"Four keys obtained, huh?" Pit reiterated as he and Shadmé breached the sky.
"By my count, yes," Lady Palutena replied.
"Good. Soon I can finally fulfill my promise to Arequa," Shadmé murmured. "She's been waiting so long…"
"Arequa?" A new voice entered the conversation. "Isn't she the fish that slipped out of your claws, Orcos?"
"Right, Anavos," Orcos growled in response. "If she didn't have the whole ocean to hide in, I would have made her fish fry a long time ago."
"So that must be Anavos," noticed Pit's goddess. "Demon of light? A bit of an oxymoron, don't you think?"
"Oh, please." Anavos' voice was silky smooth. "Nothing is pure. Anything can be corrupted. Even light. Isn't that right, Palutena? Shadmé?"
Both females seemed to be shocked by that response. Pit frowned. Palutena, goddess of light, had been under the Chaos Kin's control once, and Shadmé had inadvertently made a light but evil clone of herself. Both had reason to take personal offense- this demon knew what words to use to hurt them.
Distracted, Shadmé dipped below him to fight some enemies sneaking up to them from below. Pit tilted to another angle, avoiding the tricky Komaytoes. They fought on in silence.
"So," Pit began, trying to alleviate the awkwardness, "you know where you're taking us, Lady Palutena?"
"Ah- yes," she spoke quickly, clearing her throat. "It's not as well-hidden as Vouno's. You'll see it when we get there."
"Of course not," Anavos practically purred. "Why would I bother hiding something as magnificent as the castle of light?"
"Your arrogance is gonna be the death of you," Shadmé mumbled.
"I'd say you're the arrogant one!" Anavos replied joyfully. "I wouldn't be one of Orcos' top commanders if I didn't know what I was doing. I enjoy batting my prey around before eliminating them in one swipe."
"Yes," Orcos agreed. "My demons of light and dark are by far my most worthy and versatile of them all. I'd start praying if I were you."
"To who? The goddess that's flying them into a trap?" Anavos cackled. "Faithful indeed!"
Pit started. In a flash of light a ton of enemies appeared. His heart sank when he detected a blue, alien-like creature in the lead: a Shildeen. Before he could raise his bow, it formed a forcefield, protecting its allies.
"I have the power to summon enemies whenever and wherever I want!" Anavos crowed. "Well, everyone? Time to test your stamina!"
Thankfully, the Shildeen's barrier took only a few shots to crack. An onslaught of enemy fire met Pit and Shadmé instantaneously, and they were forced to swoop and dive like hawks.
"Y'know, Anavos," Lady Palutena mentioned, "your skills are...fine and dandy, but you're aware that my angels can simply run away from the enemies, right?"
"...Oh yeah! Good point," Pit said with a nod. After evading the thick of the fire, Shadmé followed him in moving out of range. The Underworlders faded into the distance.
"Glittering fireflies on a stick! This is preposterous," Anavos sputtered. He cleared his throat, and suddenly his confidence seemed to be restored. "But you haven't bested me yet! For I, Anavos, have the ability to teleport them back to you, no matter how far away you flee! Hahaha!"
Another flash of light heralded the arrival of the (slightly confused-looking) enemies from before.
"You're officially a jerk!" Shadmé protested.
"I'm not a boss for nothin'!" Anavos replied proudly.
Seeing no other option, Pit and Shadmé lined up so they could take some shots at the Shildeen's shield. It broke even faster than before, and once it did, they charged into the fray. Pit's first target was the Shildeen itself while Shadmé took on a Vakloom.
"So, you two demons, I have a question," Pit stated as he swiped at the Shildeen at many angles. Its only purpose was to protect, and without its shield active, it couldn't defend itself. "How do you even make your castles in the first place? I mean, it is pretty convenient that we have a place to meet up and fight every level…y'know what I'm saying?"
"I gave all of them a budget," Orcos sighed. "Half of them- Lirroia, Ifias and Katagi- used that budget primarily for troops. The other half…"
"...Made kick-butt castles!" Anavos finished for him. "...Totally worth it! We did have three years to train troops, though. And also we kinda survived where the others failed. We got a bonus for that."
"Mind defining the currency for said 'budget?'" Shadmé asked, tone seemingly as worn-down as Orcos'.
