he didn’t like that.  “Is that why you wanted to talk to me?”

Sakuya nodded with a sullen smile, afraid for the boy and what he would see.  “You asked me why you arrived in Nippon one day, why you were so horribly taken away from the ones you loved.  The answer you seek lies on the other side of that light, and I’ve seen it too. I was shown it, and it was horrifying.”

Adrian saw her lips begin to quiver, as she tightly clasped her hands together, from inside the long sleeves of her kimono.  “What did you see?”

“Something you’ll have to see for yourself, I’m afraid.”

The fact that even a supernatural entity was afraid had been enough to fill him with dread.  “Can I have another month to think about it?”

“I’m afraid not,” Sakuya said, sadly.

Now Adrian’s lips began to quiver.  “I wouldn’t mind a hint. Some foreshadowing would honestly be appreciated right now.”

Sakuya then gently wrapped her hand around Adrian’s.  “I know how much you’ve struggled, and how much this frightens you, but you need to be brave.  If you succumb to fear, then the world will succumb.”

“Why am I starting to hate that word?”  Adrian brought his eyes back to the light emerging from the space in the tree, and stared into it.  He slowly pulled his hand away from Sakuya’s, and she let go. “I’ll do it.” Without hesitating, he began to move towards the light while Sakuya stayed behind, standing in the same spot.  “If it means saving my friends, and my mom.” Then he looked back at her. “And the general population.” He quickly flashed her a smirk, before bringing his focus back to the light.  

The closer Adrian had gotten to it, the brighter it seemed to appear, to the point that it even put a heavy strain on his eyes.  He thought about the unknown force he would soon see, and a part of him screamed, begging him to run the other way. Another part of him thought about his loved ones, about Susano and Kushi and their baby, and all the other villagers, despite their mistreatment of him.  And it drove him to keep pressing forward, as terrified as he was determined. The light got closer and closer, and the next thing he knew, he was completely engulfed by it.

And the next thing he knew, he was in a strange place, an ethereal plane that Adrian thought he would never see.  In front of him was a bridge, and a river of stardust underneath it. The thought of whatever he was about to see had made anxious, but Adrian assumed he had to cross it.  

He began moving towards the bridge, and then he saw a visage, of a small round creature standing in the center of it.  It saw him, and it simply waved. “Hello,” it shouted in a squeaky tone. Confused and vaguely recognizing it, Adrian waved back.  He wasn’t sure if he should say anything to it, but before he could, they walked over to the bridge’s left guardrail, and vanished.  

Unsure of what else he could do, Adrian took another step towards the bridge.  Then he heard a loud guttural roar come from above him, along with the sound of flapping wings.  Adrian looked up, to see the silhouette of a large dragon flying overhead. Then he heard the shouting of a man in front of him.  “Come on, we have to go!” Adrian thought it was directed at him, but when he looked down, he saw that man running past him, along with another, taller one, yet they were more than half of Adrian’s size.  The two figures were featureless, but were still recognizable.  

Adrian quickly turned around.  “Wait!” He tried to follow them, only to see that they were gone, and that the light leading out of the River of the Heavens was gone.  “Shit!” Adrian ran back to where it formally stood, and he clawed at the back of his head in distress.  

He turned back to face the bridge, only to see that it was gone, and replaced with an open field that appeared to be a war zone.  Adrian was surrounded by the bodies of animals and human soldiers. The ones that were still alive were grievously wounded and crying, or begging to see their loved ones.  Adrian was unsure if they were begging to him, until he saw a bipedal fox wandering aimlessly, calling out someone’s name. And then suddenly, there was a bright flash, and when it faded, Adrian could see the explosion of a mushroom cloud in the distance, and his heart dropped.

Then there was another brief flash, and Adrian found himself in a forest, yet there was something wrong about it.  He spotted the same bridge as before, but under a normal river this time. The unsettled feeling he had compelled him to run across it.  He reached the other side, to see that he was driven deeper into the woods. Adrian turned around, and saw that the bridge and river was once again missing, replaced with a straight pathway that seemed to lead into a dark abyss further in the forest.  Then a gust of wind passed by, one that sounded like a voice. “Centerpieces.” He recognized the voice to be Sakuya’s, from their earlier conversation.

And then he spotted something coming from the abyss.  It was the silhouette of another creature, yet this one walked on all-fours and appeared to have something plantlike on its back.  And like the first presence Adrian saw, this one saw him too. There was a brief silence between t͢he̸m.͜  

And̕ t͢h͡e͜n͘ t̵here ̴w̨as͞ ̴ḑar͘kne͡s̷s. ͏Th̴e uneas̴y̸ fe̸elin̕g ̶A͠dri̕an ͠ha͝d s͞i̡nce̸ ap̸p͝eari̴n͠g in͘ ͘that ͜f͞o͞rest҉ ha͠d͡ ̛only͝ ͞ģo͏t̷ţe̢n ̷w̴o̷r̕se, t̸ǫ t̶he po͢i͏nţ ̡wher̵e ̶he̸ wa̛n͠t̨e̷d to͠ screa̴m͟,̴ and ̛desp̸er̡a͞tely c͠ry̢ ͘fo̷r ̨h҉elp. A͠ p̶art͢ ͡of͏ him̡ ͞w͜a̸n͠t͞ed̵ ͘to҉ bel͘i̧e͏v̨e he͢ ̶was̕ i̸n t͞h҉ȩ m͟įd̢d̛le̕ of ̨a ͠ni͞g͠h͠tmar̶e, ͘ye̛t̢ ̨it̴ ̕wa͞s ̸t̕oo͘ v̵iv͝id. A͏nd͟ i͟t s͞e̸em͘ed͟ ̵too ͜vi̷vid҉ t̸o͞ e̴ven be ͟co̴n̶sid҉e̢red ͘a v͏isio͞n. ̵ A̛dr̸i̢a͏n was͜ ̡tr͡appe̵d̷ ͞in͟ a͜ ̸vo̴id, and he̡ ͘ha͡d͜ been̢ ̶f͜ơr wh͢at҉ s͞e̛e҉med ̷l͏i̶ke ̨hours,͢ if ͜ti͢me҉ e̢ven̨ pa͏ssed ͡at ͏all͘.  T͏he͜r̵e̸ ͢͞w͜͞a̴͝s ̕̕s̕͜i̧҉len̸̴ce̶͘, ̷̕͟y͡ȩ͝t̵͜ h̨͠e҉̷ c̕o̸͞u̵l̷d ͠h͘͜e͠a̢r͜ a ͏̛̕f̸ai̛n̢̨t͠ ͏̶d̴r͟o͘͟n̴i̢n̴ģ so̶u̶nd̴͘͞ ̧̨͞į̛n҉ ̛t͠h͝ȩ ̧͢d̸i͘s͜͠t͢a͏͜͟n̕͡c̸͘͠e,̸ ͝͡b͡u̕̕t͟͜ at̴͘̕ ţ͠he̷͟͝ ̷̡͠s͟a̢͠m҉̛e t̡i͟͟m͘͠e,̡ ̨̛d͡i̢r͏̕e̵͞c͜͜t̶̵͠l̛͜y҉ ͢i̷҉̛n̨̧͟ ͞f̶r̡͏̵o̕n̡t̸̨͝ ҉o̷̸̧f̵̡͟ ͘hi̷͟͞m̛͢, ͜a͘n҉d ̢ę̕v̧e̶r̛y̶w͞h͏̶̡e̕r͞e̡ ͢a̶l͘͢l͟ ̴at̴̴̵ o̧̕͝nc̛̕e̸.͟͡҉ ̷̷͢ ͘͢Th̨e ̸͜c̛2̢͠lb͏͠m͘͟9̕͟s̢ZWp̷̶͡c̢2̵̸U̴5̢jZQ̕==̡̡͠= ͞ ͟h̵̶a̕͟͝d̷̵ ̢s͡͞t̸r̴i͏p͠҉p̶̡e͟d̷̨ ̧a̕w̶ay̡ ̢͝a̴͝l͘l̸ ̨hi͏s̶ s̸̛͜e͞҉̛n͏҉ses͏,̨ ̷̢i͞n̷̡c͢l̕ųding̵ ͜h͘͝i̷̛s̶̸̛ ̶̛s̷e҉̢n̴̕se̢͘ of͢ ̢͝f͘͝e̴a͏r̶͞,҉҉ ̧̢a̡͝n̵͝d̡̛͠ t͡h̶ȩ͠r̶̸e ̕͠wąs͡ ͘o͝nļy ͟͞ę͝m̶p͡t͏̨i̴n̢͘ȩ̛ss̢̡̛,̧̛͘ ҉͝y̶͘͝et ̷h̵̸e̵̛ w͘͟as̸̕̕ ͢͜t̡̕͟o͟o̴ s̕c͘a҉̴re͢d̶̴̢ ̧͘t͘o͢͞ ̡́͠m̸̡ơ͝v̸e.̸͝ ҉̵ ͠c2̷̧͠l͏̴̢b͡m9s̨Z̛͘W̡p̷͟҉c͘2͘͟U̶͘5͏̕j̡͠Z̨͟Q==̷= ha̕d̡͝ g҉̧o̴͞t͞͡t̡e͝n̢͘͜ l͏̢͜oud̡e̴͢r̢,͞ ͜t̶̕o̴͡ ̨̕͡t̶̛h̸e ̷̢͞p̸o̴̵̡i҉͞n͜t̵̨͝ th̛a͟t ̶Aḑ͡ŗ͝į̧a͢n҉ ͢͟r̵̢e̢̨a̕͟l̢͢i͘͜͜z͢͝e̕d͘͢ th̛͜a͝t̕͝ ҉t̶h̸̛e̶ ̧̛dr͢҉͜o҉n̕in̵g ̛͡so͡und͢ w̛ąs̕ ̵a̧ctu͘͟a̢ll͝y ̕t̕hę ̢҉s̛ou͢҉͘n̴̶҉d҉ ̴̶͟o͡f̷̨ c̕o̸͟ļlę͘͟cti̡ve̕҉͝ ͞ş̶c͢r̴̕e͢a͘m̷̴̷i̧̨̕n͟g ̢͘ţ̨͡h̕͠a̵̧҉t͜͞ h̢͠a̢̛͞d͠ ̴͜͞͡o͢͏̸͟n͝l̡͢͜y̸̸̡̢ ͏͟g̷͞͡o̴̡͟t͠͞t͢͠e̸͡n̸̷̢͟͝ ̧͘͘͟ç̧͢͞2̴̷̢͏͝l͜͏̴b̷̴͢m͘̕͜͜͢9͢s͏̨͞͞Z̸̧̢W͏̶̕͜p̶҉c̡͟͢͟2̶̛͜҉U͜͟͢5̵̷j̶͢͟Z͞͡͞Q҉̸=̴̴̴̢≠͠=͡͝͝ ͢ąn͟҉̸͟d̷̶̢͝ ̵̴͠c̛͝l̕͏̨͝͠o͢͟s̶̴̕͡͞ę̴̷͘͏r̶̸̀͘͟.̶̨̕ ̷̧̨̛͝ ̶͘̕͡c̴͜͞2̕͘l̢͜͝͝b̶̴̢̢̕m͟͝͝͞9̷̸̡͘s̵̛҉Z̡͘͠W̵̸p̢͠c͏2̷̡̨͢U҉̢5̵̛j̨̨̛Z̡͡Q̶͜=͏̵̡͜=̛͝͡͡=̡̧͟͞ ̢͝҉̕ ̨̛a̸͜͡n̸̷͏̢d͏̛͟͡ ̢̢̕c̷͡ļ̕o͜͜͟͟͞s̸͡͠͏̕e҉̷̕͠r̸̢͜,͏̨̧ ̶̷̛c̶̵̡2͝l̴b͏͏m̵͠9̴̧͘s̶Z̧͘͟W̷̢͜͞͠p̵͠c̢̢̛̕2̨͜͝U͘͢͠5̧͏͘͢͜j̸͠Z̢͡͝͏͢Q̴̡͝=҉≠̵̵͟͠=̶̸̶̨͠ ̕a͏̧n̢̕͝d̡̡͢c̨̕͟l͏̸͞͡o̧͜s̷̕ȩ̴̕҉͠r̷͏

