Chapter 27: The Final Break II: Mallow and Driad

"Come on, get up" I was sleeping, the fluffy texture of the sheets rubbing against the side of my face as I held it at the edge in both hands. I was content with my slumber, even though I faintly heard a voice calling to me from close by. It had a tender, nurturing tone, and whoever it was lightly pushed at the side of my body in an attempt to get me to move. I kept my eyes closed, murmuring in bliss for a prolonged period of time before the person calls to me again "Come on, I'm trying to get you up here, at least respond to my voice…" I kept quiet though, wanting to enjoy my sleep for just a few more fleeting moments before I had to get up and face the day.

However, the being speaking to me was persistent, his voice becoming a little more impatient as he takes his limb and pokes into my cheek, his fibrous skin rubbing against my own normal skin as he says "HEY, WAKE UP ALREADY!" This outburst is enough to make me squint my eyelids tightly, opening them a moment later as I creak my head around and gaze into the person responsible for my rude awakening with my vision blurred. Considering the fact that most of the person's body was green with a few hints of blue, it wasn't hard to figure out that my sleep "assailant" was Driad.

"Oooh…" I moan as I awaken fully, rubbing my eyelids to help improve my vision until I see Driad's figure in full. "When did…Yawn, when did you get here Driad?" I paused at the beginning of my sentence to yawn, smacking my lips as the drowsiness of my voice likely annoyed my friend, seeing as he went "Hmph!" and leaped off the bed only a moment later. He turned himself around to look away from me, folding his arms in front of his chest before I say to him "What's got your biscuits in a bonnet?" Which was admittedly a rather British thing for me, but it portrayed the exact meaning I wanted it to. After laying my arms against my legs above the sheet, Driad thrusts his head to the left and says to me in annoyance "After what you did yesterday, you are just going to shake it off like it was nothing?"

It was easy to see then why Driad was annoyed at me, but this really wasn't the best time to spring that issue on me, and I already had a rebuttal to his question prepared in a second. "Driad, I just got up…Rudely awakened by you as a matter of fact, and you expect me to just instantly apologize to you for what happened yesterday?" As I spoke I gestured to my friend by flipping my left hand around and waving my fingers at him, and after a few seconds of silence he stopped pouting and turned his head slightly to admit with reluctance "…No, I guess not." He then turns around fully, his eyes reflecting disappointment towards my behavior.

"Driad, I really shouldn't have stormed off like that, and I really can't tell you enough about how wrong I was on that front, but-" "I don't care about that anymore!" Driad blurted out in fury, swinging his left arm out to the side for but a few seconds before he gazes into my surprise, silent expression and takes a few heavy breaths in as a sign that this rage of his was something that had been hurting him internally for a while now. "D-Driad…" I wanted to stop the Crayzee Dayzee before he said things that he would deeply regret later, and repeated his name in my head slowly before telling myself to stop as my right arm was lifted halfway off the sheet. He needed to let go, and now was a better time than any to deal with his emotional problems.

"You know, I thought things were going great after you came here Mew. You acknowledged me as a brother, you respected me even though you truly hadn't met me for very long, and you brought my confidence back whereas Alex's sudden demise crushed it all to pieces! Out of all of us I was the only one who didn't care whether you were Alex with amnesia or a clone, because unlike you he grew arrogant and wanted to take care of things by himself. Even if we were unable to do anything now, you still regretted the fact that we couldn't come with you. It didn't matter how weak we were compared to you, you still us not for the strength of our bodies, but for the strength of our minds and hearts…You considered us to be your comrades instead of nuisances that would just get themselves hurt or killed…"

"So when the truth was let loose and you became angry at all of us for 'betraying' you, I tried desperately to make you listen and calm you down so you wouldn't just storm out that door and leave your so-called family behind! But when I failed to stop you and you took flight outside the door, the horrible memories of my final moments with Alex flushed back through my mind, and I began to see more of you in him than I would've liked to. You brashly ran out, your mind clouded by negative emotions just like Alex's was. I feared that you would suffer the same fate as he did and die because of your own damn reckless behavior!"

"And you know what I did after you left? I broke down, fell to my knees and cried for such lengths of time that my own damn tears alone would've been able to keep me hydrated for years to come! You know how many family members I lost within the span of just one week during our journey? First there were the outer guardians, who I not only had the closest connection to seeing as I was once one of them, but a couple of them I had to murder in cold blood before and after I even knew the full truth about my past! Then there were the Genesis Samurais, who sacrificed themselves to save that ungrateful bastard Alex's life! And finally there was the original Elemental Overlord's spirit, who was lost after Alex's death!"