"Why do you care?" Orcos and Anavos said at the same time. Pit shook his head with a soft chuckle, sniping at some smaller enemies that Shadmé had avoided in favor of the Vakloom.
"You ask about our personal lives all the time- we figured we should show you the same respect," Shadmé said in a tone of voice that made it very apparent respecting them was the last thing on her mind.
"What else do you want us to talk about? What we ate for breakfast this morning?" Orcos snorted. The two angels flew out of the enemy horde and into another that was waiting for them.
"That's probably more interesting than you are," Lady Palutena commented.
"You annoy me every time you open your mouth," the light demon spat in defense of his boss.
"Why are demons such hypocrites?" Shadmé groaned. "Oh wait, that's right. They're demons."
Moving on, Pit soared over some projectiles launched by Monoeyes and began to melee a Komayto.
"From what I can tell, Anavos' castle of light is made of smooth, polished stone," Lady Palutena spoke up, resuming her duty as guide and mentor. "You'll have to be careful when traversing it- the ground will be very slick, making it hard to aim dash combos."
"Y'know, if you could fly like me, this wouldn't be an issue," Anavos pointed out.
"Glad we got the flightless joke out of the way," Pit groaned with a facepalm.
"Dangit! Used up already? That's a shame. You should make it harder for us to make fun of you," Anavos complained.
"I think it'd be harder for you not to make fun of me than it would for you to make fun of me," Pit pointed out. As the demon processed this, Pit aimed for a Mega Mussel. It flew alongside him as he detoured through a small canyon. He nailed its orbs as he dodged around its projectiles. Hearts flying out of its explosion as he took it down, Pit exited the tunnel to see a huge, grassy hill in the distance. A white and gray castle with a long steeple stood at its peak.
"That must be the castle of light," Shadmé mused as she dipped down beside him. She'd flown above the tunnel to lose some enemies. "Looks like a very dolled-up prison."
"It's definitely prettier than Nychta's," Anavos ceded. "That lump lives in a hole in a cliff by the sea. Then again, I don't have the job of guarding Poseidon 24/7."
"Nychta also takes his job more seriously than you do," Orcos cut in grumpily.
"Is that why he doesn't 'phone in' during our missions like you two?" Pit wondered.
"What do you think?" Orcos growled. "I told him I'd kill him if he let Poseidon escape."
"But...doesn't he need to be killed in the first place to actually release Poseidon?" Shadmé asked, confused.
"Exactly. ...He lacks common sense sometimes," Orcos explained. "Makes things easier."
The castle drew closer in Pit's sight. Sensing their arrival, more enemies popped out to defend the castle. Pit snagged a Lucky Trigger from a Rare Treasurefish and went to town.
"Who's that dude?" Shadmé pointed to a great armored warrior with twin cannons mounted on its shoulders. With a shudder, it launched eel-like creatures at them, which the angels hastily scrambled to avoid.
"Collin. His buddies are called Phils," Lady Palutena explained. "Ironically enough, these so-called 'buddies' are the only thing that that can hurt him. Better melee them back where they came from!"
Pit knew the drill, and so when the Phils came near, he swiped at them with his bow blade. Shadmé followed suit, and so both Phils collided with their host. He left Shadmé to deal with the Collin so he could make use of his Lucky Trigger before it ran out. He gunned down a Keron in addition to some Wave Anglers and Handoras.
"Check this out, Pit and Shadres!" Lady Palutena called. Pit looked forward to see a long, thin rail forming. "I decided to place a grind rail down for you that should take you straight into the castle. Since, y'know, its location is obvious this time, and I don't want to strain the Power of Flight." A platform formed at the beginning of the rail so that they could land.
"Sweet!" Pit cheered. He docked on the platform, Shadmé regarding the rail bemusedly. "...What do we do with this thing?"
"Jump on it and slide!" Pit hopped on the rail to demonstrate, angling his feet just a slight bit to move. A slight screech behind him was the information he needed to tell that Shadmé had figured it out and boarded.
"I… I think you're trespassing on my property," Anavos muttered. "Orcos, remind me to put down a sign later that tells these kids to get off my lawn!"
Enemies fired at them, but they couldn't hit either Pit or Shadmé as well when they became fast-moving targets. Pit smiled as the wind whipped his air and projectiles exploded around him, narrowly missing each time. Pulling his bow back out, he fired a few arrows at stray enemies.