R̢̝̖̪͎̩͍̣͇̩̞̫̱X̧͝͏̢͚͓̘̙͖̙̥̗̱̟͔̞̤͇̮l͉̻͓͖͚͙͕͖͖̣͓͜͡l̡҉̵̵͔̫̟̘̯̻̮͢ͅc̢̛̘̘̺̜͍̝̗̺̪̦͔̭͓̳̫̮ͅy̷̙̲̗͖͍̥̖̜͙̣̘͖̜̠͎̥̻ͅB҉̷̷͓̪̪̣̖̘̣̯̺̺͙͓̖͙̳̰͘͢z͎͓̳̬̠͎̫̱͚̗͡d̶͏̥͇͍̣̻̰̜͕̣G͏̸̲̠̲̙̮̙̤͓̝̱͇͔̹̺̘̤̥̮͞F̸͇͔͚̱̼͢͡͡͞y̷̦̖͚̲̳̫̲̙̘̪̻̝͇̭̰͞a̸̢̯͔̺͕̤̫͟͜W̡̟̩̹̭̼͇͇͈͙̥͘͝5̴̗͕͍͇͚̗̻͉̩̖̹̙̜̰̫̲n͠͝͏̶̼̮̬͓̥̱͔̘̞̻̱͙̳I͙̪̗̜̙͎̬̳͕̝̦̞̳̞̦̦̻͝G͏͏̧̳͇̻̖̩̬̻̜̘̬̤̬̞̘̤̫̕ͅJ̨̪̱̬͇̭̼̙͞h̵̛͏̶̰̠͕͚̦̻͎̥͉̼͖̞̰͇̬̝̜Y͘҉̛̖̭̬̣͇̫̬̙͔͇̟̺̲̠̪͖͇̺ͅ2̸̡͔̮̺̣̠̯͝͠s̷̳̫̞̲̜͉̤͓̤̭̱͔͘͡≠͖̰̝̥̮̼̲̳̫͔̬̯̤̝̭͜ͅR̶̛҉̶̵̗̪̙͖͚̼̙̘̼̼͚͇X̸̵̢͍̜͓̙͉͖̳̥͕̰̖̲̮̳͚͚̤͔̥͜͞l̵͕͚̬̞͇̤̫̲̝̭̠̝̫̦̣̗͢͡ͅl̶̛̛̙̙̹̟̗c̴̰͉͚̰̹̠͠y̴̸̻͉͕̥͍̣̼͝͝͠B̢̝̤̤̝͔̲̖͇͚̻̤̝͖͓͎̪̱͜ͅz͠͡͏͍̺̤d̢̧̠̖͚̥̹̺͕̙̞̹̖̱̯̼͎͔̟̳͕͟G̨̛̛̛̺͈̰̯F̷͢҉̛̤̙͚̥̼̙͖̦̖͖̬̖̻͔̬͝ͅy͙͚̺̙͖̦̰͓̼̖̟͖̳͡ͅa̴҉̱͖͇̬͖͚̜̺̺̦̤̱̩̥W̧͢͏͓̱͔͍͇̜̖̫5̶̨͚̻̝̥̫͉̠͇̕͟n̨̧͎̭̘̕ͅI̴̢̧̫̜͕̖̯͢͡ͅͅG̢̤̥̗͔̹̬̝̼̲̦͔̮̯͍͇̙͖͚̼͘͠͠J̢̬̮̩̖͈͔̗͓̱͚͘͘ͅͅh̴̰̮̪̝͚̞̯̳̙̭̯͎͍̹͙̫͟͢͠Y̭̞͎̩͓̞̦͈͓͔͜͠ͅ2̬͕̗͟͞ͅs̶̛̰̙̘͇͓͚̗̱͈̪͕͉͡=̴̧̢͙̘̫͓͎̟̯̘͍͙͉̣͍̤̹̖̺R̡҉̶͇̠͚͔͔͉̯̦̰̩͚͈͉̪̦͘X̡͙͕͔̙̘͜l̶̢̦̪̝̻̣̞̥̠̟͎͎̗͍̯͎͇͕l͈̝͈̯͓̞̞͟c̵̡͚̘̤̮͍̞y̢͚͚̳̹͇̩̰͎͇͞͞B̷̖͙̳̯̲͙͡͠z͏̧͏͈̳̥̤̹̪̣̝̙͈̩͈͇͠ͅd̸͔̩̲͎̥̱͘̕͡G̸҉̵͔̮͉͚̪͉̭͈̹̪͚̹̘F̸͍̱̼͓̲̰y̴̩͇͉̖̹̘͎̖̜̫̰̞͈͈̩̼͢ͅą̟̣͈̙̙͇͜͢W͉̤͓̮̬̯̤̝̙̩̲̬̩͚͜͡5̢̖̺̜̫͜͢n̢͔̬͇͍̪̱͎̯̬͈̠͚̩͟ͅI͉̭̩͉͕̖̪͚̬͘͟ͅG͟͏̖̣͕͔̠̦̯̥̹̙̫̝͙̦̣̤ͅJ̢͏̖̦̦̺͙̮͔̣̕͢h̡̢҉̛̹̬̤̲̭͔ͅY̶̧͞҉̯̯̘̤͉͓̲̙̫̜̖̞̙̪̬̮̺̖̦2̴̢̧̩̬̟̘̦͇̹̗͝s̶̶͢͏̗̭̬͖̺̞̣̥͉̟̘̙̮̝͇̳̹͇̥=̷̡̡̫͚̣̱͚͚͢Ṛ̷̵̵̛͎̻̠̹͝X̷̛̯̟͕͚̹̰̩͔͙̖̰̰̳͙̻͕͢l̡̛͕̖̖͉̦͇̳̯̲̦̞̹̩͜l͡҉̘̳͓̤̺͔͎̯̝ç̶҉̛͍̹̹͖̺̫͔͍̱̲͙̗̤̤͔̰̳y̧҉͏̗̺̥͙͙̺̗B̢͉͍̯̩̝̟̖̼͕̳̯̹̦̞̖̩z̸̯͈̹̳͇̘̩̣̰͢d͚̭̖̗̱̰͎̫͔̰͜G̨̛̻̝͇̰͖̣̻̭̱͔̼̝͕͍̘͜͡ͅF͠҉̳͕͖͢͢͡ỵ̴̸̪̟͚̭̦̖͙̜͇͙̜̫͞͞ą̷̨̖̹͕̘͉̞̮̦͈̣͍͍̫̙̺͕̻̠W̡̧̙̺͙͎̗̖̬͚̻̠͘͜͜5̡̲̤̘͎̪̟̜̺̩̩̬̺͘͞͠ͅͅn̛̩͔̣̬̭̮̣͢͡͠I̸̛͍̫̺̤͢G̥̳̩͈̯̻͍͔̩͔̻͇̘̘̦̟͜͞͞J̡̧̝̜̖̟̪̞̘͙̮̪h̴̳̲̱̠̻̩̲̕͞Y̸̴̢̯͉̺̠̣̫͉̬̲̪̟͇͜͝2̶͢͏͖̬͍ṣ̡̛̗̳̣͓͟=͏̵̡̤̜̹͎̫͖̝̼̘̰͢R̴̛҉͖̜̣̪X̭̲̣͓̭̼̣͖͍͔͝ͅḻ̶̢̛̳̞͈̰̠͖̻̪̤͠l̶̡̯͕͎̠̩̫̺͔͔̪͇̰̝̲͖̮̜͠ͅͅc͕͎̼̘̯̲̙̫̬͖͙̰̙̖͟͡y̛͝͏̥̝̟̱͙̞͎̳͖͔͙̣͕ͅB̢̦̤͇̮̫̫̠͚̪̰̘̞͓͘z̵̗̗̥̣͙̟͉̜͓͚̤̥͈̮̺̪̜̤͓d̴̡̟͎̖͙̪̰̹̺͙̝Ģ͇̖̺͙͚͓͜F̷̢̛̠͍̠͓̥̖͘y̴̴̡͉̯͚̝͉͇̩̬̰͍̬̼̺̲a͏̶̸̢̦̗͕͓͖̞͎͍W̛͇̮͕̰̩̺̜̳̹͖͘͜ͅ5̧͉͎̗͍̙̣͇̰̯͙̥̲̼̭̜͚̗͍͝͠ņ̶̧̞̤̯͎̯̠̖̥͖̜̭͇͕̣̼̟͔ͅI̵̺̺͖̞͖̳̣͙͍̬̳̺͢͟͟G̢҉̧͕̼̻͎͚͔̝̜͔̺̻͖J̷̸̜̼̹̞̥̹̣̫̫̣ͅh̴͎̪̯̩͔̻̘̹̻͓̞̩̯̲͔̜͉̯͞Y̴̘̱̺̲̖̲͘͟͡2̶̴̸͏̧̪̥̪̤͚̱̼̱ş̷̷̦̣̣̼͕̻͕͖̝̩͔ͅ=͏̴̢͏͉͕̯͖͙̰͚͙̘̟̰͚̭͖̺͎̳̰R̟̦̬͙͓͠͞͞͠X̩̼̱͙̮̞̦̻͖̳̕͟ͅl̴̶̨̤̖̮̘̘̳͎͕̮͝l̵̨͕̦̜c̷̶͎̤̮̠̕y҉̢̢͕͉͚̙͖͙͘B͏͢͠҉̲̞͉͖̬͈͈̫̠̤͍z̡̳̤̼͎̯̣͉̠͎̜̗͞d̡̖̼̞͎̼̩̰̠̙̮̻̰̺͇̜͘͜͞G̣̫͚̳̕F̧̨̕҉̫̱̤̺̰̮̞̫̭͈͕͔̫̥͟ͅͅy̳͕͚̗͘͟͠a̷̶̶͚̘̳̰͇̰̦̗̠̳̜̣̙̻͇͘W̢̫͙͇͍͞5̠̜̰̪̝͈͉̟̺͍̣̖͉̘̬̜̩͞͝n̶̶̢̮̟̪̝͎͇̠̯̞͓͍͚͉͞I͞҉̘̳̲͇G̲̭̞͖͢͞ͅJ̴͚̘̭̯͓͔͇̘̺̼͢h̨̦̗̖̝̟̣̹̞͙̖̟͓̠̪̯̮͎̗͜ͅY̴͏̸͉̜̘̥̦̠̯̗ͅ2̷̸̗̹̘͈̙͙̤͙͙̺͍͍͍̟̘̙̗̪͠s̡͉̮̤̱̖͚̪͙͡=̶̸̟̣͉͍̘͇͚̯̹͖͙̹͓̤̹̟̼̖͞R̷̶̡̳̻͍͖͉̜̭͍̯͍̖X҉̵҉̲̝̙̼̦͓̗̭̳l̸͢͟͠҉̱̯͉̫̲̣̟̝̤͈͚l̶͏̭͇̝̟̥͇̝̣̱͉̬͈̦̗͈͞c̨҉̢͇̰̮͠y̴͚̞̫͖̟͘͡ͅB̢̥̫̖͖̭͔͈͔͖̙̼̰̰̼̤̟̭͢z̴̮̞̺̯̮͖̭͙̳͓̺̤̣̜̟̮ḑ̶̷̝̖̥̦̰͍̜̜̭̯̟͈͙̼G̷͎̟̮͎̣̦͈̼͓̦͘͜͞F̶̛̱̘͚͕͍̳͓̙̜̘̦͜͝y͠͞͏̥͎̺͖̼a̭͚̩̘̲̻̳͖̕͟W͏̸̴̴̛͎̮̹̣͕͔̦͓̱͈̺̥̯̟̞͇͈̯̰5̷̶̷̨͔̯̳̞̘͕͙̲̭͓͔͎͖n̨̜̟̲͙̘̖͜I̷̧͓̮̙͝ͅG̰͔͖͍͈̭̱͇̘̥̝͟͞͠ͅͅJ̡̛̦̦̠̬̣̝͖ḥ̰͎͖͓͚̫̺͖͓͕̲̭͔̪͝Y̵̡̧̺̤͈̮̩̹͝2̡̥̬̭̯͙̯͎̦̯͍̼͟s̵̷̟̪̭̠̣̻̗̭͡ͅ=̷̧̛̹̮̲̬̫͉̰̙͍͓͚̲͚͡V̛̲͇̩̖̟̫͕̺͜Ģ̛̯͓̪̠͓̟̻̕h̡͇͔̣͚̰̣̳̼̬̜l̖̱̩̲̠͓̥̫̫̺̳͕͙͙͞͠I̴̧̭͕̬̱̦̪̣̗̗̯̩̻͔͓͘͜͞ͅE͙̯̘͈̭̬͓̘̪̞̜͘͜͝͝N̢̡̞̜̳̠̹͉͙͈̪ͅv̸̧̛̟̣͈͔̯̙̗͎̣̤̭̪̥͈̮̯͟ḇ̴̲̥̪̜̫̰͕̠͇̱̜̣̝͓͖̲̕͟͢n̛̪̭̙͎̲͚̘̩̩̗͠ͅẒ̸͕̖̹͢l͈̘͎͈̩̗͍͚̪̗̥͢͟ͅc̴̛̖͉̲̜͚͔̝͇̞̳̰̩̕m̷̵̶̸͉̻̝̳̻͎̱̫̙̕d̵҉̢̥̰̥̯̪̪͔̪̖ͅl͜͟͢͠҉͕̰̝̙̥̪b̸̛̮̟̫̼̫̰̣͡m̡̹̥̱͚̤͚̪̤̳̺̱͉̕͞͠N̴̡̮̲̮̖̤̱̱̻̤̖̲̗͠l̞͕̤͍̕I͍̘̪͞F͏̵̶͖̪̮̣͉̟̼̹̘͈ͅd̨҉̗̯̟̠̩͙͕͘v̡̫͈̣̙̭͉̳̙͡c̮̱͈̮͍̖̰̰͍̙̞̬̩͈̟̮͙͚̕͜ͅm̶̢̛͏҉̥̞͖͓̣̦͓̲̖̪x̸̣̳̱͍̖̩̝̤͍̪͎̮̘̜̝̯̮̦͈̕͡k̵͝͏̵̱͇̙̲I̡͜҉͔̳̥̥̞ͅG͡͏҉̮͙̘͚͎̲̺̗̹͢͟l͏̛͝҉̙̠̮̙̘͉̮̙̩̫̞͙͓͙͍͖͚z̷̸̛̩̱̻̹͖̰̞͢I̷̷̶͔͖̩̱̟͙̮̥̰͖̙G̸̛͕͖͚̫E̸͖̣͚͎͕͉͚͈͘g̷̨̨̫͇͖͔̬͇͚͙̤͓̞̘̻̙͢c̡͏̧̨̛̤̳̣̠̗͚̤̤̗ͅͅ3҉͏̗͚̫͕̥̯̘R̛̠̣̜̠͜ͅy͞͏҉̶̗̳̳̞̝ͅY̴̶̨̛͙̝̬̰̻̹̘̖͞W̵̶̧̪̥̘͖̠͎̻͇̺̤̹̥̯̞͓̯̕5̜̣̠̰̲̺̣̗̻̠̘̭͔̥͓̲͖͢͟͝͝n̞̣̬̭͈͚̦̝̣̙̤̭̕͜Z̵̻͍̟̦̖͡͞S̨͟͏̰͔͉͚̗͠ͅB̤̖̜͓͇̹͚̜̙͙̫̱͢ͅw҉̡̫͈̼͉̳̫̙̞̫̤̪̜͠b̴̨̯̮̗̖͔̯͖̪̥̝̻͟Ģ̵̶͇̜̖͙͎̰͍̝̦̫̮̘͔̹͉̮̺̦͡F̵͖͙̗̯̥̬̺̭̙̣̭͇̳͉͇̥j̢̯̲͓̪̜̘̮̞̫͍͎̕̕͜Z̶̩̳̩̦̻͉̼͙̮͚̯̲̩̞̹̳̼ͅͅQ̦̲̬̗͎͝=̢̘͖̭͎̰̦̱̜͓͙̟̗̣͔͢=҉̨̡̱̱̰͈̯͇̥̭̩̕ͅR̴̕҉̼̖̩̘͔͈̗̖͠X̧̡̨͇͉̲̟̹̩̩͇̖̟͜͞l̸̸͈̜̲͕̙̻͘͠ḽ̵̷̨̘̟̥̲̣̥͓̩͚̳̱̼͝c̛̼̗̘̙̹̙̘̙̠̠̜̯̕͟͡͝y̫̞̩̫̰͕͔̩͕͉͔͎͘͜͢͠ͅB̢̡̥͍̯͍̪͍̹͝z͠͏̵̨͍̖̱͔̦͖̝͟d̵҉̬͈̪̜̺̺̼̖̰͝G̛͖̖͎͙̮̝̹͈̹͖͖̬̟̬͕̗F҉͕̼̬̗̼̪̻̖̞͚͇͎̬̪̻̞̮̕͝y͏̡̢̗̞̥͎̩̣͍̬̞̬̰̪̖̝̭ͅa͕̝̬͙̕͞W̹̭̥͖͘͝5̵̠̤̳͚̲͙͖̱̱̱̥̤͉͍͈͘͟͢͞ṇ̶̶̞̯̮͖̤̯͖̺̼̙͖̥͢͢I̴̸̧̢҉̱̰͇̻̺̖͎̙̟͙̭̻̠̯ͅG̨̯̟̩̖͖̖̝̥͓̫̱͉̖͡J͇͖̪̪͓̰͍̹̝̠̹͓͕̕͘h̷̢͟҉̥͓̥̪̘͖̙̲̯̱̼̱͕̫Y̡̢͍̠̦̞̳̮̣̬̱̟̮̳͖̞̞̺͍2̶̸͇̗̺̰̜̯͔s̨̲͈̙̬̟̺̪̪̬̘͔̲͔͔͓͈̺͜͠ͅͅ=̛҉̢͍̩͖̪̤͇̩̺̦͡R̵̨̛̪͔̹̣̣̣͍͘X̶̢̩̜̯̯͙̝͔͕̕l̡͝҉̡̻͎̘̪͉͢ͅl̡͏̪̣͈̣̪̝̞͎͔ͅc̸̴̵̴͇͓̥̻̯̲̣̥̦̘̖̣̰͢ͅy̢̝̟͇̟͓̥B͔͚͔͔͈̺͜͡z̶̡̨̪̝̘̹͝d͚͍̥͖͎̮͈̫̫̮̥̳͝ͅG̡̤̣͓̥̼͇͇̖̕F̛̤̫͉̭͇͓̼͉̙̣͈̳͟͡ͅͅy̷̛̗̮̣͚͢͟a̷͚̬̥̠̟̜͍̥̰͙̤̤̺̤͘W͎͚͕̠̲͟͜5͡͏̷̢̮̟̗ņ̶̵̛̣̖͍͙̭̰̼̺͎͔̠̞̕I̴̧̘̥̼̱͖̤G̴̸̛̩̰̮̳̦̺̦͓̝͓̫̤͕̰̟͕̺͟J͏̡̹̻͙͍͚̳̼̣̭͉͔̩̭͚̤͜h̷̡͏͓̱͙̖̼͖̱͜͜Y̢̦̼͔̱̫̘̫͖͔̘̘͇̗̱̹͉͕̗͟ͅ2̸̧̨̛̙̖͔̦͜s͏҉̣̥̟̣͖͇͙̗̭̞̤̤̣̘=̧̖̦̰͉̭͇͚͚̙͠R̸̛̻̗̙͚̺̹͈̦͚͚͎͟͞X͏̙̬̦̳l҉̛̭̹̲̣l̨̥͚̮͎͕̬̠͚̝̲̰̘̳̰̕͟ͅc̵͠͏͍̺̘̣͖͚̪̪͚y̢҉̯͇̜͙B̧͚̹̟̯̙͖͍̥̗̻͚͖̠̜̰ͅz̥̜͓̥̟͉͔͓̳̲̻͠͞͡d͠͡͏͍̝͖͍̝̗͍̪̗ͅĢ̢̩̤̖̻̞̗̭̠̟̜̭̪̰̺͖͙̕͢F̷̴̨̙̱̦̭͍͇̜͜y҉̲͇͚̳̟̦̹̲͍̥̟͖̥ͅa̹̜͚͖̗͈̲̳͠W̴̵̨̦͓͈̰͔͉̳͇͙̺͎͕̜̲̰̮̦̱͢5͡͏̻̣̱̝̪̯̤̳̬̮̻̭̜̫̼ͅn̸̵̢̧͖̳͓̝̻͖͍͓̲̱̦͟I̷̧̧̮͙̙̞̪̜͘G̕͠͝͏͙̻̳̮̜̙̠̲̖̙̗̳͜J̛̖̞̺̲̳͉͓̯͈̳̞̜̜̻͖͈̣̼̕ͅh̨̛҉̶̴͓͔͙̼̰Y̧̹̤̺̤̩̬͕̞͉̟̫͚̼̬̘͞͞2̜͖̞̣̩̩̩̞̟̰̙̼͜͠͡͡s͓̰̮̙̭̬̣̪͈͉͔̕͘͟͠͡=̨̙̮͎̳̠͇̝̦̝̹̫̬͎͎͎̺͎͈R̶̥̥̤̞͞X̡̡̫̜̪͉̤̲͙̜̗̝̱͖̜̱̭̯̤ͅl̶̶̴͎̞̭̬̞̘̰̕͝l̴̻̗̘̙̹̞͕̙͇̥͚̯̥̺̪̩͈͓̩͞c̸̴̵̯̲̜̺̺̗̹̠̞̬̺y̴̦̳̳̦͎̻͓̰̩̟̦̱̝̘͎͢͝͠B̢͉͙̘̗̤̗͔͓̞͈̯̪̪̰̣̳̝͝z̢̫̜̰̭͟͠d҉̤̯͍̖̱͙̳G̷̷̢̝͈̺̪̰̲̦̦̺̦͉̻̰̠̭͟͡F̸͙̩̰̞̝͞ͅy̢̛͞͏̟̯͕̲̲͖̬̙̭̲̗̜̘a̶̛̲͇͇̯̬͍͎̺̜̺̙̬͚͉̮̕͜͝W̶̢̗̻͓͠ͅ5̴̶̧͍̤̟̰͚̲̱̲͜n̸҉̗̣̙̩̮̱̟͎̮̩̗͜͠I̸͎̯̦̝̬̳͈̣̞̲͠͡G̶̡̪̞͔̪͍̫͇̳̪̠͖J̶̢̤͕̫̫̝̳̜̠̝̤̖͞ḩ͖̫̲̲͖Y̸̨̧̥̪̯͙̱̝̟̦̺͈̮͜2̷̱̝͇̘̪̫͝s̴͚͖̩̘̩̞͎̮̞̪̪̕=̷̢̗̖̞̱͉̕ͅR͓̱̤͚̫̞̥̼̹͕͔͔̰̕ͅX̵͎͕̫̯͘͜l̡̤͎̣̭̠̘̗̙͔̻̙ͅl̶̷̢͓̟̗̳̗̻̣͓͍̹̗̜̣͜ç̵̨̛̙̙̖͙̰̞̭̺̦̲̘̙͈̯y̸̞̘̙͖͘B͏̳̪̪̭̹͟͠z̠̹̳̰͔̯̖̠̟̜̼̰͎̣͉̮͖͜͢͡ͅd̵̡̦̘̮͉̪̮̱͝ͅG̢̖̮̯̻̪͖F̴͢҉̤̱̜̲̞ͅy̪̺͍̜͇͇̝͚̝͍̞̠͇̥͕̱̼̠͓͟a̼̹̤̩͘̕͝W͏͉̣̩̙͓̦̞̥̲̼͟ͅ5̢̼͔̝̻̬͎̜̭̮̲̻͍̲͇͚͠ͅn͏̰̱̘͍̼͖̩̝̬̳͍̙͔ͅͅI͙̭͍͚̮̤͖G̶̡̟̘͈͍͚̘͔̜̟͈̳̦̜̹̜̗̭̪̱͢J̸̨̨̛̱̩̻̣͕̙̤̯̗̗͚̠͕̮͈͉̭̫h̡̢̭͔̦͕̗͇̮̠̕͡Y̢̦͕͕̱͢2͙̖͉̘̖͕̩͡s̷̛̫̲̘͇̫͍̰̦͚̞̥͉͙̙̕̕=͈̠̮͕̬͍̼̦͎̗̙͇͉̣͈͖̳͖͢͝R̷͖̺̙̫̗̱͇͉̙̱̥̱̯̳͉͖̤̯ͅX̨͏̜͙̥͉͇̪͕̱̟̹̝̖̪̩̬̘̹͘͟͞l̵̶̢̨̳͓̟̘͉̳̪͕ļ̸̴̼̖̦͍̟͈ͅc҉͎̖̞͇̗̹̻̦͔͙̘̯̟͇͍̰̹͠͠y̛͘҉̨̣̰̜̱͍̺̻̫̤Ḇ̖͕̤̭͕͈̰͍̭̯̕͠ͅͅͅz̨̝̯̘d̢̛̤̮͎̩̳̩̪͙͙̗͚̟̩͈̪̮̯̹͎G̲̬̞͉̙̘̼̜̬̳̻͘͢͟F̢̡̝̞͓̟̲͕͓̤̠͔̳̕͢ͅͅy̶̵͍̣̯̥̺͙̲̪̙͢a̶̢̟͕̪̘̪̺̻̻͇͖̟̜̹̰͇̠̤̹W͏̶̵͙̤̹͕͚̮̠͍͚͎̕͢ͅ5͍̫͈͔͍̹̬̜̟̥̯͍̹͕̦͢n̡͏̭̬͉͚͞I̢҉̶̺͙͙̪̝͙̠͙̫̜͍̞ͅG̴̨̬̩̜͎͕̭̠͔̜̥̳͡J͡҉̢̣̮̠̘̼͎̼̭͙͈̼̮̮h̴̬̺͇̰͈͙̝̲̲̦̼͠͝Y̷͇̜̱͔͚̜̯͕̘̗͈̹͚̪͇͝2͙͔̯͖͉̰̹̩̬̙͈̳͍͘͢͢s̻̥̭̝̳͇̳͙͚̤̩͈̲̙̺̣͢͜͠͡ͅ=̴̶̠̺͖̦̘̩̱̮̳̜͚̕͝R͏̹̦͚͓͈̝̞̺̪̗̬͉X̶̨͖̣̪̞̻͓̱͘͡ḷ̡͍̠̭̟͔͇̙̭̮̱̪̖̣̳͉̭̪͝l̵̡̧̺̠̯͇̩͝ç͙̗̯̣̙̜͓̳͙̣͖̯̻͜͞͠ͅͅy̴͕͔̫͚̠͝B̡̢͔͇͖̹͈̘z̸̡̛̖͉̮̭̖͔̯̬̮̰̱̳̙̗̝̩̬̩̗͠d̨̛͙͖̤̫͓͖̩͇̖͞G̵̠̥̜͍̬̝̬̯͈͠F̶̸̛̞̤̣̗̖̲͚̪̘͈͕͍͖̬y̙̹͉̘͈̦̣̠͕͎͉̳̳͘̕a͟͟҉͍̣̠̣̼̰W̸͏̬͓̤͎̹͓̳̠̮̺͚5̨̟͍̹͈̬̜͎̜̻͈̟͙͘͢͜͝ͅͅn̸̜̫͎̘̣͉̱͙̦̬̮̹̠͕͘͜͟I͘͝͏̶̤̙̙̜̗̤̤̳̹̮̞̜̞̪̱͖G̷͖̳̪̫͝J͏͢͏̪̬͕̣̞̦̺̞̻h̸̴̢͔͙͉̤̭̥̖͕͉̮̩͉̞ͅY̖̼̭̺̫̯̹2̨̨̮̦̗̪̟̤̜͎̯̹̘̳̺͈̭̭͕͢͠s̸̰̤̗̝͍͚̣͔̩͕̘̬̝͉̞̘͜ͅ=̱̝̥͚̪͖̭̥̼͚̠͘͜V̷̩͈̻͇͓͜G҉̹̳̤̦̹̱͘͟h͓̜̫͇̭̱̭͚͙̰͉͇̹̝̪̤̕l̩̬̼͖̺̺̰͎̩̮̞̭̲̟̼̣͟͠I̡̧̢̙̗̠͘Ȩ̵̖͇͇͔͈͕͔̕̕N̵̢̛̫̲̲̪͍͓͟v̨̖͚͙̯̯̙̱̜͉͙̯̳̭͖̘͝b̷҉̕҉̬̺̜̝͕ͅņ̶̧̱̠͕̝̼̤̭̜̱̯̤̝̙͍̣̣̳̭͜Z̨̢͙̮̜̦̥l͠҉̴̠͙͇̦̬̝̥̳͟c̤̭̺̟͙̫̩̯̬̟̖̞͎̳̥͖͉͞ͅͅm̹̫̳̻̱̱̭̥͚̠̣̭̪̩̖͉̕͢͡d̡̛͡҉̸̘̜͍͈̤̗͎̹̠l͉͙͎̖̟̞̭͓̪̺̻͖̠͎͔̖͔͘b͢͏̳̺̤̤̭̦̭̘͍͍̟̣̺ͅm̧҉̶̧͔̟̣̟̝͟ͅN҉͉̮̭̫̼͉͚̗̺̟̟̠̹̼̬̰͓̯͢͠͠l̡̪̥̼̦̱̙̰͢͢͡I͟͏̖̟̘̠͕̞̜F҉̣̙̣̖̪͖̯ḑ͙̤̠̗̯̟͍̰̫̳͖͖v̵̵͚̯͖̜̳̼̻̜͔̜̣̮ͅc̨̨͉͈̥̖̘̯̤̮̲̯̮̲̩͚̟͕̺ͅm͟͏̱̯̜̞x̛͙̠̰͈̰̠̟͉̗̪̺͕̙͙͕͖̘̺k̙͎̝͈̖̱̮̺͖͠Į̵̢͈̹̟̰͎̤̻̪͔̰̭̗̞̲̳͈̥͚G̴̡̢̛̙͓̟̯͉̤̣̭͕̳̻ͅl͟҉͍̗̖͉̞̼̥̼͇̺̹̖̳͈̻͜ͅz̸̸̴̜̞̹͇͍͎̻̞̮͈̰͕̪͟ͅI̧͎̩̼̹̰̟̳̪̟̜͢͠͝G͞͏͏̻̙͍͎̘̤̻̗̪͚͈̺̦͈͞E̵̢̧̳̟̹͚͢g̺̳̻̼̙̺̬̻̕͝Z̴̨̗̞̰̥͇̱̩͕̤̲̯̹͈̖̗̱̙͖͈͡͠W̸̶̛̼̗͕͔̳̬̼͓̯̭͓͘5̡͠͏̯̟̟̣̻̩̥̜̳̖k̫̱̹̖̜͖̘͎̤̗̤̪̩͔̘̤̰͝͝ͅa̧̡̟͈̝͈̕W̧̡̪͔̘̰̣̯̯̳̲͝͞͠5͉̯͈̲͈͍͓̠̯̦̭͘͞n͏̠̤̜̻̗͇̩̪̺̣̲̟̮̮̣͚͘R̸̶̗̬̣̰̹͈̰͙̞̱͚̫͝ͅX͏̟̲̖̺͉̤̞̞̖̠̲̣͔̼͘͜l̸̬̞̖̯̝̳̱̺̻͖͢ͅl̨͇̺͖͖͙̙͍͝c̖͙̭͖̪̳̳̝͖̺̜̟̘͓͎̥̗͍͟͞y̨̛̼̱̟͎̻͕̣͎̥̼͔̼B̸̮͙͎̠͍̗̩̞̖̥͖͍̺͘͜͠ͅz̵͈̳̞̘̬͉̙̳̯̭̫̱̹̰̰͍̝̗̝ḑ͍͚̠̫̯̦̮͚͘͟ͅG͏͡҉͈̟̣̲̺̪̪̟̘͈̬̖̟̣͓̫F̸̨̬̳̥̫̠̝̜̗̫̹͍̜͇̦̱̰̦͡y̞̮̭̝̘̱̥͓͕̬̞̝͉͖͢͠ḁ̷̷̡̧̛̞̪̹͇̞̜̱̥͖̰̙ͅW҉̸̭̠̳̖̠͎͝͠5̕҉͈̠͔̼̳̘̤͕͕̮̟̥̥̖n̲̺̤̼̦̺̞̱̰̖̥̝͕̟̣͓͉̤̻͘͘I̡̛͎̗̩̥̩͘͝Ģ̺͇̳̯̱̖̳̞̕͘ͅJ̥͖̠̲͚̺͘͡͡h̢̜͍̻̘̺̞̻̗͙̤̯̮̦̫Y̷̴̹͖͔͇̩̞̻̼̟̱͍̻̺̕͘ͅ2̶̢̧̪̯͖̦͚͠ş̲͎͈͖͉̞̲̜̩̰̖͈̘͜͡͡=̖̖̗͇̪͟͞R̴͖̼̮̦̠̦͓̝͈̻͕̥̠̲͚̺̮̕͠X̛̱̝̞͕̞̕ļ̜͉̖̟͙͍͘͘͡l̰̦̙̮̗̮̱̼̥̕͞c̨͔͚͈̹̙y͓̺̝̗͎̤̖̘̻̮̮͟B̶̶̭̬̞̙̠̻̦̳̝̝͚̬͢z̫̥̪̙̭̣̦̦͞͝d̵̵̢͍̱̖̰̬̘̟͖G͏͔̯̱̳͉̖̠̤̞̰͍͕͇͖͓̝͉͞ͅF̡̨̳̭̟͕̜̹̱̖̻͙y̸͉̠͇̘̦͕͖̩̫̙̬̭̫͞͠a͏̡͕̟̳Ẉ̧̮̙͉̼̱̕͟͝5̨̩̝̝͈̦̦̺͉̤̥̯̕͝ņ̸͇͇̫̬̱̣͚̫̟̹͓̣͈̺̻̠̘I͉̭̯̲̩̤̹̻̞̭̙̘̺͚̞͜G̕҉̵̡̝̮̟̖͉̰̱͓ͅJ̸͉̺͖̟̹͓̰̫͓̹̯ͅh͕̬̻͍̺͖̱̭͘͜Y҉̫̙͇͟2̷̳̘̲̬̳͔͖͎̣͙̺̹͘s̴̢̜̼̯͓̮͞=̧͖̻̼̱̹̯̟̭̙̹̟̻͜ͅR̵̢̨̥̤̟͓̤͔̠̪X̫̩͙̘̺̳͓͕͉̠̲̘̜͕l͙͖̫͍̬̜̺͜͢l͝҉̛͙̟̠̠͉͇̱͔͇͓͇̣͓͓͠c̴̥͓̻̭͍̬͕̞̙̭̻͈̹̘̣͘͟͝͝y͍̗̠̻̬̭̞̲̳̱̼͜͡B̶҉̱͔͈̗͕̯̬̞̪͖͎ͅz̢̻̞̮̤̣͙̙̘̹̱͢ḑ̘̗̖̻̹̝͔̩̮̕͝͠G̴͔͎͖̱͈̰͎̼͈̹̙͇̼̤̯͎̕ͅͅF̴҉̧̨̝̣̭̩͚͓͓͍͓̙̦͉̣͈͔ͅy̸̛̤̥̦̙̹͖̹͓̼̙̤a̙̪̪̟̭̺͎̺̣͎̕͜͢W̴̴̧̤̹̬̗̘̮̠̳ͅ5̵̡̛͎̻͖̭̠̝͕͉͉͎̕͞n̢҉҉̨͇̩̲̱I̙̤̭͔̘̜̕G͜͏̺̮̞͙̮̗͓͔̯͎̹̯̪̺̘̞̝̩ͅJ̧̛̣̪̤͚̪̞͘͞͡ͅh̛͡͏̦͇̤̠̰͕̣Y̺̺̹̠̰͙̹̜̱͉̳̦̟͝2̵̻̗͈̜̙̤s̵̷҉̰̰̲͖͕͔̭͕͕͕͎̻̜̖͙=̶̧̢̹͔͖͍͚̲̗̞̝̺̭͘R҉̳̼̤̹̝̟̼͚̗͓͙͎͚̻͔͕͠ͅX̢̝̯͖̣̺͇̞̲̭͠l̛͚͓̜̘̫͜ͅl̴̪̪̹̻̬͟͟ç̠͙̙͈͔̹̰̫͖̖̣̭͚͓͖̰͜͠ͅy̨͕͚͈͚͈̗̬͔̦̬̘͍̲̮̤̱͇̫B̸̴̵̢̟̜͕͉̝̥͔̯͙͍̯̳͖̗͍͈͓͞ͅz̶͏͘͏̖̥͓͇̘̖̘̯̮̩d̸̢̰̩̟͍̱̣͍̬̯̬̳̟̹͔̬̦͜G̸̷̜̼̫͎̜̥̥̳̟͠F̢̢̰̰͍̰͖̙̹͇̟̟͎̗͚̠̝̞̗͜͜͡y͏̻͎͕͔̞͓͕͉̻̩͟a̷͈̞̰̳̗̣W͏͠҉̨̝̭͚̗̬̱̘͎̩̫̺͙5̸̺̭͕͚̬͖̟͇̠̠͍̟̲̺̫̞̕n̠̞̫̪͖̳̗̜̝̥͓̘͙̕͟͢͜I͏̶̤͇̹̗̫̠̜͖̲̫͉̙͇̹̠̗̻̳̼͡͡Ģ͙̻̬̲͉͉̕͡J̸͔̝̘̰̝̖͖̯̘͞ͅh̵̡͚͔͈͚̗̠̲̠̤̼̙̘ͅY̴̨̮̥͔̩ͅͅ2̷̧̳̘̬̥̻͉͇͖̹̻̭̖̞̖͜ͅs̨̪̮͖̣̝̱̭͝≠̧̲͖̟̠̮͎̰͉R̵̮̪͈͙͢X̶̵̜̞̭̻̩̫̪͔̱̩̬̭̯͎̣̘̯͢͞l̶̵̩̺̖͔̤̬͓͕̦͘͘l͏̣̥̳͚̖̪̦͡c̸̡̻̥̞̰̺̝͙̙͕͕͕͙̭̖͟y̷̸̨͚͙̦͎̻͓̝͇̳̱̖̜͔̦̞̠͘͞B̧͜͢͝҉͚͓̲̖̼̜̰̭̗̫͇̰̙̫̫̭ͅͅz̶̡̢̖͕̖̘̮̰̣̭̗̗d̸̯̯̺͚͇͘͟G̳̫̳̲̭̺̜͚̲͖̠͙͖̙͎͝F̡͟҉̖̼̫̫͕̪͚̯̘͇̘͈̺̤̙y̧̧̛̛͈̦̻͔̦͚̮̻̬̤̟̺̰͝a̰͔̭͈̣̟̭͕͠W̶̘̥̤̣̣̗͙̟̤̥̤̺̘̦̖͢5̨̻̲͚͜ͅn̸̵͞͏̺͖̗͓͞I̸̴̻̮̹̝̝͕͔̟̤̤̫͟͟G̷̶̨̨͎̳̣̤J̧̤̳͍̲̫̩̥͔̯̯̼̞̺͈̖̼̯̱͠h̴͕͔̦̮̤̭̫̭̲͖͖͙̳̥͉̪Y҉͏̹̻͈͕͉̠̙2҉̴̧̪͎͚̥̺͞s̸̨̟͓̩͉̳̙͢ͅ=̴̵̨̫͎͓̘̻̻͓͔͖̱̯͓͙̕͝R̨̛͝҉̴̝͇̝͇̲̰͖X̸̘͎̜̙̝̦̥͇̤̞̗̜̯̱͚̕͠ļ̷̸̝̩͇̻̜̼̖̪͈̟̙l͍̼͚̜̼̹͉͔̹͕̩̰̼̟͝c̴̢̧̮̹̹̼̩͖̖̹͉̞̯̬͢y̗̬̭̖̪̯͎̤̮͍̪͔̥̙̭̕͟͝ͅB̶̸͇̲̥̟̫̺̦̱̰͢͢ͅz̸͝͏̤͎͓͙̱̳͈̩̤̞͇d̴̵̴̡̛̬̫͎̲̙̼ͅͅͅG̨̧̛̼̰͚̰͚͎̳̣̘̭̗͙̫̞̬̪͈̞͘͘F̷̧̜͙̳̠y̢̢̤̖̱͍̣̙͓̳̭͕a̸̺̠̫̱͉W͏̯̺͙͈͠͡5̵̡͙̰̞̯͇̣͓̱͎͘͠͝ͅn̢͏̷҉͕̩͔̮̰͖͈̟̟̲̖̤̳̦͉̙̪͚̮I̖͔̺̥̱̹͉̠͢͢͟G̷̡͔̺̙̹J̷̧̮̪͓̺̪̞̻̦͡͝ͅh̷̛͉̠̟̜̮Y̧҉̡̛͈̱̼̱͕2̵̝͙͖͇̺̮͉͉̠̻͇̩̯͓̜̞͟s͢͜҉͏͚̲̞̣̮̘̗͖̯̬̳̦̯͎̮ͅ=̴̴̙̞̞̥̩͓͓͕̮͓̪̲͚̖̬̞͠ͅͅR͏̜̞̮̩͉̹̞̝̜͍͉̮ͅX̶̻̬͓͍͈͢l̸̛͝͏͙̙̬̪̬̩̼͓̞̥̝͕̳̟͈̣͡ͅl̷̛̩̪̮̯͈͔͙̲̞̦̙̥̬̣̥̩͠c҉̨̮͎̩̣̳̻̤͔͓̰̹̫͎̲̗̪̣͉̙͝y̛͠͏̞͔̭͔̥B̢̛͖̼͎͕̯̻̤̣͟͞z̶̸̨̡͙̰̲̥͍͎̼̻͉̤̭̝̹̼͙̳͘d̡̲͇̝̜͡͞ͅĢ̸͕̩͕̱̲͉̺͎̪͎̘͚͍͚͓̙̼̟͜͜F҉̛̳̜͍̥̗̞͓͖̝̲̞̩͞ͅͅy̼̠͖̬͖̝̬͉̹̰̗̹̮̬͍͟͝a̶͡҉̧͓̗̙̤̰͕̝W҉̛̪̣̺̘͞͠͡5̮̣̞͙͇͙͔̭͚͖̲̲̲͔̰̥͘͢ͅn҉̨̟̮͍̲̘̹Į̸̴̨͙͔͙̩͎̖̜͟G̶͏̧̛̛͕̼̰͖̭͎̖̰̹̻͇͕̼̦̯͕̫J̷̡̛̟̼̻͍͔͇̥͉̻̬͎̝̬̞̲̮͞͞ͅh҉͏̶̞̤̩͎͜Y͓̜̬͔̭̣̣̟̪̦̗͖͜͢2̴̴̯̟̩͖̣̭͖̰̹̳̕͟s̷̤̳̜̠̼̝͈̦͔͙͎̱̲̙̜̦̙̭͢͝=҉͝͏̻̣̫̟̳̺̟̝͔͉̬̝̪͙͔̹͡ͅS̸̡͇̱̬̱͓̤̥S̢̢̼̜̮̙̺̝͉̬̩͢͜B͏͜҉̜̼̹͎̱̤͈̝̺͕3̡͚̠͉̪͔̝̯̦͈̬̱̤̮̝̥̘͝͠͡a̷̢̨͕̖̞͜W̶̲̳̟̟̘͇͈̗̲̕͢͝ͅx҉̶̨͖̺̪̳͔͓̝̬͖͈̬͠s̶͏̛̺̫̮̞̪̩̟͞͡I̴̴̺̬͖̼̠̦̻͕̺̩̯͍̖͙̖Ḩ̵̵͙̰̼̠̲̻͔̼͞͠d̨̛̖͇͔̱̱͍̯̯̼̟̫͔͍̰̪̝͞ḩ̡͕̝̮̺͔̘͔͍̲̤̖a̩͔͓̯̞̮̬̥͕̻̙̺͉̞̻̩̰͟X̵̛̱̩̦̣̗͙̬̻̲ͅQ̧̙̻̪̹͎=̢̛͍̗̮͎̫̥̬̩̲̱͍̟͓͈̦̜̕͢

