"Are we there yet?" Hold asked for the 237th time.
"No." I bit out.
"I'm hungry." Pit chimed in. The guttering torch light illuminated his strained face.
"So am I." I retorted.
"Are we there now?" Hold asked yet again, seemingly unaware of my worsening mood.
"Can we take these blindfolds off yet?"
"You know what? How about a story?" At the end of my tether, I hoped to distract them (as well as teach them) with an old tale I heard. Luckily, it did the trick.
"Yay!" They cheered in unison. The creepy kids they were. Now, for the story. I stared ahead at the neverending corridor we'd been walking down for what felt like hours.
"Okay. There once was a mortal named Daedalus."
"Daedalus is a weird name." Hold commented.
"Well, Daedalus was a weird guy. You see, he was an amazing craftsman, gifted by the gods to create marvelous things."
"Wait. You said his name was Daedalus? And that he was a good tinkerer?" Pit pondered.
"Yes? Why do you ask?"
"Kinda reminds me of Dyntos, is all."
"Huh. I guess I never saw it that way."
"So which came first, the god or the man?" Pit was being alarmingly perceptive. About the strangest things, no less. Time to get things back on track.
"We're getting off topic. Anyway, Daedalus" I thought I heard Pit mutter 'Dyntos' under his breath, "had a son. A kid named Icarus."
"Did anyone else just get the weirdest sense of deja vu?"
"The only deja vu I'm getting is from you interrupting the story, Pit." I waited for his soft 'sorry' before continuing. "So, one day Daedalus and Icarus are locked in a tall tower by the sea."
"Why were they locked up?" Looks like it's Hold's time to be rude.
"Why can't either of you just enjoy a story?" I bit out sardonically. Despite the blindfolds, they both turned to look away from me.
"Code…" Split warned, having been listening and judging the entire time. I huffed.
"I'm sorry for snapping. But could you both please wait until the end for questions?" Two eager nods and Split's piercing gaze shifting from me were my rewards. "Right. So, they're locked up. I don't recall why, something about a mean king and a maze. Obviously not liking being prisoners, Daedalus devised a plan to escape. He constructed wings, much like our own, but out of wax and wood. A pair for him and a pair for the Kid Icarus." Pit squirmed at this but otherwise kept his promise. "The wings would take them to safety over the sea, so long as they didn't fly too close to the sun, as this would melt the wings. Daedalus was sure to impress this upon Icarus. And so, they set off. All was well, until Icarus went and flew too close to the sun. Long story short, he got cocky and didn't listen to authority so his wings melted off and he drowned. Any questions?"
Dead silence. Hold looked vaguely sick while Pit was staring into the middle distance (through his blindfold, of course).
"So Dyntos made a device so Kid Icarus could fly…" He said, half to himself. The hall was silent save for our footsteps and the flickering flames.
"Heart for your thoughts?" I inquired after some time, offset by his pensiveness.
"It's nothing. Just, I feel like it's important for the future, you know? Like for the next game."
I nodded, not understanding at all. I also completely forgot that nodding was useless since he was still blindfolded.
"Right. Any other questions?"
"Are we there yet?"
I positively groaned. Oh Goddess, why me? Split snickered.
Much later (just how long was this tunnel? What purpose could it possibly serve?) the ground started to angle upwards. Feeling that we wouldn't be running into any more gruesome sights, I relieved the kids of their blindfolds. Also because they kept tripping every few feet.
"For real though, I am hungry." Pit reminded me.
"So am I." Hold moaned.
"Relax guys," I ignored the pang in my own stomach, "we can't die of starvation. Food's just for healing. And fun."
"It still hurts." Pit grumbled, clutching his belly.
"Do you think we could eat the next monsters we kill?" Hold asked innocently.
"What? No! No." I recoiled in disgust. "That's an awful idea."
"I imagine if you cook it you wouldn't be able to tell the difference." Split idly remarked. I swear I saw a sly smirk flicker on her face.
"Don't encourage her Split. And don't listen to either of them, do you hear me Pit?" Pit was staring ahead blankly, nearly drooling.
"Monster burger..." He mumbled.
"Great, now you've tainted him. I hope you're happy."
"Delighted." Split deadpanned.
I hoped that this tunnel would end soon.
The tunnel did not, in fact, end soon.