I decided not to mentally question the physics (divine magic?) of sliding down a long metal rail and joined Pit in fighting off the hordes of enemies that were trying in vain to land a hit on us. Our arrows naturally homed in on our targets, so even if we were a bit off, they usually made their mark.
"Soo...what exactly is stopping me from flying right out there and redirecting your rail?" Anavos wondered. "I bet I could bend it into a loop-de-loop!"
Sweat beaded around my forehead. "Uh...the common rules of boss etiquette?" I tried.
"Oh, hang on, let me check that!" I heard the flipping of pages. "According to my handy guide, Common Rules of Boss Etiquette, rule number one reads as follows: 'Play dirty. It is important to keep your enemy on his toes during a battle.' Well, alright! Here I come!"
"'Rule number two,'" Palutena broke in. "'Bosses are limited to boss chambers. If permitted to roam, it could disrupt the balance of level design. Find any way to wreak chaos from this room alone.' You'd better stop right there, Anavos."
"Wh-what?" the light demon stammered. "That's completely word-for-word how it's written!"
"What kind of guide would I be if I didn't read up on the strategies of the bosses I send my angels out there to fight?" Palutena chuckled.
"Being a boss sucks sometimes," Anavos pouted.
"At least you're not a janitor," Pit pointed out. "Or a butler. Or one of those people who has to clean up roadkill."
"Really helping me count my lucky stars, then," Anavos grumbled sarcastically.
Some more round cyclops monsters appeared. They seemed to function as a group, with a bunch of ones with blue orbs attached buzzing around a single one with orange orbs. They gave chase as we continued along the grind rail.
"Remoblams and Remoblamings," Palutena observed. "Quite a few enemies we've faced so far work like this, with many underlings and a leader. As usual, stopping the leader will eliminate the rest of the threat."
As I began aiming at the Remoblam to carry out this recommendation, more enemies swooped in. A Fire Wyrm was joined by Wave Anglers, Specknoses and Syrens, who fired right at me. I was forced to cut off my attack and duck to avoid their long-range shots.
"These enemies carry the additional bonus of exploding after defeat, so it was a good thing you got out of that one," Pit explained. "I mean, fireworks are usually fun, but not when my friends are the ones that are exploding."
"I share that sentiment," I panted, dodging a wind blast and then slashing at the Wave Angler that shot it. Pit took the opportunity to fire at the Remoblam I'd tried to hit, and true to his word, the enemy group went up in flames that caused some damage to the enemies around them.
"Well...I could have arranged those troops better, in hindsight," Anavos observed. "Let's try this instead!" An enemy that looked like a lion's head with wheels materialized a small distance away from us, then began to speed down the grind rail in our direction.
"Aw crud, Leoxes can ride grind rails now?" Pit panicked. The Leox was, indeed, catching up with us.
"This is an interesting predicament," Palutena observed.
"Interesting?! More like fatal if you don't do something!" I yelled.
"Okay, okay. Let's try this!" The grind rail in front of us split up into two paths. Pit slid down the right one and I took the left. The Leox followed me down the left.
"Aaand this!" My track split into two paths again. Once again, I took the left, and the Leox isolated itself by going right.
"Wait, now what?!" The Leox and I stared each other down as we raced on separate rails, neck-and-neck.
"Oh, that's an easy fix, Shadres," Palutena explained. "I'll just keep your rail going, and terminate the one the Leox is on." True to her word, I kept going, while the Leox's path abruptly ended. It plummeted far down to the ground below and exploded into hearts. Shaking my head, I looked up to see that Pit was getting mobbed by some aerial enemies. I raised my bow to help him pick them off, and he flashed me a look of gratitude.
"Aw come on, the chase is over already?" Anavos complained. "My popcorn just finished popping! It was like one of those old western racing the train scenes, and you just can't watch those things without popcorn. I think I have you two to blame for this, honestly. If Ifias were here, he could have had my popcorn done a whole lot faster."
"Sorry we slayed your popcorn maker," Pit apologized lightly.
"Something tells me your friendship wasn't all that great in the first place if it was solely based around him making you popcorn though, anyway," I put in.
"Eh, true," Anavos agreed. "And I could not say a thing about that guy without him going all up in arms about it! That guy was the literal embodiment of the description hothead."
