Well, I think it's fair to say that anyone who has been awaiting an update more than deserves a pat on the back.
We commend you, patient readers, for we have been lazy sloths.
And to reward such devotion, we're proud to present the final part of chapter two.
Down In The Ducts
"I hate my job."
Link's complaint rang throughout the compact, narrow passageway. Said complaint wasn't uncalled for, per say, considering that the current duct scaled vertically at a ninety degree angle. To counter this setback, Link had decided to use his grappling hook for scaling the inclining duct.
A duct that was filled with rats.
While climbing up the rope, Toon Link huffed in response, "I miss the good old days."
"Defeating Ganon," Link echoed in nostalgia.
With a wistful sigh Toon Link tacked on dreamily, "Saving Zelda."
"Shoving Navi into a jar."
"Setting goblins on fire."
"Turning into a wolf."
"Sailing the seas with that creep Linebeck."
"Traveling between parallel dimensions…"
Something at that second clicked in Toon Link's brain, and while dangling from the rope, he swung a backward look over his shoulder to remark, "More or less, we've done the same things, considering we're the same person."
"Whatever you want to call it," Link snorted, trying to single-handedly cling to the rope and shrug. "How far do these stupid ducts extend, anyway? We've been crawling around in here for an hour, and I can't see a thing!"
"Dunno," his counter-part snapped. "Do something about it!"
"If only we'd brought—wait!" Still dangerously swinging one-handed on the rope, Link groped in the darkness for the space where his head should have been. After a second of panic-induced search, he discovered the hard helmet's built-in flashlight. "I knew that wearing these things would be a great idea!"
Still trying to peer into the abyss below him, Toon Link remarked, "Did you wear your other hat under the hard helmet?"
"Nothing," he scoffed. "I just pity Navi."
Incredulous silence followed, until Toon Link tacked on robustly, "NOT." More loudly, he called down over Link's renewed chuckling, "Hey, hurry up and turn on the light!"
In response to his demand, a blinding light like twelve miniature suns illuminated the narrow shaft. Overwhelmed by the brilliance, Toon Link threw up both hands to shield his face. As the words, "My eyes!" echoed through the vent, Toon Link plummeted. Unfortunately, he had forgotten that he needed to cling to the rope with both hands instead of shielding his eyes.
The domino-effect wasn't pretty.
Three seconds after Link had twisted the built-in flashlight, Toon Link fell on top of him in a dazed state. Startled, the older version released the rope, sending him, Toon Link, and the now-dislodged grappling hook into the depths of the air ducts. Worse, as the two rolled painfully end-over-end down the vertical vent, they had the fortune of tumbling into a secondary duct.
Above the sheering velocity of the wind, Link screeched, "We're dead!"
"I hate game over!" Toon Link sobbed, all the while receiving terrible friction burns as he slid against the metallic walls. "Especially when we don't have extra lives to come back!"
Without warning, they made impact on a slanted surface that may have been yet another duct. Groaning, Link tried to sit up, only to slide forward on his hands. The sudden gravity brought understanding to his panicking brain: the bottom didn't level out.
"Here we go ag—aiiiiiiiiin!" Together the two slid down a forty-five degree angle. It was like the world's most dangerous waterslide, only there wasn't any water to soften the trip down. However…
Over Link's screaming sounded Toon Link's whoops of glee. "DUUUUDE, THIS IS FUUUUN! WHAT ARE WE SLIDIIIING ON, ANYWAY?"
"I DON'T KNOOOOOOW!"
Another bone-jarring impact cut off the yelling/cheering from the two Links. In a disheveled heap they rolled across a relatively flat floor cushioned by some spongy substance. Grinding to a halt side-by-side, the two lay dazed for a few seconds. Toon Link broke the silence: "That was fun."
With a grunt of pain, Link propped himself up on his elbows. "You okay?"
"Never been better, considering our landing was soft."
In his attempt to sit up a little straighter, Link's throbbing skull made abrupt contact with the still-narrowed duct. A long string of swears followed the action as Link fumbled for the built-in flashlight. With his eyes still squeezed shut, he rotated the knob until the lights gradually dimmed down.
His eyesight adjusting to the less harsh glare, Toon Link began to haul himself into a hunched crouch. Aloud, he wondered, "So what did we land on? Mold?"
To answer his question, Link turned his head toward the base of the shaft they were sitting on. Illuminated by the light was a fresh coating of rat poop.