It had changed into a descent. One that we were practically stumbling down. We knew that if we stopped to rest we were liable to fall asleep rather than start again. And sleeping here didn't seem like a great idea despite our exhaustion. I wasn't confident I could keep watch, and Split practically had one eye closed already. It occurred to me that she probably hasn't slept at all during this entire misadventure.
Finally, the slope leveled out. Revealing a straight passageway that loomed into nothingness. I clapped my hands together, the sudden sound causing Pit and Hold to jump and Split to open her other eye with a start, hand reaching for her bow.
"Alright!" I caved to the whims of my legs. "How about a quick break?"
The words were barely out of my mouth when Pit fell forward, snoring before he hit the ground. Hold stumbled to a wall. Back flat against it (or as flat as could be, considering her wings), she slid down to a squat. Her face held a look of stubborn determination. Mouth screwed up and eyes staring straight ahead, she fought a valiant battle against sleep. In the end however, her head fell forward and she too was out cold.
"I'll take that as a strong yes." I said to myself. Well, myself and Split. She didn't seem to really be… present, though. Split stood where she had stopped walking, bow held loosely in her hand, staring down the infinite corridor with half lidded eyes. "Hey, uh, do you want to maybe-"
"No." Her voice was low, flat.
"Cool beans. I'll just, uh, sit here for a bit. Then we'll switch. Sound good?" Split didn't so much as blink. Taking that as my cue to sit down and shut up, I sat down and shut up'ed. I wasn't planning on sleeping, though. Sure, I was tired, and sure, there was nothing better to do. But! But… where was I going with this? Oh yeah. So I fell asleep…
No! Put that divider away! I'm still here! This is still me! I… I jerked my head up, and looked around. Yeah. And I saw… I saw Pit! Right, he's there, and uh, Split is also there, I think. And um, Hold? The tunnel walls were… red? Maybe?
Please stop doing this.
I don't want to go.
This time I did wake up. But I wasn't where I left off. Stark whiteness expanded into all directions around me. Despite laying down, I could neither see nor feel the floor. I was just… present. Here.
"Hello?" My call echoed infinitely in this blank space.
"Hey." A voice answered from behind me. One I knew well. I twisted around with a smile on my face.
"Lady Palu-! Oh."
"'Oh' is right." Before me was not Lady Palutena, but Clone. Remember him? "You know, I'm gettin' kinda offended that you keep mistaking me for her. Is my voice that high pitched?"
"No! Of course not." I hastily amended.
"So her voice is just that low pitched?" He countered.
"That's not what- I didn't mean to-" I desperately tried to find a way out of this verbal trap.
"Relax Code, I'm just pullin' your wing. Man you're easy to pick on." Clone let out a dry chuckle. "Mistaken identity aside, I'm sure you're wondering why you're here." He was leisurely sitting on the nothingness, wings relaxed and not a care in the world.
"I am. Before we get into that though, where is 'here'?" I looked around our empty environment. "Is this Double Hell or something?" That coaxed another laugh from Clone.
"Nah. This is the world of thematic resolution. I'll be your guide." He flashed his signature smile. I instantly felt reassured, despite the foreign setting. "For real though, this is new for me too. Last I could recall, I was helping some angels escape the conflict. That's what Pray said, at least. Now I guess I'm here! Must have been offed like poor Stray last chapter, huh?"
"What? What do you mean 'last chapter'?" Clone furrowed his brow like I was the crazy one.
"Code… how much do you know about what's happening? You just went on that whole tirade and there was that stuff with the reality distortion so I kinda figured you knew."
"I- I know this is the Story, and that these things are predetermined, but I didn't know you could perceive these events like that!" I was getting more confused by the minute. It felt like someone was hammering knives into my brain.
"Should I tell 'em?" Clone said to seemingly thin air. In reality, he was looking at you, but… I'm not sure what that means. "Yeah, I figure it's about time."
"Who are you talking to?"
"Irrelevant. What is important, however, is that you and I are entirely fake."
"Yeah, I know. 'What do you mean, Clone? I've lived a full life! I've done things, felt things. Is it all fabricated?' Yes. Yes it is. The fact that your sword was a gift from a friend? Nonsense. I bet you can't even name them."