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E͟͠͡͏͢y̕͡e̡̕͏s̢̧͘ ̷̴͠s̵̨t̢͟͡a̶r͏͘i̡̨͢͟͠n͡͝͞g҉̴͟͝ ͝b̶҉̢͝a̛͘͡c͟k̕͡

It was the middle of the night in Kamiki Village.  Adrian was back in Susano’s basement, laying on his back on a round wooden platform used as a makeshift bed.  He blankly stared at the ceiling, thinking about the horrors he saw. He was more than aware of the implications of what could happen if it wasn’t stopped.  He sat up slowly, and held his knees up to his chest, and Adrian quietly sobbed.

Chapter Text

Starlow received the news that Princess Peach had returned, and was requested to visit her in her quarters.  She found her sitting in a chair facing the fireplace, staring into the flames. Starlow slowly floated beside her, noting a somber look on her face, and light bags under her eyes.  “Princess?”

Hearing the voice had almost startled her.  The princess looked to her left, to see the representative of the Star Sprites hovering next to her.  “Oh, Starlow. My apologies. I didn’t hear you come in.”

“Eh, it’s fine,” Starlow said.  “I mean, you did just come back, right?  You’re obviously tired.” Peach nodded in agreement, acting aloof.  “Maybe you should get some sleep.”

“I tried that,” the princess admitted calmly, before her gaze returned to the fire.  It only reminded her of the incidents that occurred during her time in captivity, but mostly, of the one that came after her rescue.

She tightened her grip on an envelope she had been carrying, and it was one that Starlow noticed.  “Uh, what’s that?”

Peach held up the envelope, and presented it to her.  “This is a letter that I received from an anonymous group.  I’m not entirely sure if I’m ready to open it yet.”

“Well, that’s what tomorrow morning is for, I guess.”

As they heard crackling come from the fireplace, there was a brief moment of silence between the two, until the princess spoke up.  “Starlow, there was a reason why I asked you to come speak with me.” Starlow nodded. Peach was unsure if there was any comprehensive way of explaining herself.  “After Mario rescued me, I saw something strange.”

“What did you see?”

The princess struggled to come up with an answer, and there was another pause, briefer than the last one.  “I’m not entirely sure, but it was something awful. I was wondering if you had any insight on what it could be.”

Starlow was confused by her vague recounting, and it mildly annoyed her.  “You’re gonna have to be more specific than that.”

Peach wasn’t sure if she could be.  “It lacked any physical form, and I was the only one who could see it.”

Starlow took a moment to consider what the princess had told her.  “It could be some kind of evil energy, that we may or may not have to worry about in the future.”

“I’m not entirely sure if it was evil,” Peach had confessed.  She decided to get out of her seat and move over to an open window, still holding onto the envelope.

Starlow followed behind and continued to speak.  “I mean, if it stops you from sleeping at night and terrifies you, it’s probably evil.”  The princess tiredly stared out the window, looking into the night sky, and it was a reminder of the strange things Starlow had thought about it.  “Hmm, I wonder...I’m probably gonna be wrong about this, but do you think it might have something to do with what happened two months ago?”

The princess was confused, and looked back at her.  “When I was captured,” she asked.

“Wait, you didn’t know?”  Starlow felt kind of dumb when she realized how obvious the answer was.  “Ah, you weren’t even around at the time, but I’ll still do my best to explain it.  So, around two months ago…um, there was...I, uh.” Then Starlow realized that she was the one struggling to explain herself.  She found herself floating towards the center of the room, trying to find the words, while Princess Peach fully turned in her direction.  “There were tons of articles about it in the paper. Most of them even made it to the front page...Maybe it is connected to whatever you saw.”

Princess Peach couldn’t help staring down at the envelope in her hand, and wondered if there was another connection.  She lifted it up to inspect it. She noticed its coloring being that of a baby blue, and in the center, there was an insignia, of three circles that were all linked together, each of them being three different colors.  The left one was red, and the right one was a darker shade of blue, and a green one in-between them. “Maybe it does.” And the princess decided to open it.


 

It was the middle of the night when Luigi decided to sneak downstairs for a snack.  The house was dark, as he entered the kitchen. He slowly opened the door of the refrigerator, noting the half filled jar of spaghetti sauce inside.  Then he suddenly heard a voice behind him. “Ahem.”

“Wah!”  Luigi’s back went stiff and his head jerked up, and he immediately slammed the door shut.  He nervously turned around, to see a figure coming into the kitchen, obscured by the dark. The figure flipped on a lightswitch with their index figure, and Luigi saw that it was his brother.  

Mario crossed his arms and began tapping his foot on the checkered floor.  “Sneaking a late night snack, Luigi,” he asked out of suspicion.  

“Um...maybe.”

Mario was delighted to see his brother again, and he couldn’t help but crack a smile.  “Could you get me something?” After a brief moment of silence, the two brothers had a chuckle, and immediately met in the center of the room, embracing one another.  “Great to see you again, brother.” Mario gave Luigi three affectionate taps on the shoulder, before they let go of each other.

“So, how’d it go,” Luigi asked.

“With Bowser?”  Being so hungry after a long trip, Mario decided to check the fridge for himself.  “Eh, it was the same old, same old. Went on a quest.” He began moving towards it.  “I beat him, saved the princess.” Then he grabbed onto the handle. “Oh, and he lost a tooth.”  

Mario began to pull the door open, when Luigi abruptly spoke out.  “Um, Mario, eh-” And when the refrigerator was fully opened, there was nothing inside, except for the half empty jar of spaghetti sauce.  “We’re out of food.”

“I can see that,” Mario said, his eyes browsing the blatantly empty shelves.  He shut the door, before turning to face Luigi. “You know, you could always just go to the store, and buy some more stuff.”

“Eh, funny you should bring that up, because I was actually thinking about going tonigh-”  Then Luigi slowly turned his head in the direction of the door, at the window beside it. He briefly stared into the darkness of night, and he nervously scratched at his forearm.  “Did I say tonight? I never said tonight. I have no idea what I’m talking about.”

Mario shrugged.  “We could always go tomorrow.”

“We,” Luigi asked, looking back at him in surprise.

“Yeah,” Mario said bluntly, before walking up to his brother.  “We’re the Super Mario Brothers.” He gave Luigi another affectionate tap on the chest.  “We’re a team.”

“When you’re not working alone.”

“When I’m not working alone.”  Mario spotted an open newspaper left on the kitchen table, taking an interest in the large bold font above a picture of the world map.  “Hmm.” Then he moved over to it. “What’s this?” He lifted the paper off the table with both his hands, and read the title of the article aloud.  “More Undiscovered Lands Discovered in the East. Wait, now there’s more?” Mario briefly skimmed through the first page of the article, recalling the things he’s heard on his journey.  “You know it’s serious when they decide to use an oxymoron in the title.”

“Yeah, and it’s been serious for the past two months.”  Luigi chuckled nervously. “I don’t know what else to tell you, bro.  Everything that’s been going on has been so...weird, like the lands showing up, and the...the weirdness.”

“Lands showing up is actually kind of weird,” Mario admitted.  He noticed another article on the bottom-right corner of the page, and its title.  He immediately slammed the newspaper on the table, and tapped on a photo with his gloved finger.  “Bingo! I found it, Luigi!”

Luigi wasn’t sure of what Mario was speaking about, but he had a guess.  “A way to fix the world?”

“Why would that be in a newspaper?”  Mario lifted the paper once more, and presented it to Luigi.  He pointed at the picture he found, of a stand somewhere in Toad Town being run by a local resident, selling fresh produce to a line of customers.  “See, a farmer’s market, and it’s tomorrow. We can worry about the world changing stuff later. Let’s go to that.”


 

Luigi scratched at the back of his head, until realizing it was an opportunity to spend some time with his brother.  He lowered his arm, and had a light smile on his face. “Okay.”

As soon as the sun rose, the Mario Brothers eagerly made their way to Toad Town, and when they first arrived, they saw that its streets were filled with people, with Toads and Koopa Troopas alike.  There were several stands set up alongside one another that sold various products, from fresh produce to pastries, locally baked or the exotic kinds that were imported from the Luncheon Kingdom. They even passed by various tents where different activities were being held.  

“Here we are,” Mario said to his brother.  “The town’s-a bustling with life. Now, which one do we go to first?”

Luigi looked around at all the tents in the area, trying to come up with a decision.   Luigi’s eyes went over to a stand where children were fingerpainting. One of the young Toads had actually drawn a crude caricature of Princess Peach, and a Koopa, of the Mario Bros themselves, depicted more as innocent stick figures.  He then noticed some of the children’s eyes darting in his direction, along with their parents, and also several of the townspeople, looking at them in awe. It made Luigi nervous, considering him and his brother were technically celebrities, but he did his best to ignore it.  “Hmm, maybe the one with spaghetti?”

Mario gave Luigi a hard tap on the back of his shoulder.  “You know me so well.”

“Oh my god, it’s him!”  Mario spotted a young Toad and a Goomba running up to them, the former carrying a plushie.  The young Toad was giddy with excitement while his friend was far more stoic. “I can’t believe you’re here,” he shouted.  “Take it!” The Toad shoved the plushie up to Mario’s chest. “Please, you gotta sign this for me!”

“Uh…”  Mario took it from him and lifted it slightly, to see that the plushie was one in his likeness, with black beaded eyes.  “Anybody got a pen?”

The Toad looked back at the Goomba, impatiently.  “Did you bring a pen?”

Then the Goomba looked at him, baffled and annoyed.  “I don’t even have arms.”

Luigi tapped on Mario’s shoulder and whispered something into his ear.  “Don’t you have one in the pocket dimension?”

“Oh right.”  Mario then channeled into Starlow’s Pocket Dimension, and a pen appeared between his fingers.

“So you actually had a pen this entire time,” the Toad asked, mildly annoyed.

“Yep,” he admitted, before writing down his signature on the center of the plushie, underneath the right strap of its blue overalls.  “That should do it.” Mario handed it to the kid. “Try not to brag too hard.”

The moment the young Toad had taken it, his excited eyes immediately went to the signature.  “Are you kidding me?! I’m gonna tell all my friends about this!” The young Toad waved specifically at Mario.  “See ya later!” Then he immediately ran off, deeper into the farmer’s market.

The Goomba turned around, before looking back at the Mario Brothers.  “Don’t mind him. He gets annoying sometimes.” Then he began chasing after his friend.  “Hey, wait up,” he shouted at him.

Mario rolled his eyes, as he went to look at his brother.  “I have some wonderful fans,” he said with a hint of sarcasm.  Luigi sighed.

The two of them wandered around the farmer’s market, checking out the various stands.  The first place they went to was the one that sold freshly made spaghetti. Mario had even tried a sample, realizing that he hadn’t eaten anything the previous night, and he gulped it all down, before slamming a couple coins on the table.  Next, they circled back to the pastry stand, Mario purchasing a polygonal cannoli and his brother an eclair. They were two delicacies that they enjoyed, before going to the other stands to purchase more food, in order to fill up their refrigerator and cupboards.

After they were finished, they stored their food away in Starlow’s Pocket Dimension, before heading over to Tayce T’s Diner, which was a short distance away from where the farmer’s market was held.  The Mario Brothers had ordered a stack of pancakes and two cups of coffee, as they spent their time having a pleasant conversation. And after they finished eating, they paid the bill, and left the diner, still conversing as they headed outside.  

“The next time we come here, we’re definitely getting the shroom cakes,” Mario said.  “No discussion.” He turned around, to see that Luigi was frozen in place, nervously looking up at something.  “Something wrong?”

“Mario,” Luigi said, timidly.  “It’s looking right at us.”

And Mario saw a drone hovering above them.  There was a camera connected to its base, that began to zoom in, not on Luigi, but Mario himself.  There was an uncomfortable silence, and after a few seconds, the widened lens shrank, and the drone flew away, heading left.  Mario noticed a symbol on its side, of three different colored circles interlinked with one another. And then he realized where that drone was going.  In the direction of Peach’s Castle. “After it,” Mario shouted, before pursuing the drone.  

Luigi briefly stood there in a tizzy, before realizing what was happening.  “Wah!” Then he followed Mario. “Wait for me,” he shouted, passing by a family of Toads on their way to the farmer’s market.  

After a brief pursuit down the street, the two of them came across a flight of stairs that Mario jumped over, raising his fist.  The moment he landed, all the townspeople in the area began to clap. And as they cheered him on, Mario kept his eyes on the drone, which was now a higher distance away, yet was heading for the same destination.  He continued chasing it, unsure of its intentions.

Luigi reached the top of the stairs soon after.  He was falling behind, enough that he lost sight of his brother.  Another Toad stepped in, and pointed him out. They helped Luigi spot Mario, who was near the other side of a large fountain that stood in the center of the plaza.  He gratefully nodded at the Toad, before trying to catch up with him.

The Mario Brothers continued their pursuit, and eventually it went to the bridge leading to the gates of Peach’s Castle.  Mario and Luigi were catching up to the drone and with each other, while it stayed in the air at a consistent speed. Its camera rotated around, and zoomed in on the closest brother.  Then it suddenly stopped, before abruptly launching itself at Mario. A gust of wind hit his face, and he came to the realization that the drone was now hovering in front of him.

And then it spoke.  “Just so we’re clear about something, I’m not exactly the bad guy.”  The voice had come from its speaker, belonging to that of a young man.

“You can never be too sure,” Mario admitted.

“That’s understandable.”  Then the gates had suddenly opened, and the drone’s camera rotated back to it.  “Ah, there she is.”

“What?”  Mario was in a state of confusion, as his brother finally caught up with him.  He saw the princess and Starlow on the bridge, and the drone flew over to them.  The Mario Brothers followed behind, and the five of them converged just outside the castle gates.  “Wait, what’s going on?”

“This drone decided to show up uninvited,” Starlow answered, bluntly.  “But I’ll give him credit. At least he told us first.”

A chuckle came from the drone’s speaker, and it turned to face her.  “Oh, you know, just doing my job. So, I’m just gonna take a guess here and say you’re the Mushroom Kingdom’s princess.”  Starlow was only dumbfounded, and wondered if the envoy was just a dumb lackey, until she heard the sound of giggling. “Nah, I’m just kidding.”  Then the drone quickly turned to face the princess herself. “I know it’s you. Glad to see you’re doing alright.”

“Why thank you,” the princess said, bowing out of courtesy.  “And it’s a pleasure to finally meet you as well.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you too.  So I’m guessing you read that letter, because if you didn’t, things would have turned out really awkwardly.  Well, to the extent that things have already been awkward-”

“Just get to the part where you tell us why you’re here,” Starlow demanded calmly.

“That I can do, your grace.”  The drone’s lighthearted teasing made her eyes roll.  “Anyways, let’s start with the formalities. My name’s Mathias, and I’m part of an organization that really wants to help you guys.”

“It kind of sounds like a cult,” Luigi had suddenly said.  

The drone’s camera immediately circled around, and its lens widened.  “Oh, it’s definitely a cult.” Then it shrank to its original size. “No, I’m kidding about that too.  Like I said, it’s an organization, an ancient organization-” Then Mathias stopped talking, the camera facing left of the group.  “Wait, are we a cult?” There was an awkward silence. “No, we can’t be.” Then the drone panned back to Princess Peach. “Oh, I’m sorry.  I’ve just been unprofessional this entire time.”

Starlow was now convinced that he actually was a dumb lackey.  “We noticed.”

Then came another awkward silence, one that Princess Peach needed to break.  “Um, if you could continue?”

“Ah, yes, yes, of course.  My bad.” Mathias chuckled nervously.  “Now to do some explaining. You see, it’s our job to observe and record all the historical events going on in the world, and-”  Then there was another pause, and the enthusiasm in his voice had suddenly dropped. “And to preserve it when we need to.”  

“That does sound rather interesting,” the princess admitted.  “And what happens to be the name of your organization?”

“Uh.”  Mathias hesitated.  “We’re the Borderlines.”

“The Borderlines,” Mario said out of intrigue.

Then the drone in its entirety abruptly turned around, its camera facing him.  “Y-yes, that is the name of our cult, not-cult! Professional organization, or whatever we are!”  Mario noticed how nervous Mathias had sounded, and crossed his arms out of suspicion. “Uh?” Mathias chuckled as he had before.

It gave Mario a smirk.  “I take it you’re a big fan?”

“Uh, yeah, sure.  We can say that.” Mathias chuckled again, before bringing his attention back to Princess Peach.  “Th-th-tha-that’s what we do, princess. We observe everything that’s going on in the world, and, uh, the Mushroom Kingdom just so happens to be a part of it.”

Peach had thought about the things Starlow had told her the previous night, and of the letter the Borderlines had sent to her.  “A part of the world.” Then she had a realization, and she shut her eyes and took a deep breath. And then she opened them, and focused entirely on the drone’s camera.  “For the longest time, my people were led to believe that these lands were appearing in our world, but this was never our world to begin with, was it?”

“It’s still your world, but it’s part of ours now,” Mathias answered, empathically.  Another moment of silence followed, this one with a major shift in tone. “Princess, if I could ask you something?  Have you ever had a feeling in the back of your mind that didn’t make any sense, like, something had changed, even though your eyes are telling you an entirely different story?  That if you were to look up into the sky at night, and something would be wrong with it, despite the fact that it looks exactly the same as it always had.”

The princess’s eyes widened in shock when she realized the answer was yes, and she saw the exact same shock in Starlow and the Mario Brothers.

“I’m not the only one,” Starlow almost whispered.

“Wait a sec?”  Mario took a step forward, moving to the right of the drone as to not get in its way.  “Are we all in the same boat, here?” He looked over at his brother, who nodded in agreement.

“Everyone is,” Mathias said.  “That’s one of the reasons why we wanted to help you guys so badly, because we wanted to help provide some context and clarity, and hopefully, some semblance of closure in exchange for adding a few more pages in some social studies book.  You’re in the Convergence World now, guys. This is a new reality, and you’re here to stay.”

All the newfound information Luigi had received began to make his head spin.  “Excuse me for a minute. I need to faint.” Then he fell to his back, and immediately passed out.

“Whoa.”  Mario ran over to his brother, and knelt beside his body, the drone now facing them.  He placed both his hands over his shoulders, and started shaking him, to no response. “Luigi?”  He shook again, and again, to no response. “Yep, my brother’s unconscious.”

“I know I’m supposed to be neutral about these things, but shouldn’t we call an ambulance,” Mathias asked, out of genuine concern.

“Nah, he’ll be fine,” Starlow said.

The drone’s camera pointed directly to her.  “Are you sure?”

“Look man, you’d be surprised by all the crazy stuff Luigi has been through.  This is nothing for him.”

“Okay then.”  There was a hint of doubt in Mathias’s voice.  And then he brought his attention back to Princess Peach.  “So, princess, if you need the time to think things through, this drone is gonna be-”

“I’ve already made my decision,” she abruptly said.

“Don’t you want some time to think about it?”

“Forgive my interruption.”  The princess laid a hand on her chest.  “But the people of the Mushroom Kingdom have suffered in the dark for long enough.”

“But what about at the farmers market,” Mario interjected.  The princess gave him a cold, impatient stare. “Eh, sorry.”

The princess opted to keep her focus on the subject at hand.  “I believe it’s time for them to learn the truth, if you can provide it to us, Mathias.”

“I can,” he said, before a brief moment of hesitation.  “But, you do understand that there’s a part two in all this.  If we’re gonna tell you about the Convergence World and how it all works, the Borderlines need to be here, physically.”

“Physically,” Peach asked.

“Physically.”  Mathias started to sound even more enthusiastic and excited than during the first moments of their meet.  “Representatives from different fields, from science to architecture to literature, guards to establish a perimeter to make sure nothing goes wrong, myself.  We’re bringing in the big guns, to make sure that you and your people know how this place works! And you gotta bring your guns too, metaphorically speaking, because we want to at least on friendly terms with you guys-”

“We get it,” Starlow shouted out of frustration.  “Sheesh! You are so loud, I can actually hear where you're coming from!”

“Oh, I’m sorry.  I got a little too excited there,” Mathias admitted.  “I really just love my job.”

“Of course,” the princess said, feeling a little flabbergasted.  “And when do you intend to have this meet?”

“Uh, excuse me for a second.”  Then she heard the sound of a headset being placed on a desk, and Mathias talking to somebody, just outside its hearing range.  “When d...how man...kay.” Then Mathias returned, putting his headset on. “Two weeks, take it or leave it.”

“In that short amount of time.”  As short of a timeslot as it was to prepare in, Princess Peach was more than determined to see this meeting through.  “Very well. I’ll begin making preparations as early as today.”

“I can help with that,” Mario insisted, before looking down at his unconscious brother.  “And him too, whenever he wakes up.” The princess nodded, and Mario gave her a thumbs up and a smile.

“So, I guess that means everything is final, so…”  The drone slowly turned to face Mario, and there was a second of silence.  “If there’s anything I need to say right now, it’s BYE-BYE!” Then the drone launched itself into the sky.

Mario pointed at it, as it drew further away.  “That’s my line.”

“Too bad he didn’t hear you,” Starlow said.

Luigi slowly began to drift back into consciousness.  His eyes slowly opened, to see the blue skies and its few clouds obscured by his blurred vision.  He blinked once, and the skies were cleared, except for a tiny speck that stuck out in front of him, so small that he barely noticed it.  Luigi blinked again, but the speck was still there, and he blinked a third time with the same result. Then he came to the realization that the speck really was in the sky, and the drone was hovering up to it.

Chapter Text

Mudkip had decided to visit Ivysaur’s Guild that morning.  As he went up the spiraling staircase, he noticed that several of his fellow members were helping to repair the damages caused by yesterday’s earthquake.  He even passed by Hawlucha and the twin Mankeys, patching up cracks on the wall with wooden slabs, that were laid in a pile on the step above them.

“Try not to get my wing caught,” Hawlucha said to them.

“I could use a chestnut first,” one of the Mankey replied, half-joking, as his brother lifted up one of the slabs.

After climbing several of the steps, he spotted a familiar face walking down from them.  Then Chikorita spotted him. “Mudkip?” Seeing him put an excited smile on her face, and she rushed down to greet him.  “Hey, I haven’t seen you in ages. How have you been?”

Mudkip was slightly nervous, despite the two of them being close friends.  “Uh, p-pretty good,” he told her. His eyes went to the highest point of the staircase, leading up to the second floor.  “I wanted to talk to the guild master about something. If you want to come with me-”

“Sure thing,” Chikorita said, almost immediately. 

Mudkip nodded, before the two of them headed further up the stairs.  “So, uh, why did you come to the guild” he asked.

“I wanted to check on the others, to see if they were okay.”

“And, how are they?”

“I’m happy to report that they’re doing okay.”  Then Chikorita’s pleasant smile went away. “Well, most of them anyway.  Some of the others weren’t exactly lucky.”

“Oh.”  Mudkip was saddened to hear the news.  “I’m sorry to hear that.”

“Yeah.”  Chikorita perked herself up, and her smile returned.  “But hey, at least on the bright side, nobody got killed.  Things honestly could have turned out a lot worse than they had.”  Mudkip nodded in agreement, before she decided to change the subject.  “So, you said you wanted to talk to Guildmaster Ivysaur. About what?”