Even though it was three years ago, I still remembered our battle with Ifias. Back when we told jokes and poked fun at our bosses, and they did so in return. Back when my past was a mystery, and POD and Lightmé were not a concern in the slightest. Now the stakes were higher, and the demons were ready to fight tooth and nail to defend Orcos and keep Poseidon enslaved.
"Hey Lady Palutena, you have control over the grind rails, right?" I shook myself out of my thoughts at Pit's observation, only to realize that my path was moving farther and farther away from Pit's.
"Yes...I've never really done this whole 'create a grind rail as we go' thing, so I didn't really think about how I'm going to have your paths rejoin," the goddess admitted. "My mistake."
Anavos bust up cackling.
"That's not funny!" I retorted. "Maybe she can make me a path that takes me straight to your boss chamber! Then you won't be laughing!"
That shut the demon up immediately. "She's right, you know," Orcos said with a bit of a sneer to his voice. "What are you going to do about that?"
"Um…" Anavos stammered. "I'll close all the windows!"
"No, please don't do that…" Pit sighed. His grind rail was headed straight for an open window on the side of the castle.
"Well, that's a shame!" said Palutena. "I thought we'd be able to get away with sneaking in that way."
"Anavos…" Orcos started with a slight growl to his voice, "why did you think it was a good idea to put stained glass windows on a fortress? And why did you leave them open?!"
"First of all, dear Orcos, it matches my aesthetic," Anavos said with a bit of a nervous giggle in his voice. "Second...it is practical, I swear! Watch this!"
Swarms and swarms of enemies began flooding through the open windows from the inside. Pit and I balked at the sight of them.
"You idiot!" snapped Orcos. "Those are all the minions from the inside! If the angels get in, they can literally just stroll right into your room with nobody to stop them!"
"Then...then that's why we just have them fly back in through the windows?"
"You are hopeless," Orcos said with a sigh.
"'Orcos' top commanders,' huh?" Pit reiterated. "'Most worthy and versatile?'"
"Oh, shut up," both demons grumbled at the same time.
"Since the windows are being blocked by Anavos' troops, we'll have to find another way in," Palutena spoke, the voice of reason.
"Would it be more beneficial for us to stay out here and eliminate as many of them as possible?" I asked. "We're not using the Power of Flight, so we're not dependent on a time limit."
"Attack, you fools!" Anavos screeched. Enemies abruptly stopped filing in and, instead, turned their attacks on us. The windows slammed shut.
"On second thought, let's not do this!" I yelped, wobbling on the grind rail, helpless and at the mercy of the grind rail's path.
"See, Orcos? This was a good idea. You have no faith in me," Anavos said smugly.
The grind rail took a sudden dip towards the ground, winding a path around the castle. "Maybe there's something we missed," was Palutena's explanation.
As expected, the enemies swooped after us. But now they were forced to chase us instead of standing still and letting us come to them. We still had a bit of a lead.
Coming this close let me see the detail of the castle better. It was made of white stone and glass. I recalled Palutena's information from earlier and mentally groaned. She said the floors would be slippery, meaning movement would be difficult. Was this grind rail practice for the environment inside?
We circled around the lower half of the castle. Palutena made a sound of accomplishment. "I found a spot for you both to enter! On my mark, jump off the grind rail and kick at that slightly-cracked window." Pit and I were approaching set window at different directions. He looked excited to be literally breaking into Anavos' castle. "One…two...three!"
Enemies fired behind us, but they missed as Pit and I took a leap of faith. Aiming at the window, it took very little effort for it to shatter, pitching us straight into the castle of light.
"Who do I have to destroy for allowing them to get away with that?" Orcos grunted. Palutena watched as her angels shook themselves off. They'd slid quite a bit upon impact with the ground; as predicted, the floor was slick.
"Probably a Snong," Anavos sighed. "They're too big and heavy to even care what they run into or spear."
"Quick, gang, let's take advantage of the time Anavos will take to get his minions back indoors to get as far into the castle as possible undetected," Palutena advised.
"Good idea," agreed Shadmé. She turned to Pit, only to see him sliding over to a treasure chest. "One treasure chest won't hurt…" he said, only for his words to be cut off by a cry of alarm as the chest sprouted legs, then started charging after him.