"Of course I can!" Clone leveled me with a judging look. "Um, his name- no, her name is… uh…"
"I thought so." He said in not an unkind way, but it wasn't really reassuring for me since my whole worldview was collapsing around me. "The fact that you like waffles for breakfast? Made up on the spot just now. Your favorite color? Nonexistent. Doesn't matter for the plot."
"I… my…" I was thinking and speaking in barely formed sentences. Of course I had a favorite color! Didn't I? Clone plowed on, a manic light in his eye.
"And the worst part is, we're not even real fiction! This is fanfiction! No NintendoⓇ stamp of approval here!" He was standing up now, gesticulating wildly with his arms.
"Hey! Fanfiction is a totally respectable and legitimate form of writing!" I protested without thinking. Clone snapped his fingers in triumph.
"There ya go! You're gettin' the hang of it now!"
"And- And you're just an exposition dump character!" Clone was jumping up and down with excitement.
"Yes! Yes! I serve no other purpose!"
"And I have no purpose, and Hold certainly has no purpose, and Pit probably has no-" Clone suddenly stopped me with a heavy hand on my shoulder, his demeanor suddenly sober. Wait, since when was I also standing?
"You see, It's a little more complicated than that."
"Does this have to do with that NintendoⓇ thing you said earlier?"
"Yeah. Uh, you and I? Dust. Less than a grain of sand. Pit though? He's like a sand castle. He's tangible. He matters."
"Is that why he makes those meta comments every now and then?"
"Precisely. He is more attuned to this song and dance than either of us. Him and Palutena."
"*Lady. So he knows that this is happening right now?"
"Oh, no. He's frozen until he's in the scene. He'll learn everything then." A dry chuckle. "You know, if he weren't so darn adorable, I would find him creepy as all get out."
"Right…" I trailed off and the mood turned into an awkward silence. "So when Lady Palutena mentioned the Story, it wasn't about us, it was us. If that makes sense."
"Uh huh. Hey! Do you wanna see something cool?" Clone had suddenly perked up.
"Is it going to shatter my sense of reality and irreversibly damage my psyche?"
"Not in as many words."
"Can I stop you from showing me?" I probed half warily and half resignedly.
"Nope!" He lurched closer to me with one big step. "Describe me."
"Describe… you? Like, your face?" I was very confused.
"Yes Code. What do I look like."
"Well, you have green eyes, and green hair…" I trailed off, not really sure of the point of this. Was it because there were no mirrors in this void?
"Yes, yes, and…?" Clone prompted. "Look beyond the superficial stuff, the things the readers care about. What about my nose, my eyebrows?"
I was staring at his face now, with not much distance between us, and for the life of me I couldn't describe anything but the color of his eyes and hair. I knew he must look similar to Lady Palutena (at least beyond the general color pallet) and that he had to have a nose and a mouth, you know, the things that faces are made of. And yet… what was the shape of his nose? The arc of his eyebrows? I could make out vague impressions of such features. Small smudges and blurs that my brain automatically assigned meaning to. At a glance, he looked normal. Even staring at him face to face didn't raise any issue. But focusing on any one feature? The whole illusion collapsed. Things shifted and twisted and my eyes blurred and my head was pounding and I could hear the blood rushing in my ears and my brain screamed at me to look away just accept it but everything was wrong and how had I never-
"Hey, Code! Code look at me! No, wait, bad idea. Look away from me! Snap out of it!" My eyes were clenched shut yet I could still see his not-face. My fingers dug into my palms and I ground my teeth together in a desperate bid to distract myself. It wasn't working.
"Code! Sweet Palutena, what did you do to him Clone?!" I distantly heard Split shouting from my right. Wait, Split? What was she doing here?
"Code? Are you okay? Can you hear us?" Hold gently probed, her voice coming from the left. I could feel her poking my arm. But why was she also here?
"The weird fourth wall break is over, everything's fine now." Pit soothed from further to the right. Slowly, I opened my eyes.
I was met with Clone's face. My immediate reaction was to go back into eyes-shut-panic mode, but I managed to avert my gaze to the floor in a bid to use the smooth whiteness of it to relax. To my slow realization, however, the floor wasn't white or smooth. It was the rocky, reddish brown of the Underworld I had unwittingly grown accustomed to. Carefully, as if afraid sudden movement would trigger the bad thoughts, I panned my view upwards. Lo and behold, Clone was there, or rather, he was here. With the rest of us fools. In the Underworld. He let loose some weak jazz hands.