TRANSMIT - initiate the cephalopod cadence - RECEIVE - ready the four treasures of the study - WITNESS - spin the gears of the military-industrial complex - ONE BREATH AWAY FROM MOTHER OCEANIA - boil the noble eightfold path in a kettle - SWEET LIKE HARMONY MADE INTO FLESH - raise the Heavenly Sword Of Gathering Clouds high - YOU HAVE DONE WELL FOR YOURSELVES SINCE YOU LEFT MY WET EMBRACE - reveal the Fool, travelling in reverse - I AM WHY -

WITNESS: Agent 8.

The thrum of the flourescent lights buzzed down the empty concrete tunnel. "At least it's not dark, I guess," the Inkling muttered as she held a piece of rubble up. Cap'n Cuttlefish bobbed his head in an almost-bow, silently thanking her, as he shuffled on through. Somewhere, water dripped, echoing up and down. "Would be a lot better if we knew where we were, though."

"Ha! Wish we did, uh…" The old squid shuffled along, even as he looked back. "Y'know, finding our way outta here, I really feel like we need to come up with something to call you."

She shrugged nervously, rolling her shoulders as she let down the rebar. The old metal creaked and groaned as if fussing at her for daring to disturb its rest. "I mean… sure, okay. I guess 'hey you' might not be so good if there's a broken sign about to swing at my head or something."

Hell?

Lo?

Hello.

Do you hear us, Sweetling? We stand outside of time, but even we know, it has been a lifetime upon lifetimes. Do you hear us? Do you care to hear us, Sweetling?

Cap'n rolled his jaw a moment. "Not quite in my nicknaming prime, y'know, but I think we can find something. Eh, let me see…" He tapped his cane as he thought, three quick beats, off-tempo from his walking. "Ensign? Since I'm Cap'n, and all -"

She wrinkled her freckled nose. "Ick. Nope."

"That quick, huh? I'm guessing Private is right out, too?"

"Yeah. Sorry, Cap'n. I'm, uh…" She reached up to nevously adjust her sleeve, half-hugging herself as they walked along, even as she overtook him to go into the lead once more. "I guess I'm just not that keen on official ranks and all these days. Not that I remember what my rank even was, anyway."

"That's true enough. For all I know, you could outrank me!" He laughed, reaching out to playfully poke her with his stick. "Eh, Admiral?"

We do not recognize you as we once did. Your head bloomed into lampreys, and you combed them into a fashionable coif. You listened and the viral rhyme writhed underneath your skin, and you set it to a beat and danced. Immaculate machines choked and sputtered to a stop, clogged with sin, and then kept on going. The apocalypse dawned, the world ended, you set it in your cap and called it macaroni, so mind the music and the step and with the girls be handy!

It takes so much to surprise us, Sweetling, but you did.

You have done so well for yourselves.

Do you hear us still? Do you still care to hear us?

The Inkling reached up to rub her eyes with a groan. "C'mon, let's not. I mean… Sorry. I'm not mad at you," she clarified quickly, turning around to face him as she walked backwards. "It's just…" She motioned at the side of her head.

"Headache?"

"Yeah. And just…" She exhaled sharply in not-quite-a-sigh. "There's a lot of spaces where things should be, but aren't. And it bothers me. It - it's creepy. Like… like this place, actually." Turning around again, she gestured widely. "A subway, right? But a subway's only a subway when there's people in it, using it. Now it's just us here, and broken down trains that aren't moving, and all of these posters falling off the walls. It's not - it's not itself. I'm not myself."

She reached out to half-hug herself again, grip tight. Cap'n watched closely as she marched in front of him. Eventually, he gave a thoughtful hum.

"Well," he said slowly, tenderly stepping around the larger existential question, "a lotta nicknames have to do with what someone looks like. So, for you… Curls, maybe?"