Fighting back the nausea he felt coming on, Link gagged, "Take a look."
With a dazed sort of blink, Toon Link took in his cramped surroundings, jaw-dropping. Every inch of the duct they were in was slathered in rat crap like icing on a birthday cake. Why hadn't they noticed the smell, either? That's when Link came to rather simple yet absurd conclusion:
"We're covered in it, aren't we?"
"Ew! Ew! Ew!" Toon Link's squeal of disgust echoed down the length of the duct. In vain he attempted to wipe his hands on his rat poop-covered tunic. "Oh, god! It's just making it worse!" Turning to Link, he demanded, "Let me borrow your sleeve!"
With a withering look through half-lidded eyes, Link recoiled and began to inch away. "No way! Besides, I'm covered in the crap too!"
Toon Link struck out his hand in a desperate grab at Link's head. "Your hat was protected by the helmet! C'mon, let me borrow it for one second!"
Aghast, Link scooted out of reach and further into the depths of the unexplored vent. "It's my hat! Besides, if I give it to you, you'll let Navi out!"
"If we're technically the same person"—saying this, Toon Link continued to crawl through the rat poop after him—"then it doesn't matter because your hat is also my hat!"
Perhaps it was the cramped space. Maybe it was because the air duct was dark, musty, and filled with rat poop. For whatever the reason, Link felt like he was in mortal jeopardy. "The fumes of feces are going to your head! Let's just find a way out..."
"MINE!" Toon Link's single word was the only prompt Link needed to continue crawling onward.
Sure, both of them were covered in bruises and rat dung, but that didn't seem to dissolve either of their needs for the pointy green poop-free hat. It was probably a disease related to Mario's and Luigi's: they couldn't live without their hats.
It was only when Link rounded a bend in the passageway did he abruptly stop. Panting, Toon Link made a Gollum-esque grab for Link's ankle and wheezed, "My precious."
"Shh!" Wildly Link swung around and clamped his hands over Toon Link's mouth. (Which, incidentally, was still lathered in rat poop.) That sudden awareness caused Toon Link to squirm and whimper as he tried not to retch. Using his free right hand, the older Link pointed. "Look."
Apparently the shaft they had been crawling through opened up into a larger ten-by-fifteen chamber with a twelve-foot high ceiling. Sitting in the center of the metallic-paneled room was a worn generator, vibrating slightly. Judging by the rust, it was just a disused hunk of metal.
But what caught their attention was the rat empire erected around it.
Any sort of discarded boxes or food containers were propped upside down as "houses," with holes chewed into the sides like doors, only rat-sized. Sheets of scrap metal had been laid on the floor as walkways. Larger containers were emitting faint wisps of smoke from holes cut into the roofs of the boxes. What looked like an icebox lay off to the side in one corner. Rats were streaming in and out of it with food between their paws and in their mouths. From somewhere in the ceiling water was trickling down the wall, forming a small puddle that the rats were drinking from or bathing in.
Ironically, the rodents' little paradise was the only part of the ducts devoid of their own poop.
In unison Toon Link and Link exhaled softly.
As Link removed his palm from Toon Link's mouth, the younger counterpart whispered, "Woah." He pinched himself, just to make sure he wasn't unconscious from his fall through the air ducts. "We're not dreaming, right?"
Slowly Link gestured toward the rats. "I think we have more than just an infestation. Look; they even have schools and government offices."
Grinning nervously from ear-to-ear, Toon Link remarked quietly, "Puts people to shame, doesn't it?"
In the midst of their spying from the duct's entrance, Navi had somehow managed to painstakingly squeeze herself partially out of the hard helmet.
In an equally hushed whisper, the fairy piped up, "Hey, listen!"
"SHUT UP, NAVI!" Years of reacting violently to her catchphrase had left Link with an extremely good set of lungs and vocal cords. So it shouldn't have been surprising that all of the rats turned their heads as a single entity and hissed. Their beady eyes adopted a reddish gleam, and when one of the rats threw open its jaws, a sharpened set of incisors caught the dim light from the generator.
While both Links still crouched on their knees, Navi finished her thought: "We should leave."
"No shit, Sherlock." Toon Link's sarcastic jab was almost drowned out by the thousands of squeaks coming from the rats. As a unit, they surged forward, their teeth clicking and tiny feet pattering against the floor.
"Run!" Link's yelp of terror was ignored by his fairy and counterpart, both of whom shot him dubious looks.