“Uh.”  Mudkip wasn’t exactly sure if he could explain the situation to her.  “I wanted to talk to him about...um-”

“The Bulbasaur,” she interjected.

Mudkip was surprised that she had actually heard about him.  “You knew?”

“Everyone in the guild knows.”  Chikorita wasn’t too proud to admit that.  “The news spread about him pretty quickly, almost as fast as wildfire, especially when the others saw the guild master storm out of here so suddenly.”

The two of them reached the second floor, passing by other guild members clearing out the debris scattered across the large dormitory.  Others were searching for their beds, or what remained of them, and the hay that used to occupy the innards of their nest shaped frames.  Mudkip’s had even spotted the guild master’s son helping with the cleaning, even taking charge and providing moral support. “Hey, you’re doing good,” Junior said to an upset Eevee.  “Don’t be hard on yourself.”

As they continued up to the third floor, they continued their conversation.  “How is he by the way,” Chikorita asked. “Is the Bulbasaur doing any better?”

“Y-yeah,” Mudkip said.  “I gave him some medicine, and I, uh, I think he’ll be okay...But, it’s still too early to tell.”

“Well, either way, I hope he makes a speedy recovery...So, did the two of you think of a name for your rescue team ye-”

“Uh.”  Mudkip immediately froze in place.  “I-I never said the Bulbasaur was part of my team.” 

Chikorita was two steps higher when she looked back at him with a puzzled expression.  “Wait, I thought that-”

“I mean, he isn’t yet,” Mudkip said in a confused stupor, almost shouting.  “H-he might be?” Then he realized how rude he was sounding, and snapped himself out of it.  “Eh, sorry for interrupting.”

“That’s okay.”  Chikorita remembered something that she wanted to tell him.  “Oh.” Then she turned the rest of her body around to face him.  “And speaking of rescue teams, Charmander and I found our third recruit.”

Mudkip was surprised to hear that.  “You did?”  

Chikorita nodded.  “Mhm. Guess that completes the trio.  But it was Charmander who found him. You know, the funny thing is, the day that Bulbasaur showed up-”  She stopped herself. “On second thought, maybe that’s a conversation for another day.”

As curious as Mudkip was, he decided not to push her about it.  “Okay.” Then he thought about something else involving her team, and he started feeling guilty.  “Um, we never really talked about Team Go-Getters. I heard that...W-well, Junior told me a few weeks ago that-”

“We wanted you on our team,” Chikorita confessed, moving down a step.  “It’s okay. You wanted to start your own, and I’m happy for you, really.  And besides, I think that Bulbasaur would make a great partner, if you decided to let him join.”

Mudkip still had mixed feelings about it.  “Y-yeah.”

“Anyway, I think it’s time I headed out.”  Chikorita started walking down the stairs, then stopped beside him.  “If you want to catch up some more, our team base is right outside Pokemon Square, next to the shack.  I guess I’ll see you then.”

Mudkip nodded at her with a sad smile and she nodded back.  And the next thing he knew, Chikorita was moving down the remaining steps.  Mudkip couldn’t help looking down at the floor below, noticing Junior walking over to the guild master’s assistant near the center of the room.

“Weavile, see if there’s any extra hay in storage,” the young Bulbasaur told him.

“You got it,” Weavile said, before heading towards the spiraling staircase, nodding at Chikorita as he passed her.  “How you doin’?”

Mudkip turned around and looked up the stairs.  He took a deep breath, preparing himself for whatever happened next, and continued his journey to the fourth floor.  And when that journey ended, the first Pokemon he ran into was the guild master’s wife, speaking with a Nidoran♀ by the door of her office.

“Just remember, none of this is your fault,” she told them, before noticing Mudkip.  “We’re gonna have to continue this talk later, but I want you back in my office in the next few hours.  Go help the others clean up in the meantime.” The Nidoran nodded, before heading for the stairs, giving Mudkip a passing glance.  Then the Ivysaur walked up to him. “Mudkip, it’s been a while. How have you been?”

“Uh, good,” Mudkip said, despite how nervous he was.  “I wanted to talk to the guild master about something-”

“The Bulbasaur.”  Mudkip nodded. “That was more blunt than usual.  Sorry about that, but I have no idea when he’ll be out of his office.  He’s been very busy, considering how chaotic it’s been. If you want to talk about what happened yesterday, you can always-”

“I know, but I think I should talk to him about it.”

The Ivysaur chuckled.  “You’re almost as stubborn as I am, you know that.  I can talk to him as soon as I can, and we can set up a meeting if you want.”

As tempting as it was to accept her offer, Mudkip needed to speak to the guild master as soon as he possibly could.  “If it’s okay, I think I should wait.”

“Then it would be a rather short wait.”  The sudden voice almost made Mudkip jump and he let out a gasp.  He looked to his left, and saw Guildmaster Ivysaur approaching him from his office.  “My apologies. It seems I’m not as busy as I appear.”

“I’m so glad you finally showed up,” his wife said.  “Now I don’t have to find other ways to tell your student how he’s so stubborn.”

The guild master laughed at that.  “My apologies for that as well.” Then he brought his attention to Mudkip.  “A pleasure to see you again. How may I be of service?”

“I wanted to talk to you about something,” Mudkip said.  “It’s really important.”

He glanced over to his wife, and she nodded slightly.  “Very well. If this talk is important, it would be better suited to discuss in a place of privacy.”  Then he gave his wife a slight nod, before the guild master and his recruit proceeded to his office, as she returned to her own.  He quickly moved to the door and held it open, to allow Mudkip inside. Then he followed him, and gently closed it as he walked in as well.

Mudkip and the guild master headed towards a flat tree stump in the center of the rounded room.  Despite how nervous he was, he began to speak. “I don’t really know how to start with this, but it’s about the Bulbasaur I found yesterday.  He told me that-”

“He intended to join your team,” the guild master correctly guessed, moving to the other side of his makeshift desk.  “And has he?”

Mudkip shook his head.  “That’s why I’m here, sir, because I need advice.”  Guildmaster Ivysaur sat down. “I don’t really know what to do.  I-I’ve actually thought about recruiting him, but at the same time, I don’t think I can.  It just sounds selfish.”

“And why do you consider it selfish?”

“Because of all the things he’s been through yesterday.  He lost his memory, he has a gash in his head, and he almost bled to death.  And worse, he doesn’t even have the same training I do. We could go into our first mystery dungeon, and...what if he never comes out?  I don’t think I could live with myself if he were to...I just don’t think he’s-” Despite the things he said, a confident smile formed on the Ivysaur’s face.  “Guild master?”

He held that smile for a time.  “Traversing through a mystery dungeon does have its risks, regardless if one has the necessary training or not.  There’s no denying that. But it’s also necessary that I ask, what makes you believe that this Bulbasaur you found would ever die on your watch?”

“I haven’t made a decision yet,” Mudkip said.

“Of course.  That’s the reason why you’re here, after all.  If a decision had already been made, you wouldn’t have come all this way to heed my counsel.  I must ask again, what makes you believe that this Bulbasaur would die on your watch?”

Mudkip took a moment to consider his question.  “My anxiety?”

The guild master scoffed.  “Anxiety, the very same anxiety that hasn’t stopped you from saving him before.  The very same anxiety losing its control over you. What were the exact words I said the other day?  ‘Despite your affliction.’ And despite your affliction and all your self-doubt, you’ve spent the past year in this very guild anyway, learning and training and growing.  And with those aspects in mind, I ask you one final time, what makes you think he would die on your watch?”

“He wouldn’t,” he said with a brief window of clarity.  “I would go out of my way to make sure nothing happened to him.”

“Assuming you’ve made your decision.”  The guild master stood himself up. “And have you?”

“I-” Mudkip desperately wanted to say yes.  “I still don’t know. What should I do?”

Ivysaur circled around his desk once more, and stood beside his pupil.  “The Bulbasaur lost his memory, he has a gash in his head, and he almost bled to death.  That boy is desperately trying to cling onto some newfound sense of identity, with no signs of his old one ever returning.  He may not have the same training as you do, yet I advise you recruit him anyway. Allow him the time to heal, educate him on all the things you’ve learned during your time here, prior to your first rescue mission and after, even.”

“Where would I even start,” Mudkip asked.  “There’s just so much stuff to cover, and who knows when we’d be doing our first rescue mission.”

“I’m sure you’d cover it well, through and through.”

“You think I could?”

“Well, if the Bulbasaur is worthy of your partnership.”

And the Bulbasaur was.  Mudkip had made his decision, and he let the guild master know by looking him straight in the eyes, and nodding.

Chapter Text

Adrian had spent his final moments in Kamiki Village standing on its bridge alone, blankly staring into the morning sky, as its elder was approaching him on his left, holding himself up with a cane.  “So, is it true,” Mr. Orange asked, not even masking his apathy. Adrian looked over at him, noting the signature fruit on his head. “You’ll be leaving Kamiki Village?”

“I don’t exactly have a choice,” Adrian admitted.

“Very well.  If the gods deem that to be, than I wish you luck in your journey.”  Before Adrian could say anything else, Mr. Orange was already turning back.  He rolled his eyes, knowing he had better things to do.  

Then he spotted Susano coming up the bridge to his right.  “Eh, don’t mind him, Adrian. I’m sure he’ll open up to you one of these days.”

“Assuming I ever come back,” Adrian hated to say.  “Not that Mr. Orange would mind.” He scoffed, before resting his arms on the rails and leaning forward.  Adrian shook his head and stared into the water below, trying not to think about those eyes staring back at him, and failing.  His lips quivered, and he shut his own, desperately trying to not break down. “I should probably get going.”

Susano looked at his twisting face, genuinely worried for the boy.  Adrian then looked over at him with a pretend smile, before he stood and shakingly nodded.  He started walking in the direction of Susano’s hut, then he followed beside him. “You never said what the Konohana’s spirit showed you last night.”

“And maybe it’s for the best.”  Adrian wanted to keep his mind off whatever he saw, but he hoped talking about could alleviate his stress.  “I can’t exactly describe what I saw, except it could mean something bad.”

“Like what,” Susano asked.

“Oh, you know, just your run of the mill, high-stakes, end of the world kind of situation.”

“That bad, huh?  Looks like something needs to be done about this.”

“That’s actually the first thing that came to mind, when I got over the shock, and the conniptions.”  Adrian pointed at Susano. “Sorry about that, by the way.”  

He nodded.  “Do you even know where to start?”

“Where I’m from, this line is overused, but I’ll have to go wherever the wind takes me.  That’s really the best start I’m ever gonna get.” Adrian and Susano met with Kushi underneath the gate in front of the latter’s hut, leaning against the inner pillar.  She was carrying a moderately sized bag by its single strap, one that was filled. Adrian would have loved to say something witty to greet her, but all he could let out was a simple “Hey.”

“Hey,” was Kushi’s response, sounding somber.  She went over to him and her husband, and presented the bag to Adrian.  “I wanted to help pack.” Then she handed it to him. “I’m not sure how long your journey will last, but there should be enough food to last you a while, as long as you conserve it.”

Adrian opened the bag and looked through its contents, seeing a wooden bottle with a cork sealing the opening on top.  He took it out, seeing Kushi’s signature on it, and he chuckled. “Sake?”

“That would be the water.”  

“Right.”  Then he put it back.  He continued inspecting the bag, spotting a dagger inside its sheath opposite to where the bottle was.  He lifted it from its handle, and wielding it gave him an unsettling thought of what he would have to use it for.

“To defend yourself,” Kushi insisted.

“Yeah.”  Adrian immediately put it back in the bag, and now something else was lodged in the back of his mind.  He closed it, before putting his arm through the strap. “Thank you, really. Honestly, this is all really appreciated-”  Then Kushi suddenly ran up to Adrian and tightly embraced him. His cheeks reddened. “Okay.”

“Come back to us one day,” she begged him.  “Will you?” Adrian nodded, and then she let go, taking a few steps back.

“Wouldn’t mind dropping in and visiting one of these days.”  He wasn’t entirely sure if he could. “Besides, I’d never get the chance to meet little Kuni if I didn’t, right?”  Kushi nodded with a sad smile, and so did Adrian. He looked over at the pathway leading out of Kamiki Village, wishing he could stay.  He slowly turned around to face Susano, wanting to say something to him. “Uh-”

“You’re not expecting a hug from me, are you,” he asked him. 

Adrian could still smell the sake on his clothes.  “It’s probably for the best that I didn’t.”

Susano smirked.  “And try not to forget your month’s worth of training either.  If I hear tales of a dead foreigner in the woods somewhere, I’d be pretty disappointed.”

“I’d be pretty disappointed too.”  Adrian’s focus went onto Susano’s hut, and the training yard next to it, reminiscing about the place he spent the majority of his time in.  “Well, I guess it’s time for me to head out.” He looked back at Susano. “The sooner I get going, the sooner I can prevent what is essentially the apocalypse, so.”  Then he turned to face Kushi. “I guess it’s goodbye for now. I’m gonna miss you guys.” He felt a firm tap on his shoulder, and his attention returned to Susano.

“Adrian, if you see him, please give him our regards.”  Adrian knew that he was referring to his and Kushi’s stepson.  “Tell him I’m sorry.”

“I will,” he told him, then the two of them locked arms.  “See ya, man.” Susano nodded, and the two of them let go.  And then Adrian started moving towards the exit of the village.  He stopped abruptly, and looked back at Susano and Kushi one final time, longing to stay in Kamiki.  “Thanks for getting me through the past month.” Kushi nodded, seemingly holding back tears. He wanted to nod back, but he would have broken down himself if he had.  All he could do was smile, and he turned around, and started walking away, forcing himself to look ahead.


 

The first thing Adrian had seen on his journey across Shinshu Field was a large sakura tree that looked almost identical to the Konohana, except it was far smaller.  As reluctant as he was determined to see his journey through, he left it be and nervously swallowed. He had a hunch as to where he needed to go, and he kept moving forward, travelling across the vast and open field.


 

Mario and Luigi returned to their home shortly after the incident with the drone, storing all the food they had purchased at the farmers market in their refrigerator and cupboards.  “So, today was pretty interesting,” Mario said to his brother, before seeing him moving towards the window. “Luigi?” Then he went over to him. “What’s up?”

Luigi looked out into the sky again, seeing that exact same speck hovering in the same spot as before.


 

After the first two hours, the flatlands of Shinshu Field had emerged into a hilly terrain with pathways that Adrian could use for easy travel.  Journeying upward, he couldn’t help feeling that something had been following him from afar. He looked to his right, to see the open fields that he had walked across, and the Konohana Tree far in the distance.


 

After Mudkip had returned from Ivysaur’s Guild, he spent hours teaching his new partner all the things he had learned during his year there, now on the subject of mystery dungeons.  “Okay, just remember to keep your eyes sharp when you go into those places. J-just assume everything wants to kill you, because, y-you know they do, and that they won’t hesitate to sink their teeth into your flesh-”  Then he saw the perplexed look on Bulbasaur’s face. “Uh, sorry if I scared you.”

“Your apologizing is actually scarier,” Bulbasaur said, bluntly, and it made Mudkip blush.  He chuckled nervously. “But these mystery dungeons are starting to sound interesting.” Then he lightly grinned.

Mudkip felt awkward, and had to assume that Bulbasaur made a lighthearted joke.  He nervously chuckled to that too, glancing over at his parents, who were watching him teach from the top of the stairs.


 

After another three hours, Adrian had made it to the top of the hills, and below he saw a giant wooden arch and a shack in front of it, along with a vast body of water behind them, and mountains in the distance.  It was one of the most beautiful sights that he had ever seen, and Adrian decided to take a seat. He took out a partially eaten turnip and his dagger from his bag, and used it to peel off a chunk of its skin, before taking a bite out of it.

And then a hard gust of wind suddenly knocked into the left side of his body, hard enough that he fell to his right, and he dropped his turnip.  “Jesus!”  

He quickly got to his feet and turned to where it came from.  Adrian spotted a wooden bridge a distance away, and an animal on the other side of it, with a coat of fur as white as snow.  It was too far away to see any further details, but he noticed it nodding at something behind him. Adrian turned around, to see a cave with a narrow opening, next to another point of entry that had completely collapsed.  Then he turned back, to see that the creature was gone. Adrian knew where he had to go, and he started heading in the direction of that cave, knowing full well of the benevolent being watching over him.


 

The blue lookalike had spent the past day triumphantly walking down a path in some forest.  With every step, its curiosity about its apparent pink counterpart had grown more and more, until he saw something so utterly repulsive laying beside the path.  All rational thinking went away, and they rushed up to the bamboo shoot, and kicked it as hard as it could, screaming “CUCK!”


 

Adrian knelt in front of the crevice, and looked inside, seeing that the tunnel within was so short and narrow that there wasn’t enough room to stand.  “Ah, that’s great,” he sarcastically muttered. He got on his stomach, and reluctantly crawled inside. “For a good cause.”  

When he was all the way in, he saw a shimmer of light a far distance away.  The closer he got to it, the more of the light behind him started to fade, until he was enveloped in darkness.  It was only a reminder of the eyes staring back at him, but despite how terrified the thought alone made him, he needed to keep moving.  After some time, Adrian reached the other side of the tunnel, seeing that the exit hole was significantly wider and that the walls were too.  He took it as an opportunity to get on one knee, before standing all the way up. He took a long breath, rolling his shoulders and stretching his back, before exiting the cave.  

And Adrian saw a forest down below, and a giant lake in its center with several tiny islands in the body of water.  Atop some of them were large trees, some standing tall while others had toppled over, because of a series of earthquakes that devastated Nippon some time ago.  The devastation had even spread to the other side of the forest, where sections of the rocky walls surrounding it had completely collapsed. Even from a vantage point, Adrian saw no other paths he could take, except for an entrance to another cave near the lake.

He realized that he was stuck and started to panic.  He fell to his knees, and firmly gripped onto the sides of his head.  “Shit.” Then he immediately stood back up. “No, no, no.” He started nervously pacing around. “What do I do?  What do I do?” He stopped, and his mind went blank.

And a melody played, one that seemed to echo through the entirety of the forest, then it abruptly stopped.  In the silence, Adrian easily recognized that the sound had come from a flute. Then it started playing again.  As the second verse rang through his ears, his eyes veered around the woods, and he tried to find its source. It sounded as if it came from every angle, then Adrian turned around and it stopped again.  

He looked up, and atop the rocky wall stood the very man who played that song, holding onto that flute.  He wore a distinctive pink kimono and a headdress, and a katana attached to his belt. And that same man was watching him with an almost playful smile, then without even hesitating, jumped down from the cliff.  Adrian stepped back in shock, and the man landed perfectly on his own two feet, completely unscathed. “And so the gods’ gift to man has finally made himself known,” he said. “He’s certainly more handsome than I expected.”

“I don’t exactly know who you were referring to there.  Was it you or me?”

The mystery man chuckled, and took a step forward.  “You must be the foreigner I’ve heard so much about.  I’ve heard tales that you appeared in a puff of smoke in the outskirts of Kamiki Village.”  He rested his arm on the handle of his katana. “What do you believe?”

Adrian put his hands in his pockets, and shrugged.  “Uh, that it sounds a little contrived. I’m sorry, I don’t know who you are.”

“Oh, my apologies.  I thought you already did.”  Adrian started to feel uncomfortable, and suspicious of the man.  “I only jest,” he then said, much to his relief. “Perhaps it’s time for a more proper introduction.”

“And the spectacle from before wasn’t enough,” Adrian asked.

“I never said my name was Waka during that spectacle, did I?  Just like how you never said your name was Adrian Williams during it too.”

Adrian would have bowed in return if a pit hadn’t formed in his stomach.  “You know my name?”

Waka bowed.  “It’s a pleasure to meet you too.”

“What’s pleasant is the first impression you’ve made,” Adrian said, putting more emphasis on his sarcasm than usual.  Waka straightened his back, and kept that same smile that made him hard to read. Adrian scoffed. “You actually knew both my first and my last name.  You must be a secret admirer, which is just a fancy way of me calling you a stalker.”

“Am I a stalker,” Waka asked in a mocking tone.  Adrian nodded, trying not to show any frustration.  “And will that question make a difference in the end, when those eyes staring back at you begin to watch us all?”

Then his frustration turned to visible shock.  “You saw them?”

“And the events to come soon after, should we fail in the roles we play.”  Waka’s playful demeanor had almost slipped when he said that. “You’ve only been given a taste of the horrors to come, and I’ve seen visions.  Visions that would drive ordinary men to madness and to gouge out their own eyes. Visions of a future where you could only wish for oblivion. That is, until you were made known to us, and now this ever growing, everlasting world may receive a second chance.  The gods’ gift to man.”

And those words started to ring through his ears, and the pit in his stomach had only grown wider.  “Yeah, that’s definitely not a stressful thing to put on a fifteen year old.”

Then Waka suddenly frowned.  “It certainly is,” he confessed, sounding more sincere than before.  “And you’ll come to understand why you were chosen someday.”  

Adrian remembered the very thing Sakuya had told him.  “I’m one of the centerpieces in stopping it.”

“Yes.”  The man shut his eyes, and breathed through his nose.  “And the others will come in due time, and you must be ready.”  Waka’s smile returned, and then he opened his eyes. “Shall we begin?”

Adrian was unsure of what he meant by that.  He slowly wrapped his arms around the bag he carried.  “With what?”

“Well, with your training, of course.”  Waka pretended to sound surprised. “Certainly, you haven’t come all this way just to have a pleasant conversation, or to listen to my beautiful melodies.”  Waka lifted the flute directly up to his face. “Speaking of.” He spun the flute around in his fingers, before lifting it over his head and pushing its upper half inwards with his other hand.  Then he pulled out a bright green saber. “If only I were a drunkard pulling punches, Adrian,” he said, poising to attack.

Adrian immediately realized that Waka had no intentions of holding back, unlike Susano.  He quickly opened the bag and took out the dagger Kushi had packed for him, and threw it aside to keep it out of harm's way.  He took off the sheath and it dropped to the ground. He clenched onto the handle with both his hands, and pointed the blade at his newfound mentor, shaking.

“I’m aware of your month’s worth of training,” he told his pupil.  Waka suddenly pulled the katana out of its scabbard, and for show, swung it around alongside his glowing blade, before charging straight for him.  Waka raised his two swords above his head and readied to swing them at Adrian, so fast that he screamed.


 

Two weeks had passed since the Bulbasaur and Mudkip formed their rescue team.  The rest, along with the medicine Mudkip had given him worked so extraordinarily well, that it made the immense fatigue he had seem nonexistent.  However, the gash was still there, and the Mudkip’s mother had swapped out the cloths wrapped around his head with a smaller patch only covering the wound.

Bulbasaur waited for his partner outside, looking out into the morning sky, before his eyes slowly went to a blade of grass that stood out from the others, one that was a far darker shade of green.  He stared at what was left of his encrusted blood, while Mudkip spoke to his parents just outside the door, carrying a bag with a strap over his back.

“You’re gonna do great out there,” his mother said to him, the Bulbasaur slowly turning his head in their direction.

“You know what I think we should do?  The second you guys get back, we should celebrate,” said the Mudkip’s father.  “Head out to Pokemon Square, get something at Audino’s.”

Mudkip nodded with a smile.  “Y-yeah, that sounds like a great idea.  Oh, and mom, you packed it, right? You know, just in case-”

“It’s packed,” his mother assured him.  

“Thank you.”  Mudkip briefly looked over at Bulbasaur, who then looked away.  “Um, I think it’s time we headed to Ivysaur’s Guild. We should be back soon.”

“And you better hurry,” his father teased.  “The sooner you do, the sooner we can eat, because I’m starving.”

The Mudkip’s mother rolled her eyes.  “Like it wasn’t our son’s most important day.”

Mudkip chuckled.  “I’ll try to get back as soon as I can.  I’ll see you then.” Then his mom nodded at him, before he excitedly ran up to the Bulbasaur, stopping beside him, while his parents went back inside.  “Hey Bulbasaur, are you ready?” There was no response, as he was blankly staring ahead. “Bulbasaur? Are you okay?”  

And then was snapped out of his daze, and his eyes were drawn to him.  “Uh.” Bulbasaur turned his entire head around. “Yeah, I think so.” Then he pretended to smile.  “I’m okay. Are we heading out?”

“Yeah.  You ready?”

“You already asked me that.”

“Oh, right...eh-”  Awkwardly, Mudkip then started walking downhill, the Bulbasaur walking alongside him.  With every step to Ivysaur’s Guild, the more eager and excited he had gotten, and to his surprise, wasn’t even remotely anxious.  After some time travelling downhill, Mudkip could no longer contain his excitement. “It’s been a whole year, and I still can’t believe it’s finally happening.  We’re gonna be an official rescue team.”

“You seem pretty excited about it,” Bulbasaur said, far calmer.

“I really am.”  Then all that excitedness went away when he realized something, and he stopped.  “Oh no. W-we never really thought of a team name, did we?”

Then Bulbasaur did too, and looked back.  “And you’re worried about that?” Mudkip nodded.  “We can think of one on the way there.” Then the two of them continued downhill.  “Do you have any ideas?”

“Uh.”  Mudkip caught up with Bulbasaur.  “I was thinking...Team Cyan? You know, because I’m blue and you’re green.”

“My skin’s more bluish-green, but I see the point.  Team Cyan, that’s not a bad name. I’ll take it.”

“You will?”  Mudkip was worried that Bulbasaur would disapprove of that name.  

Then he stopped in his tracks when he saw a gigantic tree in the distance.  “That’s Ivysaur’s Guild.” Bulbasaur was so awestruck that he had to sit down.

Mudkip could even see how much he was.  “Yeah, that’s Ivysaur’s Guild. The first time I got to see that place so up-close, I didn’t even think it was real.  It really is amazing.” Bulbasaur nodded. “And you know what I think, everytime that I get to see this view, it just keeps getting better.”

“I hope you’re right.”  His smile was sincere that time, and for so long he had his doubts about the new life he had been given, but in that moment, none of it mattered.  In the brief sliver of time that he had, the Bulbasaur was truly at peace with himself. He felt a gentle breeze passing by, and then he stood. “I guess it’s time to meet the guy in charge.”

Mudkip nodded, and then the two of them continued down the hill.  Eventually, they made it to the bottom, and across from them was the base of that very tree and the entry hole carved into it.  Mudkip wanted to run inside, and up the stairs leading to the guild master’s office. He remembered the very thing his mother said, that it was the most important day in his life.  He made the first step. And then he felt an intense tingling in the fin on his head. It then jerked suddenly in the direction of a wind current being changed by the pushing of fluttering wings, and he stayed perfectly still, before hearing someone’s cries.  “Help!”  