"All those people who were or could've been part of my family, all died so Alex could be the Overlord. And what did he do with their sacrifices? He went and made them all moot by sticking to his arrogance and dying! While I may loathe vain sacrifices, I hate it even more when those fallen people are disrespected after death! So imagine my surprise when you showed up Mew, and even though you at first invoked painful memories when I saw you staring at me with concern in your eyes and a heartwarming smile that graced my presence I believed that I was finally being thrown a bone and that I would finally be able to have the family we should've had while Alex was around!"

"Please tell me all of this is getting through to you Mew!" Driad tops off his drawn-out exclamations with a plea directed towards my somber expression. I was stunned, and though both my eyes and ears focused on his expressions and words as they shifted from teary-eyed disbelief to a furious rejection of the moments he did spend with the late Alex Whiter I had no idea just what to say to make Driad feel better. Though he made his point loud and clear, I just didn't know what he was expecting me to say to calm him out of his current state of flurried emotions. I let out a sigh only to relieve the burden of everything around me so I could concentrate and think things through some more, but the Crayzee Dayzee misconstrued my reaction as a sign of annoyance at everything he said and promptly yelled out to me "HOW DARE YOU!"

With my head hung low I only had the sound of bending metal to alert me that Driad took his right vine and punched a dent into the nearby wall. Before things spun out of control any further than they already were, I lifted my head up and said with blunt honesty "Driad! I don't know what to say to make you feel any better! A simple apology isn't going to help you accept your Shadow!" I said it without realizing it, and by the time I did and widened my eyes to peer into Driad's silent, shaking head I knew that those weren't the right words to use, and that was a subject that I didn't need to bring to his attention. It was far too late to take it back though…

"…Mew, I don't want an apology, the time for that has long since passed after Alex abandoned us by killing himself. Yeah, that's right, I KNOW about all that, Alpha told us not long after we arrived. You know what you are now, you know that you aren't an exact copy of Alex's personality, that you are your own person with your own emotions and life to have…So I want you to look straight into my eyes, and tell me with absolute honesty that you won't let yourself be consumed by arrogance, anger, or anything of the sort ever again, and that after this whole thing with Mr. Reality blows over that you WILL come back to Mario's house and we can finally be a family again. Please Mew, I…I just don't want you to die…I don't know what I would do if I lost you too."

Driad held back the tears as hard as he could at the end of his last sentence, but he eventually had no choice but to let out a light sniffle and let a few of them trickle down his cheeks. With this melancholy mood now perfectly setup, I folded my hands together above the center of my criss-cross leg pose and turned towards the Crayzee Dayzee. "Driad…" I said to gain his attention so our eyes would meet as I continued to speak to him. "I came back to you now, didn't I? Unlike Alex, I accepted the help of someone else to conquer my negativity and managed to deal with the two temples after that. But you want to know why I was able to do it? Because I knew I had hurt you and everyone else emotionally back at the house. I was so motivated by my guilt that I pushed myself to stay alive just so I could return to you and genuinely apologize for my grave mistake. Driad, I really do care for you, and I'd truly like nothing more than to come back alive from the final battle against Mr. Reality…You know what? You have my word. We will be a family, and so help me God if anything stops that from happening I will do everything in my power to make the one responsible pay for their misdeeds."

My tone never once broke. There could never have been a more genuine decree in all of the world, nay, not even in the entire universe was such a promise ever given. Driad looked at me happily, shedding his anger and depression completely as blissful tears ran down his cheeks, carrying with them the discarded remains of his doubts towards me as he quickly spread his arms out and leaped at me, wrapping his vines tightly around my body and pressing his face close to my chest to feel my warm, beating heart and make the final confirmation that I was going to be true to my word.

I did nothing to stop him, for not only was there no reason for me to do so but if I even budged suspiciously Driad would instantly go back to disbelieving me. I wanted his full trust, not to manipulate him or lower his guard, but because if I were to ever lose his trust then that's when I knew I had crossed the line for good. However, I felt that it was at least right for me to share in this warm embrace, and after pulling my arms through the grip of his vines I wrapped them around his youthful form, never letting go until we were both satisfied with ourselves and pulled away. This action happened in unison, leaving no doubt that this was a successful endeavor on both ends, as our perky smiles would indicate. And with that all out of the way, we could act like we normally would, which I started off by saying "So where are the others right now?"

"Umm…I don't recall actually. Gemini and Mallow walked off together, but then I saw Mallow wandering the hallways before I arrived here, so he might be lost. Luigi was just hanging around the hangar, and E. Gadd went off with Alpha and asked not to be disturbed for a bit. Why do you ask?" After thinking about their locations for a moment, Driad topped his inquiry off with a smile. "I was planning on talking with them before I had breakfast…Don't think I'll get them all, but its worth a shot at the very least…" Driad jumped off the bed to give me room to push my legs off of. I get up, leaving the bed unkempt behind me as the two of us head for the door.