Emphasizing with slow hand gestures, Toon Link stated, "The vents don't go anywhere but up. We can't climb those!"
Unhelpfully Navi interjected, "Well, I can fly!"
"I really hate my job," bemoaned Toon Link as the two reluctantly retreated in an ungainly crawl back down the poop-covered vent.
Toward a dead end.
On hands and knees, Link tried to scramble up the inclining shaft, only to slip back down due to the angle and squishy rat droppings.
"Trapped," Navi observed, still peering out from under the helmet. "Trapped like rats."
Link's and Toon Link's glares sent the tiny fairy back under the helmet completely.
Although the two were still covered in rat poop, they hugged each and faced the swarm of approaching rodents. Link vowed," This is the end..."
Likewise, Toon Link tacked on, "I can see the bright light!" and he shoved his face into Link's sleeve with a teary, choked sob.
The rat colony was only six feet from them when Link repeated aloud, "Bright light? Light! That's it!" Hands trembling, he gripped the knob around the flashlight and gave it a violent twist. Phosphorous light shot out of Link's head and flooded the narrow duct. Screeches of agony rent the foul-smelling air as the rats instantly recoiled and scrabbled back down the duct from whence they came. Egged on, Link plowed forward with a triumphant shout of, "Back, you demonic beasts!"
Tentatively Toon Link scurried after him back into the generator room, where the rats cowered from their "houses" in fear of the scalding light. Evidently this was the result of living in the air ducts for who knows how long. Not only did the beacon repel the rats, but it also broadened the scope of the room, revealing—
"Another duct!" cheered Toon Link, making a beeline for the escape route. "Let's go!"
Without a word Link followed him backwards into the tunnel, careful to keep the flashlight fixed on the rat city until they were well into the newest passageway. Once certain that they wouldn't follow, Link dimmed the lights and sighed in relief. Luckily there wasn't any crap in these ducts; just dust and dirt accumulated over the years.
Several strained minutes later, they paused to catch their breath. By now it was impossible to tell what section of the ship they were in.
Still kneeling, Toon Link puffed in an asthmatic sort of way," Do you think... we lost them?"
"I'm afraid... to look back," gasped Link as he clutched his rib cage.
"I vote that we just try to find the nearest exit," Toon Link suggested pathetically.
Toon Link reluctantly shifted his position to face Link, muttering, "And you know what? This day has been nothing but—" He stopped mid-speech upon noticing a black spider the size of a large house cat sitting on Link's shoulder. His mouth went dry with unparallel fear. "Link...?"
Eyebrow quirked, Link inquired, "Yes?" Of course he was oblivious to the thirty-pound spider perched on his shoulder like a parrot.
In a cracked whisper he stated, "Don't make any sudden movements. Over your shoulder..."
Not registering what his companion was saying, a nonplussed Link turned his head partway to come eye-to-eyes with the arachnid. For a long heartbeat, Link stared stupidly, able to see his reflection in its eight lusterless eyes. Some sort of instinct kicked in, prompting him to slam his shoulder against the duct. The shaft trembled as Link thrashed in the pale gloom, screaming in a high-pitched voice, "Kill it! Kill it! Kill it!"
Toon Link sighed. "Link—"
"Kill it! Kill it! Please, get it off of me!"
At the sound of Toon Link's deafening yelp, Link abruptly slumped against the now-dented duct. "Yes?"
Pointing to the sides of the shaft, Toon Link seethed in exasperation, "You killed it."
Sure enough, the black spider was slumped against the base of the duct, its legs splayed outward and chest still.
A bead of sweat rolled down Link's brow. Exhaling loudly, he sighed, "Thank Farore," and fondly rubbed the skin on his left hand where the Triforce of Courage was engraved. The gesture was reminiscence of a person stroking a rabbit's foot for luck. "Just—Just give me a second to catch my—"
"I see a light! And it isn't coming from your head!" Toon Link's triumphant exclamation drowned out Link's remark, and before the older "prototype" could argue, Toon Link had already crawled ahead and around another corner.
"—breath," Link concluded sulkily. Snorting with mixed annoyance and gratitude, he winced and pursued the other Link around the bend. To his surprise, Toon Link was crouched over a grated opening through which light was seeping.
As Link scooted closer, Toon Link proclaimed, "Two things. First: this is the worst day ever. Secondly: these aren't just ducts." Gesturing through the thick mesh grate, he whispered excitedly, like a kid in a candy shop, "They're secret passage ways. Look." Together they peered down.