Mudkip slowly turned his head around, and he saw a Butterfree coming towards them, struggling to fly.  His first instinct was to rush over to them and help, and it seemed to be the Bulbasaur’s first too. When they reached her, the Butterfree’s wings gave out and she fell to her stomach.  The Bulbasaur helped to prop her up while Mudkip asked, “What happened?”

“My son…”  Bulbasaur and Mudkip saw the cuts and bruises covering her body.  One of the antennas on her head had even been bent, and there were punctures in her wings.  “He fell into a cavern.” She was so weakened, she struggled to speak. And to Mudkip’s horror, he saw three slashes going across her thorax, blood seeping out from the slits.  “There was a fissure in the ground, and I wasn’t paying attention, then...t-then.” The Butterfree was trying to hold back tears. “My son fell in. He’s too young to crawl out by himself.  When I went to get him, I was ambushed.”

“By wild Pokemon,” Bulbasaur asked.

The Butterfree nodded.  “I’ve never seen them so ferocious before.  They were too strong, too angry. I couldn’t-”  Tears rolled down her red compound eyes. “What’s gonna happen to my boy?”

Mudkip gave the pouch he carried a quick glance, acknowledging the item his mother had packed for him.  Then he saw the Bulbasaur’s look. It was the same one he had given him the night he asked to join his team.  As terrified as he was of what was to come, Mudkip had already made up his mind, and he looked over at the base of the tree.  “Do you see that,” he asked the Butterfree. “That’s the entrance to Ivysaur’s Guild. I need you to go inside, and explain everything to them.  They can help you...and we’ll go to Tiny Woods and get your son back.”

The Butterfree looked him in the eye with a glimmer of hope in her own, that started to make him tense.  “You will?” Mudkip nodded. “Y-you’re a rescue team.” There was relief in her voice, and she slowly stood herself up, and started flapping her wings again, albeit struggling to stay afloat.

“Do you need any help,” Mudkip abruptly asked.

“My son is the one who needs help,” the Butterfree said.  “I’ll be okay.” Then she flapped her wings and headed for the entrance to Ivysaur’s Guild, seeming like her wings could give you at any moment.

Bulbasaur spoke.  “A fissure in the ground that leads to a cavern that leads to Tiny Woods, a place I’ve never heard about until just now.”  He saw Mudkip’s brave face completely shatter, and he seemed more timid than usual. “Something wrong?”

Mudkip smiled, but Bulbasaur knew it was a facade.  “I’m sorry,” he said. “I should have brought this up before.  T-tiny Woods, it’s a-”

“Mystery Dungeon,” Bulbasaur realized, then there was silence, before another gentle breeze passed on by.


 

A football was thrown across the Cappy Town plaza, spinning in the air and progressing towards the ground.  Pink stubby arms were raised, and then Kirby caught it. “Poyo,” he shouted out, excited that he had, waving the football around.  “Poyo, poyo!”

Tuff got in a crouching position.  “Alright.” Then he clapped his hands twice.  “Show me what you got. Pass it to me.”

“Poyo,” Kirby shouted gleefully, before throwing the ball the way Tuff had taught him.

Meanwhile, Tiff sat on bench across from them in the corner of the plaza, reading the final page of a book she read, titled “A Borderline Elite: The Memoirs of Timothy Imari,” before placing it beside her, and watching Kirby and her brother catching and throwing the football.  Seeing them enjoying themselves put reminded her of how peaceful life in their little town had become since the fall of Nightmare Enterprises over a year ago. She smiled.

Then she heard the sound of a young child screaming at someone near the tree in the center of the plaza.  “Hey, what are you doing?!” Tiff immediately got off the bench, and saw what was happening on the opposite side of the plaza.  A Waddle Dee attempted to yank a scoop of blue ice cream out of a little girl’s hands by its cone. There was a brief struggle before the Waddle Dee successfully snatched it away and pushed her away.  She hit the ground, and the little girl started to cry. “That’s mine, give it back!” Everyone in the town watched as it was happening.

Kirby saw it too, and the football fell to the ground.  He stood there, motionless.

Tiff growled, and angrily stomped towards the Waddle Dee, before Kirby suddenly charged straight after them.  He tackled the Waddle Dee, and managed to get on top of them. He reached out for the ice cream they had stolen, but it stretched its tiny arm back as far as it could, giving Tiff ample time to snatch it back.  She turned to the little girl. “Here.” She handed the ice cream back to her, and the young Cappy stood.  

“Thank you,” she said, as Tiff’s brother arrived at the scene.  

The Waddle Dee broke free from Kirby’s hold, and it briefly glanced over at Tiff, Tuff, and the girl.  Tears formed in its eyes, and it started running opposite of Dedede’s Castle, fearful for its life.  

Tiff’s brother arrived at the scene.  “Tiff, what’s going on,” he asked in a panic.

His sister then turned to him, frustrated over what had just happened.  “Some Waddle Dee tried to steal this girl’s ice cream.”

“No, I mean-”  

Then he heard a door being forcibly broken open.  “What are you doing,” its resident shouted, followed by the sound of a window breaking on the opposite end of the plaza.  

Tiff spotted a different Waddle Dee running towards the castle, carrying a plate of waffles and sausage over their head, as terrified as the other one.  The Cappy whose meal had been stolen chased after them, before a third one appeared and knocked him down with the butt of its spear. Tiff then saw that there were other Waddle Dees ransacking homes and attacking people in the streets, and realized what was happening.  

She heard the sound of a whistle being blown, and saw Chief Bookem, desperately trying to keep the peace.  “That’s enough! Settle down! Stop thi-” And then Cappy Town’s Officer was surrounded by Waddle Dees, all of them wielding spears and have them pointed at him.  

More houses were being broken into.  People were being assaulted in their own homes.  A young boy sat in the corner of a room in his own in horror, watching his parents being pinned against the walls, being held at spearpoint, as their refrigerators and cupboards were being raided.  Waddle Dees paraded the streets in droves, stealing more food and returning to the castle with whatever they had.  

An angry Cappy ran up to one that was fleeing a house.  “Why are you stealing our food?!” Unbeknownst to him, another armed Waddle Dee ran up behind him, that plunged its spear into the back of his leg.  His shouting in pain was heard by the rest of the people in Cappy Town, and their fear and panic turned into outrage and violence. Riots broke out, Cappies and Waddle Dees fighting.  Plates and containers of food scattered across the streets and walls, and even blood.

Tiff gasped and covered her mouth, absolutely horrified by how badly it escalated.  She pulled at the sides of her hair, the little girl she was with breaking down into an hysterical sob.  Tuff quickly got in front of his sister, getting in a protective stance. “We have to stop this,” she shouted to him,

“We have to get out of here,” he shouted back.

Then Waddle Dees had suddenly started charging at them with spears, two on the left, one on the right.  The little girl’s hands shook, and she dropped her ice cream. Tiff just stood there, helpless convinced she would be more than just a victim in the riot that started, until two spears were suddenly pulled out of their hands, and Kirby’s mouth was full.

Tiff realized that he inhaled those spears without being told to, and then he spat a yellow star out of his mouth almost twice his size, hitting the first Waddle Dee on their left, shattering.  The impact was so hard, it threw them on their back and knocked them out. Kirby quickly stepped in front of the young girl, and inhaled the spear of the third Waddle Dee. He swallowed it, his body briefly engulfed in light with six tiny stars emerging from his body.  

And when it faded, Kirby himself was wielding a spear, wearing a red bandana with a golden crest in its center.  He spun it around, then slashed it into the side of that Waddle Dee’s face, before knocking it out with the butt of his spear.  Kirby jump backwards over Tiff, Tuff, and the girl, and landed in front of the second Waddle Dee, plunging it into its face before it could hurt his friends.  He ran forward, angrily screaming, and rammed them into the base of the tree. He tore his spear out, and the Waddle Dee’s body fell limp to the floor, leaving a bloodstain on a tree.

Tiff gasped again.  “Kirby, what did you-”

Kirby was too distracted.  The homes being raided, the rioting, the fearful screams and aggressive shouts all overloaded his senses.  He saw a group of Waddle Dees carrying batches of food away, and he looked up at Dedede’s Castle, which was on the highest point of a hill.

“Kirby,” Tiff shouted.  “Kirby!” And then he sprinted away.  Tiff tried to chase after him, but it was too late.  Kirby outran her, and they were separated by the chaos in the streets.  “KIRBY!”    


 

The blue lookalike had spent the past two weeks in search of the town that crazy old man had mentioned, and it seemed like they actually found it.  It took two steps forward, seeing that it was still a distance away, yet he was close enough to hear that something was amiss. Not that a potential street riot would deter them from finding Kirby.  The creature stuck its tongue out for no reason. Th̴en̡ ҉it ̵pret̨ende͠d to ͟fa̕c̡e̕ yo̶u,͜ and ͡w̴ąved. ̛ "Se͝e ̛y̵ou͏ l͝ąte͝r!"͞

IkVu̵a͢m9͟5IH͡Ro͟ZSB͝z͏aG93IS̷I͢=

a͜H͡R0͢cHM̕6L̨y9̸5b3V͘0dS5iZS82T͜1EzT҉l͞94S2xJcw͟==̕ 

I͜zAw͠MDBGRg̕=͠=

Chapter Text

A young Toad that carried a signed plushie of Mario ran across the streets, as the people of Toad Town looked up into the skies.  The ones that weren’t outside watched either from the windows of their homes, or from the news coverage being broadcasted to their televisions.  Meanwhile, the young Toad was searching for a better view. He climbed a flight of stairs leading up to a blue building where a dojo was run, and the view was perfect.  In the skies above the Mushroom Kingdom were three capsule shaped aircrafts hovering towards the princess’s castle, all of them with a dark blue sheen and an emblem of three different colored circles overlapping one another on their sides.  

The princess herself, along with two Guard Toads wielding spears, the Mario Brothers, Starlow, and the representatives they had spent the two weeks gathering, of Toads and Koopas and Goombas, all waited in front of the bridge, looking on in awe.  

“Wow,” Luigi said.

“Wow, indeed,” Starlow responded.

The ships slowly descended, and eventually landed across from them, one in front of the other two.  A part of the leading ship’s left side opened, and metal stairs emerged from under it, touching the ground.  

After around a second, somebody walked down from them, a young man with messy brown hair wearing glasses with frames of the same color, a dark blue uniform with lighter blue highlights, and a gray belt around his waist.  He briefly adjusted his glasses, before looking at the dozen people on the bridge. And when he saw Mario in the front of the group, he tried to hold back a nervous smile, and failed. Mario noticed that, and he smiled back and nodded.  The young man nodded too.

He then looked over at the open door of the ship, and nodded at whoever was inside, then proceeded to move over the princess and her representatives.  Following behind were three other humans walking down the very same steps, one man and two women, who wore uniforms identical to his except their belts were gold, and they carried firearms.

The shorter redheaded girl with curly hair noted the only security the Mushroom Kingdom’s princess had.  “Two guards,” she muttered, bitterly. “Are you fucking kidding me?”

The taller girl with blonde hair and freckles heard what she said.  “Somebody’s sour,” she replied, far more playfully.

“I have my reasons, like their lack of common sense.”

The second man overheard them, who had the largest build in the group and the darkest skin.  His response was a simple smile, and a rolling of the eyes.

Soon after, the four finally met with the group on the bridge.  The man in the glasses smiled and nodded at Peach. “Princess. Good to finally meet you in-person.”  He raised his arm slightly, and opened his hand. Then it abruptly lowered. “Oh, I’m the guy who was talking through the drone.”  Mathias raised his arm again, and chuckled awkwardly.

“Of course,” the princess said, before they shook hands.  “It’s a pleasure meeting you as well. You can call me Peach, if you wish.”

“That I can do,” Mathias said.  “Oh, and I may as well introduce you to the whole family.  Uh-” He turned back to his bodyguards. “This fine gentleman back here is my good friend, Tim.  Say hi, Tim.”

“You really gotta tell me to say hello,” he asked him.

Mathias chuckled.  “Sorry.” He went beside the girl with blonde hair, and gave her an affectionate tap on the shoulder.  “And let’s not forget this lovely lady right over here, whose name is Lucy.”

“Hey~”  Lucy then waved at everyone. 

“And last but not least is-”

“Hannah, pleasure to meet you.”  There was a clear bitterness in her voice, as she went over to Princess  Peach and shook her hand as well. Hannah looked back at Mathias, desperately trying to hold back a scowl, and put on a courteous facade.  “So, you think we should get things started, or do you want to stand here and have a pleasant conversation for the next couple of hours?” She masked her frustration with a pleasant smile.

Mathias noticed some of the Mushroom Kingdom’s representatives muttering to each other, and others nodding in agreement with Hannah.  “Yeah, you’re right,” he said to her. “We should get things moving.” Mathias clapped his hands, and brought his attention back to Peach.  “Okay, so as we went over two weeks back, we’re gonna have set up some guards, establish a perimeter around the castle, just to make sure this meeting slash conference goes as smoothly as possible.  You alright with that?”

“If it means giving my people closure, then by all means,” she said.

“Nice.”  Mathias gave her a thumbs up.  “Oh, and Hannah, you don’t mind taking care of all that stuff, right?  It’s not meant to sound like a punishment, by the way. It’s just that you’re the smarty pants of the group, and-”

“Next time you call me a smarty pants, I’m cutting ties with you.  I’ll take care of it.” Hannah started walking in the direction of the ships, before she stopped and turned around, looking back at the empty castle, and its lack of reinforcements.  “Just in case, we should keep the bulk of our forces around the castle, inside and out. Maybe set up some more perimeters around the town, too.” Hannah took a moment to consider something else.  “And maybe set up a scouting party, just to play it even safer.”

“Sounds like a good idea,” Mathias admitted.  

“Because it is,” Hannah said.  “You alright with this, princess?”  She contemplated for a moment, and nodded.  Hannah blinked once, and made her way back to the ships, taking a small tablet out from her pocket and spoke into it.  “Okay, everybody out.”

The sides of the other ships opened in the same way as the first, and out came the several agent, of humans and humanoids alike, anthropomorphic animals both tall and short in stature, and sapient Pokemon born and raised in the Continents, all representing the Borderlines and their interests.  Mathias could see the looks of awe and delight on all the faces of the Mushroom Kingdom’s representatives, and couldn’t help cracking a smile.  

The Borderline Agents split into two factions.  A group of roughly fifty stayed near the ships, where Hannah would discuss her strategies on how to defend the castle and surrounding areas, while the other twelve met with the group on the bridge, bringing along another eight agents to protect them.  The representatives on each side introduced themselves to one another, and even made conversation.

Luigi looked around at all the groups of people talking around him, before his eyes were drawn to the speck in the sky.  He then felt a firm tap on his shoulder that almost made him gasp. To his right was a round blue creature that was seemingly frog-like, with large arms, and a black swirling pattern on their white belly that overtook most of its body.  “Keen eye,” he said, before pointing to the speck. “That’s our workspace.”  

Luigi nodded, happy to have been given some closure, until he had a new question.  “How are you talking without a mouth?”

Mario went over to one of Mathias’s guards, as him and Lucy conversated with Starlow and Peach.  “Gotta say, these past two weeks have really been interesting.”

“It’s been pretty interesting on our end too, sir,” Tim said.  “Just wait ‘til the conference starts, then it’s gonna be a real trip.”

“I’m looking forward to it,” Mario admitted.  “Things are finally gonna start making sense.”

“Yeah.  We’re hoping to help in any way we can with that.”

“Thanks.  So, how interesting are we talking,” Mario asked out of curiosity.  “Because I’ve seen a lot of interesting things over the years.”

“Well, with all this crazy stuff going on, I’d say it’s gonna be more than interesting.”

“By how much?”

“It’s gonna be the most interesting day of your life.”

Chapter Text

Bulbasaur and Mudkip stood near the entrance of Tiny Woods.  A prior earthquake from the one two weeks ago had caused it to cave in and form a small cavern with a steep hill leading to the mystery dungeon.  The path inside looked like an abyss that went into a hellish darkness, one that had even disturbed Bulbasaur. “So, are you ready,” he asked Mudkip.

“I don’t know,” he said, knowing he had to be.

Despite how unsettled he was, Bulbasaur took his first step down the hill.  He accidentally kicked a small pebble along the way, and watched it roll to the very bottom.  He slowly took one step afterward, then another, and turned around, realizing that Mudkip hadn’t been following him.  He was standing in the exact same spot when they first arrived. “What are you doing?”

Mudkip could see the glimmer of frustration in his eyes.  “I, u-uh, I’m just trying to m-mentally prepare myself.”

“I think you’ve had enough time for that,” Bulbasaur bluntly replied.  “We need to get moving.”

Mudkip was becoming tense.  He needed a moment to calm himself.  “I-I, I just-”

“Mudkip!”  Bulbasaur was getting angry.  “We need to go now! That Caterpie is gonna die if you stand there and do nothing, unless I go myself.”

Mudkip hadn’t gone into the mystery dungeon yet, and he was already starting to feel useless.  He sighed. “You’re right.” He shamefully walked down the steeping slope. “How could I be so stupid?”

Seeing him so upset had made Bulbasaur even more so.  “You’re not stupid. If anyone is, it’s me for going in there with a head wound.  I’m sorry for snapping at you, but we need to keep going.” Mudkip nodded.

They continued down the hill, remaining cautious with every step until they reached the bottom.  And the next thing they knew, they were standing directly in front of the mystery dungeon. Its presence alone was something truly sinister, enough that their instincts begged them to turn back.  Bulbasaur looked over at Mudkip, and Mudkip looked over at him, and they both nodded, knowing what they had to. The two of them pushed onward.

And the moment they entered Tiny Woods, all the daylight that radiated above them was replaced with that unnatural darkness.  Mudkip turned around, only to see that the entrance was completely gone. It was replaced by a singular path that only went further into the twisted labyrinth.  He was more than aware that a mystery dungeon could do that, but it was still terrifying to see for the first time.  

“What the hell,” Bulbasaur muttered, seeing that all the trees surrounding him were so condensed together, they were more like walls.  He looked up, and the furthest branches were so thick and elongated and covered with leaves, that they overtook the whole canopy.

Mudkip felt that familiar aching in his chest, then an unsettling breeze passing from behind.  He thought he heard the sound of a twig snapping after that, and the rustling of leaves. “Bulbasaur,” he whispered.  “Be careful.” He nodded. Then Mudkip started moving, and Bulbasaur followed alongside him. The two of them continued down the trail, and with every step, he was more than aware that a wild Pokemon could appear at any time and attack them on sight.  The thought alone was enough to make the aching worse. Eventually, they discovered a crossroad going three ways.  

“Which way,” Bulbasaur quietly asked.

Mudkip knew that regardless of his choice, there was no guarantee of what could be waiting for them, but he needed to decide.  “Forward.” He took one reluctant step, and then spotted something in the corner of his eye. There was something approaching them from the right path, and as it slowly advanced closer, all he did was freeze in place.  He needed to act.

Then Bulbasaur suddenly dashed up on his right, and firmly planted his feet and bent forward slightly, eyeing down the oncoming creature.  He concentrated on it, waiting for it to come closer. And it was a Sunkern. “Oh,” Bulbasaur said in a dull surprise.

“You’ve got to be kidding me.”  Mudkip felt so embarrassed, after all the stress he endured.

Regardless of its harmless appearance, the Sunkern was still a hostile Pokemon.  It hissed at Bulbasaur and Mudkip, before ultimately launching a ball of green energy from its mouth at them.  Bulbasaur’s vine then emerged from under his bulb, and he swiped it away. It hit the tree next to him. He lightly smiled, and with his other vine, thrusted it right at the Sunkern.  He heard a popping sound, and saw that he had pierced through its body right between its eyes, and a splatter of dark-green blood bursting out of its back. He retracted his vine. The Sunkern’s body fell forward, and the Bulbasaur was horrified by what he did.

Mudkip knew of the violence that could happen in a mystery dungeon, but it was still an awful sight.  He looked away and felt his stomach twist.

Bulbasaur kept looking, however, but the corpse itself wasn’t the thing that bothered him.  It was the strength of the killing blow itself. He wondered if it was possible for a Pokemon like him to effortlessly puncture through something so easily.  He shook his head. “How did I do that,” he whimpered.

At a loss of situational awareness, another wild Pokemon snuck up from behind.  Its mouth twisted into a malevolent grin, and then it pounced on Mudkip, letting out a bark as it pinned him down on his back.

Mudkip let out a panicked yelp, trying to break free from his attacker.  He looked up, to see that it was a wild Poochyena, with crazed eyes and a sadistic smile.  Droplets of saliva seeped through the gaps of its teeth, and spilled onto the side of Mudkip’s face.  It started to open its mouth. Tears began to stream from his eyes, and then he opened his own. Water began to fill the inside of it.  The Poochyena showed off its fangs, before lunging down to take a bite. And Mudkip jerked his head around as hard as he could, and spat into its maw.  The gush of water went down its throat, and the force of his attack threw its head up.

Then Bulbasaur abruptly knocked into the ferocious Pokemon and threw it off his partner, hard enough that it collided with the tree that stood next to the left pathway.  It went limp and dropped to the ground. It briefly lost consciousness, before staggering back to its feet and retching up the clear liquid. The Poochyena now had its sights on Bulbasaur, and it was snarling at him with genuine contempt.  It made him feel an unnatural excitement, and he couldn’t help grinning. “Come on,” he grunted, before jumping over Mudkip’s quivering body. He stared the Poochyena down, then eagerly charged after it.  

And then he remembered his brutal killing of the Sunkern.  He abruptly stopped, a part of him screaming to hold back his strength.  The Poochyena was now directly in front of him. It spitefully bashed its head into Bulbasaur’s, knocking into his sutured gash beneath the bandage.  A sharp pain surged through the rest of his body, and it made him more than frustrated. But he still reminded himself to hold back. Bulbasaur cracked at the Poochyena’s jaw with his clean vine, then again with his dirty one, before taking his turn to bob heads with it.  The sharp pain returned, but he managed knocked it down.

Mudkip still felt like he was pinned down, as the world around him started to become a blur.  His chest began to throb and he heard the sound of ringing. He took deep breaths as the guild master’s wife had told him, trying to calm himself down.  He forced himself back to his feet, no matter how hard it was. Mudkip took another calming breath, and through the ringing, heard another rustling of leaves.  He looked up, and saw something flying straight down from the canopy, directly for his partner. “Bulbasaur!”

Bulbasaur looked up, and saw the Tailow coming for him.  He hastily rolled backwards towards the center of the trail.  It landed, its sharp talons clawing into the dirt. The Tailow then spread its wings, and thrusted itself forward.  It abruptly stopped when a gush of water suddenly rushed past it. Bulbasaur looked to his right, to see Mudkip shaking and drawn of breath.  

The Tailow was looking at him too, and turned its entire body in his direction.  It planted its feet, and flew towards him. And then the Poochyena suddenly tackled it, and viciously bit into the side of its neck.  Blood poured down its body and onto the floor. It screamed out in horrible agony, until the Poochyena tore out a chunk of flesh, and it swallowed.

The ringing came back.  Mudkip looked into the eyes of that poor Tailow, and watched them roll into the back of its head.  He watched as the Poochyena tore out another chunk of flesh, and its body convulse. Mudkip’s mind went blank after that.

Bulbasaur saw the state he was in, and immediately stood on his hind legs and fired a small burst of a Solar Beam out of the bulb on his back.  He used it to propel himself forward and reach him. He quickly wrapped his vine around Mudkip’s body and turned him around so he wouldn’t have to look at the gruesome sight anymore.  The two of them broke into a sprint, and ran as far away as possible from the Poochyena, as it finished its meal.


 

The Mudkip’s mother leaned against the open doorway when the guild master’s assistant told her the news.  She took a long breath to calm herself down while her husband watched from the inside of their home. “It can’t be.”  She looked over at Weavile, and shook her head. “Why is he-”

“They ran into a Butterfree just outside the guild,” he explained.  “Her son fell into Tiny Woods, and she isn’t doing too well herself.  Some of the wildlife came out and attacked them after that, reportedly.  That’s probably when the poor kid crawled inside.”

Marshtomp nodded, trying to recover from the shock.  “I still can’t believe it’s happening again.” She stood herself up.  “First with the Bulbasaur, and now this.”

Her husband moved up beside her, and gently rested a hand on her shoulder.  “Hey, honey, things are gonna be just fine,” he said assuringly, with a cautious optimism.  “It’s not like we didn’t prepare for this. Mudkip had a feeling that something was gonna happen, and everything’s all packed.”

Marshtomp shut her eyes.  “Yeah, but it happened.” Then she opened them.  “I just wasn’t expecting it to be this soon, but if it wasn’t gonna be today, it would have been tomorrow, or the next day.”  

Weavile crossed his arms, and held a confident smirk on his face.  “Well, if it makes you feel any better, the guild master thinks he’s ready.  Wouldn’t have let him go through with it if he wasn’t. And strangely enough, this also applies to his partner.  The Bulbasaur’s gonna have a hell of a wake up call.”

She nodded, solemnly.  “But it still isn’t fair that they were dragged into doing that.”  

“Yeah,” Weavile admitted.  “But they chose to help.”

“I don’t think they had a choice.”  The Marshtomp became curious about the guild’s newfound patient.  “Tell me more about the Butterfree. What are her injuries?”

“From what I could gather, she had a few cuts and bruises, bent antenna, punctured wings.  And this one’s gonna interest you, three fresh claw marks on her chest. Unfortunately, she’s already being treated as we speak, so, sorry if that makes you jealous.”  Then Weavile pieced something together and smiled. “Ooh.” He pointed at Marshtomp. “I take it you want to meet the mom?”

“I guess at some level, I do,” she admitted.  “But it doesn’t matter.”

“I mean, when her treatment is done and after a ‘pleasant’ conversation with the guild master’s wife, as pleasant as they can be, maybe you could visit her then.”

“I could, but no matter what happens, I have to be at the guild for when my son gets back.”

“That’s understandable,” Weavile said.  “I’ll bring you and your husband along, and you can wait for him there.  The guild master’s probably expecting that, anyway-”

“Can we go now?”

“Well, seeing that you made up your mind so quickly, I’m surprised that you’re still inside the house.”  Weavile stepped aside. “After you.” He then nudged his head in the direction of Ivysaur’s Guild.