We stand outside of time. We see the First Age, lush and green and impossibly new. We see the Second Age, shrouded in cryptic mystery and heavy with incense. We see the Third Age, with impossible cleverness standing high on rickety spires. We see the Fourth Age. We see the cruaders. We see the businessmen. We see the fire-breathers. We see the purple betrayers. We see the librarians trying to appease all of them at once, and failing, failing, falling, sinking...

We see all the whispers we left behind. We see what we could not stop.

"Mmm…" She shook her head. "I can always change up my hairstyle, so I dunno how well that would work. I mean, for all I know, I have to put these in curlers every night, right?"

"Could always be one of those ironic nicknames if you wake up with 'em pin-straight tomorrow," Cap'n suggested. This almost made her laugh, and he grinned in his beard, counting it as a success. "You got green eyes, too, right? Well, that's another something."

We see the Fourth Age end.

But where has the Fifth Age begun?

"Quite a few green words that you could make into a nickname. Different types. Emerald green, jade green, hunter green…"

The inkling tilted her head. "Those don't sound… too bad. I like the first one."

"Emerald?"

"Yeah. It's, um…" She pawed at the air, as if she could claw the word she was thinking of from it. "A shiny thing, right? Gemstone? Humans thought they were really fresh?"

"Exactly! You're good at this," Cap'n chuckled. "A lot of human names derive from it, too. Esmerelda's one, I think. That could suit you. Y'look dashing enough to pull it off, I think!"

"It's a little hard to shout, though. A little long. Maybe…" She motioned. "Shorter? How do you make Esmerelda shorter?"

"Plenty of different ways." Cap'n continued trudging behind her. Overhead, there was the snap and then buzz of another bank of flourescent lights coming on automatically. "Esme, if you want to be fancy. You look more like an Essie to me, though. Besides, then you rhyme with Callie and Marie!"

She jumped, her hand going to her chest, as if to keep her heart from thudding so hard. "Wait, really? I don't know if I could - if I could do all that, I don't know if I'm that important, I mean, to actually meet them -"

"Oh, I think you are." Cap'n grinned underneath his beard. "I think it'll happen, as soon as we're out of here."

"Aw, don't tease me like that. I, I don't - I don't think I could stand it -"

SCANNING.

We are the information protocol. We are the honey sweetness to drip on the lips of your mind. We are the buzzing of a note in your throat as you sing. But - we are still not whole - we still do not know -

Perhaps the Fifth Age is the Age of Ink.

Suddenly, she froze in her footsteps. Back straight, perfectly still, as if in the shadow of a predator.

Cap'n paused a moment, but kept shambling forward. "Old telephone box? ...Huh. Haven't seen anything like that in awhile. Not that shocking, though."

"I - I think I remember something," the Octoling girl gasped out.

Do you hear us, Sweetling?

Do you still care to hear us, Sweetling?

It was nice to be wanted. It was lovely, to be loved.

Lo? Hell?

This was what made Cap'n turn around, surprisingly quickly, eyebrows raising. "Oh? Your name? ...Where we are?" She answered only in a squeak. The exhale, half-vocalized, never quite formed a word. So he continued. "...Number of an ex-boyfriend or something?"

"It -" she stuttered out the first word before closing her eyes. Then the words were there, almost flowing through her more than something she chose to say. "It's all shut down. Kaidan-cho. Everything. From the park to Orochi Tower."

Her tongue butted up against her tooth-beaks, and her hands trembled as she stood there, taut as a bow-string - before finally her shoulders slumped and she opened her eyes with a hard exhale. "...That's all I remember. I'm sorry. I don't… I don't know anything else. There's more, I know there's more, but -"

Cap'n said nothing for a moment, just shuffling over to her. As she reached up to tug at one tentacle of hair in aggravation, or perhaps self-punishment, he reached out gently to touch her wrist.

"I'm sorry."

"It'll come, Essie. In time. Don't worry too much about it," the old squid soothed. "That sounds like some names, right? We can look out for them. Maybe it's where we are."