Outside, Yet Again
"—and I think you'll be very impressed with our handiwork," Sonic was declaring with his trademark thumbs-up.
Meta Knight, who was pacing down the hallway with Sonic and Snake, merely made a curt remark: "We shall see."
Even though the exit to the Halberd was less than ten feet away, Sonic was fidgeting restlessly, as if he couldn't stand walking at the same pace as his comrades. Finally growing impatient, the hedgehog took off headlong out the door; the only thing they saw was the door slamming open and closing so abruptly that it looked like no one had went through it at all.
Scornfully Snake remarked, "Speed-crazed hedgehog," before gripping the door handle and politely holding it open.
The entire time Meta Knight walked past with a quiet, "Thank you," Snake had to resist the urge to slam it shut on the dictator. Even though it was the Pikmins' fault for the Halberd's early departure, Snake didn't know that. Thus, he blamed Meta Knight, which works all the same.
Outside a humid breeze buffeted Meta Knight, rippling his cape somewhat. Feeling self-conscious, Meta Knight tightened his grip on the purple fabric, only vaguely listening to Sonic's long-winded and equally fast talking: "Like I was saying, I take all of the credit for this excellent display of dedication and hard work! So, what'cha think?"
Almost blankly Meta Knight said, "I think you rearranged the dirt."
Not queuing in on the Star Warrior's comment, Sonic continued, "And again, I take all of the credit for—what?" He backtracked on his thoughts and stared with surprise at Meta Knight. "I'm sorry, I think I misunderstood. Come again?"
Aggressively Snake jabbed a finger at Sonic's half of the window. "You rearranged the dirt."
Not quite believing it, Sonic cast a dumbfounded glance at the transparent glass. True to his word, the window had long streaks of pale brown grime spattered in diagonal lines. Hell, you could even see the designs from Sonic's sneakers.
Meta Knight could feel a migraine coming, and had to exhale with an extremely controlled breath to forestall it. Gesticulating with his hand, he seethed, "There's even a dead bird on the window. Now tell me, Sonic: How does your definition of clean differ from mine?"
Speechless, Sonic began to protest weakly, "But—But..."
His yellow glare hardened. Turning with a pronounced leer at both the hedgehog and spy, Meta Knight growled, "Sonic, since you take full credit for your 'handiwork,' you can have the honor of re-cleaning this one, plus every other window you 'cleaned.' As for you"—the knight turned his frustrations toward Snake—"you can stay here with him and make sure that he does it correctly this time."
Simultaneously the pair began to beg: "But—"
On deaf ears Meta Knight turned and swung open the door. Before reentering the ship he commented, "At least you two can agree on something. Oh, and one last thing: if the windows aren't cleaned before dinner, than you shall resume after the meal. Good day."
And he closed the door with a pronounced gentleness that emphasized his headache.
Left to his own devices, Meta Knight decided to do what he did best.
Determined to reach his medicine cabinet without anymore unwelcome intrusions, the Star Warrior stalked down the hallway in the direction of the kitchen. However, fate had other plans.
He only managed to make it halfway toward his destination before another predicament caught his eye:
Another twenty feet down the corridor from him sat Pit and Kirby. With one arm slung over Kirby's back, the angel was murmuring something that he couldn't quite catch. A display of affection? It caught Meta Knight off guard to not see his tenants arguing or fighting. Intrigued by the display, he approached softly; he was going in that direction anyway.
But as he neared, the words became clear and intelligible:
"Look, Kirby, please don't tell Meta Knight! We'll—I mean, I'll get you some ginger ale and Pepto Bismol! But if you keel now, then I'm screwed, too!"
So much for affection.
Hastening his pace, Meta Knight reached Kirby's side in a few agile bounds (which is saying something, considering he's not young). He startled Pit out of his one-sided conversation by asking in deep concern, "What's wrong?"
"Sir Meta Knight!" Pit jumped to his feet hastily and grinned. Well, it looked more like a grimace of pain, but who's keeping track? "What? Oh. Nothing's wrong! Nothing whatsoever!"
Taking a quick glance at Kirby—green in the face with a feverish expression and teary eyes—Meta Knight fixed Pit with a long look. "Are you seriously going to try and sell me that?"
Crestfallen, Pit mumbled, "No," and stepped aside to give Meta Knight better access to Kirby.
With a sort of odd concentration, Meta Knight placed one hand on Kirby's forehead, the other peeling back his eyelid for any signs of illness. "What happened?"