Driad depart for the left after saying goodbye, while I head off to the right without remembering to alert the Crayzee Dayzee about where the end of the hallway leads to. I didn't know how to navigate these metallic corridors, but I figured if I ran into Gemini or Florence or one of the other non-Mook characters I would get some convenient answers to my conundrum. I walked around, going down every hallway I came across without any idea about where they would lead. I knew nothing about how long I was walking for, but if I had to make a prediction I'd say I had gone five minutes without running into anyone. This was likely because it was breakfast time, and Alpha DID make mention of a cafeteria.

"You really think he would've set some signs up or something…" I said as I peeked my head to the right and then the left to see where to go next. "Its like he expects the people he recruits to remember every hallway and door with ease." Speaking of doors, I guess I should mention that each hallway has so far been lined with hundreds of doors spread two feet apart from each other. It really made me wonder just how big the M.S.I. base truly was, or how many miles it covered across whatever landscape it existed in. "Hey! Can anyone hear me?" I finally decided to yell out, hoping my echo would be carried across the hallways until it reached someone's eardrums. As the sound slowly faded away, I stood still and waited a few seconds for a response of any sort.

Eventually, I heard the repeated sounds of footsteps, and from around the corner in front of me appeared Mallow, who turned and stood still himself to confirm that he was really seeing me. Either he was surprised to see me looking happy, or he had been wandering for so long that he considered me to be an illusion brought on by a growing insanity. "Oh thank goodness your actually real, Mew." Mallow lets out a sigh of relief and speeds through a sentence, walking down towards me and asking "So, do you know where you are going or are you just as lost as I am?" I twitched a bit, trying to avoid admitting that the second one was true, but the cloud Prince with his incredible perceptiveness said to me "I'm leaning more towards the second one here…" While holding his right arm underneath his chin.

"Yeah, I really don't know where I'm going…" I giggled at my mistake and turned around, rubbing my head humorously before I subside my embarrassment and ask Mallow "How long have you been wandering around for?" in a gentle tone. "I…I don't know." The cloud Prince proceeds to quickly rub his head in a manner similar to my own. "Do you even remember how you got separated from Gemini?" "Actually, yeah. I was busy walking around with him, paying close attention to the designs of the walls in awe before Gemini came across one of his more mechanical companions and told me that he was splitting up here, but I was too busy with my own endeavors and didn't realize how far he had gone until it was too late…"

"And you couldn't find your way back to the hangar?" "I asked, seeing as that sounded like the most logically course of action. "Unfortunately, no. This place really reminds me of the Forest Maze, in that you can't really make it around without following a guide…" "What type of guide you

talking about exactly?" I inquired, since there was more than one definition of the word he could be using. "Oh right, you have those paperback guides or something back on Earth that told you how to go through our adventures. But no, I'm talking about a sentient guide in this case." Mallow found a bit of humor in our conversation, signified by his chuckle and overall cheerful demeanor.

"Anyways, lets just try and find the cafeteria. I'm pretty certain we are close to it, and from there it shouldn't be hard to get directions for the rest of the map." With the cloud Prince's suggestion, we stood side-by-side and began to walk through the hallways, still bewildered about where to go but at least now we had each other's company to make the trip less annoying to deal with. "So Mallow…Umm, I know this is a bit of sore subject to touch up upon, but when I fought you back at the Sky Palace…" "Oh, you mean when my 'Shadow' took me over and attacked you? Yeah, what about it?" Mallow interrupted swiftly, by my guess was that he did that just to confirm to me that he was aware of what happened there. Anyways, after flinching once in surprise I nodded to show acknowledgement of his inquiry before continuing onward.

"I have to admit I did subtly ask your parents about your…Well, confidence problems and…I was just wondering-" "There was really no way to word that without risking offending Mallow, but I couldn't bite my tongue and take back the questions I've asked. However, the cloud Prince interrupted once more after a surprising lighthearted chuckle. "Hehe…So that's why my parents were so quick to explain themselves to me after I woke up." I was shocked to hear Mallow responding so calmly and cheerfully, especially considering I expected him to try and dodge the issue. "Wait, so your dad told you the truth about why he wanted you to ascend to the throne?"

"Yep!" Mallow cheerfully responds to my disbelieved tone of voice. "And…And your ok, just like that?" I knew Mallow had a strong mind and heart, but to recover from such an issue that quickly… "Hey, why loom on the negative things in life? My low confidence was a flaw, yes, but after my father explained everything to me not only do I feel a lot less strife towards his decision I actually feel more confident about myself. After all, isn't that what parents are supposed to do? They care for you, build up your confidence, and give you the necessary skills needed to tackle whatever you want to in life. Knowing all that, how could I really stay mad?"