"...I'm sorry."

"It's all right." He gently patted her wrist once again. "We'll get through this together."

She said nothing for a long moment, biting her bottom lip as if to keep from crying. When she finally opened her mouth again, her breath was shaky -

And then the phone began to ring.

Our wisdom flows so sweet. Taste and see…

The Inkling stared at the phone, then at Cap'n, then back and forth. Finally, he shrugged. "I'm gonna guess that might be for you, Essie. ...Also, you'll get there faster than I will to answer it." She didn't move a moment, still frozen in shock, until he continued. "...Before they hang up?"

"Oh! Right, right -" She dashed over, fumbling the old telephone's reciever. "H… hello?"

A blast of chirps. "Searching for user ID… User 10008 confirmed."

"Wait, what?"

"Um, hi?"

A cheerful blast of a chimed melody, as if before an announcement on public transportation. "Greetings, 10,008."

"Your current location is: Deepsea Metro Central Station. My central function is to facilitate your journey to the promised land. Pleased to make your acquaintance."

"Promised… land?" She blinked rapidly. "Um, pleased to meet you, too. Are you sure that's my name? It seems like a little bit of a mouthful -"

"Assessing communication efficiency… Enabling conteporary speech mode. What is crackalackin', home skillet? Let us bounce to the promised land, fo' sho!"

"Oh no. I liked the other voice better -"

"I am bout it bout it, so listen while I ERROR-SLANG-NOT-FOUND you the facts."

"You can go back to the other voice now! Please!"

"...Communication request recieved." The voice on the other end of the line seemed a little bit colder, though no less polite. "You have spent your entire life in the dark. Your eyes closed to the new dawn that awaits. The promised land - a utopia of light beyond your wildest dreams, filled with all you desire. I will take you to the promised land now."

"Wait, really!?" Her voice squeaked as she jumped. "We can get out of here now? And -"

"After you have proven yourself, 10,008."

"...Oh."

"Only those who are worthy may enter the promised land. There have been 10,007 applicants so far, making you applicant 10,008."

"That," Cap'n remarked behind her, "is a lotta applicants."

"This opportunity is once-in-a-lifetime. Make it count. Good luck."

"Well," she mumbled, "at least that means my name's not 10,008."

"You are currently in Deepsea Metro Central Station, the main hub of the facility. Here is your CQ-80 and CQ card. Guard them with your life, because if you lose them, you will never see the promised land." The machine whirred, spitting out a card and device at her feet. She carefully picked them up as the telephone continued. "Use your CQ-80 to summon the train. Communication end." A clunk, a buzz - a dial tone that faded into static even as she kept listening, only hanging up herself at the very end.

"Applicant 10,008, eh? Bit of a beakful. How does Agent 8 sound?"

"Pretty good, actually. ...Though I think I like Essie a little better." She turned the CQ-80 over in her hands. "Do you figure that this promised land is the surface?"

"Seems like it. We must be pretty deep. ...Nothing to do but get moving, right?"

As she flicked on the device, a long groan echoed up one of the subway tunnels. It grew to a clattering roar and, finally, a crescendo of lights. The subway train smoothly came to a stop at their platform with a hiss of its brakes. Even the dim light couldn't hide all of the grime and graffiti - but at least the machine itself seemed to be immaculately mantained. The doors opened, light spilling out at their feet.

"One way forward, I guess."

Essie warily stepped in first, guard up, but quickly relaxing as she found no threats on the empty subway car. Cap'n was apparently not as shy. He shuffled in without hesitation and promptly plopped down in a seat. "All that trudging to get here - I'm pooped! At least the seats are decent, so I can rest my cuttlebones a minute…"

The doors between the subway cars opened, and Essie braced herself, motioning to clutch for her weapon which was not there. But instead of a threat, there was simply a softly glowing sea cucumber. He ambled in politely. "Thank you for using Deepsea Metro today. I am your humble conductor, C.Q. Cumber."

