Nintendo High: Bonus Levels
Chapter 11-1: The Perplexing Persson Puzzle
(Originally posted on deviantART on August 18, 2015)

Marth was in the school office getting some stuff together for the next student council meeting. As he did so, Shad entered the office to update some of his records, sighing in frustration as he did so. "Something wrong, Mr. Covington?" Marth asked.

"It's just..." Shad said, an odd look of confusion on his face. "Well, do you know anything about Steve Persson?"

"I don't know him, but I know of him," Marth replied. "He's the sophomore that transferred from Torrent High, right?"

"Yes, that's him exactly," Shad said with a nod. "For some reason, his attendance record is incredibly..." He paused, as if his thoughts were failing him. "Sporadic, I guess is the right word. I've tried asking him about it, but I've never managed to get a straight answer out of him."

Marth shrugged. "Some students just don't have the best attendance, I guess," he said.

Shad shook his head. "That's just it, I've checked his overall attendance record—not just for that of my class—and according to the morning periods' records he's arrived at school nearly every day, and every day he doesn't show up in the morning is accounted for with a proper parent's note or doctor's excuse," he insisted. "And he's always accounted for in his final class of the day unless, as with the morning, he's out for medical reasons. It's the middle classes where his attendance is so scattered."

"Odd," Marth said. "...Maybe I can try to find out for you?"

"I appreciate the offer, but I don't know how successful you'll be," Shad replied. He placed a hand on Marth's shoulder. "You can try if you want, but I wouldn't get your hopes up."

Later that day, Marth spoke with Little Mac outside of their final class's room. "I want to find out about Persson's absences for Mr. Covington's sake, but I just have no clue as how to go about doing so..." he said worriedly.

"No sweat, man," Mac said with confidence. "I've got the perfect helpers in mind for the job: the Greil Mercenaries."

Marth sighed. "Look, I don't really want to get anyone else involved in this if I can avoid doing so. Are you sure bringing in Ike's group is the best idea?"

Almost as soon as Marth had finished his sentence, Link and Skull Kid ran past the two seniors, nearly knocking them to the ground. "Hey, watch where you're going!" Mac shouted at the two.

"Sorry!" Link called back as they left.

Marth gave the two runners an odd look. "Wonder what's gotten into them," he muttered to himself, though he could sense a trace of urgency in their steps. He shook his head and turned his attention back to Mac. "Anyway, are you really sure getting Ike involved would be a good idea?"

"Marth, please," Mac said with a laugh. "I may have taken a few hard blows to the head in my line of work, but I can still have a good idea or two sometimes."

"'Your line of work'?" Marth couldn't help but roll his eyes. "We both know you're unemployed, and I don't think participation in a school sport really counts as a 'line of work'."

"Augh, you know what I mean," Mac groaned. He then flipped his phone open to check the time. "I gotta go," he said. "Doc wants to meet me for training in five. See ya." Mac put on his pink jacket and headed out, giving Marth a thumbs-up as he left.

Marth sighed. "I'm probably going to end up regretting this," he said to himself as he took out his own phone and began to write a text message.

The next day, Marth waited in the student council office (which was technically just a classroom that was rarely used) for the school's well-known group of detectives. Soon enough, a blue-haired junior wearing a headband entered the room, followed by a handful of students from varying class years. "Well, well, well," Ike said jovially. "Looks like the high and mighty student council requires our services. What can the Greil Mercenaries do for you, good sir Altea?"

"Now's not the time for theatrics, Greil," Marth said.

"I know, I know," Ike said. "In all seriousness, what can we help you with?"

"There's a student whose odd pattern of attendance suggests that he is skipping classes," Marth told him. He placed a picture of Steve on the desk between them, pushing it towards Ike so he could examine it. "Steve Persson, sophomore. I would rather not bother him directly, so I was hoping you and your group could help find out if this is indeed the case, and if so, why."

Ike nodded in understanding. "That doesn't sound too tough," he said, motioning to the other students that had accompanied him. "What do you guys think?" he asked them.

"Yeah, I think it'd be easy to figure out why he's skipping," Zest, one of the other two human boys, replied. He turned to Ruby, a redhead wearing a white and red hoodie and also the only girl of the group. "You have a few classes with this Steve guy, don't you?" he asked her.

Ruby nodded. "Uh-huh, he's in both my third and sixth periods," she said.

"I don't see why this would be such a big deal, to be honest," the bandanna-wearing boy sighed. "What's wrong with skippin' a class or two every now and then?"

"Come on, Zidane," Geno, a puppet-like boy dressed in blue, said jokingly. "No need to use this guy's actions to cover your own rear end. Everyone knows you're a truant."

Zidane glared at him. "Hey, not cool..."

"Anyway, I'm sure we'll be able to figure out why he's skipping," Ike said. "We'll get back to you as soon as we have enough information."

Marth nodded. "All right. Thank you very much."

The rest of the day, the Greil Mercenaries observed Steve whenever they could. Ruby had the best chance to get in touch with him as she shared two classes with him, but no matter how she tried to get him to open up during third period, Steve only responded to her with the odd shrug and occasional "uh-huh". As the classes let out, Zidane passed by Steve in the hall and noticed something strange. Steve seemed to distance himself from the rest of the crowd until approaching the stairwell. Once he seemed sure no one was watching, he quickly slipped out the exit without so much as a sound above that of the passing student body. "Looks like we got somethin' now," Zidane said to himself. He took out his cell phone and rang up Ike.