 

Bulbasaur and Mudkip hid behind a large tree that stood in the center of a wider trail, next to another pathway on its left.  Bulbasaur peeked out from the side of it, to make sure nothing was following them, including the Poochyena. “I don’t see anything.”  Bulbasaur went over to his partner. “We should be safe for now. As safe as we can be.” Mudkip was silent, as he sat beside the base of the tree and stared ahead at nothing.  Bulbasaur was more than upset to see him that way. He took a gentle step forward. “Mud-”

Then he snapped back into reality, and took off his pouch.  He desperately rummaged through it, scavenging through wooden vials and berries, and scurried to the very bottom.  And he saw something that made him lightly chuckle. Mudkip took out a crystal blue orb, and held it up. “Yes. It’s okay.”

Bulbasaur realized it was the same item that the Mudkip’s mother had packed for him, and he knew what it could do.  “You better not use that thing.”

“I won’t,” Mudkip assured him.  “Not until we s-save that-” He realized he was coming off as a coward.  “I was just checking if-” Then he remembered what had happened to that Tailow, and tears formed in his eyes.  “If it was-” And then he broke down in front of his partner. “I’m so sorry. This entire time, I’ve just been so useless.”  He let out a sob, while Bulbasaur quietly shook his head. “I’ve worked so hard for so long, and it was all for nothing. Did I even make the right choice?”  Mudkip realized what he asked, and now he was even more disgusted with himself.

“I don’t think you screwed up.”  Mudkip looked over at Bulbasaur as he went to sit beside him.  “If anyone did, it’s...nobody. You were ambushed. That’s something that’s gonna happen every once in a while.”

“I should have known better.”  Mudkip sniffled.

“Mudkip,” he said, sternly.  “I’m not gonna let you be hard on yourself.  This is our first rescue mission. This is the first time we’ve ever done something like this, and it’s mad.  I knew it was gonna be bad, but experiencing all this for myself, it’s actually worse. And that’s something we’re gonna have to get used to.”

Mudkip wiped away a tear.  “The guild master always said it was gonna be bad.  He told us everyday.”

“But not me, and not that Caterpie.”  And then he stood. “That kid is in here, fighting for his life just like we are, but if we’re gonna second guess ourselves now, than he’s already dead.”  Mudkip nodded. “I know how much this means to you, Mudkip. I’ve seen it, when you were teaching me all of those things. I’ve never seen you so enthusiastic before, it was almost annoying.”  

Mudkip let out a weak chuckle, and smiled.  “Yeah, sorry about that.”

Bulbasaur chuckled himself.  “We’re gonna get through this.  We’re gonna save that Caterpie no matter what it takes.  If any wild Pokemon decide to get in our way, then we’re gonna give those fuckers a fight.  Then we’re gonna do our next rescue mission, and the one after that, and we’re gonna keep fighting, not just to save lives, but because we want to.”

Mudkip was more than surprised to hear all those things come from his partner, and at the same time, it was something he absolutely needed to hear.  Resolved to see their rescue mission through, no matter what the outcome was, he finally stood and gave his partner a more than affirming nod.

Chapter Text

The blue lookalike stopped when it noticed a small round hut standing beside a tree.  Out of curiosity, they ran up to the window and stuck their face to it. Inside was a single bed in the corner of the one room, and a television on the opposite side.  Considering how small the hut itself was, it gave them an idea on who could have lived there.

And then they heard an angry shout.  “Hey!” They turned around, and saw a small yellow bird in the air, flapping its wings with what seemed to be a perpetual scowl on its face.  “This is my property, so why don’t you scram you little-” Then the bird seemed to recognize them, and flew to the ground to get a closer look.  “Wait...Don’t tell me there’s another one of you.”

The only thing the blue lookalike did was stare at him as obliviously as Kirby would, before it stuck its tongue out and blinked twice.  Tokkori groaned. “So, could you, like, go away or something? I’m trying to get into my house.”

The doppelganger thought about it for a moment, and popped its tongue back in.  “Okay.” Then it started moving...in the direction of Cappy Town.

“Not that way,” Tokkori shouted, as annoyed as we was concerned.  “I meant the-”

They immediately stopped, and looked back at the bird with a smile.  “No.” There was a brief pause, before it continued walking towards the town.

“Hey, wait a second.”  Tokkori then fluttered up to lookalike, and landed in front of them.  “A lot of crazy stuff is going on in town right now. You go in there, you’re gonna get yourself torn to ribbons.”

“Like a riot?”  They sounded genuinely excited by that.  

Tokkori wasn’t sure if they were either stupid or genuinely insane.  “That’s exactly what it is,” he said, bluntly.

“Ooh.”  They looked over at the town in the distance, hearing the sound of anarchy in the streets with a strange glimmer in its eyes.  The way that bird was looking at them was hilarious, but it was time to get moving. “Okay, bye.”

Kirby’s doppelganger tried to walk past him, but Tokkori quickly got in its way.  “Seriously, if you go down there, you’re gonna get yourself killed.” He shook his head in disapproval, and groaned when he realized they were almost as dumb as Kirby.  “Do you even know what a riot is-”

“Yeah.”  Then they simply walked past the bird again, and headed down the hill.

Tokkori started flapping his wings and flew up slightly.  “Alright, fine! You wanna walk through the streets while everyone’s killing each other, then it’s your funeral!  Just don’t drag me into it!”

The lookalike was mostly ignoring him, since they were farther away now.  “Okay,” they said while waving goodbye.

Tokkori eyed down the doppelganger as they went further down the hill, and was starting to get worried.  As annoyed as he was by the kid, he was genuinely worried that something bad would happen to them. “Augh, you know what?”  He glided down and caught up with the blue lookalike. “If you’re gonna be so freaking stubborn, I’m just gonna have to drop you off with those other two.  They’re pretty experiencing, when it comes to babysitting a moron like you.”

“I’m a baby,” it then asked, before staring down at its stubby palms like it was having an existential crisis.  It immediately perked itself up and let out a single cackle. Ik͝l0J3M͢gZ̡m̕luZS4̶g̕IEkg̛Y͞WxyZ͡WFkeS̕Bo̵YX͡Z͢lI͝G̛E͟g͏c͢HV̢ycG̵9z̛ZS4i

Tokkori looked away from the blue bundle of fun, and sighed.  “I made a mistake,” he muttered to himself. The lookalike then scrunched its lips and squinted at him.


 

Shortly after they arrived, they spotted one of the townsfolk angrily smashing a glass plate over a Waddle Dee’s head, with hearing a series of screams and shouts that spread across the streets of Cappy Town.

Tokkori was genuinely horrified that something like this could happen in such a place that was normally so peaceful.  “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but-” He looked ahead at the brawls that had broken out, and the food that spread across the ground.  He even saw bodies, of those he hoped were at the very least unconscious. “This is so much worse than I thought it would be.”  

Tokkori then noticed the neutral expression on Kirby’s lookalike.  “How the hell are you so calm at a time like this?” They shrugged, before Tokkori spotted something in their hand.  “Where’d you get the cheeseburger?”

They needed to point out the lack of cheese betwixt the top bun and patty.  “Hamburger.”

“He’s got a burger!”  

And after that, three Waddle Dees suddenly appeared from the chaos, and circled around them, carrying spears.  Two were pointed at the doppleganger, and the third one on Tokkori. He then spotted a fourth one walking towards them, with a large eye that overtook the majority of their face, and they were wielding a tiny sword.  And he knew who it was. “Okay, Waddle Doo, what stupid thing is Dedede having you do this time?”  

“Something I ain’t proud of,” he answered.  “But it’s somethin’ we gotta do.”

“Did you notice the riot?”  Tokkori’s scowl had gotten more intense.  

“I did, believe it or not.”  Waddle Doo was ashamed to admit that.  “Look, Tokkori, all this is-” He went silent, and then his eye slowly turned to the blue lookalike.  “Kirby?” His grip on the sword tightened. “No, it can’t be.” He pointed the blade at them, and looked up at Tokkori.  “Who is this guy?”

Tokkori rolled his eyes.  “Kirby’s doppelganger.”

“Hello,” they shouted while waving at him.

It was bizarre seeing someone act so friendly, considering how bleak it was.  “Hi.” Waddle Doo glanced over at the burger it carried in its other hand. “You know what I think?”  He slowly lowered his sword. “All o’ this is gettin’ outta hand, and I don’t want any more of my men gettin’ hurt.  So why don’t we make a deal? You hand me that burger, I’ll letcha-” The lookalike slid the entire burger into its mouth and swallowed it whole, while staring down Waddle Doo.  Now he was just confused, and so were his men. “Uh, okay, wasn’t expecting that. You know, we’re just gonna leave you off with-”  

Then they let out a sonorous war cry, and immediately bum rushed the commanding officer, screaming and cackling like a cartoonish banshee and flailing their arms around.

Now Tokkori was absolutely sure they were just insane.  “Yep, I’m out.” Then he flew up into the sky, and left Cappy Town, more sure than ever that it could fend for itself.

The three Waddle Dees just stood there, puzzled, while the lookalike advanced closer.  Waddle Doo raised their sword and readied to slash them, but their hand knocked into the bottom part of the handle, and it was flung out his own.  The lookalike then smacked them like a bitch so hard that he spun around once and fell on his side. And it was loud enough for some of the other townsfolk to hear, and when they saw Kirby’s blue counterpart, they looked at them the same way Tokkori did.

What the lookalike did to Waddle Doo had him visibly enraged, and then an orange glow appeared in his eye that grew as he stood back up.  “Uh-oh.” The doppelganger quickly stepped aside, and a beam of energy exploded out of it. He started to turn towards them with it. They calmly walked a few paces away from the approaching sparkling rays, and saw that Waddle Dee was struggling to say afoot.  They ran up behind him, and quickly yanked their head backwards, forcing the beam into the air. It faded away, and Waddle Doo was drawn of breath and visibly exhausted.

The lookalike then spotted the three Waddle Dees charging after them, their spears pointing upwards.  They popped out their tongue, and positioned themselves, before kicking their leader at them. Waddle Doo rolled across the ground, and was knocked into his centermost soldier.  The lookalike paced two steps to the right and flamboyantly bowed, before snatching the sword off the ground and ran the opposite way.

The two Waddle Dees chased after them, while the third one helped his superior get back to his feet.  Waddle Doo pointed at his eye while he took long breathes. “It’s never done that before.” He looked over at Kirby’s doppelganger.  “Soldiers,” Waddle Doo shouted to all the living soldiers in the immediate area. Some stormed out of the houses they raided, and others loyally got to their feet after regaining consciousness or faking their deaths.  Their leader angrily pointed at the blue lookalike. “Take em to the dungeon!”

“Come and get me, bitches,” they shouted, sprinting across the streets of the rioting town, as a dozen more Waddle Dees joined in the chase.  

An unarmed one to their right tried to jump on them, but the lookalike quickly rolled forward, while an armed one swung their spear.  The lookalike shouted, and blocked it with their leader’s stolen sword. They immediately broke off, and gave them a kick to the face.  The Waddle Dee tripped over a dirty banana peel, that was thrown into the doppelganger's own. They plucked it off, as another one with a spear rushed at them from behind.  They spotted them, and tossed the banana into their face.

They continued to sprint, and stopped when it saw six of the Waddle Dees blocking their way, all wielding weapons.  They glanced back, only to see more of them circling around the lookalike, and fully turned around when they saw Waddle Doo leading the pack.

“You really had to make this difficult,” he said.  They nodded with their tongue sticking out, and it made him growl.  “Aight guys, book em.” Kirby’s doppelganger smiled and held his sword up.

And then a frying pan was suddenly knocked into the back of the leftmost soldier’s head, and they fell to the ground unconscious.  The Waddle Dee next to them spotted something else, only to be greeted with a hard kick to the face by an armored foot. As they dropped, the attacker jumped in the air, and landed in the center, between the blue lookalike and Waddle Doo.  He stared down the latter with his glowing yellow eyes, his face hidden behind a metallic mask.  

The surrounding Waddle Dees began to realize that they were the ones being surrounded.  Several of Cappy Town’s residents angrily circled around them, some screaming and demanding answers.  “Where’s our food,” one of the Cappies shouted. “You traitors,” another one screamed. “You almost killed my boy,” a third one exclaimed.  The longer he stood and heard them, the more his guilt had settled. “They took my coffee maker,” said a fourth. “Scumbags,” shouted the fifth.

Meta Knight was so infuriated by today’s events that his eyes briefly changed to a shade of red.  “You have a lot of explaining to do,” he said, keeping himself calm.

“I didn’t have a-”  Waddle Doo shut himself up.  If he tried to explain himself right now, the Cappies would have ripped him apart, if Meta Knight hadn’t lost his composure first.  He looked back at Kirby’s doppelganger, only to see them smiling and their arms stretched out, still holding onto his sword. He gave them a scowl, as he watched them lower their arms and take a quiet breath.  

Meta Knight saw where his eye was facing, and he turned around, to see nothing there except for the Waddle Dees.  When his attention returned to their commander, he saw them glaring up at something. Meta Knight cautiously turned his head to a house on his left, and on its roof he saw something land, a being that was round in shape and its likeness akin to Kirby's in every single way, except for the color of its skin.  Theirs was blue. It looked at him for a moment, and then it fled out of sight.

Waddle Doo looked at all the destruction he caused and the angry crowds of people berating him.  Stealing their food and causing this riot was the worst thing he had ever done, and none of it was worth it, even for the sake of his king.  "Soldiers, lay down them weapons!" The Waddle Dees collectively threw down their spears, and surrendered.

After turning himself over to Cappy Town's only officer, Chief Bookem ordered Waddle Doo to put his arms behind his back, and heard the sound of handcuffs buckling.  "Well, I'd say that you'd be going away for a long time," he said. "But, after what you did, I'm gonna make you sure you never see the light of day again." Wade Doo was despondent.

Chief Kawasaki then walked up to them, covered in cuts and bruises, and had a black eye.  "Isn't there a window across from the cell?"

"The solution's simple, my friend.  It's a bag over his head."

Meta Knight briefly observed them, before looking up at the roof where he saw them.  He noticed Chef Kawasaki walking up to them, as Chief Bookem returned to the police station with his prisoner.  "Kawasaki," he said, before he could say anything. "If I could ask you something?" He nodded. "During the riot, did you happen to notice anything strange?"

Kawasaki scratched the back of his head.  "Um, besides the riot itself? I could have sworn seeing Kirby running from those Waddle Dees, but something about them was off.  Couldn't tell you how 'cause of the chaos and stuff, but...I don't think that was Kirby."

Meta Knight did some thinking, and decided that once he helped finish keeping the peace should another riot break out, he would conduct an investigation on the strange lookalike that appeared in their town.


 

Tiff snuck up to the rightmost window as quietly as she could, inside of a shack that was just outside the plaza area.  The young girl that was with her and her brother sat in the corner of the room, staring down at the floorboards while Tuff leaned against the wall beside her, so tense that he frozen and had his arms crossed.  As cautiously as possible, Tiff took a peek outside. “It seems like things are calming down out there.”  

Tuff felt some relief, but he needed to see for himself.  He ran up to the same window his sister was at, and pushed her aside to get a better look.  He saw a Waddle Dee in front of the shack dropping their spear, before one of the townspeople appeared and angrily pinned them down and started wailing on them.  “Doesn’t seem like it.”

Tiff sighed, and grabbed her brother by the back of his neck, and turned his head a little further right, at the group of Waddle Dees just outside the plaza  “Look at them. They’re all just standing out there, not doing anything. I think they’re surrendering.”  

They spotted Sword Knight running up to the attacking Cappy.  He grabbed them by the shoulders and pulled them off the Waddle Dee, who was on their back and covered in blood and fresh bruises.  The Cappy turned around and started screaming at them and accusingly pointed at it, while Sword Knight attempted to calmly reason with him.  However, he was too angry, and tried to give the downed Waddle Dee a hard kick to its side. Sword Knight grabbed him by the shoulder and yanked him back.  The Cappy then jerked himself around, and swung his fist at him. Sword Knight blocked the oncoming blow, and countered with a hard jab to his stomach, knocking them down.  And then he looked over at the shack.  

Tuff felt a pair of pair of hands on his shoulders pushing him down from the window, then he turned to face his sister.  “What are you doing, Tiff? That guy's on our side.”

“And that’s why we can’t let him see us,” Tiff insisted.  “If he does, then he’s gonna force us to stay with him for our protection, and Kirby’s gonna be left out there to fend for himself.  I think he’s going to Dedede’s Castle right now. We can’t just leave him, Tuff. What if he makes another reckless decision, or worse, gets himself killed?  We have to find him.”

And Tuff wholeheartedly agreed.  “Right, but how are we supposed to get out of here without him seeing us?”

Tiff took a few steps forward, and scoped out the room.  It was mostly empty, except for the small table and chairs in the corner opposite to where the girl sat, and in-between them was a part of the floor that didn’t line up with the floorboard pattern.  Careful not to be in view of the window, Tiff slowly walked up to it, and noted the subtle spacing around it. She placed her fingers in between the gaps, and slowly pulled it up, until the trapdoor was fully against the wall.  Directly under it was a crawl space with a dirt floor. Tuff then immediately ran up to her.  

Outside, Sword Knight thought he saw movement come from inside the shack, and ultimately decided to investigate.  His firmly held onto the handle of his sword, and slowly began to walk up to it, remaining vigilant.

“Careful,” Tiff said to her brother.  “Sword Knight could have heard us.” She then looked over at the despondent young girl.  “Hey.” The young Cappy looked at her with the same expression she had given the floor. Tiff could see how badly the riot had traumatized her, and was unsure of what to do next.

Sword Knight walked up the first step and then the second, and now stood on the porch.  He quietly approached the side of the left window, and peeked inside, seeing a young girl in the corner of the room looking over at something, and a third of an open trapdoor.

The young girl’s head abruptly turned to the window, then Tiff’s did too.  She spotted Sword Knight from outside slowly coming into view. He was going to see them.  She had no idea what to do. And then her brother pushed her down the trapdoor, and she gasped.  

Tuff then ran to the little girl, and pulled her up by the wrist.  “Let’s go.” He ran with her to the hole in the floor and jumped in, as Sword Knight saw them.  After they landed, Tuff immediately grabbed hold of the door and slammed it shut, just as he heard the other one barge open.  The space they were in was so narrow that he had to get on his knees, like his sister and the young girl had, and started crawling towards the back of the shack.  He could feel a scolding coming from Tiff, but there wasn’t time for that. “We gotta get moving. He saw us.” 

“He saw you,” she asked out of exasperation.

“We’ll just make a break for it,” Tuff said.

Tiff groaned out of frustration, and followed her brother, as the girl in shock followed her.  “Like we have a choice, if we can actually escape.” After a very short time, the three of them reached the other side of the crawlspace.  Tiff climbed out first and immediately stood, relieved to be out of that confined space, despite her clothes being covered in dirt. Tuff left the crawlspace second, and the girl third.

“Okay,” Tuff said as he stood.  “On the count of three, we run to Dedede’s Castle.  One, two-”

“Three!”  The abrupt shout came from the roof, before a sword landed on the ground in front of them that Tiff recognized, and made the girl jump.  It was the one that belonged to Waddle Doo. Her, Tuff, and the young girl looked up, and saw an all too familiar figure. Tiff thought it was Kirby at first, before they suddenly dove off the roof and landed on the side of their head in front of them.  And when she saw them, she didn’t know what to think.  

The blue lookalike sat in an awkward position and looked at them for a second with its tongue hanging out.  Tiff struggled to process who was even in front of her. “Kirby?”

The lookalike scattered back to its feet and snagged the sword by its handle as they did, before raising their arms and one foot.  “Tada!”

“You didn’t even stick the landing,” Tuff said, bluntly.

“Fuck you,” the doppleganger said, flatly and without really meaning it.  And then they ran off, heading in the direction of the castle where Kirby was.

Tiff stepped forward.  “Wait,” she shouted, as they kept running.  The revelation of there being a second Kirby and the stress that today’s events caused her hands to press against the sides of her head.  “What?” She shakily lowered her arms, and saw Sword Knight approaching her from the right.

He saw the genuine shock on her face.  “Bloody hell, you saw them too?”

And with the realization that she had been caught, Tiff let out a sigh of defeat.

Chapter Text

The conference hall of Peach’s Castle was filled with the chatter of representatives, of Mushroom Kingdom and Borderlines alike.  They sat across from each other on opposite sides of a long table in the center of the room. Placed in front of them were a series of microphones on stands which the latter provided. 

Mario and Luigi sat next to each other with their respective group, in the seats closest to the doors.  Luigi scoped out all the near empty plates of snacks that were within arm's reach while he held onto a celery stick.  “Anyone know where the last of the bleu cheese went,” he asked.

Starlow, who was hovering beside him, rolled her eyes.  “We ran out of bleu cheese five minutes ago.”

Luigi looked at her in disbelief.  “But we got here ten minutes ago.”

Then the doors of the conference hall opened, and the whole room went silent.  Mathias and Princess Peach entered, along with Tim and Lucy behind them. Peach sat down at the head of the table, while the other three walked across the hall.  Mathias spotted Mario, who looked back and nodded at him. Mathias smiled and nodded back, before him and his guards reached the other side of the hall and walked up a flight of steps to a balcony.  

Overseeing the room, he took out a device from his pocket, flat and square in shape, and placed it horizontally atop the guardrail.  He searched through his other pocket, and found a tiny microphone the size of a button, that he clipped onto the collar of his uniform.  Mathias lightly tapped on it, and heard a sound come from the tablet itself that echoed across the room. Everyone’s eyes then darted in his direction.  

“That was a little louder than I expected,” Mathias admitted.  “Anyways, I wanted to thank everyone for coming. Might as well get the introductions in order.  I’m pretty sure everyone here has gotten to know my colleagues, who are currently sitting across from you.”  Mathias chuckled. “And now it’s time to introduce myself. I’m Mathias McBacon. Yeah, I come from a weird neighborhood, and my surname isn’t exactly kosher.  And on behalf of the Borderlines and its Head Commander, I’d like to say ‘hi.’”  

One of the Toads in a seat closest to the balcony waved at him.  “Hi!”

Mathias waved back, before bringing his attention back to the rest of the audience.  “Now, I’m pretty sure a lot of you might be wondering why the Borderlines decided to show up in your kingdom today to say ‘hi'.  Well, that’s because it’s our job to say ‘hi’ and to record all the historical ongoings in the world. Uh, and to protect it, if we have to.  Oh, and speaking of, you might want to pay attention to this next part. I think you’ll love this.”

Mathias pressed a button beneath the tablet’s screen, and a blue light emerged from it and reached the ceiling.  It spread outwards. Holographic images of lands and seas began to appear, that circled around the entirety of the conference hall.  The Mushroom Kingdom’s representatives gasped and watched in awe, as did the Mario Brothers and their princess. The Borderline agents, however, remained mostly calm, some even smirking confidently. 

Mathias smiled.  “I thought you would.”  He clapped his hands. “Ladies and gentlemen, I want to give you a warm welcome to the Convergence World, or at least a map of it.”  He moved over to the steps and started walking down them. “Now I’m pretty sure a lot of you might be wondering why we call it that.”  Then he reached the final step. “I mean, it’d be a lot more interesting if we just showed you.”

Mathias looked up at Tim and nodded.  He nodded back, before walking up to the device and placing his thumb and index finger on the screen.  The holographic map began to zoom in on a specific location, of bodies of land that the Mushroom Kingdom’s people would recognize and the ones alongside them.  Mathias pointed to the lands west of theirs, and moved towards them. “Those are the Continents.” He stopped at the head of the table opposite of Peach, and pointed up.  “That is Dreamland, and down here...” His finger went to a tiny island farther south of the Grass Continent. “Nippon. I didn’t make up the names, by the way.”

The representatives looked puzzled, and unsure of the point he was making.  “The lands that I pointed out are all part of different realities, that were taken from their own and were put right here.  The Mushroom Kingdom and the places west of it just so happen to be some of the newest additions. Uh, not the further west stuff.  They’ve been there for a while-” A Koopa Troopa in a lab coat raised her hand, and Mathias pointed at them. “Uh, go for it.”

The Koopa nodded, before pressing a button on the stand of her microphone and spoke into it.  “Now that we’re in a new reality from our own, it begs the question of, what’s gonna happen to us?  From what I know about theoretical physics, the theory goes that every parallel universe follows its own sets of rules or guidelines, occasionally being identical to one another.  How much of a radical change do you think it would be? Do our worlds follow a similar logic, or is the logic here drastically different from ours?”

“Uh.”  Mathias thought about the words to use.  “I was born in the Convergence World, so I wouldn’t really know what it was like, but I’m pretty the answer is a solid maybe.  From some reports, I would guess that some accommodations would be made, depending on the universe. And this universe right here, by the way, is a really complicated one.”

The Koopa raised her hand again.  “And, what happens if these changes are too overwhelming for us?  Do you think that there’s any way for us to return to our own reality if it ever came to that?”

It was a question that Mathias wasn’t looking forward to answering.  “Unfortunately, no. We’ve dedicated years trying to find that out, but there just isn’t any way to do that, but I think what really matters at the end of the day is getting through these changes and moving forward.  That’s one of the reasons why we came here in the first place, right? I mean, as soon as we get into the more in-depth stuff, I’m sure you’ll be able to put the pieces together yourself. It’s not gonna be easy.” With his thumb, Mathias pointed at the Borderline representatives.  “But of course, with the help of these guys, I’m sure it’ll help you find the pieces faster.”

Mario noticed how tightly clenched his brother’s hands were.  “Hey Luigi,” he whispered. “You okay? You seem a little nervous.”

“This is world changing stuff, Mario,” he whispered back.  “Of course I’m nervous.”

“Try not to pass out again.”

Luigi sighed.

“Also,” Mathias said to the Koopa in the lab coat.  “I just wanted to say that was a pretty great observation there.”

“Why thank you,” she said out of flattery.  “I do take a lot of pride in my observations.”

“It does sound like it.  Most of the time, whenever someone raises their hand and speaks in the mic, the first thing they talk about is the malaise and existential dread they feel, before sobbing hysterically, which can happen sometimes.”

“So that’s why I was sobbing hysterically last night,” said a Toad sitting next to the Koopa, also wearing a lab coat.

“Oh, uh.”  Now Mathias felt very embarrassed for bringing it up.  “I’m sorry to hear that.”

“I thought it was because my wife left me.”  Then everyone’s eyes in the conference hall were on him, some with discomfort and intrigue.