Cap'n waved cheerfully in greeting, even as Essie squinted suspiciously. "Uh… hey," she finally said. "That's the Cap'n, and I'm, uh - I'm Eight."

"I take it this is your first time riding with us?" The sea cucumber looked her up and down appraisingly. At least, as much as a sea cucumber ever could, anyway. He diligently slithered forward, and in the silence that erupted - after all, to speak would be to interrupt him - Essie and Cap'n had a conversation in looks only. Eight, not Essie. Don't tell him yet. I'm not Essie to him yet. Cap'n gave a congenial shrug back. "Here's the deal… we are in a vast underground facility operated by the Kamabo Corporation." As the sea cucumber neared them, his tone shifted to something slightly less cold and distant, and more proletarian. "It's a series of test chambers, all connected by the Deepsea Metro system. I see that you've got a CQ-80 device."

"Oh, uh, yeah -" Essie nodded, offering it out for him to inspect - but not take, from her guarded stance.

He extended a tendril to wave a her, indicating he didn't need to see more of it. "I take it your goal is to reach the promised land?"

"Yessir." (From across the way, Cap'n looked slightly wounded - after all, the sea slug could get 'sir'd, but he couldn't?) "We want to get out of here."

"Understood. ...The promised land is a paradise where we denizens of the deep are forbidden entry. To reach it, you'll need to pass a test at each Deepsea Metro station. You must also find and collect the four thangs."

"Thangs?" Essie grimaced, wrinkling her nose. "...Don't tell me, 'contemporary speech mode' got to that one?"

The sea cucumber nodded sympathetically before he continued. "When the four thangs are gathered, the door to the promised land shall be opened."

"So, we find some thangs, we pass some tests, and we get to go home?" Cap'n reached up to stroke at his beard. "That doesn't sound too bad. Right, Essie?"

She smiled back at him this time, nodding, apparently too enthused to even catch the slip of her name in front of the conductor. "Yeah. Not too bad at all. So, where do I start?"

"If you open up your CQ-80, I can show you to your first test…"

A few minutes later, as the train slowed to a stop once more, Cap'n gave Essie another bright and cheerful smile. He was heartened to see it returned. "Go out and kick their clamshells, Agent Eight!"

"Absolutely, Cap'n!" She tossed back a cheerful, loose salute.

As the doors shut behind her, Cap'n leaned back in his chair. It was a rare moment of quiet and calm. And what better to fill the silence, accompanied by his walking stick tapping out the beat as he hummed, than the Calamari Inkantation...


((Hi folks!

I know that this is something where all of the, uh... *squints at the number sheet*... three people perhaps who will understand this, well, have a chance of enjoying it. I have no idea. I expect this won't get exactly an amazing number of reviews and praise, but I hope people who end up here nonetheless enjoy themselves! Splatoon 2 and The Secret World / Secret World Legends are, let's say, very different games, especially in terms of tone. So, if you're a Secret Worlder: you might find this full of mood whiplash due to the lighthearted bits. If you're a kid again a squid again: you might find this full of mood whiplash due to the 2spoopy bits. I will say though that it will end up more on the horror edge of things than something very fun and lighthearted.

I wish I could promise that this would be a story where you could understand it if you knew only half of the crossover, but I don't think I can. I'll try to lean into Eight's confusion, though, so that it will hopefully still be enjoyable seeing her discover things. You could probably figure things out though with reading Secret World's lore, or at least I hope so. It's really well written, so even if you can't bring yourself to suffer through Funcom's idea of making free-to-play profitable, I'd encourage you to go watch a playthrough or some quest cutscenes on youtube!

And yeah, I'm not going to promise this is going to be terribly well written. Sorry, folks. Ya gurl is very full of chronic pain still. Please send care packages of CBD oil because oof ouch ow my bones and also my wallet.

Despite all this, I hope you enjoy!))