"Yo," Ike's voice said from the other end of the line.

"I've caught Steve in the act," Zidane told him. "He just slipped out the door in the Y-Block stairwell, and I'm goin' after him."

"What? No!" Ike half-shouted. "You can't just go off on your own like that!"

"Look, we're gonna lose him otherwise," Zidane said. "Just get the others together and meet me outside."

A few minutes later, the rest of the Greil Mercenaries soon met up with Zidane, who was in the process of hopping the fence surrounding the school grounds. "What are you even doing, you moron?" Geno asked.

"Steve hopped the fence," Zidane said as he straddled the top of the fence, "so if we're gonna see what he's up to, we're gonna have to hop the fence as well."

"You're full of crap!" Zest said with a laugh. "You're seriously gonna follow a skipper into the pedo woods?"

"Well, if this really is the pedo woods like everyone says, I figure he'd appreciate some backup." Zidane dropped to the other side of the fence, stumbling a bit from the landing but quickly regaining his balance. "You guys comin' or what?" he asked.

Ike shook his head. "You're crazy, Zidane," he said. To everyone's surprise, Ike then began to climb the fence as well. Zest soon followed, and Geno skipped the climbing step and leapt over the fence in one go.

"What the hell is even wrong with you guys?!" Ruby shouted in disbelief.

"You know Zidane's track record with getting into trouble," Zest told her. "Someone's gotta keep an eye on him, after all."

"Thanks for the vote of confidence," Zidane said, rolling his eyes.

"And who's going to keep an eye on the rest of you?" Rube asked sternly. Zest looked at her with pleading eyes. Realizing she wasn't going to make the boys see reason, Ruby followed them over the fence. She groaned upon her uneasy landing, then got up and chased after the boys as they pursued Steve.

In the middle of the woods, the students discovered an odd pile of rocks and wood planks. Puzzled, they cleared the debris to reveal a hole large enough for an average-sized man to fit through. There was a small scrap of blue cloth snagged onto one of the wooden planks near the edge of the hole. "Oh, great," Zest murmured nervously. "There's a pedo hole in the pedo woods. We might as well count Steve as dead."

Ike rolled his eyes and picked up the piece of cloth. It seemed to be coated in some odd green particles on the cloth, as well as a lingering sulfur-like odor. "Eugh..." Ike groaned. They made their way inside the hole. The walls slowly changed from dirt to stone, with noticeable pick marks in the stone surface. As they ventured deeper, the distant sound of rhythmic clanging could be heard.

"What's that sound?" Ruby asked.

"Sounds like metal on stone," Geno said.

They continued toward the sound, eventually seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. As they approached the light, they could see a shadow of a person moving in rhythm with each sound. It was Steve, repeatedly striking the stone wall with a pick presumably made of iron. His pick snagged onto a large palm-sized rock, loosing it from the wall. "Might wanna check that later..." Steve muttered to himself. He continued to pick at the wall, oblivious to the presence of the others.

Zidane, tired of waiting around, cleared his throat and shouted, "Hey, Steve!"

Steve turned around to see the people behind him. He looked surprised, put his pick down, and picked up a sword. "H-hey, no need for weapons!" Ike shouted, raising his hands in surrender. "We're just curious what you were doing here—"

"Stop," Steve said quietly. "Don't make any sudden moves."

They all gave him odd looks as he slowly approached them, sword still in hand. It was at that point that they realized Steve was not looking at them, but beyond them. Ruby slowly turned around, and her eyes grew wide. "Guys..." Ruby said in a small squeak. "What...what is that?!" The others looked at the thing that both Ruby and Steve had seen. A large green creature was standing behind them, appearing like a needleless cactus with a slack-jawed face. It stepped toward them tentatively on its stubby legs, emitting a low hissing sound.

"Everyone, get behind me," Steve said firmly. "This thing's literally a ticking time bomb." The others didn't even have the proper time to react. The creature leapt forward with a much louder hissing sound, but Steve was quicker. He swung his sword at the creature, nearly slicing it in two. In its final moments of life, the creature swelled and burst with enough force to dislodge bits of the walls and ceiling, spewing green particles all over Steve's clothing. "Bleh, not again..." Steve groaned in disgust.

"What even was that thing?" Zest asked in disbelief.

Steve shrugged. "Dunno if they have an actual name, I just call 'em creepers." He sighed, then took off his shirt and placed it in a plastic bag, removing a clean shirt from his backpack and putting it on in its place. "There goes another shirt I'll have to burn..."

"So, Steve, what exactly are you doing here, anyway?" Geno asked.

"This is a pretty decent mine," Steve said. "I've managed to find about fifty bucks worth of stuff in here just over the past two months."

"So you skip mine?" Zidane asked.

Steve nodded. "Only a little bit every few days."

"...can I get in on some of this mine money?"

"Are you willing to work?"

"I figured as such," Zidane sighed in disappointment.

"Well, Steve, we were kind of sent to figure out why you've been skipping classes," Ike said tentatively. "So how do you propose we explain this?"

"...No idea," Steve said. "I'd prefer you didn't tell anyone about this mine, though."

"We gotta tell 'em something," Ike said.

"Tell 'em I left to clear my mind." Steve then pushed past the others, leaving them with a few more questions than answers.