Even Mario himself felt a bit awkward, then he pressed the button.  “I don’t think it’s a good idea to bring up personal stuff.”

The Toad got angry.  “Hey!” He pointed at him.  “You try going through a divorce and see how it feels!”

“I never even got past the propo-”

“I think we’ve heard enough,” the princess calmly interjected, not wanting to be reminded of that night on the moon.  She looked over at the Toad and Mario with a scowl on her face. “Besides, I’m sure that Mathias and our guests are more than busy people, with far more important things to say.”  The Toad’s pushed the microphone forward and his head slumped to the table, while Mario stared at her with a baffled and guilty look.

Mathias grit his teeth and put a hand on his chest.  “I actually felt that.” Then he heard the laughter and chatter of the Borderline’s representatives, before the Mushroom Kingdom’s followed along.  Mathias’s cheeks reddened.

“Okay, let’s get back to the thing!  The things! The very important things.”  He uncomfortably scratched at the back of his head, while the laughter died down.  “We can’t forget about the things.” Mathias lost his trail of thought, and faced the wall.  “What were the things,” he muttered to himself. Now everyone gave him an awkward stare, without him noticing.  Then Mathias remembered and snapped his fingers. “That’s the thing.”  

He turned back to the conference table.  “The thing in which we talk about how we observe everything.  Yeah, that word has officially overstayed its welcome. But still, the Convergence World can really be a strange place, especially with all the crazy stuff that happens in it, am I right?  Really, one of the most effective ways to keep track of it all is to actually go into the fields ourselves with a pen and paper, and see all the action up-close. Set up some outposts every couple of miles so we can get the most minute details.”

Mathias then brought his attention back to the princess.  “Um Peach, You remember the ‘stuff’ that I brought up when I was speaking to you through the drone?”  He went out of his way to avoid saying the word ‘things’. “About how we wanted to add a few pages in some social studies book?  Well, I kind of, sort of wish that I elaborated on that further. Thing is, when I said a few pages, I meant thousands of pages in thousands of books.  And in digital copies.”  

Mathias could see the genuine surprise on her face, and her representatives.  It made him chuckle nervously. “I know, it’s crazy stuff, right? When I said we wanted to learn about the Mushroom Kingdom, we really want to learn about the Mushroom Kingdom, down to its culture, its architecture, its people, and...life.  Except for personal lives, because we’re not a police state. But, ultimately, at the end of the day, Princess, it’s really up to you to decide whether you want us here, or not.”

Something came to the princess’s mind, and she pressed the button under her microphone.  “And the Borderlines intend to establish outposts in the Mushroom Kingdom?”

“Uh, yes,” Mathias answered.  “But if there’s any concerns, don’t hesitate to ask.  Transparency is one of our favorite words.”

“I do have one concern, but it doesn’t involve your organization.”  It was distressing for Peach to relive those events, but she kept a stoic face.  “One night, I saw something strange, but it was something I couldn’t understand. It was truly horrifying, and I couldn’t sleep for weeks without thinking of that...thing.”  She saw the worried looks of her representatives from the corner of her eye, with Mario and Starlow’s being the most prevalent. She could even see those exact same looks coming from the Borderlines sitting on her left.  “Perhaps your organization may know a thing or two about what I saw.”

“We know a few things,” Mathias admitted, losing his enthusiasm.  “It’s kind of a rare phenomenon, actually. It’s usually more common in some of the newer lands, and not everyone sees them.  We can’t exactly describe what it is either, except that it isn’t dangerous, but it can still be pretty traumatizing for who ever does see them...Maybe it is a little dangerous, in its own way.  I’m sorry you had to go through something like that, princess.” Peach solemnly nodded.

The thought of whatever the princess saw a put a knot in Luigi’s stomach, and then he remembered something that Mathias had mentioned.  Without much thought, he pressed the button and spoke into the mic. “Uh, you guys said that you would protect us if you had to. Is it from those kinds of things?”

The room went silent, and all the Borderline agents seemed to tense up when Luigi asked that.  Mathias wasn’t an exception to that, considering he was well aware of what they were capable of.  “Uh, not exactly? It’s complicated.”

Luigi had become even more tense than the ones who sat across from him, and his hand began to shake.  “How is it complicated,” he whimpered.  

Mathias swallowed.  “Maybe I shouldn’t say.”

Chapter Text

Adrian and Waka spent hours that day sparring on the small isles on the lake in Agata Forest.  Along with two weeks worth of injuries, Adrian had spent the majority of the time having even more inflicted upon him, while his mentor was as clean and unharmed as ever.  

Adrian tried to strike at Waka with his dagger, only for him to duck back slightly and grab his wrist.  He squeezed tightly, and the pain forced him to drop his weapon. Waka let him go, before thrusting the palm of his hand into his chest.  Adrian was forced backwards, and fell into the water with a splash. He swam back to the edge of the island, watching his mentor move up to the dagger and pick it up.  He inspected the blade with his perpetual smile.

Then Waka took note of Adrian in the water, and knelt in front of him.  “I never recalled this being a swimming lesson,” he said, playfully.

“You’re the one who threw me in the water,” Adrian replied.

“Then I may as well fix that.”  Waka reached his arm out, still holding onto the dagger in his other hand.

After all of his training, Adrian suspected he was up to something, and he chuckled.  “Oh look, something I’m not gonna fall for.”

Waka’s smile was replaced with a disappointed frown.  “Fall for what? Adrian, all I want to do is simply help you out of the water.”  He knew better not to fall for his trick, but he couldn’t help feeling bad. “It’s a shame, really, that the student refuses to listen to the master.  Perhaps you weren’t the foreigner I was destined to train-” Adrian cracked, and grabbed his mentor’s hand. His smile returned, and he began to pull him up.  Adrian realized it wasn’t a trick, and felt like a disrespectful idiot.

And then Waka thrusted the blade forward, and stopped when the very tip was up to his jugular.  “And like that, you fell for my trap. Now you’re dead.” He turned it away from Adrian’s neck, before dropping him back in the water.  After the second splash and resurfacing, all he could do was stare at him, exasperated while his mentor stood back up.

Waka started to sway his dagger from side to side, observing it.  “Hmm.” His eyes then moved over to a tree that had collapsed onto the edge of the isle, that formerly stood atop a neighboring one, and his smile widened.  “Now cadaver, if you’d be so kind to get out of the water, I’d like to continue your training.” His eyes returned to the dagger, and his smile became more devious.

It filled Adrian with anxiety.  “Waka, what are you-” Then he chucked the dagger.  “Waka!” It landed flatly on the center of the fallen tree, and his anxiety turned to panic.

“Oh, it appears you’ve dropped your dagger,” Waka said, tauntingly.  “A shame, we can’t continue your training without it. You’d better go fetch it.”

And then he swam to it for dear life.  As Adrian drew closer to the log, he spotted his mentor throwing a different dagger at him, that seemed to appear out of thin air.  He dived, narrowly avoiding it. He continued swimming underwater, before spotting another one being flung at him from the surface. He stopped, the very blade nearly nicking his forehead.  His panic worsened, and his head popped out of the water.  

Then Adrian spotted his mentor rushing towards him, gliding on the very top of the water, before kicking his face with the large tooth of his red geta.  Blood spilled out of his mouth and nose, and Adrian was forced back underwater. He swam deeper in the lake, and as fast as he could, being more than aware that Waka was overpowering him.  And when he was deep enough, he paddled forward, as his mentor was taking a pleasant stroll above him.  

Adrian kept swimming, and somehow managed to get under the fallen tree and reach the other side.  He returned to the surface and frantically climbed up that tree. He stretched his arm out as far as he could, and tried to feel for where his dagger was, before his mentor’s katana cut across the top of his hand.  He shouted in pain as he fell back into the water.  

Adrian made a stupid decision, but from it, it gave him an idea.  He held his breath and went back underwater. He swam directly underneath the tree itself and clung onto it.  Directly behind him, the green blade of Pillow Talk cut straight through the wood and slowly sliced across the width of the tree.  After a second of anticipating, it happened again on the other side.

He felt the log drop further into the water, and then it started to tilt left.  He let go, and saw his dagger drop into the water on his right. Adrian knew that his plan was working, and he smirked.  Then he swam towards it as it sank, more than aware that Waka was readying to slash at him again. Intentionally, he reached out for the dagger with his uninjured hand, and saw and felt the steel slicing across it.  At the same time, he snatched the blade with his other hand by the handle, and immediately pulled both his arms back.

Then Adrian felt the large floating log knock into the back of his head, hard enough that his sight blurred and his ears rang for a short time.  His lungs started to burn after that, and he realized that he needed to get out of the water or drown. Then he heard the sound of a dive, and saw Waka directly in front of him.

Adrian swam backwards, as another dagger was flung at him.  He thrusted himself as far left as possible, and it barely missed.  The burning in his lungs was starting to get worse. Adrian headed towards the adjacent isle, becoming desperate.  Waka caught up to him quickly, and grabbed his foot. Adrian’s first reaction was to jerk himself around and swing his dagger.  And it hit. The blade cut through the sleeve of Waka’s katana and forearm. His grip loosened, giving Adrian time to escape.  

He reached the isle and climbed onto its shore, gasping for air.  He was on his knees, breathing heavily and more than grateful that he was alive.  And then he heard another splash behind him. Adrian immediately threw his soaked body forward and rolled.  He quickly got back to his feet and turned to see Waka on the shore, as soaked as he was, stepping closer. He took out his flute and pushed the tip down, pulling out the glowing blade, and unsheathed his katana.  Adrian clenched onto the handle of his dagger, blood seeping out from the opening under his knuckles. He concentrated and readied himself for whatever came next.

Waka lifted his swords, his knees bent slightly, readying to attack him like the first time they met.  Adrian looked into his eyes, and found his cue to dodge. Waka lunged forward, and he immediately jumped out of the way, his mentor swinging at the air where he once stood.  Adrian hit the ground on his side. Waka then twirled himself around and swung at him again. It was too fast to dodge.

And he threw his armed hand forward, then heard the sound of clanging metal.  Adrian realized he had blocked one of Waka’s more devastating attacks, and grinned when he saw an opportunity to counter it.  He kicked at the tooth of his mentor’s geta as hard as he could, and forced him to one knee. However, it didn’t stop him from backhandedly swinging Pillow Talk at him.  Adrian rolled out of the way, but the beam sword cut through the back of his jerkin.  

He rolled again and got to his hands and knees, then Waka lunged at him again faster than he blinked.  Adrian rolled a third time, to his right, and narrowly evaded his strike. Waka cut into the grass and dirt as he got back to his feet.  

His head then slowly twisted in the direction of his student, and Adrian was more than aware that he was going to strike again.  He was out of options. Despite how terrified he was, he took the offense and charged straight for his mentor, and screamed. Waka quickly returned to his feet and slashed upwardly with both his blades.  Adrian was ready for that, and he leapt back. His mentor then stepped forward and swung his katana one final time at his side, and he was greeted with the tip of Adrian’s blade to his throat.

“You know, I kind of forgot something,” he said, drawn of breath.  “Who was the dead one again?” He then spotted a glow from under him, and the blade of Pillow Talk pointed at his stomach.

“I suppose the both of us are, this time.”  Waka stepped back and slowly lowered his swords, as Adrian did the same with his dagger.  He sheathed his katana, yet he still wielded Pillow Talk. It made him nervous and wonder what he would do next.  Then he pushed the glowing saber back into his flute. “And I suppose it’s time for a break,” he said teasingly. He began moving towards the shore of the lake, and glided on the water’s surface.  Adrian groaned, and he begrudgingly swam.

The two of them reached the shore.  As soon as Adrian was out of the water, he tried to shake as much of the excess off his clothes as he could, walking towards his bag that he left beside a flight of wooden steps.  Waka, meanwhile, sat down near the entrance of the cave, looking down at his torn sleeve. He rolled it up, and saw a deep cut going across his forearm. Waka smiled, knowing full well that it was a sign of progress in Adrian’s training.  

Adrian then walked over to his mentor, carrying the bag over his shoulder, and sat across from him.  He gently placed it down in the center of them and the dagger on his left. He spotted the slashes in his hands, and the cuts and bruises that spread across the rest of his arms.  Adrian had to remind himself that they were necessary, and he looked up at Waka. “I gotta say,” he said, presenting his newest injuries to him. “You got me pretty good.”

“That would be from the series of reckless decisions you’ve made,” was Waka’s response.  “But I must admit, some of them were very bold.”

“Is that supposed to be a compliment, because I’m gonna take it as one.”  Adrian opened the bag and took out a needle and thread. “Now to stitch up my hands like the medical professional I am.”  Carefully, he put the string through the narrow hole in the flat end of the needle, and brought the sharp point on the other side up to the gash on his right hand.  It was enough to make his left tremble. “It’s too bad I’m not a medical professional.”  

He took a breath to calm himself and held it, and pushed the needle through the skin around his wound.  The pain was enough to make him whimper, but somehow he managed to make the first stitch. He had a long way to go, and he forced himself to loop around to the second.  Adrian noticed Waka staring at him the way he always does. “Why are you just sitting there and smiling at me?”

“I’m smiling,” Waka asked, teasingly.  “I don’t seem to recall that.” He raised an eyebrow.

“To heck with you.”  Adrian grunted as he pushed the needle forward.  “And you better not say that every suture is a lesson.”

“But every suture is a lesson.”

Adrian screamed in a mix of frustration and pain.  “My existence is the punchline of a cosmic joke! Why haven’t you guys invented lidocaine yet?  This hurts so bad.” He forced himself to make the third stitch.

“And yet, you proceed to stitch your hands, anyway.  Might I ask why?”

“Because I’m stubborn,” Adrian admitted, making the fourth.  “Plus, I’m paranoid that you’ll punch me in the face again.”

“Hmm.”  Waka inspected his injured forearm.  “Not this time.”

“Why do I not believe you,” Adrian asked.  “Could it be from the trust issues I developed over the past two weeks?  I wonder where those came from?”

“Careful now,” Waka teased.  “You may want to choose your words more carefully, unless you want your training to continue sooner than expected.”

“Can I stitch up my hands first?”  Adrian sighed. “It’s not like I’m ungrateful for everything you’ve done for me, really.”  He made the fifth suture, and somehow had an easier time handling the pain. “This past month and a half hasn’t exactly been easy, especially with the news of...”  

“The eyes staring back.”

“Yeah, or whatever it is.”  He brought the needle up to the last open part of his wound, and hesitated.  “Sometimes I doubt that they’re even eyes...Is it weird for me to admit that I’ve had nightmares about it?”

Waka shook his head.  “And what kind of nightmares are they?”

“The fun kind,” Adrian admitted, sarcastically.  “I even had a dream where I was walking through the streets of Brooklyn, and there was no one around.  I was all by myself. Or was it Manhattan?” Waka lost his smile again after he said that. The top of Adrian’s left hand was drenched with blood, and a droplet fell into the sand.  “I don’t think it matters, but either way, I was walking for what seemed like hours, or was it minutes? I’m not really sure.”  

More droplets fell.  “Maybe it was Manhattan.  I think there was this one part where I was looking up at the sky, and there was nothing there.  It was just a blank. You know, the worst part about that dream was just how vivid it was, like it actually happened.”  Adrian found himself looking at the sky above.  

“I believe you left out a very crucial detail,” Waka said, his smile returning.  “If it’s a dream of the eyes staring back, then where are the eyes staring back?”

“That’s the thing.  I didn’t even know they were in my dream until I woke up.  It took me a minute to really process it, and it turns out they were hiding behind the windows.  All of the windows, and do you want to know how tall the buildings are in New York City? You want to know how many buildings?”  

And after the sixth stitch, Adrian closed his wound.  He brought the flat end of the needle up to his mouth and bit down on it.  “There’s a lotta buildings,” he said with clenched teeth. Adrian used the dagger to cut the string and plucked the needle out of his mouth, realizing his blood was on it.  “Beautiful.” Then he noticed the blood that was drenched over his left hand. “Shit-” Adrian ran to the lakeside, and dunked it inside the water.

Waka stood.  “Perhaps this should be considered another lesson,” he said, walking behind his student.  He bent down and took the needle and thread that he dropped. “To always remain vigilant.”  

“Sounds like a lesson I should take to heart.”

Waka then moved up beside him, and put his arms behind his back.  “A day will come when you must face the eyes staring back, as will they.  And when that day comes, you must be ready.” Adrian looked up at him. “Our training in Agata Forest will come to an end.  It’s time we continued elsewhere.”

Adrian stood, pressing his palm against the top of his hand.  “Where to?”

His smile widened.  “Did I say your training was over?”

A part of Adrian wished that he was joking.  “That was a pretty short break.”

“And you dropped something.”  Waka then presented the needle and thread to him, .  “That was very clumsy on your part, Adrian. If only you remained vigilant.”  

“The fuck man,” was all Adrian could say.

Waka shook his head in disapproval.  “Aw, aw, aw. That sort of language won’t change a thing.  The longer I possess this needle and thread, the more you bleed out.”

Adrian saw the cut on his mentor’s arm.  “And so will you.”

“Then do us both a favor and take them from me.”  Waka then unsheathed his katana, and their training continued.

Chapter Text

Tiff and Meta Knight spoke on the porch of Chief Bookem’s Police Station.  The two observed the several Waddle Dees that sat around the plaza in a series of circular formations, all staring blankly at the ground.  Sword and Blade Knight patrolled the area to ensure no more fights broke out, after the Cappies were ordered to return to their homes.  

“The girl was returned to her parents shortly after we found you,” Meta Knight informed Tiff.  “Hopefully, that provides to alleviate some of your stress.”

“I guess it does,” she said.  “But still, it’s hard to imagine that there’s another Kirby running around.”

“On that we agree.  Even several eyewitnesses have seen the creature roaming the streets of Cappy Town during the riot.  Or more specifically, it was being chased.”

“It was being chased,” Tiff asked.  “Why do you think?”

“I believe they angered the wrong person, and that person commanded his soldiers to pursue them.  Of course, it was the poor decision that led to Waddle Doo being drawn out, and when I confronted him, I had gotten a glimpse of the creature myself, shortly before it escaped.  Sword Knight had also informed me that it began running in the direction of Dedede’s Castle moments after your first encounter.”

“What I don’t understand is why you didn’t have Sword Knight at least follow them.”

“It’s because I gave him specific orders to find you and your brother, and he did his job well.”  Meta Knight looked out at the shattered windows of raided houses, and the drops of blood and spilt over food that scattered across the grounds.  “I understand that you’re worried for Kirby’s safety, but I must assure you that-”

“I’m worried for Kirby’s safety?”  Tiff scoffed, wondering how Meta Knight could be so calm.  “Kirby is in danger right now, and I can’t just stand here and do nothing.  He shouldn’t even be out there in the first place.”

“And neither should you.”

“And last time I checked, I’m supposed to be his protector.  I can’t do that…” Tiff pointed at the castle in the distance, that sat atop the high and steep hill.  “If I can’t go to Dedede’s Castle and stop him before anything bad happens. Do you want to know who else is going to Dedede’s Castle?  His blue lookalike. We don’t even know what it wants.”

“Perhaps it’s driven by a sense of curiosity.  The two do share an almost identical appearance.”

After the initial shock of seeing them firsthand, Tiff couldn’t help but feel there was something more sinister about them.  “What if it’s more than just curiosity?”

“Like malicious intent,” Meta Knight asked.  “Something tells me it may not be the case.”

Uncomfortably, she crossed her arms and looked away from him.  “I don’t think I can believe that. It’s just that, after everything we’ve been through-”  Tiff’s eyes went to a lone Waddle Dee laying flat on its front side in front of the tree in the center of the plaza.  It was the same one Kirby had impaled with his spear, and she couldn’t look away.  

Meta Knight noticed that, and the subsequent look of guilt on her face.  “Tiff, what happened?”

Tiff wasn’t sure if she could answer that, but it was clear that Meta Knight had pieced it together himself.  She shut her eyes and pried her attention away from the corpse. “If only a Demon Beast was the cause of all this.  It would have made things so much simpler.”

“If only the Convergence World was that simple.”

Tiff looked up at the castle, and remembered who was really in charge of the Waddle Dees.  “Maybe it is that simple. Dedede’s the cause of all this.”

“Yes.”  Meta Knight was saddened by that fact.  “And after a whole year of peace, I thought he would never stoop to this low again.”

“Like he could ever change.”

Meta Knight stepped towards the door.  “As soon as I finish the interrogation, I will go to Dedede’s Castle and search for Kirby myself, and perhaps run into his doppelganger in the meantime.  But now, we must discover the truth, on why he had the town ransacked of its food.”

Tiff followed Meta Knight into the police station.  When they first entered, they saw Chief Bookem standing in front of the cell, facing the prisoners.  He was holding a baton, seemingly ready to use it. Tuff, meanwhile, was sitting down, his back leaning against the front of the desk in the center of the room.  Chef Kawasaki was with them as well. He stood in the left corner opposite of the cell, nervously fidgeting his hands. He noticed them coming in, and nodded Tiff.  She nodded back, while Meta Knight started moving towards the cell.  

Tiff went over to her brother.  “You okay?”

“As okay as I can be, I guess,” Tuff said.  “You look pretty tired.”

Tiff smiled, sadly.  “I guess I am.” Tuff nodded, and looked over at Meta Knight and Chief Bookem.  Tiff did too, and saw Waddle Doo on the other side of the bars, along with seven of his soldiers.  She thought about the riot and what Kirby had done, and her smile went away.  

Meta Knight stood beside Chief Bookem, who was more than infuriated.  He eyed down the Waddle Dee’s commander, who sat beside the iron bars on the right end of the cell, despondent.  Bookem then raised his baton up and bashed it against the ones closest to his one big eye.  

Waddle Doo was startled out of despondency, and slowly turned to face Bookem, giving him an exasperated look.  “Come on, man. Did you really have to do that?”

“You should have asked yourself that before starting the riot.”  Chief Bookem sounded like he was ready to throttle him. “We have a few questions to ask you, and you better give it to us straight.  Question one, why’d you start the riot?”

Waddle Doo still felt immense guilt over what he had done.  “I didn’t ask for this-”

Bookem slammed his baton against the bars again.  “Answer the goddamn question!”

He sighed.  “We was ordered to take your food.”

“And perhaps you could explain to us why Dedede gave the order,” Meta Knight asked, calmly.  No answer come from Waddle Doo. “I find it strange that after all this time, the king had decided to terrorize Cappy Town once again.  Wasn’t his intention to reform himself, shortly after the dissolution of Nightmare Enterprises?”  

Waddle Doo stared at the ground in shame.  “I didn’t have a choice…” 

Tiff lost her patience.  “You did.” She went over to the cell and wrapped her fingers around the bars.  “You could have revolted like last time. Why didn’t you?”

Waddle Doo suddenly got angry.  “Well that ain’t your business.”

Meta Knight’s eyes turned red, and he snapped at him.  “It is our business, when lives are on the line! People died today, Cappies and Waddle Dees alike.  They were brawling in the streets, because of what you did. You were taking our food, and I want to know why!”  His eyes reverted back to their original yellow color, and he was drawn of breath.  

“You got a lotta nerve, you know that,” Waddle Doo suddenly said.  “You think you got the right to ask that, after you and sword buddies cut ties with the king?”  He shook his head. “Not that you were ever loyal in the first place. I ain’t talkin’ to you.”

All Tiff could do was look at him in disappointment, and she sighed.  “You know, it’s been over a year since we stopped Nightmare Enterprises.  That really was the day when everyone came together. We put all of our differences aside, and we took down a common enemy, but at the end of it all, it was you who saved us, remember?  Everyone who stayed behind tried to fix the transporter, but they couldn’t because a piece was missing, and you were the one who found it. If it wasn’t for you, we’d all be dead right now.”

Tiff’s grip on the bars tightened.  “And after what you did today, I can’t help feeling betrayed, because that’s what you did Waddle Doo.  You betrayed us.” Her disappointment turned to anger. “And how can you live with yourself, knowing that you turned against the very people you saved?!  Tell me!”

Meta Knight calmly called to her.  “Tiff.”

She ignored him.  “Tell me why you turned against us, and why Kirby is going up to your castle right now to put a stop to what King Dedede is doing!”  Waddle Doo’s eye widened. “Tell me!”

Meta Knight took a step towards her.  “Tiff, I need to stay calm and step aside-”

“I can’t stay calm, Meta Knight!  How can I be-”

“You said he was goin’ to Dedede’s Castle,” Waddle Doo asked.  The room went silent. Tiff and Meta Knight then turned to face him, as Chief Bookem glared on intently.  Tuff and Kawasaki looked on as well. All their eyes were on him, and Waddle Doo was afraid of what could happen after he explained himself.  He brought his attention to Tiff. “Tiff, Kirby shouldn’t be there.”

Waddle Doo’s voice was weak with fear, and she quickly figured out why.  Something had happened at Castle Dedede.  


Kirby was still carrying his spear as he followed a group of Waddle Dees, carrying stolen food over their heads.  The castle’s drawbridge started to lower, and when it was all the way flat, they ran inside. Kirby did too, and kept his distance from them.  The drawbridge was lifted shortly after he made it to the courtyard, surrounded by the castle’s outer walls, but something was wrong. It was as dark as night, and when Kirby looked up at the sky, it was a sickly pale blue.

One of the Waddle Dees then broke off from the group and ran up to him, holding up a plate of blueberry pancakes covered in dirt.  It slowly shook its body from side to side, with fear in its eyes. Kirby stepped forward, and the Waddle Dee stepped back. “Poyo,” he whispered.  It then sprinted away to catch up with its group.  

Kirby followed them inside, down a dismal green hallway with torches mounted on the walls to illuminate it.  It was unnerving to traverse, but he needed to find out where the food was being taken. He needed to bring it back to his friends.  The Waddle Dees turned a corner, and were too distracted to even acknowledge him. Kirby went past it too, and was greeted with a branching hallway ending with a flight of stairs on the other side, spiraling left.

He took them up to the second floor, and unlike the first, this one had more decour.  Statues of King Dedede and Escargoon stood within holes carved into the walls, as well as the Waddle Dees.  Even some portraits of them were hung up. The group that Kirby was following went leftward, and on his right were a series of doors wherever there weren’t statues of portraits.  Some of them were even open, and inside were a series of barracks. In one of the rooms, he saw a different Waddle Dee crying in silence, and another one consoling him. The latter spotted Kirby behind him, and silently nodded, putting on a brave face.