Before Pit could stutter a reply of, "Funny you should ask," Kirby vomited all over Meta Knight.
A long, shuddering breath escaped Meta Knight as he fought the urge to unsheathe Galaxia. Instead of causing more bloodshed than need be, he took a cautious step back and examined himself. Interlaced in the vomit were pieces of plastic and glass shards. A nerve snapped near his temple.
Although Pit's IQ was arguable, he still had the grace not too laugh himself into hysterics. In reality, he was too afraid to laugh at the situation at hand.
The two stared at each other, Pit's gaze a lot more sheepish than the knight's.
Four words sounded from the puke-covered mask: "You fed him trash?"
Pit puffed out his chest in the beginnings of phrasing a thought, only to be stopped as Meta Knight held up a hand. "Don't talk. If you open your mouth, you're probably going to laugh, and I will have no self-restraint when I punch you in the face. Hard. So listen closely."
Mute with terror, Pit nodded.
"Firstly, there are ways of disposing the trash without feeding it to Kirby. In the future, come to me and I'll show you what to do."
With a hand extended, Pit began to whimper, "But you said this morning—"
"Disregard what I said earlier, whatever it was. In the future, take the trash to the furnace, give it to the Kongs, and burn it."
Still torn between laughter and panic, the angel protested, "But air pollution—"
"I don't have time for this!" he snapped, borderline murderous. "The furnace has a filter that safely disposes of toxic waste. No pollution, no problem. Next, take Kirby to the infirmary—damn it!" The exclamation caused Pit to step backward with a hand on his staff. To himself Meta Knight growled, "Those two idiots never finished cleaning it! Very well." Almost painfully he tried to wipe some of the vomit from his hands onto his cloak, but to no avail. "Take Pinky to his room. I will find a remedy shortly."
Pit's relieved exhale hitched in his throat as Meta Knight grabbed him by his white garb and yanked him to his eye level. In a velvety voice he stated, "If you screw this up, I will kill you in your sleep. Go. Now."
Almost forcefully the Star Warrior thrust Pit backward, and he barely managed to catch himself with wings extended. Not willing to disobey him, Pit rapidly scooped up Kirby and carried him in the opposite direction of the kitchen. However, as soon as Pit had made it three yards, the snickering became obvious.
That mental barrier that distinguished kill and don't kill dissolved then and there. Hand firmly grasped on the hilt of Galaxia, he began to draw his sword. Once the golden blade was out of its sheathe, Meta Knight brought his arm in an arc. Just when the urge to throw it at Pit goaded him, Pit had rounded the corner and was gone.
Without the temptation, it was easier for him to breathe, return the sword to its sheathe, and console himself. Go, now, before something else happens. The calming thought of his medicine awaiting his arrival was something of a comfort. Very slowly, the Star Warrior paced down the length of the hallway before departing into the vacant kitchen.
Similar to breakfast, the conference room was gradually filling with Brawl characters. News of dinner was still spreading around the Halberd (which is a lot of ground to cover), so for the first ten minutes only Zelda, Marth, Wolf, the Ice Climbers, Peach, R.O.B., and Yoshi were present.
Of course, this number only includes the people sitting at the table, waiting to be fed.
The doors connecting the conference room and kitchen slid open, emitting an overworked Star Warrior laden high with dishes. (Prior to cooking dinner, he had washed the Kirby-puke off of him.) With the almost-grace he carried them with, one would have assumed that he had been a professional waiter.
While struggling to set the food on the table, Meta Knight cast an exasperated glance at the eight other present assembled people. Blankly they stared at him, too hungry to really notice that the polite thing to do would have been to offer a hand.
Needless to say, such details weren't oblivious to Meta Knight.
A slight clatter came from the dishes as he set them awkwardly on the table. Thankfully he was roping in his temper and had renewed patience. Although to what extent was uncertain. As a means of responding to the vacant looks fixated on the food, the Star Warrior inquired, "I don't suppose any of you would mind helping me with this?"
The only response was Yoshi's stomach growling. Marth merely slumped his head on the table and gave a pointed yawn. Translated, that would have equated to, I'm tired, you old nag. Leave me alone.
His cape billowed out behind him as he began to turn toward the kitchen door—but not before adding on without a backward glance, "Well, then I suppose you won't mind having to wait a little longer for your precious dinner."
The remark was super effective.