Not knowing what to do, Shadmé slid around to its backside and started firing. "That's a Mimicutie," Palutena explained. "They disguise themselves as treasure chests and attack those who come near. I'm surprised it took us this long to encounter one."
"Trust me, this is one of the least savage ones I've encountered," Orcos said in a bored tone. "Turns out Mimicuties are dangerous, even to demons. It took this much effort to get one here- we're not risking our necks for any more."
Pit used a Transparency power, vanishing instantly from sight. Having lost its target, the Mimicutie turned on Shadmé next. Rather than stay and fight it off, Shadmé sprinted away.
"Glad to see that your angels are cowards," Anavos chuckled.
"That's a unique way to pronounce rethinking my battle plan," Shadmé panted. She shot a few arrows behind her, then continued escaping. Arrows from a different direction showed that Pit was lending a hand. "Keep it running, Shadmé!" Pit called from somewhere in the room. "Its spin attack is much less dangerous than its direct kicks!"
"But still dangerous, right?" Shadmé grumbled.
"Just don't get hit!" he replied cheekily.
"Two can play at that game," Shadmé responded. She, too, cloaked herself with Transparency and the Mimicutie screeched to a halt, confused. Since Pit had used his power first, it wore off quicker, and he panicked as the chest enemy headed his direction. Palutena stifled a snort at their banter and his misfortune.
Pit got in as many charged shots as he could, then skidded away as the Mimicutie unleashed a barrage of kicks. Once it started the attack, it couldn't stop right away, which was its main weakness. The white-winged angel swung around behind it and executed some melee combos while the invisible Shadmé provided support. Shadmé returned materialized at the same time the Mimicutie got its bearings, and then she and Pit fled together.
"It's unfortunate that was as well-placed as it was," Palutena sighed. "I can sense that Anavos' minions have returned to the castle."
"Yeah, that was totally just coincidence, right Orcos? I still have no idea what I'm doing, right?" Anavos goaded on his boss.
"Being good at your job does not make you any less annoying, Anavos," Orcos grunted. "You proved me wrong this time, but if your slimy tactics are unable to stop them for good, you may never get another chance."
"Aye aye, sir!" Anavos laughed, completely unfazed.
Palutena paused to reflect on this. She had thought the ongoing quarrel between Anavos and Orcos would distract either of them long enough for them to make errors. But if the light demon's words were true, he had planned everything out, including the things Palutena had thought were merely a result of him not thinking far enough ahead- the Leox had been a distraction to separate Pit and Shadmé, the influx of enemies had significantly flustered them, and the broken window lead to a room distracting them long enough for him to usher his minions back inside. All under a guise of arrogance and flippantness. It was frightening how little of this she'd detected. Perhaps Anavos was more tricky than she'd anticipated.
Pit and Shadmé slid into the next room. A Curry Wizard was there to greet them, alongside some Porcuspines, Daphnes, Wave Anglers and a Specknose.
"Ack! Looks like he's starting with his best minions first," Pit observed with a grimace. Knowing his tendency to get hit by most of the wizards they fought, Shadmé charged at it to divert its attention. Pit fired away at the other enemies, aiming first for the Specknose so that it didn't start attacking Shadmé while she was focused. Once again, Palutena found herself impressed by their initiative. In the heat of battle, neither hesitated, and they worked together as well as they did three years prior.
"Well, duh," Anavos said in a response to Pit. "Why would anyone start easy? That's a terrible strategy if I've ever heard of one! You gotta intimidate your foes first, and force them to turn back!"
"Too late for that," Shadmé responded. "We're not going anywhere!"
"We'll see," Anavos taunted. "My difficulty levels will make you run home crying!"
"No, really, we're not going back," Shadmé sighed. "We literally can't just up and fly out of the castle. In case you've forgotten, we can't fly on our own."
"...Oh. I see."
Having defeated the Curry Wizard, Shadmé turned to the rest of the enemies. Seeing a still-filled room made her frown. "That's odd...Pit, how many of them did you take down?"
"A lot!" he assured her, skidding to her side. He scrutinized the room as well. "...Wow, it really looks like I did nothing, huh?"
The room was filled with enemies.
Palutena chimed in. "Uh, bad news, you two...he's filling up the room with enemies as we speak." Indeed, mobile enemies were continuing to fly through the windows and openings to other rooms. Even the Mimicutie had returned.