"Err…That's a rather mature way of handling that." I had to admit that, because that was the truth. I folded my arms in front of my chest, looking down at Mallow as he turned around and began walking backwards with his eyelids closed and an innocent smile on his face that would lead others to believe that there wasn't a mature individual hidden behind it. "Heh, thanks for the compliment. Of course, the problems with my 'Shadow' haven't been resolved fully, I still have a lot of growing to do both physically and mentally. I've made a good start though, don't you think?" Such a bundle of optimism Mallow is. He really will be a well-rounded king when he finally takes the throne, and I'll be glad to see the day when that happens.

"Yeah, you really have Mallow." Is what I chose to admit. Of course, with all the time we spent looking at each other, we were unaware of our immediate surroundings. In a matter of seconds, Mallow rams back first into a door, his squishy body causing him to rebound off the cold steel surface and allowing him to turn around and stop in place so he could see where we were at. My legs bumped against his turned back as I stopped, and after he flinched and I apologized for that hit I looked up and saw a glowing neon sign that said "Cafeteria". I wasn't about to question convenience here, especially when both of our stomachs were growling furiously.

With a press of the nearby button, the door swung open, revealing an expansive room filled to the brim with tables, chairs, and a multitude of Plit's creatures walking and sitting around while piling food into their hungry mouths. Seriously, it would take minutes to list off all the species found just in our line of sight, let alone throughout the entire room. The square pillars were separate by equal lengths, and the florescent lights kept the room feeling comforting at all times. Over the heads of some of the creatures I saw a massive, nearly half a mile long buffet table in the back of the room where a lot of other guys were lined up with dishes ready to take their food for consumption.

Mallow and I exchanged no words between ourselves, for we focused all of our efforts on trudging through the crowd, excusing ourselves so they could polite move out of the way if necessary until we reached the end of the buffet row together. It was a miracle that we didn't get swallowed whole by the crowd, but unlike a normal line-up of hungry consumers these soldiers were well-mannered, and a couple of them even offered to let us cut ahead of them when they were indecisive about what food they wanted to eat. Mallow and I stayed side by side the entire time as we walked along the lengthy table, grabbing a healthy plethora of foods that we were familiar with and proceeding towards the first empty table we could sit down at.

Along the way, I looked at my plate, which consisted of a warm sirloin steak alongside fluffy scrambled eggs and a smoked potato, and said to Mallow "You know, as much as I enjoyed the unique cuisine here on Plit, its nice to have some human food for once…Though I have to wonder why Alpha has that type of food lying around here?" We sat down on opposite ends of the table, and as Mallow moved his fork towards a cauliflower made entirely out of a cotton-like substance he looked at me and said "Beats me. Heck, Alpha has food here that only Nimbusians can digest, and yet I'm the only one of my kind here. And before you ask, I would be able to tell via feeling, not sight."

"I wasn't going to bother asking, actually." I responded honestly, lifting a juicy cut of steak into my mouth to begin chewing. "I see…" With that lone comment Mallow and I dug into our meals…Well, I guess I was the only one who did honestly. Since the cloud Prince is used to eloquent dinners and the like back at the Nimbus Palace, he was eating nice and slowly, savoring every bite as if they all held an equal amount of value to him. Of course, my ravenous ways could be chalked up to the fact that I hadn't eaten anything in over twenty-four hours. My stomach was a pit that needed to be filled, and fill it I shall. "You know what I've always wondered?" Mallow interrupted my feast with a question to grab my attention. I put my fork down and wiped the juice from my lips with a nearby napkin, ready afterwards to listen to my friend.

"The M.S.I. was a largely unknown organization before Gemini and Alpha got involved with us. Peach didn't know about it, mom and dad didn't know about it, and in general a lot of people on the planet never knew about this place even though their soldiers have gone out to assist the populace before…So considering all the food that Alpha has to supply his men, along with the work and materials it probably takes to keep this place functional…Where is he getting all the funding necessary to cover his expenses?" As he spoke Mallow look around the room, his eyes filled with intrigue in regards to the history of this place. I really had no definitive answer to that question, so I just took a random shot at it and said "Perhaps Alpha uncovered a gold coin deposit or something like that…I really don't know, that's something I'll ask him later."

I then looked down at my plate and realized that it was empty save for the puddle of juice that dripped out of my steak. I felt full, and that was a feeling that was going to leave me anytime soon. I stood up, grabbing Mallow's attention away from his surroundings as he perked hid eyelids up and asked me "You heading off?" "Yeah, I'm going to try and find Gemini or Luigi, since neither of them appear to be in this room." Having given my next objective, I turned to the cloud Prince with a bit of concern in my eyes and asked "Will you be able to find your way around without me?" Mallow gave me a reassuring nod, and before I made me way out he said to me "I'll meet up with you again before you head off to the final temple, alright?" To which I nodded towards him in return. After trudging through the conversing soldiers, I exited through the cafeteria's doors, hoping that I would run into Gemini without getting lost…

Next Time: The Two of Thunde