In that instant the other seven (minus R.O.B.) sprang to their feet with enthusiasm that was overkill. Simultaneously they chorused, "We'll help!" and began to run toward the doors.
"Hold on! Wait, wait!" Meta Knight gasped, holding up his hands to slow them down. As the mini stampede slowed, he continued: "I only need a few of you to help. Too many, and it'll be pandemonium. Yoshi, Nana, Popo"—he stepped aside to let them pass—"grab the dishes and start setting the table."
Eagerly Popo charged toward the sliding doors. Automatically they parted, and a mere second after they'd closed behind him a loud thud followed.
Panicked, Nana cried, "Hang on, Popo, I'm coming!" before blindly charging into the kitchen after him. There was a loud crash to punctuate that something was wrong.
Last of all was Yoshi, who skidded in through the doors. When they closed behind him, a third crash resonated into their section of the Halberd.
"Oh." For a moment Meta Knight stared off in absent contemplation. Then, almost carelessly: "By the way, the floor is still wet."
From the other side of the sliding doors came a muffled, unified voice: "We know."
"Just a heads up," the Star Warrior tacked on.
Sarcastically a pained voice (presumably Popo's) groaned, "Thanks."
Now exceeding their usefulness, the others reluctantly slunk back to their seats as Meta Knight, Yoshi, and the Ice Climbers continued to haul out food. While doing so, the room began to flood as newcomers swarmed in and took up random chairs along the table. Oddly enough, the conversations were subdued. But then again, maybe it wasn't that odd, considering how most of them looked like hell.
It was only when Meta Knight placed the last dish on the table did he notice that they were all filthy.
Before he could comment on their appearance (not to mention body odor), the doors to the conference room were thrown open. Supported between Ash and Ike was Captain Falcon; or rather, what was left of Captain Falcon. Strays vines and bits of trailing ivy clung to his golden boots. An irritated rash that resembled poison ivy spread up his left arm.
While Ike helped the F-Zero race captain hobble to a vacant seat, Ash quickly closed the door and glared at Meta Knight. "I can't believe you left us in the lab for the past three hours!" Not giving their benevolent dictator a chance to reply, he pursued vehemently, "After we fainted, we woke up down there in the pitch-black! Hell, you took my Poké Balls with you, but you conveniently left the Trainer behind!"
True to his words, Charizard, Squirtle, and Ivysaur were seated along the table with their heads ducked down, trying to look inconspicuous.
Almost nonchalantly Meta Knight shrugged. "I was willing to bet that if I hadn't brought them to dinner, you would have neglected to feed them—again."
The spoon that Jigglypuff had been holding bent in half in her grasp, as she glared pointedly at Ash. Pikachu shared her incredulous look, while Lucario ignored what looked like a fight about to break out.
Trying to interrupt the tension, Mr. Game and Watch politely interrupted, "Beep?" ("What happened to Captain Falcon?")
Luigi (who had the misfortune to be seated closest to him) poked Captain Falcon warily. "He looks like he got in a fight with a weedwacker, and the weedwacker won." At the sudden contact from Luigi, Captain Falcon began to rock back and forth and mutter.
Lucas paled. "What's he saying...?"
Ike, still hovering behind Captain Falcon, prodded him on the shoulders and demanded, "Yo, buddy, speak up!"
Any side conversations ended as the room's occupants leaned in to hear what Captain Falcon was saying. Still vacant of expression and glassy-eyed, he recited, "Roses are red, violets are blue. Roses are red, violets are blue. Roses are red—"
"Creepy." Diddy shuddered.
Around a forceful sneeze Samus managed to ask suspiciously, "What's wrong with him? I thought that he was—achoo!—only going to water the plants!"
A tutting noise came from the head of the table. Shifting in their seats, the Brawl characters swung around in time to distinguish Meta Knight's chiding: "I told him to wear the gas mask."
Mortified, Mario yelped, "What exactly do you keep in that greenhouse?"
Instead of responding directly to the Italian plumber, Meta Knight garnered their attention with a hand gesture. Calling in a calm voice to his audience, "Watch this," he stared down the opposite end of the table and said, "Captain Falcon?"
When addressed, the space pilot fell silent and stared with wide, frightened eyes at the Star Warrior. If anyone had known any better, one could have said that he looked like a deer caught in headlights.
Leaning forward, Meta Knight prompted him casually, "Tell me what the flowers said."
Off to the side, Snake commented to Marth, "Any doubt about Meta Knight's insanity is definitely out the window now."