Kirby followed the other Waddle Dees up to the third floor.  It had gotten so unnaturally dark that even the torches had been dulled by it.  Kirby was already more than unnerved at that point, but he had to keep moving. Eventually, he followed the group outside to the castle’s inner battlements.  The darkness from inside was seeping out, making it seem like he was enshrouded within an evil fog. Despite how terrified he was, he pushed himself to keep going.  

Eventually, he followed the group back inside again, and Kirby saw two more statues of King Dedede standing on the sides of a large door that was all too familiar, partially opened.  The Waddle Dees stopped in front of it.  

Then the same one from before rushed up to Kirby again, still holding onto the pancakes.  Tears of desperation were rolling down its eyes. Kirby tried to move past them, but the Waddle Dee got in its way.  He gently pushed them aside, and started walking towards the doors. The Waddle Dee placed the plate of pancakes on the ground, and ran off.

The rest of its group went inside the throne room.  Kirby peeked in from the doorway, seeing that it was better lit than all the halls outside.  He saw a line of Waddle Dees that led up to a large pile of food in the center of the room, and King Dedede himself next to it.  He took from the pile indiscriminately, and forced every morsel down his throat. Even from the door, Kirby could see that his pupils were hollow.

Escargoon was standing beside him, visibly afraid for his life as the pile was getting smaller.  Dedede stopped eating and turned to him, slightly levitating above the ground. The poor snail started quivering.  Kirby then spotted the king’s royal chair on the other side of the room, toppled over with one of its armrests broken off.  

“More,” Dedede said, utterly void of any emotion and his accent.

“But sire, that’s all the food in Cappy Town we could find,” Escargoon tried to explain.  “I promise, as soon as we find-”

“More.”

“I don’t think we can get any more…” 

Dedede went directly in front of Escargoon, as the Waddle Dees stood there too terrified to do anything.  The king’s stomach began to slowly split itself open. The sound of tearing flesh filled the room as the gash stretched outward.  Blood spilled onto the floor and onto Escargoon. He was driven to tears, as it grew wide enough to cover his entire chest, exposing a layer of membrane that snapped apart and revealed what seemed like a dark abyss inside King Dedede.  A single eye as white as snow rolled down from the top of that darkness and stared at Escargoon without showing a hint of emotion.

“Please don’t hurt him,” was all he could whimper.  

Kirby immediately stepped away from the door and dropped his spear, losing his Copy ability.  Tears poured down his eyes, and he started running, running as far away from the throne room as possible.  He wanted to go back home to see his friends again. He frantically ran down the halls, but it was too dark to see.  Kirby had no idea where he was going. He was helpless. He was lost.

The creature that possessed Dedede faced Escargoon, but was no longer looking at him.  The halls of the throne room were still silent. And its gaze went to the door.

Chapter Text

Adrian’s training in Agata Forest had concluded, and he followed his mentor into the cave.  Waka’s forearm was wrapped in bandages, where his pupil had cut him with his dagger. Adrian’s hands had been wrapped as well, along with a new slash going across the length of his right arm.  Torches were mounted on the cave’s walls, which illuminated the tunnel leading up to a large pond. Behind it was something Adrian had been delighted by. “Oh, look at that,” he said. “A house in a cave.  That’s pretty innovative.”

“I suppose it can be,” Waka told him, before they circled around the pond.  He took the lead, and went up a few wooden steps leading to an enclosed purple curtain.  A yellow symbol was woven into the fabric in the shape of an eye. Waka then spread them open, and stepped aside.  “After you.”

Adrian gave him a nervous nod, before reluctantly walking up the final steps and entering the lone cabin.  Inside was a single room with three tables in each corner with various artifacts placed on top of them, including three dolls that he noticed on the furthest one, and a gong across from it to its left.  And across from Adrian on the other side of the room was an elderly woman wearing the skull of a deer on the top of her head, sitting behind a fourth table. “Oh.” It should have been obvious to him that someone was living there.  “Uh.” He awkwardly waved at her, as his mentor came in. “Sup?”

Dismissive of him, the elder focused on Waka.  “I suppose this is the foreigner you’ve spent the two weeks training.”

“Of course,” Waka said, cordially, moving a few steps ahead of Adrian.  “And you’d be surprised to know that he actually has a name.” He glanced over at his pupil with a teasing smirk.

“And it’s Adrian,” he told her.  The elderly woman then gave him a cautious look that was all too familiar.  “So, uh, how’s it going?”

“I’ve been well,” Madame Fawn admitted.  “Except for these last two weeks, which have been rather frustrating, but that is to be expected.”

Adrian scratched the back of his head.  “Yeah, that might have something to do with us.”

“Of course,” the elder jested.  “I even heard the sounds of your screams from inside my cave.”

“That was probably when Waka decided to slice my arm with a katana.”

Waka gave him another smirk.  “You should have been more careful.”

Adrian shrugged his shoulders.  “Well, isn’t that the reason why you’re training me in the first place?  I mean, every suture is a lesson, or a step closer to post-traumatic stress.”

“You certainly have quite the tongue, foreigner,” Madame Fawn said to him.  “But I must advise you to exercise restraint at some points. Some of our people won’t be so keen on tolerating that sort of behavior, especially when it comes from a foreigner like yourself.”  

Adrian nodded.  “Duly noted.” He brought his attention to Waka.  “So, uh, not to sound insulting, but why exactly are we here?”

“I thought you would have figured it out by now,” Waka said, before nudging his head to the leftmost corner of the room.

Adrian saw something hidden out of sight, behind the support beam.  He took a few steps closer to it, and saw the entrance to a passageway leading into a darkened tunnel.  He even overlooked the draft coming from it. “Why didn’t I notice that?” Then he realized something, and nervously gulped.  “Something tells me we’re gonna have to go in there.”

“Very perceptive.”  Waka sounded almost mocking.  

“And something that was even more bothersome,” Madame Fawn replied.  “The excavations were far louder and far more tedious.” The elderly lady gave Waka a sneer.

He then placed a hand on his chest.  “And I would like to apologize on behalf of my crew, but as with Adrian’s training, that, too, was necessary.”

“Yes, and it lasted for months.”

Waka’s perpetual smile widened.  “I suppose it’s time for my student and I to navigate those tunnels, then.”

“I suppose it is, and if you’re in need of my services, I will be here.”

“What do you do,” Adrian asked.

“I’m a fortune teller,” she answered.  The foreigner bowed as awkwardly as a foreigner would.  His mentor started moving towards the entrance of the reconstructed tunnel, and Adrian noticed that.  He then began to follow him, as Madame Fawn’s eyes wandered to a bone that she had been carrying. She observed the cracks that laid across its surface, a̸͘͞͝ņ̨͝d͝ ҉̕҉t̢͏h̶̢e͏̶̛͘y̢͏͝ ̷̕͜͝s̴̢̨̛h̸̸̨̛o̷̕͡w͝e̡̧d̢͜͟͞ ̷̨͟h͘͢ȩ҉̕͜r̸̷̶͞ ̴̧͡s̵͘͞ò̧͟ḿ͘͝è̴̢̡͡t̨͡h̷͟i̵̢̕n̶̕͠҉̷g̸͡͠.҉̡͜  Her arm began to shake as visions of the future overtook her mind, so horrifying that it made her chest throb. “Adrian!” He stopped abruptly and turned around. “I need to have a word with you.”

Adrian was suspicious of what the subject could be, considering the urgency in her voice.  “You mean, like a prophecy?”

Madame Fawn nodded, the tightening in her chest getting worse.  “I could see it. The bones have shown me...Keeper of secrets. The one who denies, the one who embraces, and the one who wears a mask.  Two of the three, you will meet. Emerald eyes will ruin lives, but the Eyes Staring Back will ensure all our demise. Sway her’s to your cause, and you may shut them forever.”

“Emerald eyes.”  Adrian remembered the thing he had seen that day in Kamiki Village, during his talk with Kushi next to the water mill.  “What does that mean?” Madame Fawn was silent. His hand began to tremble.

And then she spoke.  “I believe you will find the answer over the course of your journey.  I can’t say anything more.”

Adrian had already figured it out at that point, and the prospect of what he would have to confront was almost as terrifying as the Eyes Staring Back themselves.  He took a deep breath to collect himself. “So, do I have to pay a fee or something, because I don’t have any-”

“This one’s for free,” Madame Fawn told him.  “Now go.”

Feeling a knot in his stomach and a tightness in his throat, Adrian nodded and met up with Waka, who was waiting for him near the tunnel’s entrance.  His mentor reached for a lit torch on the wall behind him, and lifted it out of its mount by the handle, before handing it to Adrian. The two of them went inside, and spent some time traversing it.  Adrian saw just how unstable the tunnel itself was. Its cracked walls were held up by a series of wooden support beams that frequently creaked, and it made the knot in his stomach worse.

There was an unsettling quiet, before Waka decided to speak.  “Emerald eyes ruins lives,” he said, much to his pupil’s chagrin.  “Sounds quite peculiar, especially when coming from the likes of Madame Fawn.  More often than not, it sounded like a prophecy I would tell.”

“Did you know,” Adrian found himself asking.

“Of course,” Waka confessed.  “I foresaw it too, and I know when.  However, I can assure you that your meeting with these other eyes won’t happen for quite some time.”  Adrian was unsure if he was supposed to find any relief in that. His mentor changed the subject. “Some months ago, Nippon was ravaged by an earthquake, and it caused this very tunnel to collapse.  I had it rebuilt for your arrival, and our journey across it will take quite some time, but eventually, we will reach upon a new area to train.”

“And where are we going?”  Waka said nothing. Adrian heard the sound of a water droplet hitting the ground in front of him, and he stopped walking.  He anxiously raised his torch and looked up at the cracks and broken bits on the ceiling. He spotted another droplet seeping out from one of them, and it fell and hit the flame, being reduced to a dissipating mist.  He then heard the faint sound of rushing water above him, and the knot in his stomach tightened even further.

Waka looked back at his student, still moving.  “You coming,” he asked. Adrian nodded, and caught up with him.  “If that noise concerns you, a river is above us.”

Adrian was already distrusting of the walls.  “Wonderful.” The two of them continued to navigate the tunnel for a while longer, in silence, aside from the sounds of dripping water.  Eventually, it stopped, and after that, they came across another trail branching off from the main one, heading west.  

And to his surprise, Waka had actually stopped in front of it.  “This trail over here leads to Taka Pass, another part of Nippon devastated by the earthquake, far worse than the rest of it, I’m afraid.”  He turned to face Adrian. “Should we continue on the main path, we’ll eventually reach Ryoshima Coast, and all we simply have to do is take a pleasant stroll across the beach, and we’ll be at your new training spot.  It would take time, of course, but the journey itself would be at its safest. But all I can wonder is, what would happen to all those experiences, and all those lessons, if they were to remain unlearnt? Ultimately, Adrian, this decision is one you have to make.”

Adrian weighed his options.  If he wanted a chance to defeat the Eyes Staring Back, he had to go to Taka Pass, or risk not learning anything.  Despite the impending danger, he needed the hands-on experience and knew what he had to do. “I guess we’re going left.”

Chapter Text

Guildmaster Ivysaur sat in his office alone, contemplating as he stared down at the desk in front of him, before hearing the sound of three knocks coming from the door.  “Come in,” he shouted. He heard the door open and raised his head, and was delighted to see who had visited him. “Ah, beloved. A pleasure seeing you.”

“I thought I’d drop in to let you know what’s been happening,” his wife said, as she moved over to the desk.

“Very well.  Have a seat”

“That was the idea.”  The guild master’s wife sat across from her husband.  “The good news is, the Butterfree’s been patched up, and I had my talk with her.”

“And how does she fare,” the Ivysaur asked.

“She’s doing a lot better than how we found her.  The poor woman was pretty much traumatized, but after the initial shock, she told me how optimistic she was.”

“I’m rather optimistic as well.”

On her way to her husband’s office, all Ivysaur could think about was the Mudkip’s new partner.  “Do you think he’s ready?”

“The Bulbasaur,” asked the guild master.  “I believe he is.” The other Ivysaur in the room seemed uncertain.  “I promise you, if he weren’t, I never would have allowed him to join Mudkip’s team.  You have my word.”

She nodded, still uncertain, and her mind went to the Butterfree’s child.  “If it was our son who got trapped in there, I would have slaughtered my way through Tiny Woods just to find him.”

The guild master smiled.  “I’ve always admired your family’s ferocity.”

“That’s one of the things we were known for,” she admitted, before remembering something.  “I almost forgot to tell you something. Mudkip’s parents are here. They’ve been waiting downstairs for quite a while now, and I think it’s time you got out of this office and talked to them.”

“In a moment, perhaps.”

Ivysaur would have been frustrated with him if she didn’t know the reason why.  “You still working on that project?”

“Of course,” the guild master said.  “And it’s been quite the challenge, plotting out this meticulous system.  It was far simpler commanding an army.”

“Maybe you’re overthinking it in some places.”

“In some regards, yes.  In other places, I’m not.  This system has to work, my love.  A collective trust impregnable by design.  Incorruptible, unexploitable. One that’s impossible to manipulate for one’s own benefit, or for the detriment of this very guild.  And it needs to be ready, should anything untimely occur.”

The prospect of her husband dying was a very sensitive subject to her.  “What makes you think you’re gonna die?”

“Death awaits us all, regardless of the context.  The Malice once told me that.” Then the guild master recalled that he too had died long after he told him that.  “As these quakes and disasters persist, the more those words continue to ring through my ears. Death may come for me one day, and it doesn’t matter how or when.  I know that I must leave something behind should that day ever come, not just for the sake of our guild, but for our son, and for you.”


Bulbasaur and Mudkip continued to navigate the depths of Tiny Woods, staying as vigilant as possible.  Mudkip looked up at the canopy, in case anything were to attack from above. He then observed the small gaps in-between some of the condensed trees, before looking forward and stopping, as well as Bulbasaur.  They reached a dead end, and in front of it was a thick layer of web.  

Bulbasaur saw the silky cocoons attached to it, and they were all motionless.  The thought of who could be caught in one of them had made his stomach hollow. He looked over at Mudkip.  “The Caterpie could be trapped in one,” he said, quietly. “What do you think?”

Mudkip stared up at the nest, knowing full well that something could be watching them, and it made his throat tighten.  “I d-don’t think it’s a good idea-”

“We have to be sure.”  Bulbasaur’s gaze went to the cocoon closest to the ground.  “I’ll go. Stay right here, keep an eye out.” And without turning back, he began to slowly walk up to it.

Mudkip shook his head, needing to warn him that it was a terrible idea.  He was ready to call him out on it, until his head fin pointed in the direction behind him.  There was a rapid fluttering in the wind’s current, and then he heard the sound of buzzing getting louder.  “Bulbasaur!” Mudkip quickly jerked his body around, and saw a Dustox diving straight towards him. He immediately jumped out of the way, and the wild Pokemon continued to flutter...in the direction of Bulbasaur.  

He quickly turned with a grin on his face, and stepped out of the way.  The Dustox flew past him, and tried to circle back to attack, only to get caught in the webs instead.  It tried to break free, but the silken layer was far too strong. Bulbasaur watched it squirm and the webs thrash, and then saw a hoard of Spinarak emerging from the darkness above.  They all crawled down the webs, and surrounded the Dustox. Some of them began to feast on its flesh while others spurt out new webs from their mouths and abdomens, coating it.

Mudkip watched in horror as he moved a step back while Bulbasaur’s eyes returned to the bottom most cocoon.  He was desperate to know if the Caterpie was trapped in there or not, and without thinking, took another step closer to it.  Mudkip was shocked by what Bulbasaur was doing, but he needed to know if the young Pokemon was still alive. And he spotted a creature appearing from the darkness, more than twice the size of the Spinarak.  The Ariados briefly observed them eating and entrapping the Dustox, before jerking its head up, its eyes staring back at B̸ulbasaur. And he returned the favor.

Mudkip saw something from the corner of his eye, and the moment he spotted the Spinarak, it was poised to spit something at him.  Regardless of what it was, he immediately jumped forward, and narrowly avoided a series of poisonous purple needles. He quickly turned to face the Spinarak, and Mudkip launched a gush of water from out of his mouth, knocking it onto its back.  And then he saw more Spinarak crawling down the trees.

The Bulbasaur and Ariados continued to stare each other down.  He spotted another Spinarak to his left, lunging at him. A vine emerged from under his bulb, and Bulbasaur brought it down on its head, splitting it in two.  Then one attacked him from the right, and with his other vine, slashed it across the width of its face and killed it, severing its mandibles. Bulbasaur’s glare returned to the Ariados, before his eyes veered down on that same cocoon.

The five Spinarak began to close in on Mudkip.  The centermost one spat more poisonous needles at him, that he rolled away from as fast as he could, to the right.  The one next to it launched a thick string of web from out of its mouth, and he quickly jumped out of the way.

Then he saw the third Spinarak right next to him, on his left.  It bit down on the pouch he carried and pulled on it with the intent to tear open the firm fabric.  Mudkip planted his feet and pulled back, before jerking his head and spitting a small load of water into its eye.  Its mandibles loosened and it staggered back. Mudkip then twirled around, and whipped the side of its head with his tailfin, knocking it to the ground.

He immediately brought his attention back to the other four, and quickly stepped back as they slowly approached him.  Mudkip took another step, before the Spinarak in the center pounced at him. He blasted another gush of water at it, that pushed it away, as the other three began to charge at him.  

Two of the Spinarak flanked him on the right, and then Bulbasaur appeared and tackled the one closest to Mudkip, knocking it into the other.  The collision was so abnormally fast and hard that he heard the sound of their bones snapping. Mudkip began to wonder if it was his mind playing tricks on him...until Bulbasaur suddenly jumped over him, flipping around midair.  He landed on his left, and with a grin, gave the third Spinarak a hard kick between the eyes with his hind legs, so hard that he knocked it into the branch above. Mudkip watched its lifeless body fall to the ground, realizing there was something unnatural about his partner.  

Bulbasaur looked over at Mudkip, and the shocked look on his face made his smile go away.  He came to the realization that he wasn’t holding back, just like with the Sunkern. It made him lightheaded, and he felt a pressure in his chest.

Unbeknownst to both of them, the Spinarak Mudkip had previously knocked out with his tail was slowly approaching him from behind, its mandibles tipped with a purple glisten.  It bit into Mudkip’s back, and he howled in pain.

Bulbasaur realized what he had just done, and immediately grabbed the Spinarak by its neck with his vine.  He hoisted it up. A small amount of blood spurt out from where his partner was bitten, then his skin became pale.  And to Bulbasaur’s horror, he realized that Mudkip had been poisoned. He let out a weak moan, as his legs gave out from under him, and he fainted.  

Bulbasaur’s head slowly went up to the Pokemon that did this to him, and he snapped.  He pulled the Spinarak forward, slowly, until it was directly in front of him. He looked into its eyes with a dead stare.  The Spinarak was a wild animal, driven mad by the effects of the mystery dungeon, but he could see the fear in them. He even felt it from the Ariados and its hoard, that stopped what they were doing and watched him.  Bulbasaur turned to face them, and presented the Spinarak to them. He couldn’t stand their presence. His grip tightened, and a light smile came across his face. Blood trickled down his vine, and the Bulbasaur popped the Spinarak’s head off.  Its severed body then fell to the ground.

Then Mudkip regained consciousness.  Everything around him was a blur and he could hear that familiar ringing, but something was wrong.  His stomach was throbbing and his body was cold, yet his head was on fire. He immediately grabbed onto the strap of his pouch and pushed it forward with his dwindling strength, until it went past his head.  He then pulled on it, dragging the pouch itself into his line of sight. Panicked, he reached for its open end and managed to spread it.  

The pouch toppled forward, and some of its contents spilled out.  He saw that one of them was a pink berry, that he eagerly grabbed and stuffed into his mouth.  It was difficult to chew, but its intense sweetness was a guarantee that his strength would return and he would be cured of his poison.  Mudkip’s vision cleared and he was starting to feel better, only to see the Spinarak’s headless body and Bulbasaur standing next to it, covered in its blood.

Its mangled corpse was only a reminder of how much of a monster he was.  Bulbasaur turned to his partner, to see that the paleness of his skin was fading and that he was slowly getting back to his feet.  Mudkip silently looked at him, as if he were a stranger.  

And then he spotted the Ariados jumping down from its web, and its Spinarak watching them, all surrounding the new cocoon they had just woven.  Bulbasaur wondered if he should let the Ariados attack first, until it looked in the direction of his friend. The monster then turned and stood on his hind legs, and fired a seed from out of his bulb, shooting the Ariados in the head.  The large white horn above its eyes was clipped off, and the pack leader fell dead.

All the Spinarak looked down at the Ariados laying on the ground in front of them, and then at Bulbasaur and Mudkip.  Mudkip immediately put his pouch back on and closed it tight. “Bulbasaur, we need to-” Then he spotted more Spinarak emerging from the gaps between the trees.  He looked up at the webs, and saw more of them climbing down the webs from the darkness. Mudkip felt his heart race, but he was too terrified to even have an anxiety attack.  The air went silent.

And then one of the Spinarak charged after them, before being tackled by one of its own.  A fight suddenly broke out between the hoard, as purple needles and webs scattered across the area.  One of the Spinarak even pounced on top of the other, before biting down on one of its eyes. Another was backed against the condensed trees, and was mauled to death by three others.

Bulbasaur looked over at the cocoon near the ground, and the chaos ensuing in front of him.  After what had happened to his partner, he decided that trying to open it was not worth it. “Now we go,” he told Mudkip, before the two sprinted off in the other direction.  And despite their fighting, it didn’t stop the Spinarak from chasing them down the labyrinth.

Chapter Text

Adrian and Waka continued down the branching tunnel.  It was near identical to the main one, except it was slightly more narrow and there were several more support beams holding the walls up.  

After a couple minutes of navigating it, Adrian spotted a new light source, asides his torch, a short distance away.  Him and his mentor drew closer to it, and he began to realize what that very source was. The path had ended shortly after, at a ladder leading up to an opening on the cave’s ceiling.  “Wow, sunlight. Never thought I’d see it again.” Adrian turned to Waka, who was standing behind him. “This is the place, right?”

“It is,” Waka said, before gesturing to the ladder.  “Go on.”

Adrian nodded, before pointing at the torch he carried.  “You mind taking this?” He handed it over to Waka, then went to stand directly in front of the ladder, and looked up at the daylit sky.  Adrian then looked back at his mentor again, who stood in the exact same spot with the exact same smile on his face. He began to suspect that he was up to something.  “So, are you just gonna stand there?”

“Yes,” Waka responded.  “Until there’s enough room to climb.”

“Oh, right.”  Adrian felt silly for overlooking that factor, then turned back to the ladder.  He slowly reached for the furthermost rung, and began to climb. He did so for the next couple seconds, before his eyes abruptly went back on his mentor.

“Perhaps you should pick up the pace, Adrian,” he told him, teasingly.  “I’d rather not continue your training in this unstable tunnel.”

A part of Adrian was concerned that Waka was being serious, and he heeded his mentor’s demand, before hearing him chuckle.  Waka slowly placed the torch on the ground, and began to climb as well. The two of them drew closer to the source of light.  Eventually, Adrian reached the top and grabbed onto the surface above. He pulled himself up, and got himself out of the hole.  

He took a single step forward, and then he saw a trail in front of him, nestled at the bottom of a canyon.  Large chunks of its walls had completely collapsed, reducing the grounds beneath it to mounds of stone and rubble.  Adrian quickly realized that the earthquakes was the cause of this. The knot in his stomach grew tighter when he also realized that it was only a glimpse of what had happened to Taka Pass.

“Ahem.”  

Adrian was startled by the sudden voice, and jerked his head around, only to see Waka on the highest point of the ladder, waiting for him to make a move.  “Sorry.” He took a couple steps back, and then his mentor jumped out of the hole, landing elegantly on his two feet. “Well you’re definitely not a show off.”

“At times, it’s difficult to tell if I can actually help it,” Waka confessed.

Adrian smirked, before looking back at the ravaged path.  “And that’s Taka Pass?”

“The entrance of it.  Or, what remains of Taka Pass, sadly.”  Waka went to stand beside him. “Some time ago, the land of Nippon was ravaged by a series of earthquakes, and of all the places here, this one was the most devastated.  What was once a place of beauty, teeming with life, had now been reduced to a wasteland trapped between the mountains. Although, saying that the earthquakes were the sole cause of this would almost be considered an insult.  Society here had collapsed for far more complicated reasons.”

“I feel like there’s a pun in there,” Adrian admitted.

“Perhaps,” Waka said to humor him.  “Do you remember our time in Agata Forest, training?  What you had seen in the outskirts of the lake?”

“That there was a landslide.”  Then Adrian remembered what had occured.  “Taka Pass was blocked off from the rest of Nippon.”

“And the isolated were desperate to survive.  Some had found a means to escape, but the ones that stayed behind suffered a terrible fate.  They tried to make the best of their situation, and it worked, for a while. But, as time passed, as their resources dwindled, their desperation only grew.  With less animals to hunt and less land to grow crops on, the people resorted to stealing from one another. I even heard rumors that a group of raiders had taken control of these lands.”

“They still around?”  If they were, Adrian hoped he would never run into them.

Waka smirked.  “I did say rumors.”  Then he lost his smile.  “As if they mattered in the end.  Weeks passed, and aspects of Yami returned to plague the land, and the strife that those in Taka Pass had to face every single day had been reduced to an absolute hell.  Demons roamed these ravaged lands, and I suppose one can speculate as to what they did.”

And the thought of what those people went through horrified him.  “Jesus Christ,” was all Adrian could say.  

“I suppose that’s a god in your land,” Waka assumed.

He clenched a fist, his mind screaming at him to turn the other way.  He would have preferred to return to the tunnels and continue his journey underground, but Adrian was more than aware of what the consequences would be in the long run.  He took a deep breathe through his nose and prepared himself. “Alright.” Waka’s smile returned. “Let’s get this over with.”

Adrian focused on the pathway in front of him, and took three steps forward.  And then he realized that Waka was no longer alongside him. He turned around, and spotted an open stone hatch above the very hole he had climbed out of...and Waka climbing back in.  “Waka?” Adrian was confused, before realizing what he was doing. Still smiling, his mentor reached for the hatch itself, and his student sprinted at him in a panic. “Waka!” And the hatch slammed shut.  

Adrian tried to pull it back open, but it was too heavy to even lift.  All he could do was sit in front of it, and stared at it in shock and disbelief.  His mentor had left him in Taka Pass to fend for himself.