"Anavos…" Pit grumbled. The angels moved to circle a Mega Mussel that wasn't there before.
"What? You said you weren't going anywhere! I just wanted to make sure you meant it."
"I must say, this is an...odd battle strategy," Palutena stammered. It was true. No boss she'd ever had her angels fight had been as unpredictable as he'd been so far.
"Aww, Palutena, are you losing your nerve?" Orcos sneered. "We can restock our troops faster than your puny angels can defeat them. Three years of inactivity from the realms of both light and nature left us with plenty of souls to plunder. Admit it. Your struggles are futile."
Palutena felt a swirl of anger, obviously echoed by both Pit and Shadmé. "Hey!" Pit barked. "Don't talk about Lady Palutena like that! She's helped us get to this point and has kept us safe. No way has she lost her edge!"
"Usings souls as mindless violent beings is wrong," Shadmé added. "No soul deserves to be reincarnated as a monster. And e-even though there wasn't anything we could do for three years, w-we'll make it up tenfold right here and now."
"Shout all the battle cries you want," Anavos chuckled. "Because I'm sure that's the solution to being hopelessly outnumbered!"
Palutena frowned determinedly. The angels were certainly being inundated, and they wouldn't be able to last forever. She'd have to come up with some solution to get them out of there. But what? They'd already breached the castle- there was no telling if they'd be able to make it this far again if she sent them back to her temple right now.
She watched Pit and Shadmé slide on the slick floor towards a Ganewmede and attack it with melee moves together. They were certainly making the best of the slick surface to dodge enemy fire, though she didn't know how long that could last. If only there were some way of providing them protection as they moved around…
Suddenly, she got it. Smiling, she called down to the angels. "Pit, Shadres! I have a surprise for you two. You think you can use your ice skating skills to get out of that overcrowded room?"
"No sweat. I'd do anything for a surprise!" Pit grinned.
"What's the point of that?" Shadmé asked, confused. "Won't the enemies just follow us to the next room?"
"If I told you, then it wouldn't be a surprise anymore," Palutena responded cheekily. In all actuality, she was desperate for any advantage in this situation. Saying her plan aloud might risk the demons catching on.
Deciding to trust her, the angels began to backtrack, taking out the Mimicutie as it galloped in their direction. The Porcuspines had mounted the walls, and an Igniot was firing a laser that blocked off the opening to the next room, but with a bit of teamwork, the angels took out these obstacles with ease. Realizing they were being pursued, Pit and Shadmé bolted into the previous room as quickly as they could.
"Now!" Palutena used her divine powers to beam down two items that both angels would be able to use together. Thank goodness she had two of them. Excelling in defense and speed, she hoped the angels would find them useful on the slippery ground.
Pit cheered when he saw them, making Palutena smile in relief. "Aether Rings!"
My new goal is to get one chapter out every three days, or maybe two a week. Pretty lofty goal, but I think I can do it on days where my three AP classes aren't killing me all at once! If this works, then FoLaD will definitely be completed by its anniversary, December 22. I've been doing some calculations and have been met with a surge of new ideas, so I think we can expect 5+ chapters until the end! Being this close to the end of a massive story I've been working on for years is... wow. It's making me very emotional, haha!
Onto the chapter itself! Anavos and Nychta's personalities were pretty nebulous in my plans- I'd just see where the story took them. Anavos is pretty much just a troll and it's honestly really funny to me. He's vain, he's arrogant, he's an oddball, but he has the sneaky skills and intelligence to back it up. Our angels are in for a rough time this chapter, as Anavos pretty much bends the traditional level/boss rules as much as possible.
I also decided to work in some Uprising features and enemies that I was on the fence about using but finally found a purpose for. Grind rails, for one, and Aether Rings for another! I'll also be throwing items, treasure chests and Intensity Gates back in. Just like the good ol' days!
GirlPit: I'm glad you do! I started work on a Dark Pit Show chapter- I want to try to get one in to kind of buffer a potential Halloween episode (the last episode was a Halloween one, so I feel like it'd be odd doing two Halloween ones in a row), but between FoLaD/sequel writing/planning as well as NaNoWriMo planning, I have quite a bit on my plate. I'm trying my hardest, I swear!