"Shh!" hissed Zelda and Peach in unison.
For a second Captain Falcon stared without seeing around the room. Instantly his shivering stopped, and he tightened his grip around his legs. (Currently he was huddled in the fetal position.) Licking his dry lips, he whimpered, "I heard them."
"Heard what?" Sonic demanded.
A glare from Yoshi shut him up.
"The roses," Captain Falcon whispered. His gave flickered back and forth, around the room, as if double-checking who was listening on this conversation. "And the sunflower."
Diddy whistled in an impressed manner. "What the heck has he been smoking?"
As Meta Knight waved down Diddy's comment, Captain Falcon continued in a hoarse whisper, "First, there was j-just one...one little black rose. And then there were nine. They followed me. They chased me. They cornered me!" The last line ended as a wail that caused those closest to him to inch their seats away. Trembling, Captain Falcon cried faintly, "The hose was running, its water cold. And then...I saw it. The sunflower, with its large flaming eye!" At this point he was trembling so badly that his teeth were chattering. With a raspy sniffle, he tucked his chin closer against his knees. "He asked me my name, but I wouldn't give it. He kept asking me if I had the Ring. I told him I didn't know what he was talking about. He asked if I was the Ring Bearer. And then...and then..."
Unable to go on, he threw his hands over his red helmet and began to convulse into sobs.
Aloud DK noted, "This has plagiarism all over it."
"Like a rip-off of Tolkien," Fox suggested.
"Meta Knight?" Peach's anxious voice rose above the hushed clamor of her comrades, all of whom were still warily watching the space captain. "This will wear off, right? Whatever it is?"
"Of course." Despite the serious tone Meta Knight used, you could tell by the green flicker to his yellow eyes that his sentiments contradicted him. "He'll just have a horrible case of anthophobia. Nor will he ever want to do that chore again. Let this be a reminder to all of you to wear a gas mask when you go in there from now on."
Dubious, R.O.B. pointed at Meta Knight with the spoon he was holding and reasoned, "You have a sadistic sense of humor. Did anyone ever tell you that?"
"Yes," admitted the Star Warrior, sounding unfazed. "So, who wants to kindly escort Captain Falcon to his room? With a good night's sleep, he should be...semi-normal. Oh. And whoever takes him can also see if Kirby has stopped vomiting."
"Wait!" Ness jumped up from his seat. "Kirby's sick? What happened?"
Pit slid down into his seat and tried to make himself look as small as possible.
"Something else, too," Samus mused, scanning the perimeter of the table. She tallied thirty-three heads, not counting Kirby. "Where's Olimar?"
From outside of the conference room came a piercing scream of terror, followed by five miniature shrieks. But over the bloodcurdling yells was a more foreboding sound: like nails scraping against a chalkboard, mixed with the roar of some carnivorous beast.
Around the table Brawl characters began to jump to their feet, unsheathing their swords, aiming their blasters at the door, and taking up battle-ready stances (minus Captain Falcon, who hadn't reacted at all). Before anyone could move toward the conference room door, however, it was flung open. Five wailing Pikmin pitched nose-dives onto the metallic floor, while Olimar barreled in behind them and violently slammed it shut. With his arms spread wide, he pressed his spine to the door. His knees buckled as the door began to rattle on its hinges. The air was sucked out of the room as everyone collectively held their breaths.
Only when the door stopped trembling and the scratching noise vanished did Olimar straighten. In a single, high-pitched voice, he breathed out, "I finished my chore!" and took a seat.
Dead silence followed. Most of the room's occupants were still standing with their weapons out.
"Can we eat dinner now?"
It took Meta Knight a few heart-pounding seconds to realize that the dim-witted question came from Link.
Trying to force down the migraine that he thought he had fixed, Meta Knight snapped, "NO."
Everyone still remained standing, simultaneously swinging their dumbfounded and indignant stares toward him.
"What?" shrieked Pit, holdings his arms akimbo. "Why not!"
"We're starving!" chanted Nana and Popo.
Pounding his fists on his chest, DK growled, "What's wrong with you?"
"What's wrong with me?" The only sign of the Star Warrior's temper was the spike in his voice, a smidgen of an octave higher than they were used to hearing. "What's wrong with all of you? Look at yourselves!" he exclaimed in an exasperated tone.
Taken aback, the others began to examine themselves. Almost all of them were sporting dirty clothes. Likewise, their skin was covered in dirt, soot, scorch marks, scratches, dust, food stains (from lunch), and bruises from head to toe (or tail, in the case of certain characters).
Still in a rant, Meta Knight near-snarled, "Did any of you bother to bathe or change clothes before you came to dinner? The only one who's actually clean is Wolf—"
From a corner chair Wolf sulkily protested, "Don't expect that to last!"
"—and for the love of my ship, you all stink!" Crossing his arms, the Star Warrior huffed, "Half of you smell like you went swimming in the toilet!"
"Pika!" Under the Electric Mouse Pokémon's quelling look, Lucario was forced to translated, "'Not all of us volunteered.'"
From across the food-covered table Samus cast Olimar a queer look, to which he replied by averting his gaze in embarrassment. Silently he mouthed, I had no choice. It was life or death!
Samus only quirked an eyebrow in response.
Most of the attention from this statement was diverted toward Toon Link and Link. Marth, who had the misfortune of sitting elbow-to-elbow with Link, gagged, "You two smell the worst! Really, what did you two do? Roll around in crap?"
Neither of the two responded.
As the silence thickened, Marth looked them up and down in their green and brown-splotched tunics. Gagging at his discovery, he spluttered, "Are you two covered in it?"
A quiet reply came from under Link's pointy green cap: "Yes."
Squeals of disgust came from the table. Above the retching noises Meta Knight yelled, "THAT'S IT! Everybody, hit the showers! And for God's sakes, who smells like a dead bird?"
Lifting his wing, Falco gave himself a brief sniff before cheerfully declaring, "Not me!"
This time, the guilty mumble came from Sonic. It was at that second that the two people closest (Lucario and Peach) to the hedgehog noticed that he was holding what looked like a shoebox. "Well, remember when you told us to finish after dinner if we weren't done beforehand? Yeah, about that—when we were all told to come to dinner, I was still taking care of tweeters here."
To draw attention to his burden, he placed the brown shoebox on the table, popped off the lid, and removed the skeleton.
One look from the emaciated, fleshless bird was enough to cause Peach's eyes to roll back into her head. A loud thud filled the room as she passed out onto the floor.
In attempts to restore a slight amount of peace, Samus tried to call out coolly, "Hey, can those of us who are somewhat clean eat?" As she began to lift up a lid from one of the trays, she added idly, "I'm starvi—"
Her speech dwindled as she held the lid only partway from the dish. Sitting on top of the plate was the Monster Book, chewing on a piece of fried chicken. When it realized that its meal had been interrupted, it snarled softly at Samus, to which she responded by slamming the lid down to conceal it.
"Never mind." Her tone adopted a silvery, nervous laugh. "Forget d-dinner, guys. The casserole went bad!"
Abandoning his fury briefly, Meta Knight turned in her direction with a hidden frown. "I didn't make casserole."
Samus' reply was cut off as lights all across the Halberd went out, plunging the ship into blackness.
Amidst the amplified complaints and yelps, Meta Knight's steely tone blared like a siren: "MR. GAME AND WATCH!"
It was impossible to see in the dark, but the Brawl characters in the room still flinched at the sound of a plate clattering on the floor.
Zelda's shrill voice filled the air: "What the hell was that?"
All of the sudden, toward the front of the conference room Ash snapped, "Squirtle, stop chewing on my pant leg!"
Too quiet to hear, Samus gulped, "I don't think that's Squirtle, Ash..."
Then, with the ominous squeak of a door's swinging hinges, the entrance leading to the hallway became open. A revving noise, as soft as a well-oiled engine, thrummed throughout the conference room. No one moved.
Yoshi managed to choke out into the jet-black quarters, "Olimar, did you lock the door?"
A high-c noted gasp answered, equally as mortified, "No..."
A final rev stabbed the stillness before the vacuum charged forward, its wheels gyrating so forcefully against the metal floor that it gave off small sparks.
At Olimar's screech of, "IT WILL CLEAN YOUR SOUL!" chaos broke loose. Aimlessly people ran around the room, screaming and crashing into each other.
Somewhere within the depths of the darkness Meta Knight's pager dutifully began to chant, "Idiot alert! Idiot alert! Idiot alert!"
And in the center of it all, a still shell-shocked voice repeated, "Roses are red, violets are blue. Roses are red, violets are blue..."
Well, I can honestly say that the ending for this chapter surprised even us. Right, sis?
Yeah, I didn't see that one coming, either. Well, keep an eye out for the next segment of Life Aboard the Halberd: The Thriller Filler!